Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Poor in Spirit, Rich in Christ

On a recent trip to the UK, I met an African man who exuded Christ.  The big smile Chris wore said a lot.  His gratefulness said even more.  But it was his love for the Scripture that warmed my heart.  After the church service, he introduced himself.

“How are you today?” I reached out and shook the hand extended to me in greeting.

“Very thankful,” was his response.

“I like that reply,” I told Chris.  The unsaved world, frequently grumbling about the lot they’ve been given, often takes note of such words and wonders that believers can be grateful for what they have.  


Gratitude is so often a lost art.  But it’s this spirit the believer is to evidence in the world.  Philippians 2 says plainly,  

“Do all things without murmurings and disputings:  That ye may be   blameless and  harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;  Holding forth the word of life . . . ” (verses 14-16).

I often marvel at the breadth of that promise—the far-reaching effect our thankfulness can have.  As we habitually live in joyful obedience without a complaint in our hearts, we evidence to an unbelieving world the light of Christ.  We live in the spirit of Christianity. It was this Christ-like spirit that blessed me so much as I spoke with Chris. 

The message I heard that evening was excellent; the prayer time, good; the singing, hearty.  But because of the edification I received from speaking with this saint, I left God’s house that night spiritually encouraged to walk closer to Jesus, to let His words penetrate my every thought, and to let God shape my priorities in light of the Great Commission.

My interaction with this brother likewise caused me to consider my typical interactions in God’s church.  Isn't His house to be the place where the saints are refreshed?  Where we heartily engage in sharpening the countenances of our spiritual brothers and sisters?  Where God’s Word is applied and discussed?  

Chris's simple obedience convicted me.  His honesty about his Christian walk encouraged me.  And his heartfelt commitment to the things of God sharpened me.

Having come to Christ four years ago, Chris takes time each day to witness for Him.  Daily, he offers people Gospel leaflets in very public places throughout London, home to many agnostics and atheists.  Chris doesn't have a Ph.D in theology.  He doesn't have all the answers to objections others might raise about the Gospel.  And, while he's learning more about answering others, he hasn't forgotten a signally important truth--as part of Christ's church, he has an obligation “unto the end of the world.” 

To every creature.  

To preach the Gospel.
Chris likewise believes in the incredible power of God's Word and understands his utter dependence on God for all things.

"There are many devices in a man's heart; nevertheless, the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand” Chris quoted, mentioning that this text had been his meditation of late.  It had helped him in knowing which information would endure in his own life as he encounters multiple decisions.  It had directed him toward the Bible as the everlasting foundation for daily life.  

Chris opened his pocket Bible to show me the words of Psalm 86:11, which he often prays: "Teach me thy way, O Lord; I will walk in Thy truth; unite my heart to fear thy name.”

“If our hearts are united with His,” Chris explained, “we will do His will.  He continued, "I've begun to see that every sinful thing I do is really from my heart.  If I find a wrong attitude in my spirit, I know its source; therefore, I must keep my heart diligently!" 

Placing himself daily into situations that are far from culturally cool, Chris is continually confronted with the realization that His strength is found in Christ alone.  Purposing to habitually obey Matthew 28:19-20 has forced him to realize his poverty of spirit and the richness of the person of Christ.  Knowing that in himself he could never redeem a soul, Chris begs the Lord to fill him, to empty him of self.  He spoke of the reality of spiritual conflict in his daily experience. 

“It’s easy,” he said, “to allow worry about some other thing dominate my mind; but that’s not what God wants.”  Instead, the simplicity of Christ demands that He focus his mind on a verse of Scripture, letting that be what strengthens his heart as he daily gives the Gospel.

Similarly, George Muller would read the Word until he discovered in his Bible reading an attribute of God upon which to meditate.  Throughout the day, that particular characteristic would shape his thinking.  Muller, known as a great prayer warrior, read through the Bible about 200 times after his conversion.  I’ve often wondered how much of a role the promises and character of God played in shaping Muller’s thoughts, which in turn drove him to pray in faith, believing in God, who does the impossible.

