Sunday, August 23, 2015

Loins, Girdles, and a Flabby Mind

Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind…” 1 Peter 1:13

        In the human anatomy, the term “loin” refers to that part of our torso between the waist and thigh. And it’s this section that seems to be most susceptible to flabbiness and therefore a prime prospect for something designed to hold in the excess (i.e., a girdle). You will find the term “gird up the loins” used both literally and figuratively in the Bible. For instance, men would gird up their loins in preparation for action, as Elijah in 1 Kings 18:46, who “girded up his loins and ran.” In this case, it involved also binding the clothing that covered this area of the body. It says of the woman in Proverbs 31 that she girded her loins with strength, which sounds suspiciously like a call for crunches to me!

Figuratively speaking, God challenges Job on two different occasions to “gird up thy loins like a man” (38:3; 40:7). In other words, “Pull yourself together and play the man.” In the New Testament, in his allegorical attire of a Christian soldier, Paul gives us a girdle of truth (Eph. 6:14).

Here in our text, Peter, the one who so often spoke before he thought, says from experience, “Gird up the loins of your mind.” As one of my grandsons once said, “We should run things back and forth across our brains a couple of times before we spit them out of our mouths!” Some of us see ourselves as being far from sharp mentally, but maybe it’s just that we’re too lazy to gather and confine our thoughts as a girdle confines flesh. Both can be uncomfortable, especially if, in the case of flabby minds, pleasurable thoughts are forced to make room for more purposeful ones.

         It was interesting to me to note that this admonition to gird up our minds has to do with the temptation to give up hope, especially hope in the reality of Jesus Christ and His final victory over all that is wrong in this world. “Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” We lose hope in ourselves when we lose hope in Him. We may say we believe God is all-powerful, but when we refuse to see ourselves as recipients of that power, we’re not really questioning ourselves, but Him. Hope is not lost; it is abandoned, purposely and individually. And it comes of allowing our minds to wallow in self-pity, negativity, and bitterness.
         Someone has quipped, “I feel a whole a whole lot better now that I’ve given up all hope.” What they’re saying is, “Now that I’m a hopeless case, don’t expect anything from me.” Hopelessness begins in the mind; but it can be successfully squeezed out by the tight girdle of truth. It’s important, because hopelessness leads to helplessness.

“Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind…and hope…”

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Repeated Repentance

“And it came to pass, when the angel of the Lord spake these words unto all the children of Israel, that the people lifted up their voice, and wept.” (Judges 2:4)

      Repentance can come too late (e.g., Esau and Judas), but it can also come too often. In fact, it can reach a point where it even wears God out (Jer.15: 6b). For this reason, I always brace myself, spiritually speaking, when I start through the book of Judges, where we are forced to follow along as Israel sins, repents, then asks and receives deliverance so many times it makes your head swim.

      Things were fine (most of the time) as long as Moses, Joshua, and the elders of their generation were alive. But we find in verses ten through twelve of Judges two that the next generation somehow did not get the message of what it was to really know God; and, as a result, “they forsook the LORD God of their fathers.” This was the source of their erratic spiritual experience. If God knows me, I have soul salvation (“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them” Jno.10: 27). If I know God, I have soul stability (“[T]he people that do know their God shall be strong…” Dan.11: 32).

       When an angel of the Lord reminded this new crop of Israelites just how good and faithful God had been to their fathers, chiding them for their own disobedience in the light of such faithfulness, verse four says it broke their hearts…so much so that they cried. However, it was not enough to keep them from disobeying again, as we see from the following chapters.  Tears are not enough; there must also be resolve.

      Repentance will always be part of our Spiritual lives as long as we are in these sinful bodies. But as we mature in the Lord, it should go from having a major role to being a minor player. If we’re not careful, we can find it’s more expedient to ask for forgiveness afterward than to ask for permission beforehand.

“I need to repent of my repentance; I need my tears to be washed.”
                    ~ The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Not Just a Conqueror

“Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved is.” (Romans 8:37)

         It’s possible to win…but just barely. A racehorse may cross the finish line by a head or a nose. A candidate for office may win the election by a landslide or a run-off. A prizefighter can win a match by a knockout or a by points. And it’s possible to conquer an adversary with a last strike just before you collapse, or by defeating him handily. You and I can and will conquer, but Paul says our destiny is to be “more than conquers.”

         I used to sing a song by Ira Stanphill entitled, This Old Ship. The theme of the song is the assurance of reaching Heaven, but with the distinct possibility of arriving there is pretty bad shape, after all the storms of life one has had to face. As the chorus says, “I won’t look like much when I get there; but I’m gonna make it through somehow.” It was much loved and I know it was a blessing to many, but I must say, the last nine verses of Romans eight have raised my expectations greatly!

