Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Week Forty-Two - Submit

“And the angel of the LORD said unto her, Return to thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hand.”  Genesis 16:9
God gave this instruction to Hagar as she fled the face of Sarai, “Go back and submit yourself to your master’s wife.”  As I looked at the definition of submit used here in Genesis I was astounded.  It literally means to bow down, to humble ones self or to afflict, become low, downcast, stoop.  It includes the possibility of being mishandled, humiliated or oppressed.  God is actually telling Hagar to go back to her God-given role of servant and be occupied or busied with the action of submitting to Sarai.  And, she did.
Sometimes in life we come across people who are hard to obey.  Due to their difficult personalities, stringent and seemingly irrational demands, we bristle at being under their authority.  I have known of employers and parents whose treatment of those under them bordered on or actually were abusive.  Yet, the call to obey and submit was still the order of the day.
It is hard for us to comprehend that God would require us submit in situations that place us under such irrational hardship.  We think our personal rights supersede the command to obey or submit.  We are taught to speak up and to demand change.  But that is not the way of God.
When the demands of Pharaoh put the Hebrews slaves under great pressure, they obeyed.  It was hard.  They complained to Moses, but they obeyed.  When Abraham told Sarah to lie about their marital status and go into the house of Abimilech, she was probably fearful, yet she obeyed.  When God called Isaiah to preach and then told him no one would listen, he still went forward to preach, as did Jeremiah.  And when the Son of God knew the cross was his final act of submission – he endured the suffering for us all.
Obedience and submission are not assurances of a peaceful and easy life.  However, they are a sign of trust and belief in God’s ability to take a bad situation and turn it for His glory.  Hagar’s life did not get any better because she obeyed God.  As a matter of fact she was later ousted from the family after several years of obedience to God’s command, but God remained at her side and gave her promise for her son.
In the midst of living with difficult and irregular people, remember that God is not irregular.  He knows what you face.  He asks that you but trust Him to work things through.  Submit to those in authority…as unto Him.


 “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves…”  Hebrews 13:17  
Now, lest we think that only servants like Hagar, children, and employees should submit in difficult situations, we come to this verse in Hebrews.  The definition is straightforwardly telling us to not resist.  All of us are to give way, or yield, to the authority and admonition of those over us.
We might be tempted to ask, “Why?”  But I think we would hear God say, just as our parents told us years ago, “Because I said so.”  God is not saying submit if you agree.  He is not saying submit if the person asks you nicely or if you can figure out why they are asking.  He is also not saying submit with any real promise attached. Obedience is not up for debate. 
However, there is a hidden and mysterious blessing for those who have learned to submit without getting ruffled and balking.  A peace of heart is theirs as they simply yield to the instruction. And, I have seen the blessing of God come forth as a person places themselves solidly upon this truth.
Understanding that God is the one who sets up thrones and establishes authority is paramount.  He is also the one who takes them down.  As employees and workers, we are not the ones with power.  In the home, God’s order is resolute and best functioning.  If we try to take things into our own hands, we create more problems and we step outside God’s place of blessing and protection.
Why do we struggle with submission to authority?  Because we are sinful, willful creatures that want to have our own way.  We do not like to be told anything by anyone.  But with an attitude like that we are actually setting ourselves up for more hurt and disappointment.  Better to simply do as we are told and allow the one in authority to carry the burden of responsibility for their decisions.
Do you balk at authority?  Are you a contentious employee?

“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.”  Ephesians 5:22
Ah, the one verse on submission that is so often quoted!  Wives – SUBMIT!  It means to arrange under or be subordinate.  It also has the idea of being subject by choice or agreement or being under the control of another’s advice or admonition.

So what is a submissive wife?  I think of it this way.  In my wedding vows I promised to love, honour and obey my husband.   If I act lovingly, do things that show him that I respect his position as leader of the home and provider for the family, and seek to live in a way that would be pleasing to him in all I do, including obeying any instruction he gives, then I am a submissive wife.  If, however, I do just the opposite – use harsh and unloving words and action, bring him disgrace or embarrassment by my choices, and blatantly do the opposite of what would be his instruction, then I am definitely not submissive.

