Friday, September 26, 2014

Unheeded Advice

“And when Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his ass, and arose, and gat him home to his house, to his city, and put his household in order, and hanged himself, and died, and was buried in the sepulcher of his father.” (2 Samuel 17:23) 
Never take offence when your advice is not followed; God’s purposes are never thwarted.

That’s what I learn from this passage. The proof of my observation is found in verse fourteen, where we read, “For the LORD had appointed to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, to the intent that the LORD might bring evil upon Absalom.” There was nothing wrong with Ahithophel’s advice; it was just that in this case, God’s purpose was better served by Absalom’s failure to heed it. Poor Ahithophel, however, was so hurt and despondent that his counsel was unheeded, he went home and hanged himself.

        We could learn a good lesson from this, especially those of us who have grown children who are living their own lives now. It’s simply this: They really are living their own lives now. The fact that for eighteen years or more we made all the major decisions for them does not mean our advice will, or should, carry the same weight it did when they were young. Not because we are no longer important, or our advice no longer sound; but because we may not always be around. Now comes the time when their own decision-making skills are usually tried and perfected on the whetstone of experience. Besides, as we learn from this chapter, we may not know what God is doing in their lives. And if we interfere too often, like Ahithophel, we just may end up hanging ourselves!

        This is a hard lesson to learn. Take it from one who knows. I want my advice to my children—and anyone else—to be like a costly jewel: precious…and rare. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Devilish Devices

“…for we are not ignorant of his devices.” 2 Cor. 2:11
I wrote something recently about countering the devil, but as I indicated in the article, we may roust him temporarily, but we’ll never be completely rid of him, until we are bodily removed from his realm to God’s (Lk. 4:13), or he is banished to his final destination: the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10). In the meantime, our best defense is knowledge­–not of ourselves, but him. We waste far too much time analyzing ourselves, when we should be concentrating of our deadly enemy. If you’ve read Paul’s Epistles at all, you know one of his great burdens was ignorance to the important things in the Christian life. And this is one of them: ignorance to the workings of Satan. “To be forewarned is to be forearmed,” as they say. And to that end, I offer a few examples, by no means complete, of some devilish devices.
Obviously, the one that occasions our text should be the first. Refusing to forgive and re-associate a repentant brother or sister in Christ gives the devil unnecessary advantage over you, the repentant, and other believers. “Lest Satan should get an advantage of us…” In this case, a brother had been openly rebuked for open sin, which caused him to sincerely and openly repent. Now, says Paul, it’s time to put it behind us and go on. The confirmation of their love to him was to be as sincere as his repentance. The longer you or I withhold forgiveness makes us that much more susceptible to the devil’s wiles. It’s a good device, and it works.
Here’s another: “But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost…?” (Acts 5:3). Whenever we find ourselves lying and deceiving, it’s easy to see, the devil is applying the tools of his trade quite capably on us. I have come to believe lying is as addictive as other activities you might associate with that adjective and is a ready-made substitute for repentance, which makes it especially dangerous. It’s a good device, and it works.
Then there’s Matthew 16:23: “Then he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence to me…”  Was Peter Satan? No, but like Ananias, Satan had filled his heart to the point that he became a mouthpiece for him. Satan used someone Jesus loved to try to thwart the Father’s will for Him. He didn’t merely say Peter had offended him; he accused him of being an offence, an aggressive opponent, to Him. Loved ones and dear friends, esteemed saints even, can be used temporarily to stand in the way to the will of God or spiritual growth in our Christian lives. This is hard to withstand, to be sure; but a definite, “Get thee behind me, Satan” is called for here. Not verbally, of course, but certainly, inwardly and outwardly, as far as our resolve to follow the Lord. Because it was tried on Jesus, we can be sure, it’s an especially good device, but in His case, it didn’t work.
Finally, one of the devil’s most devastating devices, I think, is his practice of stealing the words of God out of unsuspecting hearts. “…then cometh the devil, and taketh the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe…” (Luke 8:12). I see this trick played expertly on young people, who reverenced the Word growing up, but ignore or question it, as they get older. There are many reasons, I’m sure: for instance, the tendency for many of us to let an admired preacher decide for you us what are, or are not, God’s “words”; peer pressure by “cool” or so called, “intelligent” friends; a the desire to shake off anything that may be part of what is now viewed as a “restrictive” childhood; or maybe just negligence. Life can get very busy, and unfortunately, temporary dialogue can quickly trump eternal truths, to our immeasurable loss. This is a most cunning and diabolical device, and oh, how it works!  
These are just four of the Wicked One’s devices. He has many more, and what a shame it would be if he were able to skillfully use them on us over an over because we’re ignorant of them. God has forewarned us in His Word. Will we forearm ourselves now against our enemy? That’s the question.  

