Friday, September 30, 2011

"Gentle Unto All"

    My favorite teacher during my school days was a college history professor named Dr. Holmes, a man possessed of such brilliant lecturing skills that I hated to see class end each day. Interestingly, however, Dr. Holmes was also a man with whom I had major disagreements philosophically and politically, which often led to lively discussion/debate in class.  We respected and liked each other nevertheless, and I still smile when I think of Dr. Holmes and I teasing each other after class. 
    "See ya later, Dr. Holmes.  I'm going to listen to the Paul Harvey news."
    "That's not news, Glen!"
    "Well, it's more news than the stuff you listen to!"
    I learned a valuable lesson from my days with Dr. Holmes, namely, that it is possible to disagree agreeably.  No less than the Apostle Paul, a man of the most intense conviction, also held this view.
    "The servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves" (II Timothy 2:24-25).
    Winning arguments for the sake of winning arguments has no place in the hearts and communication of those seeking to lead people to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Certainly we seek to confidently assert our beliefs, avoiding compromise at all costs.  Nevertheless, we also realize that faithfully presenting our position must be accompanied by an attitude and demeanor that reflects the disposition of the Lord Jesus.  It is more than possible to lose the person even as we win the debate if we do so in a manner that contradicts the very truth we seek to espouse.  Fleshly and devilish self-centeredness can be found at the heart of such carnality, and we may actually do more harm than good.
    True confidence of conviction expresses itself most often in calmness and awareness that how we debate is no less important than what we debate.  "Gentle unto all men" even as we uncompromisingly proclaim God's truth to all men - this is the heart and attitude the Christian servant seeks to express as we reveal Christ in both doctrine and demeanor.
"Thy gentleness hath made me great."
(Psalm 18:35)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

"The Guarantees of Grace"

(Thanks to my Aunt Phyllis for inspiration on this one, and for a lifetime of being such a blessing of God's grace to me.)
    Why did God give to Israel a law of commandments and ordinances He knew they wouldn't keep?  "The LORD said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people" (Exodus 32:9)
    The Apostle Paul answers the question in his epistle to the Galatians: "The law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith" (Galatians 3:24).  Rather than justify the Jews, the law was meant to reveal to them that they could never make themselves righteous by their own determination and effort.  "By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight; for by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:20). 
    Paul wrote that "the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good" because its tenets and mandates express the character and nature of God Himself.  This includes perfection - "as for God, His way is perfect" (II Samuel 22:31).  Thus, if one is to relate to God by law, every command and ordinance must be completely fulfilled, from beginning to end.  "Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all" (James 2:10).  We must of our own effort and determination to be as perfect as is  God Himself.
    This is highly problematic (yes, I know, that's a gross understatement! :)  ).  First, only God can be God, that is, only He can independently live according to His pristine standard of character and nature.  "Thou art God alone" (Psalm 86:10).  Furthermore, the heart of humanity apart from its Creator flows not with the current of perfect godliness, but with floodtide of sin and unrighteousness.  "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked" (Jeremiah 17:9).  On both counts, the law could not succeed.  That is, God will allow no other gods in His creation, which perfect fulfillment of the commandments would require.  Nor can a sinful heart cleanse or remake itself by attempting to keep an outward code of spiritual and ethical behavior.  Thus, there was never a hope that the law could make Israel or anyone else righteous in God's sight.
    "What the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" (Romans 8:3-4).
    The grace of God in the Lord Jesus enters and changes the heart of all who believe.  "God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts" (Galatians 4:6).  Grace involves an inside-out work of God, as it were, rather than the outward faithfulness demanded by the law.  The Spirit of the Lord Jesus deals with the root rather than the fruit, beginning the work of genuine righteousness in us by inhabiting the very depths of our spiritual being.  The law of commandments and ordinances bows before "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" when we trust in Christ rather than our own deluded attempts to be and do what we can never independently fulfill (Romans 8:2).
    The law demands; grace provides.  The law cries to us from without; grace sends "the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying Abba Father" (Galatians 4:6).  The law mandates perfection from the imperfect; grace freely imputes the perfection of the Lord Jesus to the trusting heart, while also assuring of complete perfection in the future to come.  "He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6).  On and on the list could go of the impossibilities of the law, and the the guarantees of grace.  Most of all, the grace of God in the Lord Jesus births love within the trusting heart.  The law could never accomplish such a blessed wonder because the love of God must be received before true love for God can be born, assimilated and expressed in us.  "The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us" (Romans 5:5).
    Let us always thank God for the law of Moses.  It was and is a blessed educator of our hearts as it tells us necessary things about both the Divine and the human.  It could not save, of course, but it was never meant to do so.  No, the law tells us the truth that God is God, and we are not.  Such light prepares us to the glorious salvation whereby we exchange the labors of our hands for the gaze of our hearts...
"Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith."
(Hebrews 12:2)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

"A Closer Relationship" Part 2

    "Draw nigh unto God and He will draw nigh unto you" (James 4:8).
    The command of James would seem to indicate that a close relationship with God rests more on our shoulders than on His.
    This would be true if James 4:8 was the only verse in the Bible.  It is not, and the preponderance of Scriptural revelation declares that our Lord initiates and empowers all true relationship between the Divine and the human.  "When Thou saidst, Seek ye My face, my heart said unto Thee, "Thy face, Lord, will I seek" (Psalm 27:8).  We would have no interest in God whatsoever apart from the Holy Spirit's moving upon us and within us, and the most earnest seeker must acknowledge that his quest begins and continues as reponse to the Seeker.
     James' words nevertheless do raise an aspect of relationship with God that requires our active reception and application of grace.  Salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ births a "new man... created in righteousness and true holiness" (Ephesians 4:24).  We are a "new creature" in Christ, and possess a liberty to love God that did not exist before we trusted the Savior (II Corinthians 5:17).  "If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed" (John 8:36).  By definition, spiritual liberty involves the privilege and responsibility of making free choices to either respond to God, or to not respond.  As A.W. Tozer wrote, "We will know God about as well as we want to know Him."  We remain dependent upon His working in us "to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13).  However, how well we respond rests also upon our inner determination to love, trust and obey God by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.  "I will love Thee, o Lord my strength!" (Psalm 18:1).
    In this sense, our Lord draws nearer as we draw nearer.  He wants us to know and experience the joy of real relationship whereby our hearts, minds and bodies are engaged in personhood rather than programming.  It is a blessed thing to know that we are genuinely loving God, even as we are vividly aware that our drawing nigh requires His previous and present working in our hearts.  The Lord Jesus receives all the glory, the heart of the Father is pleased, and the Holy Spirit moves ever more dynamically within us as we freely believe and apply ourselves to the living presence of the Life of our lives...
"In Thy presence is fullness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore."
(Psalm 16:11)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

