Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Rewards and Losses - the Parameter

The New Testament frequently addresses the issue of rewards and losses concerning born again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.
    "Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire" (I Corinthians 3:13-15).
    The Apostle Paul clearly teaches that salvation is not the issue regarding rewards and losses, just as we would expect since "not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us" (Titus 3:5).  Justification through Christ provides the freest gift ever given, a bestowal of grace that cannot be obtained or maintained by human effort.  "For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God and not of works, lest any man should boast... He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Galatians 2:8-9; Philippians 1:6).
    The life we live subsequent to having received this "freest gift," however, will be evaluated by He who will "judge His people" (Hebrews 10:30).  This raises a vital question: what are the parameters that determine whether our works will be accepted or rejected?  Interestingly, the answer is no less Christ-centered than the issue of our justification. 
    "He is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things He might have the preeminence" (Colossians 1:18).
     Our Heavenly Father's eternal purpose is "in Christ Jesus."  "All things were made by Him."  "By Him all things consist," and He upholds all things "by the word of His power."  We "live through Him," and the Holy Spirit is in the world to "glorify" and "testify" of Christ.  We can do nothing without Him, we can "do all things" through Him, and He is "made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.  He will be the Judge of all.  God will ultimately "gather together in one all things in Christ."  And, "every knee should bow... and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord" (Ephesians 3:11; John 1:3; Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 1:3; I John 4:9; John 16:14; 15:26; 15:5; Philippians 4:13; I Corinthians 1:30; John 5:22; Ephesians 1:10; Philippians 2:10-11).
    To the degree we are Christ-originated, Christ-perpetuated, Christ-illuminated, Christ-empowered, Christ-focused and Christ-saturated will be the degree to which we either "receive a reward" or "suffer loss."  Works of "gold, silver and precious stones" flow only from the deep
mine of the Lord Jesus.  Every thing else is "wood, hay and stubble" that will not stand the test of God's refining fire (I Corinthians 3:12).  The Lord Jesus is the standard, and the living presence within believers whereby the standard is fulfilled and revealed.  "Walk, even as He walked...To live is Christ" (I John 2:6; Philippians 1:21).
    Such truth both thrills and humbles the believing heart.  "Praise the Lord!" and "Uhoh!" always come to mind when I remember the exaltation of Christ to which our Heavenly Father devotes Himself, and to which He beckons the adjoining of our hearts.  Indeed, by definition Christians love the truth of Christ-centeredness, and we apply ourselves thereunto.  However, we also know how far we have to go in the quest to give Him "preeminence in all things" (Colossians 1:18). This is written as a reminder to my heart and yours that God so loves the exaltation of His beloved Son that the ultimate significance of our earthly sojourn rests solely on how much we have joined Him in seeking to direct, by both life and word, all attention and glory to the Lord Jesus.  He is worthy of such, and in that day when rewards and losses flow based solely on the person and work of Christ revealed in us, we will bow in full acquiescence to our Father's holy intention...
"God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
(Philippians 2:9-11)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

"The Shepherd, the Lamb"

The warm and beloved 23rd Psalm, the Shepherd's Psalm, is preceded by the solemn and mournful 22nd, or what we might call, the Lamb's Psalm.
    "My God, My God why hast Thou forsaken Me?... I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people. All they that see Me laugh me to scorn... The assembly of the wicked have enclosed Me: they pierced My hands and My feet... They part My garments among them, and cast lots upon My vesture" (Psalm 22:1; 6; 16; 18).
       "The Lord is my Shepherd" (Psalm 23:1).
     The Lord Jesus Christ is our great and good Shepherd, and He is the Lamb of God, slain for us(Hebrews 13:20; John 10:11; Revelation 13:8).  The latter office necessarily preceded the former as our Savior had to make atonement for our sins as the Lamb before He could fully take residence within us as our great and good Shepherd.  He suffered untold sorrow and agonies for His trusting sheep so that He might joyfully take His rightful place as the master who lovingly provides, protects, guides, chastens and leads us into green pastures and beside still waters.
     We can trust such a Shepherd, we can with our whole heart abandon ourselves to His perfect care and direction.  For a long eternity we shall look upon the Hands that wield the rod and the staff, Hands that still bear the wounds suffered whereby the Lord Jesus made us His own.  The Feet whose tracks we will forever follow bear the same marks of love and devotion, paving every eternal path as a sacred trail of grace.  His heart was pierced also, pointing to that agony of spirit resulting from Christ having been wounded "in the house of My friends," but even more, of being smitten and forsaken by the Father whom He so loved (Zechariah 13:6; Isaiah 53:4).  Oh yes, we can trust such a Shepherd as this, the great and good Shepherd who is also a Lamb, "the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).
"Awake, O sword, against My shepherd, and against the man that is My fellow, saith the LORD of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered: and I will turn mine hand upon the little ones. And it shall come to pass, that in all the land, saith the LORD, two parts therein shall be cut off and die; but the third shall be left therein. And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on My name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is My people: and they shall say, The LORD is my God."
(Zechariah 13:7-9)

Monday, August 29, 2011

"Best Laid Plans"

