Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Like Him

    God purposes that we should be increasingly like the Lord Jesus Christ in character, attitude, word, deed and relationship to others.  He also purposes that we recognize our utter dependence on Him if the holy process is to be successfully fulfilled.
    "We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is" (I John 3:2).
    God's process of conforming believers to the spiritual and moral image of Christ presents two primary truths to our hearts.  First, the Lord Jesus is so different than we are that we cannot never make ourselves like Him.  He is God, whom we never can become, and He is also a man such as no other man can independently be.  An accurate Scriptural view of our Savior therefore ushers us to the holy ground whereupon we remove our shoes because our feet can never make the journey to Christ-likeness.  "We shall be like Him," but we shall not make ourselves like Him.  "We are His workmanship" (Ephesians 2:10).
    We also recognize that our Heavenly Father is relentless in His determination to conform us to the likeness of His Son.  "He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6).  In fact, when the Apostle Paul declared that "all things work for good to the that love God," the "good" He referenced was conformity to the image of Christ (Romans 8:28-29).  Our Father is working to "bring many sons unto glory" because He is so pleased with the one Son who has so blessed Him throughout eternity (Hebrews 2:10).  In this day and in all to come, therefore, we can be sure that God is determining, allowing, ordering and coordinating every moment and happening to bless us with the glory of being more like the Lord Jesus.  And He will not stop until He is finished.  "Faithful is He who calleth you, who also will do it" (I Thessalonians 5:24).
    Our Father could not more highly honor us.  Nor can any thought more thoroughly humble us.  He could give no greater gift and no more undeserved gift than to make us like the Son of His love.  Recognizing this truth brings us to a place of heart-rest like few other Biblical revelations.  We cease from our own labors because even a cursory glimpse of the Christ of Scripture tells us that we cannot make ourselves like Him (Hebrews 4:10).  We then arise to trust and submit ourselves to the God who promises that the work He has begun is the work He will finish.  Such confidence and humility leads to the power of the Holy Spirit effecting the changes whereby our reflection more and more reveals "not I, but Christ" (II Corinthians 3:18; Galatians 2:20).  How dear we must be to our Father that He would so grace us, and how faithful we will discover Him to be as we submit ourselves to the holy process of being conformed to the image of Christ.
"Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen."
(Hebrews 13:20-21)

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Praying Christ

        Knowing perfectly our native weakness concerning the matter of prayer, God provides the praying Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ to all who trust Him.
      "God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying Abba Father" (Galatians 4:6).
    Few spiritual privileges and responsibilities more challenge us than the matter of consistent communion with our Heavenly Father.  Believers speak often about prayer, we believe in its value, we read books about it, and we actually do some praying, both privately and corporately.  The honest Christian, however, would confess that much of the matter remains a mystery.  Even more, we recognize that the quality and quantity of our praying could stand vast improvement.  Indeed, gather 100 committed believers together and ask them what their greatest lack or failing might be.  Many, if not most, would confess that their prayer life seems woefully deficient.
    We should feel this way to some degree.  The fact that God desires living and conscious relationship with human beings overwhelms us when we consider who and what He is in relationship to who and what we are.  "What is man, that Thou art mindful of him?" (Psalm 8:4).  It's a limited illustration, but I've never seen an ant with whom I wanted to have communication (with all due respect to ants, who are quite amazing creatures).  In one sense, the gulf between God and humanity is even greater than that of humanity and ants.  "Your iniquities have separated between you and your God" (Isaiah 59:2).  Nevertheless, our Creator desires fellowship with us to the degree that "the prayer of the upright is His delight" (Proverbs 15:8).  Even more, He gave His beloved Son to a cross of forsakenness so that we might not be forsaken, and so that we might experience the wonder of relationship with God.  How can we not feel awed and overwhelmed in the light of such loving and gracious condescension on the part of our Creator?
    To those who acknowledge the seeming impossibility of prayer, God directs us to the praying Christ, that is, the praying Christ who dwells within our hearts.  Our acknowledged weakness becomes the springboard for affirming our Lord's strength.  Prayer thus begins with the deep sense of our need for the Holy Spirit's direction and enabling.  We don't always have to directly say it, but the attitude must be perpetually present: "Lord, of all that I cannot independently accomplish in glorifying You and doing Your will, nothing more brings me to my knees than prayer.  You must empower me to commune in a real and living manner, and You promise to do so.  I therefore trust You in this day and in this moment to reveal the praying Christ in me so that my communication with you might be 'effectual' and 'fervent' (James 5:16).  All glory for even one thought or word of true prayer offered by me will therefore be Yours, and I am confident that prayer will be recognized as the gift, the privilege and the responsibility Your Word declares it to be.
    The Lord Jesus is God's supply for us in all things (Philippians 4:19).  He is God's supply for us in the blessed matter of prayer.  Again, "God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying Abba Father."  Let us give thanks so great a gift, and let us avail ourselves of it by trusting our Heavenly Father to lead us in prayer.
"Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit."
(Ephesians 6:17-18)

Friday, May 27, 2011

"His Already"

    I recently ran into a very busy young man whom I've known for several years.  He's a husband, father, surgeon, and one of those people that you know puts his all into everything he does.
    On the day I saw Ryan, he told me he had offered in the morning a prayer of consecration and devotion.  "Lord, everything I am and everything I have belongs to You."  Thats's a wonderful thing to say to God, of course, and every believer should dedicate themselves accordingly.  As he prayed, however, Ryan said he realized that he really wasn't giving anything to God by his offering.  "It struck me that it's all His already, including me, my family, my possessions, my all.  I simply affirmed the truth of the matter, and responded accordingly."
    Ryan is absolutely correct.
    "The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof, the world and they that dwell therein" (Psalm 24:1).
    "Ye are bought with a price" (I Corinthians 6:20).
    What do you give to the person who has everything, including yourself and everything you possess?  The answer is acknowledgement, that is, you recognize, accept and bow to the truth of your life, being and existence.  As I told Ryan, consecration to God by born again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ involves our conscious acquiescence to reality.  We don't make His ownership true by our presentation and yielding, but rather determine to "walk in the light as He is in the light" (I John 1:7).  Or, as the Apostle Paul commanded, "If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit" (Galatians 5:25).
   Interestingly, God's possessions include devils and unbelieving humans.  All are His, but the hearts and minds of both races are constituted by their Creator to decisively acknowledge the Truth in order for its fullness to be experienced and expressed.  Indeed, those who eternally perish in the lake of fire will do so as the possessions of God.  His presence will not be known, and alienation from His life will characterize a terrible existence of darkness and keen agony.  Nevertheless, all will be His and all will know that they are His (perhaps a particularly mournful pain for those forever lost).
    For the believer, eternity promises joys beyond measure as we perfectly realize and continually affirm that God made us for Himself.  Remembering His character of unselfish love, humility and faithfulness assures us that belonging to the Lord Jesus - and knowing it - envisages a glorious forever of our Lord's determination to immerse His own with the loving and infinite grace of His 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, May 26, 2011

