Friday, December 31, 2010

"Less Religion?

    In a store we frequent, I've recently noticed on several occasions a book that promotes the notion of "Less Religion, More Jesus."  Perhaps you've seen or even read the book, and found the authors to be sincere, and their content helpful.  If so, that's fine and I can understand that the theme of their book might address valid concerns.
    In my view, however, the thought that "less religion" might foster "more Jesus" is not Biblically accurate in the most direct sense.  Less false religion would certainly help toward that end, but the term "religion" in and of itself is a Scripturally faithful way to express genuine worship of God.
   "If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world" (James 1:26-27).
    The Greek root word of the Biblical term "religion" simply means worship.  Thus, less religion would literally imply less worship.  By definition, such a path could never lead to more Jesus (although I feel certain the authors of the book do not intend this result).  I don't mean to quibble, but I do believe that words, particularly Biblical words, are vitally important.  The misinterpretation and subsequent sacrifice of the word "religion" in recent decades inevitably weakens our communication of the Gospel as we forfeit usage of terminology directly inspired by the Holy Spirit.
    Every human being is religious because every human being worships someone or something.  The Bible teaches that we either rightly worship the Creator.  Or we misdirect our worship toward that which is created, and thus become idolaters (Romans 1:25).  God hard-wired us for this internal devotion of ourselves to something bigger than ourselves.  The term "religion" is helpful in this regard as we communicate Christ to our world because people need to know that being religious is not a foreign concept or reality.  Again, everybody worships, and everybody is religious.  The issue involves the object, or subject of our devotion.  Our religion either expresses devotion to the living and true God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and is "pure and undefiled."  Or it expresses devotion to some false god of devilish, worldly, or carnal making.
    When the born again believer is asked, "Are you religious?," an excellent answer is simply, "Why yes, I am, as is every person on the planet."  Upon this basis we proceed. "By this, I simply mean that everybody worships and trusts in something or someone bigger than themselves, whether they know it or not.  Is it the living and true God, as known through the Lord Jesus Christ, and is it therefore living and true worship?  Or is it something less, and thus something dead and false?"  Recognizing the validity of "religion," as confirmed and taught by Scripture, and being aware that every person is religious, gives us a strong inroad into leading religious idolaters into the Bible's "pure religion and undefiled" of the Lord Jesus.
"For all the gods of the people are idols: but the LORD made the heavens."
(I Chronicles 16:26)

Thursday, December 30, 2010

"Then Am I Strong"

    Sensibilities about God and our relationship to Him often seem to work in reverse.
    "My strength is made perfect in weakness...When I am weak, then am I strong" (II Corinthians 12:9-10).
    The Apostle Paul's testimony would seem nonsensical if we did not know of the heavenly/earthly union that forms the being and characterizes the experience of born again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.  When we feel at our worst, the potential for God's best often leads us to glories unavailable when life is less challenging.  One can imagine that many of Paul's greatest sermons were uttered when he most felt, as he testified, "troubled... distressed... perplexed... persecuted... cast down" (II Corinthians 4:8-9).  I suspect also that the Scriptures he wrote by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit were not always accompanied by feelings of glee and exhilaration.
     When we feel most down emotionally, mentally, and physically, the truth of the matter may be that we are most up spiritually.  "Though our outward man perish, our inward man is renewed day by day" (II Corinthians 4:16).  Sensibilities of personal discouragement should be viewed as the signal that our Lord purposes to encourage someone else through us.  Perhaps a prayer for someone whom we know to be hurting (or for someone whom we don't know, but for whom we pray nevertheless).  Or a word to a fellow traveler,  strengthening and reminding him of the risen Christ who "ever liveth to make intercession for us" (Hebrews 7:25).  Or the example of our confidence and rejoicing, even as we feel the feelings of our own challenge.  Whatever the case, our times of feeling down grant powerful opportunity to glorify our Lord and bless others.  "So then death worketh in us, but life in you" (II Corinthians 4:12).
    A great and liberating wind rushes through our spirits when we realize that life is not about us.  "To live is Christ" exulted the Apostle from a Roman prison where no other "life" was available (Philippians 1:21).  Indeed, when we attend ourselves to God's heart and the hearts of others, He undertakes to fill our own hearts with a joy and peace beyond explanation.  Yes, when we feel down and discouraged, the glory of the Lord Jesus and the needs of others beckon us to the mountaintop of the otherness of God where "charity... seeketh not her own" (I Corinthians 13:5).
"Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us, but life in you... for all things are for your sakes."
(II Corinthians 4:10-12; 15)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Privilege of His Vineyard

(A repeat from last year)

     Responsibility becomes privilege when the labors of life are recognized as being performed in the Lord's vineyard.

      "Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not to men" (Colossians 3:23).

      "I have to do" becomes "I get to do" as we realize that whatever ye do bears the potential for worship and glorifying the Lord Jesus Christ.  God does not categorize our lives into the sacred and the secular as we walk with Him, but rather calls us to the realization that altars are everywhere for the born again believer.
     It is more than possible to cut the grass in the joy of Christ as we do it with Him, and for Him.  Or care for the baby.  Or drive to work.  Or perform our work.  Or brush our teeth.  Or deal with problems and challenges.  Or breathe the next breath.  Or anything, excepting sin.  Anything, and everything.  Anywhere, and everywhere.  Any time, and all the time.
     The salvation of the Lord Jesus is far greater and more invasive than we normally realize.  He has infused His life, love, zest and Divine enthusiasm into everything in our lives, and we fail to experience the gift only because of ignorance, unbelief, or mindless refusal to access the always present abundance of Christ.  Our blessed Lord is near - He is here - and He purposes to walk with and within us to enable a joyous life of love, faith and obedience in all things.  We were made for this, and let us encourage each other continually to open our eyes and see the beauty of the vineyard in which we labor.  Even more, let us behold the beauty of the vineyard's Master because He is here, and we are privileged - we get to do all that we do with Him and for Him.