CC Bure said, “A submissive wife is one who makes a choice not to resist her husband’s will.  That is not to say that she cannot disagree with him or that she cannot express an opinion.  Indeed the submissive wife is, by definition, a strong woman and will usually therefore have her own opinions and these may often be different to the opinions of her husband.  Can she express them?  Of course she can, and indeed it might often be wrong for her not to express them since she is, after all, supposed to be her husband’s helper, not his slave or doormat.  Expressing her opinions and giving advice and suggestions will often be a valuable part of the help that she gives her husband.”

The difference in a submissive wife and the Hebrew slave is that submission is a choice to arrange one’s life by agreement with another.  The wife enters the relationship willingly and knowingly.  And the one in authority has a different motivation.  The slave’s master has only one goal – performance that yields profit.  The authority of the Christian husband is entirely different – a oneness that creates harmony and is a picture of Christ’s love for the church.

Submission holds no fear for the wife who is assured that love will be reciprocated and her role, performed with submission, is valued and appreciated.

Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder.  Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteh the proud, and given grace to the humble.”  I Peter 5:5 
This verse has the same definition as the wife’s call to submission.  It is to arrange under, to subject or submit one’s control to another by choice or agreement.  The word, subject, has the exact same definition.  So, we understand from this verse that younger people should be subject or submissive to older folks and that ultimately, we should all have an attitude of submission to each other.
It is interesting to note the two choices of attitude with which God equates our submission.  We are either humble or proud.  A humble person has no problem with submission.  They know their place and gracefully yield to authority.  A proud person refuses to submit quietly.  They are outspoken and resistant.  Hence, God uses the same approach – He is resistant to the proud and graceful to the humble.
A quick study on pride reveals that pride creates wrath and wrath creates contentions and strife.  Inside true submission there is no place for any of these qualities.  It does not mean that we simply go through life with our heads in the sand.  We are not to be blind leaders of the blind or ignorant about life.  However, we are also not to be contentious and self-willed.
A submissive working together in community, in the home, and in the church produces a unity of spirit and a peace that glorifies God.  Submission may look like obedience, but it also may look like thoughtful questioning and exploration of solutions.  It has the facet of being helpful and uplifting of others.  Hence, God calls us to be submissive – helpful, thoughtful, uplifting – toward others.
What is your attitude toward submission?

“Submit yourselves therefore to God…”  James 4:7 

The ultimate object of our submission should be to God.  This is again the same definition - It is to arrange under, to subject or submit one’s control to another by choice or agreement.
When Adam fell in the garden he made the choice to not subject himself to God.  He broke fellowship by his actions.  Fallen man is in the same position.  His fellowship is broken with God.  He is not submissive to God. He is diametrically opposed to submission.
When we come to know Christ as our Saviour we make a choice.  We are recognizing His authority in our lives and our rebellious state.  We ask for forgiveness and bring ourselves into line by agreement with God’s authority.  Baptism is a picture of what has happened in our lives and an open acknowledgment of our desire to walk in newness of life – out with the old, in with the new.
Over and over in our Christian growth we are faced with ever deepening levels of this submission.  New growth means we learn to become faithful to church, to pray and read our Bibles with set regularity and to tithe.  Then we are challenged with heart attitudes that need to change and we start submitting to God’s requirements on forgiveness, obedience, service, etc.  I find that the deeper one goes in the Christian life, the more submission is challenged.  We see the rebellion of our heart in more subtle ways and are faced with the choice of surrendering these fallacies over to God’s working.
Submitting to God can also be seen in our life situations as we face death, job choices, personality clashes, child rearing, and marriage problems.  Over and over we are being faced with the choice of submitting to God or doing things our own way.