         I read something recently by a great preacher of bygone days, who was pastor of Charles Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle for a time. It emblazoned an image on my heart and mind that I trust I will never forget. From a story in the life of David, he gives us a picture of what it means to be more than a conqueror:

“We are not to come out of the fray saying, ‘My! That was a narrow shave; but with a dance, swinging Goliath’s head in our hand.”

                                                                                – Graham Scroggie

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Primal Sin

“Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord...Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” (Prov.16:5, 18)

I must confess, I come to this subject with great reluctance; not because I know so little about it, but because I know it all too well. To write about it is to give the appearance of, if not actually participate in, hypocrisy.  But one way or the other, it should be faced. And you may be assured, these thoughts come not only from Holy Writ, and what I have gleaned from others through the years, but also from what I have seen when I looked in the mirror.

Proverbs is replete with references to this subject. It ranks first on God’s hate list (6:16-17); and it’s the seed from which contention grows and thrives (13:10). It is no doubt at the root of all sin. I call it the primal—or first—sin, because it rears its ugly head long before Eden in Ezekiel twenty-eight. Here we read historically of the prince of Tyrus, assumed by most Bible students to give us retrospectively an account of the origin of Satan. And we hear him saying, “I am a God, I sit in the seat of God...” (v. 2).

Like Satan himself, pride is capable of taking other forms, less obvious, even wrapping itself in the garb of humility, making much of its “unworthiness.” In some cases, God is the only one able to see the prideful heart beneath a humble demeanor. Sometimes, however, it isn’t even necessary to hide it; for, in some cases, it has come to be seen as “a sin in good standing.” I am unable to find one reference in the Word of God where pride is well spoken of, yet you and I often speak of those whose life is void of any organization, ambition, or even cleanliness, as being individuals lacking in pride, as though this were a virtuous motivation. All of the characteristics mentioned should be manifestations of obedience, not pride. Any pride of life “is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1Jno. 2:16). There is only One who possesses the rightful claim to pride; yet when He took the form of man, the Bible says He “humbled himself” (Philip.2:8). And as one old writer has said, “When Majesty humbled himself, shall the worm swell with pride?”

If pride is easily disguised, then we should try to unmask some of its telltale signs. I offer the following as good start:

Pride is above criticism. This is where contention comes into play. To the proud man or woman, any hint of disagreement or correction is an indication of blatant disregard for what is perceived to be his or her superior knowledge, higher motivation, and, in some cases, greater spirituality. If the assumed affront is not actively denounced, it is at the very least disregarded. It’s far easier to spot pride in criticism than it is in the way it is received. But it’s easily there in both.

Pride is beyond instruction. Proverbs 11:2 says that “with the lowly is wisdom,” and Daniel 5:20 makes it perfectly plain that pride hardens the mind. Add to pride the characteristic of stubbornness and you find an individual who never learns and never regrets it. I’m reminded of a preacher we knew who bragged that his mind was like “cement” on certain things. But as we have seen, it’s pride—not resolve—that hardens the mind. A “truth” that is afraid to face the light of scrutiny is an imposter. Pride needs no instruction; but humility is always learning. The great genius of science, Sir Isaac Newton, said of himself, “I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself by now and then finding a smooth pebble or prettier shell than ordinary, while the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”

Pride is without gratitude. To those who see themselves as superior to others, all recognition, appreciation, and blessings, are merely to be expected. It’s only right that God should bless him or her and others want to do for them. And it’s only when they are deprived of these blessings and words of appreciation that we get a true glimpse of their sense of their own inherent worth. Such individuals find it hard, if not impossible, to be a servant, especially if the act of service is lacking in recognition.

Pride is under indictment. It’s an abomination to the Lord, says our text, and it garners the resistance of God Himself (James 4:6). It’s a chain that chokes the very life from our Christian experience (Psl. 73:6a). It is the prelude to a fall and destruction, perhaps because someone whose head is held too high is less apt to see the path ahead.

Some have attempted to portray pride as mainly a sin of youth, but it seems to me that it flourishes very well, if not better, in old age. The veneration that often comes with the “hoary head” is first-rate fodder for pride. I was moved and challenged by these words of the great Baptist preacher, F.B. Meyer, who wrote in a letter to a friend a few weeks before he died:

“I am now eighty-two, and in a nursing home. I want to tell you what the Spirit of God has been showing me lately. That I have acquired a reputation for sanctity by my books. This may grow upon me. It makes one want to creep into Heaven unnoticed.”

And you and I are in the same danger; unchecked pride will grow upon us, too.