Friday, January 30, 2015

Corrupt Communication

“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” (Ephesians 4:29)

         There is a reason God chose the word “corrupt” to describe destructive speech. Along with its other meanings, Webster defines something corrupt as being “infected, tainted, decayed, and putrid.” Doesn’t sound very healthy, does it? Perhaps that’s why Proverbs says, “a wholesome tongue is the tree of life” (15: 4); and “the tongue of the wise is health” (12: 18). Impure, pernicious speech not only poisons the air around it, it infects the tongue that carries it. The old saying, “If you’re going to think it, you might as well say it” is one old saying that’s not worth saying. Verbalizing any evil or perverse thought only gives it greater possession of your mind, since you’re forced to search for the words.

         If we could picture coarse, hateful, or caustic conversation as discharge from a running, putrid sore, maybe we would be less inclined to indulge in it.

“In a world system darkened with the smoke of the pit, how we rejoice to meet saints who are fresh with the clean air of heaven.” – Watchman Nee

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Forgiveness: Getting As Good As You Give

“For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." (Matthew 6:14-15)

What do you charge for forgiveness? Before you protest the whole Roman Catholic idea of charging money for handing out forgiveness of sins (Indulgences), may I point out that most of us require a certain attitude, show of sincerity, or even length of time, before we are ready to grant the full measure of our forgiveness. According to the apostle, John, God's price tag for personal forgiveness has only one word written on it: "confess" (1 John 1:9).

"But where does repentance come in?" you persist. You may well ask. This, too, weighs into the argument. We read in Luke 17:3-4: "Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him." True confession will always be accompanied by repentance. But repentance doesn't always exclude repetition, even seven times in one day, or four hundred and ninety times in a lifetime (Matt. 18:21-22). It's not the ideal scenario, I know, but it is a reflection of reality. And God was surely aware of it when He offered to forgive us.

Forgiveness is not the same as trust, of course; and that's where we sometimes get hung up. We think because we become hesitant to trust someone who has "trespassed against us" over and over, we have not truly forgiven him or her. But God is the only one who is able to forgive and forget. This is because no one is threat to Him as they may be to us; He already knows what they will or will not do. Our problem is not that we lose trust but that we made the mistake of trusting in the first place. God is wise enough not to put trust in any of us (Job 15:15); therefore He is not surprised when we fail. I'm afraid you and I expect far more of each other than we should. That's why we are more apt to consider sin as a personal affront to us than an offense against God.

The reason we need to get this thing of forgiveness right is what we read in these verses in Matthew six. For some reason, God has chosen to balance His own forgiveness of us against our forgiveness of others. I'm not sure how exact the balance must be, but I do know I don't want my own refusal to forgive others to tip the balance against my favor.

I don't want to charge any more for forgiveness than God does.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

How's Your Form?

"Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men... (Philippians 2:6,7)

When we were living in N. Ireland, instead of asking, "How are you?" folks sometimes said, “How’re you keepin’? or, "How's your form?" Needless to say, this sounded strange and even humorous to us.

I was reminded of this again today when I read this verse in Philippians. If you had asked Jesus about His form, when He walked this earth, His answer would have been, "Not what it was." And I can tell you, that would be an understatement. Can you imagine a more radical change? It's one thing for a king to become a peasant; it's quite another for the Creator of the world to become a Servant to those He created—for the hands that formed the seas to take water and stoop to wash dirty feet. If Jesus Christ was God (and He was) there has never been, nor will there ever be, a display of humility and condescension to equal it; and, according to First Corinthians 15:28, the Eternal Son will also be the Eternal Servant.  

Here, then, is the burden of my message to us today: In eternity, Jesus was in the form of God; through the miracle of the Virgin Birth, He was made in the likeness of men; but He chose to take the form of a servant. As the verse says, He took it upon Himself. And in our case, we, too, are "made in the likeness of men"; but we must choose whether or not we will take "the form of a servant."

Are you wondering whether or not you’ve made that choice? Here's a clue:

You can tell whether or not you are becoming a servant by the way you respond when people treat you like one.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

What Have You Got?

