Thursday, January 30, 2014

Deserve's Got Nothin' to Do With It

I don't deserve to die like this...I'm building a house.  -Little Bill Daggett

DESERVE: To be entitled to or worthy of.

You ever notice how many lists there are, in the New Testament, of various sins? Has your heart ever been pricked, just a little, by any particular item in any one of these lists?

Okay, so let's say that it's just me. A group of us were sharing our testimonies recently and I was struck by the similarities in some of them. It seems that many of us had a false assurance of salvation. Some as teenagers, some younger than that.

Personally, I was scared of going to hell. So I did the required actions (prayed a prayer, said some words) and I was in: bound for eternal glory. Then I went back to living my life without another thought, except maybe the occasional twinge of conscience.

I guess, deep down, I felt like I deserved heaven. Oh, I never would have said it out loud. I think the assumption was there nonetheless.

The one thing all those testimonies had in common? A realization of undeservedness. Speaking personally again, I had to recognize myself and hate what I saw before I could begin to love Jesus. Yeah, I deserved something alright. And it wasn't eternal bliss (whatever I thought that was).

About those lists. Paul compiled several of them. I suppose he wanted to remove any doubt about who deserved what because at the end of the one in Romans 1:18-32, he makes this observation: those who practice those things know they "deserve to die." And keep right on doing them.

I know, I know; in this age of self-affirmation we keep hearing about how we deserve this, that or the other wonderful thing and we should just go for it because we really do deserve it.

So I cringe every time I hear the word "deserve" used in this manner.

There is a word that I like much better. In fact I love this word because my faith, in fact the whole Christian faith is premised on it.


Grace. God's grace. Grace that will pardon and cleanse within.

Grace that is greater than all my sin.

Praise the Lord, O my soul.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

What Coulda Happened Did

Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, "It might have been."

One of the interesting things about getting older is you get to contemplate on the weird twists and turns your life has taken. I'm not the only one doing this, right?

I swear, at times it seems like that was a different person doing all that stuff in my past. It's not like, "What was I thinking?" but rather, "Who was that guy?"

I think I can honestly say it was a different person. Different certainly from the person I am today.

At the end of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge pleads with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come saying, "I'm not the man I was." We can all say that (except you ladies, Renee Richards excluded), I guess.

In the book, Semi-Tough, Jets cornerback Dreamer Tatum steps into the Giants locker room to congratulate the Super Bowl winning team. Amidst the Giants' condolences that it could have gone either way, he utters the best line in English literature, "What coulda happened did."

Whittier was wrong. There are no alternate universes. No place where Lee made all the right moves at Gettysburg and Dixie is a reality (whatever that might entail) and not just a song.

Sadness, yes. For sins of omission as well as of commission. We repent of them both. I bear the weight and responsibility for these sins, as you do for yours.

But there is this:

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.... (Genesis 50:20a).

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

Be it so.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Iniquities of the Fathers

"...Let his blood be on us and on our children." -Matthew 27:25b

God is merciful.

I have often wondered how many of the crowd who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem with hosanas stood in Pilate's court a week later, angrily calling for his death and for bloodguilt upon their own heads and those of their children.

How many of them lived thirty-odd years to see Jerusalem destroyed and their temple razed to the ground? Do you think their thoughts flashed back to memories of their rejection of the Christ of God?

Woe is pronounced by Jesus on those who would cause others to sin. We are warned to not provoke our children, but to raise them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

We have seen generational strongholds; bitterness, anger and others, exhibited before children by their parents and thus these patterns of behavior are passed down.

Yet God is merciful and will not pass final judgment on anyone except "for their deeds and according to the works of their own hands (Jeremiah 25:14 and others)."

And in this light I remember the Day of Pentecost. And I wonder how many of those who had screamed, "Crucify him," now stood, convicted by the Holy Spirit and by Peter's words. Less than two months after they had called for Jesus' death, how many were "pricked in their hearts," crying out "Men and brethren, what shall we do?"

One other thing. Brother Billy recently called attention to Job, that he interceded for his adult children "continually," in case they might have sinned.

I think that one of the most grievous consequences of our sin is to see the pain in the hearts of those led astray by our bad example.

But this I recall and therefore I have hope: The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and plenteous in mercy. The mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children's children (Psalm 103:8:17)."

Praise the LORD, O my soul.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

There is a Season

   a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; -Ecclesiastes 3:4

Patterns. We see patterns everywhere when we study Scripture. On my daily walks, I sometimes reflect on these patterns. The cycle of the seasons, for example, and the reflection of this pattern in the seasons of our lives.

We are creatures of habit and routine and perhaps God arranged these patterns so that we might draw comfort from them. At times, though, the patterns are disrupted and the routine shattered.

The usual way of things is that we live and grow old and die. Our loved ones gather to mourn us and give comfort to one another.

But we find in God's Word that the pattern is broken when parents must bury their children, when our loved ones are taken seemingly in the midst of their lives. It is the cause of great grief for us, as it was for those whose lives were recorded in the Bible.

Though we understand that God alone knows the number of our days, it does not lessen the pain of the untimely (for so it seems to us) passing of someone dear to us.

