Thursday, October 29, 2015

"There Ain't Nothin' Like the Real Thing, Baby!"

"Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently." (1 Peter 1:22)

It's true; “There ain't nothin' like the real thing.” Especially when it comes to love. Peter calls it "unfeigned [genuine] love. He is warning us against love that is unreal and pretentious. We Christians are too prone to throw out platitudes of love as one might throw pennies into a fountain, and with about as much cost. But when "push comes to shove," (as true love eventually does) we soon find out whether or not it's the real thing. As Peter tells us in this revealing verse, a sure sign of a pure soul who loves and obeys the truth is fervent, "unfeigned love of the brethren...with a pure heart."

The passage in 1 Corinthians thirteen that speaks so eloquently of love is very often cited as a standard for married love, yet these same principles can (and should) apply to our spiritual siblings in the family of God. Unselfish love is every bit as admirable in a friendship as it is in a marriage. I think this is best seen when the relationship is unequal in one way or another. It’s easy to love a brother or sister in Christ who is amiable and strong in character, but unfeigned love is capable of genuine affection for one who is boring, negligent, or weak. We like to boast, "Oh, I love all God's children!" but I think the little verse I once saw may be closer to the truth:

To live above with saints we love
will certainly be glory;
To live below with saints we know —
well, that's a different story!

I’m convinced that love is an art—a Divine art, if you please—that takes great discernment and patience. Most everything else in the Christian life is easy, compared to it. I met a lady once who informed me that she was seeking the gift of tongues; and immediately the thought came, "Lord, I'd rather have the gift of love." I’d sooner speak a plain word of love and kindness than ten thousand in an "unknown tongue."

Why short-change our brothers and sisters in Christ (or ourselves, for that matter) with mediocre, dime store love? Why not deal in the top-of-the-line, unfeigned kind? Because, like I say, "There ain't nothin' like the real thing, Baby!"

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Name Calling

“Greet the friends by name.” (3 John 14d)

This guideline from the Apostle John for inter-personal exchange seems very basic, but I can’t help but suspect there is more than etiquette involved. It implies that impersonal greetings were common then, just as they are now, but there are other implications as well, I think.

First, names are important. It’s safe to say we are talking about what used to be called “Christian” names. Not the name you were born with (your family name), but the name you were given at birth, and in some cases, christened. They do not alone reflect who we are, but they do often say something about what or who was important to our parents at this time in their lives. Some, as in the case of my husband and I, choose Bible names for their children. Others want the names of beloved family members to be repeated. Some identify with the society around them, by picking current favorites; while others, on the other hand, seek to assert their non-conformity by choosing odd, sometimes startling, names. One way or the other, our name, coupled with our appearance, sets us apart from others. That’s why when we see someone we have met, but whose name we can’t recall, we search our brains trying to put a name to that face. And well we should, which brings me to my next thought.

Name calling (the right kind) is a godly trait. In fact, we know from the tenth chapter of the Gospel of John that our claim to being one of God’s sheep is based on the fact that He calls us “by name” (v. 3). Does He call us by our given names, like Richard, Mary, or Salle? Well, when He lived here on earth, He called men and women by their earthly names; but frankly, if He wants to call me by a different name in Heaven, I’ll be glad to answer to it. My point here is that if Jesus called people by their names, so should we.

Finally, this is not really about learning names; it’s about learning people. It’s about esteeming others better than ourselves (Philip. 2:3). Tell me; is it more important to you for others to remember your name than for you to remember theirs? You see, some people are not really connecting; they’re simply making connections. I blush to think of the so-called, “big names” I remember, and the supposedly little ones I have forgotten. Those saints of God who quietly slipped in and out of my life, leaving a remembered blessing, but a forgotten name. This speaks well of them but little of me. And, sadly, now that I am older (and hopefully wiser) it is even harder to remember names. But I do take John’s admonition seriously, and, by God’s grace, I will “greet the friends by name.”

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Two Who Sat Still

“Their strength is to sit still.”  (Isaiah 30:7)

         When I was probably somewhere between six and eight, my brother-in-law offered me a quarter if could sit still for fifteen minutes. I didn’t get the quarter. J This is no doubt where our older daughter got her energetic disposition, and why my husband always said of her, “That girl hits the floor running.” She has slowed down somewhat through the years, but I think her mind is as quick-paced as ever. I’m glad God has hard-wired some of us with this kind of energy. What would we do without their inspiring service to Him and us? But these as well as all personality traits must be honed by the Holy Spirit to bring out their maximum worth. And Psalm 46:10 still says, “Sit still and know that I am God.” I’m thinking today of two women in the Bible who epitomize for me the cited sentence in Isaiah thirty.