In our day, discussion of spiritual realities is too frequently missing in our conversations with God’s people.  Why?  Is it that we spend far too little time in God's harvest field and thus fail to feel our own need?  Is it that we neglect to acknowledge the reality of spiritual conflict in which we are engaged?  Is it that we too little acknowledge our utter dependence upon Christ because we rarely participate in uncomfortable situations where we must bear His reproach? 

Just what will drive us to our Master?  What will give us insight into our poverty of spirit?  What situations can we choose in accordance with God’s Word that will corral our hearts into the path of life, where we are illuminated by His light and are thus able to perceive His reality?

Perhaps it will take a daily commitment to witnessing in God’s harvest field, willingly bearing Christ’s reproach before men, as Chris has chosen.  If every believer were thus engaged in spreading the Gospel to the “end of the world,” just what might be the result?  How Spirit-filled might believers be throughout the day?  How Word-filled might their conversations be in God’s house?  How thankful might they be?

Oh, may we obey our Lord's commands, convinced of the power of His Word, fully trusting in the simplicity of Christ to draw all men to Himself!

Our Lord is able to take weak, incapable vessels, “poor in Spirit” but filled with Himself.  May we, like Chris, take God at His Word and let Him shape our daily priorities!   

Monday, July 31, 2017

Reflections from Rome, the "Eternal" City


Rome—the eternal city.  And after a few short hours spent here, one can see why.  Traversing urban blocks, the traveler views ancient ruins which, like piles of hidden treasure, remind passersby of the ephemeral nature of life.  Gargantuan columns toppled in heaps or fused together by bands of metal shout out to today’s world to remember the past.  Consider history.  And live for something beyond the here and now.

Millennia-old fragments scatter memories everywhere in this city, where the ancient past daily intermixes with the ever-passing present. 

A pigeon holds its perch atop a marble Caesar.  Perhaps it descended from the very birds who, hundreds of generations past, participated in Roman army fortifications, where pigeons were raised and used by the imperial army.

Trajan's Column by Night
I sit in the light of the grand column chronicling Trajan’s victories of war, beholding a sight first seen in a history book years ago.  I’m really here—really in Rome.  One of millions throughout the centuries who has visited this “eternal” city.

Here, in the light of the grand etch work of a brilliant military historian, I note an emperor’s accomplishments displayed in stone.  This ancient volume speaks even more loudly than the Egyptian obelisk by Constantine’s baptismal site.  That testifies of Egyptian presence, of antiquity’s great borrowing and melding of cultures.  But this reaches every language group, for its historian uses pictures to portray one emperor’s conquests in exquisite detail, pointing out his grand accomplishments not only to literate but also to uneducated and barbarian alike.

I marvel at the chronicles recorded in stone throughout the city, at the immense proportions of the giant Forum, dwarfing the mass of humanity, which once crowded under its dominance and even now gaze upwards, imagining that incredible splendor of ages past.

Not far away sits the Mamertine Prison, where the Apostle Paul penned two epistles to Timothy and one to Titus.  Surrounded by concrete, without proper waste facilities, Paul would have depended upon the charitable gifts of others to sustain his life.  Descending into the heart of the Mamertine, I consider the precise geographical context of these books and decide to read through them during my first days in Rome.

Before being bound in this prison, Paul would have beheld the powerful Roman dominance that Caesar Augustus’s massive forum offered.  Bleating sheep and lowing cattle—destined for sacrifice, whose own entrails would have been read to predict omens –-no doubt reminded him of the pagan city where he had come to appeal to Caesar but now awaited death.  His heart, filled with compassion for the mass of humanity surrounding him, would have considered the populace who worshiped at Jupiter’s, Minerva’s, and Apollo’s temples, as the prison hovered in the shadows of these idolatrous centers.

And in this context Paul wrote words that bear noteworthy significance:  “Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

While emperors constructed larger-than-life statues of themselves, this great Ruler remains invisible.  Unlike the emperors’ faded palaces and images, the I AM is eternal.  Other emperors’ grand dwellings—at first, luxurious and soon, fading away—would grace the hillside overlooking the Mamertine for years to come, but this King remains immortal—the same in 2017 as he was in Paul’s day, just decades after Christ’s resurrection.