Mutual Delight

    There are countless reasons that God the Father loves His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  One in particular applies directly to us, and must surely cause us to love Him also.
    "Therefore doth my Father love Me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again" (John 10:17).
    "We love Him because He first loved us" (I John 4:19).
    Our Savior's willingness to sacrifice Himself to fulfill the Father's will and secure our redemption draws us into a mutual bond of affection with He who is now our Father also.  The Lord Jesus is the chief delight of Heaven, and He is the chief delight of redeemed hearts.  He is faithful both to God the Father and to us.  We draw near to the hearts of both the Father and the Son as the Holy Spirit leads us to contemplate the wonder of Christ and His love that "passeth knowledge" (Ephesians 3:19).  We see the Father's love for His Son, the Son's love in response, and the wondrous gift of grace for which the Lord Jesus prayed just before He went to the cross:
    "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on Me through their word; that they all may be one; as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me. And the glory which Thou gavest Me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one" (John 17:20-22).
    "One in us."  Of all the Scriptural summits that ascend into the heavenlies far beyond our vision, none are loftier than these three words.  "The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us" (Romans 5:5).  Indeed, of all that God bestows upon us in Christ, His triune heart of unselfish devotion to others is perhaps the greatest gift.  First He directed His love toward us.  Then it enveloped us in grace when we believed in the Lord Jesus.  Finally, the entrance of the Holy Spirit into the innermost depths of our being made our hearts the very home of Divine love.  We see and experience it so relatively little of the glory in our present existence (although the firstfruits can be overwhelming), but what must eternity hold as "one in us" becomes vibrantly and continually realized?  We cannot know, but of this we can be sure: a Father's love for His Son will perfectly unite with the love of the redeemed for their Lord, as revealed in us by the Holy Spirit.  The Lord Jesus will be loved as never before, again, as the chief delight of both Heaven and of our hearts.  He is worthy of such devotion, and forever will not be long enough for the Father and for us to bless the name of Jesus.
"He that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father.(John 14:21)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Dangerous Bible Reading?

    Not reading the Bible certainly leads to spiritual weakness in born again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Perhaps surprisingly, however, reading the Bible can do the same.
    The former point is obvious.  "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God" (Romans 10:17).  Our Heavenly Father communicates Himself and His truth to us by Scripture.  If, therefore, we have access to the Bible and the capacity to read it (or in our generation, to listen to recorded versions), we can be sure the Holy Spirit will lead us to consistently expose ourselves to the light of His written Word.  "Strengthen Thou me according unto Thy Word" (Psalm 119:28).
     There is nevertheless an inherent danger in consistent reading of Scripture, namely, that we perceive the mere reading and study of Scripture as an end in and of itself.  Indeed, the Bible teaches that there is no merit in the consideration of its holy pages.  There is advantage, but not merit.
    "Be ye doers of the Word and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves" (James 1:22).
    "What advantage then hath the Jew?... Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles (utterances) of God" (Romans 3:1-2).
    Simply knowing or even memorizing the Bible provides no guarantee that we will trust and obey the Bible.  In fact, our spiritual enemies are not hesitant to use this practice as a means of deception.  Recall that Satan wielded Scripture in the wilderness temptation in his attempt to fell even the Lord Jesus Christ (a profound devilish mistake, of course).  How much more will our foe seek to tempt us in the same way? 
    Pride will likely be his primary attack upon us.  Suppose, for example, we determine to read the Bible daily, a fine and good practice.  On the first day, we do so.  If we could hear our enemies audibly, a whisper might light upon our ears, "Hmm, read your Bible today?  Good, very good."  If a week of Scripture reading finds us diligent and faithful, "Seven days in a row, eh?  That's something!"  Or a month - "You've read the Bible every day for a month?  Impressive!"  And, if a year, well, you get the point.  Again, we don't hear the audible voices of our enemies, but they do seek to tempt us with attitudinal promptings to think well of ourselves because we've been a consistent hearer of the Word of God.  And that's the rub.  If thinking well of ourselves because of consistency and perceived discipline results from Bible reading - and it can - time in the Scriptures can actually set us back a long, long way.  Or rather, our fleshly attitude toward the Scriptures can become a hindrance in our walk with God.
    This is no suggestion that we refrain from consistent reading of Scripture.  Far from it.  Still, we must be aware that our spiritual enemies seek to tempt us with good things, and even with perfect things.  Yes, the devil can deceive us with Truth misinterpreted, misapplied and misunderstood if we are not aware of his subtle and skilled weapons of error.  "Account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other Scriptures, unto their own destruction" (II Peter 3:15-16).
    How do we overcome the temptation to view hearing the Word as synonymous with doing the Word?  Remembering that we would have no interest in the Word at all apart from God's gracious work in our hearts and minds greatly helps us to avoid the deception of pride.  Certainly we respond to His working in us to expose ourselves to the Scriptures.  But it is response.  We do not initiate interest in the Bible, or the active steps to open and peruse its pages.  We rather act as the result of the Holy Spirit's acting upon and within us to consider His Word.  "O send out Thy light and Thy truth: let them lead me; let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles" (Psalm 42:3).  Thus, the only merit in our reading of Scripture is the glory we directly wholly and solely unto the God who delights in communicating Himself and His truth to us...
"I have taught thee in the way of wisdom; I have led thee in right paths."
 (Proverbs 4:11).

