Sunday, June 08, 2014

Do We Really Love? (Part Three)


According to Thayer, the Greek word elpizo (translated hope in the above verse) means, "in a religious sense, to wait for salvation with joy and full confidence."  This kind of hope encompasses the idea of assured expectation of a future event.  True, Biblical love, then, views the most impossible situations with the eyes of faith.  It looks upon the seeming hopelessness of surroundings and sees an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent God.

Some time ago, I considered what a different place this world would be if we would see advertised
upon the road of life billboards displaying products for a Heavenly Kingdom.  One such company I envisioned was Faithwear.  Its commercials might go something like this: 

“Put on Faithwear’s glasses and change your perspective!  You’ll see the world with much clearer vision.  Not only will every blade of grass and each twinkling star magnify the Original Designer, but so will your daily tasks be transformed as you encounter a fresh view of God.  Look upon your every task and each relationship and perceive our glorious Creator, Who has revealed Himself in each aspect of His creation. 

“Mothers, see those children to whom you minister as strong in God’s service.  Working women, see those frustrating moments in your daily schedule as opportunities to praise God—to rejoice because God’s mercies are better than life itself.  Children, see every rebuke as a correction of love, offered to you from heaven, borne from God’s own throne.

“Our new brand of hearing aids assist you in perceiving with the ears of faith.  Mothers, hear not the crying infant nor the complaining child, but the voice of the Master saying, ‘I was in all points tempted as you are, yet without sin.’  

“You’ll be amazed at how our products transform the senses.  So try some to day! And the fantastic part of all our specialty goods is that they will cost you nothing but a willing mind, a broken spirit, and a contrite heart.  Pay no money, but offer yourself as a living sacrifice, willing to enjoy God’s perspective.  Faith comes by hearing (hence you must have the right heart attitude), and hearing by the Word of God.  So, once you’re outfitted with the right spirit, taste and see that the Lord is good!  Investigate His Word, meditate upon it, live it, and you, too, will be transformed by Faithwear! 

“Faithwear.  Don’t live life without it.”

But instead of Faithwear, the sight perspective, the sensual, crowds upon our lives, drowning out the message of faith, the perspective which truly satisfies.  When I see with the eyes of faith, I note not the Peter who doubted Christ nor the disciple who denied him but I see instead the martyr who hung upside down upon a cross, meekly offering his body, refusing to die in the same way as his Lord and Master.  Every student of mine I view, not as a discouraged, discontented, or rebellious teen but rather as a vibrant, victorious Christian, slaying the enemy in daily life by the sword of the spirit, which he grasps firmly in hand. 

I look past the difficulties of this turbulent world, the sea upon which heaps of discarded, wasted lives have been cast—and see that beautiful potential which Christ has for every life, a pathway of peace, which He desires for each of His own.  Facebook searches occasionally yield discouraging realities of the direction individuals have chosen, but instead of being overcome by the unbiblical decisions of people to whom I once ministered, I can view all with the eyes of faith.  The hopeful sees that, “But for the grace of God, there go I.”  She understands that if Christ’s best earthly friend denied Him, I too have the possibility of doing so and likewise realizes that the flesh is strong, for even Lot himself vexed his righteous soul from day to day, living among the sinners in Sodom.  The one whose hope is steadfast in God is satisfied—ultimately, from God Alone—realizing that no sensual feeling can replace the solid relationship of a walk with the Almighty. 

When Discouragement rears its misshapen head, when Defeat casts down its deathly gaze, when Despair tears in, tantamount to her temper, the one infused with agape love eats, satisfied, at the table of Wisdom.  Christ has furnished His table, mingled His wine, and set abundant provisions for those who recognize their need to dine there!  He has built His house and prepared an abundant spread for His hungry guests.  His bread and beverages satisfy, contrasting with the fodder of fools, the taste of which leaves only a mouthful of gravel. (Prov. 20:17). 

Oh, to seek the Lord at His table each day, to recognize our inadequacy, our inability, our insufficiency!  This recognition is part of that hopefulness which is part of love, for the one imbued with such hope realizes she has no strength in herself and thus seeks the Lord, finding Him satisfactory.  After dining at His table, she notes that the fruits of folly look less attractive.  The delicacies of the devil appear as they are—not delicious, but deceitful.  That sinful thought is smitten by recalling a personal feast at His table, and praise daily perfumes her breath as those moments with her dear Savior linger in her memory, for she has dined with Him, her Satisfaction. 