As I walk back to my hotel room after viewing the old city at night, with the orange flame lit at Piazza Venezia, the Forum illuminated, and Trajan’s Column glowing, I consider.  While the “eternal city” boasts faded columns of marble and stone, I have a “building of God, an house eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor. 5:1)—I have heavenly body promised me that will last forever.  While the millennia-old marble makes for interesting history, it is far from eternal.

In fact, in a city where travelers marvel at antiquity while beholding the intricate detail of colossal beauty, few realize that God—the invisible one—outshines any monument of the past.  And they, unlike the ephemeral statues about them, have been fashioned in the image of this immortal Being.  Created in His likeness, their eternal souls are by far the most important features of this city. 

Unlike the broken columns at our feet, the glory of our God lasts not from one earthly kingdom to the next or from one ruler to another.  His is an everlasting glory. 

“Only one life, ‘twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.”   

A focus on His reality--the eternal—can bring everlasting reward.   
 
And if we remain focused on such a perspective, we may forever joy that our present was spent reflecting the immortal, invisible, and only wise God, who alone lasts forever!

Friday, July 7, 2017

My High Tower

Tucked away in the tousle of multi-colored, Spanish-style homes near the ocean sits my friend’s house.  I’d visited her for years but, with the hustle and bustle of city traffic, I’d missed something—perspective.  The first time we met, I had arrived in an airport shuttle.  The driver’s way took him through the grand downtown district, so that when I arrived at my friend’s home, the drizzling rain and noisy cars distanced me from the beauty of her home’s location.

Retired and set in her ways, my friend is a creature of habit, frequenting the same grocery stores, the same exercise route, and the same approach to each day in a familiar, mimeograph sort of way.

And so I’d missed proximity to beauty.  Sure, I knew a lovely park sprawled, blocks away from her city home.  We’d walked there multiple times, inhaling the fresh scent of eucalyptus, crunching needles beneath our feet, strolling through a luxuriant rose garden.  But always we took the same route—or a variation of it.  And yet, how long this park stretches eluded me until I recently explored its acres of territory, which extend far across the heavily populated city where she lives.

Beyond trash-strewn city sidewalks and foul-smelling subway stations, a haven of beauty beckons.  Here, flowers of multiple varieties and shrubs of various hues accentuate the fingerprint of God’s handiwork.  Breath-taking displays of manicured flora and fauna highlight man’s work upon God’s planet, as individuals exercise dominion and stewardship over this corner of earth.

But until recently, I never realized my friend’s precise proximity to recognizable landmarks like the Bay Bridge.  I didn’t see just how her home fit into the giant jigsaw puzzle of her huge metropolis.  Because I hadn’t climbed high enough on a clear enough day, I didn’t know just how far one could view the grand ocean that diminished to ever-graying blue and stretched for unseen thousands of miles into the distance.

But when I trekked up several flights of stairs and even higher, I saw.  That vantage point provided a view of an overwhelming patchwork of beauty that surpassed my ground-level perspective, that put all into its proper view.

And as I sat atop the mountain, taking in the now miniscule townscape before me, Psalm 18:2 came floating to my brain—“The LORD is my . . . high tower.”

The Lord, my High Tower, provides a vantage point that stands distant from the mundane existence of life.  My High Tower uses His true and living Word, which is “forever settled in Heaven” to shape my perspective as I enter into His presence, away from the secular realm of this universe. By His every word we are to live, and when we get up into Him, through His eternal Book, we understand His heartthrob.  We realize what’s actually significant.  And He provides perspective—that our tiny, individual lives are only part of a bigger picture.

A picture that reflects all that He is. 

His sovereignty. 

His perfection. 

His goodness. 

In fact, our lives exist as particular parts of His perfect plan.

It doesn’t always appear that way to us.  In fact, it often seems that something’s off.  Something’s wrong.  Something’s gone awry.

But that’s not because of Him.

