Sunday, July 26, 2015

A Penny a Day

“And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.” (Matthew 20:2)

         Someone has said, “Those servants of God who insist on a contract will always feel cheated.” In this case, however, there was indeed a contract. The promised wage was a penny a day, not a penny an hour. And the fact that some of the workers were hired later in the day—even an hour before quitting time—did not change the terms of the agreement. Still, at the end of the day, the daylong workers accused their employer of unfairness, sighting the “Johnny-come-lateleys,” who were getting identical paychecks. But the fact remained; their claim was not legitimate, because the boss had made it perfectly plain to all of them what they were going to receive.

         I think the root of the problem is found in verse twelve, where the complainers pointedly reminded the employer that these last hire-ons, who were receiving equal pay, had not “borne the burden and heat of the day,” as they themselves had. They had not suffered the same hardships, yet they were receiving the same recognition. The burden and the blessing were disproportionate, to their way of thinking. 

         It’s hard to see others around you, who seemingly have not had to fight the battles you have faced, nor sacrificed as you have, receive as much or more recognition and appreciation than you. And I promise you, the tendency to succumb to this insidious form of envy only gets worse as you get older. Remember, though, when we offered ourselves to the Lord to be used as He saw fit—when we hired-on, so to speak—did He not make it clear that the results and the reward would come at His discretion alone? As Jesus says in verse fifteen, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with my own?”

         Speaking for myself, it has been a great honor to serve God these many years, and as I weigh my work for Him against the benefits and joys I have reaped along the way, it seems to me that “a penny a day” is a most generous wage. 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Old Wine

“No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better.” – Luke 5:39

         We live in what is considered perhaps (after the Napa Valley) California’s wine country. I say this not to raise any claim to being an authority. I’m not. As one who doesn’t even care for grape juice, I could never be considered a connoisseur. I do, however, love seeing the nearby acres of vineyards with their beautiful vines bent over with abundance of ripe fruit. One thing I do know, as I’m sure you do as well, is that old wines are prized more than new ones. The most expensive bottle of American wine ever sold was a bottle of 1941 Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, which sold for $24,675, or $4,113 a glass. There must be something about the taste. At least, that’s what Jesus said. After you’ve had the old wine, the new just won’t satisfy you.

         I agree; not about wine in a glass, but the Spiritual wine in my soul. Not one to be stagnated by nostalgia, I have, nevertheless, lived long enough to taste some “new wine” that I have found bland and flat in comparison. Could I share with you a few of what I have found to be vintage years in my Christian life, for one reason or another?

         I may have been born in 1943, but 1952 was the most important year of my life. That was the year I was born again by the Spirit of God. I may only have been nine years old, but He had already laid the conviction of sin so heavily on my heart that ever after, when I sang the little chorus, “Rolled away, rolled away, rolled away; every burden of my heart rolled away,” it was truly my testimony. From that day to this, I have known the God who knew me before the foundation of the world, and I have known that I belong to Him.

         In what I’m guessing was probably about 1955, I decided that I wanted to serve Jesus, my Lord and Savior, exclusively, By that I mean, I knew that I could serve Him in any venue or situation in which He placed me, but I longed, if it was His will, to labor in His vineyard with a man of God, if possible. As we used to sing, “To be used of God, to sing, to speak, to pray/To be used of God to show someone the way/I long so much to feel the touch of His consuming fire/To be used of God is my desire.”

         In 1961, I married the man God had chosen for me with which to serve Him. This too I have never doubted. He has been far more than a loving husband to me. He has been my pastor, teacher, and friend; and who like Jonathan for David, “…strengthened [my] hand in God” (1 Sam. 23:16). I cherish him.
         The next year, I became a mother, as well as in 1967, 1973 and 1974. I know of at least two Christian women who chose to serve God with their husbands, without the distraction children. Only the direct intervention of God would have kept me from savoring the sweetness of motherhood, with all its joys and tears.

         Finally, there is another year long before my time that was a vintage year of its kind, unequalled by any other, to my way of thinking. That year is 1611, the year when, as Alister McGrath describes it, the Book that “changed a nation, a language, and a culture,” was produced. He further acknowledged about the King James Bible that “Perhaps the greatest tribute to its success lies in the simple fact that, for nearly two centuries, most of its readers were unaware that they were actually reading a translation.” (In the Beginning, p. 301). A singular distinction from any since then. Frankly, I’m still “unaware.” The Bible I have been reading for sixty-three years is as sweet to my taste as it was when I was a child. If anything thing, it’s sweeter; for as good wine, it has aged as I have, and now I have no desire for anything else.

         Thank you for letting me share these thoughts on some “old wine” in my life. Could I humbly say, on this wine I am a connoisseur? It has stirred my heart to look back and reminded me again that with most things in the Christian life, “The old is better.”

Monday, July 13, 2015

Tempting God

"Then the devil taketh him into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down...Jesus saith unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God." (Matt.4: 5-7)

When we consciously put ourselves in circumstances that demand a miracle, we’re tempting God.