“He that fights with an enemy, whom nothing but blood can pacify, will give him no advantage.” – Thomas Adams

Sunday, September 14, 2014

No Visible Signs of Life

“…and he was as one dead; insomuch that many said, He is dead.” (Mk. 9:26b)
 We have all heard or read about people who, for one reason or another, were assumed to be dead, but who miraculously regained consciousness. Some of these hair-raising stories include the fact that the individual was actually in the morgue, waiting for a mortician who, presumably, would have seen to it that death was indeed a reality. Evidently, one can be so deep in a coma that there are, as they say, “no visible signs of life.” This is not unlike some professing Christians you and I know, right? In some cases, the verdict of whether or not there is true Spiritual viability is almost too close to call.

Two truths come to mind as I develop the analogy here. First, just because one gives little indication of Spiritual life does not mean he or she does not possess it. For instance, in the case of Lot, who lived and prospered in the infamous Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19), there is precious little indication that he had any association with God, other than the fact that he was related to Abraham, the friend of God. For this reason, when we read in 2 Peter 2: 7-8 that he was a “righteous man” with a “righteous soul,” we are tempted to ask, “Are we talking about the same man here?” One clue may be that we are told he was “vexed” by what was going on around him (not enough to leave, however), and this torment seems to be the only hint that he truly was redeemed. Charles Spurgeon said, “God never allows His children to sin successfully.” It will always irk them one way or another. The fact remains, however, that a child of God can be Spiritually comatose, so to speak…but not indefinitely. And this is one time where, if there is life, resuscitation will work every time.

This brings me to the second truth. What person in his or her right mind wants to spend their Christian lives having to be constantly resuscitated? Wouldn’t it be better to be a “resuscitator” than a “rescuscitee?” Some Christians are so entangled in the thinking of our ungodly culture that anytime you discuss the plain, basic teachings of the eternal Word of God, it’s like having to reintroduce them to a forgotten language. Oh, you can do it, but why should you have to? Bible study, prayer, Christian fellowship, sharing our faith, and, most of all, communion with God, should all be like breathing in and out. And no one should ever have to look at us and say, “Are they breathing?”

None of this is to say that we all look alive in the same way. Even in the best of Christians, our Spiritual respiration is not always the same. Sometimes our hearts seem to truly pant after God, as the Psalmist’s did (Psl. 42:1); while at other times, we may feel like Daniel, when he said, “…there remaineth no strength in me, neither is there breath left in me” (Dan.10:17).

But you can mark it down; there will always be Spiritual breath­–the Breath of God­­– in a true child of God, even when there are little or no other visible signs of life.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Living in Vain

“Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 3:13-14
I use the term, “living in vain,” not to suggest there may be no reason to live, but to argue against aspects of our lives that can only be described as vain. In looking back through years of past articles, I was somewhat surprised to find that I have never commented exclusively on this oft-quoted and important passage from the writings of the Apostle Paul. I’ve referred to it many times, I’m sure, but it definitely deserves repeated personal and public scrutiny. Perhaps it takes reaching a point where there’s more behind you than what’s ahead to fully grasp its significance. J  Whatever the motivation, I invite you to “listen in” as I counsel myself, according to the admonition of the Holy Spirit through Paul.
Note to Self: Make sure you’re not living in….
Vain Regret
Some things should not be forgotten, like just how undeserving we were of God’s saving grace (Isa. 51:1), and the manifold privilege of being chosen beneficiaries of God’s bounty (Psl. 103:2), to name only two. On the other hand, to constantly revisit our past sins, wasted opportunities, foolish decisions, hurtful words, and unhealthy relationships, is an exercise of vain regret. In fact, you won’t even find the word in Scripture. Repent, yes; regret, no. Regret may lead one to repentance, but once that has been taken care of, regret has no more purpose in our lives. Had Paul not admonished us to forget the past, common sense would tell us this. And frankly, to allow something that cannot be changed or altered to effect and hinder our present looks less like regret and more like sympathy seeking. “Don’t expect much from me; I’ve had a lot to overcome.”
Note to Self: Make sure you’re not living in…
Vain Rejoicing
“What’s this?” you say. “I thought Paul said to rejoice in the Lord always (Philip. 4:4)” Yes, but he didn’t say all rejoicing is good or right. As a matter of fact, there are people who rejoice in evil (Prov. 2:14); and James rebuked others who considered their boasting to be something worth rejoicing about (4:16). It would seem to me, if the greatest portion of my rejoicing is about the “glory days” of the past, I’ve given up on God. At least as far our personal fellowship and my ministry for Him is concerned. The world may change and my capabilities may falter, but God has promised my usefulness to Him has never been more important than it is right now. “In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good” (Eccl. 11:6). That verse says to me, what I do in the evening of my life can be just as good as what I did in its morning.
Regret and rejoicing…they both have their place. But they both can vain, a waste, useless to God and ourselves. There is nothing in our past, saved or lost, that we have the power to change…but it can change us today, if we let it. Ask Paul. His blasphemous past did not stop him; rather, it motivated him, “the least of the apostles,” to serve God “more abundantly” than all the rest.  And when we’re tempted to look to the past for our times of rejoicing, remember, for all practical purposes, the past is dead. And as Jesus said, “Let the dead bury their dead.” Our watchword now must be, “I press toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”

Someone once said to me, “There’s no sadder words than these: ‘What might have been.’” Maybe so, but if so, there’s no happier words than these: “What might yet be!”