Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Which Way Are You Headed?

“In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” Prov. 3:6

I was talking to someone recently who asked me to pray that God would give him (or her) direction in life right now. I told this individual, “God will give you direction when you’re headed the right way.” This may sound blunt, but the occasion warranted it, I think. And this promise in Proverbs immediately came to mind.

There are some promises in the Word of God that are conditional, while others are unconditional. This verse is an example of a conditional promise. “In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” If we want God to lead us, we have to consult Him. It only makes sense that a map is only helpful if one refers to and follows it. The word “acknowledge” here is not the casual meaning, as in the case of acknowledging an acquaintance on the street with a friendly “Hello”—a simple recognition. Instead, it’s the more formal meaning, which is to confess a person to be what he claims, and to own the authority of that claim.
Hebrews tells us, “...he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (11:6). Unless believe God to be Who He says He is, able to do what He says He can, we need not apply for direction in our lives. He must be acknowledged not only as a subject would acknowledge a Sovereign (which He is), but as a child would his Father (which He also is.) A judge may be called upon to decide a question of law; but surely the decisions he makes for his children are no less important. The former may be weightier, but the latter are no less meaningful to him.
Sometimes I come to God with weighty questions—important decisions. Other times I ask Him for, or about, so-called little things. Either way, I’m comfortable coming to Him. In the first instance, I know I’ll find infinite wisdom; in the second, I can always count on loving compassion and interest. I have acknowledged Him to be not only Lord of Heaven and Earth, but Lord of my life…all of it.

We read in Jeremiah 10:23, “...it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.” Left to ourselves, all of us have a poor sense of direction. This is unfortunate, because day to day decisions will be governed by the default settings of your character and the direction in which we’re headed.  After all, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the opposite direction.” But God has promised if we’ll acknowledge Him and His right of way in our lives, He’ll graciously direct our paths. You can’t ask for a better deal than that.  
“And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee saying, This is the way, walk ye in it…”  Isa. 30:21

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Feed Your Faith

“The just shall live by faith.” (Gal. 3:11)

According to this verse (and others like it), faith is a matter of life and death. Not only is it the catalyst for justification (“Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith…” Rom.3: 28); it is the criteria for sanctification (“For we walk by faith, not by sight.” 2Cor.5: 7). Our Christian life is no stronger than the faith that sustains it, nor can faith ever be stronger than its object. But there’s no worry there. Paul tells us in Ephesians 3:12, we can be “bold” and “confident,” because our faith rests firmly on Deity—Jesus Christ. So then, if our faith is anemic, the weakness is ours, not His. And anybody knows, the best way to strengthen anything or anyone that is weak is to provide nourishment. Here then, are some suggestions on how to “feed your faith.”

1. Drown your doubts in the honey pot of God’s Word. There is a direct line between the Word of God and faith in the life of the believer. “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom.10: 17). “Thy words were found, and I did eat them,” says Jeremiah, “and they were the joy and rejoicing of mine heart” (Jer.15: 16). The Bible holds us up when all the props are knocked down in our lives. “Unless thy law had been my delights, I should then have perished in mine affliction” (Psl.119:92).

2. Keep company with faith-builders. People who don’t have faith are unreasonable, and sometimes, down right wicked, according the Apostle. “Finally, brethren, pray for us…that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men: for all men have not faith” (2Thess.3: 1-2). If Paul found it so unbearable to be around people who are faithless, why should we think we would fare any better with them? Instead, we should rub shoulders with believers who, like Abraham, “against hope [believe] in hope” (Rom.4:18). We should follow Oswald Chamber’s counsel: “If you know a man [or woman] who has a good spiritual bank account, borrow from him for all you are worth, because he will give you all you want and never look to be repaid.”

3. Store up memories to treasure during hard times. “I will remember the works of the Lord: surely I will remember thy wonders of old” (Psalm 77:11). There is something about recounting the mercies of God in our lives that fans the flames of faith that have become embers of smoldering doubt. Are there any among us who have been saved any amount of time and have not seen the hand of God in our lives? In my own case, I can never forget those dark days when our older daughter, Leah, faced the very real possibility of losing her three precious little boys through a court system brought to bear against her. During that time, by faith, I laid claim to Isaiah 54:13-17, and two years later, that faith was rewarded. Those three young men today are monuments to faith.

Nor will I forget the morning nearly fifty years ago when our young first born, Andrew, looked at my husband and me, questioningly, when we told him he couldn’t have any more cereal and milk, because there was no more—in fact, no more anything. And then the blessed memory of the knock that came at the door as the three of us were on our knees praying, and the woman from church who was standing there with bags of groceries in her hand that she said God had, for some reason, laid it upon her heart to bring to us. “Could you use them?” she asked, hesitantly. And, yes, there was cereal and milk in those bags!

