Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Years Beyond Your Age

The proverbial saying that he or she is “old before their time” is not necessarily a bad thing when put into the right context. In fact, it should be desired, for it can be most advantageous in life. What I’m speaking of is drawing wisdom from those seasoned saints who have, as they say today, “Been there; done that.”

Rehoboam got into big trouble because “…he forsook the council of the old men…and consulted with the young men that were grown up with him.” Like many nowadays, he sought advice from those who had never been down the road he was seeking to travel, thus rejecting the elders’ good sense.

Now just what are some of the things these senior saints would have those following them to major on in this brief, fleeting life? One thing I’ve noticed about their recommendations is that they all seem to be in agreement as to the important issues of life.

So here are a few words of wisdom from those who proudly wear the hoary head of years of experience. They all wish they had read their Bibles and prayed more. Without exception each mourns the fact they did not take more time “smelling the flowers.” Spending quality time with family and friends, they tell us, would be a top priority, if they could do it all over again. Anxious care would have been replaced with a loving trust in Him. And above all, each old timer agrees, Jesus Christ would be the center of every part of their lives, both in the little things as well as the big.

Don’t be among those who at the end of their lives regrettably say, “Oh, I wish I would have listened.”

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Praying

“[M]en ought always to pray...” Our Lord did not say we should want to, but that we ought to pray. Flesh will never, and can never, fulfill the former. Therefore, if we wait until we feel like praying, it will never be done.

Whenever you get on your knees to pray, make up your mind that you are entering the battle of your life. It is interesting that the armour we are to attire ourselves in, spoken of in Ephesians six, has to do mainly with when we pray.

Prayer is not only a privilege, but a sacred duty. Like the Old Testament priests, it is part of our “…duty of every day.” The New Testament proof text that we are to pray daily is found in, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

Whenever I feel least like praying, I find it is then I need it most. It is well to remember that God’s benefits follow our obedience. It was “…after they had prayed,” things started happening.

But it is important not to forget that prayer is a dialogue, not a monologue. When you pray you talk to God, when you read the Bible, God talks to you. Let’s make sure the conversation is not one-sided in our favour.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Answer to Spiritual Snobbery

“He…lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, to make them inherit the throne of glory.” Some misguided souls believe the Old Testament saints were saved by works. You’d have a difficult time convincing Hannah of this. As far as she was concerned, it was all of Grace. As good a woman as she was, she realized all her righteousness was but “filthy rags.” And that it was God, and God alone, Who took such a person from rags to riches and from being a pauper to becoming a prince.

It is wise to remember, when speaking of someone’s personal holiness, righteousness, or godliness, that they received it from Someone else. Whenever you see a beggar in royal apparel, it is safe to say, he didn’t get it on his own. We are all spiritually destitute, and, like beggars, must “bum” everything we have from Another. Is it any wonder this wonderful woman admonishes us, “Talk no more so exceeding proudly; let not arrogancy come out of your mouth.”

God took us from a dunghill, not “Nob Hill.”

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Nonchalant Preaching

For half a century now I have observed preachers and their preaching. There seems to me to be a great void in many a pulpit today. The single word I would use to describe this missing ingredient is intensity.

I once heard a well known evangelist preach a memorized sermon while looking out a window ninety percent of the time. This type of detached preaching is a disgrace to the ministry. Casual sermons produce that kind of saints.

The old Methodist preacher, Fightin’ Bob Shuler, on one instance introduced my mentor, Dr. Joe Henry Hankins, as “A steam engine in britches.” I never heard “The Doc” raise his voice, but I saw him raise his listeners into the Heavenlies on many an occasion.

Dr. Bob Jones Sr. said, “I have never entered the pulpit that I didn’t think I would die if God didn’t bless the message.” No doubt this lack of intensity is the problem in much of our contemporary preaching. Preachers need to realize, you can’t get pretty music out of a fiddle with loose strings.

Monday, August 20, 2007

*A Personal Altar

“We have an altar, whereof they have no right…” It was objected by the legalistic religionists that the assemblies of the primitive Christians were destitute of an altar. Not true, says the writer of this “Him-book.” “We have an altar,” says he, but it’s not a material, but spiritual one.

The author goes on to say that those who insist on the first are excluded from the second. To adhere to one is to deny the other. If you feed off the former, you cannot feast off the fat of the latter.

