February 18, 2019

"Like sheep without a shepherd"

“When Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things.” Mark 6:34

Jesus and His disciples had just gotten away for a sabbatical of sorts (Mark 6:31). And so this wasn’t necessarily the most convenient time for a big group of people to show up. But, convenient or not, there they were. And Jesus’ response to them is beautiful, is it not? Even in this less-than-convenient moment, “He felt compassion for them”! Why? “Because they were like sheep without a shepherd”. And in His compassion, Jesus shepherded them – “He began to teach them many things” … “and healed their sick” (Matthew 14:14).

And we, too, have people in our lives who are “like sheep without a shepherd”, do we not? Let us respond to them like our Savior –“[feeling] compassion for them” and shepherding them! Perhaps God would have us, like Jesus (Matthew 14:14), help them with some temporal difficulty. And in many cases He would have us, like Jesus, “teach them” – telling them the good news of His Son, informing them of His will for human behavior, comforting them with words of His compassion.

Often they will wander into our paths as individuals, rather than in “a large crowd” as in Mark 6. Maybe one of your “sheep without a shepherd” will be a hurting neighbor to whom God would have you bring some comfort from His word. Or perhaps a spiritually confused co-worker to whom you will “explain … the way of God more accurately.” Maybe a debauched co-worker to whom God would have you (lovingly!) reveal His will for human morality. Possibly a homeless person whom you will bless with a hot meal and the message of the gospel. Or an unknown but apparently lonely senior citizen who calls out to you as you walk through the nursing home … to whom you could sit and listen for a spell, and also share some hope from the Scriptures.

These sheep may not always show up in our voicemails, or at our cubicles, or on our doorsteps, or in our pathways, or upon our consciences at the most opportune moments. But even in the inconvenient moments, let us, like Jesus, “[feel] compassion for them” and shepherd them.

Moreover, brothers and sisters, remember the compassion of “the good shepherd” toward you when “you were continually straying like sheep”* – and let it move you to extend such compassion to others!

*(1 Peter 2:25, emphasis added)

February 1, 2019

‘I don’t think being silent is sufficient’

I read these words, recently, from a man who is hoping to start a crisis pregnancy center in his area:
‘It is a massive undertaking, but I don’t think being silent is sufficient. I trust that God will help us.’
And both his ‘massive undertaking’ itself, and his reason for undertaking it (the insufficiency of silence), were convicting. How much do I lift my voice on behalf of the unborn? How deeply am I bending my back, like this man, to the task of pushing back against the evil of abortion? Against the killing of the unborn in our land?

His efforts and reasoning reminded me of Proverbs 24:11-12 –
“Deliver those who are being taken away to death,
And those who are staggering to slaughter, Oh hold them back.
If you say, ‘See, we did not know this,’
Does He not consider it who weighs the hearts?
And does He not know it who keeps your soul?
And will He not render to man according to his work?”
Now, I don’t know whether Solomon had the unborn (perhaps among others) in mind when he wrote those two verses. But what he says surely applies to them! “Deliver those [unborn] who are being taken away to death”! “Oh hold them back”!

The brother above is faithfully attempting such “deliver[ance]”! And it convicts me. I’m helped, as well, by his ‘trust that God will help’ he and his co-laborers in the task. I’ll come back to this faith.

But first, let’s ask how we can join him in protecting the unborn. How do we undertake to “deliver those who are being taken away to death”? How do we put into practice the truth that silence is insufficient in the face of the great societal ill of abortion?

Let me give you some ideas, none of which (either in the specific suggestions, or in the broader categories) are original to me. And let me repeat what someone has said, namely that no one of us can or must do all of these things, but every one of us can and should do some, or at least one, of them.

Here are the ideas:

Get involved poiltically. Vote for candidates who will seek to protect the unborn. When opportunity arises, vote for legal measures that will protect them. Participate in grassroots efforts that attempt to protect them (like the Personhood initiatives in recent years in some states). Write your elected officials on behalf of “those who are being taken away to death”. Become an elected official who will fight for them.

Adopt. It has been wisely pointed out that, when a women is pregnant with a child whom she does not have the wherewithal to raise, the availability of loving couple who would be happy to take and care for that child can be a great deterrent to abortion. And thus it is further pointed out that we need such couples! Maybe someone reading these lines will be among them!

Start something. I don’t think I’d have thought of this category, and of the specific ideas within it, except that I’ve recently gotten news of two different men, in two different places, desiring to start crisis pregnancy centers. Neither is a wealthy benefactor. But both are men who are concerned to do something for the unborn. And if they can do so, perhaps someone reading this article could start a center, too. Or maybe, like a couple of church members recently got our church to do, you start an adoption and foster care fund. Or, like the men I’ve met through the years who started Personhood initiatives, perhaps you begin a grassroots campaign to change the law.

