Saturday, July 22, 2017

Hidden Beauty

"And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us..." (Psalm 90:17)

I glanced at the small, lead crystal sculpture only momentarily before turning to look at something else. It was lovely, but it was only one of many beautiful items in the shop. This was several years after my husband and I had moved to Northern California, and were on a one-day outing, browsing in some of the local, old gold mining towns nearby. Much of their business comes from tourism, and although we've been here for many years now, we still enjoy joining their ranks from time to time to soak up some of the rich history preserved here.

We were in a tiny town (pop: 150) with the ambitious name of Amador City, and had stepped for a moment into a shop selling dried and silk flowers, as well as delicate pieces of decor. And it was here, when I was giving the crystal pieces merely a perfunctory glance, that I was suddenly stopped by the proprietor, who said, brightly, “Oh, wait; you have to see them with the light behind them!” Then she picked up the little figurine I had admired before and sat it down in front of a little night-light that she turned on. With a quick intake of breath, I exclaimed, “Oh, what a difference!” For now the crystal had taken on a myriad of colors that shone with the brilliance of a kaleidoscope. And, like a kaleidoscope, the colors changed as she turned the crystal first one way then another. The colors were there all the time, but it took the addition of the light to bring it out.

I couldn't help but think that God was reminding me that without Him, the Light of the World, my own life lacks all color and brilliance. My personality may be pleasing, but without the Spirit of God, there is no power to touch lives; I may be witty, but without God, I cannot hope to bring real joy to a drooping head; and when I sing, they may say it is “as a lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice” (Ezek. 33:32), but without the sweet breath of Heaven, it will be just as ineffective as the prophet’s message.

The popular song says, “You Light Up My Life,” but, as far as I’m concerned, it’s the Lord Jesus Christ who lightens up my life. Without Him, life would a dull, murky gray; but with Him, my life takes on the color and hue of a brilliant sunset. If there is any brightness to my presence, it is only a reflection of Him, and I sing with the songwriter:

Oh, to reflect His grace, causing the world to see,
Love that will glow, till others shall know,
Jesus, revealed in me.   (Rodney “Gypsy” Smith  1860-1947)

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Just a Matter of Taste

“But he [Jesus] turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” (Matt. 16:23)

This sixteenth chapter of Matthew is proof positive of human inconsistency, whether the human is a believer or an unbeliever. In no time, it seems, after Jesus had commended Simon Peter’s spiritual perception (v. 17), He was forced to turn around and rebuke him for reasoning like the Devil. But the part of this verse that I really want to hone in on is Jesus’ use of the word “savourest” in describing Peter’s perspective. 

Whether spelled “savour,” or “savor,” as we do, the meaning is the same: “a quality in relation to the sense of taste.” It can also involve the sense of smell, as we see numerous times in Old Testament passages concerning the nation Israel’s sacrifices to God, and, in the New Testament, speaking of the one final Sacrifice, Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:2). In any case, it refers to our senses, as we know them, and God’s, which we can never know.

Jesus’ indictment against His disciple was that when it came to the prospect of a hell-defying Church (v. 18), and a glorious Kingdom (v. 19), he was ready to “dig in”; but when it came to the expectation of suffering and death (v. 21), he suddenly lost his appetite! Admittedly, it was Jesus’ death that Peter found especially repugnant, but had he walked all these months with the Lord, only to question His judgment now? Besides the fact that His Death and Resurrection were the prerequisite to the promised Church and Kingdom, not to the mention the only means of redemption from sin, there is a principle involved here. And Jesus spells it out in verse twenty-four: “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”

The surest way to know whether or not we have a taste for the things of God is to see how we react when God’s will goes against our own, especially when ours would seem to be more victorious—at least in the short run. How quick are we to spit out an unsavory situation, and substitute our own more palatable choice? When our side seems to be losing, our church and pastor pilloried and persecuted, or our loyalty to Jesus Christ threatens to cost us dearly, do we not only lack the stomach for it, but even the taste? If so, you and I, like Peter, do not savor the things of God, but the things of men.

We may appear to be good people. Just lacking in good taste. Sad…

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Get It Right

“For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.” Hebrews 4:2)

         Water, as you know, is made up of two parts of hydrogen with one part of oxygen (H2O). But the fact remains, neither one by itself will ever quench your thirst. It takes the right combination of the two to get the desired result. This is what the writer of Hebrews is saying. As powerful as the Word of God is (v. 12), and as effective as faith in God may be (11:6), neither one will get the result you’re looking for – “profit [them]” -- without the other.

         The eternal Word of God is the fountainhead of all truth, and although it is infinitely inexhaustible, it is still possible to read and study it long and well enough to acquire a working knowledge of its principles and precepts; but unless, and until, faith is added into the mix, it will never truly come alive to us. On the other hand, the strongest faith is no more than blustery whistling in the dark if it’s not based on sound doctrine (Titus 2:1) and eternal precepts (Psl. 119:100). Some folks can “quote it (the Bible) by the mile, but can’t live it by the inch,” as they say; while others have enough faith to step out on nothing. But that’s the problem: they step out on nothing, literally!

         As one gospel song says, “You can’t stand on promises if you don’t know what they are.” But all the Bible knowledge in the world won’t save a soul or get one prayer answered if it fails to lay hold on the Truth, by faith. The Christian life is not a method; it’s a mixture, as the verse says, that requires two ingredients: the Word of God and Faith. Leave one ingredient out, and just like the formula for water, you’ll spend your whole life thirsty.

To get the right result you have to use the right formula.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Yes, That One, Too!

