A life lived listening to the decisive call of God is a life lived before one audience that trumps all others—the Audience of One! (Os Guinnes, The Call)
In the broad arena of the world’s religions, there is one common word among them all—God. In the mythology of the ancient Greek and Roman worlds, there was a multiplicity of gods, gods who at times competed for supremacy. Wherever the idea of God has existed throughout history and the present age, there is an acknowledgement of a standard for laws and authority. Where does this idea come from?
C.S. Lewis, in the book Mere Christianity, refers to this idea as The Law of Human Nature, stating, “All human beings all over earth have this idea whereby they know they ought to behave in a certain way and can’t get rid of that idea, nor can they adhere to it perfectly.” Apparently there is some higher being that does exist and in the light of this, people of all nations and tribes acknowledge a standard for laws and authority.
Now, which of these gods is God, and how can I know Him and acknowledge His standard and authority and know His will?
Having asked that question, I will state my belief simply and clearly. I believe in the triune God of the Holy Scriptures, namely, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, three in one in essence, yet eternally existing in a triune relationship with one another, with both independence and a unique co-dependency of a positive holy nature.
Let me borrow form J.I. Packer’s book Knowing God to restate my belief position in his words that profoundly simplify my statement above. “God is triune; there are within the Godhead three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; and the word of salvation is one in which all three act together, the Father purposing redemption, the Son securing it and the Spirit applying it” (page 20). Further, “God has spoken to man, and the Bible is His Word, given to us to make us wise unto salvation. . .God is Lord and King over His world. . .and Savior through the Lord Jesus Christ for believers.”
Every philosopher, thinker, or human being, whether aware of it or not, will have one or more presuppositions upon which all of life will be based. These ideas will indicate a variety of biases which in turn determine each one’s value system. Packer’s words express mine. However, my faith is not to be labeled “Packerism,” but rather Christianity. And genuine Christianity cannot exist without the person of Jesus Christ.
I’m quite sure we have all heard or read sermons about getting our lives in order—dealing with the varied issues, choices, or problems in life. Among these are family, finances, and even friends. Competition for position or money has caused major break-ups among fellow workers. Envy has led to crime. The list of sins available for people to commit abound in the Bible, starting with the ten commandments in the Old Testament book of Exodus and further developed in letters to the early believers, such as in Colossians 3 and Ephesians 4 and 5. The book of James and other Scriptures also supply us with numerous choices for behavior that is condemned, even by our fellow man.
When it comes to establishing priorities in life then, the big idea is to be certain where your lines are drawn, lines “drawn in the sand,” beyond which you will not venture. Non-negotiables! As you may rightly assume, my number one priority is my relationship with God. I will be uncompromising in my faith in Him. In practical terms, however, I readily confess that there have been occasions when I could have been seen putting family or finances before or over God because of health, greed, or family concern. Some might excuse that by just labeling it as worry, but I know what my feelings were.
I will never forget the surprise I gave myself—about myself—one evening during a life insurance presentation. I had just about wrapped up the largest contract of my three-year career in life sales when my prospect suggested that we cash in one of his current policies taken years before with another company and replace it with one of mine to complete the “package.” To do this was considered “twisting,” an improper procedure which would necessitate a higher premium payment for the new replacement policy due to my prospect’s older age at issue. This would thereby penalize my client. I knew it was wrong, but since he was requesting it, I didn’t want to confuse his mind and risk losing the sale.
What I learned that night about myself, as I contemplated his suggestion for a few moments, was this: “Do you realize what you are doing, Al? You! Christian! Sunday School superintendent, father, church board member, holding other respected community positions. You’re sitting here in this man’s living room while he waits for your answer—and you’re actually thinking about whether or not to do this!
That was my wake-up call to what Oswald Chambers labels my own “disposition for sin.” I can’t blame that on Adam, and I don’t think I can really blame that on the devil. I thought about it all by myself. But the words of young Joseph in Genesis 39:9 come to mind as I remember that night: “How can I do this thing. . .and sin against God?” The number one priority must always be God. I thank God that I remembered one of my “non-negotiables!”