Submission is a life long choice – what choice are you making?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Week Forty-One - Strength

  “And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not man, that he should repent.”  I Samuel 15:29

Strength is one of the names of God.  The definition means eminence.  It has to do with perpetuity, victory, and everlastingness.  In the beginning God…”  (Genesis 1:1)  He is the one outside of time.  He was and is and evermore shall be.  He is the supreme, the everlasting Father and the King of kings.
From him all things exist.  “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him…”  (Colossians 1:16) and “For in him we live, and move, and have our being…” (Acts 17:28) 
We might think of strength as muscles or power to conquer, but the core of strength is in the ability to make things happen or to control.  It reminds me of the children’s game King of the Mountain.  The strongest kid was the one who could gain and keep the highest point on the hill.  His strength was in the fact that he could put all others down and hold his spot.  Might seem rather trite, but that is the basic picture of the word as used here.
God is King of the Mountain.  No one can take his place.  He has power to knock them down if they try.  He will always hold his place.  Always has, and always will.  And, he doesn’t have to explain to anyone why he is on top.  It is his earned and deserved place.  He is the Eminence – the one who endures.
Our place is to stand in awe of his majesty and power.  His strength is definite and secure.  It is a place we can find confidence and security.  He is not a man – he is THE GOD - The God of Strength.
Are you secure in Him?

 “The LORD reigneth, he is clothed with majesty; the LORD is clothed with strength….”  Psalm 93:1
Being clothed with strength indicates the ownership of the Lord in all areas: material, physical, personal, social and/or political.  As he sits upon his throne he not only is Strength, he adorns himself in strength – in ownership.  His essence is strength.  He reigns majestically.  No one can thwart his power.
As His children, we have access to His strength.  Psalm 28:7 – “The LORD is my strength and my shield…”  and Exodus 15:2, “The LORD is my strength and song…” along with several other similar verses tell us that we can wrap ourselves in this clothing also.  Like putting on the cape of Superman, we avail ourselves of His power and exercise the assurance that comes from strength.
It is not our own strength; it is His strength.  As ambassadors and representatives of a higher authority, we can stand assured that He has our back.  From this assurance come boldness, courage, and confidence.  It also brings protection and rejoicing.  It reminds me of the boldness of David as he viewed the situation with Goliath and the army of Israel.  “…for who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?”  (I Samuel 17:26) 
David knew the strength of the LORD and he was given, if you like, supernatural power.  He was not timid or afraid to place his trust in this power.  He put on the cape of God’s strength knowing God would deliver him because he was acting upon faith and the solid understanding of the majesty, supremacy and strength of his God.
How many times do we fail in our Christian lives, or run from things we believe too big for us, just because we do not stop to consider the strength of our Lord?  We think the battle is one we must fight alone, or we think God just isn’t interested in our battle.  Nothing can be further from the truth.
God is there to be our help.  He is there to be our strength.  We just need to put on the cape and become superhuman – through His power working in us.

“The way of the LORD is strength to the upright…”  Proverbs 10:29

“God is my strength and power…”  II Samuel 22:33

“….for the joy of the LORD is your strength…”  Nehemiah 8:10

“But the salvation of the righteous is of the LORD: he is their strength in the time of trouble.”  Psalm 37:39

In each of these verses the word “strength” means a place of safety, fastness, harbor, stronghold or refuge. Let’s paraphrase them a bit and see what picture we can draw.

If we walk in the way of the Lord we will be walking in a safe place because God is a safe place.  He is a refuge and harbor.  Our attitude toward Him affords us strength.  No matter what trouble we face we can know that God is our place of safety.

It reminds me of Proverbs 18:10, “The name of the LORD is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe.”  I don’t know how many times this verse has come to give me strength when I have faced times of trouble.  The trouble might not have been resolved, but I found that place of safety in the Lord.  In his name – which is?  STRENGTH!

The strength of the Lord allows me to rise above the petty issues of life.  It creates in me hope and patience.  Knowing that I have a place of harbor and a strong tower into which I can retreat for rejuvenation gives me endurance.  The joy in knowing whom I am in Christ and that my God is supreme and eminent resolves fear. 

