Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Spirit of Meekness (Meekness Study, Part 1)

Meekness.  This word is coupled with quietness in the Apostle Peter’s command to women.  In I Peter 3:4, God commands that we as women adorn ourselves with a “meek and quiet” spirit. But what precisely is this attitude that is to grace the life of the Christ-filled believer?  The Hebrew word meekness throughout the Old Testament might be defined as “mildness of disposition, gentleness of spirit.”  Commentator Matthew Henry writes, “Meekness toward God is that disposition of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting.” 
Coupled with the quiet spirit, a meek frame of mind illustrates the need for Christian women to tune their hearts to obedience.  It is the attitude with which we must submit to God and, since His plan is perfect, is likewise the spirit with which we are to obey our husbands.  Indeed, such an attitude yields its own rights, because it trusts that God, the Master Planner and Architect of our lives’ framework, will do right. 
The meek, while resting in our Lord’s awesome plan, cling to God’s promises and obediently yield to His way, confident that regardless of the bleak appearance of outward circumstances, His path is perfect.  Henry’s commentary states: “In the Old Testament, the meek are those wholly relying on God rather than their own strength to defend them against injustice.”  A catalog of names in the Hall of Faith beckons believers to behold those who did just that.  It’s called The Faith Chapter, Hebrews 11.  
Sometimes, in our 21st century mentality, the ideals embraced by those saints of old is lost, swallowed up by the millennia that separates us from their lives.  But faith, that metaphysical, intangible quality that everyone needs but few people have—is what helped the Ken Jordan family deal with the bleak tragedy of suddenly losing their 3-year-old daughter. 
“With the things that have happened in our lives, faith is an important subject to discuss,” Pastor Ken Jordan was saying on this particular August morning in 2004.  
After asking the congregation to turn to the great faith chapter Ken adjusted his tie and continued, “We need to live lives of faith.  We’re often impressed with men and women in the Bible who were people of faith.”  The small assembly was scattered about in pockets of 2s and 3s.  If this were Bible times, undoubtedly Ken and Heather Jordan would rank in that faith chapter as those who “believed and it was counted to them for righteousness.”
Three and a half weeks prior to our family’s visit, Ken and Heather Jordan’s 3-year-old daughter had, in a matter of hours, passed from this earth.  Inexplicable.  Unbelievable.  But it had happened, and they were trusting God that it was part of His plan—even though it felt as if a raw, gaping wound had been left in their hearts that would take years to heal.
“Faith is belief in something that is real.  But it’s more than that—it’s trust in a genuine, loving God.  Many today have no faith.  For them, the future is bleak.  As for me and my house,” Jordan said, “we’re building our lives on faith.”  Joy filled his tone as he stated through teary eyes, “This ‘hoped for’ is not wishful thinking.  It is a settled expectation.  More than wishful thinking, it’s knowing something will happen.” 
From her seat in the front row, Heather wiped her eyes.  The memory of their little one was still so fresh in her mind, so close to her heart.  But the eternal shaped their perspective, far more than any temporal experience.  And it was what they clung to.  What they anticipated.  What they believed in.
“One day when we stand before God,” Jordan was saying, “He will ask, ‘How many days have you lived without walking by faith?’ Will your life count for eternity, Friend?”  Jordan concluded by looking to the great cloud of witnesses and proclaiming: “Faith is our eyes set on heaven saying, ‘I don’t care what others think about me; I care about what God thinks of me.’”
That brand of faith is the essence of this aspect of meekness.  Today, Jordan and his wife continue in the ministry at a small Baptist church in Wisconsin.  To them, it’s a matter of faith.
Certainly Christ offers the perfect example of meekness.  Matthew 21:5 explains how Christ entered Jerusalem: “Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.”  Not a noble stallion—that will be later when he enters the world as Triumphal King—but a humble donkey was the means of transporting God the Son through the streets of Jerusalem that day.  They called Him the King of the Jews, but how noble did He appear to them, entering the city in such a manner? 
Consider also Moses, the meekest man: “Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3).  Moses certainly understood what it meant to depend upon God.  It was Moses that heard God utter the first of the Ten Commandments, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” and exemplified that primary mandate for the children of Israel by humbly submitting his will so frequently to the God he served as he led the complaining, griping, disobedient lot through the wilderness in a generally meek frame of mind.  It was Moses who spent forty days and forty nights without bread or water on the mount with God, receiving these commandments from the mouth of the Almighty. It was Moses who, upon returning from the mount, spent forty more days and nights without bread or water, entreating God for mercy upon the children of Israel.  Later, when he received the commandments a second time, he spent another forty days without food or water.  This is humility—trusting God for all needs and believing He will fill all desires.  Certainly Moses was of the number who are satisfied in the Lord, for “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled” and “The meek also shall increase their joy in the LORD, and the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel” (Isa. 29:19). 
As we meditate upon Christ, our Example of Meekness and see in the lives of believers just what meekness looks like, may we be prompted to likewise live lives dominated by the Spirit of Meekness!

