Tuesday, November 26, 2013

When Jesus Gave Thanks

You will find at least three occasions in the life of our Lord here on earth when we are told He gave thanks to the Father. This was brought to my attention in a sermon by one of my favorite writers, George Morrison. It was said only in passing, but it spoke volumes to my own heart. Perhaps it will to you, as well. The three occasions I want to address speak of three categories of life that should illicit gratitude to God.

Ordinary Things

“And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise all the fishes as much as they would.” (John 6:11)  We take things like food and drink as an ordinary part of life. Unless disaster strikes, in the majority of countries in the world today, the kind and quantity of food may vary, but abject hunger is not the problem it once was. When you and I pray for “big things,” I doubt food is on the list. But when Jesus told His disciples to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” He also showed us the need to thank God when that prayer was answered, no matter how often. Life is made up with all kinds of ordinary things. If you’re thankful for them, that’s a lot of gratitude going on there!

Ordinary People

“In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight.” (Luke 10:21) What could be more ordinary than children? They’re not likely to add to our standing or wealth in this world, but Jesus wanted us to know that God thinks so much of them, He loves to reveal Himself to them in a way that makes us often say, “Oh, to have the faith of a child!” I have a strong suspicion that many of us are tempted to overlook their potential, for all our patronizing words. And we don’t just do it with children. It’s easy to underestimate the value to our lives of ordinary friends and family. Therefore, we often forget to (truly) thank God for them. Jesus didn’t suffer from such shortsightedness.

Extraordinary Trials

“And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it.” (Matthew 26:27). In the prelude to the darkest hour of Jesus’ life on earth, He thanked His Father for not just the bread and wine he was sharing with His friends, but what it represented: His own soon to be broken body, drained of all its life’s blood. If there was ever a time when one might be excused for lack of gratitude, this was such a time. But He looked beyond the Cross to the Glory. Oh, what hope and peace His hour of trial brought to you and me! And if you and I can look beyond the pain to the “joy set before [us]” (Heb. 12:2), we, too, will say to the amazement of those around us, “Thank you, Father.”

Ordinary things, ordinary people, and extraordinary trials. May you and I follow our Lord’s pattern in thanksgiving.

                                      Have a Blessed Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Something To Say To You

“And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee…” Luke 7:40

Jesus had been asked to dinner at the home of a Pharisee. During the dinner, a woman known to all as a “sinner,” slipped into their midst and suddenly began washing Jesus’ feet with ointment and drying them with her hair. This caused no small stir among those in the room, but it was the host, a man named Simon, that Jesus turned to address. I’m not so much concerned here about what Jesus said to him; that’s an article or sermon in itself. It’s the manner of Jesus’ words that I want to address and learn from.

First, notice that He spoke to Simon personally. I dare say, Jesus’ words of rebuke couched in a parable could just as rightly have been said to most if not all there. But Jesus chose to single out Simon. We could speculate why, but I think we’ll be better served to simply say that in any group of people, Jesus may choose to speak personally to only one. This is important to remember, in case that one happens to be you or me. Never wait for God to move or speak to the crowd; seek to find out if He’s speaking to you personally.

Next, Jesus spoke perceptively. By this I mean, Jesus didn’t just have insight, He had “inside-sight.” The verse says Jesus “answered” Simon, but we know from the preceding verse that He was answering what Simon had only thought. (Read it.) How unnerving must that have been? The Psalmist says, “…thou understandest my thought afar off” (139:2). Sometimes this is a comfort; at other times, not so much. But either way, it’s a fact that should make us mindful of our thoughts as much or more than our words.

Finally, Jesus spoke pointedly. In this case, Simon’s title — Pharisee — was an adjective as well as a noun. And Jesus addressed his problem directly. He didn’t simply condemn him for his pious thoughts; He explained why they were faulty, as well as pharisaical. After He did, Simon had nothing left to say. He’ll do the same for us, too. When He convicts our hearts about something, He’ll show us in His Word why. He never leaves us to wallow in wretchedness. The way of God and the will of God are Spiritually rational and unequivocally knowable.