Too often, we bypass His perspective for our own.  We might choose to do a Google search on a topic before we complete a topical study on that same issue in God’s Word. Instead of praying about problems, we might rather just talk about them, making God's Source Book a last resort.  Instead of getting to the heart of an issue, we might rather avoid the discomfort of confrontation or people who point us to Scripture truth.  In these ways and more, we can choose to walk by what we see (our own feelings) rather than believe what we can’t see (faith in God’s perspective).

It’s tragic, actually--this lack of perspective that makes us trust our own vision instead of God's perfect Word.  It seems to me that the discrepancy between faith and feelings lies at the heart of most battles. 

Paul lamented to the Galatians, “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel” (Gal. 1:6). In Ephesians, he explains that the believers need not be, like children, so easily tossed from one “wind of doctrine” to another (Eph. 4:14).  In both passages, Paul illustrates a common human tendency—to easily remove ourselves from God’s way to our own way.

It’s a childish thing.  But it’s a dangerous thing.  Another Gospel means another Jesus, which means no salvation (Acts 4:12).  Another doctrine means a lack of truth, which means no actual worship, since God must be worshiped in both spirit and truth (John 4:24).

The question at the end of the day remains, Will we trust God’s Word implicitly or will we rely—even just a tiny bit—upon our feelings, our own way, our own understanding?

Let us ascend into our High Tower this day.  Multiple times, we can acquire His perspective and view the world with His wisdom!

Monday I finished reading Broad is the Way by Dr. David Sorenson.  This preacher commends the habit of reading through the Scripture seven times a year.  His method is nine chapters in the morning, nine chapters after noon, and nine chapters in the evening.  In reading about 27 chapters each day for several decades of his ministry, he has been able to see life from God’s perspective.  Understanding it is only God’s grace that has caused him not to move from his doctrinal and practical positions for decades, he also realizes that this habit of Bible reading has greatly shaped his view of life.

Another book I recently started is called For Instruction in Righteousness.  In her introduction, Author Pam Forster refers to herself as “just a mother," saying, “I am not a Bible scholar; I am just a believer, studying the Bible as the guidebook for my life.”  And yet, as a seeking believer, she has compiled a book of topically arranged Bible verses specifically geared toward child rearing from a biblical perspective.  She says, “We must turn back to the Bible, the source of all wisdom.  In it we will find all that we need to know to be godly fathers and mothers.”  Pam and her husband realize that God’s perspective must control their actions if they are to raise their family God’s way.  They have put together this resource that others, too, might have a help in seeking to make “God’s Word ... the center of all...training.”  

Fellow believer, let us likewise make God’s Word our Portion multiple times throughout the day, using it as our sole authority for faith and practice.  In so doing, we can live by the perspective our High Tower offers us.

From His eternal Word.
 

 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

It's Better This Way


The tiny stuffed dog lay beside my three-year-old nephew.  Its long, rounded ear touched Andrew’s face. His bedtime trademark, the fuzzy blue blanket with its silky edge pulled just under the chin, lay behind the toy dog's collar. 

“What is that hard clump on the doggy's back?” I wondered. 

And then I heard it.  The same sound the mobile in our baby crib at home used to play when I was a child--the tinny, tinkling tune of “Rock-a-bye, Baby.”  Andrew had wound up the toy and, by now, was gazing upward, a far-off look in his eyes.  I looked at my nephew—the picture of adorable—nearly asleep.  There he lay, surrounded by two of his favorite things—a stuffed doggie and his cozy blue blankie.  His mommy had just given him a good night kiss and tucked him into bed.  Within moments, the rhythmic breathing of sleep sounded from his corner of the room.  What else could a little boy want?

The sweet picture of my nephew at bedtime reminds me of the Holy Spirit, our Comforter.  When Jesus bodily left this planet for paradise, He promised not to leave His people comfortless.  The knowledge that their Precious Savior would depart seemed unbearable to the disciples—at first.  But in the midst of pain, God always works a divine plan.  John 16:7 describes Jesus’ concept of this new arrangement:

            Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.  

That special stuffed animal and much-used blanket nightly help transition my nephew into the world of sleep.   Those comforting objects, pulled close, somehow make the segue better.  And that’s the idea of the word expedient—something that’s better.