"Glory and honor are in His presence; strength and gladness are in His place."
(I Chronicles 16:27)
"I will dwell in them and walk in them, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people."
(II Corinthians 6:16)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"Back To Print"

    Over the years I have accumulated a number of old vinyl recorded albums - and the somewhat necessary turntable on which we can play them!  I don't use it often, but during Christmas we get the player and the records out and listen to some of the old time favorites of our youth (you may recall the Tennessee Ernie Ford Christmas blessing I wrote about recently).
    As referenced yesterday, things are changing so fast in our technological and information age that it often feels we must grab hold of something solid and lasting, or at least that used to  be.  Indeed, vinyl records were the staple recording medium for more than 50 years, finally replaced by CDs in the early 1980s (after having overcome challenges by magnetic tape in the 1970s).  Compact discs had their run, and still occupy a significant portion of the recorded sound market.  The advent of MP3s and Blue Ray discs, however, is gradually pushing the CD into oblivion after a tenure not nearly as lasting as the vinyl record.
     The interesting thing about the record, as compared to the CDs and other digital vehicles, is that the sound quality, while not nearly as clean and dynamically broad, often seems to elicit a warmer and more "personal" response in many listeners.  Some scientists say that the analog environment of the record is processed by the brain differently than the digital sound of modern vehicles like the compact disc.  There is dispute about this, but I have always sensed an apparent difference.  I love the accurate sound of the digital environment, but from the advent of its availability, I have always felt that something was lacking in comparison with the old vinyl.  Some say that emotional content is less effectively communicated, and I personally believe this to be the case.
    If this is true, we are once again presented with the thorn that always seems to accompany the rose of science and technology.  Surely we are grateful for the advances of modern times, and I cannot say that I want to completely return to the days gone by.  However, we are surely losing much of the personal and the "emotional content" of times when the availability of fewer machines made necessary the activity of more fertile minds (in the sense of personal relationship).  Most importantly, I believe that our understanding and capacity for relating to God is affected by the days in which we live.  As referenced yesterday, "Be still and know that I am God" must surely conflict with the pace of life as known in the 21st century (Psalm 46:10). 
     Perhaps it always has in some sense, and we are merely dealing with the particular challenge of our own time.  I do not know, but in 2011, my response to the present circumstance involves a return to the printed Bible as my primary reading and study source.  For many years, the excellent Scriptural sources available on the Internet have served as my main vehicle for devotion, study, and writing.  I will certainly still use these as helps in the coming year, with no qualms.  However, I look forward to the printed page in 2011, and the different sense that one has when reading typeset words on the page of a book, as opposed to brightly lit words on a screen.  No agenda here, by the way, and I do not mean to suggest this for anyone else.  I simply desire a more personal experience with God in the coming year, and with people as the natural, or supernatural, fruit.  Of course, the issue is far more a matter of the heart than the mode of reading and study, but for me, I do expect change for the better.  And I also plan on listening to more vinyl in 2011! 
(Oh yes, rest easy.  You will still receive these devotionals by email.  I never liked licking stamps! :) ).
"Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set."
(Proverbs 22:28)

Monday, December 27, 2010

"Who Is It?"

     Frances and I were considering "ancient" times - 25 years ago and before - when the ring of a telephone would bring mystery into our lives.
     "Who is it?"
    Before caller ID and cell phones, the jangling of our connected-to-the-wall units did not tell us who was calling.  We have all become so accustomed to the screens of our phones immediately introducing our callers that it seems completely strange that so much of the unknown accompanied the simple fact of a phone call.  And how risky it was to answer! :)
    Certainly our lives are lived more aware of things than ever before, at least in the natural sense.  Science and technology have brought instantly available information to us that previous generations would have viewed as miraculous.  Indeed, caller ID is a minor innovation compared to countless other wonders of an age when any subject imaginable can be instantly and thoroughly investigated by the mere touch of a computer key.  The prophet Daniel long ago foretold a generation when "knowledge shall be increased" (meaning greatly multiplied), and the last hundred years have exponentially transcended all boundaries of previous human understanding (Daniel 12:4). 
    In light of this information and knowledge advance in the natural realm, the question arises, Is the same true in the spiritual realm?  Have exponential increases of knowledge of the living and true God kept pace?  I do not know.  I suspect not, because of the growing spiritual and moral gloom that seems to be enshrouding all cultures and nations.  However, it is true that the Bible is more available to more people than at any other time in history, and the dissemination of Christian teaching and information fills airwaves and the Internet.  Opportunity to know and trust the Lord Jesus Christ surely seems more possible than ever, and doubtless people continue to meet Him and grow in His grace and knowledge during these fascinating days.
     Nevertheless, I wonder.  The knowledge of God, as promised and commanded by Scripture, involves time, patience and prayerful devotion if it is to be considered spiritually authentic.  Contemporary modes and methods of information gathering do no lend themselves to such depth and ongoing cultivation.  "Be still and know that I am God" may seem strange and almost impossible to a frenetic generation accustomed to bytes of information continually approaching and racing by (Psalm 46:10).
      "Who is it?"  The mysteries of long ago days when a phone call raised a question somehow causes me to wonder if our gains of science are not accompanied by losses of spirit.  Yes, "Be still and know" may be increasingly beyond comprehension and apprehension for a generation that sadly seems to fit our Lord's description of those who are...
"Ever learning, but never able to come to the knowledge of the the truth."
(II Timothy 3:7)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Oh, Daddy!

