Thursday, May 28, 2015

Are We Out of Touch With God's Holiness?

     Long ago and what seems like far away now, I remember getting ready for church and wearing our finest clothing.  We wore hats, gloves and nice dresses.  As a little girl, I asked my mother why we had to dress up when we went to church and her reply was that we wanted to look our best to honor God.  I am certain some people dressed to impress others but that was not the motive my mother had in getting us ready to meet with the Lord.  Times have changed and so have dress codes.  People now come to church in shorts, cut-offs and some with bare midriffs.  While clothing does not add or subtract from salvation, I often wonder if this change has to do with our lack of understanding about the holiness of God.  Have we lost our fear and awe of God?  If we knew we had an appointment with the Lord face to face, how would we dress, how would we conduct ourselves, what would our speech be like?
     In his classic book (which I highly recommend to all my readers) "The Holiness of God", Dr. R.C. Sproul opens our eyes to the majesty of God.  He quotes John Calvin in one chapter:  "Men are never duly touched and impressed with a conviction of their insignificance until they have contrasted themselves with the majesty of God."  Somehow, I think we have lost an understanding of God's holiness and our sinfulness.  It is reflected in our culture and even among Christians.  No longer is it thought scandalous when a young woman becomes pregnant outside of marriage.  Living together
without benefit of marriage is common place and divorce is rampant even among believers.  We have become desensitized by our culture to such a degree that few people flinch when someone utters profane language.

     Dr. Sproul relates an article he read in "Time" magazine some years ago about a truck driver who was arrested for being drunk and disorderly.  He barraged the officers with every foul word he could utter and when he appeared in court, he did the same to the judge.  His sentence for the drunk and disorderly charge was a fine of $100 and 30 days in jail, but the judge found an old Maryland law that made the use of foul language and taking the name of the Lord in vain an offense punishable by $100 fine and 30 days in jail.  As a result, the judge sentenced this truck driver to 60 days in jail and a $200 fine for both offenses.  The magazine called it a miscarriage of justice.  The reporter was outraged that a man could spend 30 days in jail for blaspheming the name of the Lord.  Dr. Sproul wrote:  "What is worse, creating a public disturbance by getting drunk, or publicly insulting the dignity of a holy God?  The news editor gave his answer.  God gave a different one" (pg. 113).  This book was originally published in 1985 so imagine the politically correct stance of media today as opposed to the outrage over use of profane language in that time period of the 80's.
     What we fail to understand is that God is not obliged to save us.  Dr. Sproul writes:  "In creation, God is not obliged to give us the gift of life.  The gift of life comes by his grace and stands under his divine authority.  The task that is given to mankind in creation is to bear witness to the holiness of God, to be His image bearer.  We are made to mirror and reflect the holiness of God.  We are made to be His ambassadors" (pg. 114, Sproul).  So what happens when we forget that sin is really "cosmic treason" and we neglect to show forth God's holiness in living?  Dr. Sproul states:  "When we sin as the image bearers of God, we are saying to the whole creation, to all of nature under our dominion, to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field: 'This is how God is.  This is how your Creator behaves.  Look in the mirror; look at us, and you will see the character of the Almighty.'  We say to the world, 'God is covetous; God is ruthless; God is bitter; God is a murderer, a thief, a slanderer, an adulterer.  God is all of these things that we are doing'" (pg. 116 Sproul).  When I read these words, I felt convicted.  My sin blemishes the name and reputation of the God I claim to serve.  As His ambassadors, we are all called to reflect His holiness.
The Bible says in I Peter 1:13-16:  "Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, 'You shall be holy, for I am holy."
     Scripture calls us to a different way of living and looking at life.  We are no longer our own for we were bought by the price of Christ's blood upon the cross for our sins.  If we are to reflect God's holiness, we must think about what we are saying, doing and how we are dressing in our culture.    We must ask ourselves if we are living a life of obedience to God and showing a respect for Him in every area whether at work, home or at play.   Unfortunately today, there are many churches that look and act just like the world.  There is no reverence for God or understanding of His holiness.  It is more of a social gathering than a place of worship.  In such places, people will not find the answers to life's questions.  However, there are wonderful places of worship where God's Word is preached, the sacraments are exercised and the worship of God is sweet.  To these fellowships, we must be faithful in attendance, witness and growth.
     Today, we do not wear hats or gloves to church any longer and as I said, this does not add or subtract from salvation.  However, the question for us to consider is are we giving our best to God each time we gather to worship?  Are we striving to be different from our present day culture so that people have a true picture of the Lord who is righteous and holy?  With the help of the Holy Spirit, we can and must reflect the holiness of God in every area of our life.  This not only brings glory to God but will cause others to want to know more about our Lord and Savior as well.  Selah!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Performance Trap

