Sunday, August 31, 2014

Thy People...My People

“…whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.” – Ruth 1:16
Both my daughter-in-law and son-in-law call me, “Mom.” It would be reasonable to assume Ruth did the same for her mother-in-law, Naomi, who referred to her as “daughter” (2:2, etc.). There is a lovely old song taken from this verse that used to be sung at weddings­­­—I’ve sung it many times. It ended, “For as in that story long ago, the same sweet love story now is so/Thy people shall be my people, my love/Whither thou goest, I will go.” It was meant to be a vow between the bride and groom; but as you know, in the biblical story, it was a vow made by a daughter-in law to her mother-in-law.
You’ve heard people say, “I married a person, not a family.” That may sound good, but it’s neither biblical nor practical. As a matter of fact, your relationship with your in-laws, and even your spouse’s siblings, can have a profound effect on your marriage. No one should ever come between the love and loyalty of a husband and wife to one another; but the husband or wife who purposely makes their spouse pick between them and their parents, is hurting both them and their spouse.
I have a little plaque in my kitchen that says, “Having a mother-in-law doubles the joy of having a mother.” As you might guess, my daughter-in-law, Sharon, gave it to me. Our relationship has grown deeper and more precious through the years. And the same was true of my relationship with my own sweet mother-in-law, now in heaven. I always knew I had my husband’s love above all others; and he always knew I never coveted the precious, close love he shared with his mother. And we both were the winners.
By the way, this truth should serve as a caution to someone contemplating marriage. The first and overriding consideration should be the will of God, of course; but his or her family should be a factor, as well. Definitely, not the most important, but certainly something to consider if you intend to spend the rest of your life with this individual.
Moses had a father-in-law who was a help and encouragement to him, and Ruth had a mother-in-law with whom she shared a loving mother/daughter relationship. In both cases, lives were blessed and changed for the glory of God. Nurture your own relationship with the “other” family God has given you. Who knows what He has in store…for all of you!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Eight Fool-Proof Filters

“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Philip. 4:8                                                          
I regard verses seven through nine of Philippians four to be Paul’s prescription for peace of mind, and by (Inspirational) extension, God’s. Verse seven begins with “…the peace of God,” and verse nine ends with “…the God of peace.” We’re talking about something that goes way past human understanding (v. 7), and is proven out in the Apostle’s own life (v. 9). If anyone was void of all peace, and for good reason, it was Saul of Tarsus.  Jesus characterized that blasphemer and Christian killer as a man constantly fighting with himself and his conscience (Acts 9:5). But after he met and was conquered by Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus, all that was changed, and now, as I say, we have his prescription for peace of mind.  
I have always considered the eight things mentioned in verse eight as desirable “thought patterns” for a believer. But my pastor referred to them recently as “filters,” which opened for me a whole new way of looking at them. They hardly need any explanation in themselves: true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, and praiseworthy thoughts. I get it; but life is made up of so many thoughts, good and bad. And they can come so quickly, like an unreturnable volleyball spike. There they are, in your face, at your feet…or in your mind. Now what?
Here’s where the Holy Spirit and my familiarity with the Word of God comes in. When the Spirit of God raises a caution flag within me (and yes, he does!), God has provided these seven “filters” to separate the true from the false, the honest from the dishonest, the just from the unjust, the pure from the impure, the lovely from the ugly, the good report from the bad report, the virtue from the vice, and the praise from the condemnation. Personally, I think these seven “fail-proof filters” should be hidden in our hearts, always ready at the prompting of the Spirit. Memorization would be a first step, I would think.

If you think this is just too much bother, let me share with you something pastor and author, George H. Morrison (1866-1928) has said: “A man will never regulate his passions who has never learned to regulate his thoughts. If we cannot master our besetting thoughts, we shall never master our besetting sins.” I take that seriously…and so should you.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Those Blessed Peacemakers

 “And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.” James 3:18

The companion verse to this is, of course, Matthew 5:9. “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”  Blessed, indeed! Actually, when you compare the two verses, the word “blessed” could be pronounced either blessed or bless-ed. Both are true. They are bless-ed to those who are fortunate enough to be recipients of their peacemaking skills; and by sowing peace, they “make peace” and as a result, are blessed by seeing the fruit of righteousness. No wonder others feel justified in calling them “the children of God.”