We've all done it.  We decide on a course of action that seems good.  We plan well, prepare ourselves, make the sacrifices necessary to fulfill our goal, and set forth with great expectation and excitement.  Alas, however, we discover our good intentions to have been at best a mistake, and at worst, a disaster.
    "There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death" (Proverbs 16:25).
    Perfect foreknowledge is reserved for God alone.  For all others, including ourselves, we can never be sure that our decisions and plans will lead to a successful outcome.  Certainly this shouldn't keep us from deciding and planning, but it does inject a healthy dose of humility into everything we purpose to do.
    I'll always remember Mrs. Massie, a former resident at the nursing home where we conduct services.  On Sunday mornings as our chapel meeting concluded, I would say, "We'll look forward to seeing you Tuesday for our next meeting."  Mrs. Massie would invariably chime in, "If the Lord will, you'll see us Tuesday, Glen."  She had Scriptural authority for this, of course, as commanded by James (James 4:15).  Furthermore, Mrs. Massie had lived long enough to know that expressing certainty about days - or even moments - to come reveals that we have forgotten how often seemingly guaranteed outcomes in our lives have failed to materialize.
    Our Heavenly Father would have us plan and prepare.  He is Himself guided by His "eternal purpose in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 3:11).  We seek His wisdom, motivation and restraint as we begin our endeavors.  As we do, we may go forth in confidence, expectation and hope that goals will come to fruition as we desire, or even better.  However, we also acknowledge the possibility that our best laid plans may crash on the rocks of disappointment rather than carry us to the summit of success. 
     God will be awaiting us at either venue, and He will be whatever we need Him to be in both our joys and sorrows.  Our Lord weaves both fulfilled dreams and unfulfilled hopes into His plan to conform us to the image of the Lord Jesus.  We can trust Him upon the summit or in the valley, and we shall see one day that nothing in our lives was wasted, nor that any moment found Him unable to "work all things together for good to thing that love God, and who are the called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28).
"He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And He hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD.(Psalm 40:2-3)

Friday, August 26, 2011

"From the Depths, To the Depths"

We shall likely discover when we get to Heaven that the greatest blessings of our lives were not the greatest blessings of our lives (or at least those things we perceived as our greatest blessings).
    "We glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us" (Romans 5:3-5).
    Note the Apostle Paul's progression from "tribulation" to "the love of God shed abroad in our hearts."  Trouble presses trusting hearts deeper into the living person of the Lord Jesus Christ.  We turn to Him most determinedly and devotedly when we hurt, discovering as we fly into the safe Haven of our hearts that we are beloved beyond any lesson that pleasant times could ever reveal.  "In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them: in His love and in His pity He redeemed them; and He bare them, and carried them all the days of old" (Isaiah 63:9).
    This is not to discount the joy and blessedness of those "good and perfect gifts" our Heavenly Father loves to provide (James 1:17).  We learn much of His heart, nature and way when His gifts bring happiness to our hearts and smiles to our faces.  A long eternity awaits the trusting sons and daughters of God in Christ wherein He will lavish upon us inexhaustible riches of "kindness toward us through Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:7).  Such goodness begins in this lifetime, as great and good things happen in us thereby.
    Nevertheless, the depths of God are almost surely best known when we must echo the Psalmist, "Out of the depths have I cried unto Thee, o Lord!" (Psalmist 130:1).  From the depths, to the Depths, as it were.  By and by we shall discover that pain was a friend that escorted us to the very Home of our hearts in a manner that pleasure could never accomplish.  We give thanks for both, knowing that both the joys and sorrows of this lifetime have their perfect place in God's purposes. 
"Deep calleth unto deep."
(Psalm 42:7)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

"A Terrible Thing To Waste"

"The king's daughter is all glorious within... I delight in the law of God after the inward man" (Psalm 45:13; Romans 7:22).
    To rephrase a popular adage, a spirit united to the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ is a terrible thing to waste.
    Boil a born again believer in Christ down to his or her essence, and you'll find the Spirit of the Lord Jesus united to the spirit of His trusting child.  "He that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit" (I Corinthians 6:17).  Therein His delight for His Father's will is our delight, as affirmed the Apostle Paul, and therein the Holy Spirit reveals both the love of God and love for God - "the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us" (Romans 5:5).
     Certainly this reality of our Christ-inhabited spirits does not always lead to corresponding thoughts, attitudes, words, deeds and relatings to God and others.  Indeed, we may "live in the Spirit."  But we do not always "walk in the Spirit" (Galatians 5:25).  The truth remains true nevertheless, and the more we know and affirm with the Apostle that God is working in us "both to will and to do of His good pleasure," the more we will experience and express the wonder of "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Philippians 2:13; Colossians 1:27).
    Our spiritual enemies know this truth more than we do.  Thus, they seek to distract, discourage and deceive us from the powerful work of grace already effected in the depths of our being.  The devil and his minions point to past experience of failure, present feelings of weakness, and future uncertainties to hinder our understanding and strong affirmation that "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" (Philippian 4:13).  To the degree they succeed will be the degree to which we fail to consistently walk in the inheritance of "unsearchable riches" freely given to us in the Lord Jesus (Ephesians 3:8).
     Conversely, to the degree we succeed in knowing, believing and affirming the truth of our innermost being immersed in Christ will be the degree to which more and more live accordingly.  If we have believed, we live our lives in this moment and forevermore as living temples of the living God.  He dwells in us, walks in us, and enables us to think, speak, act and relate in a capacity far beyond human means (II Corinthians 6:16).  Christ is the life, the power, the wisdom and the love whereby we live for the glory and will of God - "Christ liveth in me" (Galatians 2:20).  We are the trusting and submissive sons and daughters who "live through Him" (I John 4:9). 
    It is indeed a terrible thing to waste "so great salvation" by failing to know, believe and affirm the wonder of who Christ is in us, and who we are in Him (Hebrews 2:3).  Let us therefore get our spiritual dander up, as it were, realizing that our enemies seek to cloud and enshroud the Light that shines so brightly in our hearts.  We do not have to succumb to their deceptions and distractions.  "Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world" (I John 4:4).  Rather than waste such "hope of glory," let us arise and avail ourselves of the presence of the Lord Jesus among us and within us...
"Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding, abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end, Amen."
(Ephesians 3:30-21)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

"The Friend of Our Hearts"

"There is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother" (Proverbs 18:24).

    God is many things to His trusting children in Christ.  He is the Creator and Sustainer of our being, our Savior and Redeemer, our Father, our Lord and Master, and the One in whom we "live and move and have our being," to name just a few of His roles and offices in our lives (Acts 17:28).

     He is also our friend, the great Friend of our hearts.  He knows us, and enables us to know Him.  We matter to Him, He cares for us, and as A.W. Tozer once said, "God is emotionally involved in our lives."  Of such involvement, our Lord promises to finish the work of grace He began in us through Christ, a work we can be sure is ongoing in this moment, whether we perceive it or not (Philippians 1:6).  That which blesses us blesses Him, and our griefs are His griefs.  Most importantly, all originates in the simple, but eternally and infinitely wondrous reality that "I have loved thee with an everlasting love" (Jeremiah 31:3). 