 For instance, we can over-extend ourselves financially then expect God to supply our needs supernaturally. A job loss or unforeseen emergencies are one thing, but financial irresponsibility is another. Although God in His mercy may very well come through in some cases, it still represents a leap off the pinnacle of responsible stewardship.

To abuse our bodies through neglect or over-indulgence then pray for good health would seem to fall into this category, as well. This is one reason why some activities that may not be actual sins can still be in direct contradiction to God's directives in the care of our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:12,19,20).

In the same way, putting ourselves in compromising situations then asking God for protection and deliverance from evil, is yet another exercise in God-tempting. We’re warned in 1 Corinthians 15:33 that "evil communications corrupt good manners," and ignoring this warning is one way to prove the old saying, "If you lay down with dogs, you'll get up with fleas."

You will read in verse six of this chapter that Satan went so far as to quote Scripture in order to bolster his subtle temptation. Jesus was not fooled by this ploy, however, nor should you and I be. It’s wrong to allow a Bible text to become a pretext for questionable things. God's promises are not Aladdin lamps to be rubbed and wished upon indiscriminately. And they are certainly not escape routes for those who continually paint themselves in a corner.

Make sure it was God who led you to your “Red Sea” before you ask Him to part the waters!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Wage War

“For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.” - Galatians 5:17

From the moment you and I accept and appropriate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as payment for our sins, swearing our undying allegiance to Him, the battle was on. We may not be aware of it immediately, but it isn’t long before we realize there is rebellion in the ranks. Not only does the world around us seem oddly foreign, and the devil even more persistent, we suddenly become aware of a traitor within in league with the enemy without. 

Hello, FLESH!

Is it any wonder Paul’s Epistles are so filled with references to the reality and power of these inbred impulses passed down from our First Parents? In Ephesians, we’re made aware of weapons of defense at our disposal, but in the case of the flesh, somehow I’m reduced to what seems more like hand-to-hand combat, a battle of wills, as it were. My will against the Spirit’s, as the verse in Galatians says. And consequently, I’m stopped dead in my tracks, spiritually speaking.

Ultimately, wars are won by offensive, not defensive, actions. You cannot only respond to aggression, you must wage war yourself. I believe the flesh utilizes two vehicles to attack us in this mortal battle: the body and the mind. For that reason, I challenge us all to: 

1. Wage War on Our Bodies

“…so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.” - 1 Cor. 9:26-27

According to the apostle, intemperance leads to uselessness; and your moderation should be obvious (Philip. 4:5). Because Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:25 that anyone who really means business for God will be “temperate in all things,” I hesitate to list things. Suffice it to say, anything that pleases any of the senses has the potential for excess and even destruction. And not the least important is its impact on our spiritual lives. As I heard my pastor once say, “If you want to reach your spiritual potential, learn to tell your body it can’t have everything it wants.” 

2. Wage War on Our Thoughts

“Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” - 2 Cor. 10:5

The language of this verse has a certain vehemence in its tone, to my way of thinking. Don’t just turn away from high-minded thoughts that dare to question God and His Word, throw them to the ground as you would the statue of an ungodly tyrant. God is serious about this. He speaks in verse four of this chapter of “pulling down strongholds.” It’s as if He wants us to know what a struggle and hard-fought battle it will be if we succeed. Whether they are thoughts of fear, lust, envy, bitterness, pride, or whatever, if they don’t fall within the realm of obedience to Christ, they should be relegated to the unthinkable for the child of God. 

Before his death, Paul, the Apostle said, “I have fought a good fight” (2 Tim. 4:7). I know he claimed to have “fought with beasts at Ephesus” (1 Cor. 15:32), but after reading his writings, I somehow think his greatest battles were fought against the little Jew who met Jesus on the road to Damascus. I know that’s my testimony. As much as this world’s culture becomes more and more threatening to me, I still consider the combat with my flesh to be a greater threat to my life in the Spirit under the authority of God. But it’s a battle worth fighting, and, by God’s grace, I intend to stay in the battle. How about you?

Friday, July 3, 2015

Big Hearted

“And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea shore.” (1 Kings 4:29)

        One of the maladies from which my paternal grandmother suffered was an enlarged heart, which is usually a symptom of other underlying problems such as high blood pressure, heart valve problems, thyroid disorder, etc. I was so young when she passed away that I’m not sure which of these finally caused her death. I say this to point out that being “big-hearted,” at least in the physical realm, is not always a good thing. And the same can be said in the emotional and spiritual realm.

        Solomon had everything a man could want. There was no one wiser or richer than he. And as if that were not enough, he was blessed with “largeness of heart.” He had a great capacity to love. And indeed he did love God, as we read in 1 Kings 3:3.

         But, unfortunately, the devil can take one of our best characteristics and use it against us. One may love deeply but not wisely. In Solomon’s case, his huge heart was easy prey for ambitious women who turned it away from his God to other gods. Sadly, we read in 1 Kings 11:4 that when he was old, “his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God.”

                        What Good?

        What good is the ability to make friends,
                           If you make the wrong ones?

        What good is zeal,
                           If it is not for a worthy cause?

        What good is intelligence,
                           If it cannot discern between truth an error?

        And what good is a big heart, 
                           If it is not right with God?