"A Closer Relationship"

(Thanks to Steve for inspiration on this one.)
Part 1
     A good friend was asked the question yesterday, "How can we have a closer relationship with the Lord?" 
     My friend addressed the matter to me, and the first thought that came to my mind is that we must be sure to initially direct the focus away from ourselves and unto God.  That is, we must first realize how much He desires to have a close relationship with us.
    "We love Him because He first loved us" (I John 4:19).
    The truth of God's love for us preceding and motivating our love for Him is ongoing.  We will always best respond to our Heavenly Father when we rightly view Him as earnestly desiring vital relationship with us.  God's will for a closer relationship must precede our own will and need in our motivation and participation in relating to Him. 
    This is a challenging truth, even as it encourages us.  Why would an infinite God so desire communication with creatures such as ourselves?  This is a hard question to answer in the personal terms  which are necessary if we are to actually break through and have the bond with the Lord Jesus Christ He so desires.  Are we to believe that our hearts and minds directed to God really mean that much to His heart and mind?  The Biblical answer is a resounding, "Yes!" Something about the trusting and submitted human heart inhabited by the Holy Spirit blesses the gracious heart of God, even to the degree He sacrificed His beloved Son to a cross of untold agony in order to make possible relationship with us.  Most literally, God smote and forsook His innocent Son at Calvary so that He might not smite and forsake us (Isaiah 53:4-6).
    This somber truth may be the most motivating factor in drawing close to God.  We are "accepted in the Beloved" because the Beloved was rejected in the flaming fire of His Father's wrath against sin (Ephesians 1:3).  Nothing more illustrates the intensity of desire in God for relationship with us.  And nothing will more birth within the believing heart a greater intensity on our part to consciously commune with the One always nearer to us than any other.
"Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.  Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread?   And your labor for that which satisfieth not?  Hearken diligently unto Me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.  Incline your ear, and come unto Me: hear, and your soul shall live."
(Isaiah 55:1-3)
Tomorrow: "Draw nigh unto God, and He will draw nigh unto you" (James 4:8).

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Jackson Chronicles Part 6

(Another installment of the ongoing saga of our grandson Jackson's uncanny ability to provide insights into God's way in our lives, as provided by a five year old.)

The Jackson Chronicles

Part 6

     "You're on my field."

     Jackson spoke these words to me as I lay our den floor playing with our beagle Sparrow.  We had spent the afternoon and evening watching the University of Alabama, the University of South Alabama, and some school called LSU (Lesser State University - :) ) play football on TV.  Jackson, however, had not merely been a spectator.  For 4-5 hours, every snap of the ball on the television screen was accompanied by Jackson's personal hike to himself, followed by a run, a pass to himself, a tackle, and even an occasional kick or a punt ("Jackson, don't kick the ball in the house!").  It was an exhausting ordeal - not for Jackson, but for the family who watched in sheer amazement as he never seemed to tire despite sweating profusely as he ran play after play.

     "You're on my field, Granddaddy."  More to the point, he let me know I was reclined in one of the endzones of our den - as defined by Jackson.  "Jack, I'm actually lying on my floor," I responded.   I wanted to be sure that Jackson realized the truth of the matter before he ordered artificial turf and goalposts that would not really fit into his grandmother's design and decor for our den.  Having clarified matters, I then returned to my seat in the stands, as it were (the uninformed call it a couch).  Hey, I didn't want to get run over by some huge linebacker!

     The point of all this is Jackson's imitation of the players he sees on television, or at live events he attends.  I am convinced that great athletes are first great imitators.  They possess an intuitive ability to assimilate and interpret movements they see in skilled performers, and then translate this into their own actions.  Jackson loves to watch football, baseball, basketball and golf, and he loves even more playing these sports.  Watching him is a delight (an exhausting delight!), and at five years old he shows great promise of days to come when perhaps others will seek to emulate him.

    Born again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are also imitators.  "Beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (II Corinthians 3:18).  Wonderfully, however, the Holy Spirit provides the interpretation and assimilation of the character of Christ into our experience.  Rather than merely emulating our Lord as chronicled in the New Testament, our discovery of His doings unites with the truth of His living presence with and within us.  In this light, the great question of our lives becomes, "What is the Lord Jesus doing as He lives and walks in us?" (II Corinthians 6:16).  We "look to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith" in the pages of Scripture and in prayers of faith uttered to obtain His leading and enabling (Hebrews 12:2; Colossians 4:12).  Our "imitation" of Christ thus proceeds from His Spirit translating our faithful looking unto Christ into faithful living by His presence within us.

    Jackson's tireless imitation of athletes encourages me to seek a tireless imitation of Christ by the looking and living made possible through the Holy Spirit's enabling.  I am discovering that you can learn a lot from a five year old.  But let me warn you: stay off Jackson's field.

"Walk, even as He walked."