“I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.”  When we know we are walking as He commands, and believe that He is the Eminent One, we will find joy.  We will find strength – even in the day of trouble, because we know where to look for strength!

Are you looking in the wrong places?

 “There is no king saved by the multitude of an host: a mighty man is not delivered by much strength.  The horse is a vain thing for safety: neither shall he deliver any by his great strength.”  Psalm 33:17
“….by strength shall no man prevail.”  I Samuel 2:9
Human strength is no assurance of victory.  Just one small stone brought Goliath to the ground.  And a horse, though strong and swift, is nothing compared to the strength of the Lord.
I grew up with horses.  My father trained them and each member of our family had our own horse.  We competed with them in horse shows and rode them on trail rides.  My sister and I spent many long summer days out riding and playing with our horses. 
My horse was a Shetland pony named Kokomo.  He had loads of personality and was quite a free spirit.  But he couldn’t be trusted not to run off with you if he was so a mind.  And also he had no shame in nipping you if you weren’t doing things the way he desired. 
As I thought about a horse and safety I could only come up with one advantage – Kokomo could run.  I could get away from danger, possibly, but I could not look to him for defense.
Israel, though God had commanded them not to multiply horses (Deuteronomy 17:16), counted their strength by the number of horses they owned.  Why?  Because mounted on a horse a man had an advantage over the foot soldier.  And, horses aren’t afraid of battle.  They will obey and run right into the thick of it.  But that doesn’t mean the horse is doing the fighting! 
God plainly tells us that human strength and the strength found in created things cannot prevail against His power and will.
We are constantly on the hunt for a place where we can find a friend upon which we can lean, a person who will be there for us and be our strength when we feel weak and burdened by the cares of this world.  Sadly we attach ourselves to all sorts of things hoping that they will give us security – retirement funds, better jobs, social networking, more insurance policies, etc.  While we are busy trying to create our safety net in our own strength and wit we are overlooking the actual source of strength – our Everlasting Father.
God declares to Hosea “But I will have mercy upon the house of Judah, and will save them by the Lord their God, and will not save them by bow, nor by sword, nor by battle, by horses, nor by horsemen.”  God is in the business of using His strength to take care of His people.  How foolish we are to look to any other person or thing for the strength and security offered by the Strength of Israel – our God.
Take time to look at these three verses in Psalms.  Each one assures you of God’s strength in your life.  Psalm 20:6, 22:19 and Psalm 138:3

“And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness….”  II Corinthians 12:9
Hodge explains “the strength of God is perfected, i.e. clearly revealed as accomplishing its end, in weakness.  Weakness…is the condition of my manifesting my strength.  The weaker people are, the more conspicuous is God’s strength in sustaining and delivering them….the power of Christ is not only thus manifested in the weakness of his people, but in the means which he employs for the accomplishment of his purposes.”
Piper explains…”God ordains that Paul be weak, so that Christ might be seen as strong on Paul’s behalf.  If we feel and look self-sufficient, we will get the glory, not Christ.  So Christ chooses the weak things of the world “so that no man should boast before God”  (I Corinthians 1:29).  And sometimes he makes seemingly strong people weaker, so that the divine power will be the more evident.”
We love to think about the grace of God being sufficient, and we readily admit that we are weak creatures.  Most commentators focus on these two elements.  However, our consideration is the word strength.  It means power and ability, but it is more than just the quality of being able.  It is inherent power - power that resides by virtue of the nature of the owner. 
The Greek word is “dynamis”, from where we get our word dynamite.  In God it is the power to perform miracles out of the moral power and excellence of his nature.  It is His ability to effect change due to the power He exerts or puts forth.  This ability is made “perfect”, meaning complete, as it enters into the weaker vessel to accomplish an end goal – that of endowing strength in order to create change.
God is able to enter your life and create the strength necessary to face life’s challenges.  It is God in you that makes you strong and helps you persevere.  It is His moral force that creates power in you.
No need to fear your human weakness.  “If God be for us, who can be against us?”  (Romans 8:31)  Allow His strength to be the driving force of your life.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Weel Forty - Steward