Give. Give to the kind of work that I’ve recently learned of two men hoping to initiate: the starting of a crisis pregnancy center. Give to such a center that is already up and running (fill those Life Forward baby bottles, Cincinnati area folks; and give to Life Forward in other ways, too - see their "Give" page, and the "Get Involved" tab on their website). The church members mentioned above persuaded our leadership of the importance of giving toward the costs and needs associated with adoption. Give to that, too!

Influence individuals. Be a sidewalk counselor in front of an abortion clinic. Influence a friend, or a grandchild, or a co-worker to choose life. Volunteer with a crisis pregnancy center.

Pray. If silence is insufficient in the face of the great evil that is abortion, surely that means we mustn’t be silent on this matter in our prayer lives, either. So pray! Pray for the unborn in general. Intercede on behalf of any specific imperiled unborn children about whom you may know (and for their parents). Pray for the sorts of actions mentioned in this article.

So there you have some ideas for “deliver[ing] those who are being taken away to death”. And the faith of the man quoted at the beginning (‘I trust that God will help us’) urges me to ‘trust’ – and to urge you to ‘trust’ – that God will help us’, too, if and when we join this brother in the fight.

January 24, 2019

"The lips of knowledge"

“There is gold, and an abundance of jewels;
But the lips of knowledge are a more precious thing.”
Proverbs 20:15

“Gold, and an abundance of jewels” are mighty fine, Solomon acknowledges. These treasures – the kinds of items one might find hidden in a chest, or protected in a safe, or made into exquisite jewelry – are indeed “precious”. “But”, he says, “the lips of knowledge are a more precious thing” (emphasis added).

Wow! Let that sink in! In comparison with fine jewelry, or the contents of a treasure chest, “lips” that convey “knowledge are a more precious thing”!

And surely it is primarily, if not entirely, “the knowledge of God” (to which he makes reference in Proverbs 2:5) that Solomon has in view in our text. Surely he has in mind “the knowledge of the Holy One” (as he calls it in Proverbs 9:10). “Gold” is “precious”, he grants. “Jewels” as well, he admits. “But the lips of knowledge” – “lips” that communicate “the knowledge of God” – “are a more precious thing.”

Now, does Solomon mean that “the lips of knowledge are a … precious thing” to be possessed (and, of course, opened) by us? Or is he saying that “the lips of knowledge”, possessed by others and opened to us, “are a … precious thing”? Or is it both?

In any case, surely both are true!

It is certainly true that, appraised in comparison with “gold, and an abundance of jewels”, “the lips of knowledge” that are opened to us by others “are a more precious thing.” It is a great blessing, in other words, to have people – whether parents, disciplers, Sunday School teachers, elders, pastors, or whomever – who teach us “the knowledge of God”! “The lips of knowledge” which they open to us “are a … precious thing”! Let us thank God for them, and make good use of what they have to offer!

It is also certain that, in comparison with “gold, and an abundance of jewels”, “the lips of knowledge” that we may possess (and, of course, open) ourselves “are a more precious thing” as well! We are exceedingly blessed if we possess “the knowledge of the Holy One”, and have the faculty for communicating that “knowledge” to others. We are exceedingly blessed, in other words, if we possess “the knowledge of God” and can tell others about Him! And, if you are a Christian, dear reader, surely it is true that, in some measure, you do and you can; that, in some measure, you have “the lips of knowledge”. They “are a … precious thing”, says Solomon! So make sure you open them!

“There is gold, and an abundance of jewels;
But the lips of knowledge are a more precious thing.”

November 17, 2018

The Holidays

The anchor us just about ready to lift. The sails are soon to unfurl. And many of us have already begun moving about the deck, preparing to embark on that annual voyage we call ‘the holidays.’ But before the ship departs the harbor, how about some wisdom from God’s word to tuck into our hip pockets, and take with us on the journey? Here are a few portions of scripture, and some thoughts upon them, that I think could be helpful over the next few weeks:

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18). The holidays sometimes come with some peculiar challenges. One of them, for some of us, is the reality that our shoulders, during the holidays, are often in much closer proximity to family with whom the rubbing of shoulders (sad to say) comes with a good deal more friction than is comfortable. Some of it is perhaps our own faults, to be frank. And sometimes the provocation is largely coming at us. Often it’s both. But in any case, you must “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” And that means you must not be one of the cantankerous ones at the family gatherings. And it means that you must not respond to the cantankerous ones by bickering, or withdrawing, or silently fuming, or talking about them behind their backs. Be a peacemaker this holiday season.

“Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word” (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17). These next few weeks are going to bring some of us into proximity, not only with people who rub us the wrong way (or vice versa!), but also with people who need Jesus. Some of these lost people will be one and the same with the people with whom we have difficult relationships (all the more reason to “be at peace” with them!). Others will be those who are quite easy to get along with … but still lost. But, in any case, they all need the Savior! And, if you know the Savior, you may have opportunity to speak to them a “good … word” (2 Thess. 2:16-17) about Him. And you will likely have opportunity to do for them a “good work” that represents Him well. And, as you think about those opportunities, know that I have prayed 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 for those who read this article. Go out, now, strenghtened by the Lord, and do “every good work and word”!

“The LORD is near to the broken-hearted” (Psalm 34:18). For some of us, the holidays not only come with the challenge to “be at peace with”, and be a witness to, folks who are present … but with heartache over those who are not. For some of us, the holidays draw extra attention to the fact that someone is missing from the table. Usually it’s someone who used to be with us, but no longer is, for one reason or another. And sometimes, since we tend to think of the holidays as times to be with family, there may be a quiet grief over family members that God never granted; over a spouse or children who never materialized. But if you are the Lord’s, and if you grieve this season over someone who is not at the table with you, know that God is with you; that He “is near to the broken-hearted”. Rest in His nearness, dear friend … during the holidays, and always.

Every blessing to you all this coming holiday season,

November 9, 2018

Love and Feasting

"Better is a dish of vegetables where love is
Than a fattened ox served with hatred."
Proverbs 15:17

"Better is a dry morsel and quietness with it
Than a house full of feasting with strife."
Proverbs 17:1

We are entering the season of the “fattened ox” and the “house full of feasting”, are we not? And I, for one, am glad of it! God’s bounty to us – both temporal and spiritual – is grand reason for us to engage in the art of the shindig; for us to say, with the father in Jesus’ story, “bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate”. And so Thanksgiving and Christmas feasting are entirely appropriate and wonderful! And I like a good meal any other day, too!

And yet let us carefully observe the wise words of Solomon in the two texts quoted above.

Now, these words certainly apply to everyday life. It is better to be a family whose resources are pretty slender; whose everyday fare is along the lines of dry cornbread or simple veggie plates – but who genuinely loves and lives at peace with one another – than to be a family whose pantries, refrigerators, and tables are constantly bursting with scrumptious fare, but who are often at each other’s throats! Better a poor, but happy, home … than a rich, but tense, one! Take that to heart … and make life-decisions accordingly.

But let’s also apply Solomon’s wisdom on a micro level. Let’s apply it to the holiday gatherings with family and friends that many of us are soon to (theoretically) enjoy. I think it’s not a stretch to say that the air, at many family get-togethers, can sometimes have some tension (or at least potential tension) lingering in it. Maybe there are great worldview divides between believers and unbelievers. Maybe there are hurts, or disagreements, or bitterness that are often set to one side, but have never actually been buried. Maybe your family tends to just be a little pushy, or irritable, or cantankerous. Maybe sometimes there are just ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’, as the saying goes.

Sometimes these things boil completely over. And sometimes they simmer, fairly palpably, just below the surface. And thus our holiday gatherings, which ought to be celebrations of God’s goodness, and which ought to be filled with enjoyment both of one another and of God’s blessings, can sometimes degenerate into being uncomfortable at best, or downright ugly and/or painful at worst. Sometimes there is “feasting with strife” or even “with hatred”. Because, while the “fattened ox” (or turkey) is on the table; and while the “house” is “full of feasting”, it is not full of love. And thus, some financially struggling family somewhere – scraping together a meal that hardly looks like what we expect out of Thanksgiving Dinner, but genuinely showing love toward one another – is better off than our well-fed, but squabbling or bitter, clans!

So what should we do about it? How do we apply Solomon’s wisdom this holiday season? Well, I don’t think he’d have us just serve dried cornbread or a plate of greens for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner! For, save that it might keep you from having ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’, this wouldn’t actually address the other problems (and even the ‘too many cooks’ problem, when it leads to strife, is deeper than just logistics). No, Solomon is not saying that feasting is bad, or that it is the cause of our family strife. He’s saying that feasting is less important than love; or, to put it positively, that love is more important than feasting – so much so that the family who can’t afford to feast, but who genuinely loves one another, is better off than the bickering family who has the fancy meals.

So how do we make application? Don’t cancel the feasting … but give a great deal more thought and effort to love! Think (and pray!), ahead of time, about situations and people and subjects that you know could be tense. Ask God’s great grace to truly love your family and friends when things are tense. And then choose, in the moment, to do so.  Choose, in the moment, to love!  Choose not to retaliate or to simmer, but to forgive.  Choose not to vent your frustrations.  Choose, if you must say something that will be difficult for others to hear, to do so gently, patiently, and (where possible) discreetly.  And make sure that it's really something that truly needs saying.  Choose to love!  For wouldn’t it be wonderful, this holiday season, if the love was even more memorable than the feasting!