(I John 2:6)

Friday, September 23, 2011


      Autumn begins today, the most beautiful time of the year in my heart and mind.  The sky is never more blue, foliage takes on hues that only God could imagine and paint, and after a long, humid summer in the subtropics where we live, cool and dry air invigorates like His refreshing breath.
    The fall, however, also portends of winter to come, when much of creation will lie dormant until the spring.  Things, animals and people will die in the harsh months to come.  Autumn's blue skies, the changing of the leaves, and the bracing cold of the air tell us that such days are coming, and that somber realities accompany the loveliness of Fall.
    Two primary lessons present themselves in this beauty and death of the coming season.  First, we must enjoy the blessings of God in the realization that He is Himself the joy and fulfillment of every good gift.  The particular forms and expressions by which our Lord's goodness comes to us will all pass away in His time, and if we focus too much on the vessel of His blessing, we will not fully enjoy the Content of it.  We will find it difficult to overcome our losses if we forget that the greatest blessing of all good things is the Bless-er Himself.  This is a challenging truth to a human race of whom the Lord said, "Man looketh on the outward appearance" (I Samuel 16:7).  Nevertheless, this conviction must be embraced deeply within our hearts if we are to walk in God's abiding peace.  Things pass away in this present life. God does not.
    The beauty and death of autumn also teach us that many of God's greatest gifts in our present life come to us wrapped not in the pleasant, but in the painful.  As the late Alan Redpath once wrote, "Our blessings often come to us in our buffetings."  A fallen world makes this challenging way necessary, both for our personal growth in God's grace, and in our preparation to minister Christ unto others.  We discover that the Lord Jesus is loving enough, wise enough, strong enough, and present enough to keep our hearts even when they are broken.  Measures of His joy and peace are known that pleasant times could never reveal, and that reading and study can not fully illuminate.  Autumn speaks to us of this strange but wonderful Divine way of the Christian being "sorrowful, yet always rejoicing" (II Corinthians 6:10).
    We will see beautiful things in the days to come.  Our hearts will rejoice.  We will also realize that the beauty is revealed in things that are dying.  Our hearts must take note.  Most of all, we will rejoice in the God who can somehow unite seemingly opposing realities in His loving purpose to conform us to the image of the Lord Jesus.  The falling leaves of autumn that so beautifully die help to prepare spring for its resurrection and glory.  This is God's way in creation, and in our lives.

"As dying, and behold, we live."
(II Corinthians 6:9)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Things, Held Lightly

     "A man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth" (Luke 12:15).
     I recently encountered a gentleman who was in a near panic because he feared losing some precious possessions.  The experience caused me to ask our Lord for His ongoing searching of my own heart to ensure that my possessions do not possess me.  "Search me, o God, and know my heart.  Try me and know my thoughts, and see if there be any wicked way in me.  And lead me in the way everlasting" (Psalm 139:23-24).
    God blesses us with things needed, and with things desired.  We do well to give thanks, and to obey Scripture by enjoying the things He so richly provides (I Timothy 6:17).  We also do well, however, to realize that the gifts are not the Giver, and that we are not the owners of things, but stewards.  Everything the Christian has and everything he is belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ.  We therefore serve as caretakers of His possessions, holding all things lightly in the knowledge that our Lord may do with His things as He pleases.  If He chooses to allow things to remain with us, we rejoice in His vouchsafing.  If He chooses to remove and transfer things elsewhere, we rejoice that our life does not consist in God's gifts, but in Himself.  "He is thy life" (Deuteronomy 30:20).
     Fewer sighs of relief will ever grace us than the one exhaled as we realize and affirm, "It's all Your's, Lord!  Every atom of every thing in my life belongs to You."  We will need to be reminded and refreshed often concerning so vital a matter, and our Heavenly Father will actively engage His hand to ensure that our hands hold all things lightly.  As He graciously works to deliver us from the delusion of ownership to the delight of stewardship, blessed peace will fill our hearts as we rightly possess our possessions.
"Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you."
(Matthew 6:33)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


    The New Testament starkly understates the physical suffering of the Lord Jesus Christ experienced during His trial and crucifixion.  Less than 20 verses actually chronicle the matter, which amounts percentage wise to far less than 1% of the Gospel record (the Old Testament actually contains more graphic depictions of our Lord's suffering, although again, limited in number and stark description).
     This seems counter-intuitive.  Wouldn't details of our Savior's physical agony lead to more love, devotion and appreciation in our hearts and minds?  Perhaps, to some degree.  Again, the Bible does give us some account of Christ's suffering.  However, Scripture omits overt gore and graphic detail of this most terrible time in our Lord's redemptive work on our behalf.  By implication, therefore, we must conclude that growing love for the Lord Jesus must far more result from other spiritual realities and truths.
    It does.  Again, "understated" best describes the work of God whereby the love of God is most revealed in us and by us.  Our Heavenly Father assiduously avoids the sensationalistic and titillating as He conforms us to the image of Christ.  We live most of our lives in the quiet and mundane shadows of existence wherein we fulfill our daily responsibilities, relate to our world, and face the blessings and challenges of life in a fallen world wherein the glory of God is nevertheless always at hand (Isaiah 6:3).  Relatively speaking, few big, noisy things happen in our lives, and we often discover that their aftermath leaves less beneficial imprint in our walk with God than we would have expected.
     "The just shall live by faith" declares both Old Testament and New.  Such a life necessitates a predominately quiet and unobtrusive working of the Holy Spirit whereby the hearts of the redeemed more and more discover the perfectly trustworthy Heart of the Redeemer.  Such personal growth in grace largely happens in the intensely personal and private relating that strong relationships always require.  Vivid and overt things do sometimes happen in our experience of the Lord Jesus.  This is not the norm, however, nor should it be.  As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans, "We are saved by hope, but hope that is seen is not hope" (Romans 8:24).
    Our Heavenly Father could have chosen to graphically describe the horrors of His Son's sufferings administered by God and man.  Or perhaps He couldn't have.  Perhaps such description would have clouded the real issues of truth and faith, distracting us from the deeper work of Heart to heart that genuinely reveals Christ to us and within us.  Whatever the case, God's way and Word are perfect, and His largely discreet working in our hearts will one day lead to the open display of so great a salvation and so great a Savior...
"Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father."
(Matthew 13:43)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

"Christ Only... Always... Forever"