Christ is both our Altar and Sacrifice. The shadow of the Old Testament must now give way to the substance of the New. The altar is no longer to be found in the house of God, but in every heart of the people of God. This way God can give an “alter call” anytime, and need not wait for a preacher to do it on Sunday.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

*Wasted Years.

“I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten…” Who among us does not regret having some wasted years in our lives? But the God of all Grace promises those who humble themselves and who admit they were the cause—a bumper crop. It will more than compensate for the loss.

Spurgeon said, “There is a strange and wonderful way in which God can give back to you wasted blessings.” No past famines can make future blessings impossible. All our losses can be restored. He can give fullness for famine, and replace poverty with plenty. It is never too late to make a new start, no matter how hideous the sin, or how many years have been abused and misused.

And because He does these things for us we may say, “Praise the name of the Lord [our] God that hath dealt wondrously with [us]” (Joel 2:25-26).

Remember; He is the Lord of the locust-eaten years.

Friday, August 17, 2007

*Big Hearted

“…our heart is enlarged…be ye also enlarged.” In the physical world, an enlarged heart can be a dangerous thing. Not so in the spiritual world. In this sphere, it is an exceedingly healthy thing to have. Paul had one, and he encouraged other saints to have one also.

The Bible tells us we are to have tender, pure, loving, clean, open, joyful, upright, obedient, honest and good hearts. But, above all, we should have a big heart. It says of Solomon, “And God gave Solomon…largeness of heart.” As the saying goes, “He was big-hearted.”

If you want a big heart, let God fill it.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Convenience and Character

“…when I have a convenient season, I will…” Felix, like many today, was a man of convenience. But convenience and character rarely, if ever, mix. Doing right is not always easy, but it is always right. Character is doing what needs to be done, when it needs to be done. A person with this rare quality does not procrastinate when faced with everyday decisions and the responsibilities of life.

Most anyone is willing to carry a cross, if it is weightless or made of velvet. But how few there be who will take up the daily cross Christ spoke of. For this latter one can be burdensome, cutting into certain areas of our lives, thus making things very inconvenient for us. Since our cross is to be taken up daily, we should not be surprised if some portion of each day will be inconvenient for us.

Men and women of convenience never carry crosses.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Sink or Swim.

An old preacher who used little quips to preach entire sermons, used to say, “Duties never conflict.” Three words, but what a wealth of wisdom! If we ever needed to heed them, it’s today. In a busy ministry that spanned some forty years, I had to remind myself over and again of this truth.

Most of us busy bees have so many irons in the fire that, when it comes time for branding, we don’t even know which one to use. The frustration, anxiety, and confusion we experience, come from the fact, we have too much on our plate. Something can be good and right, but it’s not for us. Most of our burdens are self-imposed.

In God’s plan for each life, He leaves time for us to “smell the flowers.” It is not all work and no play. The Lord never puts on us more than we can carry. It is Satan who overloads us with the extra baggage. God has certain things He has ordained for us to accomplish—certain specific things. To go beyond these is to go beyond the will of God.

When I was a pastor, we went through a dire financial time. I prayed for two years, every day, but things only grew worse. Then the Lord revealed to me that if I would let go of my staff of five, it would solve any and all of the problems. But because of my affection for them (and some pride), I refused and held on. Finally, when I did submit, everything turned for the better. My life, my church, my home, and the lives of my staff, were all blessed.

Things we hold to are fine until they begin to sink us; then we must let go of them if we expect to survive.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Adjustable Apostle

“I am made all things to all men.” (1Cor.9:19-23) Paul was not speaking of spiritual compromise or being a chameleon. The text is not speaking of inward convictions, but rather, outward conditions. He’s discussing adapting to various situations. A haughty spirit will reject this humble approach. This giant of a man, both in intellect and spirituality, could fit in, no matter what the culture or custom. To do this, one must know people. He must be familiar with a variety of backgrounds. This takes reading, observance, and knowing a little bit about a lot of things. Anyone can do this.

A Christian should be able to sit with paupers or walk with kings and be comfortable with both. Such a person will be misunderstood and maligned, many times from his own ranks. If you condescend to the ignorant, you’re patronizing them; if, on the other hand, you ascend to sit with the elite, you’re proud. Therefore, if you’re going to attempt to help all men, as in Paul’s example, you will do it at your own expense, and at the risk of being criticized for your seeming inconsistencies.