 This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24
         I have often pondered and even written an article on this verse. I don’t mind telling you the article was a blessing to me; and if they’re to be believed, it was a blessing to other people, as well. But today, it said something to me it had not said before…for good reason, no doubt. The article I wrote was (it seemed to me) an exhortation from God that this day on which I was about to embark would be one of rejoicing depending on my will, not chance; and I could choose to be glad all day.  (“…we will rejoice and be glad in it.”)

         But of all the days, past and especially present, I needed to realize that this verse is not only referring to today but also to one in the future. One that might not bring words like “rejoice” and “glad” to mind readily. But as surely as the Lord made this day for me, did He not make the last one for me, as well?

         We only have to read Genesis, chapters one and two to know who the great “Day-Maker” is. He made my first day, and He’ll make my last one. O, and when I begin to ponder this great truth, words like “rejoice” and “glad” do indeed come to mind! And I begin to sing that happy little chorus:

This is the day, this is the day which the Lord hath made, which the LORD hath made;
We will rejoice, we will rejoice, and be glad in it, and be glad in it.
This is the day which the LORD hath made, we will rejoice and be glad in it;
This is the day; this is the day which the LORD hath made.

         I choose to sing it today; and, by God’s grace, I will sing it on that last day. Yes, that one, too!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

It's Closer Than You Think

“But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.” James 1:14

         “Stay away from the place of temptation.” Certainly a good rule to follow through life. The only problem is, according to James, the place of temptation is too close to home to avoid altogether. In fact, he says, we carry it around with us everywhere we go. Lust is the chief enticer, and we all have our own in-house brand. James goes on to say later in his book that it leaches out of the very members of our body (4:1), doing battle with any inclinations for good we may possess.

         Obviously, lust includes, but does not merely encompass, sexual intemperance. Such verses as Exodus 15:9, Psalm 78:18, Romans 7:7, and 1 Corinthians 10:6 indicate that anything outside the boundary of God’s Word, in general, and His will, in particular, are potential lust items, where you and I are concerned. In fact, according to Galatians 5:17, as children of God indwelt by the Spirit of God, we routinely experience a virtual war of lust between the Spirit and the flesh.

         Let’s face it: some temptations can be avoided, but others will find willing reception within us, in much the same way a radio receiver picks up sound waves. Therefore, rules, like blinders, are not sufficient. We will need to regularly change the channel, as it were, inside. We do this, says Paul in 2 Corinthians 10:5, by “[c]asting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God.” We will always be confronted with evil. It cannot be overlooked; but it can be overcome (Romans 12:21). Sin is not the result of outward attraction, but inward appetite. 

Lust is the traitor on the inside, in league with the Enemy on the outside.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

All the Way Home

“But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus…” Acts 20:24   

         “I often think how sad we shall be at the end, if we have failed in joy.” I have quoted these words of Amy Carmichael many times. I’m so glad I learned early in my Christian life how important joy is, and best of all, how accessible it is. Jesus told His disciples in John fifteen that one of the main reasons He spent time teaching them was so that His (Jesus’s) joy might “remain” in them (v. 11); and manifest itself continually as their own.

         I’ve made a personal study of joy for many years now, knowing God meant for me to have it. In fact, it’s been the very source of my spiritual strength (Neh. 8:10). Paul told the elders of Ephesus at his leave-taking from them (chap. 20) that now, as he faced what would, in all probability, be his final glimpse of them on this earth that his great desire was to “finish [his] course with joy.” When I re-read this recently, my prayer to God was, “That’s what I want too, Lord. We’ve walked together in joy for over sixty years now; I don’t want to “fail in joy” now at the end.”

Paul spoke one other time abut finishing his “course.” This time to his young Timothy (2 Tim. 4:6 & 7). “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” And my reference verse at the top tells us just how to finish our course with joy: Don’t hang onto life. And have you noticed, as I have, the older we get, the less this world seems worth hanging onto? Good-byes may be hard here; but Hello’s are so sweet there. And, O, there are far more of the latter than the former! In fact, dear ones, as we used to sing when I was a young girl, “We’ll never say ‘Good-bye’” in Heaven; we’ll never say ‘Good-bye.’” For in that land of joy and song, we’ll never say, ‘Good-bye.’” By God’s grace, there’ll be joy all the way Home…for me and for you!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

On Being a Smooth Stone

"And he [David] took his staff in his hand, and chose him five smooth stones out of the brook, and put them in a shepherd's bag which he had, even in a scrip; and his sling was in his hand: and he drew near to the Philistine."  (1 Samuel 17:40)

Why did young David choose smooth stones for his sling? From minimal research I found out that smooth stones sail through the air faster and straighter than rough, jagged ones, which tend to curve unpredictably. How do rough stones become smooth ones? Geologically speaking, this happens through a process called "tumbling," which is "usually accomplished by transportation of the stone by water and contact with other rocks." Of course, Job knew this, thousands of years earlier (Job 14:19a).

If I might, I'd like to take the liberty of drawing an analogy here. If God wanted, as David did, to defeat His enemy using you and me "as lively stones" (1 Pet. 2:5), would He want us to be smooth or jagged, do you think? If the former, then that will require two things: water (Eph. 5:26), and "contact with other rocks." And not necessarily the gentle tapping kind, either. In fact, I would imagine the rougher the encounter, the quicker the smoothing process.

Maybe you're like me. There are people, even other believers, who just "rub you the wrong way?" As someone has pointed out, only hard things can wear out hard things. Maybe we should look at these people in a whole different way. Instead of seeing them as irritating nuisances sent by Satan to sabotage our Christian life, maybe we should consider them as possible refining tools God is using to make us more proficient instruments of battle in the good fight of faith, helping us to fly farther, faster, and more accurately.

To quote John the Baptist’s first sermon, “…the rough ways shall be made smooth” (Luke 3:4); and my prayer is that the Lord will make my own rough edges smooth. It may be painful, but by His grace, I want to be a "smooth stone" in the hand of God.