If my faith—or yours—is anemic today, it is not for lack of food to nourish it. God has given us His Word that is sure and steadfast and filled with promises to fill all the cupboards of need in our lives. We have examples of faith through history and around us, if we will expose ourselves to their influence. And we have memories to draw from if we will take the time to dust them off and let them work their wonder and thrill as they did so long ago. God has given each of us the “measure of faith” (Rom.12: 3). We must decide whether or not we will feed it.

The opposite of joy is not sorrow; it is unbelief.  – Leslie Weatherhead

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Unexpected Jesus

“… unto them that look for him shall he appear...”  Hebrews 9:28

During His time here on earth, Jesus was found in not a few unlikely or unanticipated places. To begin with, it was not expected that the Messiah would be found in a lowly manger; and his parents would never have thought to look for Him in the Temple at the tender age of twelve. Later on, the disciples were surprised to find out that figure coming toward them on the boisterous sea was actually Jesus, walking on the water. And they were scared within an inch of their lives when He showed up in their midst a few days after His Crucifixion. You see, as it turned out, there was one place where everyone assumed He would be…but He wasn’t: the tomb!

Would you allow me to lift these nine words out of Hebrews 9:28 to challenge us about something I think we’re all guilty of from time to time? I realize, doctrinally, the verse is teaching that Christ came here the first time for the express purpose of taking our sin upon Himself; and having disposed of that sin, once and for all, will come back a second time for those who have claimed that redemption in Christ for themselves. But laying aside expectations of His Second Coming for a minute, I want to ask this question: Do I expect to meet Jesus today?

Did I expect to meet Him when I bowed my head in prayer this morning and opened His Word? After all, God reveals Himself to us the same way we reveal ourselves to others, by talking. Otherwise, He wouldn’t be a personal God. He shows Himself in Creation, but He reveals Himself by words, initially by conscience (Rom. 2:15), then His Word, and for the redeemed, by the Spirit of God. For this reason, you and I have every right in the world to expect to hear from Him regularly. His Word is not only true; it’s personal. It’s between Him and me. If what I’m reading is not necessarily to me, it’s still something He wants me to know, otherwise He would not have given it to me, pure and preserved (Psl. 12:6-7). Do I approach it with this kind of expectation? Remember, “unto them that look for him shall he appear.”

And how about this? Did I talk to Him in prayer as if He were there, or was it more of a recitation than a conversation? This is serious business. If I can’t be sincere and upfront with God, how real is He to me? We talk to people in order to communicate, with the expectation of some kind of response. They don’t have to agree, but we do assume recognition. Should we expect less from our heavenly Father, who went to the extreme measure of the giving the life of His Son so that He could have fellowship with us? I would contend we have every right to expect His attention. Even sin on our part can dull His hearing only as long as it takes us to ask for forgiveness. Do I come to prayer with the expectation of the undivided attention of God? Remember, “unto them that look for him shall he appear.”

Those nine words have pierced my heart today. I realize Jesus exceeds all our expectations; but that doesn’t mean we should be completely clueless. So often, reading His Word or talking to Him in prayer, I find myself saying, as it were, “Oh, it’s You!” How much better for Him to say to me, “Oh, it’s you!”

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Heliocentric or Geocentric?

“But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness.”  (2 Pet. 3:10-11)

According to Peter, one day this earth, as we know it, will be “burned up.” Spiritualize this if you want to (I don’t); but the fact remains, this planet we call home makes for a poor long-term investment. And if our view of it leads us to major on trying to preserve it, we’ve got the wrong end of the stick.

At one time, astrological science taught that when the sun came up in the east and set in the west, it was because it was revolving around the Earth. Now, of course, we know it’s the other way around. Earth, like all the planets, revolves around the sun. The outdated explanation is called geocentrism (earth-centered; and the accepted one today is heliocentricism (sun-centered).

Here’s my question for you and me: Is my life heliocentric (centered on the Son) or is it geocentric (centered on this earth)? It’s not an inconsequential question. Peter says, the fact that this earth, and our time spent here, are both miniscule in the light of heaven and eternity, should determine how we live our lives while we’re here. If I’m convinced this life is all there is, I’m going to invest my time making it as comfortable and pleasurable for me as I can while I’m here. But if I believe this life is just the vestibule to eternity, and one day I’ll stand before Jesus Christ, I’m going to do all I can to please Him till then. Now do you understand why my original question is important? Who or what does your life and mine center around?

