Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Mark of Thanksgiving

“Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” Philippians 4:11
At nearly all Thanksgiving or pre-Thanksgiving services, the congregation is encouraged to share something for which he or she is thankful. I’m in favor of this, especially since in this setting, it can or should be assumed that the One receiving the thanks is God. I suspect this may not the case at many Thanksgiving tables, however. But I would go further. It’s easy to say, “I’m thankful for such-and-such,” but our lives may contradict the claim. It would seem to me that the mark of true thankfulness is contentment.
Lest we take this too lightly, I would remind you Paul said it’s something that doesn’t come naturally; it has to be learned. Since he spoke these words from a prison cell, I tend to believe he had passed the course. An old Anglican minister of by-gone years offered five rules to help us gain contentment:
1.    Allow thyself to complain of nothing, not even the weather.
2.    Never picture thyself to thyself under any circumstances in which thou art not.
3.    Never compare thine own lot with that of another.
4.    Never allow thyself to dwell on the wish that what has been or is now, were otherwise than it was or is. God almighty loves thee better and more wisely than thou dost thyself.
5.    Never dwell on the morrow. Remember that it is God’s, not thine. The heaviest part of sorrow often is to look forward to it. “The Lord will provide.” (“Daily Strength for Daily Needs” Mary W. Tileston)

Rule number three speaks of “thine own lot.” This reminds me of Psalm 16:5, where David says, “The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup: thou maintainest my lot.”  God was His portion in life, passed down to him from those who came before (v. 6), and experienced personally for himself: “my cup.” (A cup that sometimes spilled over, I might add!  Psl. 23.) 
Then David tells God, “Thou maintainest my lot.”  We speak of our “lot in life,” the circumstances in which we find ourselves. The dictionary defines this usage of the word as “the choice resulting from a decision made by random choice.” Some would simply call it luck. You remember the disciples, in Acts eleven, drew lots to see who would take Judas’ place, and “the lot fell upon Matthias.”  But according to Proverbs 16:11, we may cast the lot, but God is the one who decides. David believed this. He knew that God was holding the reins, and drawing the lines in his life: “The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places…) His lot in life—who he was, where he was, and what he possessed—were allotted to him by God, and God was the One maintaining that lot. David knew it. But do we?
Do we truly thank God on Thanksgiving (or any other day) for joy, heartache, recognition, disapproval, sickness, health, disappointment, success, criticism, encouragement, riches, ruin…equally?
God help me not only to speak the words of Thanksgiving but also bear the mark:


Saturday, November 15, 2014

A Table For Two

“Thou preprarest a table before me…” Psl. 23:5
I once saw a cookbook with recipes proportioned for two people with this title. I didn’t buy it, although it would have been appropriate now; but as you can see, I did steal the title.
I love big family get-togethers that invariably include a time of gathering around a table (or tables) for a happy, noisy meal. The last time we had all our family (children and grandchildren) together for such a time was some thirteen years ago. And, sad to say, I can’t imagine there will be another one anytime soon. But I will say this: As precious as such times are to my heart, I will have to say that intimate little dinners in quaint surroundings that I have shared with my husband of fifty-three years hold a place in my heart and memory that bigger, noisier, even grander feasts, cannot rival.
In the same way, I’ve also been in church services, and other assemblies of God’s people, when the glory of the Lord was present and the fellowship sweet. Getting together with the family of God is not just something I’m “into”; it’s something that’s in me. I am a friend of sinners, like my Lord, but I am most comfortable with Family.
Still, sweetest of all are those intimate times of fellowship I share with Jesus Christ, the Lover of my soul. Those times when I can “sup with him and he with me (Rev. 3:20); when He Himself reaches out and feeds me, as Boaz reached the parched corn to Ruth from his own hands (Ruth 2:14). When He takes me to His “banqueting house,” where I am able to sit down “under his shadow with great delight,” and partake of His fruit that is indeed “sweet to my taste" (Song of Sol. 2:3-4).
Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle John wrote, “Blessed are they which are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:19). What a grand and glorious celebration that will be! And as someone who can claim a place at that table, purchased and reserved for me by the Blood of the Lamb, I look forward to that time. But until then, I am well satisfied to linger over an intimate “table for two,” if the two are Jesus and me.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Stripped To the Bone

“And it came to pass, as they were burying a man, that behold, they spied a band of men; and they cast the man into the sepulchre of Elisha: and when the man was let down, and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived and stood up on his feet.” (2 King 13:21)

         To paraphrase Yogi Berra, “It’ ain’t over till it’s over”…and sometimes it ain’t over then!    

