Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Penny For Your Thoughts

"LeFou, you know I've been thinking."
"A dangerous pastime!"
"I know."

Way back in the long ago, a friend shared that she had tried smoking pot but didn't care for the experience, since it made her "think too much."

Upon further reflection (years after the fact), I suppose I could relate to that. Getting high sometimes opened the door to uninvited thoughts.

Paranoia and uninvited thoughts aside, "the life of the mind" is fascinating, something I enjoyed pondering even as a youngster.

My favorite people, people whose company I most enjoy are thoughtful people. In fact I am always surprised when I encounter someone who doesn't enjoy thinking.

I am actually puzzled that anyone would desire to cruise through life without meditating on the nature of things. I don't believe that it is because I am a child of the sixties that I "question everything."

What I am truly unable to comprehend, however, is the Christian who doesn't exhibit much (if any) desire to meditate on the nature of this faith of ours. How could this be, I wonder?

I am well aware of the pitfalls of making judgments about someone else's salvation (Romans 14:4 is an apt warning). And I understand  that each of us is gifted in various ways to build up the body of Christ.

However it is a subject of which I never tire of thinking about or talking about: how this infinite Being, this Holy God could look upon this creature (me) flopping about in the mud and mire of his own sin and have pity. How He could desire me even.

How He could pursue me even though I ran as far and fast as I could to escape Him. And how, having been saved, to meditate on His sheer beauty fills me with joy.

What regenerated heart could not long for that same joy?

So before you say that you don't find the Old Testament all that interesting. Before you say that thinking about how God's sovereign will and human ability to choose could work together is "too confusing to think about." And, please, before you say that you don't need to go to church to be saved.

Before you say any of this (or worse). Think about it.

Think about what it means to love your God "with all your mind."

And having meditated on the beauty that is God, you will no doubt feel the need to talk about it.

Let's talk.

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. -Deuteronomy 6:6-7

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Name Your Poison

Give what Thou commandest and command what Thou wilt. -Augustine

Addictions. The word conjures visions of the junkie and the agony of longing as she seeks the next fix. Or the alcoholic trapped in the endless cycle of drunken stupor and hungover bitterness of the morning after.

Would it accurate to suggest that we all have been enslaved (in some degree or other) by addiction to some thing or other?

But we are Christians, aren't we, and we know what delivers us from this body of death. This body with its weaknesses, afflictions and tendency to sin.

The world has its 12-Step programs and its positive thinking and its daily affirmation. God, in his mercy, has seen my frailty and proneness to wandering.

He has commanded me to be holy even as he is holy and then graciously provided a Helper. For I know that it is only by the sanctifying power of God the Spirit that I am anything like able to obey. Do you not find it to be so?

We have victory over sin increasingly as we understand and embrace our position in Christ. God has granted the means for obedience to His commands. Even as I struggle (and often fail) to put to death whatever sinful thoughts, words or deeds which hold me in bondage.

But as I rejoice in victory, I am reminded of my responsibility toward those still struggling (1 Corinthians 8:8-13).
My freedom (in those things that are not really sinful) becomes a snare to them. 

As we love the brethren, we minister to them in their weakness. Somehow there must be a balance between my freedom in Christ and their as yet incomplete understanding of who they are and whose they are.

It is an awesome thing to see God's deliverance of someone trapped in addiction. It is an inspiring thing to see Christians ministering to such a one, aiding them to overcome, speaking victory and peace into the embattled heart.

I thank God for the freedom He has given me through the sanctifying Spirit. May I never so rejoice that I forget the babe in Christ who so desperately struggles to overcome temptation and sin. May I always be diligent to never offer an occasion for stumbling.

But even more, may I be faithful to remind them of the blessings that are promised to us all.

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. -1 Thessalonians 5:23-24.

Brothers, pray for us.

Friday, September 12, 2014

And How Are They to Hear?

...preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
 -2 Timothy 4:2

It is impressive to sit in Pastor Billy McGarity's study and observe the books lining walls from top to bottom. Many Bible translations, as well as commentaries, collections of sermons, and systematic theologies are contained in these shelves. 

Brother Billy would be quick to assert that in no way has he absorbed all the learning contained in these many volumes. What is impressive is the dedication, the devotion to the Word of God.

It is this dedication for which I so love my pastor, though he is also dear to me as a Christian friend and brother. When I read and hear the statements made by ministers in this community, words which so often betray not merely a lack of understanding, but an utter ignorance of Scripture, I am shocked and saddened.

