Monday, August 20, 2018

Refusing the Remedy

 

[Photo of a child refusing medicine]


“These are the scriptures that testify about me,
yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”
—John 5:39-40

Neither a child spitting out his or her medicine, nor an old man refusing “any more pills,” do themselves any favors when it comes to their healing. When a remedy exists, it is wise to take advantage of it.

Even in Jesus’ time, He met people who didn’t appear to really want a remedy for their woes. In John 5:1-15, we read the story of Jesus meeting a man at the Bethesda pool who had been unable to walk for 38 years. The man was full of excuses why he had not been healed in all that time when a common remedy was available. Jesus asked him, “Do you want to get well?” To prove the man’s faith, Jesus told him to stand and walk. At once, through God’s power, the man walked away.

Many people have heard the “cure” for their lost condition in the death grip of sin. But, they have refused the remedy that Jesus offers to them. The remedy comes through the simple, yet difficult, submission to the truth of the gospel; that of confession of sin, turning from it, and accepting Jesus’ death for them on the cross as the payment they could never make themselves to a righteous God.

If your conscience has burdened you because of your refusal of the cure for your condition, recognize this voice as Jesus stepping up to you, as He did to this man at Bethesda and saying, “Do you want to get well?” Then, when He says to you, “Get up, walk with me, and accept my healing” you will know cleansing from sin and peace with God—in effect, a new life. Then, you too will have learned that when a remedy exists, it is wise to take advantage of it.

 

 

Monday, August 13, 2018

Bedrock

 

[Photo of the San Francisco Renaissance Tower]


“Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts
them into practice is like a wise man who built
his house on the rock…but everyone who hears these
words of mine and does not put them into practice
is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.”
—Matthew 7:24, 26

Maybe you saw the 60 Minutes® story about the Renaissance Tower in San Francisco. This story featured the tallest building west of the Mississippi River. It contains condominiums that sell for millions of dollars, drawing the richest and most well-off buyers in the Bay area.

The problem with this posh building doesn’t appear to the naked eye. But engineers, who have studied the cracks in the foundation and say it leans, report that the building sinks about two-inches a year, or about 17 inches so far.

Upon close study, these engineers learned that the builders went down 80 feet and built the foundation on very dense sand. Below the sand, the ground consists of years of packed rubble, mostly from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. To reach bedrock, one must extend the foundation of the building downward at least 200 feet below the surface. The question now becomes, how to fix this $350 million mistake.1

Immediately upon hearing the story, I remembered the parable that Jesus told about two men. The wise man built his house on the solid rock of God’s word. The foolish man built his house on the sand of his own willful ways. Though on sunny days the houses may have both appeared stable, when the storms came, only the one founded on the rock stood firm.

This parable, while a reminder for us all that God warns us about trying to build our lives on anything but His truth, also urges us to consider how we will build the next generations.

We could say that Christians, in general, desire their children, grandchildren, students, and congregational members to love God and follow in His ways. But, I sometimes wonder if we really aim for bedrock, or simply settle for something that appears good, but has its foundations built upon sand.

Do our churches aim to produce in our children strong, obedient, wise, and serious Christians? Or, do we remain content to develop polite, well-rounded, and knowledgeable young people with the appearance of a fine Christian upbringing, but with little to hold them up through the storms of life—even the temptations of college life or the workaday world? Do the programs we offer children in our churches spend more time on the “appeal factor” rather than actually drilling down into the will and consciousness of these young people?

Thankfully, I have seen, in recent years, parents and churches that have genuinely laid brick upon brick on a solid foundation of the Rock, the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us pray for all who influence the next generation of young people that our families and church produce!

May the Christian leaders of the next generation have what it takes to stand strong and powerful in Christ.

______________________

1 Wertheim, Jon. San Francisco’s Leaning Tower of Lawsuits. 60 Minutes (television program) for August 5, 2018. New York, NY: CBS Interactive Inc., 2018.

 

 

Monday, August 6, 2018

Used Tea Bags and Pencil Stubs

 

[Photo of pencil stubs]


“Do not sacrifice to the Lord your God an
ox or a sheep that has any defect or flaw
in it, for that would be detestable to him.”
—Deuteronomy 17:1

When I was a child, I remember a missionary speaker at my church who told of receiving “care packages” from the States. Inside one box he discovered that the people had sent boxes of used tea bags and pencil stubs. Imagine receiving that kind of gift sent to you in Jesus’ name!

The prophet Malachi was burdened for God’s people about just this kind of sloppy mediocrity, selfishness, and heartless worship. Apparently God’s people were giving to Him as sacrifices defiled food and diseased animals. He rebuked them in Malachi 1:14:

“Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king,” says the Lord Almighty, “and my name is to be feared among the nations.”