    No heart is friendless wherein dwells the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ.  We could be carried away unto and left alone in the distant reaches of a vast universe where no other human face could be seen and no voice heard.  In such an hour, our Lord would meet us with special graces of presence and fellowship that would fill our hearts, confirming more than ever we've known, "In Thy presence is fullness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore" (Psalm 16:11). This is who He is, the Friend of our hearts, and He is so in this present moment wherever we may find ourselves, and whatever may be our lot or circumstance. 

     This we must believe, first, because it is true, and then because our Heavenly Father desires us to know and rejoice in the wonder of His affection, devotion, involvement, caring and love.  Much was sacrificed to make such presence and fellowship possible.  May we remember and devote ourselves anew and afresh to the Friend of our hearts, determining to be the friend of His heart.

"I have called you friends."

(John 15:15)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

"A Gift To Our Brother"

"Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift" (Matthew 5:23-24).
    When approaching God through the Lord Jesus Christ, we are received wholly and solely upon His merits and working on our behalf.
    "Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which He hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, His flesh; and having an high priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water" (Hebrews 10:19-22).
     As the old hymn beautifully declares, "Nothing in my hand I bring, only to Thy cross I cling."  Thus may we come, we may always come to the throne of Heaven so long as come by the Christ of Heaven.  However, when approaching God by this blessed way of grace, the Holy Spirit may grant remembrance of a wrong we have committed against someone near to us.  In such times, our Heavenly Father would have us leave our gift at the altar (in full expectation that it will ultimately be offered), and seek to restore the horizontal relationship of the human before fully enjoying the vertical relationship with the Divine.  In essence, God would have us give a gift to our brother before we make our offering to Him.
     That gift involves the humility whereby we confess, "I was wrong, inexcusably wrong, and I am sorry."  It may also include the sacrifice of restitution in some cases.  This is a hard way for our flesh, which can devise countless excuses, rationalizations and reasons for avoiding God's will in this most vital of matters.  It is a blessed way for our spirit, however, wherein we so "delight in the law of God" that opportunities for humility and self sacrifice are seen as offering the deepest peace and joy we can ever know (Romans 7:22).  This we must believe, that regardless of how much our flesh may lust against making matters right with our brother, our Christ-inhabited spirits ever flow with the current of loving God by loving people.
    Grace springs forth at the altar of the Lord Jesus, grace given, grace received, and grace expressed.  Indeed, when we return to offer our gifts of praise, thanksgiving, adoration and devotion after having reconciled with our brother, "joy unspeakable and full of glory" awaits us (I Peter 1:8).  We find a Father pleased by the humility of His beloved Son revealed in us, and we find our own hearts graced with a peace beyond understanding or description.  It is the peace of devoting ourselves to the centrality of establishing and maintaining good relationships, first with God, and then with people.  Or, as both Old Testament and New declare to be the most important calling of our lives...
"Master, which is the great commandment in the law?  Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."
(Matthew 22:36-40)

Monday, August 22, 2011

Grace Realized, Gratitude Expressed

    "O LORD my God, I will give thanks unto Thee for ever" (Psalm 30:12).
     An eternity of unceasing gratitude awaits the hearts of those who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.  More to the point, an eternity of unceasing cause for gratitude awaits us in the presence of the God whose gracious generosity knows no bounds.
     Thanksgiving is the fruit of a determined awareness to realize and affirm that "every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights" (James 1:17).  At present, this sensibility must be cultivated in our hearts and minds because "we see through a glass darkly," and because our spiritual enemies seek to distract us from remembering our complete dependence on God, and more importantly, His complete faithfulness to us.  Thus, David expressed the determination that we should seek to keep fresh in our hearts, and among each other: "I will remember the works of the Lord; surely I will remember Thy wonders of old" (Psalm 77:11).
      Such remembrance will flow naturally in Heaven.  Our sensibilities will be glorified, and there will be no foes to hinder the realization of God's lavish bestowal of goodness upon us.  The sweetness of a perpetually grateful heart will bless ourselves and our Heavenly Father with a perfection of loving relationship wherein both parties know who and what they are to each other.  "This God is our God forever... we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture" (Psalm 48:14; 100:3).
    In our present existence, we will not attain to full realization of God's supply and our need.  Accordingly, even the most grateful believing heart responds only in limited measure.  We can, however, seek a growing consistency of gratitude by seeking a growing awareness in Scripture and in our lives of how much our Lord loves to give, and how continually we receive.  "He giveth to all life and breath and all things" (Acts 17:25).  To whatever degree we presently know and affirm this fundamental truth of our existence, we need to know and affirm it more.  As we grow in such grace realized, we shall also grow in gratitude expressed to the Life of our lives and the Provider of all things.  Mutual blessedness will result in our present existence, promising and foreshadowing a glorious eternity of giving and thanksgiving to come...
"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). 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

"A Higher Vantage Point"