     During my college days, I had a wonderful professor who taught communication.  Not only was she an excellent instructor, but she pushed me to reach for the next level as I entered competitions in oral interpretation of literature.  At one point, I was discouraged because I had not placed in the top three even though I had done well in other events.  I had my heart set on a trophy.  She wisely counseled me and her words still echo in my memory.  She said, "Don't be concerned with winning trophies because some day they will only gather dust.  Instead, give your best effort and be content with that."  At the time,  I could not accept her advice, but as years passed, I have often reflected on this as most of my awards, trophies and certificates are all packed away gathering dust.  It is a wonderful feeling, though, to win an award after serious, hard work.  Yet, with time, people forget and move on because life never stands still.  What we really need to concentrate on in this life is seeking to lay up treasures that will not gather any dust.
     Jesus taught us that we should "....not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:19-21).  Jesus gave this as part of His address to believers.  It is a warning not to be taken lightly. This world has many temptations, and it is easy to be dissatisfied with your life or possessions by simply watching television or your neighbors.  In fact, the message the world offers us is best exemplified by an advertisement produced for Korean Airlines.  The ad starts with a song "It's all about you".  To put it another way, they want us to believe that they are only focused on our comfort and care.  That well may be, but the message zeros in on a key problem we face in this culture.  The natural man is all wrapped up in himself.  He is self-centered, and desires only things that will help him advance.  This is our inheritance by birth as descendants of Adam.
     When God regenerates us and opens our eyes to the Gospel and we repent, we become new creations no longer bound by sin.  However, this does not mean that we are instantly transformed so we never fall into sin again.  Instead, our spiritual growth is a process.  Therefore, we can fall back into sin by making our lives all about us once again.  We are not immune to the lure of the wealth and fame.  We still have that old flesh living in us that wants nothing better than to pull us into worldliness.  Having so many voices in the social media telling us that performance is what matters can be confusing to our minds.  After all, Satan is a flatterer and the Father of lies.  This is how Eve fell in the Garden along with Adam.  He appealed to their desire to be wise like God.  Rather than glorify God by obeying Him, they sought to glorify themselves.
     Unfortunately, in Christian circles today, we have those who want to build a kingdom of their own because they have been caught up once again in the performance trap.  Mega church growth at the expense of sound teaching, promotion of books to gain fame, and feel good activities such as mission trips without the right motive are all a part of the performance mentality.  Do not misunderstand what I am saying.  Church growth is good and so is writing a book.  Going on a mission trip to help others is also admirable.  However, whom are we doing it for? Are we doing it for self or for God is the question we have to ask.  Who will get the glory, the attention?
     We must return to the instruction Jesus gave in the verses above.  Laying up treasure here is just another dust catcher like my trophies.  We cannot take it with us when we die.  However, when we live to glorify God and enjoy Him forever as the Westminster Catechism teaches us, we are laying up for ourselves treasure in heaven that no one can ever take from us.  This life is so short in comparison to eternity that we need to think hard about our motives for being involved in certain activities.  Jesus calls us to be a servant even as He was; for this life is not about "US".  It is all about God and our relationship to Him as our Creator and Redeemer.  This is what will count for all eternity.  Today, whom will you live to glorify?  Selah!

Photo used by permission is the work of Cathy Hardest.  Her photography is beautiful.  Thank you Cathy!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Spellchecking Our Lives