 “And Abram said, Lord GOD, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus?”  Genesis 15:2
One of the first laws of hermeneutics is the observance of first usage.  Here we read the first usage of the word “steward”.  The definition has a compound meaning.  On the one side the word means “son or child”.  Add the second side of the meaning, “inheritance or possession” and you get a better picture of what Abram was describing as the position of Eliezer.  He was the one in position to inherit Abram’s possessions because he was the only one in the position of “sonship”.  Abram was childless.
In this culture, the steward was a servant or right hand man.  He performed both the role of the child, when there was no heir, and also the role of the administrator of the master’s estate.  Though Eliezer may have been a good man, he was no substitute in the mind of Abram to the real flesh and blood son he had been promised.  So, Abram expresses his concern to the Lord.  If he and Sarai were to die, Eliezer, a man not even of his own people, would inherit his wealth.
It is believed that Eliezer is that same servant who was sent to find a wife for Isaac in Genesis 24.  He is called “the eldest servant…that ruled over all...he had.”  (Gen 24:2) As we read this account in Genesis 24 we can see six characteristics of Eliezer and characteristics we should also employ as a good steward. 
First, he is trustworthy.  He has his master’s confidence and is entrusted with his affairs.  We are also entrusted with the Gospel. 
Second, he is teachable.  Eliezer has learned from by the faith of Abram.  He seeks the wife according to the instruction given.  We are to be teachable and yielding to the commands of our Lord.
Third, he is tactical.  He knows how to use common sense and planning.  He makes a plan, commits it to the Lord, and waits for God to answer.  Our lives should also be tactically employed.
Fourth, he is timely in his manner.  He wants to expedite the matter, but he is also willing and wise to wait upon the Lord.  We, too, must use our time wisely and be ready to follow the Lord.
Fifth, he is true-hearted.  He does nothing to hinder Abram, not in the birth of the heir, or in the finding of a wife.  He has Abram’s best interest at heart, not his own agenda.  We need to be sincere in our service to the Lord.  Not self-seeking, but God honouring in all we do.
Sixth, he is tenacious.  He does not give up.  He sees things through.  We, too, as good stewards must be tenacious, thorough, and complete all God has given us to do.
What kind of steward are you?

 “Moreover, it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.” 
I Corinthians 4:2
In the New Testament there is less of a family connection among stewards.  They no longer inherited the possessions at the death of the master.  The word has moved more into the meaning of a manager of a household or of the household affairs.  This meant especially the care of receipts and expenditures, the duty of caring for the other servants and even of the younger children.
God’s requirement is that the steward be faithful.  Spurgeon makes note that “It is not required that a man be found brilliant, or that he be found pleasing to his associates, or even that he be found successful”.  Faithfulness is a high enough demand.  The steward will need wisdom and strength that comes from the Lord in order to execute his office. 
The place of a steward is that basically of a servant.  He knows his place. The office requires faithful service in many different areas, even of managing other servants.  The mind of a servant must always direct the attitude of the steward.  The steward must be in communication with the Master to receive orders and to put forward requests and information.  He is also communicating so as to give account of the affairs and actions of the business as a good trustee of his master’s goods.  In all things the steward represents the master, especially in how he manages the family.  It is a high calling, and one the Lord has passed upon all who serve Him.
Spurgeon reminds us of things that would annul our faithfulness – 1) acting as if we were chiefs instead of servants, 2) acting as men-pleasers, 3) being idlers or triflers, 4) misusing our Master’s property, 5)  neglecting those in the family who are under us, 6) conniving with evil, and 7) forgetting that the Master is returning.
The reward for the faithful steward, that “well done thou good and faithful servant”, is reserved for those who know their place and execute it with faithful attention.
How are you doing in your stewardship?  Do you recognize the things God has placed under your supervision?  Do you serve with the idea of giving account to the Lord?  Is your attitude that of a good servant? Are you faithful?
 And the Lord said, Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household….?”  Luke 12:42
It isn’t by coincidence that the adjectives “faithful” and “wise” precede the word “steward”.  These two qualities are so vital to our success as stewards.  As a steward goes about doing what his master has directed, he must be faithful and wise.
To be faithful in stewardship is more than just turning up each day for the job.  A faithful steward is one that can be depended upon to complete a task to an expected standard.  A faithful steward will also be consistent in his service. He will not be haphazard or slothful. 

