Sunday, January 31, 2016

Fight or Flight?

“But thou, O man of God, flee these things…” – 1 Tim. 6:11

         Would you consider a man who endured public stoning and beating, faced down an evil spirit, prayed and sang in a dark prison, rebuked a popular but blamable elder of the Church, and who refused to follow what he perceived to be the will of God, knowing it would lead to his death, to be a coward? Neither would I. Yet there were three enemies to the Christian that the Apostle Paul considered to be too deadly to be faced head on, but instead, called for immediate flight if one hoped to gain the victory. I don’t know about you, but such a man’s words of warning strike me as going way past a gentle warning to a roadblock. Here are three things he says call for flight, not fight.

         “Flee fornication” (1 Cor. 6:18). The sin that is excused in the name of love is not only an affront to God, but according to the rest of the verse, is a death warrant to one’s own body. I say this because sin always brings death of one kind or another. In the case of fornication, often the result is death of the so-called “pure” motivation: love. Fornication is not just an activity; it’s an appetite. It is insistent, in deniable, and in most cases, invincible. It’s a trap not to be toyed or argued with. In this case, it is better not to engage the enemy, but simply to run away. Let Joseph be your example (Gen. 39). Listen to Paul: “Flee fornication” in or outside of marriage.

         “Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry” (1 Cor. 10:14). If fornication is insistent, idolatry is insidious. It creeps into our lives subtly, posing as something justly worthy of our admiration. After all, are not idols considered by their worshippers to be benevolent? Obviously then, most of the idols you and I face are ones that seem innocent to others, as well as to ourselves. Family, friends, Bible preachers and teachers, political figures, commentators, ideas, books, our own reasoning, etc., can all tip the scales against God and His Word as far as the judgments we make and the decisions we come to. I’ve heard or read many different definitions of idolatry, but in my own life, I have come to believe that anyone or anything that makes you question the goodness or power of God, or the final authority of His Word, is an idol. Smash it as Moses did the golden calf. Don’t argue; run. “Flee from idolatry.”

“But thou, O man of God, flee these things” (1 Tim. 6:11). If you read the context of things mentioned, you will see Paul is saying, “Flee covetousness.” Indeed, he says in Colossians three, five, he says that covetousness is just another form of idolatry. Now, if fornication is insistent and idolatry is insidious, covetousness is insatiable. Whatever the object of our covetousness – money, recognition, power – there is no point when we say, “This is enough.” It feeds upon itself and like Midas’ golden touch, ends up depriving us of the most important people and things of life. It cost Judas his sanity, his life, and his soul. Don’t try to reason with this enemy; there’s too much at stake. Don’t get within reach of its vice-like grip. Flee covetousness!

You can find many places in Paul’s Epistles where he exhorts us to fight, but here are three times when he tells us that the way to victory is flight. We should take heed.

“Sometimes our finest victories are found in triumphant retreat.”J. H. Jowett


Saturday, January 23, 2016

Who Shall Be My Friend?

“I will not know a wicked person. Whoso privily slandereth his neighbor, him will I cut off: him that hath an high look and a proud heart will not I suffer. Mine eyes shall be upon the faithful of the land, that they may dwell with me…he that telleth lies shall not dwell with me.”  (Psalm 101:4b-7)

People who are poor friend-choosers never do well in life. To purposely choose someone of questionable qualities indicates either feelings of inferiority (“I’m not worth anyone better), or aspirations of superiority (“I’m the more significant one in the friendship”). Either outlook makes for an unbalanced relationship that puts both in a bad light. Sifting the good candidates from the bad ones is a good measure of maturity. Here are a few guidelines as laid down by King David, who had experience with both kinds.

He says in verse four that he didn’t even want to know a “wicked person.” The truly wicked ones are pretty easy to spot, because they have “bad news” written all over them; but the “good old” boys and girls who consistently point out others’ real (and unreal) faults in order to make you think they are a better candidate for friendship, are another matter. They’re a little subtler and more costly; because, as you well know, this individual is telling those same people the same thing about you!

Then, in verse five, we find the proud person who needs to be the center of attention in any group, and who is not above questionable means to see that he or she gets it. These kinds of people share more experiences, tell more jokes, and regularly display more talents than anyone else. All this, with an unmistakable “high look” that dares others to try to top them.

Verse seven shines a light on the ever-present liars; and anyone with a liar for a friend is the biggest fool in town. Truthfulness, tempered with kindness, is a character trait that is almost as important in a friend as it is in oneself.

Who then, shall be my friend? Not to worry; David has given us a good place to start looking. “Mine eyes shall look upon the faithful of the land,” he says in verse six. Someone whose goal in life is faithfulness to God and His Word will be one whose faithfulness spills over to parents, spouses, children, employers…and friends. The kind of friends to whom I refer need not be great in number; in fact, a horde may be a sign of indiscriminate judgment.

I am blessed with some friends like this; and next to Jesus Christ (my best Friend), my husband (my next best friend), and my family, these dear souls are my most priceless treasures in life. These tried and proved companions have earned the right be called true friends. Their faces swim before my eyes even now, and I raise my heart in thanksgiving to God for the blessing of their friendship. 