In our day, we may not present defiled animals to God. But, many of us are quite content to give Him that which has cost us nothing. In speaking to a mom of a chorister in my church choir about the child’s erratic attendance, she responded to me with, “It’s only church, for heaven’s sake!”

Make no mistake about it, God wants our best when we give Him our worship. He wants our excellence. This doesn’t always mean perfection. But, it does mean a heartfelt giving of the very best that we have.

Surely when we give offerings to those less fortunate, we can give gifts our own children would enjoy. When we bring food for the pantry, we can buy the same brands we would buy for ourselves.

Let us please Him as we give. 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 reminds us of what God desires from His people:

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

 

 

Monday, July 30, 2018

Daydreams

 

[Photo of child daydreaming]


“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion
raised against the knowledge of God, and
take every thought captive to obey Christ.”
—2 Corinthians 10:5

Much of my childhood, and more of my adulthood than I would like to admit, has been lived inside my imagination. By the time I got to Junior High school math class, I had so many gaps in my knowledge, I never caught up. I believe now that when class got boring I would slip into my daydreaming mode and miss whatever happened as the teacher explained important math concepts.

As I worked on my master degree project of studying the effects of inattention in music class, I learned that there are children with ADD (without the hyperactivity component) who behave and seem eager to please teachers, but who spend much of their time far away in thought.

I have also learned that often, our greatest gifting can get derailed by sinful temptations. For example, those with vivid imaginations seem to have creative and sometimes entrepreneurial talents that God wants to use for the benefit of His church, and the world in general. But, Satan tempts them into using their daydreams to disrupt God’s plans.

The Puritan, Richard Sibbes, contrasted the evil and good effects of daydreaming.1

Among the faculties of the soul, much of our unnecessary trouble arises from the imagination… The imagination can see greater happiness in outward good things and a greater misery in outward difficulties than there really is. Many lives are almost nothing but imagination.

He poses the solution to this problem.2

It is necessary that God by his Word and Spirit should erect a government in our hearts to captivate and direct this licentious faculty. To cure this malady, we must labor to bring our soul into obedience to God’s truth and Spirit.

Just as Satan can use the work of our imagination to derail our attention, distort God’s voice, or lead us astray, God can use this tremendous power for good. If we dedicate our thoughts to Him, He can show us truths within His written Word in new ways, direct our creative ideas for the use of His church, and excite us to serve Him in new ways.

Again, Sibbes writes:3

A sanctified imagination makes all creation a ladder to heaven.

______________________

1 Sibbes, Richard, as quoted in Rushing, Richard, editor. Voices. Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2009. p. 170.
2 Ibid. p. 170.
3 Ibid. p. 207.

 

 

Monday, July 23, 2018

Show Me Where It Hurts

 

[Photo of a mother looking at a child's hand]


“Cast all your anxiety on him
because he cares for you.”
—2 Peter 5:7

When I taught school, children frequently came to me with hurt fingers or knees. Often all they needed was my concern, whether I could take the pain away or not. Very often, the actual “hurt” was long gone before they complained.

I love the story of the healing of Lazarus in John 11. Jesus loved the sisters, Mary and Martha, as well as their brother, Lazarus, who had died. Even though word had been sent to Jesus that Lazarus was ill and dying, Jesus stayed where He was for two more days. He had a much higher plan than anyone could have thought.

Bereft, grieving, and totally puzzled by Jesus’ actions, Mary stayed at home while Martha ran to greet Jesus when he arrived. But, what gladness she must have felt when Martha came looking for her saying, as recorded in John 11:28:

“The Teacher is here and is asking for you.”

Jesus was asking for Mary, His friend.

When Mary went to greet Jesus, He saw her weeping and verse 33 reads:

“He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.” [And here comes Jesus’ statement:] “Where have you laid him?” [Or, “Show me where it hurts!” And then:] “Jesus wept.”

Often we hear that Jesus wept because of His great love and sorrow over Lazarus. Somehow, I don’t think Jesus was concerned about Lazarus. After all, He knew that Lazarus would, in a few minutes, stand before them healed!

Instead, I think that Jesus wept because of His compassion for Mary’s pain. After the healing of Lazarus, we see what Mary did to show her tremendous gratitude to Jesus. In John 12:3 we read that she poured over Jesus feet a pint of pure nard—a very expensive perfume worth a great deal. The depth of her pain shows in the depth of her gratitude.