A wise steward is one who knows how to make best use of the equipment or facilities given him.  He is circumspect and thoughtful in all he does.  He does not waste time, money or effort.  He is purposeful in his service doing all he can to make the master’s business successful. 

Stewards who are both faithful and wise are of great value to the master.  They are the type of employees that every employer hopes to hire.  They are the individuals who honestly earn their wages and increase the income of the company because of their good work ethics and high standards.  They will be rewarded.

The parable applies not only to work ethics, but also to us as the Lord’s servants or stewards.  We, too, as servants of Christ, are to be serving faithfully and with wisdom.  There is a reward coming for those who serve in such a manner.
Are you serving faithfully and with wisdom?  Are you a good employee?  Are you dependable and trustworthy? 
 “…There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods.  And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee?  Give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward.”  Luke 16:1 & 2
Here we see a steward being called into account for his stewardship.  He is accused of wasting the rich man’s goods.  He must explain the accusation and is at risk of losing his position.  This is a very interesting parable, but we aren’t going to consider the whole of the story, just this first two verses so we don’t get bogged down and miss the main point: We will all be called to give account of our lives.
Whatever we have is the property of God.  We are only stewards.  Whether we are considering our houses, our money, our family, our jobs, or, the God given natural resources of this earth, all are for our wise usage.  We are responsible to God.
Wasted time, wasted money, and wasted opportunities – we are all guilty.  God has given us “all things” for His glory and we are to understand the value of His good gifts.
We will not lose our salvation due to our unwise use of resources, but we are in danger of losing rewards.  I Corinthians 3:12-15 teaches that when our works for Christ are tested by fire we will be rewarded for what remains.  Those that are lost in the fire result in a loss of reward, but we do not lose our salvation.
It challenges us to think about what we are doing with all God has entrusted to us.  Do we value our time, funds, health, family, etc?  Do we waste opportunities for service and witness?  Do we squander our talents on the world and waste our abilities in worldly pursuits? 
So then, every one of us shall give account of himself to God.”  Romans 14:12   How would you fare if you were called into account today?

 “For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God…”  Titus 1:7
Being a faithful and wise steward might seem like a reasonable standard, but being blameless?  The definition of blameless is “that cannot be called into to account, unreproveable,  or unaccused.”  That is a really high standard.  It is the standard God sets for his men – those who serve in the capacity of spiritual leadership.
The passage goes on to describe character qualities that would be indicative of a steward of God.  “…not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; but a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate, holding fast the faithful word…able by sound doctrine exhort and to convince…”  Titus 1:7-9
Now, lest we cut ourselves some slack thinking that since we aren’t the preacher we don’t have to be so “blameless”, I challenge you to recognize that you are a priest as well.  I Peter 2:9 confirms this fact.  “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation….”  So, when you were placed into this priesthood by salvation a certain standard of conduct was also set for you.
If you don’t believe me just ask your friends if they think any of the negative things listed in the Titus passage are acceptable for people who say they are Christians.  The world holds higher expectations for the children of God as well.  They expect us to be friendly and hospitable, to be kind and loving, to be temperate and fair.  They even expect us to know the Bible answers to their questions.
So how are you doing?  Are you striving to live a blameless life?  Or do you see yourself as good as any other old Joe?  Do you rebel at the thought of meeting a standard – even God’s standard?  How are you doing as at being a blameless steward?