    Pilots flew to heretofore unknown altitudes in the U2 spy plane program, conducted by the United States in the Nevada desert during the 1950s.  Reaching altitudes of 65,000 feet, they were amazed to discover that the Pacific Ocean could be seen from 300 miles away.
     The higher one goes, the more perspective changes and allows for visions unviewable on the ground.
     "God... hath raised us up together and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:4; 6).
    Born again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are said to already dwell in the heavenlies with our Lord.  This references a spiritual reality that transcends time and space, and which we presently have no earthly or physical frame of reference.  We do have, however, the means by which such reality has powerful impact on our present experience.  "We walk by faith, not by sight" (II Corinthians 5:7).  By the Word of God and the enabling of the indwelling Holy Spirit, believers may view life from a higher vantage point, as it were, than the merely horizontal line of vision afforded by our natural senses. 
    "Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment" (John 7:24).
    What does the Bible say about the issues of our lives?  Therein lies the higher perspective whereby we see from Heaven while walking upon the earth.  The more we know and assimilate the Word of God, the more we interpret life by the mind of Christ rather than our limited human reasoning.  We still use our minds, of course, and actually think far more clearly, effectually and indeed, reasonably.  A brain illuminated and energized by the Holy Spirit is a powerful thing, and provides a tool that  powerful impact for dealing with everything in our lives from a lofty position of sight and strength.
    When I was a child, some friends and I built a treehouse at the top of a tree that was 10,000 feet high (well, it seemed that high to my young and thrilled eyes).  We could see for miles to neighborhoods and parts of our city that we didn't even know existed.  This didn't compare to the pilots of the U2 program, but the experience was similar.  Little did I know then that our Lord provided a foreshadowing of heavenly things to come in my life.  Because life lived by, in and through the God of Heaven calls us to see things as He sees them, and to respond accordingly.  There is no greater or higher experience of life, and the truth of the matter is that there is no other life.
"If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God."
(Colossians 3:1-3)

Friday, August 19, 2011

"Prayer... For All Saints"

When praying for myself and fellow believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, I ask God to work according to several primary applications of His Spirit and Truth.

1.  Confirmation - that we will know wherein we are walking in genuine faith and obedience, and that we would not be deterred from the paths of godliness on which we are rightly walking.  "He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake" (Psalm 23:3).

2.  Enhancement - that we will grow in our walk along such paths, as the Apostle Peter commanded, "Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (II Peter 3:18).  Regardless of how faithfully we may be fulfilling some aspect of God's will, there is always room to "increase more and more" (I Thessalonians 4:10).

3.  Addition - that we will see, understand and apply new truths about the Lord Jesus that we have yet to discover.  He is an infinite Being, and as such, will always be shining forth with glories heretofore unknown.  "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!" (Romans 11:33).

4.  Reproof - that we will be shown any pattern of thought, belief, attitude, word, action or relating to God and others that is not faithful to Scripture.  "Cleanse Thou me from secret faults" (Psalm 19:12).

5.  Correction - that we will humbly and faithfully set our feet on the correct paths of godliness after having been reproved.  "My son, despise not the chastening of the LORD; neither be weary of His correction: for whom the LORD loveth He correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth" (Proverbs 3:11-12).

    Most importantly, I ask that all be done in the light of the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.  He is both the standard to which we aspire, and the source by which we attain to such aspiration.  "Walk, even as He walked... I will dwell in them, and walk in them" (I John 2:6; II Corinthians 6:16).

    Believers are given blessed privilege to benefit each other by approaching our Heavenly Father on each other's behalf.  As we ask God to confirm, enhance, add, reprove and correct, He reveals the Lord Jesus by the working of the Holy Spirit, and we experience the joy of knowing that we play a vital role in our brothers and sisters' walk in God's grace and truth.

"Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints."
(Ephesians 6:18)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

"The Works of Grace"

    Works can never lead to grace.  But grace always results in works.
    "If it be of works, then is it no more grace" (Romans 11:6).
    "Let us have grace, that we may serve God acceptably, and with godly fear" (Hebrews 12:28).
    God's freely given favor in the Lord Jesus Christ, received and assimilated by faith, results not only in forgiveness and the promise of eternal life, but also the dynamic working of the Holy Spirit within our hearts "to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13).  Thus, wherever we have problems with faithfulness and obedience, we can be sure our root problem involves failure in some way to know and experience the grace of God.  Only thereby can we "serve God acceptably and with godly fear," and only thereby will our works be the product not of fleshly effort, but of Divine origin and power.
    The Apostle Peter commanded that we "grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (II Peter 3:18).  Our brother of old well knew that only advances in grace, as known through advances in our knowledge of the Lord Jesus, lead to increasingly consistent obedience to the Word of God.  Ever and always, the person and work of Christ on our behalf provide enabling to "work the works of God" (John 6:28).  The more we "look unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith," the more we will discover Him to be also the power of this and every moment (Hebrews 12:2).  The Lord of grace is our hope for the works of grace.  Let us have grace indeed, and then let us rejoice as our service to God flows from its sublime and singular Fount...
"He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water."
(John 7:38)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

"The Best He Can"

     "I'm doing the best I can!"  We've all likely said it, responding to pressures from others, or even from ourselves, to do more or better. 
     Certainly it's true that we can only do what we can do, and no more.  Or is it?
    "We shall live with Him by the power of God" (II Corinthians 13:4).
    For the born again believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, trusting and submitted to God, we are enabled to "do the best He can."  By Biblical definition, being a believer means that we no longer trust in ourselves or our own understanding and abilities.  We rather see ourselves as branches of a Vine verdant and vital with the life of that God who creates and sustains an almost infinitely vast universe by merely speaking.  "My expectation is from Him" exulted the David who would never have slain Goliath had he merely lived by the paltry power of "I'm doing the best I can!" (Psalm 62:5).
   "Then said David to the Philistine, Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied. This day will the LORD deliver thee into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee" (I Samuel 17:45-46).
     The best God could do against the giant was to deliver a mere stone slung by the mere hand of a mere boy into the forehead of the Philistine champion.  Goliath lost his head because David realized that in the scope of God's will, his best was his Lord's best.  "For by Thee I have run through a troop; and by my God have I leaped over a wall" (Psalm 18:29).
     What will God's best be for us in this day?  We don't know as yet, but we will as we trust and submit ourselves to the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.  The living God dwells within us, and He loves to reveal His strength in our weakness (II Corinthians 12:9).  As did David, we must expect that this will be the case in the particular arenas of challenge where our own Goliaths await us.  We do not live by the best of our own wisdom, but by the wisdom of God.  We do not live by the best of our own willingness, but by the willingness of God.  We do not live by the best of our own planning, but by the planning of God.  And we do not live by the best of our own ability and strength, but "we shall live with Him by the power of God."  Such is the grace bestowed upon all who believe in the Lord Jesus, and such is the gift of a life lived not by the best we can, but by the best He can.
"We had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead."
(II Corinthians 1:9)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