Friday, March 18, 2016

A Workman Approved (The Word "Study," part 10)

“I’m [x candidate], and I approve this message.”  So conclude several advertisements for presidential hopefuls.  In the midst of an election year, we hear the word approved frequently. 
Today we arrive at the second use of the word “study” in the New Testament.  It’s found in 2 Timothy 3:15 and states, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
Approved has the idea of “being genuine on the basis of testing, approved (by test), tried and true” (BDAG).  As a teacher, I inform my students what will make their papers properly acceptable.  I provide rubrics, detailing the specifications for an A paper.  If a student follows assignment directions, adheres to grammatical and stylistic rules, and otherwise carefully proofreads, he will receive a good score.
God is clear that our works as believers will one day be tested.  First Corinthians 3:13 says, “Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.”  Often, as I read Revelation, I am reminded of Him whose “eyes [are] as a flame of fire” (Rev. 19:12).  Will one glance from this God, who Habakkuk 1:13 says is “of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity” test our works in an instant?  How the judgment will occur is not for us to know in detail, but that we will be judged should motivate us to carefully prepare ourselves for that day.

The word for study used in this verse is the Greek spoudazo, meaning "to do something with intense effort and motivation--to work hard, to do one's best, to endeavor" (Louw-Nida).  After salvation, we ought apply ourselves with great diligence to all of God’s commands.  While it is the Spirit within us that yields fruit, our submission to His leadership makes such fruit possible.  Romans 13:14 explains—“But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.  The message of this verse is powerful, for it reminds us of our very significant responsibility not to yield to the flesh with its lusts.  Ephesians 4:27 commands, “Neither give place to the devil.”  Allowing any part of our lives to be an entry point for fleshly lusts or giving Satan a foothold in any area will greatly hinder spiritual power in our lives.  And we most definitely need the Spirit’s enablement to live in a way that is “approved unto God.”  Practically speaking, we all have habits to build, ways of life to change, and a mindset needed to inform of spiritual truths. 
We are to be workmen, diligently toiling for God's judgment day.  As such, how we ought to labor in our study of the Scriptures, searching God's Word for ourselves!  Delving into the Bible's depths by contemplative study is a must in our personal quiet time with God.  One volume I found especially helpful in my own personal journey was Living by the Book by Howard Hendricks.  I’m due for another reading of that volume as it’s been several years since I read the entire thing; however, Hendricks supplies many excellent ideas for personal Bible study, from word studies to studies of biblical books in their cultural and linguistic context.  This resource provides an excellent overview for the person who hasn’t studied God’s Word for himself but has been relying upon being fed by others for years.  How needful it is for us to investigate, as did the Bereans, the Word of God!  Certainly God has given pastors and teachers to the church for our specific direction and leadership, and we need their ministry on our lives; but we must not avoid being students of God’s Word ourselves.  While our elders will give account for us (Hebrews 13:17), we personally will be tried for every thing we do--and God's Word will be the standard which provides the judgment criteria!  Ecclesiastes 12:14 explains, "For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil."
This practice of studying to be approved unto God is important, for it guarantees that shame will not be my eternal reward.  Shame--that dreaded curse of sinful moments indulged and fleshly promptings heeded--will meet us if we fail in this most needed study.  But faithfully executing the task of 2 Timothy 2:15 makes us workmen that "[need] not to be ashamed."  I certainly don’t want to stand before Christ, chagrined at my failure to apply myself to spiritual things while on this earth!   God's Word is my Heavenly rubric upon which I can rest, with a mind becoming ever more transformed by the its renewing power!