    When we consider the martyrs of the church throughout history, their devotion, dedication and sacrifice amaze and bless us.  Rightly so, and their example encourages and challenges to love our Lord at any and every cost.
     "They loved not their lives unto the death" (Revelation 12:11).
    If we could speak to the martyrs, however, to a man and woman they would tell us that their devotion, dedication and sacrifice were not the reasons they were willing and able to face the cross, the pyre, and the gun.  They would rather direct our attention to His devotion, dedication and sacrifice, that is, they would exalt the Lord Jesus Christ.  In this, they would be absolutely correct.
     "No man ever yet hateth his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it... I will dwell in them and walk in them... Always bearing about in our body the dying of the Lord Jesus" (Ephesians 5:29; II Corinthians 6:16; II Corinthians 4:10).
     All genuine sacrifice in believers results from the dynamic presence of God's love "shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit" (Romans 5:5).  We respond to that love in faith and devotion, of course, and to the degree we apprehend God's grace and truth forms the degree to which we live accordingly.  Nevertheless, devotion to God and man expressed by us always flows from devotion to God and man revealed in us by the indwelling character and nature of the Lord Jesus.  "I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me" (I Corinthians 15:10).
    Martyrs' crowns will be cast at feet of the Lord Jesus no less than any others.  Again, we do well to affirm our brothers and sisters who paid the last full measure of devotion.  We glance at them with rightful respect.  We gaze, however, upon the Lamb of God who formed His self sacrificial heart in all who, in any manner, give their lives for His glory.  He is the motivation and power of all true love in us, and a long eternity will find us joining the throng around throne who declare the anthem of Christ only, Christ always, Christ forever...
"And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing. And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever. And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever."
(Revelation 5:11-14)

Monday, September 19, 2011

"Roses, With Thorns"

(Thanks to Sterling for inspiration on this one)

    For Eve, the temptation did not look like temptation.

    "When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat" (Genesis 3:6).

    Many years ago, I raised the question in a Bible study, "How does Satan seek to deceive us?"  A quiet, thoughtful boy (now a quiet, thoughtful man) answered with the best insight in the matter I've ever heard, before or since.  "He makes good things seem bad, and bad things seem good."  Case closed, at least in the most basic sense of defining how our enemy works to divert and distract us.

    The tree of knowledge of good and evil in Eden was a bad thing, a danger which God forbade.  Satan, however, allured Eve by pointing out the beauty, pleasure and spiritual allure of the tree.  "Good for food... pleasant to the eyes... a tree to be desired to make one wise" - it all seemed so right, so beneficial, and even so religious.  It seemed as a rose without a thorn, despite God's warning.  Sadly, the thorn did exist, it was poisoned, and when Adam partook through Eve, the human race was cast into a tomb of spiritual and moral abyss of death - "in Adam all die" (I Corinthians 15:22).

    Let us be sure that our spiritual enemies are still active, offering roses with thorns, as it were.  Things fragrant, things beautiful, things that seem to stimulate and benefit our hearts, minds and lives - the devil points to them with subtle reasoning and attraction.  What are such deceiving roses in your life and mine?  God alone can answer that for each of us.  Indeed, some roses are the thornless real thing, the Rose of Sharon, that is, the Lord Jesus Christ (Song of Solomon 2:1).  But some are not.  Some are devilish imitations, diversions and distractions, or as the Apostle Paul warned, some are "another Jesus... another spirit... another Gospel" (II Corinthians 11:4).

    We must increasingly know our Lord and His Word if we are to avoid identifying the counterfeit as the real.  Scripture commands us to "try (test) the spirits, whether they be of of God" (I John 4:1).  One thing is certain: if we do not recognize that malevolent enemies seek to deceive us, we will be deceived.  We live on a spiritual battleground whereupon truth and error vie for our attention and devotion.  The former is far greater than the latter, and will ultimately reign supreme in God's universe.  At present, however consequential skirmishes can be lost, resulting in the weakening of our experience of Christ.  May God mercifully protect us and correct us as we seek the true and living Rose that bears no thorn because He wore a crown of thorns to deliver us from darkness to light.

"Such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness."
(II Corinthians 11:13-15)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

"A Big Deal" Part 2

(Thanks to Nancy B. for inspiration on this one)
    A reader responded to yesterday's devotional, recounting her own experience of the Lord leading her to act in a loving and responsible manner concerning small matters that are actually quite significant.  She wrote that her particular challenge (opportunity) involves the return of shopping carts to parking lot receptacles rather than merely leaving them by her car (and, as with the can of coffee referenced in yesterday's message, making work for someone else).
    I actually faced this very issue yesterday afternoon.  We parked a long way from the closest receptacle at our local grocery store, and I strongly considered leaving the cart where I emptied it.  Nancy's letter rang in my heart and mind, however, and my own words from the devotional furthermore left little option as to what I needed to do in the situation.
    Or did it?  In Biblical terms, the answer is a resounding "No!"  "I will freely sacrifice unto Thee" (Psalm 54:6).  As referenced in yesterday's message, the Christian life does not involve the mere construction and programming of robots.  Faith and obedience to God rather provides living and real relationship with God whereby we are completely dependent on His motivating and energizing presence within us.  "Without Me, ye can do nothing" (John 15:5).  However, our faith and obedience flows from freely made determinations within our hearts to trust and obey.  "I will love Thee, o Lord my strength!" (Psalm 18:1).  Rather than eradicate our personhood, the entrance of the Holy Spirit into our innermost being at the time of our salvation resurrects, actualizes and enables us to actively and consciously do the will of God, while at the same time knowing that He is the executor of faithfulness in us. 
     During His earthly life, the Lord Jesus Christ modeled this fascinating way of the Spirit.  "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work" (John 5:17).  He also declared, "the Son can do nothing of Himself" (John 5:19).  Nevertheless, He also said "I do always those things that please Him" (John 8:29).  Our Lord completely depended on His Father, and then lived from such confidence in freely determined obedience.  Who was it that did the wondrous works of the Savior?  Was the it the Father?  The Son?  The Holy Spirit?  Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  And in the same way, albeit imperfectly realized, the wondrous dynamic of God and man united in loving relationship works in those who trust the Lord Jesus.
    Apart from God (and His trusting daughter Nancy), I can guarantee you that I would have left that shopping cart where it sat after I emptied it (despite what I had written yesterday).  Still, as in the "can of coffee caper," I found the greatest delight in making the choice to transport the cart to its receptacle.  Indeed, the gift of salvation in Christ provides both the power to obey God in the power of the Holy Spirit, and the freedom to obey in the knowledge that we are not merely programmed machines in the doing of our Lord's will.  There is pure joy in both wondrous realities whereby Christ alone is glorified, we are vibrantly alive, and others are blessed as our Father worketh hitherto, and we work.
"Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure."
(Philippians 2:12-13)