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Choice To Make a Choice -- Conclusion

    There are no secrets, no methods, and no final answers to the living of a godly life in a fallen world.  We will find walking with God a great challenge until we are glorified with Him in Heaven.  No less than the Apostle Paul confessed as much:
    "Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:13-14).
    "But now we see through a glass darkly" (I Corinthians 13:12).
    Nevertheless, as we "press toward the mark" with Paul, we can "grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" to the degree that significant progress is made (II Peter 3:18).  The clearer our understanding of God and of ourselves as spiritually constituted in Christ, the more likely we will find that "the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day" (Proverbs 4:18).  Or, in terms of our present consideration, the more likely we will arise to choose to make the choice to trust and submit ourselves unto the leading and power of the Holy Spirit.
    We began this series with the old-timer's admission that "sin comes natural," contrasted with the Truth that "obedience comes supernatural."  In times of conscious temptation, we must choose to walk in the Spirit by trusting and submitting ourselves to God rather than merely drifting into unbelief and its carnal expressions.  We must know our Lord well enough to trust Him accordingly, and we must know ourselves well enough to believe that it is the delight of our redeemed spiritual selfhood in Christ to choose to make the choice (regardless of fleshly sensibilities that conflict).  "God is faithful... Reckon ye also yourselves to be... alive unto God" (I Corinthians 1:9; Romans 6:11).  Our confidence must be in Him, and in His promised working in us "both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13).
    Whatever our past experience, or our present sensibilities, or our prospects of the future, born again believers in the Lord Jesus are presently enabled and inclined to choose to make the choice to trust and obey.  Our Lord dwells in us by His Spirit, and it is His sublime gift of grace to us that the Holy Spirit infuses the delight of Christ within our innermost being.  "I delight in the law of God after the inward man" (Romans 7:22).  We must believe this Truth to be true regardless of how often our ship seems to have drifted into troubled and unfaithful waters.  The Lord Jesus is our Helmsman, we are His stewards, and through Him we can choose to make the choice to decisively navigate our vessel on the river of faith and faithfulness.  Let no devil, no man and no evidence to the contrary convince us otherwise, and let us...
"Awake to righteousness and sin not."
(I Corinthians 15:34)

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Choice To Make a Choice Part 4

The Delight of the New Man

    Conflicting desires reside within born again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, desires wrought in us by the Holy Spirit who dwells in our enlivened spirits, and by the law of sin in our earthly faculties and members.
    "For the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh: (Galatians 5:17).
    "I delight in the law of God after the inward man, but I see another law working in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members... So then with the mind, I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh, the law of sin" (Romans 7:22-23; 25).
    A good friend often says, "Boil believers down to their essence, and you will find the Holy Spirit dwelling in a human spirit, both with the same desires and inclinations."  This is true because the Holy Spirit lives in us, and He "worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (I Corinthians 3:16; Philippians 2:13).  Before we proceed, let us take a moment to make these Biblical truths personal.  Do we believe this to be true of ourselves?  And particularly, about challenging issues of God's will where we may have often distrusted and disobeyed, or where we may even feel hesitancy or little desire in the present moment?  Is there nevertheless delight for God's will in us despite little or no sensibility of it?
     The Biblical answer is a resounding "Yes!"  Unlike the law of sin in our members which we easily feel and, as Paul said, "I see," the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus often seems either absent or without effect.  Indeed, delight for the will of God may not be found in the wind of our sensibilities, nor in the earthquake of our emotions, nor in the fire of our keenly felt yearnings, but in the still, small voice of our innermost spiritual being (I Kings 19:11-12).  In such times, we must believe the Word of God against all seeming evidence to the contrary that our true desire, to the degree of literal delight, is to do the will of God.  "We walk by faith, not by sight" (II Corinthians 5:7). 
    Again, ponder that nagging issue of temptation and too frequent sin that has often seemed impossible to overcome.  Regardless of our experience, the truth of the matter has always been (since our new birth) that in our innermost spiritual selfhood in Christ, we desire to trust and obey rather than distrust and disobey.  Have we known this, however?  Have we known it well?  And have we believed the Word of God accordingly?  Whatever our answer, the present moment beckons to us, to the "new man, created in righteousness and true holiness," to arise and believe that the person we most deeply are does in fact "delight in the law of God" (Ephesians 4:24).  No merit is implied on our part regarding such blessedness, but rather all glory flows to the Lord Jesus who dyamically indwells us by His Spirit, and "who was made to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" (II Corinthians 5:21).
    We must choose to make a choice, the choice to believe in the Lord Jesus who no less dwells in our spirits than He hung upon our cross for our sins, rose from the dead for justification, and sits on the throne of Heaven as Lord.  Our blessed Savior graces our innermost being with His "I delight to do Thy will, o God" (Psalm 40:7; Hebrews 10:7).  Let us believe the Word of God, and thus "through the Spirit mortify (put to death) the deeds of the body" (Romans 10:13).  We will walk in the bright light of Truth as we do, the truth of "so great salvation" that leads, motivates and enables us to "awake to righteousness and sin not" (Hebrews 2:3; I Corinthians 15:34).
"I thank my God, making mention of thee always in my prayers, hearing of thy love and faith, which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all saints; that the communication (participation) of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus."
(Philemon 1:4-6).