Now, let’s finish the verse: “And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he said, Master, say on.” Right answer, Simon! We don’t know if he did anything with the words Jesus said to him, but we do know he was smart enough to listen to them. So, how about you and me? Jesus says to me, “Salle, I have something to say to you.” I know it will be personal, perceptive, and most often, pointed. May my answer always be:

“Master, say on!”

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Ultimate Antecedent

“Know therefore this day, and consider it in thine heart, that the LORD he is God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath: there is none else.” (Deut. 4:3)

Pronouns like he, she, they, it, etc., are of precious little value, if you don’t know to whom or what they are referring. For instance, if you wander into a conversation in progress, and the first thing you hear is, “I was so sorry to hear he died,” your first response is, “Who died?” And it’s not going to do you much good if someone calls out to you as you’re going out the door, “It’s closed,” if you don’t know if their talking about a road, a store, or something else. What you need to know is who or what is being referred to by the pronouns, “he” and “it.”  And that person or thing for which the pronoun stands is called the antecedent.

But I know of at least one example when a pronoun doesn’t require an antecedent. Although a Christian may use the word “he” many times in a day referring to someone of the male gender, when the same person says “He,” referring to Jesus Christ, it will nearly always be obvious to another believer who he or she is talking about. In fact, I will go so far as to say that Jesus Christ is the ultimate Antecedent for the pronoun, “He.”

I once asked a Mexican pastor about this very thing. I noticed that in speaking (or in prayer) God was referred to as “SeƱor,” the same word used for Sir or Mister. “How does someone know when you’re referring to God and not just a man,” I wanted to know. He smiled broadly and assured me, “Oh, we always know the difference!”

I have an old biography of the beloved Irish Christian, Ann Preston, who was respectfully known as “Holy Ann.” It was written by someone who knew her for many years, and it’s filled with wonderful stories of this colorful old saint. She never learned to read, though she could read her Bible, “if not fluently, at least freely,” the writer said. Hoping to help her read other things, he gave her a newspaper article once, instructing her to scan it to see if she knew any of the words. He writes, “Finally, she put her finger on one word and said, ‘That seems to be ‘lord,’ but I don’t think it is my Lord, as my heart doesn’t burn while I see it.’” And, indeed, it turned out the article was about someone named Lord Roberts. There were many lords, but only one Lord as far as she was concerned; and she knew the difference.

The verse in Deuteronomy says, “…the LORD he is God in the heaven above, and upon the earth beneath: there is none else.” There is nowhere you can go in heaven or earth where “He” does not refer to Him, the Lord.  For me, too, there is only one Sovereign, eternal He. It’s my favorite pronoun, and my next favorite is the wonderful possessive pronoun....mine!

He is mine, He is mine;
I am blessed beyond all measure,
He is mine.
I have pardon full and free,
Through the Blood He shed for me;
Safe forever I shall be;
He is mine.

                                  -Diane Wilkinson

Saturday, November 9, 2013

A Fixed Heart

“He shall not be afraid of evil tidings: his heart is fixed, trusting in the LORD”
Psalm 112:7

During my husband’s recent open-heart surgery, a friend sent a verse she had read that morning in devotions, which God assured her was meant for him. “O God, my heart is fixed; I will sing and give praise even with my glory” Psl. 108:1. I’m not sure she read it with the same double entendre I did, but my own first thought was, “Yes, thank God, it surely is fixed!” J Later, I began to think about the blessing of “fixed,” as in repaired, and “fixed,” as in definitely and permanently placed. In my own reading today of Psalm 112:7, God seemed to expand my thinking. 

This Psalm gives a further description of the much referred to “blessed man.”  In this one, he’s a God-fearing man. “Blessed is the man that feareth the LORD…” (v.1). This man, it says, will not be afraid of “evil tidings.” And they come to one and all, good or bad. It can be either bad news or bad experiences. But the fact is, “man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7).  You’ll find no qualifiers in that sentence. The only variable is the presence or absence of fear, and all other fears are diminished in direct proportion to the fear of God.