“And the LORD said unto him [Moses], What is that in thine hand?” (Exo.4:2) “And he [Jesus] asked them, How many loaves have ye?” (Mark 8:5)

God would rather work with what you’ve got than start from scratch. He’d sooner use the rod in Moses’ hand than drop down a magic wand from the skies; and the seven loaves on hand will work just as well as manna fallen from Heaven. God has already proven He can begin with nothing and create a universe. Now, it would seem, He delights in doing the supernatural through ordinary things…and ordinary people. And in the case of the latter, He asks first, “What have you got to work with?”

That’s a good question, one we need to be able to answer. I’ve noticed through the years, though, sometimes people either give the wrong answer, or else they just mumble, “I don’t know.” I’ve heard individuals (obviously uncomfortable) struggling through a solo on Sunday morning, who might sooner have shown their true mettle greeting newcomers at the church door, making each one feel perfectly at home. On the other hand, I’ve sat by others in church who sang lustily and capably, but who would never think of sharing their talent publicly. Why do Christians so often miss the mark when it comes to finding God’s overarching will for their lives? Three reasons, I think.

1) They fail to see the supernatural working though the natural. They are conscious of God in the “elders of the church” and the “anointing with oil,” but they sometimes forget to see the hand of God working through a Dr. Luke. They marvel when a naturally nervous person suddenly becomes calm in a crisis; but they take for granted the innate, unflagging gift in the one whose demeanor always reflects quiet stability.

2) They fail to see their own natural gifts. This is the obvious result of the first problem. When you’re always expecting something that supersedes your natural abilities and inclinations, you become blind to the obvious. “I know I can have a bathroom looking spotless while others are still looking for the “Scrubbin’ Bubbles,” but what’s that got to do with God?” Plenty. How impressed do you think a visitor to your church is going to be with a soloist with perfect pitch, or a preacher with perfect diction, if the bathroom is a perfect mess?

3) They fail to see the great potential in everyday things. Who would have thought a beat-up old stick could produce plagues and part waters? And who would have thought seven loaves and a few fish could satisfy the hunger of four thousand people? Well, who would think that a master bathroom cleaner, an unschooled “child psychologist,” an unobtrusive organizer, a boisterous life-of-the-party, or a quiet comforter, could all be used to rescue souls, build a church, and further a Kingdom? God would. And if you and I agree with Him and believe that everyday, ordinary people with natural gifts and abilities can, with the touch of God, produce supernatural results, we can prove it.
Now then, “What is that is thine hand?” And “How many loaves have ye?

 Hey, I’m talking to you!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The God Who Sings

“The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.” Zeph. 3:17

         I find nothing in this amazing verse of the severe, Old Testament God of wrath, so often pictured by secularists and unbelievers. This is not to say our God, as pictured in both the Old and New Testaments is incapable of wrath. He surely is. But we should never make the mistake of seeing Him as one-dimensional. His consuming wrath is divinely balanced by compassionate love, capable of every emotion He has placed within His image-bearing creation. So should we really think singing was reserved for angels and earthlings, while the God who created them can find no reason to break forth into song?

         When it comes to us, our own singing finds its highest expression in praise and adoration; but of course, this would not be His motivation, since He is the ultimate recipient of this praise. What does motivate Him then, I wonder? If I take this verse for what it says (and I do), God is moved to song by one emotion: joy—joy over us.

         What does that majestic Voice sound like? A “rushing, mighty wind,” a “still, small voice,” or the roar of the ocean? Is the voice that brought our world into existence a rich baritone or a thunderous bass? I am speculating, of course, humanly. But one thing I do know. The angels do not join in here. They may sing on other occasions, but not here, not according to this verse. This is a love song, it says. A love song is personal.

         I cannot help but think that when I lift my voice in pure praise to Him, He gives voice to His own feelings, as well. I may not hear it audibly, but if I listen closely, my heart will pick up the strains of a majestic melody, intoned by the Lover of my soul. He sings because He is overwhelmed with joy. I sing because I am overwhelmed with gratitude and love.