Dear Orange Moon Friends,
    I have shared this with you in the past, my favorite Christmas memory.  If titled, it would be called "Oh Daddy!"  Bear with me as I share it again for my personal blessing, and hopefully, yours.
   When our youngest daughter Emmie was 3 years old, she asked for a copy of the Disney film, "101 Dalmations."  She has seen it at the theatre during the summer and loved it, and wanted to be able to watch it at home also.  This was her number one gift request for the season, and a moderately priced one at that! 
     No problem, I decided, and went to the video store just down the street. "We're sold out," they said as for the first time I heard the words I would hear for months to come.  Every store told the same story.  As it turned out, the Disney Company was taking the video out of circulation at the time of Emmie's request, and people were buying up any remaining copies.  Several weeks of searching yielded no copy of the movie, and it seemed impossible that I would be able to fulfill my daughter's primary Christmas gift wish.
    I began to pray that the Lord would provide a copy, if He saw fit.  Several months passed, and the middle of December arrived with no copy of "101 Dalmations."  I continued to pray, but began to wonder if perhaps the Lord had, in His perfect wisdom, decided not to provide a copy of the movie.  I was well aware that sometimes our desires and requests are not for the best interests of ourselves or others, and that God's "no" is as loving as His "yes."  I continued to pray, but had just about given up the hope that Emmie would receive her most desired present on Christmas Day.
     A week or so before Christmas, I passed by the original video store.  "It can't hurt to stop and give it one more chance," I thought.  I walked into the store and immediately went to the service desk area.  "How can I help you, sir?" the nice girl behind the desk asked.   I told her my request, and I can hear her response as if it had just happened, rather than 15 years ago.  "Yes, we do have a copy, sir, just one actually."  I could barely hear the rest of her words because the "Yes" nearly drove my knees on the spot.  "My manager told me to sell this copy today if someone asked for it.  We had reserved it for someone a while back and they never came to pick it up."
     Sometimes God is so tangible that it feels like you can reach out and physically touch Him.  Or more literally, that He has touched you.  That moment in the video store is indelibly etched in my brain and heart, and sadly, the store closed its doors this past year.  I bought the movie - surprise! - and went my way rejoicing (but not knowing that a far greater blessing awaited me on Christmas morning).
    As parents are wont to do, we saved the big gift for last.  All the packages were opened, and Emmie seemed fine despite the fact that "101 Dalmations" had not appeared. In my mind, however, the drama was building and finally I said, as casually as possible, "Uh, Emmie, is that a package left behind the tree?"  She went to check, and I'm pretty sure immediately knew what she held in her hands.  Quickly tearing the wrapping from the package, a scene of speckled dogs greeted her on the cover of the video.  Far more than the moment in the video store, I'll never forget her response.
     "Oh Daddy!"  Emmie's thrilled exclamation was accompanied by her running into my arms to give me what remains the tightest and most grateful hug I have ever received.  We have the moment on film, thankfully, and while I haven't watched it in a few years, I don't need to.  Again, "Oh Daddy," the hug, the moment in the store, and the months of praying and searching are all indelibly written in my heart.
     There is a term in Scripture that seems to mirror Emmie's words.  "Abba Father" was uttered by the Lord Jesus during His earthly lifetime, and for believers, "God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying Abba Father" (Galatians 4:6).  Biblical language scholars are unsure of what the term actually means, but some believe it to have been an expression of endearment and intimacy.  Doubtless many such moments took place in the heart of our Lord as He walked the earth, and the same happens in us.  Sometimes the goodness of God is so real and near to us that we spontaneously burst forth with thoughts, feelings, and cries of affectionate and thrilled gratitude.  Emmie's outburst was directed toward me, and I will never forget the moment.  It has led, however, to far more moments during the last fifteen years, moments when I remember that time when God's perfect faithfulness was so tangibly revealed to me, to my daughter, and to our family.  Yes, Emmie's "Oh Daddy!" always causes me to feel and express the same toward my Father in Heaven.
"Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God."
(I John 3:1)

Friday, December 24, 2010

"The Scourge of Love"

    Born again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are called to both fear God and love Him (Mark 12:30; I Peter 2:17).  This seems contradictory, but we often encounter such a dual sensibility in our everyday experience
     The child knows that a parent who possesses only a hand of gentleness lacks a heart of true love (Proverbs 13:24).  The student who once despised the exacting teacher ultimately values a mentor originally viewed as a monster.  Friends who only smile and coddle are discovered to be no friend at all, and the Bible teaches that wounds as well as warmth are the hallmarks of true friendship (Proverbs 27:6).
    Both Old Testament and New call us to the understanding that fear of God comfortably and necessarily resides with love for God.  Indeed, the same fire that warms our hands is understood to be the fire that would burn if we related wrongly to it.  The believer who draws near to the comforting hearth of Christ well knows that his Heavenly Father loves him enough to administer keen pain when necessary along the path of righteousness.  "Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth" (Hebrews 12:6).
     I strongly believe that such firmness on God's part is an act of self sacrificial love.  His disposition of lovingkindness toward us is such that He desires always to relate to us in warmth and tender affection.  However, His perfect faithfulness sometimes requires "fiery indignation" administered toward anything in our lives that would harm us (Hebrews 10:27).
    We should rightly fear this expression of Divine faithfulness administered by the God who declares, "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten" (Revelations 3:19).  Regardless of how well we understand in principle that God's chastening is for our best, it will not feel like it when the scourge of love is upon us.  It will feel like a scourge.  Such awareness that our Father loves us enough to sacrifice His primary disposition of gentleness toward us in order to best serve our needs will go far directing our hearts and feet toward genuine godliness.  Even more, the fear of God will actual increase our love for Him as both the caress and the correction are seen as the perfect expressions of perfect faithfulness.
"Let them now that fear the LORD say, that His mercy endureth for ever."
(Psalm 118:4)

Thursday, December 23, 2010


(Friends:  apologies for this going out late today.  I have the flu, and therefore take no responsibility for any mindless ramblings below. :)  Merry Christmas to all of you. Glen).
    Various personality traits comprise the beautiful and "fitly joined together" tapestry of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:16).  Some believers are open and gregarious.  Some are quiet and reserved.  Most are somewhere in between.  All, however, are called to exhibit in their own way the kindness and graciousness of the Lord Jesus.
    "The servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves" (II Timothy 2:24-25).
      "Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness" (Colossians 3:12-14).
    Whatever our disposition, believers must exhibit a strong sense of approachability, of being "harmless as doves" (Matthew 10:16).  This does not preclude honesty and forthrightness as we "speak the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15).  It does mean, however, that we should never be justifiably accused of presumption, arrogance, harshness, or any sense of a self righteousness that justifies ourselves even as we condemn others.  Indeed, we are to act toward others as our Heavenly Father acts toward us (Matthew 5:48).  Through Christ, we find Him approachable and "harmless" as He always acts in and for our benefit.  Believer and unbeliever alike must sense the same in us, knowing that we will speak the truth, but in a graciousness and kindness that reflects that Love so gracious as to have borne the wounds of nails not for those who were His friends, but His foes...
"For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life."
(Romans 5:10)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

"To Give"

    When, through Christ's dynamic and loving presence in us, we devote ourselves to the meeting the needs of others, God devotes Himself to meeting our needs.
    "Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35).
    Certainly God ministers His supply to our needs through other people.  We rejoice as He does, and greatly appreciate the vessels through which His provision proceeds.  Our determination, however, always flows in direction of, "Lord, this day in my life is devoted to Your glory and the meeting of others' needs."  Thereby the two great commands of both Old and New Testaments are fulfilled, namely that we love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:30).  
    Looking to people for spiritual, emotional, relational, and physical provision can only lead to disappointment.  Our own clay feet should tell us this.  In even our best times of willingness, we may lack the capacity to do for others.  Or in times of ability, we may lack the willingness.  Those with whom we live our lives are no different.  We trust in dust if our focus regarding the supply to our needs looks horizontally rather than vertically.  "Vain is the help of man" (Psalm 60:11).
    Conversely, when we look up, we spiritually see the sight viewed directly by the Apostle John: " I saw Heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and He that sat upon him was called Faithful and True" (Revelation 19:11).  Indeed, no one has ever trusted in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and been disappointed for doing so.  And nobody ever will.  God's faithfulness "reacheth unto the clouds," and He will always be exactly whom He declares Himself to.  He will be faithful and true.
    Again, we acknowledge with much gratitude both the Giver and human vessel of His generosity as God supplies our needs.  However, our days begin at the altar of our Christ-enabled consecration: "Thy glory, Thy will, Thy eternal purpose in Christ, the needs of others, Heavenly Father.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.  Nothing else."  Upon this basis, we are assured of His consecration to our needs because we are walking in His Truth.  Yes, it is more blessed to give than to receive.
"Behold, the third time I am ready to come to you; and I will not be burdensome to you: for I seek not yours, but you: for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children."
(II Corinthians 12:14)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