Rightly dividing—[cutting, making a proper dissection of]—the word of truth.  Western Christians today know far more about trivial details concerning sports, hobbies, politics, or studies than they do about the Word of God; and yet, more important than any other subject we might analyze is Scripture, the eternal word of truth.  The spiritual zeitgeist offers its own opinions on Bible study--two of them being, “You can’t possibly know just what Scripture means” and “There are a lot of gray areas.”  And yet, if God has commanded us to rightly divide the word of truth, how can we possibly do so if there is no right division?  If it is all up to personal opinion?  Indeed, we can know what the Scripture means, and only through the Holy Spirit’s guidance as we carefully, diligently, earnestly, toilingly study can we rightly divide the Word of truth.  Yes, Scripture is truth which can be rightly divided!  For us to assume that Scripture’s interpretation can’t be known in many places is literally sinful, for that very idea (that no analysis can be reached, no proper dissection can be made) contradicts the revealed words of God!
And so we have the very personal command given to Timothy but applicable to us today: “Study [the way God has provided for us to prepare to meet Him after salvation] to show THYSELF [each of us will one day give account] approved unto God [the best goal], a workman [toiler] that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth [this is an attainable goal; God said it is.].”
Years ago, I was challenged to memorize Psalm 119.  After starting and stopping my memory plan on this passage a few times, I picked it up again a few years ago and finally completed it.  This text is full of prayers about Scripture—prayers we can offer up to God as we investigate His Word and seek to apply ourselves to it.  Take, for instance, verses 35-37, which read, 
“Make me to go in the path of thy commandments; for therein do I delight.  Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not to covetousness.  Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity; and quicken thou me in thy way.” 
This psalm is full of such biblical prayers, and we do well to pray texts such as these as we enter into our own quiet time with God.  In reality, submitting ourselves to God’s Bible study plan is a very real part of our own spiritual growth.  Seeking to earnestly and diligently cry after knowledge illustrates our dependence upon God's illumination in our lives.  
We know recipes by heart because we’ve followed them so often.  We know the preferences and dislikes of those about us because we spend time with them.  In a similar way, we can know our God when we obey Him.  Let us then give ourselves in prompt and earnest effort to be approved unto God!  May this motive clarify the aim of all our studies, the theme of all our endeavors, the crux of all our earnestness!   “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth"--2 Timothy 3:15.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Work, A Divine Calling (The Word “Study,” Part Nine)

Last March as our family sat around the kitchen table on Dad’s birthday, we talked about why we were thankful for our father.   Everyone chimed in with something sweet, and many of our remarks centered on one concept:  work.

From cows and chickens, to pigs and sheep, to ducks and turkeys—my parents have raised just about every farm animal imaginable.  And planted a garden—one that stretched endlessly to the eyes of a seven-year-old weeding it.  Summer days included some time for play, but found us mostly at work—watering trees, baling hay, picking raspberries and corn, or completing any number of other tasks.

Work was always a way of life for us, and it’s important to God, as well.  In fact, when God set Adam and Eve in the garden, He commanded them to keep it—to work tending it.  First Thessalonians reminds us that we are to study—to labor, to strive, to vie—to “work with [our] own hands.”

Once a missionary visited my parents’ home for close to a week.  We children marveled at his work ethic, for he seemed never to stop applying his hand to some endeavor.  At the dinner table, he explained his secret:  “I find it relaxing to work at different tasks,” he told us.  “When I have exhausted myself splitting wood outside, for example,” he explained, “I’ll go in and study my Hebrew Bible.”  Thus he found himself continually employed in labor but simultaneously refreshed.