The opposite of someone like this would be called a “discord-sower,” wouldn’t you say? Solomon says of such in Proverbs 6:16-19, they’re one of seven things God hates. Today, however, it is considered courageous to speak your mind and let the chips fall where they may, or on whom they may. But when words drive wedges instead of build bridges, no one is edified or strengthened…or blessed.
Aren’t you glad Jesus was (and is) a Peacemaker? Colossians one says He made peace with God for us, through His blood; and Hebrews 7:25 assures us that He “ever liveth to make intercession for us.” If that’s the case, we are never more Christ-like than when we are able to broker honest, honorable peace between two individuals at enmity.
I have always seen this as a formidable but worthwhile goal to set for myself. I’d like to live my life so that it could be truthfully written on my tombstone: “She was a peacemaker.”  

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Wearing Down the Devil

"Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him." (Matt.4:11)

Luke’s account of this episode in the life of Jesus lets us know that the devil’s leave-taking was only “for a season,” but if you have wrestled much with temptation, you will still find these words encouraging. Though it may be persistent, temptation is not incessant. In other words, while we’re living in these bodies there will never be a time when there is no more temptation to face. However, there will be intervals when it does not rear its ugly head.

“Well, Jesus was able to resist because He was God,” some have suggested. But the whole rationale behind His coming to earth as a baby and growing into manhood was so that He could be “tempted in all points like as we are” (Heb. 4:15). He could simply have shown up, died on the Cross and raised from the dead, then returned back to the Father. That would have paid the sin debt. He didn’t come so He would know what it was like to go to a wedding or a funeral, or have dinner with friends. It was so He could know what it is like to live among prostitutes, thieves and murderers; lose a friend by death and betrayal; suffer hunger, thirst, pain, torture, and death; and on the mount of temptation, be offered the world in exchange for your soul. And He experienced it all as a Man. Man shall not live by bread alone…” (Matt. 4:4).

Why did the devil finally leave Jesus? Was he through with Him? Obviously not. We can all offer our own idea, since we are not given insight into his actual thinking; but I would argue that he knew he wasn’t going to win this round, so he decided just to chuck it. Looking at our Lord’s tactics from a human standpoint, it would seem to me that He used two things: His will and the Word. He refused and He refuted. Everything the devil suggested to Him, He countered with a Biblical alternative and a flinty resolve (Isa. 50:7). And in the final analysis, that’s all you and I really have. Fortunately, because of the indwelling Spirit of God, it’s all we need. Prayer and accountability partners are wonderful to have, but on our own “mount of temptation,” there will not be anyone there but the devil and us.

We have an adversary who is real. He is not a “force” or an “influence.” He is a personality. His hatred for us is rooted in spite. He hates us because we are the beloved of God; so he tempts us to spite Him. It will take both the power of the Word and our wills to overcome him. The Word of God must be hidden in our hearts (Psl. 119:11), not just pounded into our heads. It must be ingrained in our thinking, and grafted into our souls (James 1:21). And our will does not have to be strong, only focused and centered on pleasing God (2 Cor. 8:12).

One day, the Bible says, our battle with Satan will be over; and, in our case, this fight is “fixed.” We will win (Rev. 20:10). No wonder old Lucifer tries to initiate as much rebellion and wretchedness in our lives while he can. He only has so long. In the meantime, you and I can wear him down and send him slinking off down the road, till the next time. Our Lord has left us an example in temptation, and we should follow in his steps (1Pet. 2:21).

“A man who gives into temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later…We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means—the only true realist.” – C. S. Lewis

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Some On Broken Pieces

“And the rest, some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship. And so it came to pass, that they escaped all safe to land.” – Acts 27:44