Elisha was dead. In fact, his body had already decayed to the point that the only thing left was his bones. His home-going to Heaven may not have been as spectacular as Elijah’s (2 Kings 2:11), but even Elijah couldn’t claim the kind of stunning phenomenon we read about in this verse.

All Israel assumed Elisha’s ministry was over. But they were wrong. And when Elisha took his last breath, I’m sure he thought his life’s work had come to a close. But it hadn’t. Mark it down, plain and tall: Only God decides when our work is done. And it may be long after we ourselves have “hung it up,” for one reason or another.

It is possible to fail so miserably in our Christian walk and service to God that it seems He could never use us again. I know of at least two men in the Bible who would challenge your grounds for resignation, however—Samson and Simon Peter. We have the stories of both these men to remind us that true repentance is the pathway to restoration of both fellowship and service.

Then again, sometimes God puts us in places and situations, not to terminate our ministry, but only to transform it. I know whereof I speak. It’s simply a matter of being in the right place at the right time. In Elisha’s case, that place was a sepulcher. And for some of us, it may also require a death—if only death to our own ambitions.

Let this story remind us that wherever we are, we are there by appointment. As A.W. Tozer says in one of his essays, “To the child of God, there is no such thing as an accident. He travels an appointed way.”

Like Elisha, when God strips us to the bone, there may yet be a miracle or two left! 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Touching Dead Bones

“And it came to pass, as they were burying a man, that, behold, they spied a band of men; and they cast the man into the sepulchre of Elisha: and when the man was let down, and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood up on his feet.” 2 Kings 13:21
As an example of priorities in service to God, Jesus once said, “Let the dead bury their dead.”  But on this occasion in 2 Kings, the dead raised the dead! Elisha had died and his body put in a sepulcher. When this miracle took place, we can assume he had been dead for quite a while, because his body was reduced to bare bones. It seems, a new group of mourners were attempting to bury another man when they saw approaching marauders, and pressed to make a fast get away, simply threw their deceased into the sepulcher of Elisha. That’s when it happened. The minute the man’s body touched the bones of Elisha, he came alive. Matthew Henry points out that this proves there is life after this one. As he puts it, “When Elisha died, there was not an end of him, for then he could not have done this. From operation we may infer existence.” But his final words on this story may be the most important, as far as I’m concerned: “It is good being near the saints and having our lot with them both in life and death” (emphasis supplied).
We all know being around other believers, especially those whose presence both instructs and inspires us, is one of the most basic, as well as vital, resources for the child of God who truly aspires to know Him. But it’s easy in this age of always looking for something—and someone—new, to neglect men and women of the faith that were buried long ago. Oh, I can tell you from experience, touching those old dead bones can bring new inspiration, exhilaration, and respiration to a waning Christian life! I find their boldness and fearlessness to be refreshing; their vocabulary to be vivid, pungent, and piercing; and their understanding of the glorious grandeur of God and the majestic graciousness of Jesus Christ, His Son to be indispensible in my walk with the Lord. And above all, add to this the pre-eminence and beauty of the Word of God, as found in the old A.V. 1611 King James Bible, and I consider myself rich indeed. For instance:
“Learn in confession to be honest with God. Do not give fair names to foul sins; call them what you will, they will smell no sweeter.” – C.H. Spurgeon

“We lack moral stamina. We are incapable of noble hatred and holy scorn. We are invertebrate, and on the evil day, we are unable to stand.” – J. H. Jowett
“Every man must do two things alone; he must do his own believing and his own dying.” – M. Luther
“A man will never regulate his passions who has never learned to regulate his thoughts.” -  G.H. Morrison

“Murmuring is no better than mutiny in the heart; it is a rising up against God…Murmuring is nothing else but the scum which boils off from a discontented heart.” - T. Watson

“Bodily appetites are insistent for attention. They give the devil a good vantage point if they are not kept under control.” - Arthur Matthews

“Promoting self under the guise of promoting God is currently so common as to excite little notice.” – A.W. Tozer

“From the moment a creature becomes aware of God as God and of self as self, the terrible alternative of choosing God or self for the center is opened to it.” – C.S. Lewis

“All that was ever ours is ours forever.” - Amy Carmichael

         All of these are now “dead bones.” I challenge you to touch them and others like them…often. Just see if they will not raise and revive you. I dare you!