Friday, May 20, 2011

"The Choice To Make a Choice" Part 3 - Confession of Sin

    "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:9).
    To "confess our sins" means more than simply acknowledging or admitting that we have disbelieved and disobeyed God.  The Greek root word of confess is "homologeo," meaning to "say the same thing."  That is, if we sin, we are to agree with God about our waywardness.  We are to say the same thing He says about our sins.  This involves far more than merely admitting we have sinned.  What does the Word of God teach about sin in the life of believers?  This is a multi-faceted subject that we have considered in previous devotionals.  For now, however, we will address the matter in context of our current consideration regarding the source of sin in born again believers, and our Biblical calling to walk in the Spirit.
    Let us consider again the Apostle Paul's fascinating teaching in the seventh chapter of Romans.
    "If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good.  Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me" (Romans 7:16-20).
    To agree with God concerning our sins involves our viewing them as did Paul, and as does the Holy Spirit who inspired the Apostle's words.  Accordingly, we must say the same thing: "It is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me... that is, in my flesh."  We acknowledge the source of sin, which is the law of sin in our flesh (our earthly faculties and members inherited from Adam).  We confess that we have allowed this law to have free rein in us, or in Paul's terms, we have "let sin reign in our mortal bodies" (Romans 6:12).  We acknowledge full responsibility for the sin that has taken place in our thoughts, attitudes, words and deeds.  Nevertheless, we also say the same thing that Paul said.  "It is no more I that do it..."
    To illustrate, suppose that in times when slavery was legal, a father gave to his son the responsibility for a servant.  "Son, it is your duty to be sure this slave does his work and does not cause any trouble.  I expect you to lead him to be a good servant of our family, and I want you to be a good master under my authority."  If through neglect and failure on the part of the son to perform his leadership duties and capacities, the slave did in fact become wayward, the son would be held responsible by the father.  He would not have been the perpetrator of the slave's waywardness, of course, but he would have allowed the misdeeds.  "Father, it wasn't I who did it, it was the slave.  However, I acknowledge my neglect and failure to act in a manner that would lead our servant to do your will."
    This is Paul's teaching in Romans 7, and this comprises our saying the same thing about our sins.  The law of sin that dwells in us directly performs the crime, motivating and empowering our earthly faculties to disobey God.  Sin does not issue forth from our "I," that is, from our redeemed spiritual selfhood that Paul declares to "delight in the law of God after the inward man" (Romans 7:23).  This "new man, created in righteousness and true holiness," makes the choice to act in times of faithfulness.  He arises to "through the Spirit mortify the deeds of the body" (Romans 8:13).  In times of sin, however, he does not act, he does not "awake to righteousness" (I Corinthians 15:34).  Sin therefore results in its myriad of forms as the law of sin in our flesh does what such a law would be expected to do.  We confess accordingly. 
    "Heavenly Father, I have failed to arise by faith and put to death this particular deed of my fleshly faculties and members through the enabling of Your indwelling Spirit.  Sin has resulted, and in humility and sorrow, I take full responsibility even as I also know and affirm that it did not originate in the the "I" that I am, as united to Christ.  Thank You for your promised forgiveness and cleansing, and for the new person you have made me through the Lord Jesus."
    "Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin" (Romans 4:8).  God does not account sin to the born again believer because sin does not originate in who we most deeply are in Christ.  Sin nevertheless remains real, serious and consequential in our lives, and will lead to our Father's loving chastening if allowed rampant expression in our thoughts, attitudes, words and deeds (Hebrews 12:6).  And, we remain responsible when sin occurs.  Indeed, we will discover as we proceed that this Biblical perspective concerning sin makes us even more responsible than we may have considered because we are far more equipped to overcome it than we normally realize.
"Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace."
(Romans 6:12-14)
Tomorrow: The delight of the new man

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Scenes of Prayer

(I'm going to interrupt our current series, "The Choice To Make a Choice", because of the special nature of the message that follows.  We'll return to the series tomorrow.)
    I have a dear friend and brother in Christ named Truett Dodd.  Truett is 82, and has been a missionary to Russia (mostly in Siberia) for the last 18 years.  Yes, at an age when many people are considering retirement, Truett responded to the Lord's call to journey to Russia 44 times for 3-6 month visits, many during brutally cold Siberian winters when the thermometer often drops to 30-40 below zero.  He's distributed tens of thousands of Bibles and hundreds of thousands of tracts.  He's preached the Gospel in schools, hospitals, streets and wherever a precious Russian heart would listen to him say, "Jesus loves you and I love you."  He's built churches, supported pastors, and introduced the Russian people to grits (for which they'll be forever thankful, I'm sure!).
    Last year Truett was diagnosed with both serious cancer and heart disease.  He's been through radiation treatments and chemotherapy, and on Monday entered a local hospital with internal bleeding.  When I heard the news, I went to the hospital to see Truett.  As I entered his room, I realized someone was with him.  The gentleman turned out to be Truett's son Phillip, who was holding his dad's hand and praying for him.  Need I say more?  A son praying for his father.  A beautiful scene of prayer.
    While I was with Truett on Monday night, he asked that I pray for the Lord to give him sleep.  I contacted a number of people who know and love Truett to inform them of his request.  When I returned to the hospital on Tuesday afternoon to see Truett, I found him sleeping like a baby.  Another beautiful scene.  Of prayer answered.
    I went to see Truett again yesterday.  I was greeted once again with another moment to always remember.  I entered his hospital room and found Truett lying in his bed, his hands folded, his chin on his chest, and his heart praying, softly, but loud enough that I could hear.  "Lord, I need You right now.  I need You to help me and strengthen me.  Please don't let me be lazy."  Truett, of course, didn't know that I was there and listening, and I felt like I had intruded on a sacred moment between the Lord and his trusting child.  However, I didn't and I don't feel badly about being blessed with another scene.  A sacred scene of prayer.
    "Don't let me be lazy."  I think I'm going to add that request to my personal prayer repertoire.  Indeed, if an 82 year old man, lying in a hospital bed because of cancer, heart disease and internal bleeding, is still so about the business of the Lord's work that his request involves not healing, but help to fulfill his calling, well, need I say more?  "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work" said the Lord Jesus (John 5:17).  The Spirit of that same Christ dwells in my brother Truett, and He's clearly saying the same thing in Truett's heart. 
    I know you'll join me in praying for Truett.  And to be honest with you, I really don't think we have to pray that Truett won't be lazy.  I think he and the Lord have that request covered.  Oh yes, I didn't mention that after I greeted Truett yesterday, he immediately began to tell me that he felt the Lord had given him a way to get even more Bibles and tracts into the hands of the Russian people.  So, pray with me that God will honor our brother's passion to continue his holy calling.  I suspect that as we all pray for Brother Truett, we'll each have our own wonderful scene of prayer.
"And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!"
(Romans 10:15)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"The Choice To Make a Choice" Part 2

