Wednesday, January 28, 2015

When should someone else's conscience rule your behavior?

Emoticon drinking wine
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak." 1 Corinthians 8:9

Are you aware of your conscience? We all have one, you know, though this part of our consciousness gets little attention in the secular world. However, writer Joe Carter believes the conscience is making a comeback among Christians. In an article on The Gospel Coalition, he describes what the conscience is and isn't, does and doesn't do for us. He makes these points:
1. Conscience is an internal rational capacity that bears witness to our value system.
He likens a bothered conscience to physical pain, alerting us to the fact that we've done something we consider wrong.

2. Conscience is a trustworthy guide only when it is informed and ruled by God.

3. Conscience is to be subordinated to and informed by the revealed Word of God.

4. To willfully act against conscience is always a sin.

5. Conscience can be suppressed by sin.

Paul here is going one further, telling his readers not to merely follow their own consciences (he assumes they already do) but to alter their behavior so as not to offend the conscience of a more sensitive brother or sister.

And why would they do that?

Out of genuine care for that more sensitive Christian, realizing that when they indulge their greater freedom, their example may encourage the person with the sensitive conscience to join in the activity and thus go against his conscience and thus sin (1 Corinthians 8:9).

The example Paul uses—eating meat offered to idols—will hardly apply to us. But many modern behaviors could. For example, if your conscience allows you to drink alcohol in moderation, would you refrain from drinking it if you were with someone who had scruples against drinking alcohol?

Jim Cymbala in the book Storm makes an impassioned plea for this kind of consideration of others exactly in this area. His dad, who was an alcoholic, didn't even attend his wedding. Cymbala says:

"That's what I always think about when I hear people flaunting their so-called 'freedom in Christ' or their enlightened view of twenty-first century ethics. One drink at one party did my dad in. And I don't know what weakness lies resident in me. That's why I forgo anything with alcohol content. Not because wine with a meal is wrong, but rather who knows where that drink might lead me? Or someone who watches me drink it? ...  Can't we all, regardless of our differing views on what's 'lawful,' put other people's welfare first?" - Jim Cymbala, Storm, Kindle Location 1576.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to put into practice the principle of caring as much about others and their spiritual welfare as I care about my own. Amen. 

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The foundation of wisdom

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 111:1-10

TO CHEW ON: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
A good understanding have all those who do His commandments. His praise endures forever." Psalm 111:10

When people ask, what would you like to be remembered for after you die, as in what would you like written on your tombstone, my mind always gravitates toward wisdom. I would love to be remembered as someone who was wise. In Psalm 111:10, the writer reveals the foundation of true wisdom. It is the fear of the Lord.

What is this fear? Tim Challies in The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment describes it:
"Wisdom is the application of the fear of God to life; it is living in such a way that we esteem God above all else. A man who is wise is first a man who fears God. This is not a terrified, horrified fear, as in the fear of a child for a monster or an abusive father, but a fear based on a realistic understanding of the infinite gap between God and man in holiness and knowledge" - page 55.

The phrase "the fear of the Lord" (or "the fear of God") occurs often in the Bible. As we track some occurrences, we see that this fear impacts many areas of life.

1. To fear God is a requirement for God's people - Deuteronomy 2:25; Joshua 4:24.

2. The fear of God involves doing away with anything that would vie with Him for first place in our hearts - Joshua 24:14.

3. God alone is to be feared in this way - Isaiah 8:13.

4. God is worthy of our fear because only He has power over life and death - Matthew 10:28.

5. God is worthy of our fear because only He can see through our actions and judge us righteously - 1 Peter 1:17; Revelation 14:7.

6. The fear of God motivates us to do away with evil - Proverbs 3:7; 14:16.

7. Fear of God influences our respect for life. When Abraham came to Gerar, he was afraid that King Abimelech, who didn't fear God, would have no qualms about killing him in order to get attractive Sarah for the royal harem - Genesis 20:11.

8. The fear of God can operate on the national level. Moses and Joshua predicted that the Canaanites would be filled with the fear of God as they heard about and saw the miracles God did for Israel - Deuteronomy 2:25; Joshua 4:24.

9. Lack of the fear of God leads to backsliding - Jeremiah 2:19.

And so I ask, is my hope to be remembered as wise, realistic because it is foundationed on the fear of God? Wisdom built on any other thing will not last.

PRAYER: Dear God, please expand my vision of Your holiness and knowledge. May the awe and respect in which I hold You impact all I do. Amen.