"The Consideration of Christ"

    "Great is the mystery of godliness; God was manifest in the flesh" (I Timothy 3:16).
    The Apostle Paul presents an impossible dichotomy in his affirmation of the Lord Jesus Christ as the fusion of the Divine and the human.  By all logic, there should be no union between the Eternal and the temporal, the Infinite and the finite, the Spiritual and the earthly, and the Righteous and the unrighteous.
    "What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness?  And what communion hath light with darkness?" (II Corinthians 6:14).
     The answer is that righteousness has no fellowship with unrighteousness, and light has no communion with darkness.  Nor do the Infinite and finite unite, or the Spiritual and the earthly, or the Eternal and temporal.  By definition, God and man can have relationship as separate personal entities, but never should it be expected that they might be as one.  However, this is precisely the wonder of glory that sprang forth when the Holy Spirit overshadowed the womb of a woman to conceive the Christ who is God as man, and man as God.  The result?  The most fascinating reality to which our hearts and minds can attend themselves, the reality of the person of the Lord Jesus.
    In both Heaven and earth, there in no one like Him.  He is glorious beyond all imagining, and hundreds of millions fall before Him (Revelation 5:11).  He is approachable nevertheless, and our access to God is always and forever by the Lord Jesus (Hebrews 7:25).  Countless other enigmas reside in our Savior, mysteries that presently beckon our attention as the prelude into an eternal journey of discovery concerning who and what He is.  Indeed, many interests, responsibilities, and opportunities will invite our attention today.  None begin to compare with the consideration of Christ, however, and time spent pondering this wonder of glory is the best thing we will do in this day.
     Who is the Lord Jesus?  What has He done?  What is He doing?  And what does He promise to do forevermore for the glory of His Father and our benefit?  Forevermore won't be long enough to answer these questions, but this very hour offers to us glimmers of light that illuminate and remind us of the great mystery of God "manifest in the flesh."  We will be changed as we see and remember, changed for the present and eternal better.  In Heaven and earth, there is no one like the Lord Jesus, and there is no one else who can fill and fulfill our hearts.
"Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
(Philippians 2:9-11)

Monday, December 20, 2010

"A Son Is Given"

"And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed" (Luke 2:1).

"For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given" (Isaiah 9:6).

At the same time Caesar Augustus taxed the citizens of the Roman Empire, God gave to humanity the freest gift ever given. Thankfully, the former "came to pass" as the power of ancient Rome ultimately perished. The latter continues to be "given" unto all who will receive the Lord Jesus Christ, and to all who walk in the ongoing presence and power of His dynamic working on our behalf. "Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6).

It is vital that we understand continuing reception as the basis of continuing faithfulness. The born again believer is no less dependent on the Lord Jesus for the living of the Christian life as he was for the initial experience of salvation. "As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him" (Colossians 2:6). The Apostle Paul's command reveals God's perpetual giving of Christ to the Christian regarding our moment by moment need of life, supply, enabling, and His working in us "both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13). Our calling is to recognize and affirm our Lord's abundant provision of such grace, and also our abundant need for it. "Without Me, ye can do nothing... I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" (John 15:5; Philippians 4:13). From "nothing" without Him to "all things" through Him - clearly Christ is the source and dynamic of life both birthed and lived, as the hymnwriter's beautiful description proclaims, "Out of His infinite riches in Jesus, He giveth and giveth and giveth again."

Our great need is to recognize our great need as opportunity for to receive God's abundantly greater supply. "Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound" (Romans 5:20). The Gift that keeps on giving must be known as the Gift we keep on receiving. How is the Lord Jesus the supply for the issues we presently face? We may not know, but He is in fact the supply. More importantly, God does know and He is presently working to apply the power of His Son's presence in precise accordance with His sons and daughters' need. Our calling is to believe and to confess that the Lord Jesus is God's ongoing provision. Indeed, the Son who was "given" did not "come to pass." He came to remain, and He is presently "exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think" (Ephesians 3:20). Our confidence in God's promise determines our experience of such grace as we realize and rejoice in His ongoing provision of Christ...

"But my God shall supply all your need according to riches in glory by Christ Jesus."  (Philippians 4:19)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Song of the Angels? Part 3

The Bible teaches that angels are greater than human beings in their created substance and being. "What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? Or the son of man, that Thou visitest him? Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels" (Psalm 8:4-5). The faithful angels furthermore never sinned against God, having chosen to remain true to Him, and to their created purpose during the angelic rebellion fomented by Lucifer. Thus, they can be viewed as possessing greater moral being and integrity than humanity.

Nevertheless, the angels who serve God are declared by Scripture to also serve redeemed human beings. "But to which of the angels said He at any time, Sit on My right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool? Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation? (Hebrews 1:13-14). Greater in substance, and greater in character than humanity, the angels nevertheless humble themselves to minister unto their lessers. Does this remind you of Anyone?

"Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Philippians 2:5-8).

Angels sublimely bear and reflect the character of their Lord. Unseen, unheard, and unheralded, they joyfully serve us as the direct expression of their service to God. They have no desire for attention because Christ's "no reputation" and "form of a servant" shine forth in their hearts and from their being to glorify Him. Hundreds of millions and perhaps myriads more of these spiritual beings exist with little notice by humanity of their vital role in God's purposes and our lives (Revelation 5:11). This is just as they would have it, and we do well to remember and appreciate these servants who are humbly and invisibly involved in our lives.