I’ve often thought of that missionary’s words.  Relaxation isn’t necessarily the absence of work; it may be a different task, but it may still be work.

As believers, we ought to carefully apply ourselves to working with our hands.  According to commentator David Guzik, “Manual labor was despised by ancient Greek culture. They thought that the better a man was, the less he should work. In contrast, God gave us a carpenter King, fisherman apostles, and tent-making missionaries.

As in Thessalonica, modern Americans often despise work.  Many spend hours on video games, social media, and the like, foregoing important responsibilities and forgetting work that needs completion.  As Christian women, working with our own hands should be part of our daily reality. 

The right hand is often pictured throughout the Scriptures as a source of strength.  I am right-handed and love to consider the words of Psalm 121:5— “the LORD is [my] . . . shade upon [my] right hand.”  As I complete my many tasks, God is there.  His shade provides perfect rest that can soothe and cool me in the heat of the day, in the midst of the conflicts of life.  And yet how easy it is to go at our tasks alone, unaware of this abiding presence of our God.  How wonderful to realize that we can bask in the shade of His goodness and strength as we complete the work He has ordained!

But sometimes those tasks seem confusing.  At what responsibilities should we most endeavor?  Which are more important?  Less important?  Not important?  What of the duties that others seem to throw upon us?  First Corinthians 11:3 alludes to the simplicity that is present in Christ.  When we find ourselves overwhelmed with the complexity of life's work, we may have missed that clarifying simplicity.   

Christ’s simplicity is reflected in the words of Matthew 4:19, “And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  Understanding that following Jesus results in our being fishers of men will help other jobs find perspective. 

Evangelist Mark Cahill explains it this way: “Life is very simple.  The world complicates it.”  In a sermon entitled “Watchmen on the Wall,” Cahill says, “I stand at the front door before I walk out [each day] and I say, ‘God the Father, I’m all Yours today.  Order my steps.  Move me …how you want to move me…”  And He asks God to use him.  Mark has countless stories of amazing spiritual conversations he’s had with people about Jesus.  People he’s met as he’s gone about his daily work—in hotels, on airplanes, at restaurants.

Early this January, I realized that even though I might consider myself a hard worker in the physical and academic sense of the word, I’d failed to embrace the call of “fisher of men” upon my life.  While I didn’t waste time at many things, I’d failed to completely embrace the reality that every day I could do something to win lost souls for Jesus. 

So I decided that, by God’s grace, I was going to go into the world each day looking for someone with whom I could share Christ.  I determined, by God’s grace, to seek to have a spiritual conversation with at least one individual each day.  This decision has had a remarkable influence upon me in the past few months.  I have found that understanding this one purpose has marked my daily Bible reading with passion, for I crave God’s influence upon me and His power through me.  Surrendering my all to Him has helped me be aware of others and brought me to a more regular habit of praying in the Spirit, for without Him I can do nothing.  And I am finding that living with the reality that lost souls are all around me is bringing incredible clarity concerning the labor of my hands. 

Shopping has become an opportunity to look for lost souls and to demonstrate the compassion of Christ.  Work, which is good and ordained of God, can be properly placed so that it does not consume me to the point that I lack time to remind others of eternity.  In fact, my every endeavor can be filtered through the lens that every person will meet an eternal destiny.  Laboring with other believers offers moments to edify.  Working alongside the unsaved provides opportunities to see them reached for Christ. 

Psalm 90:17 expresses beautifully a prayer we can offer to God concerning our every endeavor:  “And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it.”  We can work, but only God can establish everything we do. How amazing to realize that as we labor daily, God’s beauty can be upon us!  That beauty of Christ is so necessary in winning a lost world to Him! The world and other believers can see Jesus reflected through us as we perceive that following Christ means fishing for men.  In all we do, in every task at which we work, let us labor, understanding our call to the work of our blessed Master!