MORE: Fear of the Lord--the foundation of wisdom
"The fear of the Lord - Reverence for God; respect for his law, his will, his government, himself; the fear of offending him, which will lead us to do right. This fear is not that of a slave; it is not mere dread; it is not terror. It is consistent with love, and springs from it. It is consistent with calmness of mind, and promotes it. It does not produce terror, but rather delivers from it, and preserves the mind from alarms.
The word here rendered "fear" is a noun of the same origin as the word rendered "reverend" in Psalm 111:9 ("reverence" - Amplified). The suggestion to the mind of the psalmist that the "name of the Lord" was "reverend," or was to be venerated, introduced this thought that such reverence is the very foundation of wisdom" - Barnes Notes on the Bible.
Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Discipleship's dramatic leavings

"Jesus and the Rich Young Man" by Alexandre Bida
"Jesus and the Rich Young Man" by Alexandre Bida

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Mark 1:14-28

TO CHEW ON: "They immediately left their nets and followed Him …. And they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went after Him." Mark 1:18,20

Here we see Simon (Peter) and Andrew leaving their nets or means of livelihood, James and John their senior partner, all in immediate response to Jesus' " 'Follow Me.' "

Other startling leavings in the Bible:
  • Ruth left her homeland to come back to Israel with her mother-in-law Naomi - Ruth 2:11.
  • Matthew left his tax office to follow Jesus - Luke 2:27,28.
  • Jesus invited the eager young man, who asked about how to inherit eternal life, to divest himself of his possessions and follow Him - Mark 10:21.
  • The Apostle Paul renounced everything to "gain Christ" - Philippians 3:8.

These appear to be huge sacrifices until we look beyond, into how things turned out.
  • Ruth became part of the lineage of King David and eventually Jesus, while her sister-in-law Orpah, who decided to return to Moab, is never heard of again.
  • Andrew & Simon, James and John went from being nobody fishermen to charter members of a new movement.
  • Matthew changed from a despised tax man to a beloved writer of scripture.
  • The rich young man who ignored Jesus call because the cost of giving everything away was too big, also disappeared from the record.

As we go through the final days of this first month of a new year, when we typically take stock of our lives and make plans and goals for the future, could Jesus' invitation to "Follow Me" set in motion similar dramatic leavings in our lives? Leavings of possessions, ambitions, control of time, money, children, leisure...?

Counting the cost may involve considering the consequences of hanging on as much as radical discipleship's leaving-all cost.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, please help me to consider again your "Follow Me" and what it means of things I should leave. Amen.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Tell your story

Paul arrested in a riot in Jerusalem (Acts 21:31-36)   - Artist unknown
 Paul arrested in a riot in Jerusalem (Acts 21:31-36) - Artist unknown

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 22:1-21

" 'For you will be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard.' " Acts 22:15

I never tire of hearing stories of how God draws people to Himself and works in their lives. These tales—as original and varied as the people who tell them—range from stories of quiet pilgrimages to dramatic visions that turn life around in an instant. Paul's story was of the latter variety.

At the time it happened, his experience was reinforced by Ananias coming to him. Ananias was an entirely different sort of person. Paul describes him here as "… a devout man according to the law, having  a good testimony with all the Jews who dwelt there…" (Acts 22:12).

We know that sage Ananias had his own side of the story (Acts 9:10-18). His word to Saul/Paul was: God has chosen you. Now go and tell your story (my paraphrase of Acts 22:14-15).

Now, following his arrest by the Jerusalem mob, Paul gets to tell his story to the crowd that has just rioted and nearly taken his life (Acts 21:31-36). Of course this experience itself is a new installment in Paul's story.

Ananias' assignment to Paul is ours as well. Let's stay alert to God working in our lives so we recognize the continuing installments of our own "seen and heard" with God. Then let's retell the fresh chapters as conversations and situations, riots and debates open up along those lines.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for working uniquely in each life. Help me to recognize Your presence and action in my life and give me the courage to tell others. Amen.

MORE: Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul

Today the church celebrates the conversion of the Apostle Paul. The day's liturgy begins with this collect:
O God, by the preaching of your apostle Paul you have caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world: Grant, we pray, that we, having his wonderful conversion in remembrance, may show ourselves thankful to you by following his holy teaching; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The pouting prophet

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Jonah 4:1-11

TO CHEW ON: "But it (God's relenting from the disaster He said He would bring on Nineveh - Jonah 3:11) displeased Jonah exceedingly and he became angry." Jonah 4:1

At a church conference I attended some years ago, I heard Rich Wilkerson sum up each of the church offices in a catchy way.

Apostles: Entrepreneurs who start new things for God.
Evangelists: Salesmen—"You need Jesus."
Pastors: Encouragers—"Everything is going to be okay."
Teachers: Always looking for the teachable moment.
Prophets: Concerned with keeping things in the right category—"That's just not right!"

Isn't that last so Jonah! After preaching, he camped outside the city—his front-row seat for the fireworks—but they never came. And so he said to God (my paraphrase): I told you so! I knew Your merciful nature. That's exactly why I ran away to Tarshish—because I knew in the end You'd change Your mind.

Then God gave this pouting prophet an object lesson from his own reaction to circumstances. When a fast-growing vine sprung up providing shelter from the sun, he was happy. But when a worm nibbled at it till it died he had pity on the plant, simply because it affected his own comfort. In this way God showed him his shallowness and how very different Jonah was from God, whose compassion went way beyond a plant to embrace all people (as well as animals - Jonah 4:11).