    "If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good.  Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me" (Romans 7:16-20).
    I must be honest with you.  Over the years, I have found the passage above in Paul's letter to the Romans to be perhaps the most under considered teaching in the New Testament.  I have literally seen verse by verse commentaries that virtually ignore the passage, likely because of fear that misunderstanding will result if Paul's fascinating proposal is considered too closely.
    Let us therefore address the possibility at the outset of our consideration.  In no way is the Apostle saying that we are not responsible for our sins even though he plainly states, "if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me."  Throughout Paul's epistles, personal responsibility is proclaimed over and over again, both directly and implicitly.  Every promise to believe and command to obey administered by the Holy Spirit through Paul's writings clearly reveal the responsibility of believers to actively engage ourselves in response to the will of God.  "Exercise thyself unto godliness" (I Timothy 4:7).
    What is Paul proposing, therefore, by his declaration that if he does that which he doesn't want to do (clearly referring to sin), it is the sin that dwells in his flesh that is doing the crime?  Furthermore how can he say that "it is no more (or no longer) I that do it?"
    First, there was a time in Paul's life when sin did issue forth from his "I."  Before he became a believer, the Apostle was a "servant of sin" through and though as he "fulfilled the desires of the flesh and of the mind" (Romans 6:17; Ephesians 2:3; emphasis added).  After his conversion, however, Paul's writing refer to his challenge only in terms of the flesh.  "I know that in me, that is in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing" (Romans 7:18).  Salvation in Christ results in a "new man, created in righteousness and true holiness" in the essence of the believer's being and nature (Ephesians 4:24).  Thereafter, the conflict involves the lusting of the flesh against the spirit, and vice versa (Galatians 5:17).  The person we most deeply are in Christ "delights in the law of God" (Romans 7:23).  Our fleshly faculties and members inherited from Adam, however, remain inclined toward the bent of the world in which they originated.  "I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members" (Romans 7:24). 
    According to Paul, when the believer sins, it is the sin in our flesh that is sinning rather than our "I."  Again, if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me... that is, in my flesh."  How then are we responsible?  Simply, we have not made the choice to make a choice.  That is, the new person we are in Christ has not arisen to "through the Spirit mortify the deeds of the body" (Romans 8:13).  Sin in its myriad of forms therefore flows naturally from the law of sin that still inhabits our earthly components, from attitudes to words to deeds to relatings to omissions.  The natural proclivities of our flesh have been allowed to control the course of our lives rather than the supernatural delight of the Spirit of Christ in our spirits. 
    Despite having been "created in righteousness and true holiness," the new and spiritual person we are in our innermost being nevertheless requires growth from spiritual infancy to adolescence to adult maturity (Ephesians 4:24; I Peter 2:2; Hebrews 5:12-14; I Corinthians 16:13; I John 2:12-14).  It is not inevitable that we will grow into such maturity (as evidenced by the New Testament epistles' continual addressing of immaturity in first century believers).  We can remain as spiritual babies, and thus never grow strong in the Spirit-motivated and energized capacity to choose to make the choices of faith and submission to God whereby the law of sin in our members is consistently put to death.  If such a tragedy occurs, the sin in our flesh will sin in countless ways because the new man of our spirit is failing to arise in his high calling to "Awake to righteousness!" (I Corinthians 15:34).  According to Paul's teaching, the new man himself is not committing the sin directly.  But he is allowing it to happen, and thus he is responsible.
    As we proceed, we will see how Paul's fascinating teaching concerning the subject at hand empowers us to walk in the Spirit and thus overcome the lusts of the flesh.  No mere method or spiritual technique is implied by this, but rather a truer and more liberating way of knowing the Lord's Jesus' immanent and enabling presence in us...
"If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed."
 (Romans 8:36)
Tomorrow: the new man and confession of sin

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

"The Choice To Make a Choice" Part 1- An Illustration

     I often address matters of temptation by considering the issue of tailgaters.  Like most of us, I do not like looking in my rear view mirror and seeing someone following too closely.  Tailgaters jeopardize their own lives as well as the person against whom they commit the crime, and I view the act as an act of mindless selfishness. 
    This does not mean, however, that I have the liberty to resent tailgaters, or to allow bitter anger to control my attitude toward them.
    "But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you" (Matthew 5:44).
    When tempted by the tailgater, I must honest in admitting that no choice is necessary in feeling feelings of irritation and anger, or in thinking unkind thoughts.  Such as, "I wish I had a cannon mounted on the back of my car so I could take care of that idiot!"  Such fleshly responses just happen naturally, and if I make no choice to counter them, things just flow in the direction of carnality and sin.  As the old timer referenced in yesterday's message, "Sin comes natural!"
    Conversely, walking in faith and obedience to God in such matters does require active thought, deliberation and decision on my part.  I must remember the truth, believe the truth, affirm the truth, and submit to the truth as the Holy Spirit works in me to will and to do of God's pleasure (Philippians 2:13).  I must "awake to righteousness and sin not" (I Corinthians 15:34).  This leads to prayer for the tailgater rather than resentment (or the firing of an imaginary cannon!).  The Apostle Paul referred to this dynamic activity of grace and faith as mortifying (putting to death) the deeds of the body through the Spirit (Romans 8:13).  We determine to believe the truth that Christ dwells in us by His Spirit.  He is present and able to enable us, and He is working to do so.  We affirm also that despite contrary thoughts, emotions and physical sensations, our delight is to do the will of God (Romans 7:23).  Rather than drift from temptation into actual sin, we arise to trust God, believe His Word, and acknowledge that we belong to Him for the glory of the Lord Jesus and the fulfillment of His Word.
     The Christian life is not for the spiritually lethargic.  It is not for drifters.  By spiritual nature, we are not drifters, but we can nevertheless go with the flow of carnality if we do not understand the awake and aware life to which our Heavenly Father calls us.  Indeed, we do not simply have to choose to make choices of faith and obedience.  We get to do so.  There is no better life, or more literally, there is no other life than the walk of faith whereby we actively engage ourselves in overcoming the world, the devil and the flesh by faith (I John 5:4).  It is not an easy journey because, again, our natural bent toward drifting seems initially desired and comfortable.  However, overcoming such inclinations by the leading and power of the Holy Spirit causes us to truly feel alive because we are living rather than merely aimlessly drifting.  Be it tailgaters or a myriad of other forms of temptation, the choice to make a choice awaits us always along the path of righteousness.  May our eyes be open to see, our hearts on ready to believe, and our feet decisively pointed toward our glorious destination...
"I press toward the mark of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."
(Philippians 3:14)