Friday, September 16, 2011

"A Big Deal"

    When our children were young (just yesterday, wasn't it?), they would often bring products to me when we shopped at the grocery store.  "Please may I have this, Dad?"  When I said no, they would sometimes put the item back on the shelf wherever we were standing, rather than return it to it's proper place.  I didn't allow this.  "Never make work for somebody else," I would say.  "Return it to where it belongs."
    A few days ago I picked up a can of coffee at the store, and put it in the basket.  On a special display a few aisles over, however, I saw a bigger can at a better price.  I decided to buy it instead of the smaller item, and placed the larger can in the basket.  Then I placed the smaller can on the display and turned to make my way to the checkout register. 
    "Never make work for somebody else.  Return it to where it belongs."  Echoes of my own words from long ago rang not in my ears, but in my heart and mind.  A brief thought flashed through my mind.  "Well, it is a can of coffee I'm putting here on this display, so what's the big deal?"  It was a big deal, however, for all the reasons you can imagine without my mentioning them.  So I retrieved the smaller can from the display and returned it to its proper place on the previous aisle.
    Left to myself and my own rationalization, I would have hypocritically and lazily left the coffee where it did not belong.  And, some employee of the store would have had to unnecessarily rectified my irresponsibility.  Thankfully, the Lord doesn't leave us to our own fleshly devices. 
    "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it" (I Corinthians 10:13). 
    I had no doubt as I returned the coffee to its shelf that the Lord was graciously fulfilling His Word in the experience.  I also had a great sense of joy, and a smile on my face.  It took a little time and a little effort (very little, really), but it brought back precious memories of days gone by (just yesterday, wasn't it?), and precious realities of the Lord Jesus Christ in this present day. 
     Obedience to God in large and small matters flows from the river of His abiding presence in us.  We find ourselves doing things we know without question we wouldn't be doing if the Holy Spirit were not working in us "to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13).  Certainly our own person and will participate in the process as we determine to trust and obey.  "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12).  However, the Lord Jesus receives all the glory because even as we make our free choices of devotion to God, the realization floods over our soul that Christ is walking in us, even as we are walking by Him (II Corinthians 6:16). 
    The Christian life is a dynamic, hands-on, "rubber meets the road" experience of the living God revealed primarily in the countless small matters of the day.  We miss so much, of course.  But sometimes we don't miss the blessed reality of a present and living Lord Jesus revealed in venues of life wherein the mundane dissolves in the glory of His dynamic involvement.  This day will offer such opportunity.  May the Lord open our eyes, fill our souls with expectation, and fulfill the prayer of Paul along the aisles of our experience...
"And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God."
(II Thessalonians 3:5)

Thursday, September 15, 2011


    Amnesia is one of the most terrifying things that can happen to a human being.  Doubtless we can all imagine what it would be like to suddenly not know who we are.
    In spiritual matters, we all frequently suffer from such forgetfulness.  Even the most godly born again believers among us are strongly tempted - and sometimes succumb - to the temptation that entices us to think, feel, act and relate as if we are merely our human selves.  "Whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?" (I Corinthians 3:3).
    We should be more terrified of this form of amnesia - to "walk as men" - than we are of the natural malady.  Indeed, can there any more tragic or harmful darkness than the Christian's forgetting or ignoring the wonder that we are not merely ourselves, but we are ourselves as inhabited by the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ?  "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?" (I Corinthians 3:16). 
     Perhaps it has happened so often in our experience that we don't feel the sharp teeth of this enemy that devours the wonder that "God is in you of a truth" (I Corinthians 14:25).  Or perhaps we rationalize that our understanding and apprehension is presently limited - "we see through a glass darkly" - and that we shouldn't expect to consistently experience the reality of "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (I Corinthians 13:27; Colossians 1:27).  Whatever the case, the truth of the matter demands that we view with great trepidation the carnality of living as if we are are alone.
    We are not.  The very heart of Christianity is that Christ came physically, He has come again spiritually, and He will ultimately come again both spiritually and physically to establish His kingdom upon the earth.  Presently, He abides in those born of His Spirit by grace through faith.  Amazingly, He promised that such Presence during the age of grace would result in "greater works" than those He fulfilled during His earthly sojourn (John 14:12).  This requires His living and dynamic working in us "both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13).  To the degree we know and believe such blessed Truth to be true, we will discover that God is indeed in us of a truth.
     Our Lord loves us so dearly that He accomplished a redemption for us whereby He makes our hearts His eternal home.  How tragic, and yes, how terrifying, that we might "neglect so great salvation" (Hebrews 2:3).  We are not alone.  We are not merely ourselves.  By His Spirit, the Lord Jesus is with us forevermore.  We are the branches of His Vine, the temples of His Spirit, and the holy place wherein the Holy One has chosen to dwell in love, grace, mercy, power and all of the wondrous facets of His glorious being.  To whatever degree we know such blessed Truth to be true, may we know it more.  And may it truly frighten us that we might forget, ignore or fail to realize that the living Christ is with and within us in this moment, and forevermore.
"Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of My righteousness."
(Isaiah 41:10)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Much Asking, Much Receiving