Adjustment necessitates change, but that requires courage.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Cup That Can Change You

Someone has said Gethsemane was the Holy of Holies of Jesus’ life on earth. I don’t know about that, but I do know it can be ours. When we drink of the cup He has placed before us—even down to the last bitter dregs in the bottom—we will be forever changed.

When the dark night of the soul hovers over us, and “Not my will, but thy will be done,” falls from our lips, then we will never again hold to a cheap religion. You can’t come out of your Gethsemane and remain frivolous and flippant about our Lord. For it is in the gloom of the Garden that we see the true value of life.

When I finally lay down self, I take up God. When I surrender everything, I can endure anything. A betrayer’s kiss, physical suffering, a dreaded cross—I can finally go it alone. The moment of surrender is the moment of victory. When I give up my finite will, then God’s infinite will will be accomplished.

It is either our “Remove this cup from me,” or His, “Drink ye all of it.”

Monday, August 6, 2007

C.S. Lewis' Advice on Making a Better World

Hope is one of the Theological virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither. It seems a strange rule, but something like it can be seen at work in other matters. Health is a great blessing, but the moment you make health one of your main, direct objects you start becoming a crank and imagining something is wrong with you. You are only likely to get health provided you want other things more-food, games, work, fun, open air. In the same way, we will never save civilization as long as civilization is our main object. We must learn to want something else even more.

Short-Term Parking

“Jesus taketh…them up into an high mountain apart.” Some Christians are always looking for “mountain-top” experiences. They want to be on a spiritual high all the time. But it is important to realize that Jesus is the One who picks the time and place for such experiences. It is He who determines the when and the where, not we, ourselves.

Many of us, like Peter, think that such experiences are for long-term parking, but they are short-lived, at best. It is well to remember that in life’s long sentence, the capital letters are far fewer in comparison to the many lower-case ones. And so it is in the Christian life.

There is something else I have observed through the years about these spiritual mountain climbers. I notice they are swift to climb the Mount of Transfiguration but noticeably slow to ascend the Mount of Crucifixion. But, for the Christian who desires transformation, the order is the latter mountain comes first.

Mount Zion will be the Christian’s eternal mountain-top experience.

Saul's Clan

"And Saul said unto Samuel…the people took of the spoil…" Saul's clan is still among us. There are those who refuse to take the responsibility for their own actions, and, in many cases, to make things worse, their loved ones encourage this. There is a mass of people today who seem to think it is never their fault.

As a parent, and while I was a pastor, I taught those under my leadership to learn to blame themselves. If it is always someone else's fault, you will never feel the need for change in your own life. The prodigal son got out of the hog pen when he blamed himself. And so will we.

If you keep passing the buck, you'll stay a pauper.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

*Raw Materials.

“ye judge after the flesh…my judgment is true.” When we judge one’s progress in the Lord, we invariably judge how far they have come by comparing them to the front runner. But comparing ourselves among ourselves is not wise, says the apostle. When God considers how far we have advanced in our Christian lives, He does it from the perspective of how far we have come from where we started. For example, it would be unfair to judge Peter’s progress using Paul as a standard. For Paul started way ahead of Simon. C.S. Lewis says, “You can’t judge simply by comparing the product in two people; you would need to know what kind of raw material Christ was working with in both cases.”

Many of us make the mistake Joshua made concerning the Gibeonites. Because he judged after the flesh, he thought they had come a long way, “From a far country.” Yet, in reality, they had not come far at all but were “neighbors,” who had actually come a very short distance.

You who think you’re lagging behind, take heart. If you do your best, and those in the lead do not, you may find yourself out front in the end. For, “…many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.”

You need not catch up to the rest, only do your best.

A Change of Scenery

“And he [God] said, Hagar, Sarai’s maid...” Running from her mistress’ harsh treatment did not change who or what Hagar was. She still remained, “Sarai’s maid” in the sight of God. Only by returning and submitting could she find her freedom and be blessed. “For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord’s freeman.”