Monday, May 16, 2011

"The Choice To Make a Choice" Introduction

    After preaching a message on temptation, the pastor was approached by an old timer in his church who commented, "Preacher, I don't know about you, but for me, sin sure seems to come natural!"
    The old timer was right.  Sin comes natural.  Obedience to God comes supernatural. 
    "I see another law, working in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members" (Romans 7:23).
   "The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death" (Romans 8:2). 
    An important truth shines forth from both the old timer and the Apostle's Paul's statements.  Sin does come natural to us because in our original birth, we descended from sinful Adam.  The Bible teaches that we were in him when he disobeyed God - "In Adam all die" - and thus his chosen subservience to the law of sin becomes ours by birth (I Corinthians 15:22).  Unfaithfulness to God is our natural proclivity, and we hardly have to choose to sin.  It just comes naturally.  Indeed, we don't have to train our children to do the wrong thing, do we?  But directing them to do the right thing is hard, and requires much determination and consistency by parents.
    When we are born again through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the indwelling Holy Spirit enacts a new law in the very depths of our spiritual being.  He begins to work in us "both to will and of God's good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13).  However, the law of sin inherited from Adam remains with us, according to God's good purposes and wisdom.  Conflicting motivations and desires therefore reside in believers.  "The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary one to the other" (Galatians 5:17).  Desire for sin, and the capacity to fulfill it resides in our fleshly faculties and members.  Desire for faithfulness, indeed, even delight for obedience resides in our Christ-inhabited spirits.  "I delight in the law of God after the inward man" (Romans 7:23).
    In times of conscious temptation, we are very naturally aware of the law of sin.  "I see another law in my members" wrote Paul.  That is, sin comes natural.  We feel its pull, we sense yearning for its expression, and the truth of the matter is that little choice has to be made to fulfill the strivings of sin.  Conversely, the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus often does not present itself so consciously in our thoughts and desires.  This law dwells in our spirits, and must accordingly be affirmed and accessed by faith.  As Paul declared, "I delight in the law of God."  When tempted, we must join our brother of old in believing and declaring that regardless of how loudly our flesh may scream at us of its desires, our true delight is to walk in the faith and obedience of the Spirit.
    In essence, our choice in times of temptation is simply that we must make a choice.  If we fail to do so, sin will come very naturally in our thoughts, attitudes, words and deeds.  However, if we remember the Word of God's declaration that Christ lives in us by His Spirit, and that He is working in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure to the degree that "I delight in the law of God after the inward man," we are enabled to make the choice of faith whereby we walk in truth.  "Awake to righteousness, and sin not" (I Corinthians 15:34).
    Our flesh is not who we most deeply are.  "Ye are not in the flesh, but in the spirit, if so be that the Spirit of Christ dwell in you" (Romans 8:9).  But it feels like who we most deeply are.  The choice must therefore be made, the choice to make a choice.  We must believe that through Christ, our delight is to trust and obey.  Every fleshly emotion, thought pattern and physical sensation may seem to counter, demanding that we simply allow the river of carnality to flow along its normal course.  Nevertheless, we stand to make our determination.  Again, we "awake to righteousness."  We choose to act according to the supernatural reality of the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.  Upon this basis, we then walk in faithfulness through the power of life in Christ Jesus.  Obedience thus "comes supernatural" as we put to death our fleshly and natural proclivity through the Spirit (Romans 8:13).
"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."
(Ephesians 5:14-15)
Tomorrow: a practical illustration

Friday, May 13, 2011

"Gaze Toward Life"

"Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity; and quicken (enliven) Thou me in Thy way" (Psalm 119:37).

God's enlivening way is the Lord Jesus Christ, who declared, "I am the way" (John 14:6). His enlivening process redirects our focus from emptiness to the person and work of our Savior. Who is He? What has He done? What is He doing? And what will He be doing forevermore for us, and in us? The Psalmist's prayer perfectly correlates to the born again Christian as we seek to walk in the spiritual abundance provided to us in the Lord Jesus.

Our flesh is prone to behold vanity, that is, to believe that things or persons other than Christ can be our life. As Abraham once said to Sarah, "My soul shall live because of thee," so are we tempted to look for life in people who cannot provide it (Genesis 12:13). We may look for things and experiences that please for a moment, but which too soon pass into little more than fond memory or even forgottenness. There is only one true life, as God defines life - "This life is in His Son" (I John 5:11). All believers know this to one degree or another, but all are nevertheless tempted to lay hold on dead and dying things in the hope that we can squeeze just a bit of life from them. But there is no life in them because there is no life in anyone or anything other than the One of whom Scripture declares... "He is thy life" (Deuteronomy 30:20).

The Psalmist was wise. He knew that he could not overcome the lust of the flesh by his own devices and determinations. So he prayed, asking God to redirect his focus from death to life. We must join him by consistently asking our Heavenly Father to turn our attention more and more to the person and work of the Lord Jesus. He is already working in us to do so, but our request is a vital part of the process whereby we actively engage ourselves in true and living relationship with God. Awareness of both our fleshly tendency toward distraction and God's faithful working to focus our gaze toward life will foster such prayer in us. The result will be a life that is more truly lived because we are looking away from the Sarahs of our lives unto the Savior of our life. "My expectation is from Him" (Psalm 62:5).

"Heavenly Father, we grow more and more aware of the temptation to seek life in vanity. Too often we have wandered down its hopeless paths, and met the impostors who await us there. But deep in our hearts, we know, we know that You are our life. And so we join the Psalmist in his wisdom. Turn our eyes from gazing upon emptiness. Turn them toward the Lord Jesus so that we may truly live. Thank You, Father, in the name of our Lord we pray, Amen."

"Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith" (Hebrews 12:2).

Thursday, May 12, 2011

"One Theme"

Occasionally I have opportunity to speak to a group of people whom I will likely never again encounter.

It's always interesting when such an occasion presents itself. What do you say when you only have one chance to say it? There doesn't seem to be a pat answer to this question. You pray, search the Scriptures, think, and seek to be open and responsive to the Lord's guidance. You hope to be faithful to that guidance, and present a message that the Holy Spirit personally applies to each heart. Only in Heaven will it be known if you've done what the Lord would have you do, and always you leave the cultivation and harvest of fruit to Him.

As I think back over the opportunities for such ministry, it does occur to me that a particular theme seems to have characterized the messages I have delivered. The heart of God is that theme. Who is He? What is His character and nature? What are His mental and emotional sensibilities regarding the human race? Or regarding each of us as individuals? The Bible presents a myriad of ways whereby this theme can be addressed. The possibilities are inexhaustible, and I truly believe the potential for powerful spiritual impact exists anytime we proclaim the Scriptural truth of who God is.