How readily we too get hung up on our own ideas of how God should work and like Jonah get swept into self-righteous anger when things don't happen according to our little prophetic 'that's not right' categories. A sidebar article in my Bible leaves us with some advice on how to neutralize such an attitude:

"Do not allow anger or pride to remain in your heart. They led to Jonah's disobedience. Turn away from these attitudes, and seek to have God's character of mercy, grace, patience, forgiveness and lovingkindness" - Leslyn Musch, "Truth-In-Action Through Jonah," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1199.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to have Your heart of compassion and pity on the people around me in the spirit of being a fellow traveler. Help me to be a conduit of your mercy, grace, patience, forgiveness, and love to everyone around me. Amen.

MORE: God's patience with His Jonahs

"...God not only treats Nineveh with pity and mercy, but also treats his stiff-necked prophet that way too. He is slow to anger and ready to relent in his wrath toward Nineveh, and toward Jonah" - By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: (Read all of "Should I not Pity That Great City Minneapolis.")

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, January 23, 2015

God wants YOU

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Jonah 2:1-3:10

TO CHEW ON: "Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, 'Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message I tell you.'" Jonah 3:1,2

God went to great lengths to get just the person He wanted—Jonah—for the job of preaching to Nineveh. When this reluctant prophet ran the other way, God followed him. When the sailors tossed him into the sea, God protected him. From the belly of the fish, God heard him. When that fishy time-out was over, God talked to his host and the fish tossed him. Then God gave him a second chance.

I have found something similar about God's assignments. They come with a quiet but weighty persistence. My excuses don't sway Him. He just listens to them and then when I pray, Lord, give me something to do, whispers, I've already given you a job. Just go and do it.

But what if we feel we've really blown it and disqualified ourselves from ever being used by God again? Leslyn Musch reminds us we can:
"Ask God for a second chance. You may have disobeyed the Lord to the point you believe He can no longer use you. Look at Jonah! There is hope for you too. Ask God's forgiveness for your sin, submit to His will for you. Draw near to Him through worship; praise Him for His mercy, grace, and forgiveness. Tell Him you will follow Him full, and do it" - "Truth-In-Action Through Jonah," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1199.
Are you dithering over following through on a job God has given you, hoping, perhaps, that He'll change His mind and give it to someone else? You'd better not count on that. God has amazing tenacity (as Jonah would testify). If He's picked you as the person for a job, He wants you for the job. Better to obey than to hang back and find yourself in a Jonah spot.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for second chances. But it's probably better not to need them. Help me to listen and obey when You first give me a task to do. Amen.

MORE: The secret battle
"The battle is lost or won in the secret places of the will before God, never first in the external world. The Spirit of God apprehends me and I am obliged to get alone with God and fight the battle out before Him. Until this is done, I lose every time. The battle may take one minute or a year, that will depend on me, not on God; but it must be wrestled out alone before God, and I must resolutely go through the hell of a renunciation before God. Nothing has any power over the man who has fought out the battle before God and won there" - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, December 27th reading.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Extending mercy to your Nineveh

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Jonah 1:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah, the son of Ammitai, saying, 'Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.'
But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord." Jonah 1:1-3a

Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria—Israel's longstanding enemy. Various times in the Old Testament we see the Assyrians raiding Israel, ravaging the countryside, and taking its citizens captive. There was no love lost between Israel and Assyria.

Jonah, nationalist that he was, was obviously aghast at God's assignment. Perhaps his reluctance was tinged with fear for his own well-being. The Assyrians were not noted for their humane treatment of enemies.

But one gets the sense that he was mostly outraged that God wanted to share any part of Himself with his nation's rank enemy. That he, Jonah, would be an instrument in bringing such an intention to pass was, to him, unthinkable. And so he ran the other way.

It's worth stopping here and asking, but wouldn't God's righteousness and justice demand that the Assyrians be punished for their harsh treatment of Israel—the apple of God's eye? However, God, thankfully for us all, is not only just and righteous but also merciful. He wanted to give the Assyrians of Jonah's time an opportunity to repent.

It's easy to shrug off the story of Jonah as one of another era and so irrelevant to us. But wait. Is it really?

I'm reminded of Corrie Ten Boom, the Dutch women who, years after her imprisonment in a German concentration camp, came face to face with one of her former captors—her Nineveh, so to speak. That day God asked her to extend mercy and forgiveness to him. She did, and came to a place of new freedom and understanding of God, who is not only just and righteous but also merciful.

I ask myself, what is my Nineveh? What is yours? Will we answer the call of God's heart to extend His mercy to it?

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your mercy to me. May my heart echo the merciful thrum of yours as I interact with those who have treated me badly. Amen.

MORE: Man Overboard by David Denny

California poet David Denny has written a wonderful book of poems about just this story. Man Overboard: A Tale of Divine Compassion (Wipf & Stock, 2013) does a wonderful job of exploring God's compassion (on Nineveh, the Assyrians and Jonah), and Jonah's outrage. My review of the book is HERE.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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