A change in geography does not bring a change in character. If we cannot change in the place where we are, it’s doubtful we can some place else. True, we cannot change circumstances around us, but we can change the character within us. Demas thought he could run from himself by going to Thessalonica, but he found, to his dismay, when he entered the city limits, he was there to greet himself. He only ran from himself to himself

We do not need a change of scenery but a change of heart.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Keeping the Law

“He that loveth another hath fulfilled the law”; “Love is the fulfilling of the law”; “All the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”; “If ye fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, ye do well.”

Jesus Christ fulfilled the law. He sent His Spirit into us at our conversion. Therefore, the law is “fulfilled in us” (not by us). The love we are void of by the first birth, He “sheds abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost” at our second birth, enabling us to fulfill the law, by love

All the law hangs on one hook... love. That should be the Christian’s only hang-up.

Jumping to Judgment

“If thou shalt hear say…Then shalt thou enquire, and make search, and ask diligently…if it be true.” Hearsay is generally a dangerous standard to go by. First of all, you’ll find those repeating a matter usually don’t hear too well! And, as a result, you’ll get what they thought they heard. The well meaning messenger also adds his or her own analysis, flavored by their imagination as to what they heard.

It is always wise to investigate, thoroughly and accurately, any hearsay. Especially when dealing with important issues, great pain and care needs to be taken in examining what has been reported, and it needs to be done without prejudice or partiality. This approach is God-like (Gen.18:20-21).

Without investigation and confrontation, you’ll never know the truth of hearsay.

Finders Keepers

“...he that loseth...for my sake shall find it.” Paul had suffered the loss of all things. The only thing left on the shelves of Job’s life was the dust where his losses used to sit. And Peter’s testimony was that he had lost everything to follow Christ.

Years ago, a gospel singer by the name of Dave Boyer sang a song that blessed me each time I heard it. The title was “I Lost It All to Find Everything.” The three above-mentioned men found this to be so in their lives.

Christ promises that no person can lose anything for His sake that He will not replace the loss one-hundred fold, not only in this life, but the one to come.

I hear testimonials quite frequently from saints who tell of the things they have lost for Christ. I am always tempted to ask them the question, “And what did you find?” The emphasis is not on the loss, but the gain. To lose and not find is a double loss.

Losers, for His sake, are not weepers.

Fatherly Advice

David is giving his solemn farewell to both his subjects and his son. To the latter, who was to be their leader he says, “My son, know thou the God of thy father...” (1 Chron. 28:9). There are other admonitions surrounding this godly father’s advice, such as, keeping God’s way, serving Him, etc. But the crux—the core—the center—the very heart of the whole matter is “know the Lord.” We’re told Solomon was “yet young and tender.” His father knew this was the best teaching time.

Over a period of years, Israel had lost sight of their Commander-in-chief, by allowing a copy of the commandments to blind them. The divine order is always the Lord, then His laws. In Paul’s day, the Jews were only left with a set of rules with rigidity. A relationship with reality, they knew nothing of.

Our day has become much like those described in Judges, “And their arose another generation...which knew not the Lord.” They knew the external letter of the law—a list of do’s and don’ts but the Spirit of Life was a stranger to them.

I have lived to see the above happen in many groups and churches across our land. A generation of young people was raised on preaching that emphasized external taboos—“touch not, taste not, handle not.” But they never heard that they were to “know the Lord.” I need not tell the spiritual observer the results. What is so tragic is that the same thing is being repeated to this generation of youngsters. When will we ever learn, you can’t legislate righteousness. The law is fulfilled “in us,” not by us.

At the top of God’s list of commands and statutes in Deuteronomy is “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” He goes on to say that they were to teach this truth to their children. I wonder how many are doing this today in our homes, churches, and Christian institutions.

“Make not laws upon the saints where Christ hath made not any.” Puritan

*Addition or Antidote

“...lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me.” Gifted people are just that—gifted. A gift is an addition to, not an antidote for. A gift may be placed in a Christmas stocking over the fireplace, but it remains a stocking, nonetheless. Because of this, Paul did not want people to think of him more highly because of his gift. For this old, seasoned saint knew what dwelled in his flesh, even if others didn’t.

How many of us find sweet satisfaction in those around us thinking that nobodies such we, are “somebodies” because of our particular gift? We sometimes cherish coming across as being more important than we actually are. One may appear, and be measured as, a spiritual giant, externally; even though, many times, a spiritual pygmy lives within.