Dear Sister, is this your state?  Do you revel in God’s meditations?  Do you find yourself often encouraged by His Word?  Like the psalmist, can you pray, “Remember the word unto Thy servant, upon which Thou has caused me to hope.  This is my comfort in my affliction, for Thy word hath quickened me” (Ps. 119:49-50)?  Upon what word is your hope today?  This abundance of wisdom is available to you.  Feast at the Savior’s table.  Let your hungry soul be satisfied.  How your heart will live forever when Christ is your daily Bread! Your heart, sound in God’s statutes, will live; you will be unashamed when you stand before Him if this feast is your daily reality (Ps. 119:80)!

And this love, which hopes all things, will emanate from a heart saturated by the One Who is Eternal Love!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Do We Really Love? (Part Two)

The house was barren, stripped of all furniture except a small table lamp that illuminated the living room.  It was December when my husband and I walked through the antiquated home for the first time, thin orange carpet, loosely laid, gathering and folding with many of our steps.  The place would need a lot of work, and we weren’t actually considering purchasing—not seriously, at least.  But a month later, it was a done deal.  The day after we closed on the house, we began the work of gutting out that orange carpet, painting the dulled walls, and transforming the place into the vision we had for it.

When we first saw it, that home off Main Street in our little town felt empty, devoid of human spirit and personality.  Sure, the remnants of homemade curtains still hung on certain windows.  And wallpaper hinted at the taste of the daughters who had selected it.  But those people were all gone now, or at least had moved on to another place.  After purchasing the house, it was our joy to spend time making it a home once again.

That house before inhabitants reminds me of the emptiness which can occur in the lives of believers.  It’s reflected in lifeless hymn singing, dullness to hearing God’s Word, and an apathetic ministry with others.

Lifeless Christianity is an oxymoron, for Jesus is a risen and living Lord Who affects the spirit of those He indwells.  Jim Eliot once said, “Wherever you are, be all there.”  A passion that consumes us, a wisdom that balances us, a love that enlivens us—such spiritual vitality can resonate from our souls when we are in love with Jesus Christ. 

But that is the rub.  To be in love with Him is essential before we can in any way be effective in loving others.  And yet, too often our ministry can be a sham, for it is not sourced in His love.  God wrote the Manual on Love.  How our ministries must reflect that love!  How that agape kind of love must perfume every relationship!  How this selfless love should envelop all our service, so that we are merely stepping in the footsteps of the One Who is Love.

When we fail to follow Love’s leadership along the path of life, we will feel the emptiness, the hollowness.  We will begin to doubt God’s perfect love for us and question the service He has sanctified for us.  In turn, that faithless focus will affect others.  Living in unbelief will quench the fires of love for others, turning our ministry gaze to focus upon the sin, meanwhile failing to adequately view the kind of love God has for the individual sinner.

But living in the reality of Him—that is where love begins and continues, for every act performed from a heart of love never fails but rather brings forth eternal fruit.  He is All-Sufficient, my source of wisdom, my strength in weakness, my Savior from woe.  How intimately do I know Him?  Obey Him?  Does He have my waking moments?  Does He have my time?  Do I freely give Him all things, as He freely gave for me? 

Withholding minutes from the One who gave His life for me screams “Insensible!”  Claiming my rights when He yielded up His own entirely shouts, “Illogical!”  Failing to love others wholeheartedly when He loves them absolutely yells, “Insensitive!”

False fronts gone, stripped of all our own ways, in step with the Spirit, we can be the channels of love which God originally intended.   Rights in hand, time our own, failing to abide in God’s Word and spend moments reveling in His goodness, we will block the Love which God desires to send through us to others--from Him! 

Oh, let us not be weary in continuing our daily time with Him, in spending seasons of prayer alone.  Let us not fail of God’s grace in this fellowship with Him.  In due season we shall reap a harvest brought about by God alone.  Faint not, Christian!  Your All-Sufficient One has love enough for you!  
--Heather Ross

Monday, February 17, 2014

Do We Really Love? Part One

Having grown up in a pastor’s home and seeing young people in the throes of decisions, homes in the heat of the battle, and individuals daily, weekly, monthly embraced in decision-making that will affect the rest of their lives, I submit this first article in this series as a specific question directed to members of IFB churches.

