Saturday, August 30, 2008

Twigs or oaks?

Isaiah 61:1-4

1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,

because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,

2 to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,

3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the LORD
for the display of his splendor.

4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.

About 20 years ago I became acquainted with a group of Christians who were overcomers. Before that, I had known only a few who seemed to live above sin and doubt, to radiant peace and joy, and whose actions and words took one into the presence of the Lord.

There were several things that made my new acquaintances overcomers. They expected to see "the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living" (Psa. 27:13 KJV)—not just someday in the sweet by and by. They believed God’s promises; instead of reading them and saying, “Well, I hope so.” They obeyed the requirements and admonitions of Scripture, not rationalizing most of it away with statements such as “The Lord knows we’re only human.”

I saw unstable people become sound in mind and strong in spirit. I saw chronic sadness and self-doubt lift off of others. I saw an army of individuals who lived so much in the Word and in worship, that life-changing words came out of their mouths regularly, whether speaking with a fellow church member, a relative, or the person ahead of them in the check-out lane. I saw such a confidence in Jesus Christ that they laid hands on sick people and they recovered. They shared the word of God with people in broken relationships and desperate circumstances until miracles of restoration occurred.

Is this not why Christ came? To take broken people and make them “oaks of righteousness.” To make them advancers of his kingdom. To make them OVERCOMERS.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Succumbers or overcomers?

As I have studied Revelations recently, I have been reminded of something that readily escapes middle-class Americans--life can brutal. I have also been reminded that Christians throughout the centuries who have experienced the greatest hardships and persecutions seem to be the least inclined to think it unfair that a child of God should have to go through these things. They discover the glory of the overcoming Christ in their lives. I've got to believe that we can become overcomers, as well. In the next few posts I want to explore that.

To begin with I want to share an excerpt from my father's book Overcoming with Christ: God's Message to the Church from the Book of Revelation.

So God’s message to the Church through the visions of the Apocalypse is:

1. Take a realistic view of life, past, present and future. Recognize that faithful Christian living involves persistence in both good times and bad.
2. Do not fall asleep! Be alert! Be faithful! Only those who overcome whatever conditions they face will be rewarded.
3. Live by faith undergirded with hope. Consider the promises of God—they are all for you. You can and will overcome all the wiles of the enemy.
4. You do not have to face life alone. God has abundant resources at your command. Rely on him, use the armor he provides, and by so doing develop those traits of character—reverence, obedience, faith, honesty, patience, faithfulness—that will help you be an overcomer.
5. The final message is the key to the whole book—Christ overcame! We can overcome with Christ. OVERCOMING WITH CHRIST—that is God’s message to the Church through the book of Revelation!

It would be interesting to know the timing of events at the close of the present age and when Christ will return, but God has not chosen to reveal these details to us. In fact we cannot know the times and seasons God has placed in his own power. The Second Coming of Christ will be sudden and unexpected, like a thief in the night.

The central theme of the book of Revelation is OVERCOMING. It is the golden thread woven throughout history. He wrote to a persecuted Church to assure them that with Christ they too could overcome all the power of the enemy by drawing on the resources God has provided. He dramatically illustrated the final downfall of Satan and his followers, the triumph of Christ and the eternal blessedness of his faithful followers. Even those who give their lives in the struggle against evil will share in the final triumph.

So when you study the book of Revelation, don’t think so much about the antichrist as of the triumphant Christ.

Don’t read about the scarlet woman, but the woman clothed in light.

Don’t be frightened by the Beast and the False Prophet, but look to the Lamb without spot and without blemish.

Don’t worry about the mark of the Beast, but seek for the seal of the Holy Spirit on your life. . . .
Excerpt from Overcoming with Christ by F. Burleigh Willard Sr. (Xulon Press, 2008), 120-121.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Some things never change

This quaint but effective message in verse was discovered by my 88-year-old father in one of his favorite volumes—The Best Loved Poems of the American People.


“The hand that rocks the cradle”—but there is no such hand;
It is bad to rock the baby, they would have us understand;
So the cradle’s but a relic of the former foolish days
When mothers reared their children in unscientific ways—
When they jounced them and they bounced them, these poor dwarfs of long ago—

The Washingtons and Jeffersons and Adamses, you know.

They warn us that the baby will possess a muddled brain
If we dandle him or rock him—we must carefully refrain;
He must lie in one position, never swayed and never swung,
Or his chance to grow to greatness will be blasted while he’s young.
Ah! To think how they were ruined by their mothers long ago—
The Franklins and the Putnams and the Hamiltons, you know.

Then we must feed the baby by the schedule that is made,
And the food that he is given must be measured out or weighed.
He may bellow to inform us that he isn’t satisfied,
But he couldn’t grow to greatness if his wants were all supplied.
Think how foolish nursing stunted those poor weaklings, long ago—
The Shakespeares and the Luthers and the Buonapartes, you know.

We are given a great mission, we are here today on earth
To bring forth a race of giants, and to guard them from their birth,
To insist upon their freedom the rocking that was bad
For our parents and their parents, scrambling all the brains they had.
Ah! If they’d been fed by schedule would they have been stunted so?
The Websters and the Lincolns, and the Roosevelts, you know.*
—William Croswell Doane (1832-1913)

What is your reaction to this poem?