"A Terrible Resolve"

    I recently heard a Naval historian comment that the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan in 1941 could certainly be characterized as a strategic victory at the time, but viewed in larger historical context, it proved to be a disaster for the Japanese.  As General Isoroku Yamamoto, commander of the Japanese Navy, is reported to have said, "I fear that all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve." 
    The enemies of the Lord Jesus Christ are often allowed by God to win victories that have serious and difficult consequences for His trusting children.  Pits are dug, as it were, into which we fall in seeming defeat and hopelessness.  We look around and see with natural eyes and understanding only darkness.  No possible solutions or answers seem forthcoming, and prospects for the future portend only of increasing descent into despair.  God seems far away, and we may even echo David's plaintive cry uttered from a similar venue of sorrow, "Why standest Thou afar off, O LORD?  Why hidest Thou thyself in times of trouble?" (Psalm 10:1).
    In such times, born again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ do well to remember the origin and foundation of our faith. 
     "Though they found no cause of death in Him, yet desired they Pilate that He should be slain. And when they had fulfilled all that was written of Him, they took Him down from the tree, and laid Him in a sepulchre.  But God raised Him from the dead" (Acts 13:28-30; emphasis added). 
    As King Pyrrhus said after defeating the Romans in several battles at terrible cost to his own army, "One more such victory will undo me!"  The Bible doesn't record the reaction of Satan and his minions to the cross, but we might imagine that at least a trace of "Uhoh!" might have passed through their fiendish minds when the Lord Jesus died.  Indeed, the cross of Calvary was prelude to the empty tomb of the garden, and the basis for the eternal good of the entire universe in both the present moment and forevermore.
    When all seems lost, and our hearts feel shattered beyond repair, Scripture calls us to the "terrible resolve" of trusting God in the light of His Son's empty tomb.  "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God" (Romans 10:17).  Just as we consider the pages of history to discover that Pearl Harbor foreshadowed the crushing defeat of the Japanese Empire, so do the the pages of the Bible's prophecy assure us that Calvary ensures a far more crushing defeat of the enemies of God.  Without the cross, there could have been no resurrection, and with no resurrection, there would have been no "newness of life" that will ultimate redeem a creation that will forever shine forth with the glory of the risen Christ.  "Behold, I make all things new" (Romans 6:4; Revelation 21:5).
    Our own crosses portend not of despair, but of glories of light that can only be known because we have passed through the gloom of darkness.  "The light shineth in darkness" for those who will open eyes of faith to behold the Lord Jesus risen from the dead not merely in history, but in our story.  Or as the Apostle Paul declared of crosses which lead to empty tombs...
"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... As dying, and behold, we live!" (II Corinthians 4:10; 6:9).

Monday, August 15, 2011

From Victory Part 2

(Another lengthy one.  Thanks for your patience.  Also, we're continuing to have trouble with our bulks mailing lists.  I'm tweaking them again, and hopefully this will make it to some of you who have not been receiving the messages lately.)

The presence of conflicting desires in the thoughts, emotions and physical sensations of born again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ presents us with the necessity of building an altar of faith in our hearts.

     "I delight in the law of God after the inward man.  But 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... 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).

    The Apostle Paul writes that he "sees" the law of sin in his members, that is, the inclination of our flesh toward unbelief and disobedience presents itself as conscious and obvious to us.  Note, however, that Paul does not affirm this obvious awareness of "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus," that is, the Christ-wrought delight and desire to serve the law of God that dwelled in his spirit.  Believing in the latter requires the determination of faith whereby we affirm the yearning for righteousness which characterizes who we most deeply are in Christ.  Again, we must build an altar within whereby we accept the Bible's teaching that God faithfully fulfills His promise to "work in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13).

     Do we believe this as an established reckoning of faith, doctrine and principle?  And then do we seek to go forth from this altar of the heart, making choices of faith whereby we affirm with Paul, "I delight in the law of God after the inward man," and "with the mind, I myself serve the law of God?"  It is vital that we do so.  Indeed, it is often much easier to acknowledge the lusts of the flesh because they present themselves more obviously.  We very consciously feel them, think them, and sense them.  However, if we fail to also believe the Bible's teaching regarding our spiritual delight and desire for righteousness, we condemn ourselves to an inconsistent experience of overcoming temptation.  We will simply walk out our choice to see only the lusts of the flesh rather than affirming the truth of Christ's overcoming presence and working in us both to will and to do of God's pleasure.

    For example, suppose someone sins against us.  The Bible's teaching plainly calls us to " 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).  Our thoughts, emotions and physical sensations, however, will likely not initially flow in such a direction of grace and mercy.  We will rather feel strong inclination toward anger, bitterness and even revenge.  These fleshly realities notwithstanding, Scripture calls us to believe and affirm our deeper desire (and "delight") for obedience to God's command that we love, bless and pray for our offender.  "I delight in the law of God after the inward man."

    We may not feel such inclination, and our thoughts may not seem to naturally flow with the current of the love of Christ.   "The flesh lusteth against the spirit" (Galatians 5:17).  Nevertheless, the dynamic presence of the Holy Spirit works in us to motivate and enable obedience to God and love for our enemies.  This we must believe despite the fact that we cannot see or feel.  "We walk by faith, not by sight" (II Corinthians 5:7).  We choose to affirm our spiritual inclination to love, bless and pray.   Thereby we will find in growing consistency the Christ-originated and empowered ability to walk in accordance with His character and nature, and with the delight and service to God which characterizes our innermost spiritual being.

    This perspective provides not a mere method or mechanism whereby we do the will of God.  It simply offers Truth, truth to be known, believed, and affirmed in both doctrine and practice.  More literally, it offers opportunity to relate to God by believing His Word in a particularly elemental and personal way.  Indeed, the Gospel of the Lord Jesus provides to believing hearts not only forgiveness and eternal life, but also a "new man, created in righteousness and true holiness" (Ephesians 4:24).  We are not who we used to be in the depths of our being and personhood, and to the degree we affirm the Bible's teaching of desire and delight for obedience to God in our "inward man," we will find ourselves walking far more accordingly.