The second priority will not always be as clear. It is more variable, depending on one’s deep inner thought. I’ve met and heard some clergy and missionaries, for example, who will put their church above everything else, including family. The “obey factor” in the wedding vows is seen as permission to rule the roost as a military general rules those under his command in war times, regardless of the effects or cost. This is not a fault that is exclusively Christian, but there are plenty of Christian examples, such as the pastor having an argument with his spouse who shouts at her as he leaves the house to attend, of all things, a deacons’ meeting, “Shut up! I’ve got to go to church!” Or, to his child, “Go away. Don’t bother your daddy. He’s doing God’s work.”
What about money or fame? I once asked the advice of a respected friend regarding which of two pastoral calls I should take. His shocking advice was short and to the point, “What’s in it for you?” He was asking which one would enhance either my reputation or my finances or, better yet, both.
It is tremendously important to settle our commitments and attitudes ahead of time so that when a time of crisis or choice is upon us, we instinctively know what God’s Spirit has already firmly rooted in us from His Word. “. . .Continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and not moved away” (Colossians 1:23).
At the time of a moral problem within my church, I began to find envelopes with cash pushed under my office door, placed there by the offender, whose job and future advancement in a Christian organization would be in jeopardy if the issue were revealed. I’m sure he knew the sum would have been most welcome, if it had been legitimate. I put the envelopes aside, waiting to see how soon and in what way this matter would finally play itself out.
It continued for six weeks, after which the “donor” asked me point blank if I had noticed the envelopes. (Hello?) I answered, “Yes.” His next question eliminated any doubt I might have possibly had concerning his motives. “You wouldn’t consider that a bribe, would you?” With that, I handed him all six envelopes with the cash in them and answered, “It certainly looks that way, doesn’t it? I think we had better begin to correct his problem right now.” We took appropriate action from there.
There are two brief personal stories I’d like to relate to you about the first priority I have, after my relationship to my Lord God in heaven. Both of these examples are intended to give evidence of my love and respect for my wife.
1. Following my combat duty on Okinawa, I was sent to China as part of the occupation forces. With another Marine and two missionaries, we started a bi-lingual evangelism ministry in a local church. During the week when I was not on duty, I spent time with the nationals, learning the language and culture, and seeing firsthand the poverty and problems of everyday life in the difficult economic and social times of postwar China. The sense of wanting to return after my discharge was strong. Ollie and I had not known each other before college. We met within a few days of beginning our freshman year; she was a seventeen-year-old just out of high school. Within a few weeks, I was certain of my love for her. However, I knew I needed to tell her that, if God wanted me to return to China, it would be a rough life for her. Nevertheless, God and His will were the first priorities in my life, and I needed to be honest about my uncertain future. After a basketball game with another college, we were returning to our campus with four other students in my car. The “gang” wanted me to stop for refreshments, so we pulled into a well-known diner. I asked Ollie to remain outside with me as the others went in. I asked her to recognize the China possibility in light of how that would affect our current relationship. To even risk any possible answer that would end my courtship and future with her was more painful than I could imagine. Her contemplative response, to commit to me unconditionally, has proven valid and never waned!
2. This second story occurred about three years into our marriage. Ollie was teaching third and fourth grades in a small private school. However, almost every extra curricular assignment that arose—PTA presentations, Christmas programs, decorations, public relations gatherings, special workshops and committees, you name it—were all assigned to her. Three other teachers seldom were asked to assist at all.
These extras often involved setting things up at night with my help. Late one night, while gathering items from the school basement for a Christmas program, Ollie banged her head on one of the low ceiling pipes. The tears flowed freely. As I compassionately hugged her there, I made a decision.
The next afternoon, I called her principal from my office. The message was brief and to the point. “Ollie knows nothing about this. I’m calling to inform you that unless she is relieved of seventy-five percent of those extra duties and assignments, I am resigning for her right now, and I will tell her when she arrives home this evening she is no longer working. That’s it! Thank you.”
That night she came home and exclaimed, “You’ll never guess what happened today!” Of course, I didn’t guess, so she told me: “The principal told me that nearly all of the burdensome extras I have been doing have been reassigned.” A period of several weeks passed before she actually figured out how the change had come about.
I am aware that in our present culture some feminists would chauvinistically argue that I usurped authority over my wife’s self-realization. In fact, I have already been told this by some. However, I still believe my commitment to God and my wife was to love, honor, and protect. And my wife thanked me.
Get it right the first time!
“. . .you husbands, show the same kind of love to your wives as Christ showed to the church when he died for her” (Ephesians 5:25 NLT).