We also avoid overemphasis and unbiblical notions about the angels. This series of essays began with the truth that angels are never directly mentioned as singers in Scripture (although the passage we mentioned in Job 38 may well allude to the angelic host singing at the time of the creation of the universe). Certainly they may sing, but the Bible does not speak to the issue. This is actually a minor point in terms of doctrine and truth, but other notions often perpetuated about the angelic host bear far greater ramifications. The question, therefore, is do our beliefs about angels and their involvement in human affairs faithfully reflect the teaching of the Bible? Our Lord and our Lord's angelic host would have us to be sure that they do. Great affection and appreciation for these "ministering spirits" will result, and greater thanksgiving to our Heavenly Father for the sublime gift of Michael, Gabriel, and the vast company of angels who so beautifully bear the character of the Lord Jesus.

"Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares."

(Hebrews 13:2)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Song of the Angels? Part 2

The possibility that the angelic host sang upon the creation of the universe (Job 38:3-7) seems appropriate in light of the truth they cannot sing the song of redemption as do those humans redeemed by the Lord Jesus Christ.

"They sang a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation" (Revelation 5:9).

"Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into" (I Peter 1:12).

The Bible teaches that a rebellion took place upon the angelic host at some time in the ancient past. Led by Lucifer, apparently one third of the angels chose to forsake their created purpose and identity in following the devil into opposition to God (Revelation 12:1-4). The remainder of the angels chose faithfulness to their Creator, and likely comprised the host that sang and shouted upon the occasion of God's forming of the universe. Therefore, they have no need of salvation, and no music of redemption in their hearts. The sang for joy at the time of creation. Conversely, redeemed human beings will sing eternally concerning the saving grace of the Lord Jesus.

The Apostle Peter wrote that angels "desire to look into" the things of the Gospel. The primary reason for this is likely the fact that the need of humanity for salvation brought forth realities from the heart of God that had never before been seen. For example, God's delight for mercy requires "vessels of mercy" if its display is to be known and appreciated (Micah 7:18; Romans 9:23). His amazing capacity to forgive would never have been known without our desperate need for forgiveness. This is not to imply that our Lord determined our sin in order to better reveal Himself. However, He has taken advantage of our sad plight as the means to display heretofore untold aspects of His goodness. Such wonders are the object of angels' keen interest.

A different sensibility would accompany the songs of the creation and redemption. Of the former, great awe, appreciation, and thrilled exuberance would have filled the hearts of the angelic host as they beheld God's wisdom, power, and artistic creativity (I would love to have been a fly on an angel's wing to have seen what they saw!). The redeemed, however, fall before the Lamb of God with hearts overwhelmed by the grace and mercy of a Lord whose wounds for our benefit remain etched upon His glorified body (John 20:27). Angels were awed by the magnitude of God as they sang for joy at the time of creation. Humans redeemed by Christ are overwhelmed by the mercy of God whenever we sing for love upon remembrance of our redemption.

We are not told that angels sang at any time during the earthly life and atoning work of the Lord Jesus as He rescued humanity from its terrible pit of sin. Perhaps this was because they were so awed and bewildered by the glories of grace and mercy revealed in Christ that words and music were not possible. Yes, they desire to "look into those things" about us that open wide the portals of their Creator and our Redeemer's amazing heart.

"But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus."
(Ephesians 2:4-7)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Song Of the Angels?

There is no direct reference in the Bible that speaks of angels singing. However, the book of Job contains an intriguing passage that may allude to the possibility.

"Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me. Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it? Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof; when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" (Job 38:3-7).

In other passages, Scripture references angels in similar terms. Many students of Scripture therefore conclude that the singing of the "morning stars" and the joyful cries of "the sons of God" upon the creation of the universe refer to the angelic host. If so, the scene is beautiful to imagine. The book of Revelation indicates that the Apostle John saw more than a hundred millions angels thronging the throne of God (Revelation 5:11). There may be more, and one can only imagine what the singing and shouting of such a myriad of spiritual beings would sound like.

Even more interesting is the question of why the angels would have sang and "shouted for joy" upon the occasion of creation. Our own experience of God's beautiful handiwork provides a possible answer. Let us recall that the universe in its present state is not perfect. A curse upon the natural order of things presently exists because of sin (Genesis 3:17). Creation is therefore damaged. Nevertheless, we behold beauty beyond all imagining when we still ourselves to see, feel, taste, touch and listen to the glories our Lord has made. When we do, our hearts are both awed and filled with joyful recognition of both the Maker and His masterpiece, of the Artist and His gallery.

How much more of the glory of God would a perfect angelic order have witnessed upon His creation of a perfect universe? We have no frame of reference whereby we might answer such a question. We can only know that it was a wonder to behold, and a glory about which to joyfully sing and shout. And we can anticipate a similar response upon our own perfected lips when God one day brings forth a new and perfect heaven and earth (II Peter 3:13). The redeemed of the human race will then joined the faithful angelic host to proclaim the wonders of the Creator and Redeemer, and David's prayer will finally be answered in full as we sing and shout for joy...

"Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us."

(Psalm 90:17)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

"Faithful and Just"

"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:9).

It is easy to understand God's faithfulness regarding forgiveness. The Old Testament declares, "There is forgiveness with Thee," and "He delighteth in mercy" (Psalm 130:4; Micah 7:18). The New Testament confirms, proclaiming "His dear Son, in whom ye have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins" (Colossians 1:13-14). Our Lord promises to forgive, and He has made a way through His Son to do so. Thus, mercy bestowed reveals that His Word is true and His heart faithful, as we would expect.

God's justice in the matter of providing forgiveness, however, involves more consideration. How does justice fit into His pardon for our sins? The atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ provides the answer.

"His blood is the propitiation not for our sins only, but for the sins of the whole world" (I John 2:2).

"This man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God" (Hebrews 10:12).

The Lord Jesus' redeeming actions on our behalf were so perfectly performed and completed that sin's death sentence has been served by the Lamb of God. Justice was done when the Father poured out His wrath on the Christ of Calvary, who was "made to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" (II Corinthians 5:21). Forgiveness withheld from all who plead the merits of the Lord Jesus would therefore constitute an unrighteous act of double jeopardy on God' part. The punishment would not fit the crime because perfectly adequate punishment has already been suffered for the crime. Such injustice on God's part is impossible because "He is the Rock, His work is perfect: for all His ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is He" (Deuteronomy 32:4).

To "confess" our sins literally means that we "say the same thing" about them that God does ("homologeo" in the original language of Scripture). He says that His Son "offered one sacrifice for sins forever," and that "there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins" (Hebrews 10:26). We must say the same thing, first in the new birth that begins our eternal blessing of being "the vessels of mercy," and then in the ongoing maintenance of a clear conscience as we live our Christian lives (Romans 9:23; Hebrews 10:22). By His own determined standard of justice, God must forgive those who come to Him by the Blood-stained way of mercy He paved through His Son. Therefore, we plead both faithfulness and justice as we confess our sins in humble contrition, and as both we and the Father remember the perfectly atoning death sentence already served on the Son beloved of His heart, and of ours.