(A repeat from last year)
    Frances and I recently discussed how easy it is to begin endeavors without asking the Lord for His leadership, enabling, and the realization of His vital presence.
    "Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in Him; and He shall bring it to pass." (Psalm 37:5). 
   Certainly some matters demand such quick response and attention that we have no time for conscious prayer and commitment of our way to the Lord.  Also, the intent of our heart forms the primary factor of whether we perform our doings in a manner honoring to God, and in the light and power of His Person (Proverbs 4:23).  The prevailing reality of our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ doubtless assures His working in times when we may not specifically pray.
    It remains true, however, that our relationship with God is meant to be consciously realized and experienced.  Growth in consistent communion with Him is a primary aspect of this blessed gift given to the trusting heart, and further growth ensues when much receiving is preceded by much asking.  We are also provided with increasing opportunity for praise, thanksgiving, and the heart-filling vibrancy of Love received, and love returned.  "I love the LORD, because He hath heard my voice and my supplications. Because He hath inclined His ear unto me, therefore will I call upon Him as long as I live" (Psalm 116:1-2).
    God privileges His trusting children to begin our ways and endeavors in the love, presence, wisdom, power, and enabling of the indwelling Holy Spirit.  Our lives will be more consciously lived as such sacredness of all things is recognized, and most importantly, God will be more glorified in us and by us.
"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)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Origin of Discouragement

     In anguish of heart, David raises the question we all ask in times when our soul is troubled.
    "Why art thou cast down, O my soul?  And why art thou disquieted in me?" (Psalm 42:5).
    The Apostle Paul answers: "There are many adversaries...  We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places" (I Corinthians 16:9; Ephesians 6:12).
    Too often we view discouragement as merely a condition of our own origin and making.  Certainly it is true that we are responsible if we embrace the temptation to be cast down.  However, we fail to completely understand discouragement if we do not factor in the existence of influences outside of ourselves who seek to foist despair upon us.  The world, the devil and the flesh (both of ourselves and others) entice us to ignore the perpetual hope wrought in us by the Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the Word of God.  Failure to recognize these nefarious attempts to disquiet our soul leaves us as easy prey, and also fosters the discouragement which results from our being unaware of its true origin.
    Our enemies know that a discouraged believer is a paralyzed believer.  Thus, they seek to cast us down in countless ways, while masking the very fact of their attacks.  The latter ploy may be the most effective weapon in their arsenal because a discouraged, paralyzed believer is also a believer who feels great condemnation for his lack of realized peace and joy.  If we view discouragement as a device completely of our own making, we will inevitably join our enemies in casting ourselves down into the perpetually downward cycle of ignorance and unbelief.
    Even a cursory reading of Scripture reveals that believers in the Lord Jesus have infinitely more about which to be encouraged than discouraged.  "His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain to life and godliness" (II Peter 1:3).   Our enemies know this, and they also know that a consistently encouraged Christian is a sharp and double-edged sword in the Lord's hand.  Recognizing the temptation from without to be cast down prepares us for the determination within to "fight the good fight of faith" (I Timothy 6:12).  Indeed, we do well to get our spiritual dander up, as it were, whenever we sense discouragement.  Because somebody is seeking our harm, and even more, the stilling of our Christ-honoring walk with God.  May we not allow such a thing to happen as we "put on the whole armor of God" by joining David in the provision He found for a soul tempted to disquiet and despair...
"Rejoice the soul of Thy servant: for unto Thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul."
(Psalm 86:4)

Monday, September 12, 2011

"The White Stone"

    "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it" (Revelation 2:17).
    Few Scriptures more reveal the personal nature of God's relationship with His trusting children in the Christ than the Apostle John's revelation of the white stone given to all who overcome by faith in the Lord Jesus.  Only God and the individual who receives the stone will know the name written thereon.
    Born again Christians believe in the same God, and affirm many truths that comprise our common faith in the Savior.  Nevertheless, our Heavenly Father's relationship with each of us involves unique aspects of love, devotion, communication and purpose.  Certainly we exemplify Christ to one another, providing traits for mutual admiration and emulation.  "Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do" (Philippians 4:9).  Still, God's working in our lives remains unique, and we all do well to seek His special working in us and by us.
    Nearly all of us will live and minister as small fish in small ponds.  Our names won't be known, our labors will go largely unnoticed, and even those to whom we quietly minister Christ may not even recognize we are about His purposes in their lives and ours.  Just He and ourselves will know, and sometimes even we won't realize that our doings are His doings.  John was John, not Peter.  Peter was Peter, not Paul.  Countless others have quietly done the will of God through the ages, living and ministering in ways of the white stone, that is, they have discovered their Lord to be uniquely personal, even as we are also members of one body, one faith, and one Christ.
    What is His way in your life and mine?  I won't know the answer about you, nor will you know it about me.  Our Lord so personally lives in us that some things are just between us, as it were.  We will have to know Him well to discover His way of the white stone in us.  Few things are as important in our lives, and few things more fulfilling.
"Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called."
(I Corinthians 7:20)

Friday, September 9, 2011

"No More a Servant"

(a repeat from last year)
    "And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ" (Galatians 4:6-7).
    "Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ" (Romans 1:1).
    The Apostle Paul tells the Galatians that faith in the Lord Jesus Christ birthed them into family relationship with God, as opposed to mere servitude to a master.  Nevertheless he refers to himself as "a servant of Jesus Christ."
    The Lordship of Jesus must be understood in the context of our being "dear children" rather than mere slaves to a master (Ephesians 5:1).  "Ye serve the Lord Christ" declared Paul, and thus the perception of ourselves as servants is a Biblically valid understanding (Colossians 3:24).  However, sonship must be first in our minds as believers if submission to God is to be known and experienced according to the loving relationship for which the Lord Jesus suffered and died.  Under the law, slaves.  Under grace and truth, "no more a servant," but sons and daughters.  The distinction is vital.
    The obedience of the Christian is the obedience of love rather than the mere fulfillment of duty.  Our Heavenly Father has no interest whatsoever in a heartless submission that belies the heart-filled reality of the Lord Jesus dwelling in us by His Spirit.  Long ago, Israel was severely chastened because "because thou servedst not the LORD thy God with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart, for the abundance of all things" (Deuteronomy 28:47).  How much more must the born again believer, spiritually birthed by the Holy Spirit into being "a habitation of God," serve as a glad, grateful, and affectionate member of "the whole family in heaven and earth" rather than the cold and sterile discipline of a slave (Ephesians 2:22; 3:15).
    This truth, received and nurtured within our hearts and minds, will change our lives.  We serve from sonship.  We serve from being loved as beloved children who love in joyful response.  We serve because there is genuine desire in us for the will of God, wrought in us by the Spirit of His Son dwelling in us.  We serve in a devotion and sincerity that can only proceed from the shared interest of family involvement and relationship.  And we serve with the understanding that "doing the will of God from the heart" is the only obedience in which our Heavenly Father has any interest (Ephesians 6:6).  The Lord Jesus made such genuine devotion possible.  The more we realize how near He has drawn us to His Father and to our Father, the more we will join Paul in the glad service of being dear sons and daughters.
"But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God."
(John 1:12-13)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