     Picking up the Sunday paper this past week I was struck by how many errors in spelling, punctuation and capitalization I saw in the pages.  The inner English teacher in me wanted to take a red pencil and mark it up.  Where are the proof readers?  If nothing else, we do have spellcheck on our computers and other tools that suggest a better way of writing something.   Then, this morning on Facebook, a friend posted a picture of a sign outside a school that read:  "We are committed to excellense".  The person who posted the picture wrote the word:  "paneful" .  I chuckled at the sign and the purposeful misspelling of the word "painful".  This goes to show that we often think we are correct when we really need to do a spellcheck or two.  In our spiritual lives, this also applies.
     In three of the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, each writer gives the story of the rich young ruler who came to Jesus to inquire how he might have eternal life.  Luke 18:18-24 and Matthew 19:16-22 both give lengthier descriptions of this encounter.  (Take a moment to read these two accounts).   The young man came to Jesus seeking to know how he could have eternal life.  Luke's account says that the young man called Jesus "good".  This was unusual because only God is
There are many great reference tools when writing both
computer and actually in books too!
referred to as "good" which Jesus pointed out.  The young ruler did not pick up on what he had just called Jesus.  In fact, he was truly blind as to who the Lord really was in relationship to his question about eternal life.
     Jesus told him that if he wanted to enter eternal life he should keep the commandments, and then, the Lord went on to list five of the six commandments that make up the second table of The Ten Commandments dealing with human relationships.  Christ omitted the tenth commandment dealing with covetousness and added Leviticus 19:18 which is the summation of the second half of the Decalogue ("You shall love your neighbor as yourself.")  Unfortunately, the young man's heart was not open to what the Lord was telling him and in a self-righteous manner declared that he had kept all these commandments.  He could not admit to his own sin.  So, Jesus, in His infinite wisdom put forth an instruction that He knew this young man would have to grapple with.  He said:  "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess, give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me" (Matt. 19:21).  For the young man, this was the deal breaker.  He could not give up his many possessions.  They were his god, and he left sorrowful.
     This young man's refusal to obey Christ shows us two important things.  First, when it came to the Law that he so pridefully said he had kept, he fell short because he loved his possessions far more than his neighbors.  Secondly, he also lacked saving faith which involves full surrender to the Lordship of Christ.  He would not abandon his wealth and follow Jesus.  Keep in mind that Jesus was not advocating salvation by giving away possessions.  Our Lord knew that this young man loved himself and all that he owned far more than his neighbors or God.  Jesus demanded that this young man give Him first place in his life.  It was a call to faith and an answer to his question about what he should do to gain eternal life.  His response was to walk away not believing in the Lord.
     Where we, as well as the rich young ruler, fall down is in the area of proof reading (or evaluating) our own lives in the light of God's Word to us.  The Ten Commandments do not save us, but they serve to show us that we can never measure up to God's holiness in our own strength.  Our sinful nature keeps us from loving others as we ought to, and without the power of the Holy Spirit guiding us, we can never be obedient. God's Spirit is our spell check.  He convicts us of sin and warns us of temptation.   The young man could not see his own self-righteousness and pride in his possessions because he lacked faith in Christ.
     Each day, we need to take a look at our lives and see where we are falling short.  Then, we need to repent and ask God in Christ to forgive us.  It's like proofreading before we publish.  God knows all about us even before we pray.  He calls us to be holy even as He is holy and this only happens when we give our life to Him and walk moment by moment in His Spirit.
     I don't know if the newspaper will ever clean up its act, but we can certainly keep our lives in right standing with God when we take the time to examine them.  This will bring glory to God and allow us to enjoy Him forever.  Selah!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Keep on Shining

     In the current position I hold in my husband's office, I have the job of filing insurance and sending out billing.  This is not always an easy job to be certain, and this is especially true when people come in to question a bill.  Some come into our office sincerely wanting to understand what they owe and others come in upset that they must pay anything.
     On one such occasion, an elderly lady came into the office to ask about a recent bill she had received.  We had people in our waiting room so I tried to speak quietly with this person.  The more I tried to explain how the item was billed the angrier she became as she did not seem to understand what I was saying.  I pulled out records and other items to show her that the balance was her responsibility; however, I also tried to stay calm so she would not get upset.  After what seemed like a long discussion, the dear old lady said that I could send her to jail before she would pay.  With that pronouncement, she turned and left.  I had tried my best to reason with her, but it seems as though she was resolute in her belief.
A swan is a beautiful bird but it can have a nasty
disposition.  A good lesson for each of us!
     As I sat thinking about this encounter, a gentleman in our waiting area had heard the entire exchange.  He said he thought I had handled things very gently and professionally.  I thanked him for those kind words as I truly needed to hear that.  Likewise, I was happy that I did not lose my temper or my witness for Christ.
     Whether it is on the job or even at a family gathering, the Apostle Paul tells us the importance of being a light that we might glorify the Lord through our speech and conduct.
 Ephesians 5:8 reads:    "for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light."  When we lose our temper, we also lose our  ability to think things through and often say things which would have been better not to have said at all.  As Pastor Mickey Evans of Dunklin Memorial Camp used to say, "It's better to be righteous than right."  Getting upset with people doesn't resolve an issue.
     When we show kindness to others in spite of how they treat us, we are being a light for Christ.  They may be an angry neighbor,  a clumsy waiter, or a store manager with a bad attitude, but we are called to reflect the Lord.    Our speech and witness are to be positive even to those who are being ugly to us.
     I cannot tell you have many times I have seen people that I know profess Christ; yet they take out their frustrations on others leaving a negative impression with that person
.   Our actions matter in this world because they back up what we speak with our mouths.  A profession of faith in Christ is only as strong as the manner in which we relate not only to God but also our fellow man.  We are to be doers of the Word and not hearers only.
     In this new day, we need to ask ourselves some questions to determine if we are shining for Christ:
1) Do I treat others as I long to be treated?   2) Am I impatient with store clerks, other drivers on the road or in doctor's offices?  3) Do I think more highly of myself than I do of others?  These questions help us to see if we are serving as a beacon for Christ or just like the world we were supposed to be different than.  Let us purpose in our hearts to reflect His glory and love others despite how they may treat us.  Selah!                                        