Before Christ's departure from earth, only a few special individuals throughout history possessed the indwelling Spirit.  Now, every believer would experience His abiding presence!  Had those first believers not experienced loss, Christians throughout time could not have comprehended God's tangible Comfort to us, His Holy Spirit.

Like the ring of comforting objects surrounding my little nephew, the Holy Spirit surrounds us with God’s Truth. As we endure the difficulties of this world—pain, death, tribulation, persecution—the Holy Spirit sheds light upon the objective truth of God’s Word, and we experience His shielding in the midst of tribulation as we trust our Eternal God.

Security, rest, and quiet exist for the believer because the Comforter takes the pure words of God and applies them to our hearts.  He allows that Word upon which we meditate to penetrate into the very fiber of our redeemed hearts so that our rebel wills, molded by His divine influence, soften into hearts of child-like, implicit trust.  Where once our own way dominated, our own will guided, now our Guide into Truth leads the way--as we permit Him.

I once met a man whose face glowed with the joy of the Lord.  An elderly pastor of a Southern congregation, he mentioned something that I believe could well be the secret of that radiant countenance--his Bible reading plan.  Reading the New Testament through once each month and the Old Testament in its entirety four times per year had been his practice for decades.

“If Christians would just spend 45 minutes to an hour reading their Bibles each day, they could read the entire Bible through often!”  he told me.  Because he had practiced such a plan for many years, it was his testimony that “during the day, when a thought comes to mind—it's Scripture.” 

And have you not, dear Christian, experienced such leading in your life? Have your daily thoughts not likewise been shaped by your morning quiet time, so that you too follow the Spirit's leading throughout your day?

            “And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left" (Isa. 30:21).

That application of God's Word to our hearts encapsulates the ministry of God's Spirit.  What security to know that this Comforting Spirit not only quickens our innermost being to truth but also illuminates our next step on life's winding pathway!  What comfort to know that our own faulty understanding (Proverbs 3:5) need not direct us into our next steps but this Spirit of Truth who reveals truth to our hearts (John 14:26;15:26; 2 Peter 1:20-21) can lead us with God’s Word!

"O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes!  Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments" (Psalm 119:5-6).

Asleep in the wee hours of the morning, my nephew is not consciously aware of the stuffed animal doggie and silky blue blanket that lay at his head.  But the objects still rest there, relatively undisturbed.  Come morning, they will provide further comfort as needed.   

Far better, our precious God the Holy Spirit is with us--waking or sleeping.  He lives within, sealing us until that day of ultimate redemption in Heaven (Eph. 1:13).  Let us listen, then, to His leading each day, imbibing God’s Words to our souls and walking more and more under His divine leadership.

It's better this way.

For the indwelling Spirit is God's perfect plan.

For believers today.  

Thursday, June 1, 2017

God, My Expectation

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“My soul, wait thou only upon God; 
for my expectation is from him."  (Ps. 62:5)

The cake sat on the table, a trophy of exquisite workmanship.  My mouth watered as I waited for dessert to come.  But, when I tried the first bite, I internally grimaced, for interlaced within the crème and sweet fluff, I discerned the hidden taste of a smoker’s house.  Every bite elicited the same result, so that I barely finished my piece and gladly refused seconds.  The baker’s habit for cigarettes had, unbeknownst to her, affected even this masterpiece of culinary art.

We’ve all had expectations and then found that those same anticipations yielded unfortunate results.  Throughout the meal that day, my mind had not failed to consider dessert.  But when it was time to enjoy the torte, my expectations did not deliver as anticipated. 

So in life, our expectations shape perspective.  They stimulate joy or misery, assist contentment or covetousness, and even encourage faithfulness or lack thereof.

I believe that theology has a lot to do with expectations.  In fact, much of that word expectation is dependent upon our concept of what we deem valuable in life.  Wrong theology eventually results in sinful actions.  So, practically speaking, we don’t want to be wrong here.  We want to expect things in a theologically accurate way.

There are two specific areas where personal expectations and biblical thinking can collide—success and results.