"Someone To Thank"

    What if there was no one to thank?  The thought occurs to me as Frances and I sit on the shore of a beautiful lake in north Alabama.  The sun is shining, a gentle breeze wafts in the trees, birds are singing, and the first cool air of the season brings its sweet blend of rest and invigoration.  It's hard to imagine a venue or circumstance that might bring a greater sense of blessing, or of the goodness of the One from whom "every good gift and every perfect gift" descends in gracious lovingkindness (James 1:18).
    What if there was no one to thank?  The very heart would be stolen from such moments.  We might still enjoy them in a sensory and emotional awareness of the pleasant and the enjoyable.  However, the only personal aspect of the experience would be the sharing of the moment with fellow human beings, either in being with them as it occurs, or in telling others later.  This is a nice thing to do, of course, and being with Frances makes the blessing infinitely more blessed than it would be without her.  I also enjoy telling you about it.
    Again, however, what if there was no one to thank?  If a mindless and heartless universe somehow brought us to this lake, this breeze, this sunlight, this togetherness and this sense of goodness as merely a random occurrence of fate or chance, I wouldn't be writing these words.  Honestly, I wouldn't care enough to do so.  I find little interest in merely writing just to be writing, even about nice and pleasant things.  No, if there is no one to thank, there is little or nothing to report.  There are merely descriptions of naturalistic occurrences that will all too soon blow away as dry leaves in the whirlwind.
    There is someone to thank.  There is Someone to thank.  The Bible declares, "He giveth to all life and breath and all things" (Acts 17:25).  The old hymn echoes, "Out of His infinite riches in Jesus, He giveth and giveth and giveth again."  And our hearts know deep within that the very existence of our capacity for gratitude presupposes the existence of someone far beyond ourselves to whom we ascribe credit for every good and perfect gift. 
     I wouldn't want to be alive if I didn't believe and know such Truth to be true.  I know you share this, shall we say, gratitude for the capacity to be grateful.  Oh yes, there is Someone to thank, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and life is not life unless we consistently recognize His love for giving, and our need for receiving with the warm and grateful hearts that reveal our awareness that out of His infinite riches in Jesus, He giveth and giveth and giveth again.
"Oh Lord my God, I will give thanks unto Thee forever!"
(Psalm 30:12)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

"Sweet Is Thy Voice"

     "The prayer of the upright is His delight" (Proverbs 15:8).
     It would be one thing, a blessed thing, if Solomon had written that the prayer of the upright is received by God.  Or that the Lord has made a way for those who trust Him to come through His grace and mercy.  Or that He will accept our prayers despite our imperfections.
    It is another thing altogether that the Word of God declares the prayers of the upright to literally delight the heart of God.  First, let us define who the "upright" are.  Solomon again provides our answer: "Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright" (Ecclesiastes 7:29).  Those who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ find deliverance from their fallenness.  We are made upright by His working on our behalf as God imputes the righteousness of His Son to us as a free gift of grace received by faith.  "Christ is made unto us... righteousness" (I Corinthians 1:30).
    For those redeemed by such indescribable mercy, sincere, humble prayers offered through the merits of the Lord Jesus elicit in the heart of God the emotional pleasure of delight.  Just as we love the communication of those dear to us, our Heavenly Father delights in our voices whenever we turn our hearts toward Home.  "Sweet is thy voice... He shall hear my voice" (Song of Solomon 2:14; Psalm 55:17).
    I must be honest that I find this truth to be at once most blessed and most troubling.  The reason for the former is obvious, namely, that our Lord is so awe-inspiring and so humble that He could find pleasure in those such as ourselves, those with finite minds and formerly rebel hearts, and who still too often walk according to the "weak and beggarly elements" of carnality (Galatians 4:9).  What a Heart must beat in the Divine character and nature that creatures can delight Him!  "The Lord taketh pleasure in His people" (Psalm 149:4).
    My troubling results from the fact that I often ponder this truth of God's delight in our prayers.  I often speak of it in sermons and personal conversations, and I often write about it.  Nevertheless, I look back on nearly 36 years of being a believer and sadly recall too much neglect of so great a gift, and so great a Giver.  I even look back on yesterday in the realization of so many opportunities to delight the heart of God, and so many opportunities missed. 
     Wonderfully, the Lord who delights in the prayers of the Grace-redeemed upright also "delighteth in mercy" (Micah 7:18).  He forgives prayerlessness as we humbly acknowledge our neglect, and does so joyfully.  God is not peevish, and holds no grudges toward children who so often forget to acknowledge Him.  Instead, He delights to forgive us, even as He delights in our prayers.  Words fail at this point, and I leave your heart to ponder the glory of so great and good a Heart, even as I seek to also consider, and to join David in his holy determination, "He shall hear my voice."
"When Thou saidst, Seek ye My face; my heart said unto Thee, Thy face, LORD, will I seek."
(Psalm 27:8)   

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Post title"The Table and the Cup"