"Justice and judgment are the habitation of Thy throne: mercy and truth shall go before Thy face."

(Psalm 89:14)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

"Live and Work"

The Old Testament primarily chronicles the attempt of a nation to relate to God on a contingency basis. "Ye shall therefore keep My statutes, and My judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the LORD" (Leviticus 18:5).

Conversely, the New Testament's prevailing theme involves the gift of a free relationship of grace and truth offered to all, with emphasis upon an individual and personal bond with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. "But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith" (Galatians 3:11).

The Old Covenant failed to justify humanity, as God knew beforehand that it would. The law of Moses therefore served as a "schoolmaster, to bring us to Christ" (Galatians 3:24). It revealed the impossibility of a works-based contingency agreement between a perfect God and imperfect man. The law exposed the dominion of sin that rules the heart of Adam's lost race, leaving us with no hope of approaching God by our own merit and effort. "By the works of the law shall no flesh be justified" (Galatians 2:16).

The New Testament succeeds in justifying all who come to God by receiving a relationship with Him as a "free gift" (Romans 5:15). "Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ," providing undeserved and unexpected favor to humanity, and also the light of reality concerning God and ourselves (John 1:14). Grace and truth unveiled the righteousness that rules the heart of the Lord Jesus, and which God imparts to the believing heart as the freest gift ever given. "It was not written for His sake alone, that it was imputed to Him; but for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on Him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead" (Romans 4:23-24). A certain hope is thus provided in the New Covenant because God takes upon Himself the doing of that which only He can do. "Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us... righteousness" (I Corinthians 1:30).

Under the law, man worked in order to relate to God. Under grace, man works because He relates to God. Rather than work and live, He lives and works. Relationship through Christ begins in this merciful dynamic of grace, and it ever continues accordingly. "As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him, rooted and built up in Him, established in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving" (Colossians 2:6-7). The order must never be reversed in our understanding of relationship with God. Certainly we expect "the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ," and we encourage each often to "maintain good works" (Philippians 1:11; Titus 3:8). We do so, however, always in the light of living relationship as the source and supply of all genuine devotion and obedience. We live, and then we work.

Tiredness and discouragement along the path of righteousness can always be traced, in some manner, to reversal of the Divine order and sequence. Our spiritual enemies ever seek to enshroud the wonder of relationship to God provided as a free gift. We must ever seek to remember and rejoice in the blessed wonder of Christ's merits being the basis of communion with our Heavenly Father. We "live through Him," and then and only then, we "do all things through Christ which strengtheneth us" (I John 4:9; Philippians 4:13).

"Then said they unto Him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom he hath sent."

(John 6:28-29)

Monday, December 13, 2010

"God, Large and Small"

Were it possible to think of God in terms of size, we would have to conclude that He is both infinitely large, and infinitesimally small.

The universe fits this description (although as a created thing, it is, by definition, finite). Journey out into the far reaches of space at the speed of light, and you will journey for literally billions of years without approaching the outer boundaries of creation. Conversely, a voyage into the atom and its untold myriad of particles, sub particles, and bewildering forces would involve no less time, and no less failure to enter into the essence of the small.

God made the universe in this breathtaking fashion in order to reveal Himself. "The invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made" (Romans 1:20). He would be known as both large and small. That is, we must be awed by our Creator to the degree that conceptual thought and language are realized as inadequate in pondering and describing the wonder that is God. However, we must also be sure that the God of the heavens is known as the God of the heart. He is approachable, and is in fact nearer to us than we are to ourselves. "In Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). God must be seen as both the Beyond of the measureless and the Baby of the manger.

In this light both blinding and illuminating, we realize the seeming impossibility of relating to God, and the seeming impossibility of not doing so. Indeed, how can the finite approach the Infinite? But then, how can we fail to see, know, and commune with the One who in every moment "giveth to all life and breath and all things?" (Acts 17:25). There are no answers to these questions. There is rather a Person in whom the measureless and the manger meet to form the most wonderful reality in God's eternity and in His creation. There is the Lord Jesus Christ.

"In Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily" (Colossians 2:9).

In a Bible of mind and heart-boggling declarations, the Apostle Paul's statement that the All of God somehow finds residence in the limits of the "bodily" may be the most bewildering. Indeed, there is no one like the Lord Jesus. He is God, He is all God. But He is man, He is all man. He is the Uncreated, but He is also "the beginning of the creation of God" (Revelation 3:14). He is measureless in His being and personhood, but He is forever housed in the soul and body of a real humanity. He is "the Savior of all men," but He is also Judge who will one day say to unbelievers, "Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire" (I Timothy 4:6; Matthew 25:41). In His earthly life, the Apostle John rested his head upon the chest of the Lord Jesus. In the glory of Heaven, John "fell at His feet as dead" upon beholding the risen Christ (John 13:25; Revelation 1:17). As one writer of old described, our Lord is "the Beyond in the midst." In the Lord Jesus, the infinite and the infinitesimal of God unite to reveal both a glory and a humility that drive us to our faces even as they lift us to our feet.

God, large and small. We must know Him in both expressions of His being, nature, character and way. We must feel a great sense of futility when faced with the challenge of knowing a being so vast that "the heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee" (II Chronicles 2:6). But we must also rejoice in a great assurance of faith that through Christ, the trusting heart can know God more intimately than anyone else. The Beyond is in the midst. The infinitely large and the infinitesimally small unite in the amazing person of the Lord Jesus. Perhaps more amazing, they unite in us as God, large and small, graces our hearts with the vivid scene of that which cannot be seen.

"Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth."

(John 9:41)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Reality of the Soul

The naturalist declares that human consciousness evolved from mindless processes of physics, chemistry, biology and anthropology. He proposes that our capacity for self awareness, rational thought, the capacity for reason and the possibility of considering the fact of consciousness originated not in the mind of a knowing, thinking God, but rather in soulless matter and energy. The naturalist's view is that humanity's vast capacity for a conscious, knowing existence somehow sprang forth from conscious nothingness.

The average person finds this notion to be counterintuitive. The begetting of soul by the soulless seems impossible, and the strained science of the naturalist offers no viable explanation for what could only be termed "miraculous" if it actually happened. Such skepticism is the only reasonable course for anyone who realizes that consciousness does not actually exist according to the naturalist's perspective. Indeed, the average person's concept of knowing and self awareness involves the metaphysical interpretation that such inward experience of our being and personhood is real and something beyond physical process. This is not the case if heart and mind are merely the fortuitous and very temporary combination of atoms. The skepticism of the man on the street regarding "the science of consciousness" is therefore perfectly justifiable.

"The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth His handiwork" (Psalm 19:1).

"This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil" (John 3:19).

The truth of the matter is that the naturalist possesses a real soul, along with every human being. That soul does not reject reality because of intellect, but because of fear of the Soul of the supernatural. As Adam hid from God in the trees after he sinned, so does the naturalist hide in the forest of rejecting the One to whom he knows he is accountable. The issue is first and foremost heart rather than mind. The truth does not allow the naturalist to think, say and do the things he wants to do. In essence, it does not allow him to be the god he desires to be. It also allows him - for now - to ignore the Voice that calls to him deep in his consciousness, as it did to the first man: "Where art thou?" (Genesis 3:9).

The born again believer in the Lord Jesus Christ has a simple message for the naturalist: "Your heart is real. Your mind is real. And Somebody is bearing witness in the depths of your real soul to open your heart and mind to the truth." Much debate about science and pseudo-science may be somewhat helpful, and we need not fear discourse with the unbeliever. However, at the end of the day, the naturalist's problem is the same as that of every lost son and daughter of Adam. He is willfully hiding in the trees from that which he knows deep within to be the truth. He lusts to be his own god, and to fulfill his own desires rather than those of his Creator. He rejects the reality of his very being and personhood. But God does not. Nor must we as we pray and bear witness to the real and eternal souls He made, and that will exist forever in either the joyous glory of His presence, or the terrible hell of His wrath.

"The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good."

(Psalm 14:1)

"Whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before Him."

(Ecclesiastes 3:14)

Friday, December 10, 2010

"From Now"

(Thanks to my dear brother and pastor friend Randy for the reference to "serving grace.")

    Born again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ always begin from now in our relationship with God.
    "I am... the beginning" (Revelation 1:8).
     We cannot change our past.  We can repent concerning it, as the Holy Spirit convicts and corrects.  We will live with its consequences, for good and for ill.  And we will remember it both fondly and regretfully.  But we cannot change it. 
    Concerning the sins and errors of the past, this is a hard truth that would be unbearable were it not for the grace and mercy of the Lord Jesus, and were it not for His ongoing call that we come to Him in the present  moment.  He is our Beginning, and wherever we are along the path of righteousness, the Spirit of God beckons us to see this moment as both privilege and responsibility to come to the throne of grace for the purpose of living relationship with our Heavenly Father.
    "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price" (Isaiah 55:1).
     The prophet's promise that we may buy "without money and without price" speaks to the matter of God's Christ-paved path into the present hour of His presence.  By implication, if one has no money to buy and eat, one has acted irresponsibly in the past.  In the natural order of affairs, such a person should not eat (II Thessalonians 3:10).  Our Heavenly approach and access, however, makes a way for the irresponsible to come nevertheless.  Indeed, if we wait until we perceive ourselves worthy to approach our Father in Heaven, we shall wait a very long time.
    In Christ, new beginnings are perpetually generated by the grace of God.  We begin now, from wherever we may be, or not be.  As we do, that is, as we believe that we may come and as we actually do so, fresh discoveries of the power of our Lord's atoning sacrifice and glorious resurrection await us.  We shall find "serving grace" united with saving grace whereby we more consistently honor our Lord in thought, attitude, word, and deed.  We will know His wondrous love in continually greater measure, and we will return such love in holy response.  Let us begin with our blessed Lord, who is the Beginning.  The writer of Hebrews declares that the Lord Jesus is "now appearing in the presence of God for us" (Hebrews 9:24).  Let us therefore join Him in appearing in that same presence.  Yes, let us begin from now.
"Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light: which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy."
(I Peter 2:9-10)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Through the Mist, To the Stars

    Frances and I returned home this morning from visiting with our friend Jay in Maumelle, Arkansas, as mentioned in yesterday's devotional.
    We needed to be in Mobile by mid morning today, so we left Maumelle at 11:00 p.m. last night.  The first  75 miles or so was uneventful, and an excellent night for driving.  The weather was clear and very cold, and the traffic was light.  We settled in for an 8-9 drive, unsuspecting of the challenge and blessing that awaited us.
    First, the challenge.  Somewhere in southern Arkansas, we drove into an icy fog unlike anything we had ever seen.  Visibility was literally less than 10 feet, and the mist tossed and swirled in a manner that nearly precluded seeing beyond the hood of the car.  Had it been possible, we would have pulled over and not attempted to drive through the gloom.  We were on narrow, backroad highways, however, and there was little room on the shoulder of the roads.  Parking would have been dangerous because the near zero visibility could have caused an oncoming driver to come upon us with almost no forewarning before possibly crashing into us.  To make things more, shall we say, exhilarating, our GPS seemed to be affected by the atmospheric conditions.  Several times, the device either lost its signal, or went haywire with false readings.  We missed a turn at one point and had to backtrack to find a road that was completely invisible until you were right upon it.  The foggy conditions continued for nearly 100 miles, and we rarely were able to move at speeds more than 50 mph.
    Then, as suddenly as we drove into the icy shroud, we drove out of it.  You can imagine the relief we felt, and my grip on the wheel loosened as we set forth to freely make our way home.  Again, I've never driven in such conditions, and I hope never to do so again.  I never really felt fear or even much nervousness, but it was a moment by moment challenge to keep my eyes wide open for any object that might appear so quickly that I would have had instantly hit the brakes to avoid a collision.   
    After a few minutes of returning to a clear, cold, gorgeous night, Frances noticed through the windshield "how beautiful the stars are."  Since I was driving, however, I couldn't really see the scene she described.  "I'd almost like to stop the car and get out to look at them, " I commented.  "If it weren't so cold, I'd completely agree with you" responded Frances.
    I drove on for several minutes thinking about the stars, and then decided that this was an opportunity we couldn't miss.  Frances and I have lived our lives in the ambient light of the city where stargazing allows for very little real vision of the heavens.  In the middle of what seemed like nowhere, however, the only lumination for miles around was the headlights of our car.  I therefore pulled over to the side of the road, and we got of the car into the subfreezing temperatures and the quiet loneliness of a deserted - except for us - country highway.
    Then we looked up.  There really aren't words for the sight we beheld.  I'm sure that many of you have seen it.  The sky was literally dusted with stars.  Unlike our city night scenes where you can actually count the pinpoints of visible light, the darkness of a secluded country road unveiled to even the naked eye the vision of what must have been literally hundreds of thousands of stars.  They filled the sky almost like the mist we had just driven through.  The scene was overwhelming, and as tears streamed down our faces, we knew that God has chosen to bless us with an experience of His glory and wonder that we will never forget.
     "He made the stars also" (Genesis 1:16).  Seeming almost like an afterthought, Genesis tells us that the luminaries of the night sky are the handiwork of the Christ who declared, "I am the light of the world" (John 9:5).  Believers know this, of course, but appreciation of the glorious wonder requires at least some experience to even begin to fully appreciate.  Interestingly, however, darkness is also required to give us greater awareness of the stars' majesty and Maker.  The blacker the night, the brighter the stars.  For Frances and I last night, a long drive through a foggy, icy mist also provided backdrop for the gallery we were invited to behold.  I think our enjoyment of the starscene was all the more realized because of the challenge we faced in the mist.  Surely there's no need for me to provide spiritual commentary for this blessed suggestion.  You can easily draw your own.  Suffice it to say that we would have driven a thousand miles through that fog to have experienced our five minutes of beholding the firmament that so declares the glory of God.  Or, as the Apostle Paul declared...
"I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us."
(Romans 8:18)
"He telleth the number of the stars; He calleth them all by their names" (Psalm 147:4).

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

"Face To Face"

(From the great room of our dear friend Jay Grelen, Maumelle, Arkansas).
    We're visiting Jay for a whirlwind trip to record his Christmas book, "The River Whispers Her Name."  We've been reading the book in our family for nearly ten years each season, and recently came up with the idea of producing a CD version.  Originally, Frances was tabbed to read the book, but the narrator of "The River" is male.  It just didn't seem appropriate for her to do so, and who better to do the reading than the author himself? (who has a very nice voice, by the way). 
    My history with Jay is very interesting.  He wrote columns for the Mobile Press Register from 1993-1999.  He became a beloved figure in our city during that time, and the mention of his name still brings smiles to faces, and the comment, "I cut out and saved a bunch of his columns when he was here."  Interestingly, Jay and I never met face to face while he lived in Mobile.  We had one brief contact by mail when I responded to a column he wrote about his beloved daughters, Samantha and Rebekah.  We still have his response, "Dear Mr. Davis..."
    When Jay and his family left Mobile, I was disappointed, along with a lot of other folks in town.  I found his email address at the Daily Oklahoman in Oklahoma City, where he had taken a position as a columnist.  I wrote Jay to tell him how much we would miss his writing.  And, I did something I have never done before or since.  I asked if he would be interested in receiving the Orange Moon devotionals, which we had just started writing and sending out the year before.  Jay is the only person, other than family, to whom we have ever made that suggestion completely unsolicited (we only send the Orange Moon messages to those who have requested them, or whom a friend has recommended).  Little did I know the blessing of friendship and fellowship in Christ that would result.
    As he is to so many, Jay is an inspiration, example, and expression of our Lord's character to us.  Jay is Jay.  What you see is what you get, and what you get is what you see.  That's not something you can say about a lot of people (although let me say that so many of you who read the devotionals fit that bill also).  Jay and I have spent hundreds of hours on the phone, and sent thousands of emails back and forth in the last ten years.  Our face to face time, however, has been limited to perhaps 5-10 hours during his infrequent returns to Mobile over the years.  To have a day in his direct presence, therefore, is a gift of God to me and Frances (who feels the same affection for our dear friend and brother.)
    There is an obvious spiritual analogy in this.
    "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face" (I Corinthians 13:12).
     One day we shall see our Savior.  We will hear His voice.  We will touch Him, and perhaps even the prints of nails and the wound of a spear.  We will smell His holy fragrance, and in every way, our glorified senses will rejoice in the joy of "face to face"  (as Frances just said, "that's what we have senses for!").  As the old hymn so beautifully expresses, "What a day that will be when my Jesus I shall see!"  The thought is beyond thrilling, and in this brief time with Jay, our Heavenly Father has given us a foretaste of an unspeakably wonderful Day to come.
    On the way to Maumelle, Jay and I were talking by phone about our limited face to face time, and how different it would be to have more than a few hours in each other's direct presence.  It goes without saying that it's been as blessed as we expected it to be.  I thank God for the gift of this wonderful time, and again, for the hope and expectation it foreshadows.  We shall see the Lord Jesus face to face, and in that holy moment, every longing and dream of our hearts will be filled and fulfilled forevermore.  What a Day that will be...
"For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words."
(I Thessalonians 4:16-17)
(Personal note to Jamey: we'll be going back by your route through Memphis, my friend.  There's some dark and lonely stretches of highway between Mobile and Little Rock, especially when traversed in the middle of the night!)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Mercy Received, Mercy Given

    Our capacity for mercy flows from our personal reception and realization of God's mercy provided in the Lord Jesus Christ.
    "Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful" (Luke 6:36).
    To the degree we realize how patient and forgiving our Heavenly Father is to us, we will distribute the same to our offenders.  Recall the servant in the Gospel of Matthew who had been forgiven a great debt, but who would not bestow the same mercy to one who owed him a pittance (Matthew 18:23-35).  The servant had been forgiven what he owed.  His realization of mercy, however, was faulty.  He either quickly forgot or simply didn't appreciate the kindness of his creditor and the vastness of his absolved debt. 
    Born again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ require God's ongoing mercy as we live our Christian lives.  In the absolute sense, our sins are forever and irrevocably forgiven.  "Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin" (Romans 4:8).  Concerning our walk with God, however, acknowledging and confessing our transgressions is required for the maintaining of a clear conscious and ongoing communion with God.  "If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another and the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all sin" (I John 1:7).  Remembering that God delights in mercy, and responding by humble and sincere confession of sin, maintains the awareness of our personal reception of His abundant pardon.  Upon this basis, we then find ourselves able to bestow mercy upon others as the pardon we consciously receive focuses our attention far more upon our own sins than those of others.
    The debt owed by other people to us pales in comparison to the sins for which God has forgiven us.  Our Heavenly Father commands that we forgive as we have been forgiven, and He enables us by His indwelling Spirit to "be ye therefore merciful as your Father in heaven is merciful."  Much remembrance of His mercy personally received will go far in much determination and enabling to bestow mercy upon others.  The Lord Jesus is revealed thereby, our hearts are kept in peace, and the Gospel is proclaimed in a spiritually tangible expression that leads others to our God of mercy.
"Freely ye have received, freely give."
(Matthew 10:8)