One thing is certain: the Lord Jesus Christ is the Theme of the theme, so to speak. The glory of God shines "in the face of Jesus Christ," according to the Apostle Paul (II Corinthians 4:6). The Apostle John furthermore taught that Christ declares, or reveals God (John 1:18). Accordingly, the person and work of the Lord Jesus provides the open portal into the heart of our Heavenly Father. Preaching Christ in accordance with Scripture and as enabled by the Holy Spirit always answers in some manner the great question of who God is. We gaze into His heart as we consider the life, death, resurrection, ascension and ongoing heavenly ministry of our Savior. Nothing else will suffice in communicating truth that genuinely matters, and if only one opportunity presents itself, only one theme must comprise our message.

"And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me"

(John 12:32)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

"We Were There"

While Jewish religious leaders and Roman governmental representatives may have directly put the Lord Jesus Christ to death on the cross, the truth of the matter is that the human race bears collective responsibility for the crime of the ages. The Lord Jesus died "for the sins of the whole world," and thus the question raised by the old spiritual, "Were You There? (When They Crucified My Lord)" must be answered in the affirmative by every child born of Adam's race (I John 2:2). Yes, we were there, I was there, you were there, we all were there when they - we - crucified our Lord.

More truth shines from this light of our indictment than a long eternity will allow us to fully fathom. That which always begins my consideration of this solemn matter is the incineration of every vestige of human pride in the flame of our shared culpability for Calvary. Indeed, how could we ever be proudly boast of any supposed accomplishment when in our hearts we always know the pain, sorrow, agony and forsakenness we inflicted upon the innocent Lamb of God? Our response to all achievement must therefore be thanksgiving, that is, amazed gratitude for God's leading and enabling us, based upon the grace of His loving involvement with us despite the fact that we brutally killed His Son.

I think of this often in terms of ministry. Those who preach, teach and write are often viewed by fellow believers in terms of admiration, respect and strong affirmation. Certainly there's a place for appreciation of faithful communicators in the body of Christ. However, we do well, and far more importantly, the communicator does well, to remember that his sins were responsible for the suffering and death of the Lord Jesus on the cross. Any trace of self importance or pride in the Christian pastor, preacher, teacher or writer gives strong indication that he doesn't know or has forgotten the horror of his shared responsibility for Calvary. We can pray no better prayer for such ones than the request that they will know and remember.

Most importantly, the wondrous heart of God shines forth from this difficult truth. Indeed, the same Heart we pierced with a spear to be sure we had killed its Bearer is the Heart that comforts us in our pain and sorrow. The same Hands we nailed to a cross are the Hands that embrace us in love when we trust them. And the same Feet we impaled are the Feet that walk with us and even within us as we determine to travel the path of righteousness (II Corinthians 6:16). We were there when our Lord was crucified. And He is here with us now because He was crucified. Wondrous Heart...

"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)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

"From Where We Are"

"Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended" (Philippians 3:13).

The Apostle Paul wrote these words well into his Christian life and ministry. He would write many other words of Scripture, at least thirteen books of the New Testament. He would establish untold numbers of early churches on the blank slate, as it were, of a culture that knew nothing of the Lord Jesus Christ. He would plant the Christian faith in the Gentile world of his day, paving the inroads it would make over twenty centuries on every continent and in every nation. And he would become the most respected believer who ever lived after experiencing much suspicion, distrust and rejection by even devout Christians during his earthly sojourn.

Paul nevertheless confessed that he had not truly laid hold of the Lord Jesus. By this, he didn't mean he didn't know his Savior, or that he didn't have rich and vibrant experience of the living Christ in both personal terms and in shared fellowship with others. The Apostle simply acknowledged what every believer feels, namely a sense of awareness and perhaps even of frustration that to whatever degree we know our Lord, there's so much more of Him we could have known, and so much more to know. God's infinite nature and being unite with our limitations, both self-imposed and involuntary, in bringing us to such places of honest acknowledgement. How much further down the road of knowing and responding to God would we like to be, or could be. But we are where we are, and thankfully, Paul provides the roadmap from which the rest of our journey begins...

"This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:13-14).

We can only begin from where we are. And we can begin from where we are. The grace and mercy of God in Christ offers a point of origination from the spot on which we are presently standing. Whatever the spiritual successes and failures of our past may have been, we go forth from where we are, as did Paul. That is, we trust God for the forgiveness so cleansing that He promises, " I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more" (Hebrews 12:8). We remember also that the good times, the moments of faithfulness, were the products of God's leading and enabling, and thus for His glory. So we give thanks and realize that we have no laurels upon which to rest.

The past may have led us to this place, to this spot on which we stand. But it does not determine where we go from here. The choice of this moment to love, trust and obey God in the power of His indwelling Spirit determines that. Yes, our brother of long ago blazed a trail for us, a trail of forgetting, of reaching forth, and of pressing toward the mark and the prize that beckons us. By the grace of God, Paul began from where he was. By the same grace, let us begin from where we are.

"Arise, let us go hence."
(John 14:31)

Monday, May 9, 2011

"The Fruit of Prayer"

While it may not be possible to overemphasize the value of prayer, it is possible to wrongly emphasis this blessed gift of God to our hearts.

Prayer is fruit, that is, we pray from God as the basis of praying to God. Apart from His presence and dynamic working in us, we wouldn't have the slightest interest in sincere communication and fellowship. Indeed, the praying Christ dwells in us by His Spirit, motivating us to seek our Heavenly Father. "God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying Abba, Father" (Galatians 4:6). He leads, motivates and enables us to pray as we trust and submit ourselves to Him for the blessed experience of being living temples wherein the Divine and the human unite in love.

Recognizing prayer as fruit causes prayer to be known as a matter of grace and truth rather than works. Prayer thus becomes real and living rather than rote and ritualistic. God has no interest in prayer without heart, and neither should we (Isaiah 1:15). Our first response to the matter of prayer therefore involves knowledge and affirmation of God's promise to work in us "to will and do of His good pleasure" regarding communion with Him (Philippians 2:13). We humble ourselves by acknowledging that in and of ourselves, we are no more capable of desiring and practicing prayer than we are of saving our own souls. Upon this basis of Truth and humility, we then expect the Lord to lead us to the altar of prayer that exists in our hearts by the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit. He will not disappoint, and we will find ourselves genuinely desiring and actively practicing the blessed gift of praying from God in order to pray to God.