    Just as we must often eat and drink food and water to remain healthy, so must we continually partake of the Lord Jesus Christ as our spiritual sustenance.
    This week's memory verse speaks to the ongoing relationship with our Savior whereby we experience His energizing presence.  "Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to Me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on Me shall never thirst" (John 6:35).  As the saying goes, we must "come early and come often" if our innermost need is to be consistently met.
      Thankfully, salvation in Christ establishes a relationship whereby we need no special place, posture or occasion in order to relate to God.  We rather worship "in spirit and in truth," that is, the place, posture and occasion of the heart determines whether we genuinely come and partake of His provision (John 4:24).  The table and cup of grace are ever before born again believers in the Lord Jesus, so long as we come in faith, humility and sincerity.  "The place whereon thou standest is holy ground" said the Lord to Moses of a particular spot of earth (Exodus 3:5).  The ancient Voice would say the same to us, but of every venue in our lives as we seek to spiritually partake of our ever-present Lord.
    This is the moment.  This is the place.  This is the table and the cup.  Wherever we may be, our Lord is.  Our need is great.  His bread and water of life are greater.  The person and work of the Lord Jesus provides our access.  Let us not miss so great an opportunity, and so bountiful a feast.  With open hearts ready to receive, expectant of sustenance, we come.  And we shall not be disappointed.
"O taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man that trusteth in Him."
(Psalm 34:8)

Monday, September 5, 2011

"Our Truest Joy"

There is a reason the Lord Jesus Christ said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35).  Because it is more blessed to give than to receive.
     Certainly all born again believers affirm in principle this primary truth of Scripture.  We also seek to live accordingly.  However, our spiritual enemies continually wage both direct and subtle warfare against the loving character of the Lord Jesus being revealed in us.  We are not above selfish pettiness of attitude, intent, word and deed. 
     "And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ... for ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?" (I Corinthians 3:1;3).
     The Apostle Paul's statement provides the most direct definition of carnality in Scripture, namely, to "walk as men."  Believers are called rather to "walk, even as He walked" (I John 2:6).  Furthermore, we are superabundantly energized by the indwelling Holy Spirit to live our lives according to the unselfishness of the Lord Jesus.  "The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us" (Romans 5:5).  This we must believe regardless of how strong the temptation may be to please ourselves at the expense of God and others.  Our truest joy is self sacrifice.  "And if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all" (Philippians 2:17).
    Our flesh lusts against this truth, as influenced by the devil and the world (Galatians 5:17).  A greater Influence, however, works in us "both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13).  Deep in our redeemed hearts we know - it is more blessed to give than to receive.  Let us rejoice that the Lord Jesus has revealed such Truth in us, and then let us submit ourselves in faith and expectation that the Truth will be revealed by us.  Joy awaits us as we walk accordingly, the joy of God, the joy of others, and our own joy as the sublime character of Christ fills and overflows our hearts.
"He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water."
(John 7:38)

Friday, September 2, 2011

"Far Better"

(A repeat from last year)

    "It's better than the alternative."
     We've likely all heard this quip about aging, and have perhaps expressed it ourselves.  The Apostle Paul, however, had a completely different viewpoint.
     "For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better" (Philippians 1:23).
     Paul believed that physical departure from the present world is not only better, but "far better."  Having seen the Lord Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus, and having been caught up to the "third heaven" (where he witnessed glories too wondrous to describe), Paul knew that a moment in the direct presence of God is infinitely greater than anything our earthly lives can offer.  "In Thy presence is fullness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore" (Psalm 16:11).
    Our flesh longs for longevity in a world that itself "passeth away" (I John 2:17).  It resists and rebels against the notion of a "desire to depart, and to be with Christ."  We do not naturally think in such terms, and even the most godly believer may feel great apprehension when considering "the valley of the shadow of death" (Psalm 23:4).  It is therefore incumbent upon Christians to establish within our hearts the principled truth of "far better" concerning the matter of physical death. We must choose to believe that in the moment of our passing from earth to Heaven, our Great Shepherd will Himself meet us for the journey - "Thou are with me."  Paul declared of believers that "to be absent from the body" is synonymous with being "present with the Lord" (II Corinthians 5:8).  Physical death ushers us into the direct presence of "fullness of joy," and "pleasures forevermore" - "far better."
    We rejoice in our present existence, and Paul did not mean to imply that we morbidly long for our earthly demise.  We affirm the Psalmist's hope that "surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life."  Nevertheless we look for greater glories in Heaven: "I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever" (Psalm 23:6).  Remaining in this present world is not "better than the alternative."  It is far worse actually, but for the glory of God and the blessing of others, it is necessary until our earthly mission is complete.  This we must believe, and any notion or emotion to the contrary must be instantly and summarily dismissed from the sensibilities.  Just one look into the face of the Lord Jesus, and the Apostle's "far better" will be our joyous and eternal song.
"Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
(I Corinthians 15:51-57)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The "Why?" of Prayer

  "Help us, o God of our salvation, for the glory of Thy name" (Psalm 79:9).

    In God's view, the motivation of our prayers is likely far more important than their content or duration. 

     "For the glory of Thy name" - this must form the primary intention of our requests, even as the model prayer of the Lord Jesus begins with "Our Father which art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name" (Matthew 6:9).

     This presents a great and ongoing challenge, of course, because knowing why we do what we do is often the greatest of mysteries.  We must therefore maintain an ongoing communication in prayer related directly to motivation.  "Search me, o God, and know my heart, try me and know my thoughts" - few requests concerning prayer are as important, and few more reveal that we are likely in tune with "the glory of Thy name" (Psalm 139:23).

    At the end of human history, we shall likely discover that, relatively speaking, very few prayed very much, and very few prayed very well.  The latter aspect of communion with God concerns me the most about my own life.  Perhaps you feel as do I, and if so, let us bow even in this moment to request that the Heavenly Father who gazes into the very center of us will work according to His perfect vision, confirming and enhancing genuinely Christ-exalting motivations, and rooting out reasons for prayer that do not meet the test of His glory, His will, and His eternal purpose in Christ Jesus.

"O LORD, Thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, Thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, Thou knowest it altogether."

(Psalm 139:1-4)