What is the defining characteristic of the fearless man or woman? His or her heart is fixed. Fixed on the Lord, not a doctrine, a duty, or a dream, but a Person. Everything and everyone in our lives are moveable and subject to change, nothing on which to cling. To anchor our lives to those things (and people) that can slip away gradually, or at a moment’s notice, is to set ourselves up for overwhelming fear when the evil tidings come. I have long believed that the only wise way to build a life is to center it around that which cannot be taken away. And for me, it has been the ever living, eternal — and praise God! — accessible Son of God.

The Psalmist says assuredly, “My heart is fixed.” It’s a deliberate, knowable choice. It can, and should be, more binding than any attachment in life. A fixation is an unnatural preoccupation. That’s what I’m talking about. Fixation on Jesus Christ that treats the fear of losing wealth, love, prestige, health, home, or country, or any other “evil tidings” as momentary distractions from fellowship with Him. As the old song says, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus/Look full in His wonderful face/And the things of earth will grow strangely dim/ In the light of His glory and grace.” It’s not the overcoming life, but the overwhelming life!

If your heart is not fixed on Him, it needs to be fixed by Him

Overheard in a Hospital Room

“Examine me, O LORD, and prove me; try my reins and my heart.” (Psl. 26:2)
“To whom will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him?” (Isa. 40:18)

In the last week and a half, I have had occasion to sit, walk, and even sleep in a hospital room nearly every day, and many nights. I’m not the patient; my dear husband is. And during this time, I’ve heard two phrases over and over from the caregivers there. After awhile, they began to say other things to me besides what they were meant to convey. May I share some of them with you?

First, when the nurses come in to check blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, etc., they begin by saying, “It’s time to check your vitals.” This is because there are certain indicators within our bodies that give us a clue about what may be taking place. They may not be conclusive evidence, but provide a warning sign to look further. The same is true in our spiritual lives, I think. For instance, if we’re full of worry, “careful and troubled about many things” (Lk. 10:14), it’s bound to affect the caliber of our Christian lives. Symptoms of hypertension in the body like headaches, dizziness, nausea, and blurred vision are just as likely to plague our walk with God, spiritually speaking.

Something else to be examined is our hearts, as the verse in Psalms says. Are we truly right with God and right with our fellow believers? In my husband’s case, his physical heart had been only superficially examined through the years, and no one knew what was building up in five of his arteries until it was nearly too late. The back part of his heart was so undernourished it was hard and immobile. And, O, child of God, how quickly our hearts can harden to the things of God!

Then, we should let the Word and the Spirit take our temperatures regularly; and when it comes to our faith, God wants us to have a fever! As a dear preacher friend of my husband, now in heaven, used to say, “God wants you to be hot; but He’ll give you permission to be cold before He’ll condone your lukewarmness” (Rev. 3:15).

Finally, the other phrase often heard in a doctor’s office or hospital is, “On a scale of one to ten…” This is generally used to help determine the degree of pain you may be experiencing, one being the lowest and ten the highest. It’s not an exact estimate, of course, because some people’s threshold of pain is higher than others’. The same pain may elicit only a five from one person, while another plaintively replies, “Ten!”

There are many ways this can be applied to the life of a Christian. For instance, on a scale of one to ten, how would you rate your church, describe your pastor, or even, rate your own spiritual life? Again, these would all be relative, and would reflect our own preconceived ideas of perfection. However, there’s one time you could ask this question with only one possible answer. “On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate God Almighty?” The answer is, there is no scale to measure God. He is the scale. Everything and everyone else has been measured against Him and “come short” (Rom. 3:23). As Isaiah rhetorically asks, “Who can be compared with Him?” Nobody!

Does the thought that this God has revealed Himself to you and made you His child no longer excite your soul and speak peace to your heart in times of trouble? Maybe it’s time to check your vitals. Are you allowing fear and worry to “raise your blood pressure?” Is your heart clean before God, with no divided allegiance? And are you hot after God, or tepid in your faith? Run to the Great Physician, and experience Divine healing…every time.