It is possible for broken things in our lives to rescue us in the end.
Every time I read this story in the life of Paul the Apostle, as recounted by his companion and physician, Luke, the whole near-death experience comes alive in my imagination. I see it all: the storm and wind, the waves, the crumbling, fragmenting ship; I hear the cries of despair and anguish and the one, lone voice shouting, “Be of good cheer, for I believe God!” Luke says that miraculously all them reached land, by either swimming, hanging onto boards from the ship, or against all odds,” clutching only mere pieces of the ship. Can you imagine how terrifying that must have been? I can. A splintered piece of wood is not much to hang onto, but I would remind you again, they all reached land.
The Christian life has often been compared to a ship voyage in both song and verse. Paul talks about Christians who are “…tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine…” (Eph. 4:14).  The great old gospel song, “Ship Ahoy” starts, “I was drifting away on life’s pitiless sea/And the angry waves threatened my ruin to be…” And I used to sing a rousing song of triumph by Ira Stanphill, that announced, “This old ship is tossing and turning/But I’m gonna make it through somehow.” It would seem to me, as in the story of Paul’s shipwreck, all reach that “heavenly shore” by the miracle of salvation through Jesus Christ, but some reach it clinging to broken pieces of their ship.
There are those who experience the ravages of broken health, so often the case in later life. At one time they were robust, vigorous, and untiring. Now they greet the nights with dread, and the mornings with foreboding. The normal winds and waves of life they handled quite well for so many years now seem unmanageable.
Others may suffer from a broken heart. Someone they loved was taken from them, either by distance or death. Or perhaps they were betrayed and cast aside by one in whom they placed great trust. The waves that sweep over them are filled with sadness and hurt; and they feel as bereft as Job, without family or friends.
Still others feel crushed with the aftermath of a broken reputation. They were sailing along in the breeze of praise and recognition, examples of usefulness and victory. Then came a gross “fall from grace.” Then the praise was turned to pity and the recognition to rejection, leaving only the sad epithet: “Their life is a shipwreck.”
Finally (and this is common after the last broken experience), there are those who suffer the agony of a broken faith, or a shipwrecked faith, as Paul refers to it in 1 Timothy 1:19. “What’s the use? Is any of it real? Once their faith was strong and their assurance complete, but now clouds of doubt sweep over their souls and minds. Disappointment in themselves and others has led to disappointment in God and mistrust in His love as well as His claims.
To all of these broken souls, I point us to our story, and the promise that they “escaped all safe to land.” God didn’t have to tell us that some reached there under better circumstances than others…but He did. I think He wanted those with broken health to know that God’s grace, mercy, and comfort of the Scriptures, would be enough to gently carry them the whole way home. He wanted saints with broken hearts to know they could cling to the Lover of their souls, who promised, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Heb. 13:5). And the baggage of a broken reputation can be thrown overboard in time, by repentance and forgiveness. Ask Rahab, Mary Magdalene, and Peter. Oh, and even broken faith can be revived and repaired! Don’t forget, Jesus referred to His own disciples at one point as “ye of little faith,” and even faith “as a grain of mustard seed” (Matt. 17;20) can move mountains!
There are those who seem to have a prosperous and sunny voyage all the way home, with few storms. But not many, I’ll wager. To the rest of us I say, those “broken pieces of the ship” in our lives are well able to buoy us all the way home to Glory.

Don’t lament them; latch onto them!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

On the Prevention of Contention

“Only by pride cometh contention…”  (Prov. 13:14)
The Oxford English Dictionary describes a contentious person and one who is not only quarrelsome, but down right “warlike.” It’s especially odious in a woman, I think. Proverbs compares it to the torture of listening to a drip outside your bedroom window all day and night (27:15). Solomon goes so far as to say he’d rather be stranded on some desert than live with an angry, contentious woman! (21:19)

But we would be wrong to identify this as merely a feminine trait, since there are numerous references to its presence in men, and some good men, at that. Paul and his friend Barnabas allowed an argument to reach the point of contention that ended in a parting of the ways between them (Acts 15:39). And, sadly, we read in Philippians 1:16, it can be the driving force behind some men’s preaching of the Gospel. Hardly a noble motivation.

So that we might have a means of nipping this hateful characteristic in the bud, our verse identifies for us the root of contention: pride. Why am I not surprised? It’s the root of so many other sins, as well—perhaps all of them. Those who are proud will always become contentious when they are contradicted, seeing it as criticism, and worse, competition. Harmless words are taken as a slight against them personally and a brother or sister is offended. It is then that contention raises its ugly head; and overcoming the resulting bad feelings is like breaching the walls of a castle, says Proverbs 18:19.

Christians may be more susceptible to this, simply because they don’t know the difference between “contend[ing] for the faith” (Jude 3) and being just plain contentious. Some of us have the mistaken notion that our pet causes and personal rights are matters of The faith. As one old, Puritan writer describes them, “[E]ach party contends vehemently for his rights, instead of satisfying himself with the testimony of his conscience, and submitting rather to be misunderstood and misjudged, than to break the bond of Divine brotherhood.” (Charles Bridges)

It should be pointed out that continual contention can kill love dead in its tracks—in a marriage, a family, a friendship, or a church. The man or woman who is always “spoiling for a fight,” will eventually find himself or herself simply “beating the air” (1 Cor. 9:26).
There will come a time when there’s no one left to fight with.