IFB churches and schools are regularly given harsh criticism from external sources, but within the own local church proper, no lack of charity should ever exist!  And yet, I have watched happy, contented, thankful people grow angry and bitter over time and leave within a decade (or less!) of their arrival in such a church.

We are negatively evaluated for our school handbooks, dress codes, and demerit systems.  Authorities are criticized for harshness, discipline, and a “lack of mercy.”  Again, while critics come in all forms, this post deals specifically with those within a congregation. Rarely do the preacher’s critics take seriously the command given in Romans 12:9, “Let love be without dissimulation.  Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.”

The above verse commands that members in the local church body love with no difference between those we prefer and those we don’t naturally get along with.  Hatred is never toward an individual but to evil.  Good is that to which we cleave—not to criticisms, irritation, or complaining. 

If every believer in an assembly determined to practice biblical, self-sacrificing love (as described in I Corinthians 13), that church would be a completely different place.  The local community would be transformed; homes would be restored; lives would be brought back together.  Believers and families within every assembly must practice biblical charity.

The kind of love depicted in Romans 12:9 encompasses the following:  No negative discussions at home about people at church.  No talking behind people’s backs.  No storing up frustration or anger in the heart.  The same kind of love, appreciation, and kindness evidenced to every member of that body of Christ, whether it be kindness toward the person with occasional body odor, or the woman who is overweight, or the guy who talks too loudly in the lobby.

Truth is one thing, but charity must serve as the mouth of truth:  if we speak words of criticism we must utter them from a heart of love, as described in I Corinthians 13.  Love is patient, kind, not easily provoked.  Love thinks the best of others, does not plot evil, rejoices—yes, rejoices—in truth!  It seems the loudest voices are often the critics, but that need not be the case!  God’s people can cleave to good, rejoicing because of truth.  Everything that is good and godly they can hold dear.

“If you love me,” Jesus said in His final sermon to His disciples before His crucifixion, “keep my commandments.”  Oh, how we must embrace the biblical injunctions to love, which sprinkle themselves generously throughout God’s Word, which evidence the loving heart of God!  Defining love God’s way is a task completed through His Book.  It’s an incredibly rich experience, looking at and studying these verses on biblical, self-sacrificing, agape love.  But take just one passage, John 14:15, part of Jesus’ final words to His disciples before His crucifixion, and see that love is obedience in action.  If every member of every IFB church took only one of God’s commands today and decided to live by it—just one—practicing it now and continuing in a regular, consistent manner, our assemblies would be transformed!  Consider Romans 12:10, for example:  “Be kindly affectioned one to another in brotherly love; in honor preferring one another.”

The phrase, “kindly affectioned” is used only once in the Bible.  Thayer defines it as
1) the mutual love of parents and children and wives and husbands
2) loving affection, prone to love, loving tenderly
2a) chiefly of the reciprocal tenderness of parents and children. 
What an endearing, tender description this phrase offers us concerning our familial ties specifically to those within the local church assembly! This is a heart attitude—a spirit of kindness that envelops our innermost being and manifests itself outwardly toward everyone with whom we come into contact! 

Practically speaking, then, others within the church will be the objects of good words, which make the heart glad.  We will be givers, not takers.  We will be caring, surrendered, joy-filled individuals toward every believer!

“In honor preferring one another,” Romans 12:10 concludes. God says we are literally to prefer others within the local assembly to ourselves. Many critics of “standards” or “preferences” seem to indicate that their opinion is as important as God’s own Word, but that idea is not taught by Romans 12:10.

It’s so much easier to point fingers at others than to blame ourselves.  I know.  I’ve been there.  I remember literally putting tally marks on my notes paper at one time for every grammatical error a preacher made in his sermon!  My focus was on his mistakes, not on my need to embrace truth. 

In his poem , “To A Louse:  On Seeing One On A Lady's Bonnet, At Church,” Robert Burns, the Scottish poet, wrote words that, without the Scottish dialect, read… 
“What a gift God would give us—to see ourselves as others see us!
It would free many blunders from us and foolish notions.
What airs in dress and gait would leave us, and even devotion!”