"Therefore 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)

"Reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord."

(Romans 6:11)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

"From Victory"

(A bit longer than usual, but I'm taking liberties since this is sent out on Saturday, and because it addresses, in my opinion, so important an issue regarding the Christian life.  Thanks, Glen.)
    I recently affirmed and encouraged a good friend about his faithful fulfillment of some very difficult responsibilities at this time in his life.  He responded, "But Glen, I don't feel like I want to do them at all!"
    My friend has excellent company in the honest acknowledgment of conflicting sensibilities existing in his thoughts and emotions, while nevertheless doing the will of God.
    "When I would do good, evil is present with me" (Romans 7:21).
    No less than the Apostle Paul confessed that good and evil concurrently resided within him.  "I delight in the law of God after the inward man, but I see another law, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members" (Romans 7:22-23).  In the perfection of our Heavenly Father's wisdom and way in His trusting children, the "law of sin" is presently allowed to remain in our earthly faculties and members inherited from Adam.  Thus, if in this lifetime we are awaiting an experience of good without the presence of contrary sensibilities, we will wait a very long time. 
    To illustrate, when we determine to trust God, we should expect thoughts and feelings of uncertainty, fear and unbelief to challenge our faith.  "The flesh lusteth against the spirit" (Galatians 5:17).  When we choose to love and bless others, notions of bitterness may nevertheless be present.  The path of humility will be accompanied by detours within that tempt us to the pride of self affirmation and self sufficiency.  The sincere desire to obey our Lord will exist concurrently with temptations to disobey.  Again, as Paul declared, "When I would do good, evil is present with me."
    During our earthly lives, the Christian life involves not the elimination of evil in us, but rather the overcoming of it.  This we do by the faith which first acknowledges and affirms the good in us, the "good" being the Spirit of Christ who inhabits our innermost spiritual being - "he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit" (I Corinthians 6:17).   "I delight in the law of God after the inward man" exulted Paul, a delight formed in Him by the joy of Christ's love for obedience to His Father - "I do always those things that please Him" (John 8:29).  Upon this basis, we arise to confront the enemy within, as it were, a foe identified by the Apostle as "the law of sin which is in my members" (Romans 7:22).  This influence and inclination, inherited from Adam, will always lead us to distrust and disobey God if it controls us.  Indeed, it is a "law."  Our calling, therefore, involves the awareness of inevitable conflict literally fought within, and waged as "the good fight of faith" (I Timothy 6:12). 
     Note Paul's contention that it is a "good fight."  God Himself chose not to perfect and glorify us when we believed in the Lord Jesus, leaving us on a battlefield closer to us than our next breath.  "The war within" is how I once heard it described, and every honest believer will acknowledge, "Oh yes, it is a war!"  Most importantly, however, it is a war from victory rather than for it.  A careful reading of Paul's teaching in Romans indicates that born again believers are already changed in the innermost core of our spiritual selfhood, where we are united to the Spirit of Christ.  "I delight in the law of God after the inward man... so then with the mind, I myself serve the law of God" (Romans 7:22; 25).  We must accordingly believe the will of God to be the delight of our innermost being, while acknowledging the contrary inclinations of our earthly faculties and members.
    It is not a fair fight, as it were, in which we are engaged.  We are far more equipped and enabled to trust and obey than we are prone to disbelieve and disobey.  "Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world" (I John 4:4).  The law of sin remains in our members and faculties, no doubt.  But in that holy place of who we most deeply are, the Holy Spirit lives and "worketh in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13).  Thus, while acknowledging the law of sin and its evil in our flesh, we must believe that a far greater law exists in our spirits, "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:2).  Trust and obedience to God is therefore the norm for born again believers, rather than the exception.  Let me repeat that: trust and obedience to God is the norm for born again believers, rather than the exception.
     At this point in the consideration, we may respond, "Now wait a minute!  This may be good philosophy, but it doesn't match with my experience!"  Certainly this is the case for all of us at times, and every Christian can point to many times when evil is both present and actual in us.  We still sin, and nothing in the New Testament indicates that the potential and actuality of disobedience to God will be eradicated in our present lifetime (I John 1:8).  Nevertheless, we never have to sin, and in those times when it does happen, we can be sure that a primary cause is that we are either ignorant or disbelieving of the triumphant truths proclaimed by Paul and other New Testament writers.  We fight from victory, the victory of the empty tomb, the occupied throne in Heaven, and the occupied holy place in our spirits where the risen Christ lives.  The more we understand and affirm such glorious truth, the more we will walk accordingly, and the more experience will confirm and reflect philosophy.  Or as Paul commanded...
"If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit."
(Galatians 5:25)
"The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death."
(Romans 8:2)
"For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments: and His commandments are not grievous. For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith."
(I John 5:3-4)

Friday, August 12, 2011

"New and Old"

 Frances and I often speak of movies we'd like to see again for the first time, "It's a Wonderful Life" being at the top of the list (or at least at the top of my list).
    This leads to a far greater imagining, namely, I'd love to be able to read the Bible again with completely fresh eyes, and with no preconceived notions of the stories, truths and spiritual illuminations contained therein.  Familiarity, while certain not breeding contempt of Scripture, can cause us to approach the Word of God with less wonder than it so rightly deserves.  The Bible's claims are shocking upon first consideration, and the first time reader must surely shake his or her head in bewilderment when presented with seas parted, the sun stopped in its tracks, blind men seeing, and God revealed in the flesh, killed, and then risen again from the dead.  Perhaps most amazing for the trusting heart, "as far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us" (Psalm 103:12).
   The truth of the matter is that the Bible can remain new for us both now and forevermore.  The Author comes with His holy book, and as we read with a trusting heart, fresh insight into God and His truth shines forth "in the face of Jesus Christ" (II Corinthians 4:6).  Long known precepts unite with heretofore unknown truths to reveal blessed rays of light that warm and invigorate the heart.  Indeed, Scripture need never become stale with over familiarity because  even the most devout believer knows nothing yet as he ought to know (I Corinthians 8:2).  More importantly, an infinite God and infinite Truth await us in the pages of the Bible.
    Our calling is to approach the reading of God's Word with the humility that confesses great need for more light and more vision.  Upon this basis, we then expect the Holy Spirit to gladly reveal the person and work of the Lord Jesus in old ways that need to be remembered, and new ways that need to be learned.  The familiar and the unfamiliar unite to draw us more deeply into that Ocean who depths can never be fully fathomed, and whose horizon beckons us to venture ever onward, ever outward, and ever upward.
"Then said He unto them, Therefore every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old." (Matthew 13:52)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