Success.  We live in the age of prosperity gospel and mega churches.  What God calls the “favour” of men in His Word is often mistaken as success in the minds of many believers.  Since the favor of men (popularity) is deceitful—actually a lie (Prov. 31:30)—God’s definition of success stands in direct contrast to popularity.

Joshua 1:8 tells us how to find success—“This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.

Meditating on Scripture 24/7, seeking to obey every one of God’s commands—this is success.  Although the crowd to whom he preached left and went to Egypt, Jeremiah experienced success in his preaching—not because he appeared successful to his generation but because he obeyed God.  When only eight people were left to join him in the ark, Noah likewise experienced success—for he, too, obeyed God.  Obedience to all of God’s commands—that is success. 

Defining success as God does is imperative for the believer; otherwise, our expectations will be disappointed.  Was Christ’s ministry a success?  Yes, for He fulfilled the will of His Father.  Was He always popular?  No.  Did many leave His “church”?  Yes. In fact, Christ’s message was so strong and divisive in John 6 that  “From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him. Then said Jesus  unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?  Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life” (v. 66-68).  

How is that possible?  God’s Word is a sword that cuts deeply and literally divides. Hebrews 4:12 tells us, “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”

Results.  Another area in which our expectations and biblical definitions may collide is in the area of results.  Fruit is the biblical word describing results; and, as in the physical world, spiritual fruit always occurs in a season different from that in which the seed was planted. 

During the spring of my second or third grade year, my father planted a peach tree.  One of my jobs that summer included watering the many tiny saplings about the front yard of our farmhouse.  I would string the green hose out, count to thirty, and then, kinking the hose so as not to lose the precious water, move to the next tree.  Watering trees seemed to take forever, especially when the sun beat down upon me, pounding its way onto my uncovered head and leaving burn marks on my skin.  But at last, come August, we enjoyed the fruit of our labor.  As I had held the hose on that tree, I had counted four tiny peaches.  At last, gold and bronze overtook green, and the soft fruit was ripe and ready to be picked.   Fruit at last! 

While the young peach tree produced tiny fruit that same summer, when we choose our own way over God’s, the fruit of that pathway is not immediately seen.  Proverbs 1 reveals the ultimate punishment for fools, scorners, and simple who fail to heed God’s warnings.  When counsel is considered as nothing, God will turn from Merciful Savior to Judge.  Verse 31 says, “Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices.” 

Although the unrighteous man goes his own way, seemingly without consequence for a time, the patient endure to the end.  They turn their eyes upward, beholding a coming day of judgment, where the wheat will be separated from the tares, the sheep from the goats, and the wood-hay-stubble from the gold-silver-precious stone.  We read of the Thessalonian believers who endured persecution—but anticipated a heavenly reward (2 Thess.1). 

From a human perspective, both results and success focus the attention on the horizontal.  From God’s perspective, results and success can be defined biblically, so that our attention is drawn heavenward.

Throughout the Psalms, our attention is riveted vertically—that is why I love this book so much.  In its pages, we read of God’s people looking upward for peace, joy, and satisfaction. These writers understood that joy was not sourced in any external circumstance or relationship:  it was rooted in God. 

Note the psalmist’s words in Psalm 43:4— “Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy: yea, upon the harp will I praise thee, O God my God.”  As our Joy, God can give us the spirit of thanksgiving and the eyes of faith that allow us to see all the joys He brings into our lives.  We can determine by His grace to be joyful, even if our earthly situations or relationships seem threatened.  Nothing need steal our peace.  With God’s strength, we can embrace every situation with thankfulness and joy, delighting in His pure and holy way. 

No one else can so clearly tell us the path for our feet; but He can.  Thou wilt show me the path of life" (Ps. 16:11).  Nothing else can deeply fill and satisfy—ever.  No longing fancy fulfilled, not even faith realized, prayers answered, or victories won is the same as God’s abiding presence, as His un-understandable peace.  Truly, it is “in [His] presence” that “fullness of joy” exists.  “At [His] right hand, there are pleasures forevermore" (Ps. 16:11). 