Jesus often acts the way with us that He did with Mary. When we suffer, He longs to come to us and call us by name. He shows His concern by deeply moving expressions of His love, and even asks us, “Show me where it hurts.” He wants to know every detail and to share His compassion with us. Lamentations 3:33 tells us:

“For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone.”

But, when He finds such things necessary for His greater will, we can count on His loving care, the same as He showed to Mary of Bethany.

I like this quote from Matthew Henry, a 17th century Presbyterian minister:1

Those that in the day of peace place themselves at Christ’s feet, to receive instructions from him, may with comfort and confidence in a day of trouble cast themselves at his feet with hope to find favour with him.

______________________

1 Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Commentary. McLean, VA: MacDonald Publishing Co., Public Domain. Vol. V, p. 1053.

 

 

Monday, July 16, 2018

The Mystery of His Silence

 

[Photo of two young boys making a mess]


“You have covered yourself with a cloud
so that no prayer can get through.”
—Lamentations 3:44

A person who spends any amount of time with a toddler fears the silence. “What is he up to now?” we ask. The inference: “up to no good!” We prefer to trust what others do when we can’t see them. Sometimes, in our relationship with God, we hear nothing but silence and wonder, “What is He up to now?”

Job, the upright and blameless man, whose life and trials the Bible documents, heard nothing from God but silence when God took away his family, his business, and his health. In one frustrating moment, recorded in Job 23:3, Job cried out:

“Oh, that I knew where I might find Him, that I might come before His presence!”

Job did a lot of self-talk, just as Jeremiah did in his Book of Lamentations. This self-talk reminded both men of God’s unsearchable ways, His wisdom, and His care. Both came to the conclusion that they were not God, and could do nothing but cling to His mercy and to trust in Him. Both lived with God’s silence for much longer than either of them wanted.

In her book about women from the Bible, Carolyn Curtis Jones writes:1

God’s silence is not an accurate way to measure what he is doing. It’s easy to forget he often does his best work when, so far as we can tell, he doesn’t seem to be doing anything at all. But looking back on those long agonizing stretches of God’s silence, most of us will say those were the times in our relationship with God when he was doing the most.

Like Job, we may not know what God plans for us, as we travel through the darkness and silence. But, He wants us to learn to trust Him. And, like Job’s words, recorded in Job 13:15:

“Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.”

The conclusion of the story finds Job in Job 42:5 remarking:

“My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.”

God is not like the toddler: “up to no good.” No, instead He is always “up to good.” His good and our good.

______________________

1 James, Carolyn Curtis, Lost Women of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005. p. 127.

 

 

Monday, July 9, 2018

Squeezing Out the Juice

 

[Photo of squeezing an orange]


“But his [the blessed man’s]
delight is in the law of the Lord, and
on his law he meditates day and night.”
—Psalm 1:2

Experts say that squeezing two to four oranges yields about eight ounces of juice. Nothing can beat real freshly squeezed orange juice for flavor and sweetness. Yet, most of us would rather buy the “made from concentrate” brands in the supermarket. Why is that? Well, because of the time and mess involved, I suppose. At least that’s my excuse.

And, why don’t Christians enjoy the sweet fellowship of God in Jesus Christ more? Probably for a similar reason. It takes time to squeeze out the best flavors from His written Word. Nothing substitutes for meditation on the written Word of God and the sweet truths we learn through it.

In Scripture, we read that David, named the “man after God’s own heart” loved meditation. Vividly, we see in Psalm 19 that David meditated on the wonders of the sky, and the wonders of the laws of God. After considering, He prayed, as recorded in verse 14:

“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”

Puritan minister, David Clarkson, who lived in the 17th century, wrote about the advancement of faith through meditation. He stated that God develops faith in us when we think on His express promises, Scriptural assertions, God’s acts through and on behalf of His people, through the prayers of His people, and through His commandments. He writes:1

Gather the promises and meditate on them. They are meat in this wilderness. Often be mining their treasures. Do not allow these pearls to lie neglected in the field. Treasure them up. Fill your memories with them. A promise treasured will afford comfort in our callings, dungeons, and banishments. Meditate frequently and seriously on them.

Occasionally, try paring down your Scripture reading to just a few verses and spend time meditating word by word. Specifically:

  • Pen in hand, expand your thoughts about God and record your thoughts on paper.

  • Write a prayer using the words of the verses you have just read.

  • Remember a hymn that connects to the concepts on which you have just meditated.

  • Consider other Scripture passages that bring out the same truths about God, and compare and contrast them.

In other words, squeeze out those sweet juices. You will develop a connoisseur’s taste and build your faith in the process!

______________________

1 Clarkson, David, quoted in Voices. Richard Rushing, editor. Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2009. p. 174.