Shocked because it seems such a small thing, a basic thing really, for a Christian person (and how much more so a minister of the Gospel) to desire and seek the deep things of God's Word.

Instead we see a casual, almost flippant attitude toward the Bible: a few key texts pulled out of context and hammered to death, willful (or so it would seem) rejection of the basic doctrines of God's grace, and a blasphemous elevation of fallen man's will above the sovereign rule of the Lord of the universe.

But  am saddened even more by the thought of those who sit in darkness, under the shadow of those pulpits where Scripture is so incompletely presented. Saddened by the thought of those lulled into a false sense of comfort and security as their ears are tickled by lies and their bellies filled by that which is not food.

Saddened that they hear the words, "Peace, Peace," where there is no peace, only impending judgment.

Ministers are called to preach faithfully, diligently and carefully. Souls hang in the balance, and while God alone gives the increase, it is through the faithful sowing of the Gospel that he works to draw sinners to Himself and create a bountiful harvest.

I praise the God of heaven for Billy McGarity and pastors like him who present the complete counsel of the Word of God. I have included a link to one of his sermons. I pray you will be blessed by listening to it:

I pray, as well, that you are hearing such preaching regularly.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Blind Eye and the Deaf Ear

Honi soit qui mal y pense (evil be to him who evil thinks). -anon.

Also take no heed unto all words that are spoken; lest thou hear thy servant curse thee. -Ecclesiastes 7:21

Projecting. It's what psychologists say we do when we ascribe evil intent to the words or deeds of others. Simply put, we project our own hostile thoughts onto their motives. Sort of an emotional cut-and-paste, you might say.

But you know, sometimes folks are just careless or negligent. No harm intended, but the hurt is real nonetheless.

Twice, recently, I was involved in misunderstandings, one involving careless behavior, the other a missed communication. Both instances led to real (or imagined) slights.

Was I tempted to take offense? You know I was.

Did I indeed become irritated (if not angry)? Sad to say, this was my initial reaction in each case. But the story of the mote and the beam came to mind.

Prayer may be the last refuge of the scoundrel, but it is the only refuge of the sinner. In fact have you ever noticed that if you spend much time in prayer each day, how much of it is taken up in asking forgiveness?

Charles Spurgeon, my favorite dead preacher, once gave this sound advice to his ministerial students:

We in the church are fallen people, saved by grace and called to love one another. The best way to do that, as Spurgeon has noted, is to extend the benefit of the doubt, to refuse to take these things to heart.

You know, let it slide.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

What Kind of Love?

And this is love, that we walk after his commandments. 2 John 1:6a

"Love is the morning and the evening star..." 

Robert Ingersoll's paean to a generic "love" is satirically misquoted throughout Sinclair Lewis' Elmer Gantry. Has a certain ring to it, reckoned revival preacher Gantry and he was banking that his audience had never heard of Ingersoll. You can check out the actual quote here:   

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Ingersoll was a well-known American agnostic in the late 19th century. Back to that in a moment.

I am thinking of a line from a film I recently watched called Pavilion of Women. The movie is based on Pearl S. Buck's 1946 novel of the same name. 

The main character, Madame Wu, is speaking of her twenty-something son's love for a woman who is married to another man. "Can love be  a sin?" she asks Andre, an American priest who (unbeknownst to her, or maybe not) holds similar feelings for Madame Wu.

"Love can never be a sin," he replies earnestly.

What do you think?

Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God with all our being. He also said, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments."

So did Buck or Ingersoll have any notion of a truly biblical definition of love?

I'm not writing this to hate on either of these two people, one a professing Christian, the other not.

"God is love (1 John 4:8;16)." You hear that tossed around a lot, don't you? It's been used as the rationale for all sorts of things.

Universalism (everybody goes to heaven). A casual approach to worship. A famous pastor's wife recently said in effect that God loves us so much, he just wants us to be happy ("worship is not about God, it's about YOU!"). It's even used as justification for all kinds of previously forbidden love (including the afore-mentioned adultery).

Well, of course, love is one of God's characteristics. There are others, as well. How about this one?

Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory (Isaiah 6:3b).

Here's another: God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day (Psalm 7:11).

God's love, then, is a holy love, a righteous love, a just love. In other words, God (being God) is the standard by which we measure all things. Including love.

I suppose a useful rule of thumb would be that any love that we place before our love of God is indeed a sinful love. An idol, in fact.