I vividly remember the day that a young girl brought a birthday treat to my elementary school class.  The cookies tantalized from the plate, a perfect brown with glints of chocolate chips tempting our taste buds.  But we had to wait until after lunch to enjoy the birthday treat.  When she handed out her chocolate chip cookies, the girl sat down, smiling.  I bit one, distinctly tasting moth balls.  I tried another bite and received the same sensation. The cookie did not offer the delight I had anticipated, for the odor of the home where it had been baked had worked its way into the cookie. 

Like that cookie and later the cake from my experience, neither of which offered what I had anticipated, everything this side of eternity will come crashing down and we will be left with gravel in our mouths (Prov. 20:17)—if our focus is incorrect.  If our expectations have rested in the wrong places, we will continually ask “Why?” and the smattered bits of those dreams will hurt us, causing wounds and difficulty—which never would have resulted had our expectations been in God.

But if our expectation is in Him Alone, if He is the One in which we hope—then we shall never be disappointed! 

After recently celebrating a wedding anniversary, I can truly say God has been good!  I expected to have five children by this time.  I planned for them, anticipated for them, and idealized my expectations for them long before I was ever married.  But God is my expectation—not my own dreams.  His Word tells me that His way is perfect and I can live in that reality!  

The next time you feel yourself drawn aside to fret in any way, ask yourself, “What am I hoping for?”  If your expectation is in God, whatever is happening around you will seem incredibly insignificant in light of the truth of this verse.  

 Let us embrace the biblical perspectives on both success and results, living every moment to the glory of God.

When our expectations are in anything other than our God above, we will be disappointed. 

Ever set your hope in God.

He alone is Your expectation.

Your expectation...

Is from Him.

 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Condemned by Judas or Praised by Jesus?

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 To the probing observer, portraits emerge from Scripture’s eternal pages.  Some are masterpieces of the rarest quality, startling the onlooker with the very presence of Christ.  “Sitting at the Feet of Jesus”— this caption underscores the life of Mary of Bethany.  A woman of faith, Mary discerned  what others did not.  Her words are few, but her actions testify of her heart for Christ’s words.  

It is Mary whom Christ commends on two occasions of note.  In Luke 10, Mary’s ability to perceive the “one needful thing” is praised over Martha’s well-intentioned service.  Later, at a feast commemorating Lazarus’ resurrection, Mary anoints Jesus’ body and receives the breath-taking commendation—
          “Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath  done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her (Mark 14:9). 

Three Gospel writers record this story; comparing these narratives helps shape the incident in our minds:  Mary lavishly poured costly ointment upon both the head and the feet of her Messiah.
             And being in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious; and she brake the box, and poured it on his head” (Mark 14:3).
           
            “Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment” (John 12:3).

Many sat under Christ’s teachings, heard His stories, and listened to His parables.  But Mary glimmers forth from Scripture’s pages as one who took away from Christ’s presence something others did not.  Even His own disciples balked at the reality of His crucifixion and burial, but she seems to have comprehended these difficult subjects, for Christ’s commentary sheds light upon her intentions: For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial” (Matt. 26:12). 

How often did Mary meditate upon the words of her Lord?Faith cometh by hearing,” Romans 10:17 tells us, “and hearing by the Word of God.”  So many heard the same message—and could not bear it.  Yet it seems Mary’s faith increased as she imbibed the Messiah's eternal words to her soul.  That faith produced vision, which caused her to  “get it” when others did not.

Mary’s actions illustrate her comprehension of the sacrifice urged in Romans 12:1-2—“I beseech [beg] you therefore brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.  And be not conformed to this world but be ye transformed by the renewing of your minds, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.”

It was as if Mary understood the mercy of God in allowing her to be part of Jesus' time on earth.  Using those moments, she drank deeply His words of life. Shaped by these eternal truths, she willingly poured out precious spikenard—worth about a year’s wages--upon His head and feet.

It’s reasonable—if we see what God has done for us—to present ourselves to Him.  But one will never present his body to Christ who has not first recognized the battle for his mind. Though Mary’s mind had been marred by sin—like every other creature's on the planet—drinking of Christ’s eternal words transformed her into a woman who willingly worshiped (even when others misunderstood).