Mary sat still and worshipped: “And she [Martha] had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word (Luke 10:39). While her sister was busy ministering to Jesus’ physical need, Mary chose to take advantage of this Heavenly visit to let the Lord minister to her. Martha’s service was worthy and appreciated by Jesus, I’m sure; but He felt it was necessary to gently rebuke her for not grasping the enormity of an opportunity to spend time in the presence of God, hearing His words and worshipping at His feet. Undenied and uninterrupted fellowship with Diety is unrivalled in importance. In fact, Jesus said it was the greatest need we have and the only thing that cannot in the end be taken away from us (v. 42).

Ruth sat still and waited: “Then said she [Naomi to Ruth], Sit still, my daughter, until thou know how the matter will fall: for the man will not be in rest, until he have finished the thing this day” (Ruth 3:18). With her future hanging in the balance, this lovely young woman chose to follow the advice of her godly mother-in-law and trust the will of God and the integrity of a good man. She could have paced the floor and pondered the various outcomes, or worse, she could have placed her case again before Boaz, questioning his resolve. But she didn’t. She relied on Naomi’s assurance that this man would not rest until he had finished taking care of her and whole matter. And as we all know, he did.

         Now, lets bring it home. How good are we at sitting still at Jesus’ feet? Are we comfortable in His presence, letting His Word work its cleansing power and illumination on us? Perhaps our body is still, but our mind is not, instead, interspersing our reading with mental plans of the day. And must we do all the talking in prayer, or are we comfortable sitting quietly and allowing the Holy Spirit to probe our hearts for hidden sin or bring to mind someone or something not on our “prayer list?”

         Then, how good are we at waiting? Sitting still without feverishly trying to bring it to pass or head it off at the pass? When we’ve done what He has asked of us, but the answer or the resolution is still pending, can we trust the integrity of our Heavenly Boaz to “finish the job?” Paul answered that question for us: “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philip. 1:6). If God has begun a “good work” in us (salvation), it’s for dead certain, He’ll take care of us all the way. So if you’re waiting for a husband, a wayward child, healing, finances, whatever…if God has put you in a waiting pattern, sit still.

          Can it be said of you or me, “Her strength is to sit still”?

Sunday, October 4, 2015

I'm a "Renewable!"

"[B]ut though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day." (II Cor. 4:16)

Have you seen those birthday cards that lament the fact that unfortunately you may have reached the age where the warranty on your body has "expired?" We laugh, but sometimes that’s just the way it feels. But never mind; as Christians, there is at least one part of us with a lifetime guarantee—longer, in fact. The Oxford English Dictionary provides a definition for the word “renew” that says it all, I think: "To make new, or as new again; to restore to the same condition as when new, young, or fresh." Works for me!

According to King David, a wrong spirit can be renewed and made right, if you’re willing to repent (Psl. 51:10); Isaiah holds out the promise of renewed strength to those who will “wait upon the Lord” (Isa. 41:31); and Paul tells us, if we’ll refuse to let the world conform us, God will transform us by renewing our minds (Rom. 12:2). But on the eve of my seventy-second birthday, it’s this verse in 2 Corinthians that’s got my attention, maybe because I'm beginning to see just how fragile" the outward man” is. You who are still young, just wait; there will come a time when the strenuous activities you’re now able to clip off in a few hours will suddenly become all-day projects!

When this truth comes again to me, I like to picture in my mind the young girl who sang at the top of her lungs at youth activities, ran like a deer when she was late for class, got up early and stayed up late; and, in general, felt there was little in life beyond her reach. I picture her, because, after all, she's still there—that same happy, young girl who loved God with all her heart. Though the outward woman may be perishing, the real she is being renewed…day by day. I used to love to hear my first pastor, now in Glory, quote this sweet poem. And it means even more to me now.

  Not Growing Old

They say that I am growing old!
I’ve heard them tell it times untold
In language plain and bold­ ­­—
But, I’m not growing old.

This frail old shell in which I dwell
Is growing old, I know full well,
But I am not the shell.

What if my hair is turning gray?
Gray hairs are honorable, they say.
What if my eyesight’s growing dim?
I still can see to follow Him
Who sacrificed His life for me
Upon the Cross of Calvary.

What should I care if time’s old plow
Has left its furrows on my brow?
Another house, not made with hand,
Awaits me in the Glory Land.

What though I falter in my walk?
What though my tongue refuse to talk?
I still can tread the narrow way,
I still can watch and praise and pray.

My hearing may not be as keen
As in the past it may have been,
Still, I can hear my Savior say,
In whispers soft, “This is the way.”

The outward man, do what I can
To lengthen out this life’s short span,
Shall perish, and return to dust,
As everything in nature must.

But the inward man, the Scriptures say,
Is growing stronger every day.
Then how can I be growing old,
When safe within my Saviors fold?

Ere long my soul shall fly away
And leave this tenement of clay.
This robe of flesh, I’ll drop and rise,
To seize the everlasting prize,
I’ll meet you on the streets of gold,
And prove that I’m not growing old!

                                     — John E. Roberts