Thursday, July 28, 2005


Chocolate cake with a sprinkling of coconut

As a young boy, I was a very picky eater. Today I'll eat most things that my stomach can handle, but back then I turned up my nose at all sorts of things, including many foods that I enjoy today. Being a semi-typical boy of my generation, I was more open-minded about desserts than vegetables, but even in this case I had a very strong dislike: coconut. I just couldn't stand coconut on anything. If my mom had wanted to prepare a dessert and make sure that I didn't take more than my share, all she had to do is sprinkle on a bit of coconut to reduce my usually ravenous appetite to virtually nothing. :-)

In much the same manner that a sprinkling of coconut could ruin an otherwise tasty dessert for me and many other folks, I've observed a similar phenomenon regarding how people judge other people. Appearance counts for a lot, and I don't just mean physical appearance: I'm talking about the stuff that you notice immediately upon meeting someone as well as during the very beginnings of the getting-acquainted phase. It seems that many people have a gift for sizing up a person very quickly. Some folks come across as nice, friendly, and refined, whereas others are a bit, er, prickly, rather like some desserts have a sprinkling of coconut (yuck!) whereas others have a slathering of chocolate frosting (hooray!!!).

Let's face it: first impressions are largely based on frosting or coconut, and often miss out on making anything like an accurate, balanced judgment of the person. This is quite understandable, because it takes time to get an accurate impression of anyone or anything, whether its a person or a slab of dessert. Much like that coconut might lie atop a marvelous dessert, that guy or gal might have a golden heart underneath that zit-ridden face or that portly profile. On the other hand, the smooth, user-friendly exterior of another guy or gal might hide a heart that's as cold as ice.

Yes, first impressions matter, but they so often mislead. Do we dare to trust them as much as we so often do, or should we heed the wisdom of Christ who told us to judge not by outward appearance, but to judge rather righteous judgment? (John 7:24)

My dear readers, I write this as a single guy who's been known to go about life sprinkled with a bit of coconut. Yes, I can be a bit awkward when I first meet a person, and I don't always get my hair trimmed as frequently as I ought, but I hope you won't hold those things against me. I suppose I'm one of those people who doesn't always make a strong, positive first impression, but I'm sure I'm not the only one who suffers such an affliction. My brother or sister, have you ever felt as though someone made a snap judgment about you? I'm sure all of us have suffered this, but yet we (including yours truly :-( ) are guilty of treating others just as we'd rather not have others treat us.

Brethren, let's not judge a dessert by its topping nor a book by its cover. Let's take the time to get to know one another's hearts!

P.S.: I have a tip to make eating a dessert more enjoyable: if you'll scrape off the coconut while no one's looking, the cake will taste 100% better. Trust me. :-)

Wednesday, July 27, 2005


Faith or Presumption?

When I was a young Christian, I spent several years under the influence of the Word of Faith movement, which taught me that the atoning work of Jesus Christ had purchased divine healing for all my diseases, and that all I needed to do was to claim my healing and to believe that I was healed. Although the teachers I followed, primarily Kenneth Hagin, gave grudging permission to seek normal medical assistance, they allowed this only for those whose faith was too weak to receive supernatural healing. Since without faith it was impossible to please God and I certainly wished to please God, the appropriate course of action was obvious: don't see the doctor/dentist/whatever.

During this period, I heard a lot of sermons taken from the miracles of Christ. One of the most popular was that of the woman with the issue of blood, who only had to reach out and touch the hem of Jesus' garment in order to be made whole. In these sermons, a great deal was made of how she claimed and received her healing, but a small little detail of context was omitted that makes all the difference in understanding how this miracle brought such great glory to Christ, as well as shedding light on the difference between true faith and vain presumption that masquerades as faith.

OK, let's suppose this woman's story was a little bit different. Let's say that her condition was such that it was self-limiting (i.e., would go away on its own) or was readily treatable with the assistance of a competent physician. In such a case, what glory would Christ have received if He'd healed her supernaturally? Not a whole lot. If she'd told a person of her healing, they could have said "You just had a cold; you would have gotten over it in a few days anyway" or "Dr. So-and-So helped me get over the same thing by taking some medicine." Given that one of Christ's main purposes for His miracles was to confirm that He was who He claimed to be, such a low-rent miracle would have served only to cheapen His glory.

But that's not how the story turned out, because the woman in question had diligently sought all sorts of medical assistance prior to turning to Christ. She had exhausted all possible ordinary means, and came quite literally to the end of her rope. By doing so, she proved that her malady was one that was beyond the help of ordinary means, something that neither time nor medicine nor surgery could help. Thus, by seeking ordinary medical assistance prior to turning to Christ, she helped to magnify the miracle into one that brought great glory to Christ, and her doctors' vain efforts helped prove that her eventual healing was beyond the ability of man or nature.