A container of alabaster
It is only as the Word of God penetrates our minds that our reactions, our relationships, and our reality is affected.  Romans 1:21 says, “. . . when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”  Mary knew God.  And because of that, she chose in her life to glorify God’s Son, Jesus Christ. When Jesus came through her village of Bethany, she honored Him.  Martha opened up her home to Him—a noble and noteworthy service—but Mary clearly opened her heart to Him, for she let His words penetrate her thoughts, which resulted in actions that glorified Him.  

While Martha intruded upon Jesus’ teaching, calling for Him to rebuke her sister, impugning Him as “not caring,” Mary sat silently at His feet, imbibing His words.  Perhaps Martha inwardly ascribed “laziness” or “lack of awareness of the need at hand” to Mary’s desire for Christ’s teaching.  In reality, Mary saw the value of hearing God’s Words.

When God looks down upon our churches, our homes, and our daily lives, does He view believers that love His words?   How many today see the absolute necessity of  choosing the“one needful thing” that Christ commends?  How many base their every decision upon it, seek to obey its every precept, and willingly structure their lives around its eternal truths?

Mary was listening.  And she was listening to the right thing.  That’s why she heard that Christ would be buried and she did something about it.  That’s why she made the choices she did when Jesus visited her home. 

Dear believer, Jesus is visiting your home today.  Seeing your weariness, He beckons you to come to Him.  Come unto Me,” He invites, “all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).  Christ longs to shape your mind to see the world from His perspective, to shape your thinking to prioritize His life.  How do you listen? 

Others attended the same sermons, heard the same parables, and saw the same miracles.  One of those was Judas.  When Mary anointed Christ’s body with precious ointment, Judas saw waste.  He saw a foolish woman, worthy to receive condemnation for her lavish sacrifice:
            “Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?”            (John 12:5).
           
            This he said,” John writes, “not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein” (John 12:6). 

Interestingly, John tells us Judas started the contentious spirit that day, but Matthew indicates it was “the disciples” who “had indignation.”  How easy for one scorner in a crowd to get Jesus’ disciples to doubt the good intentions of other true believers!  One scorner’s comments can affect church members and bring them to “great indignation” for what appear to be culturally foolish actions of a truly devoted follower of Christ.  Judas seems to have riled up the other disciples against this dear saint, so that when Jesus understands the comments He asks them,
            “Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me.  For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always” (Matt. 26:10).

While He commends the sacrificial spirit of Mary, Jesus rebukes the Judas spirit in the midst of His disciples. 

Who really heard His words?  Who really comprehended the vast superiority of His way?  Judas’ words sound pious—“Give to the poor!” but Mary’s whole-hearted sacrifice is what Christ commends.

Dear believer, do you respond negatively to the lavish sacrifices of God’s people?  At a graduation ceremony this past Sunday, young people testified that they would gladly serve Christ with their lives, pledging even to return their diplomas if they denied His Gospel.  A New Yorker spoke of his passion to return to that populous city to spread the Good News; a broken young man spoke of God’s capturing his heart and renewing his commitment to serve the people of Eastern Europe.

Does full-time ministry seem a waste?  Let us consider Christ’s opinion.  Does He honor such sacrifice?  In a world that has quadrupled in size in the last eighty years, we do well to question the lack of love for full-time ministry in the church, the supposed lack of “being called” to Christ’s harvest field.  Is the Judas mentality causing many to doubt the worthiness of sacrifice?

I love these words of William Booth, which sum up the spirit of Christ-honoring sacrifice: 

"'Not called!' did you say?  "Not heard the call,' I think you should say.  Put your ear down to the Bible, and hear Him bid you go and pull sinners out of the fire of sin.  Put your ear down to the burdened, agonized heart of humanity, and listen to its pitiful wail for help.  Go stand by the gates of hell, and hear the damned entreat you to go to their father's house and bid their brothers and sisters and servants and masters not to come there.  Then look Christ in the face, whose mercy you have professed to obey, and tell Him whether you will join heart and soul and body and circumstances in the march to publish His word to the world."

Mary's lavish sacrifice reminds us that if we take the time to really hear Christ's words, we will clearly perceive our need to surrender our all to Him.