"Faithful To the End, and Forevermore"

"I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith" (II Timothy 4:6-7).
"Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6).
I once heard a gentleman respond to the question "How do you want to be remembered?" with the answer, "That I was faithful to the end."
The Apostle Paul affirmed such devotion toward the end of his life, and certainly we remember and rejoice in our brother's faithfulness.  "Faithful to the end" might therefore be an appropriate memorial for every born again believer, with a caveat.  That is, a full reading of Paul's writings reveals an overwhelming preponderance of attention directed not to his own faithfulness, but rather to that of his Lord.
 "And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He that calleth you, who also will do it" (I Thessalonians 5:23-24).
    Paul would tell us that his testimony of faithfulness should direct our attention not toward his devotion, but rather that of the Lord Jesus.  The Apostle's sanctification to the glory and will of God and his preservation unto blamelessness proceeded not from human dedication and devotion, but rather from the Divine presence and working of the indwelling Holy Spirit.  Certainly Paul determined to believe and submit himself to God, and to make choices accordingly.   Our brother of old was not a programmed robot, but rather a free and functioning son, as united to the Son.  Nevertheless, every moment of Paul's faithfulness flowed as a tributary from the river of God's unwavering loyalty to his trusting child.  Indeed, Paul was who he was because and only because the Lord Jesus is who He is.
 If we are to finish the course our Heavenly Father has given to us, God's faithfulness will be the source and supply thereof.  Our calling involves "looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith" (Hebrews 12:2).  To the degree that we know and trust Him will be the degree to which we can expect the affirmation anticipated by Paul upon the completion of his course: "Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing" (II Timothy 4:8).  The gold and jewels of that grace given diadem will sparkle and gleam with light that reveals "not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord" (II Corinthians 4:5).  His faithfulness, to the end and forevermore, will be our eternal song and testimony, even as the Psalmist so beautifully declared...
"With my mouth will I make known Thy faithfulness to all generations."
(Psalm 89:1)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


  We must accept the fact of Biblical and spiritual enigma, that is, some truths in Scripture are to our minds difficult to reconcile with each other.

    "My thoughts are not your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8).

    In God's mind, of course, there are no enigmas.  All truth and reality perfectly correlate in His understanding, declared by the Psalmist to be "infinite" (Psalm 147:5).  Our Lord never experiences the question sometimes raised in our minds, "Well, if this is true, how can that also be true?"  His truth exists in perfect unity, both in the fact of it, and in God's perception thereof.  "The darkness and the light are both alike unto Thee" (Psalm 139:12).

    This cannot be said of our understanding.  The Bible unapologetically presents to us realities that God knows will seem difficult, if not impossible, for us to reconcile.  God as one, and yet triune.  Eternity and infinity immanent in time and space.  Divine sovereignty and human freedom coordinated in a manner that glorifies only God, while nevertheless gracing man with the internal blessing and responsibility of genuine personhood.  Salvation freely bestowed by grace through faith, but received with Holy Spirit's witness that works will be the inevitable companion of a genuine experience of God's dynamic presence.  Joy and sorrow somehow residing concurrently in the believer's trusting heart.  And perhaps the greatest of all mysteries, the Lord Jesus Christ as "God... manifest in the flesh."  The list could go on of Scriptural verities that will never be perfectly reconciled in this present lifetime, and which we must accept in peace while often scratching our heads in wonder.

     The Bible is a perfectly rational and reasonable document, which to a perfectly rational and reasonable mind (such as its Author) contains no enigmas.  To our limited and cloudy understanding, however, Scripture will always present to us rays of light that seem to reveal conflicting landscapes of Truth.  This fact itself presents to us perhaps the foundational illumination of our existence, namely, that God is God, and we are not.  There are fewer more comforting truths of Scripture because thereby we are called to "lean not unto thine own understanding" (Proverbs 3:5).  Certainly we use our understanding, as led and enabled by the Holy Spirit, but we do not trust in it.  Thus are we enabled to rest heart and mind in the safe harbor of "O Lord God, Thou knowest" (Ezekiel 37:3).

    As the old hymn declares, "We shall understand it better by and by."  For now, we understand it as well as possible through the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit, and the mutual insight provided by fellowship with other believers.  We rejoice in the light provided, which "shineth more and more unto the perfect day" (Proverbs 4:18).  And we rejoice in the mysteries of God and His truth that assure us that God is God and we are not.  To the trusting heart in Christ, there is no greater peace.