Based on this observation, I'd like to make a simple application. If you are sick and in need of healing, do two things: (1) pray and trust God; and (2) seek all available types of medical assistance. Experience shows that in many cases, God will choose to heal you through perfectly ordinary means. In that case, you ought to glorify God for His mercy, for ultimately it is God, not your doctor, who heals all your diseases. Should He choose to heal you in an extraordinary manner, the ordinary assistance that fails you will only add to the glory He will receive through your deliverance and will make that deliverance all the sweeter.

Thus, there is no contradiction between true faith and seeking out ordinary medical assistance. Now that I realize this, I've resumed seeing the doctor or dentist when I need help, and I've taken care to improve the nutritional content of my diet. Although they've not done any miracles for me, I can say that through them God has given me many smaller mercies. Should the Lord one day be pleased to allow me to suffer much greater affliction, I will also seek ordinary assistance, but not without prayer, and will trust that God will heal me through one means or another, whether in this life or in the life to come, at which time complete eternal health will be granted to me in the form of a new, glorified body. This is the hope which I share with all those who trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation from sin.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005


Freed to give

For most of my life, with half of that time spent as a professing Christian, I've been an unhappy single guy. There was nothing wrong with me that meeting Miss Right wouldn't cure! In the meantime, while I waited for her to come on the scene, there wasn't much point in undertaking much of anything. After all, I wasn't going to be single much longer. To tide me over, I hung out with a series of friends, many of them women. Although I think I was a good friend to each of them, it wasn't the greatest state of affairs. It was ironic that I wanted to marry so badly, but yet I was evidently unwilling to commit myself to anything beyond friendship.

Thus, when my last "buddy" went and found herself a husband, I was left largely high and dry insofar as companionship was concerned. I'd found a good church a few months before that, but I was new there and hadn't had time to make any close acquaintances. Besides, pretty much everyone there was married and had full schedules to boot. Although I'd shifted gears towards hanging out more with other guys, they were by and large too busy to hang out with me very much. (The fellowship I enjoy is very good indeed, but it mainly consists of the occasional Sunday lunch or evening dinner.) Since I was accustomed to being able to hang out and spend lots of time with this or that friend, this came as something of a culture shock to me.

In a sense, I'd left one peculiar situation only to enter yet another. I loved to give to people, to spend time with them, to encourage them, but now I was largely cut off from that. Given that so much of the present work of the church is to love our neighbors, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ, it was difficult to understand why God was providentally hindering me from getting the kind of companionship I needed so much.

Then, not all that long ago, God graciously allowed me to understand the issue at stake. The problem was with a word: needed. Yes, I'd been feeling as though, as a middle-aged single guy, I was missing something, and that I had to have that something before I was going to be whole. So what's wrong with that picture? Quite a lot. Although I wasn't wrong to desire or want companionship, whether through friendship or marriage, mine was not just a desire: it was a "need", a "need" which in my view my relationship with Christ was simply insufficient to satisfy. The bottom line: God had short-changed me, and the companionship of fellow sinners was the only way to make up the deficit. Thus, I'd made the good and right desire for companionship into an idol, a thing to be coveted.

So, what's to become of a guy like me? Well, not a lot of good if I'm left to my own devices, but I'm glad to report that God had other plans for me. In the course of time, He's taught me through the Scriptures with the aid of much trial and error that human companionship is good and right to want, but the only companionship I need is already mine if I have come to trust in Christ! In fact, I am already complete in Him by His grace, and have need of nothing else.

One thing I'm starting to realize about my past behavior is how much I'd put my trust in my friends. Often, when confronted with a difficult situation, I'd call a friend before I'd bother to call upon the Lord. Now, it's good and right to have a trusted friend with whom to talk, but it's not right if that relationship takes priority over your relationship with Christ, as was sadly all too commonly the case with me.

Up to this point, this year has proven to me my best year so far. After so many years wasted on desiring what I lacked and being unthankful for the much I had, I feel free. Rather than people being a means to ease my loneliness, I am free to love them as I ought. Although God has not yet seen fit to bring me Miss Right or even a close buddy with whom to just "hang out", I feel myself to be more free than ever to do what I ought to do towards those around me: give of myself. If this is the lesson that God would have me learn from this season of relative isolation, then I can say without equivocation that I am thankful that He's taken me through it.

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