Remember; though Saul was a giant, and gifted outwardly, his stature within was stunted.

A Penny For Your Thoughts

“…whatsoever things are true…honest…just…pure…lovely…of good report…think on these things.” Paul did not intend this to be a complete catalog for our thought lives, so he adds anything that is virtuous or praiseworthy. It seems, Norman Vincent Peale was a day late and a dollar short with his book The Power of Positive Thinking.

The old-timers used to say such things as, “An idle mind is the devil’s playground,” and “Still waters gather filth.” Our minds are not to be in the gutter, but on God. Therefore, we need to keep the currents moving. Don’t let the mind stagnate. We are to cultivate high moral ideas. Such thinking will result in nobility of character.

To accomplish this, we must have controlled thinking. We need not be subservient to our thoughts (2 Cor.10:5). Remember, thoughts determine acts, careers, and destinies. As the wise man said, “ For as he thinketh… so is he.” Replacing a carnal thought with a spiritual one will lead to a full life and peace of mind (Rom.8:6). A penny for your thoughts” would leave some shortchanged.

From Here to There

“How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer…how art thou cut down to the ground…” What a contrast, “the son of the morning” started at the top and ended up at the bottom. On the other hand, the Son of God started at the bottom, and worked His way up, as it were, to the top.

Our generation of young people, it seems to me, has fallen for the pitch that originated from the pit. There seems to be a belief that because one desires a certain thing, they can obtain it with no time lapse, preparation, or growth involved.

What I mean is, we are made to think that it is possible to go from noon to midnight, crude to the finished, and from infancy to maturity without the necessary parenthesis. Young people, please heed my words: To go from one point to another involves process, and that, in turn, requires patience.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Subduing Self

“He is able even to subdue all things to himself.” Did Paul mean all without exception, or all with one exception? We talk as if whatever else could be subdued to him, our sinful selves could never be. Did the Apostle forget self among the “all things”? I think not. Just as God gave man the power and dominion over every kind of animal, He has given the Christian the power to subdue the beast within himself, through the power of God’s indwelling Spirit.

Romans chapter six says “sin shall not have dominion over you.” Why? Micah tells us: “He will subdue our iniquities.” If God forgave the sin that has been committed by us, He will certainly subdue the sin that dwells in us.

I cannot live without sin, but I can live above it.

A Pastor's Priorities

“But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.” The little quip says, “Jack of all trades; master of one.” But, in reality, I have found those who try to do everything end up being “masters of none.” The average pastor today dabbles in everything from being a PR man, janitor, administrator, construction consultant, and a host of other secondary things. But to leave the Word of God and prayer for the temporal needs of the church is to leave your people Spiritually deficient.

“Canned” sermons and delightful ditties cannot satisfy the hungry soul. The Bible knows nothing of sermons, as such. God’s men in the Holy Scriptures had a message they received from their Lord. When a pastor is a one-man show, being in every scene, and trying to play everyone else’s part, he is apt to forget the part he is to play on the stage of life. Don’t forget, there are other actors in the drama of life. They are called elders, deacons, and the elect of God. Don’t be guilty of trying to up-stage them.

Hireling ministers are not worth their hire.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Hoarded Grace

Grace originates from God’s fathomless, infinite, eternal sea of kindness. God does not receive grace; God gives grace, for He is grace. On the other hand, we as believers are all the recipients, and (should be) the distributors of His grace. But I’m afraid many of us who are good at taking it in, do poorly when giving it out. We squirrel it away, as they say.

Paul tells us we should be, “…followers of God, as dear children.” Are not most of us poor examples when it comes to dispensing grace to an undeserving brother or sister in the family of God? We are so fearful someone may think we agree with the recipient’s life-style, or that we are letting up on our own convictions. What insecurity lies in our bosoms!

How we need to emulate David, who when speaking to wretched Mephibosheth said, “Fear not: for I will surely shew thee kindness…” Jesus said, “…freely ye have received, freely give." When Jesus took the loaves and gave them to His disciples, we’re told they distributed them to others who were also hungry.

If we’re lacking in grace in our own lives today, we might remember God’s way is, “…grace for grace.” If we gave more, we might just receive more (“Give, and it shall be given unto you…”). Far too many of us are like the Dead Sea; we take it in, but hold the riches for ourselves.