At first, all I saw was the somewhat delightful, somewhat amusing poetic style of “yesteryear”—rollicking, carefully rhyming, almost preachy. Then some more “profound” observations began to stir inside. I realized: SOME THINGS NEVER CHANGE.
· Health care professionals will continue to search for better ways to safeguard children’s health and development, and parents will continue to have trust their own common sense in the presence of those who are supposed to be experts.
· What is regarded as “modern” today will soon be “old-fashioned.” As far as this poem is concerned, that includes our science and our artistic expression.
· Truth still shines forth, even when someone’s style of expressing it is no longer considered cutting-edge or clever.

These reflections reminded me of a biblical injunction I had not fully appreciated before: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought” (Rom. 12:3a NIV) but “[b]e honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us” (Rom. 12:3b NLT).

I have decided that I will feel good about what the Lord enables me to do, and leave the results (long- or short-term) up to him. I am not timeless, but he is. What I do on this earth will have the stamp of my limitations, but—if I make room for it—my contributions will be endued with the breath of his eternal genius.

. . . I’m still curious to know your reactions to this poem.
*From The Best Loved Poems of the American People, selected by Hazel Felleman, (New York: Garden City Publishing Co, 1936).

Friday, August 15, 2008

Point of view

Here's a just-for-fun treasure:

I had stopped at the home of a fellow committee member to exchange materials for the church nursery. After taking care of our business, I exchanged a few words with her articulate 3-year-old daughter Allison. After warming up to me, she stood up tall and asked if I would like to see her bedroom. “Sure!” I replied.

So up the stairs we climbed. We spent several minutes in her room, as she pointed out her furniture, her pretty things, and her toys. Next was her brother’s room, where she gave me a somewhat briefer introduction. Then we stopped at the door of the master bedroom.

“My parents share a room,” she announced in her best tour-guide manner.

“That’s why,” she continued, flinging her arm in the direction of the bed, “there are two pillows.”

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

It's who we are

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing (2 Cor. 2:14-15).

I just noticed today, in the second sentence above, that it says we are the aroma of Christ. It’s not just a whiff of fragrance that clings to us when we have been particularly close to him, it is also who we become as we join Christ in his work. Not working hard for him, but working with him—looking at our surroundings with his eyes, obeying his nudges, making room for him in every situation, not stepping in to speak or act before he has established our thinking and prepared the situation. Imagine how much like him we become as we work that closely with him!

Verse 14 identifies the fragrance we can carry to the world as “the fragrance of the knowledge of him.” We don’t have that fragrance without knowing him intimately. Such knowledge of him comes to every believer from time to time, when we are particularly aware of him, when he comes to us in assurance, when we see his glory, when we receive a call from him. At such times we become radiant for a while with the love, joy, and peace of God. It’s as if we are wearing his cologne. But we can become so Christ-like that we don’t just wear his aroma, we are the aroma of Christ, day in and day out. This happens by spending our days in “the knowledge of him”—keeping our hearts worshipfully open to him and walking through every event in glad, conscious partnership.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Download or marinate?

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God (2 Cor. 2:14-17).

The fragrance of the knowledge of him! It is a fragrance we pick up from our closeness to him—not something we will have just by the asking. It comes from knowing him. Acquaintance comes in stages, in bits and pieces—by observation, interaction, intimate conversations, loyal friendship.

In Western Christianity, books and sermons abound with information about his salvation and various graces (faith, courage, protection). They expound on Christian lifestyle. They do not say as much about HIM. Even when we approach the Lord himself in prayer, we tend to talk to him rather than fellowship with him. We tend to ask for guidance and make requests—and then exit quickly because we don’t know what else to say to him, instead of lingering and becoming acquainted. We ask for qualities such as wisdom, patience, kindness, and purity of motives as if they are products we are downloading from him. But they are not products—they are part of his nature. The more we become acquainted with him the more these qualities will “rub off” on us.

It is minimally possible to acquire his traits as an impersonal download. To “participate in the divine nature” we must marinate in the “knowledge of him.”

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires (2 Pet. 1:3-4, emphasis added).

We would do well to return to contemplation of the Lord, as practiced by the saints of Middle Ages. I am not saying that we should attain to a mystical state, nor am I fostering an escape from the world; I suggest that we imitate them in the sense of meditating more on the Lord's person and nature--not just focising our attention on his promises, his instructions, and his deeds. This is Scriptural:

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect [Footnote: or contemplate] the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18, footnote in NIV).

Do we need to be more like Christ? Do we desire to see his power at work in our world? Let’s not spend so much time asking the Lord to give us purity and power, let’s spend more time just being WITH HIM. As we look upon him on a regular basis through the pages of the Bible or by recalling all he has done for us personally, we are marinating in his love and holiness. Our hearts will lose their taste for worldliness and become increasingly captivated by his goodness. In his presence, we will have his concerns, and worldy ones with drop away. In his presence, we will become like him. And the fragrant beauty of who he is will linger on us as we interact with the world. Our neighbors will not just hear us speak about him; they will experience the very substance of his being emanating from us, for we will have “put on Christ.”