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Hope in Difficult Places

     Last week was a particularly difficult week for me.  Not only did we say good-bye to our long time dog Roscoe, but in our church family, we lost two loving saints who served our fellowship faithfully.  Their lives were fruitful and it seemed they left us all too soon.  I remember remarking to my husband that life hurts when people we love and the creatures that offer us companionship die.  It was never meant to be that way in the beginning; for God created a perfect world without sin or flaw. Man and woman were meant to live forever without sickness and decay.  They were placed in a perfect environment and asked to tend it.  Their only restriction was to not eat of the fruit of one tree. Yet, they succumbed to temptation and directly disobeyed God (Genesis 3), and with this choice, they brought sin not only into their lives but into the world as well.
     Where once a perfect landscape covered the earth, now weeds grew up and choked the healthy plants.  Extra toil in working the land was required to bring forth a harvest.  All life on earth became subject to decay, death and loss.  Man, who once enjoyed a perfect relationship with God now had a broken one and Scripture tells us in Jeremiah 17:9:  "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" We have inherited the sin nature of Adam and in our natural state, we too
have a broken relationship with God.   Is it any wonder that we see man's depraved nature on display in our world today with murders, violence of all types and terrorism?  If this were the end of the story, we would not have anything to look forward to in the future.
     In the middle of this bleak scene in the Garden after Adam and Eve sinned, God promised a deliverer who would come and make a way for man to be free from this bondage of the will.  This foreshadowing of the Messiah is given in Genesis 3:15.  The fulfillment of this promise came in the person of Jesus Christ who came and walked among us teaching us and fulfilling all the Law and the prophecies of the Bible.  In addition, He offered His life as a sacrifice in place of the punishment our sin deserved.  Jesus was fully God and fully man.  As the Son of God, He lived a perfect life.  He was the new Adam who came to fulfill God's promise to redeem mankind from sin and death.  Not only did He die in our place, but He also rose from death as a conqueror over this curse upon man.
     When we hear the call from God to come to Christ, we pass into a new relationship with the Lord. The bondage of sin is broken and we pass from death into life which will last forever.  Jesus tells us in John 5:24:  "Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life."  This is precisely what the two dear saints believed who were called home last week.  They knew that absence from the body means they would be present with the Lord.  This is the hope we have in Christ.  However, this is not the end of the story.  One day (we do not know when), our Lord Jesus Christ will return to rule and reign.  The Apostle John saw in a vision a new heaven and a new earth in Revelations 21:1:  "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more."  How glorious will this day be when God restores the glory of His creation!
     Presently, we know the pain of loss and the heartbreak it brings.  Yet, for those of us who trust in Christ for our salvation, we have the hope, joy and peace that comes in knowing that even death cannot take away the promise of eternal life.  He enables us to walk through this world as new creations who are citizens not of this world but of heaven.  Then, in the future, the Lord will establish His kingdom and once again, life in His presence will bring no more tears or heartache.  This is our glorious hope and longing.  If you have never trusted in Christ as your Lord and Savior, today is the day of salvation.  Do not delay to look to Him for in Him is life.  Selah!