Is there something more there than the natural pain of our loss? I read between the lines in David's mourning for Absalom and see regret. Regret perhaps for lost opportunities; for wrongs not righted; for words not spoken.

But there is the promise that all things will be made new. All tears, pain, sorrow and death shall cease. And having already had our souls restored in the first resurrection, we look forward to the second resurrection and the raising of our glorified bodies, the renewal of relationships broken by death, and life in the presence of our God as He makes His dwelling among us.

As surely as the dead (and deadness) of winter gives way to new life each spring, so too will this pattern be fulfilled.

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies are never-ending; they are renewed every morning; great is your faithfulness; -Lamentations 3:21-23

Friday, January 10, 2014

Among the Thorns

...but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. -Luke 8:14b

I recently read an article that warns against planting honey locust trees because of the wicked thorns they produce.

Nasty looking, hmm?

I remember the sticker weeds (real name?) growing in our pasture and the tiny painful thorns covering them. Mom brought a cactus back from a trip out west when I was very young. An unpleasant plant, the cactus.

I have read the Parable of the Sower many, many times. No doubt you have too. But I'm ashamed to admit that until this morning, I never paid attention to Jesus' description of the thorny ground.

The cares of this life; oh yes I get that. Who doesn't? But "the riches and pleasures?" Hardly thorny stuff, wouldn't you say?
Whoaa, have I in fact been praying for these thorns to come my way?

 Jesus points out that true faith is choked out by these thorns. But my heart is the "good soil," right? How could I forget the hours spent walking cotton rows with a hoe in my hand to take out the Johnson Grass that would stain the cotton lint and lower the value of the crop?

Even now I remember looking out across a soybean field on a crisp autumn morning. Mixed with the gold of the ripened plants was the dark burgundy of the cocklebur plants. A beautiful sight as the early morning sun cast its shadows and glinted off the dew on the spiders' webs.

But weeds among the crop, as Jesus noted elsewhere, is not a thing to be desired. And what may seem desirable at first glance may become a temptation. Another distraction to choke my faith.

Even good soil must be worked so that it will produce the desired harvest. A careful farmer must see to the thorns and thistles growing among his crop.

It is very easy to understand the temptation that comes with the cares of this life, but I needed to be reminded that thorns sprout up in many forms. It is useful to remember that these things did not become a problem until after The Fall.

We have been warned.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Sweet(?) Emotion


          But the fruit of the Spirit is…self-control. –Galatians 5:22a


     “You’re being too emotional!”

     Have you ever spoken these words or had them spoken to you? The implication, if not the actual intention, of this statement is that weakness is displayed by the person who is expressing his/her emotions. Is this true?

      In the reality shows that pollute television’s airwaves, people behave in the worst imaginable way, excusing their behavior with the words, “I’m just being honest about how I feel.”

     The subject of emotion surfaces regularly in the Battle of the Sexes. The female is accused of being ruled by her emotions, while the male is labeled insensitive and not in touch emotionally.       

     What does the Bible have to say about the emotions? The interesting fact is that the word “emotion” is not used in any of the major English translations except the New Living Translation (NLT). The Hebrew word usually translates “deeply moved, agitated or deeply stirred” in the other biblical translations.

     Is there then no counsel for the Christian to use in dealing with emotions? Of course, as we recognize the Bible to be the living and inerrant word of God, we understand that instruction is given in its pages for all aspects our lives (2 Timothy 3:16-17) as well as for our salvation.

     Our first father and mother were created in perfection. The emotions are part of that creation. But we must remember that every part of our being was adversely affected by The Fall.  

     So the problem is not that we are emotional in nature. This is a gift from God and our emotions enrich our lives. However as sin corrupts our every thought and deed (Romans 3:10-12; Isaiah 64:6), so our emotions may become the source of sin in our lives.

     Examples? We mentioned earlier that our relationships become emotional battlegrounds. What wife (even the Christian wife of a Christian husband) has not felt that her spouse belittles or ignores her feelings, treating them as unimportant?  What husband (even the Christian husband of a Christian wife) has not despaired at tearful, angry accusations of his insensitivity, while feeling that his spouse is using unreasonable, emotional outbursts to manipulate him?

     Our sin nature does not only poison our marital relationships but every portion of our lives where we interact with others. Thus, we hear of brothers estranged from brothers by anger or jealousy. We witness churches torn apart by pride and envy. And the sad fact is that our very culture glorifies this uncontrolled outpouring of emotion. It is our right, the argument goes, to express ourselves.

     As one whose life and relationships have in the past been marred by outbursts of anger, the best advice that I have ever received is this: “When you become angry, stop and ask yourself, ‘Why am I angry?’” To reflect on my anger and see the pride and selfishness fueling it is one of the most humbling things I have ever experienced.

     It is even more useful for us, as God’s children to reflect upon His Word. Galatians 5:22-26 is an especially relevant passage as we attempt to live our lives and experience the richness of emotion with which our God has blessed us without allowing those emotions to rule us and ruin us.  The Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches that man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. When our emotions are guided and informed by the fruit of the Spirit, this ideal can become reality.