Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Helping or Enabling

     As a parent and now a grandparent, I have always had a desire to assist or help my family in any way I can.  This is a natural outgrowth of my love for them.  However, what is the difference between helping family, friends and others and enabling them?  We all want to show mercy and grace to those in time of need, but when do we get in God's way?
     Currently, there are many fine ministries created to help the poor and needy.  When someone loses a job or faces huge financial problems, they need a hand.  In many cases, these ministries have a person designated to do a background check on the person to see if there is a real need.  This is crucial because the sin nature in man often reveals itself when someone wants help but is unwilling to help themselves.  They may be a steady customer to any ministry or person who will continue to provide them with their needs while they do nothing to improve their situation.  My father-in-law, who had a good deal of wisdom, used to say, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."  If we do everything to make life easy for someone or to help them avoid the consequences of a wrong action they have taken, then we are enabling them.
There is a time and place to help and a time to let someone face the results of their decisions.
     For Christians, this is a fine line because we feel compelled to assist those who are in need or in trouble.  Someone with a mercy motive  has even more of a challenge because they want to apply bandages to the wounds of life when the Lord may be trying to get someone's attention.  Scripture is very blunt when it comes to reaping what we sow:  "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life." (Galatians 6:7-8 NIV).  The question becomes, "Are we mocking God when we ride to the rescue every time a person makes a wrong decision?"
     Parenting certainly is not an easy task in this day and age by any means.  Saying "no" to our children is tough, but there are times we have to do so for their own good.  We can either assist them in growing up by setting and maintaining healthy boundaries or we can pamper them to death leaving them with a sense of entitlement.  Life "owes" me becomes their mantra.  A good example for us to look at is the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11-32).
     In the story, the youngest son approaches his father and demands his inheritance now.  What makes this an unusual request is that most children do not receive their inheritance until their parents are gone.  It is as if the young man was wishing his father dead.  However, the father gives to him his inheritance whereupon this son leaves to spend it on his pleasures.  According to Scripture, the son spent all he had on "reckless living".  When the money was gone, the young man had no choice but to  look for work to sustain himself.  He ended up feeding pigs in this far country.  He got to the point where he wanted to eat even what the pigs were being fed, but no one gave him anything (vs. 16).
There came a point where this son woke up to reality and thought seriously about what he had done.  He knew his father's servants were taken care of better than this lifestyle.  At this moment, he knew he had sinned and needed his father's forgiveness.  Therefore, he returned home with an attitude of humility and a willingness to be a servant in his father's household.  His repentance was sincere.  Imagine his shock when his father ran to greet him.  In fact, his father held a feast for him and restored him to the household as a son.  Why?  Because the father knew he was truly repentant.
      As we consider the father in this story, there are several things we should note.  First, the father did not run after his son.  He let him go to face the consequences, of his decision.  I am certain he was concerned and probably hurt that his son wanted to take his inheritance early and leave home, but he did not stop him.  Though it is not stated in Scripture, I am certain the father prayed diligently for his wayward son.  Was the father unloving because he didn't run after the son?  On the contrary, he released him into God's care.  There are times when we get in God's way by trying to fix things for others.  This is what enabling does.  God is more than capable of trimming our sails when we are rebellious as this young man seemed to be.  When the son came home with full repentance, the father welcomed him with open arms.  The key here was that the son acknowledged his wrong doing and asked for forgiveness.  Then, he was restored.  Jesus tells this story to show how the heavenly Father reacts when a sinner truly repents and returns to a right relationship with Him.
     If this story were to play out today, I can only imagine how it might be in the age of text messages, emails and phone calls not to mention unhealthy parent and child relationships.  All too often, parents do not allow children to face the consequences of their decisions.  They pay the rent, fix up the vehicle, buy the food rather than let their child suffer.  Again, there is a fine line between genuine help and enabling.  We need godly wisdom as found in scripture, prayer and the counsel of others.  It is too easy to jump in to save someone from consequences that perhaps God wants them to face for their growth and good.  Perhaps God wants them to feed the pigs for a while until they come to their senses.
     May God give us discernment, wisdom and understanding as parents, grandparents, friends, neighbors and fellow believers so we know when to help.  He, alone, knows the plans He has for each one of us.  Let us be faithful to listen to Him.  Selah!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Destructiveness of Sin