"I will make darkness light before them."
(Isaiah 42:16)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

"The Most Holy Place"

    Are there places in the world more holy than others?  The answer is yes and no.
    First, every devoted believer remembers and regards venues where the reality of the Lord Jesus Christ has been known, appreciated and loved in special ways.  Our great forefather Abraham built an altar in Bethel after meeting God, and to which he returned (Genesis 12:8; 13:3).  We likely have similar places in our lives, and in the sense of our apprehension and experience of God, we may regard them as "an altar most holy" (Exodus 40:10).
    In the absolute sense, however, no place in either heaven and earth is more holy than any other.  Indeed, holiness graces anywhere God is, and He is everywhere.  "Do not I fill heaven and earth?... The whole earth is full of His glory" (Jeremiah 23:24; Isaiah 6:3).  Thus, anywhere and everywhere bears the possibility of becoming a holy place in our hearts, just as it is in truth and reality.
     "Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth" (John 4:20-24).
     Somewhere just now a trusting believer kneels in a squalid hovel of poverty and apparent destitution.  A holy place, a most holy place, because a Heart and a heart are meeting in the loving devotion made possible and actual through the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in both parties.  At the same time, another worshipper bows in a palace of wealth, splendor and opulence, seeking the face of the God in whom he or she trusts rather than riches.  Another holy place, a most holy place, of love bestowed and love received.  Doubtless multitudes of others throughout the world are sanctifying their current locale as their own most holy place by turning their hearts Heavenward in love, faith and devotion.
     Finally, wherever you and I may be in this moment of grace, the possibility of the fact of holiness can become the realized blessing of holiness.  The God who fills heaven and earth beckons us to open our eyes to see, and our hearts to believe in the holy place, the most holy place, of right here and right now.
"Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness."
(Psalm 29:2)

Monday, August 8, 2011

"What Kind of God?"

    The documentary ended with the man considered to be the most brilliant of this generation declaring, "There is no God.  There is no heaven or hell, no afterlife.  We only have this life to appreciate the wonder and complexity of the universe."
     Born again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ respond to such notions in many ways.  We may feel anger, sadness, bewilderment, frustration and even fear for the person who makes such a claim.  We're also likely to remember the Bible's pronouncement upon those who allow their minds to be so enshrouded with darkness and nonsense that they miss the most obvious reality of our existence:  "The fool hath said in his heart, "There is no God" (Psalm 14:1). 
    There is another response, however, that directs our attention not toward the sad victims of the Satan who "blinds the minds of them which believe not" (II Corinthians 4:4).  Namely, what kind of God creates beings who can reject the very fact of their Creator's existence?  How must the mind of such a One function that He would allow those who depend upon Him for "life and breath and all things" to despise and hate Him? (Acts 17:25).  Most importantly, what must His heart be like that He would love such ones to the degree that He gave His Son to a terrible death of sorrow, suffering and forsakenness in order to make possible their redemption from darkness?
    Atheism tells us more about God than it does about man.  When encountered, we'll have the normal human-oriented responses mentioned above, which should lead us to pray for those who miss the great fact of their existence.  Nevertheless, an altar of wonder and subsequent praise awaits us as we consider the greatness and goodness of the Lord who does not program or force His creation into subservience.  Our Heavenly Father rather desires real and true relationship with the hearts of those who freely acknowledge and love Him.  "I will love Thee, o Lord, my strength" declared David concerning the great mystery of human freedom - "I will" - and the necessity of Divine leading and enabling - "O Lord, my strength" (Psalm 18:1).  What tragedy that so many miss and fail to appreciate the true "wonder of the universe."  God Himself is that wonder, and rather than purveying darkness, the atheist actually shines a bright ray of light upon the One he himself determines not to see.
"The light shineth in darkness."
(John 1:5)

Saturday, August 6, 2011

"The Darkest Valley"

    Gather the finest writers, possessed of the greatest literary and imaginative skills.  Have them together contemplate and pen the saddest, most tragic and fearful story of pain, loss, heartache and heartbreak.  Let them take their readers' hearts down a path so dark that is seems to envelope and enshroud with forlorn bewilderment and despair.
    Then, open the Bible.  Discover therein that Someone has already descended not into a dark valley of imagination, but of reality wherein agonies of heart, mind and body were experienced infinitely beyond any literary imagination.  See Him cry out in an utterly abandoned forsakenness that shattered His heart with spiritual and emotional death long before His physical body expired.  Witness His marred frame laid in a tomb of seeming finality and hopelessness.  Weep for the sadness of this, the blackness of all darkness, and perhaps above all, for the completely undeserved heartbreak known by the only truly innocent human soul that ever lived.
    Continue, however, in the pages of holy Scripture.  Hear the voice of angels - "He is not here, for He is risen, as He said" (Matthew 28:6).  Run for joy with disciples who could scarcely believe that their loved One lost might return to once again fill their hearts.  Read that He did indeed do so, but in a far greater measure than His mere physical presence for three years ever provided.  Consider that your own trusting heart knows now what John, Peter, Mary and others knew then, that the crucified, forsaken One is now the resurrected, glorified Christ who literally dwells within the spirits of those who believe. 
    Finally, realize that such truth tells us a most blessed thing, perhaps the most blessed thing in this present vale of tears through which we must so often walk.  Namely, no loss, no pain, no sorrow, no tragedy, no heartache and no heartbreak can long abide in those who will believe that our Lord Jesus has, for our sakes, ventured into the gaping maw of the most fearsome darkness any conscious being will ever know.  He was completely swallowed and consumed therein, and somehow the Prince of life experienced that which was totally foreign to His nature.  He died.  But He rose again in a greater glory than ever He had before known, the glorified man who is God, and God who is man. 
     In such glorious light, we open our eyes to see that no worst case scenario we could ever imagine or experience can keep us from peace and joy so long as we trust and submit to the crucified, risen Lord Jesus.  He said as much before He died.  And then He went forth into the darkest valley to make possible our experience thereof. 
"These things I have spoken unto you, that in Me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world."
(John 16:33)

Friday, August 5, 2011

To Bleed

(The following are the lyrics of a song that will be on our next CD.)
"To Bleed"
God spoke, the world was created.
He speaks, it continues to be.
The majesty of the mountains reveals His glory.
The power of His might is in the sea

But to save our souls, and to make us whole,
Our Lord had to bleed.

Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness,
the blood of bulls and goats can never be
the perfect sacrifice without spot or blemish,
the holy One who would die for you and me.

For to save our souls, and to make us whole,
Our Lord chose to bleed.

 Let us fall to our face in adoration.
For this love that passes knowledge and all thought
Let us cry to God and the Lamb in exultation.
For the price by which salvation was bought.

For to save our souls, and to make us whole,
Our Lord had to bleed...
Yes, to save our souls, and to make us whole,
Our Lord, He did bleed.

"Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot."
(I Peter 1:18-19)