The fine Miss Lunardi seemed unsuitable for such a despicable visitor such as a louse upon her person, but sure enough, out from underneath her very pristine bonnet, a louse crawled.  And Burns saw it, the poor Miss Lunardi completely oblivious to such a show. While she seemed to assume she manifested flawlessness, Burns saw her inadequacies.

If we perceived the error within our own way, that our opinions are not infallible, that our criticisms may be incorrect, that our perspective is not as important as God’s Word—our demeanor would change.    Our pride would crumble.  Our love would grow.  Let us prefer our brothers and sisters within the church to ourselves, live by God’s book, embrace His commands, and show true, biblical love one toward another.  In every situation.  Regardless of our own natural inclinations.  That’s love.
--Heather Ross

Sunday, February 09, 2014

The Female Fundamentalist: A Re-Introduction

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything on this blog, but I think that, after over nearly a decade has passed, it’s about time to get started.  Not that the passage of time means something should get a restart but in this particular case, as the years elapse, my “voice” has begun to develop.  (That’s a term I heard back at a writers’ conference—that sometimes the writer’s voice inside of you needs time to develop, grow, and be nurtured before you have something worth saying.)

It’d be nice to think that I could speak more to the point now than I did when I started blogging, that the issues that troubled me then have been worked out.  In fact, grey issues have melded into closer shades of white and black and a new perspective has emerged in the several twelve-months that have separated me from this blog, but I am far from having all the answers.  However, my colleague Ricci and I will seek to post once every 7-10 days, to keep this blog a lively journey.

And so again begins our trek toward congruity, the Female Fundamentalist.

Before we continue on our journey, I find it necessary to define my terms.  By “Female Fundamentalist” I mean these posts will be authored by women in an IFB church, an independent, fundamental Baptist church. 

Historically, fundamentalism acquired its name in the early part of the 20th century when G. Campbell Morgan, R. A. Torrey, and sixty-two others wrote in defense of the “fundamentals” of the faith in dozens of essays.  That is essentially the link to the term fundamental, a term which speaks of the rudiments of belief. 

Unfortunately, this term fundamental is confusing in a number of ways.  The ultimate question in fundamentalism is: what are the fundamentals?  Several groups within fundamentalism proper will argue over which fundamentals are important and which are not, making fundamentalism more of a misnomer than an accurate depiction of our circle.  

Another confusion is the link of this term in our society with radical movements, such as radical Islam.  A “fundamentalist” Muslim believes in the fundamentals of the Koran.  A fundamentalist Christian believes in the fundamentals of the Bible.  When God says love your enemies, the Koran says, "Believers, make war on the infidels who dwell around you. Deal firmly with them." (Surah 9:121).  Both the fundamentalist Muslim and the fundamentalist Christian take their holy book literally.  The problem is, the Koran and the Bible teach radically different ideologies concerning, among many other things, the treatment of one's enemies; this example merely illustrates one polarizing "fundamental" difference between the two belief systems.  Yet, because of its literal interpretation of Scripture, Fundamentalism has been bashed because secularists consider such a position extreme.  However, I would argue that everyone in our culture is a fundamentalist about something.  You must be a fundamentalist linguist to put together the rudiments of a sentence.  You must be a fundamental historian to grasp an overview of world history and cultures.  And the list could continue.  For a Christian, whose entire belief system is rooted in Scripture, what better place to be a "Fundamentalist" than about the interpretation of this fundamental book?

So the fundamentals of belief are needful, but which ones are important are argued over time and again; thus, the term “Fundamentalist” in this blog will essentially embrace those elements of Christian culture within conservative IFB churches.

“Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth,” states I Cor. 8:1.  So much has been said to bash IFB churches, and this blog is intended to do nothing of the sort.  The evaluations offered in this blog will, by God’s grace, include edifying words that seek to build up the body of Christ and fellow believers.

Opinions are offered understanding that meekness is necessary for any and every reproof (Gal. 6:1).  Personal accounts are given to illustrate the authors’ own identification with struggles within IFB circles.
                                                                                                                                     --Heather Ross