“The mark of a perfect Friendship is not that help will be given when the pinch comes (of course it will), but that having been given, it makes no difference at all.” — C.S. Lewis

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Who Sets Your Pace?

“Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.” – John 2:4

         Jesus refused to be hurried; He set His own pace. Jesus spoke these words to Mary, not to “put her in her place,” but to remind her of His; and to let her know that He would follow His heavenly Father’s timetable, not hers.

         Here’s the thing: It’s always right to do the right thing; but it’s always best to do the right thing at the right time (Eccl. 3). It’s always right to “make a joyful noise unto the Lord…and rejoice, and sing praise” (Psl. 98:4); but in the pediatric ward of a hospital at two a.m. is probably not the right time to do it! And even actions that should and will eventually be done should not automatically be goaded into doing willy-nilly. It was right for Mary to help Martha, but that didn’t mean it had to be her top priority at all times, or that she had to do it right now…especially when she had an opportunity to sit at Jesus’ feet and hear His words (Luke 10: 39-42). There will always be “good reasons” for when we seemingly must act immediately, straightway, and posthaste. Here are just three of them:

         When it’s a good thing – In our story in John, running out of refreshments for your guests at a wedding was no small thing, even more so than today. Not only was it socially embarrassing, you could actually be fined for it! And indeed, the fact that Jesus did perform a miracle by changing water into the depleted wine proves it was a good thing to do. But whether something is done soon after or long after the request does not take anything away from its goodness. As we have already pointed out, Mary’s request called for both granting and postponing. There was more at stake than the wine and the wedding. Boundaries needed to be laid.

         When we’re asked by a good person – What son does not want to please his mother, and especially one who had already proved her submission to God and love for Him. And one of the last things He did on this earth was to make sure she would be lovingly cared for the rest of her life by the apostle of love (Jno. 19:27). He was bound to His mother by an earthly conception; but He was bound to His Father by an eternal association. They had been and always will be One. The best person on earth could never trump that relationship.

         When the timing seems impeccable – There would never be a more perfect moment to do what He was going to eventually do. He could give His mother honor she deserved, rescue a wedding party, and proclaim His kingship in one fell swoop. But it would seem, only one of these outcomes came to pass. The wedding was indeed rescued by the best wine, but His mother’s place was not recognized, and the story indicates that no one except the servants even knew that a miracle had taken place (v. 9). But Jesus would not be hurried. His “hour was not yet come.”  He (or rather, His Father) would set the pace.

         If you have not already found a way to apply this truth to your own life, let me guide you a little by reminding you that all of us are susceptible to being goaded into making a quick move or decision by either others or ourselves. “It’s the right thing to do, do it now!” With some things, that’s true; but with others, postponement may make the difference between a good result and a great one. And this is true, even when the best person we know is encouraging us to act immediately either in our, their, or someone else’s best interest. Reliability is not the same as infallibility. In addition, never assume that an opportune time is always the best time. We don’t always see the whole picture. That’s why day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment connection with God through the Holy Spirit is so vital. He alone is equipped to set our pace.

         So, who sets your pace, friend of mine? You? Others? Or God?

“He that believeth shall not make haste.” – Isa. 28:16b

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Boxed In

“A fool hath no delight in understanding but that his heart may discover itself.” (Prov.18:2)

People who are all wrapped up in themselves make very small packages, indeed; so it goes without saying, it doesn’t take long to reach boredom in their company. This is because such a person (the verse calls him a fool) is always trying to “find himself,” while never seeking to understand anyone else and what their needs or ideas may be. With this man or woman, you can always be sure that no matter what the topic of conversation may be, he or she will find a way to bring the subject back to himself or herself. Nor, it would seem, does it matter if they are praised or criticized, so long as they are recognized.

Those who are thus inclined (and we all are from time to time) are in danger of always judging things within the prism of their own experience. It’s hard to “think outside the box,” when we are the all-important box. One of the most important tools for discernment is the art of disassociation. Being able to divorce oneself from the situation, so as to allow others the same importance and uniqueness we wish for ourselves. It’s one thing to empathize; it’s quite another to epitomize. “I, myself am a perfect example of what you’re saying…” I realize this ability to disassociate oneself is never completely possible for any of us, but for the self-absorbed, it’s a virtual impossibility.

Another sad consequence of this fault (besides being an irritation to others) is that while they are always trying to better themselves, “boxed-in” people never seem to be able to rise above themselves. Whoever we are most occupied with—whoever dominates our perception and reasoning—is the one we are going to resemble the most (Prov. 23:7a). Are you picking up the vicious circle here? The end is a narcissistic introspection that only perpetuates itself. No wonder the writer of Hebrews encourages us in chapter twelve to look away from ourselves and “unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.” It’s possible to spend your whole life zeroing in on the wrong person.

I know Plato said, “Know thyself,” but I refuse to be boxed in; I’ve set my sights a whole lot higher: