Monday, January 31, 2011

"Foolish Questions"

"This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men. But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain" (Titus 3:7-9).
The Apostle Paul would have us focused on matters of practical godliness rather than mental exercises that fascinate our curiosity rather than enable faith and obedience. We are to emphasize the doing of God's Word, and thus the truths that lead us to knowing our Lord in a manner that causes us to be "changed into His image" (II Corinthians 3:18).
Throughout the history of the church, "foolish questions" have led to unnecessary division in the body of Christ. Believers are also distracted from this moment's matter of faith and obedience when we spend too much time seeking a resolution of theological and philosophical issues that God chose not to provide in Scripture. We therefore do well to open our Bibles in search of the Truth that illuminates, encourages and challenges us to genuinely love the Lord Jesus Christ in spirit and in truth, and to love people as the direct expression of our devotion to God.
Solomon declared that God hates "he that soweth discord among the brethren" (Proverbs 6:19). Satan is that sower. He ever seeks to maximize the minimal, and emphasize the inconsequential. Conversely, the Holy Spirit works in us "both to will and to do of God's good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13). His loving purpose is to originate, motivate and empower loving purpose in us. Rather than foolish questions, our Lord leads us to sanctifying Truth whereby He amazes and enraptures us by His wondrous Person, His dynamic presence, and the privilege of trusting and obeying Him as energized by the indwelling Holy Spirit. Those occupied by so amazing a gift have little time or tolerance for ivory tower contemplation of questions that, if answered, would foster not godliness, but further distracting and deceiving curiosity.
"Foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes."
(II Timothy 2:23)

Saturday, January 29, 2011

"A Work So Complete"

    The writer of Hebrews provides one of the most stark expressions of the contrast between the covenant of law and the covenant of God's grace and truth in the Lord Jesus Christ.
   "We are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: but this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; from henceforth expecting till His enemies be made His footstool. For by one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified" (Hebrews 10:10-14).
     The blood of bulls and goats offered by the Old Testament priests did not take away sins, but rather foreshadowed the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ that perfectly succeeded in justifying those who believe.  God the Father was not satisfied by Levitical offerings for sin, but He was so pleased and appeased by the offering of the Lord Jesus that His Son could sit down at His right hand.  And the priests of old offered many sacrifices that "can never take away sins."  Our great High Priest "offered one sacrifice for sins forever," and then sat down from a work so complete that "by one offering He hath perfected forever them that that are sanctified."
    Failure to understand the qualitative and quantitative difference between law and grace leads to much confusion, and much weakness in "bearing the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:11).  Mixing the two covenants, a common error, results in the power of God's grace in the Lord Jesus being diluted both in our joyful apprehension, and in the practical enabling that results from knowing how near God has drawn us to Himself in Christ. 
     The law focuses our attention primarily on our doings - "the man that doeth them (the works of the law) shall live in them" (Galatians 3:12).  Grace directs our gaze to the blessed "looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith" - "we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works" (Hebrews 12:2; Ephesians 2:10).  We either attempt to live from the root of our fallen humanity, or from the dynamic source of the crucified and risen Christ who is "the power of God unto salvation" (Romans 1:16).   "The law could not do" declared the Apostle Paul (Romans 8:3).  Conversely, "God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work" (II Corinthians 9:8).  The choice is clear, and the best course obvious.  May we thus "grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (II Peter 3:18).
"The letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life."
(II Corinthians 3:6)



(a repeat from last year)
The spacebar on my laptop computer is currently not working well.  It is likely fixable with a can of compressed air that will remove whatever obstruction under the key is causing it to malfunction, but for now it is quite an irritant.  My computer works nevertheless, and thus I have in my hands a machine that allows me to almost instantly send and receive information to and from the entire world.  Previous generations could not even imagine such an opportunity.  That I am irritated by a sticking spacebar is therefore laughable and absurd.
    I am reminded of the truth that one of the effects of sin in the human race is that we are plagued by nature with a sense of entitlement.  "Ye shall be as gods" claimed the devil to our original forefathers (Genesis 3:5).  Adam and Eve embraced the lie, and woven into the flesh of the human race is the dark notion that good things should flow to us because we are who we are and what we are.  As the wayward son demanded of his father, "Give me the portion of goods that falleth to me," so we believe ourselves to be worthy of the portion due to us because deep within our fleshly humanity, we fancy ourselves to the a god worthy of the abundance due to such beings (Luke 15:2).
    Nothing could be further from the truth.  "The soul that sinneth, it shall die... all have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (Ezekial 18:4; Romans 6:23).  The human race is not divine, and is not even "human," as God defines humanity.  In and of ourselves, we are rather flesh, flesh inhabited and dominated by a "law of sin" that would utterly and eternally condemn us apart from our Creator's intervention (Genesis 6:3; Romans 7:23).  According to the standard of the God who made us, the only standard that matters, we are worthy of "the second death" and "the lake of fire" spoken of in the Book of Revelation (Revelation 20:14-15). Any notion of entitlement is therefore grievous deception, and must be rejected whenever we sense its presence in us.     
    A gracious God "giveth to all life and breath and all things," and "hath not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us after our iniquities" (Acts 17:25; Psalm 103:10).  He desires to redeem us from the hell to which we are actually entitled, and at the greatest cost to Himself.  Indeed, the only truly human being who ever lived, the Lord Jesus Christ, was worthy of every good thing His Father could bestow upon Him.  Instead, "though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich" (II Corinthians 8:9).  In this context, our next breath is known and received as the most marvelous gift of grace, and all sense of entitlement is rightly banished by the loving and amazed sense of gratitude that floods the trusting heart.  Entitled?  Never.  Grateful?  Always.
"Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: that as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord."
(Romans 5:20-21)
"Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness."
 (Romans 4:4-5)

Friday, January 28, 2011

"From Dust To Family"

    If some terrible and all consuming fire devoured all created things, including the universe, angelic and human beings, and all physical reality, that which would remain would be the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  God would remain.
    "I am the LORD, and there is none else" (Isaiah 45:5).
    Only God exists independently, in and of Himself.  "From everlasting" He dwelt in and as His triune being, three glorious and ineffable Persons united in One, relating to each other in the perfection of Divine Love, and completely fulfilled and without need for anything or anyone.  "From everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God" (Psalm 90:2).  The heart of reality, therefore, is God and God alone, or God and God not alone in the glorious relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
   We need to often retreat in our hearts and minds to this core truth and essence.  We do so not to understand, but to bow in the redeeming and enlivening truth that tells us we cannot understand.  No greater light shines upon us and into us than the blinding and illuminating glory of "I am the Lord and there is none else."  We lose ourselves in the fiery blaze of Divine glory, only to find ourselves in the enveloping warmth of Divine goodness expressed among Three "from everlasting," but now known by multitudes "to everlasting."  Indeed, perhaps the most amazing prayer uttered in Scripture, a request of the Lord Jesus, beckons the Father to call us into an eternally ancient wonder of Love beyond any glory we can presently begin to ponder:
    "Father, I will that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am; that they may behold My glory, which Thou hast given Me: for Thou lovedst Me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, the world hath not known Thee: but I have known Thee, and these have known that Thou hast sent Me. And I have declared unto them Thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me may be in them, and I in them" (John 17:24-26).
    There is no depth low enough wherein we can bow heart and knee to adequately humble ourselves in acknowledging the grace of this prayer.  Nor is there any summit high enough to adequately express the exaltation to which our Lord Jesus has redeemed us.  Forever the trusting sons and daughters of God in Christ will seek those depths even as our Father joyfully meets us in those summits.  We were dust, and even more, we were sinful dust.  Now we are family, redeemed unto Blood-bought and Spirit-birthed relationship with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  No depth low enough, no summit high enough...
"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 2:4-8)


Thursday, January 27, 2011

"Receiving... Giving Forth"

    "Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.  Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; be ye followers of God, as dear children" (Ephesians 4:31-32; 5:1).
    The Apostle Paul's admonition speaks of an atmosphere in which born again believers are called to live with each other, an environment of kindly good will generated by the attitude of our Lord's own heart.
     We are "dear children" to our Heavenly Father.  Growing awareness and understanding of this gracious disposition provides the basis for our following Him in such bestowal upon our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Indeed, it is difficult to maintain a harsh attitude toward fellow Christians whom we perceive to have offended us when we remember the lavish mercy bestowed upon us by God - "forgiving one another as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you."
     It is a simple truth, but one greatly challenged by our spiritual enemies.  We are to continually give forth the kindness we continually receive.  "He that believeth on Me, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water" (John 7:38).  The believer consistently aware and overwhelmed by the kindness, tenderheartedness and forgiveness of the Lord Jesus is a well wherein His living waters do not stagnate, but rather "spring up into everlasting life" (John 4:14).  Yes, we give forth of goodness that which we receive.  And we receive so much.
"Freely ye have received, freely give."
(Matthew 10:8)


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

"Beyond All Understanding"

    "Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6-7).
    The Apostle Paul's promise of God's peace that "passeth all understanding" is only possible in context of life's challenges, difficulties and pains. 
    When the waters upon which we sail seem calm and skies are blue, the sense of peace is understandable.  When our hearts are tranquil in the midst of storms, however, something inside of us transcends normal human understanding.  This something is actually Someone.
     "Thou wilt keep Him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusteth in Thee" (Isaiah 26:3).
     The Prince of peace is Himself our peace.  We experience Him by prayerfully and thankfully trusting Him, whether in blessing or in trial.  The Lord Jesus Christ is no less able to keep our hearts and minds in the latter than in the former.  Indeed, our greatest knowing of peace actually comes to us when the trials of life press us beyond the calm known in still waters.   "The peace which passeth all understanding" involves experience of our Lord's person in a manner that transports us beyond the confines of earthly reality.  Normal explanation cannot account for the soul at peace when winds are blowing, waves are crashing, and our ship seems to be taking on water.
    Born again believers must expect the keeping of our hearts and minds.  We must anticipate peace which passeth all understanding.  The issue is not ourselves, but the One who inhabits our spirits.  "My expectation is from Him" (Psalm 62:5).  Is the Lord Jesus present, willing and able to reveal the peace of His heart when the winds, waves and waters tempt us to fear?  The Biblical answer is a resounding "Yes!"  Our answer must be the same.  Any lesser response leads us into delusion and the failure to avail ourselves of that peace our Savior purchased for us at the highest cost to Himself.  Yes, He is our peace, in this moment and forevermore.
"Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."
(John 14:27)


Tuesday, January 25, 2011


(a repeat from last year)

The spacebar on my laptop is currently not working well.  It is likely fixable with a can of compressed air that will remove whatever obstruction under the key is causing it to malfunction, but for now it is quite an irritant.  My computer works nevertheless, and thus I have in my hands a machine that allows me to almost instantly send and receive information to and from the entire world. Previous generations could not even imagine such an opportunity.  That I am irritated by a sticking spacebar is therefore laughable and absurd.

I am reminded of the truth that one of the effects of sin in the human race is that we are plagued by nature with a sense of entitlement.  "Ye shall be as gods" claimed the devil to our original forefathers (Genesis 3:5).  Adam and Eve embraced the lie, and woven into the flesh of the human race is the dark notion that good things should flow to us because we are who we are and what we are.  As the wayward son demanded of his father, "Give me the portion of goods that falleth to me," so we believe ourselves to be worthy of the portion due us because deep within our fleshly humanity, we fancy ourselves to be a god worthy of the abundance due to such beings (Luke 15:2).

Nothing could be further from the truth.  "The soul that sinneth, it shall die. . .all have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (Ezekiel 18:4; Romans 6:23).  The human race is not divine, and is not even "human" as God defines humanity.  In and of ourselves, we are rather flesh, flesh inhabited and dominated by a "law of sin" that would utterly and eternally condemn us apart from our Creator's intervention (Genesis 6:3; Romans 7:23).  According to the standard of the God who made us, the only standard that matters, we are worthy of "the second death" and "the lake of fire" spoken of in Book of Revelation (Revelation 20:14,15).  Any notion of entitlement is therefore grievous deception, and must be rejected whenever we sense its presence in us.

A gracious God "giveth to all life and breath and all things," and "hath not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us after our iniquities" (Acts 17:25; Psalm 103:10).  He desires to redeem us from the hell to which we are actually entitled, and at the greatest cost to Himself.  Indeed, the only truly human being who ever lived, the Lord Jesus Christ, was worthy of every good thing His Father could bestow upon Him. Instead, "though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich" (II Corinthians 8:9).  In this context, our next breath is known and received as the most marvelous gift of grace, and all sense of entitlement is rightly banished by the loving and amazed sense of gratitude that floods the trusting heart.   Entitled?   Never.  Grateful?  Always.

"Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound:  that as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord." 
(Romans 5:20,21)
"Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.  But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness."
(Romans 4:4,5)

Monday, January 24, 2011

"The Green Of the Pasture"

         The replacement of lust for what we do not have by thanksgiving for what we do have is a primary pathway into living experience of God.
     "Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee" (Hebrews 13:5).
     The writer of Hebrews confirms this truth by declaring that the basis of overcoming covetousness and experiencing contentment lies in the remembrance of our Lord's abiding presence.  "He is thy life" declared Moses in the Old Testament.  "To live is Christ" declares Paul in the New (Deuteronomy 30:20; Philippians 1:21).  "Such things as ye have" only have true value if they somehow serve to enhance experience of the Christ who alone is the true fulfillment of our hearts.  The things we don't have may well be withheld because our Heavenly Father knows the danger they would be to our gaze upon the Lord Jesus as the Life of our lives.
     The sheep are prone to look upon the grass of other hills as greener.  The Shepherd knows this to be an optical illusion, and He knows also that savage wolves hide in the nooks and crannies of other pastures.  Thus He calls us to enjoy the grass He has chosen in the fields He lovingly plowed, planted, cultivated and protects just for us.  If we have trusted in the Lord Jesus and submitted ourselves to His glory and will, the fulfillment of our hearts is as near as the prayer which replaces lust with gratitude.  This includes things, people, circumstances, conditions, callings, careers, and the realities of this present hour in our lives.  The Lord Jesus is not the "I Will Be" of tomorrow.  He is the "I Am" of today (John 8:58).  He is the green of the pasture in which He has placed us, and we may feed in this moment as contentment for "such things as ye have" is found in such a Savior as we have.
"I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ."
(Philippians 3:8)


Sunday, January 23, 2011

"The Scent of Water"

Friends: that I recall in these twelve years, I do not think I have ever written an Orange Moon devotional for a Sunday (I don't think it appropriate to distract from your pastors' preaching and teaching).  Technically, this is still Saturday where I am, however, so I taking this one liberty.  Thanks, Glen.

    "For there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease. Though the root thereof wax old in the earth, and the stock thereof die in the ground; yet through the scent of water it will bud, and bring forth boughs like a plant" (Job 14:7-9).
    "Rooted... in Him" (Colossians 2:7).
    The life of the born again believer in the Lord Jesus Christ is a Tree that was cut down, but sprouted again.  It is the Stock of a root that died in the ground, but budded, and brings forth boughs like a plant.  We are rooted in our crucified and risen Savior.  Therefore, every outward portion of our being could be destroyed, but we will rise again, whether figuratively in this life, or literally in the next.
     This is a hard truth to believe, and even harder to feel.  We are all tempted to imagine scenarios of loss that seem to portend of impossibility to survive and overcome.  Every leaf stripped bear, every branch lopped off, our very trunk cut down and burned to ashes.  "How could I bear this sorrow, or that calamity?"  Our spiritual enemies love to torment us with such ominous prospects.  We do well to recognize that such notions are, in fact, temptations.
     Our response must be the Biblical truth that our bearing of sorrows is not the issue.  "Thou bearest not the root, but the root thee" (Roman 11:18).  Our Lord would not have us wonder how we could handle worst case scenarios of life.  He would rather have us remember that He has already done so.  "In the world ye shall have tribulation.  But be of good cheer; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).  The depth and permanence of our Root is the issue.  What will He be if our leaves fall, our branches break, and our trunk be destroyed?  Every believer knows the answer, and as we trust the Lord regarding the contingencies and exigencies of life to come, "through scent of water," the living Water, we will bud, and we "will bring forth boughs like a plant."
    "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith" (I John 5:4).  The Lord Jesus is a burnt over forest that will never ignite again.  "Christ, being raised from the dead, dieth no more" (Romans 6:9).  We are spiritually "hid with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3).  We are hidden in the Root.  Thus, all can seemingly be fallen, shorn, cut down and dead.  But let us be sure.  We will rise again.  We will rejoice.  We will know peace.  We will sing, and we will overcome the world.  Because the Root bears us, and nothing can hinder just the scent of His living water causing us to ever spring forth in newness of life for the glory of our risen Lord Jesus.
"Because I live, ye shall live also."
(John 14:19)
"Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal bodies."
(II Corinthians 4:10)


Saturday, January 22, 2011

"The Response of Love"

    Both Old Testament and New command that loving God is to be the primary and all pervasive determination of our existence.
     "Thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might" (Deuteronomy 6:5).
         "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength, this is the first commandment" (Mark 12:30).
     The same calling beckons us in both covenants.  There is a difference, however, in how the calling is to be viewed, and how it is fulfilled.  Under the law, loving God is portrayed primarily as a responsibility.  Conversely, the grace and truth of the Lord Jesus Christ portrays loving God as a response.
      "It shall come to pass, if ye shall hearken diligently unto My commandments which I command you this day, to love the LORD your God, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul that I will give you the rain of your land in His due season, the first rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil" (Deuteronomy 11:13-14).
        "We love Him because He first loved us" (I John 4:19).
    The law could not foster and motivate love in human hearts because it could not change human hearts.  Those individuals in the Old Testament who loved God did so because they received the foreshadowings of grace that existed even under the confines of a law that "made nothing perfect" (Hebrews 7:19).  The law was give to reveal the lack of love in fallen humanity.  As the Apostle Paul wrote, it justified nobody, and its legal and contractual constitution whereby God and man relate to each other based on the fulfillment of if-then contingencies by both parties was doomed to crash on the rocks of human imperfection.  Rather than beget love for God, Paul declared that "the letter killeth" (Romans 3:20; II Corinthians 3:6).
     Under the covenant of grace and truth in Christ, the love of God blessedly precedes the calling of love for God.  Our love for Him is fruit rather than root.  "The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us" (Romans 5:5).  When we believe, the Spirit of the Christ who so loves His Father inhabits us for the purpose of freely constituting our capacity to love He who is now our Father as well.  "Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying Abba, Father" (Galatians 4:6).  Our love for God is thus always the response to His love for us as we "grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (II Peter 3:18).
    In our thinking and our application, the order must never be reversed.  As Jude commanded, we must "keep yourselves in the love of God" (Jude 1:21).  Our spiritual enemies and our fleshly tendencies will tempt us to forget, ignore and even reject the ongoing overture of love that alone leads to the symphony of love being performed in our humanity by the indwelling Holy Spirit.  Indeed, the believer who genuinely loves God is the same believer who is overwhelmed by love, the love of the Lord Jesus that so fills him, thrills him and humbles him that his awareness is not of loving, but of being loved.  All glory flows to the nail-scarred Feet of the One who makes possible the fulfillment of the great reason for our being.  Grace freely constitutes love as response rather than responsibility, and the resulting life of self sacrifice is counted not as burden, but as privilege...
"They had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name."
(Acts 5:40-41)
"The fruit of the Spirit is love."
(Galatians 5:22)


Friday, January 21, 2011

"Through a Glass, Darkly"

    We often reference the truth of God's all pervasive involvement in the lives of born again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.  The hairs of our heads are numbered, all things being worked together for good, and "in Him we live and move and have our being" in Him (Matthew 10:30; Romans 8:28; Acts 17:28).  The Lord Jesus Christ is both the center and circumference of our existence, and we will live no moment in time and eternity apart from the fact of God.
    This does not mean, however, that we know and understand how all things are being coordinated for our Lord's glory and our benefit.  We presently "see through a glass, darkly" (I Corinthians 13:12).  Attempting to figure out what God is going, and how He is working can lead to a spiritual distraction and deception that hinders the sound mind characterizing genuine Christian godliness.  Indeed, that breeze rustling the treetops may be the Spirit's moving.  Overmuch thought and pondering of what the wind and leaves are telling us, however, may result in our minds being deterred from the holiness to God that beckons us in this very moment.
    It is enough to know that God is presently providing, protecting, leading, enabling, and administering the dynamic presence of the Lord Jesus in our lives.  What He is doing and how He is doing it is only necessary when our Heavenly Father provides clear illumination upon the nature of His involvement.  The lights of the runway shine only when we are landing.  Otherwise, we make our journey in the darkness that provides backdrop for our focus on the bright light revealing the perfectly faithful heart of our perfectly faithful God.
"The light shineth in darkness."
(John 1:5)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

"A More Sure Word"

    Unto the prophet and his servant a vision was given of God's bountiful supply.
     "And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, an host compassed the city both with horses and chariots. And his servant said unto him, Alas, my master! how shall we do?
And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them. And Elisha prayed, and said, LORD, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the LORD opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha" (II King 6:15-17).
    Unto the born again believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, God provides an even greater illumination and assurance.
     "We have also a more sure Word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your heart, knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" (II Peter 1:19-21).
     God Himself awaits us in the Bible as we read with a humble, trusting, Christ-devoted heart.  Scripture comes with its Author unto the sons and daughters of God in Christ.  Visions are transcended by the living Truth of the Word of God.  The Holy Spirit bears witness in Scripture to our Lord's dynamic presence and loving care, calling us to the clearer "seeing" of understanding the person and working of God.  Thereby are we prepared to walk in confident assurance that we are eternally - and in this moment - safe in the refuge of being "hid with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3).
    Elisha and his servant had no Bible as we know it.  Therefore, God graciously gave them a vision that sufficed to motivate and empower faith for the moment.  Our "more sure Word of prophecy," the Bible, provides a far stronger witness whereby a far stronger faith results in the trusting heart.  "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God" (Romans 10:17).  Certainly we would all love to have seen mountains full of chariots of fire.  Such events are rare, however.  Conversely, our Bibles are often at hand.  In their sacred and faith-fostering pages, the Holy Spirit assures that our lives are full of God Himself, working all things together for good (Romans 8:28).  Elisha and all the prophets of old would have loved such a "more sure Word," and would tell us that the pages of the Bible far surpass visions in the mountains.
"I rejoice at Thy Word, as one that findeth great spoil."
(Psalm 119:162)


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"Remembrance Of His Pain"

    God allows pain of many different varieties for many different reasons.  Spiritual growth, discipline, identification with the sufferings of others, preparation for ministry, chastening, and the understanding that this present world is not our truest home - are all included in our present experience of physical, emotional and spiritual discomfort.
   Recently I have pondered another reason that has led to a rich and vivid devotional benefit in my walk with the Lord (I'm probably later to this understanding than most folks, as usual).  Several months ago, I stumped my toe in the middle of the night.  It hurt quite a bit, and as such things do when you're groggy and half asleep, it shocked me to my senses.  As it did, somehow the remembrance of our Lord's sufferings came to mind.  I recalled the Bible's teaching of how much pain He knew on the cross, and of the spiritual, emotional and physical agony He experienced in order to save us from our sins.  In that sleepy moment, as illuminated, led and enabled by the Holy Spirit, I gave thanks for the Lord Jesus' willingness to suffer grievous torment and pain for me, and for all. 
    Since that time, I have had a number of experiences of pain in which the Holy Spirit has graciously brought to my attention the infinitely greater suffering of our Savior.  He who is worthy of eternal and infinite bliss willingly embraced for us the agony of Calvary.  Every pain of our own therefore becomes opportunity to acknowledge the grace of the Lord Jesus anew and afresh, and thus to grow in love for the One who so loves us.  Saying "Thank You" doesn't seem enough, of course, and there's no way to adequately feel the appreciation our Savior so richly deserves.  I suspect, however, that His heart is greatly blessed when our pains become the basis for worshipful remembrance of His pain.  I also believe that a sanctifying effect takes place in our own hearts as gratitude fills and springs forth from our hearts.
    Certainly our Heavenly Father takes no more pleasure in allowing or determining pain in our lives any more than we do in our own children.  Suffering is necessary in our current existence, however, and our determination to avail ourselves of opportunities to trust and submit unto God in pain greatly benefits us and those to whom we are called to minister Christ.  Even more, the choice to use our experiences of pain as opportunity to remember our Savior's sufferings doubtless blesses our Father's heart in a particularly sublime expression of loving devotion.  For the trusting and devoted believer, there are few more blessed prospects.
"He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from Him; He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.  Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed."  (Isaiah 53:3-5)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Accepted... Chastened

(A bit longer than usual.  Thanks for your patience)

   Every time I read the Apostle Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, I am amazed by the fact that perhaps the strongest affirmation directed toward any first century fellowship of believers (I Corinthians 1:4-9), was accompanied by the strongest rebuke (for numerous reasons of carnality, including division, arrogance, perversion, tolerance of perversion, selfishness, doubt regarding Paul's apostleship, disrespect of the Lord's supper, etc.).
    "Our Lord Jesus Christ... will confirm you to the end so that ye may be blameless... ye are yet carnal" (I Corinthians 1:7-8; 3:3).
     Some of the errors were so severe that believers were being chastened by God to the point of death (I Corinthians 11:30).  Nevertheless, Paul assures that the "carnal" Corinthians would be confirmed "blameless" to the end.  How do we reconcile this seeming enigma in light of the continual New Testament theme that salvation in Christ involves not only forgiveness and the assurance of eternal life, but also the holiness of a "new man, created in righteousness and true holiness?" (Ephesians 4:24). 
    The answer lies in an amazing aspect of God's grace in the Lord Jesus whereby the believer's relationship with God is not jeopardized by wayward behavior.
     "Blessed is the man unto whom God will not impute sin" (Romans 4:8).
    Faith in Christ unites us with our Lord to the degree that our Heavenly Father will never again, for any reason, place sin on our account.  The basis of "so great salvation" lies in the somber reality that our sins, all of them, were accounted to the Lord Jesus on the cross of Calvary (Hebrews 2:3).  "Christ died for our sins" declared Paul (I Corinthians 15:3).  No exclusions are mentioned, and thus God the Father deems that perfectly complete atonement for our sins was made by His Son who became for us the sacrificial "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Revelation 13:8).
     God's view of the effect of Calvary is far clearer and greater than that of our limited vision.  He knows how greatly the Lord Jesus suffered when He 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).  All "blame" descended upon the smitten Subject of God's wrath on the cross in order that the redeemed might be irrevocably and eternally declared "blameless."  In our Heavenly Father's sight, accounting sin to us would involve a terrible and immoral ignoring of His Son's perfect work of justification made possible by His life, death, resurrection, ascension and ongoing work whereby "He ever liveth to make intercession for us" (Hebrews 7:25).  Accordingly, He "will not" place sin on our account.
    No blame will ever be directed toward us, just as the Apostle assured the Corinthians.  Much blame, however, may be directed toward our doings.  Indeed, in the mind of God, there is a fundamental difference between who believers are, and what we do.  We "live in the Spirit."  But we do not always "walk in the Spirit" (Romans 8:9; Galatians 5:25).  Who we are and what we do conflict at times, but the former is never altered by the latter.  As Paul told the carnal Corinthians, "Ye are washed, ye are sanctified, ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God" (I Corinthians 6:11).  Such affirmation of the relationship with God and personhood of the Corinthians did not, however, preclude strong rebuke by the Apostle, and strong chastening by the Father in Heaven.  Yes, "washed... sanctified... justified" believers were being disciplined to the point of death, and "delivered unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh" by the God who loves His children enough to chasten and scourge us, if necessary (I Corinthians 5:5).  "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten" (Revelation 3:19).
    There are few more important Biblical truths to know and embrace.  The New Testament continually delineates between the being and the doing of born again believers.  Failure to recognize the delineation leads to both doctrinal and behavioral weakness.  Paul commanded, "If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit" (Galatians 5:25).  Such a mandate reveals the difference in our life and our walk.  The believer is always spiritually alive in his Christ-infused being and personhood.  However, he does not always walk accordingly.  Sometimes we act in contradiction to who we are because we do not know who we are, or because we choose to ignore or disbelieve the blessed truth of grace that made us a "new creature" when we believed.  In this light, sin becomes even more inexcusable, egregious and unnecessary, and a far more serious matter than we likely realize.  Little wonder then that the Heavenly Father who refuses to account blame to us nevertheless severely chastens wayward attitudes and actions when warranted.
    The New Testament becomes a brighter and more blessed place when the delineation of our personhood and our doings is kept in mind.  This always reminds me of something my mother used to say to me when I was a child.  "Glen, I always love you.  But I don't always like you!"  She meant by this, of course, that she didn't always like my attitudes, words, and deeds.  Sometimes she, uh, shall we say, added a bit of amplification to the dislike!  Ouch!  Similarly, nothing changes, or can change, the loving acceptance and favor of God toward His trusting children.  We are "accepted in the Beloved" (Ephesians 1: 3).  However, our Father loves us enough to reject attitudes, words, and actions that would grievously harm us if left unchastened.  "Washed... sanctified... justified" in our personhood, relationship and standing with God - but also disciplined and chastened regarding our works when necessary.  This is the present experience of the beloved sons and daughters of God in Christ.  Fewer truths are more vital to know, understand, and embrace as we walk with God.
"Now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light."
(Ephesians 5:8)

Monday, January 17, 2011

"The Life of Representation"

    "We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God" (II Corinthians 5:20).
    The ambassador lives his life to represent not himself, but another.  He is ever mindful that his words, actions, and perhaps most importantly, his attitudes, faithfully reflect the person and purposes of the leader to whom he is devoted. 
    "We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord" (II Corinthians 4:5).
     The Lord Jesus lived His life accordingly.  Speaking to His Father, He declared, "I have glorified Thee on the earth; I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do" (John 17:4).  Our Savior perfectly unveiled the heart and mind of God for us because He sought not His own glory, but that of His Father (John 8:50).  Humanity exists for this sublime purpose.  God created us in His image to be the visible representation of His existence, being, character, nature and way (Genesis 1:26).  Sin blinded us to this reason for our existence and basis of our heart's peace, joy, and contentment.  Salvation in the Lord Jesus opens our eyes and makes possible the only true life that exists for us, the life of representation and ambassadorship.
    If we have believed, this day promises and commands that we may live for the glory and revelation of God rather than ourselves.  Ponder this blessed bestowal of grace for a moment, and then breathe the sweet sigh of relief as we offer the deadly delusion of self aggrandizement upon the altar of "not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord."  Recall that He "made Himself of no reputation" during His earthly lifetime (Philippians 2:7).  And then rejoice in the realization that He lives in us to enable the same ambassadorship.  We are lamps upon which the light of God shines.  Accepting our honored role establishes our hearts in devotion, our minds in truth, and our existence in the rest that comes only as the wicked and insane pursuit of vainglory is exchanged for the fulfilling glory of the life of representation.
"Not unto us, o Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory."
(Psalm 115:1)
"Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (John 14:9).

Saturday, January 15, 2011

"To Be Loved... To Love"

    "I will love Thee, o Lord my strength" (Psalm 18:1).
    David's declaration of both devotion and faith provides one of the brightest and most succinct rays of light in all of the Bible.
     The Psalmist freely determines to love God, as he must if love is to be genuine and meaningful to both parties.  However, he is well aware that his Lord must provide enabling for his determination.  David must "will" to love. God must be His "strength" to love. 
     "The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us" (Romans 5:5).
     Salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ establishes in far greater measure than David knew the possibility of relationship with God that is both Divinely enabled and freely determined.  The indwelling Holy Spirit infuses our spirits with the love of God, creating vast potential for affectionate and committed devotion to our Heavenly Father.  It is not inevitable, however, that we will love Him in personal and practical expression.  We must respond to God's working in us "both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13).  The presence of the Spirit of Christ in us does not annihilate us.  It actualizes us.  Our humanity springs to life in the risen life of Christ, and as He loves His Father, so can we love His Father, and our Father.  Genuine, consistent and increasing love for God and others becomes dynamically possible as the command to love becomes known as Christ-enabled privilege, as well as Biblically-mandated responsibility.
     "These words spake Jesus... I have declared unto them Thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith Thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them" (John 17:1; 26).
    God made us to be loved, and then to love in response.  "We love Him because He first loved us" (I John 4:19).  The order must never be reversed in our hearts and minds.  Indeed, had David's declaration been specifically repeated in the New Testament, we might read, "Lord, You are my strength, Your love is shed abroad in my heart.  Thereby will I love Thee!"  No coercion, but great enabling comprises the sublime Divine/human relationship wherein both parties freely choose to devote themselves to blessing the hearts of their loved one.  We were made for this, and if we have believed, we were redeemed to be increasingly overwhelmed by our Lord's "great love" for us, and by our freedom in and through Christ to greatly love Him in response (Ephesians 2:4).
"And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant 
with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus."
(I Timothy 1:14)

Friday, January 14, 2011

"Self Surgery?"

(Frances advises that I should add the following disclaimer: 
"Do not try this at home."  She's right.)

     Several weeks ago I stepped on a small piece of glass that embedded pretty deeply in the pad of my foot beneath my left big toe.  The shard was irremovable at the time, but rather than go to the doctor to have it surgically extracted, I decided to hold off and see if it would perhaps work itself out.  I kept the site clean with a strong antibiotic cream, and waited to see what would happen. 
    The foot really hasn't given me too much trouble, but yesterday morning it became very sensitive.  I decided that I would attempt to remove the shard myself, and if unsuccessful, schedule a doctor's visit.  I'll spare you the gory details, but my self surgery (which involved a lot of prayer) was a success. Thank the Lord that my foot, while sore from Dr. Davis's procedure, feels better than it has in a long time.
     Some things are like that.  We can remove them ourselves.  Some aren't, especially when considering the spiritual realities of life.  The Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ declares that we cannot remove the sin-dominated hearts of our original birth, nor can we replace them with a new heart.  Only God can do this, even as He promised Israel, and as He fulfills in every born again believer:
    "A new heart also will I give you, and a new Spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh" (Ezekiel 36:26).
    "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away, behold, all things are become new" (II Corinthians 5:17).
    As we share the Gospel, it is vitally important that people understand we are not merely suggesting moral or ethical reordering of our lives.  Such transformation will surely take place when a person trusts in Christ, but only the Divinely-performed replacement of an old heart with a new can accomplish so radical a change.  Sin has a root; its mental, emotional, attitudinal, verbal and behavioral expressions are fruit.   A new vine must be planted deep within us, uprooting the old.  The Lord Jesus is this "True Vine," and only God can till the soil, plant the seed, and cultivate the planting that leads to the harvest of "the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ" (John 15:1; Philippians 1:11).
    Ok, I'll admit it: I should have gone to the doctor!  My illustration would have been more direct and to the point.  At least, however, my misguided self-surgical procedure provides illustrative contrast.  Yes, sometimes we can remove an irritant from our foot.  But never can we remove a heart of stone from our spirit.  Nor can a lost sinner birth within himself the Holy Spirit-inhabited new heart given to us by God as a free gift when we believe.  This is the hope offered by our Lord to a lost and dying world.  May He lead us to clearly communicate the grace of the passing of the old whereby a way is made for the birthing of the new.
"For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature."
(Galatians 6:15)


Thursday, January 13, 2011

"What and How"

     I recently decided to read a book that I've owned for awhile, but never read.  The subject of the book concerned the believer's walk with God, sanctification, and matters of faith and obedience.
    In scanning the book, I recognized that I would likely agree with much of the content.  I saw a few areas of disagreement, but nothing related to fundamental aspects of truth and doctrine.  I was disturbed, however, by the attitude conveyed by the author.  He was cocksure of his positions, and belittled others who held different opinions concerning the matters addressed.  He even criticized another writer, by name, whom he accused of being overly confident regarding his beliefs (the very error that so clearly characterized his own attitude).
     I put the book down and will not return to it.  There is no place for such presumption and arrogance in the body of Christ because even if our content is correct, we are wrong if our attitude does not reflect the character of the Lord Jesus.  "The servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle unto all men" (II Timothy 2:24).  Certainly this does not preclude confidence in our convictions if they are the result of long and diligent Scriptural consideration (II Peter 1:12).  Nor are we forbidden to respectfully express disagreement with fellow believers regarding matters of truth (Galatians 2:11).  However, it does mean that our attitude and demeanor are of paramount importance to the God who "looketh on the heart" (I Samuel 16:7).  Again, we can be right in our opinion, but if our attitude is wrong, we are in error. 
    I sometimes wonder which is worse, the truth expressed in an unChristlike spirit, or falsehood conveyed, but with a good attitude.  I do not know the answer to this question because both paths of error lead to trouble.  I do strongly believe that attitude speaks at least as powerfully as content, with both resulting in either the benefit or detriment of our audience.  What we communicate must correlate with how we communicate.  Truth is both propositional and personal, and the fact of the matter is that if our attitude is wrong, something vital is missing in both our understanding and communication of the Lord Jesus.
"Put them in mind to... speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, 
but gentle, showing all meekness unto all men."
(Titus 3:1-2)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"Expect God"

(A repeat from last year.)
    In a Sunday school class of middle school boys I taught many years ago, I placed a poster on the wall on which the words were printed, "Expect God."  "What do you think I mean by this?," I asked the boys.
     Immediately, one of them responded, "You mean Jesus is coming again!"  "That's a great answer," I said, "and you're right.  But I'm actually thinking about a different expectation than that."  No other answers were forthcoming, so I shared with them the affirmation of the Psalmist, "My soul, wait thou only upon God.  For my expectation is from Him" (Psalm 62:5).
    I shared with the boys that if they believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, their lives would be saturated with His presence and working in all things.  "You will never live a moment in this life or the next in which your Lord is not the great fact and reality of your heart and experience.  You may not always see or understand what He is doing, and you may not always be immediately comfortable with what He is doing.  But His glory, your good, and the good of those with whom you live will be the truth of your existence.  So, gentlemen, expect God."
     Three decades have not changed my confidence in what I shared with those young men.  Time has rather exponentially enhanced the assurance that God "worketh all things after the counsel of His own will" (Ephesians 1:11).  It has also confirmed that seeing and understanding the ways of His working are often greatly challenging.  It can also be decidedly uncomfortable as we are "always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal body" (II Corinthians 4:11).  As we determine to expect God, however, that is, as we plant deeply within our hearts that all things in our lives truly are working together for good, we shall not be disappointed.  Indeed, our hearts will be full regardless of circumstance, situation, or condition because we are anticipating that the living God will be awaiting us in every venue, and He will be who He is in the blessed, the difficult, and the mundane.
    The world, the devil, and the flesh will constantly tempt us to expect everything but God.  If we respond in such unbelief, our Heavenly Father may allow us to reap the consequences of our carnal anticipation.  If, however, we put to death fleshly and devilish expectations, we will harvest the fruit of the Spirit we have planted.  We will find our Lord and know Him because we are believing the Bible that directly or implicitly declares on every page that "to live is Christ" (Philippians 1:21).  Expect God... "my expectation is from Him."  I hope that some or all of those young men from so long ago remember the exhortation.  Even more, I hope they have experienced the truth that their lives are completely saturated with the Lord in whom they "live and move and have their being" (Acts 17:28).  Expect God.
"For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, 
and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, 
according to my earnest expectation and my hope, 
that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, 
as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, 
whether it be by life, or by death. 
For to me to live is Christ."
(Philippians 1:21)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

"I Prefer You"

     What we do with our time when we can choose what we do with it tells us much about our walk with God.
     "Wherefore He saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil" (Ephesians 5:14-16).
     The Apostle Paul's admonition does not mean that every moment of our free time must involve Bible reading, prayer, and other pursuits that bear obvious spiritual significance.  Our Heavenly Father leads us into many interests, pastimes, hobbies and doings wherein He is present and active no less than we are on our knees.  All good things are sacred for the believer, and all can serve as opportunities for worship, ministry and living communion with our Lord.  "Whatsoever ye do... do all to the glory of God" (I Corinthians 10:31).
     It nevertheless remains true that the believer who walks in the spirit and truth of the Lord Jesus will devote significant portions of available time to the devotional walk involving prayer, Scriptural consideration, fellowship with believers, and active ministry to others.  As Paul counsels, we will "redeem the time."  
     A scene from the movie "Harvey," in which James Stewart portrayed Elwood P. Dowd, a fellow befriended by an invisible six foot tall rabbit, winsomely illustrates the point.  Near the end of the story, the rabbit Harvey reveals himself to another gentleman, with the apparent intention to become his companion rather than Elwood's.  As Elwood and Harvey are parting company, however, Harvey returns to Elwood and informs him that he desires to remain with him.  I've always loved Elwood's response, because it so directly applies to the truth we presently consider.  "I prefer you too, Harvey" says Elwood.
    Many times throughout our lives, we will have opportunity to freely act on our preferences.  As mentioned, the Holy Spirit will often lead us toward pursuits that bear great spiritual significance, while perhaps seeming very common.  We may freely enjoy and apply ourselves to these interests in expectation of God's approval and involvement.  However, there will also be many times when we will freely have the opportunity to echo Elwood's response to his friend...  "I prefer You, Lord."  As we grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus, these choices to pointedly devote ourselves to time with and for God will be more frequent.  The Psalmist closes our consideration with the sublime declaration of this, our heart's truest joy, fulfillment and contentment...
"In Thy presence is fullness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore."
(Psalm 16:11)