      Have you ever told a "white lie"?  I know I have from time to time because I didn't want to hurt some one's feelings when they asked me about an outfit they were wearing.  However, besides being a dishonest thing to do, it is also sin.
     We all try to rationalize away the ugliness of sin by grading it.  Some sins like murder are "very bad" while other sins like "white lies" to protect some one's feelings are not quite as bad.  However, to our Lord, sin is sin and it is an abomination to Him.  Realizing this can keep us from taking this matter lightly.
     As we look at the life of David, we know both that he was a "man after God's own heart" but also a man who fell into the sin of adultery followed by murder.  How could this be?  It started small with a glance from his palace at a beautiful woman.  Like a little "white lie", the leaven of sin spread into his soul and led him into deeper evil.
     After David was confronted with his sin by Nathan the Prophet, he cried out to God for forgiveness, and we see this in Psalm 51.  As you read this Psalm, focus on verses 7-12.
Ruins of the castle wall in Heidelberg, Germany
     In verse 7, David seeks to be purged with hyssop.  A branch of hyssop was used in the ceremonial cleansing of lepers in Leviticus 14:6,7.  The hyssop was dipped into the blood of a sacrificed bird and sprinkled upon the leper thus making him clean.  Not only does this foreshadow the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ for sin but also shows that David is aware that his sin makes him like an unclean leper.  In Bible times, leprosy was a serious disease often leading to death.  The second half of the verse asks God to wash David so that he will be whiter than snow.  Numbers 19:19 describes the ritual of washing after coming into contact with a dead person.  David was familiar with this and likens his sin to being in touch with death.  Only God is capable of cleansing him.
      Verse 10 of Psalm 51 uses the verb "create".  This is the same verb used in Genesis 1:1 where God is creating the heavens and the earth.  Here David is acknowledging that only God is able to give him a clean heart and renew him in spirit.
      Recognizing that sin utterly separates us from God is evident in verse 11 as David begs God not to cast him far away.  How little we often realize that sin keeps us from the relationship we so desperately need not only with God but our fellow man.
     Finally in verse 12, David asks the Lord to restore the "joy of Your salvation".  He came to realize that he had left his first love when he fell into sin.  He took his eyes off the Lord and fixed them on a woman.  David went from being a "man after God's own heart" to declaring spiritual bankruptcy in a short period of time.  This recognition led him to a great repentance.
     There is a sign above my computer which reads:  "Joy isn't the absence of sorrow, it's the presence of God."  In King David's case, he certainly experienced much sorrow over his sin, the loss of Bathsheba's baby and his broken relationship with God.  However, he knew that this was necessary in order to find the joy of a righteous relationship with his creator.  He also acknowledged that he wasn't able to restore this in his own power.  Only God could do that for him.
      When we consider that sin is much like the disease of leprosy which disfigures little by little and can lead to death, we will come to understand our need to walk closely with our Savior Jesus Christ.  Little "white lies" seem so innocent when we tell them, but just like David's glance at a beautiful woman, the consequences can be devastating first to our relationship with God and secondly in our relationship with others.  May we strive to walk in the Spirit by His Word so that we might not sin against Him.  Selah!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Power of the Name

     Most of us had a nickname when we were growing up.  Some were fun and perhaps, some were hurtful, but often, they reflected some characteristic or trait that others saw in us.  For example, those of us who grew up watching "The Lone Ranger" knew that his side kick Tonto always called him "Kemosahbee".  This was a word denoting respect and meaning "faithful friend" according to the story line.  However, there is no name as powerful or safe as that of our Lord.
       Proverbs 18:10 reads:  "The name of the Lord is a strong tower."  It is in God alone that we find all that we need in this life and for eternity to come.  Throughout Scripture, God is called many names which point to His character and sovereignty. This listing is not complete but contains those which many of us are familiar with:
     Elohim:  God "Creator, Mighty and Strong"  (Genesis 17:7; Jeremiah 31:33
     El Shaddai:  "God Almighty"  (Genesis 49:24 and Psalm 132: 25).
     Adonai:  "Lord" (Genesis 15:2; Judges 6:15).  This name for God often replaced YHWH as the Jewish people felt God's name was much too holy to be spoken.
     YHWH, Yahweh or Jehovah:  means "Lord" (Deuteronomy 6:4, Daniel 9:14).  This was the name best associated with God and the one He called Himself when He and Moses met in the wilderness - "I Am that I Am".
A strong tower in Heidelberg, Germany
     Jehovah Jirah:  "The Lord will provide" (Genesis 22:14).  God provided a ram for a sacrifice instead of Abraham's son Isaacc in the wilderness.
     Jehovah Rapha:  "The Lord who heals"  (Exodus 15:26).  He heals both body and soul.
     Jehovah Nissi:  "The Lord our Banner" (Exodus 17:15).  God went before His people like a banner when they defeated the Amalekites.
     Jehovah Shalom:  "The Lord is our Peace" (Judges 6:24).  This was the name given by Gideon.
     Jehovah-Tsidkenu:  "The Lord Our Righteousness" (Jeremiah 33:16)
     Jehovah-Rohi:  "The Lord Our Shepherd (Psalm 23:1)
     Jehovah Sabaoth:  "The Lord of Hosts" (Isaiah 1:24; Psalm 46:7)  He is the God of all creation over both earth and heaven.
     Just in these few names we can see that God desires relationship with us.  Through His Word He tells us who He is and what He requires of us.  Furthermore, His names should bring us comfort knowing that He is the completion of all we need for life.  When we are afraid, we can seek our El Shaddai to protect and keep us.  If we have need, Jehovah Jirah is our resource.  During sickness, we can call upon Jehovah Rapha.  However,  God has lifted up the name of His Son that we might come to salvation.
     Philippians 2:9-10 tells us:  "9For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth,…"  Our Lord Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully man, and in Him, we have forgiveness of our sins.
     Dear friends, God has provided for us all we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3), and it is found in His name from start to finish.  We have only to call upon Him in earnest prayer.
     When uncertain times come our way, we would do well to meditate on the name of the mighty God we serve.  In Him, we have a faithful strong tower just as Proverbs tells us.  He will never leave nor forsake us.  Therefore, let us put our trust in the One who never sleeps nor slumbers.  Call upon the name of our Lord.