"But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life."
(Jude 1:20-21)

Friday, May 6, 2011

"New Glories"

There are movies I have seen many times that I would like to be able to see again for the first time. "It's a Wonderful Life" comes to mind. I'd love to have another fresh experience of the gamut of emotion the film elicits, from the anticipation of George Bailey's hopes, to the disappointment when they are continually dashed, to the disgust at Mr. Potter's evil and injustice, to the despair of George's experience of what it would be like had he never lived, to the final joy and vindication when his years of self sacrifice result in confirmation that in the terms that matter, he was "the richest man in town."

We aren't allowed renewed first experiences of such things in this life. I suspect, however, that eternity in Heaven with the Lord Jesus Christ will be quite different.

"He that sat upon the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new" (Revelation 21:5; the verb "make" in this passage is in the present, indicative active of the Greek language, implying an ongoing making of all things new).

God is an infinite being whose character, nature, and way are inexhaustible. In His direct presence, new glories will forever spring forth, causing even the familiar and before experienced to express some new wonder of love, holiness, wisdom, righteousness, joy and peace. Our experience of Him will never become stale, nor will we ever sense even the briefest moment of boredom as "the unsearchable riches of Christ" call us to journey ever more deeply into the unlimited vein of the triune Person of God (Ephesians 3:8). All things will forever seem new because new glories will never cease to flow forth His unsearchable riches.

Our yet to be glorified sensibilities are presently unable to process such continual creativity. In Heaven, however, we will be ready and prepared for the wonders to come. "We shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He is" (I John 3:2). Thus, the most well worn path along some street of gold will eternally thrill us as the light of the Lord shines forth with a new ray of Divine splendor. Indeed, perhaps one saint will say to another, "Hmmm, I don't think we've ever been this way before." The other saint may respond, "Oh yes we have brother, many times." But then he may smile and add, "Come to think of it, however, no, we haven't."

"Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness."
(II Peter 3:13)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

"No Confidence In the Flesh"

Many years ago, I heard a man say, "You can't buy me! I won't compromise!"

You can guess what happened. He was bought. He compromised. He spent his entire life seeking fame, power and the trappings thereof. To a large degree, he got what he was looking for. But God clearly sent leanness unto his soul.

"In the mouth of the foolish is a rod of pride" (Proverbs 14:3).

Anyone who believes that they cannot fall perches himself on a crumbling precipice. The Apostle Paul himself revealed his understanding that it was not guaranteed he would finish his course of faithfulness. "I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway" (I Corinthians 9:27). He also confessed to the Romans, "In my flesh dwelleth no good thing" (Romans 7:18). Notwithstanding the presence of Christ in our spirits, the potential for a fall always exists in born again believers. No Christian is above temptation, and we can be sure that grave deception has overtaken us if ever we fancy ourselves beyond the possibility of compromise.

This is in no way meant to discourage, but rather to encourage. Rather than trust in our own faithfulness, the possibility of unfaithfulness presses us to look to the One of whom Jude declared, "Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen" (Jude 1:24-25). We no less require the dynamic involvement and action of the Lord Jesus Christ on our behalf for a life of faithfulness than we did for our new birth. "As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him" (Colossians 2:6). Understanding this truth and humbly submitting ourselves to the faithfulness of God rather than the delusion of our own fidelity makes far more likely our walk in genuine holiness.

Believers should have much confidence in God's promised working in us "both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13). We should, however, "have no confidence in the flesh" (Philippians 2:13). Such an attitude and its subsequent fruit will lead not to the boast of "I won't compromise!" but rather to the Psalmist's acknowledgment of "It is God that girdeth me with strength, and maketh my way perfect" (Psalm 18:32). There is a vast difference in these sensibilities, a difference that will go far in determining whether a lifetime of genuine faithfulness characterizes our walk with God.

"Without Me ye can do nothing... I can do all things through Christ which strengtheth me."
(John 15:5; Philippians 4:13)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

"Freely Offered, Freely Received"

Friends: Today marks the 400th anniversary of the publication the King James Version of the Bible. We give thanks for the gift of His written Word, and for the gift of the living Word it so beautifully proclaims. Glen

It is interesting - and unfathomable - to ponder a perfect God's allowance of evil by both the angelic and human races He created.

I don't attempt to figure out such mystery, but I do believe certain truths present themselves to us that we can understand, at least to some degree.

First, the character of the Creator presents itself to us. The God who "worketh all things after the counsel of His own will" nevertheless has no interest in domineering and forceful control of His creatures (Ephesians 1:11). Creation is not a chessboard in which its Lord moves angels and people as if they were inanimate objects. Personhood and its inherent freedom are valued in the Divine heart because "heart" is His primary interest (I Samuel 16:7). "God is love" declared the Apostle John, and the two great commands affirmed by both Old Testament and New call us to respond in kind (I John 4:8; 16). As defined by Scripture, such blessed sensibility cannot be forced or coerced, but is rather won as the character of the Lord Jesus Christ shines forth in such winsome display that "we love Him because He first loved us" (I John 4:19).

We see also the wisdom of God. Indeed, only the Lord of Scripture could give creatures freedom without jeopardizing the ultimate sanctify and security of His creation. "His understanding is infinite" proclaimed the Psalmist, and the amazing capacity of God to weave all things into His perfectly assured eternal purpose in Christ Jesus astounds us as we ponder Providence in both personal and universal terms (Psalm 147:5). Over and over and over again, evil and its terrible consequence seems to carry the day, portending of no hope and destruction. Over and over and over again, however, we see in countless ways the risen Christ come forth from tombs of death. We bow our hearts in both devotion and wonder as we see how true it is that "all things work together for good to them that love God, and are the called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28).

Finally, a God who would win our hearts rather than force them is someone who can be trusted. A perfect Heart, a perfect Mind and a perfect nail-scarred Hand rules creation. Such a glorious One knows how to elicit faith in those who will trust Him, and He knows how to work in us to freely love, desire and perform His will (Philippians 2:13). The end result displays the sublime enigma that a long eternity will witness the saints of God glorify only the Lord Jesus for the inexhaustible blessedness they enjoy. Nevertheless, all will testify not of coercion by force, but of freely offered entreaty of love, freely received. Great security will fill our hearts, and thus great confidence in the One who has filled our hearts. Eternity will not be long enough to love, adore, honor, worship, trust and obey such a One, and all such devotion will be offered freely with real and genuine love fostered not by force, but by Faithfulness.

"I will freely sacrifice unto Thee: I will praise Thy name, O LORD; for it is good."
(Psalm 54:6)