We used to sing a little chorus in Sunday School that said: “With eternity’s values in view, Lord/With eternity’s values in view/May I do each day’s work for Jesus/With eternity’s values in view.” I understand that much of life is concerned with the immediate, and rightly so. We may be citizens of Heaven, but we are occupiers of Earth. If we’re unable to function in society, we can never hope to influence it for Christ. Still, having said that, surely our greatest accomplishments in life are those things we do with eternity built into them. I cannot help but think it would be a good thing to ask myself at the end of each day, “Did I do anything today that will outlast me, or better still, outlast this earth?” Did you?  

Thursday, February 6, 2014

A One-Track Mind

“But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.”  (Psl.1:2)

         The first three verses of Psalm one give us a thumbnail sketch of the godly man, not so much to evaluate others, but more importantly, to judge ourselves. Briefly, the godly individual is characterized as someone who knows how to rightly discern people, and wisdom to choose friends accordingly (v. 1); who has an affinity for Biblical precepts as laid down by God alone (v. 2); with stability and fruitfulness that lasts through times of storm and drought (v. 3). Or as Warren Wiersbe puts it, he’s separated from the world, saturated with the Word, and situated by the water.

         It’s the second of these three attributes that stands out to me today, the fact that the godly man or woman both delights and meditates in God’s law. I see a cycle working here that to me would surely account for the stability exhibited in verse three. The more one meditates on the Word of God, the more he or she will delight in it. At the same time, when we find delight in God’s Word, the more we’re inclined to meditate on it. By the way, meditation, which is focused thinking, should not be confused with imagination, which is undisciplined “wool-gathering,” and is a heathen activity, as the Psalmist points out in the next chapter. “Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?” (Psl .2:1).

Are you ever amazed by how a later reading of a text or passage brings new perspective for you? It’s not because the Word has changed; it’s because you have. The Bible is “self-adjusting.” By this I mean, it speaks to you where you are in your walk with God. It provides milk for the new believer as well as meat for the seasoned Christian—often with the same text, no less!

         Here’s what I’m saying. Don’t wait till you delight in the Bible to read it. You can jump in at ether place—meditation or delight—because one invariably leads to the other. The Psalmist didn’t say the godly man reads the Bible day and night, only that he meditates on it. Picture it like this: “In his law doth he marinate day and night.” J

 It’s all right to have a one-track mind, if it’s the right track. “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee…” Isa. 26:3.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Once Is Enough

“…for he hath said, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” Hebrews 13:5b

In one of Adrian Rogers’ devotional thoughts, he points out that Greek scholars tell us this sentence actually has five negatives in it, and should be read thus: “I will never, no not ever, no never leave you nor forsake you.” But I must say, I find myself more in agreement with the old grandmother Rogers went on to talk about:

A preacher was visiting a grandmother in his church, trying to comfort her in her old age. I believe she knew the Lord better than he did, however. He took out his Greek New Testament and was reading this verse to her, explaining there were five negatives there. The grandma said, “Well, God may have to say it five times for you Greek boys, but once is enough for me!

It’s terrible to feel alone. Whether your isolation is physical, because of the loss of loved ones or friends, for one reason or another; or emotional, with the feeling that no one understands you; or spiritual, seemingly estranged from God and indifferent to His Word. But we need to make a distinction here. Loneliness is a feeling; “alone” is a state of being. The addition of someone else is required to change my being alone, but loneliness requires only a change of outlook. One is dependent on someone else, but we have the ability to deal with the other single-handedly (humanly speaking).

Now, as far as being alone, if you are a Blood-bought child of God, this can never be said about you now or in eternity. It’s impossible. Nothing you can say or do will ever forfeit your predetermined, perpetual relationship with God the Father through the death of His Son. The relationship may be strained or cold because of sin or distraction on our part, but it can never be severed. Only one son of God was ever truly God-forsaken, and that was the Son, Christ Jesus.

Loneliness, on the other hand, is possible, though not because we’re alone, only that we feel alone. I readily admit, I’ve succumbed to feelings of loneliness and given them much more attention and time than they deserved. I lost precious time I could have spent cheering up someone in far worse circumstances than I, or catching up on all the things I meant to get around to one day. And think about this: Suppose you came and spent the day with me and found out later that I told someone else I was lonely all that day. How would that make you feel? Like chopped liver, right? Now go back and read the preceding paragraph and apply that same principle to Him. I’m not saying I expect you or me to never have feelings of loneliness. I’m just saying we should be honest enough to face them for what they are. Feelings…every bit as untrustworthy and questionable as any others. And like all feelings, they must be governed by the Word of God and the Spirit of God, or else we’ll be useless to God or anyone else.

God has promised in His Word He will never leave us or forsake us. You can put all the “double negatives” you want in that verse, if it makes you feel better; but, as I say, once is enough for me. It was the word of a Gentleman, and I wasn’t hard to convince! J