Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"Grace and Truth"

"The Gospel... is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth" (Colossians 1:5; 6).

We can never rightly consider God's grace apart from His truth. "Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ" (John 1:17). Our Lord's freely given gift of salvation and subsequent relationship with Him must be experienced always in the context of rightly believing His Word. It is not just any God, or any grace we receive by faith, but rather the God of the Bible, and the grace of reality. "He that believeth on Me as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water" (John 7:38; emphasis added).

A proper emphasis on grace must always be accompanied by a no less important emphasis on truth. This presses us to know God's Word as the entrance into assimilating the "unsearcable riches" freely given to us in Christ (Ephesians 3:8). The Bible can be likened to a key that opens the treasurechest whereby we relate to God in a manner that makes realized grace an ongoing experience of wonder. Seeking God's favor apart from His truth keeps the treasurechest locked at best, or at worst we end up with a distorted and deceived view of a grace that does not exist.

James wrote, "Ye have not because ye ask not." He also added, "Ye ask and receive not because ye ask amiss" (James 4:2-3). Seeking God's truth in Scripture helps us to avoid the neglect of "ye ask not" because "faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God." Thereby are we enabled to avail ourselves of "those things freely given to us of God" (Romans 10:17; I Corinthians 2:12). The Bible also enables us to ask aright rather than amiss, keeping us from a false worship and spiritual practice. The Psalmist closes our consideration, calling us to seek grace always in accordance with truth...

"The Lord is nigh unto them that call upon Him, that call upon Him in truth."
(Psalm 145:18)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

"Accepted By Grace, Acceptable By Grace"

God's acceptance of born again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ involves a two-fold expression of grace.

"He hath made us accepted in the Beloved" (Ephesians 1:6).
"Wherefore we labor, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad" (II Corinthians 5:9-10).

Regarding our person and relationship with Him, our Heavenly Father freely and forever receives us as His sons and daughters, as united to the the Son. Nothing can change the inviolable bond given to us when the Holy Spirit birthed us into family relationship with God. Those born again cannot be unborn, as it were, and we will forever sing the anthem of "accepted in the Beloved," to the glory of our Creator and Redeemer. "And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood" (Revelation 5:9).

The Apostle Paul nevertheless wrote to the Corinthians of an acceptance based on our works - "we labor to be accepted of Him." To the point, this relates not to our person and relationship with God, but, as Paul declared, to "things done." While we ourselves are freely received in Christ, the life we subsequently live is subject to either acceptance or rejection by our Heavenly Father. Those attitudes, words, actions and relatings to Him and others produced by the Holy Spirit and faithful to the Word of God are accepted and affirmed. Those which do not flow from the Spirit in accordance with Scripture are rejected and subjected to our Father's working to eliminate. A holy God could act in no other way, and a holy people would want it in no other way. "Search me, o God, and know my heart; try me and know my thoughts. See if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psalm 139:23-24).

Interestingly, both aspects of God's acceptance are matters of grace. Our person is "justified by faith," that is, we freely receive the favor of God in Christ (Romans 5:1). Our works also are based upon a true and living experience of grace. "Let us have grace, that we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and godly fear" (Hebrews 12:28). Grace births us into everlasting favor by uniting us to Christ and enrobing us in His righteousness. Grace also produces the life of godliness to which we are called by providing the indwelling Spirit of Christ as our very life. We had grace at the beginning of our Christian life in order to be born again. We must continue to "have grace" as we live our Christian life in order to think, speak and act as if we are born again. We do well, therefore, to saturate ourselves in the Biblical declaration of a salvation originated, perpetuated, and never to be culminated by freely given glories, provided by a freely given Savior. Thereby are we "accepted in the Beloved," and thereby do we "labor, that... we may be accepted of Him."

"God... hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began."
(II Timothy 1:8; 9)
"By the grace of God I am what I am: and His grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me."
(I Corinthians 15:10)
"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).
"As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him."
(Colossians 2:6)

Monday, November 28, 2011

"I Forgot"

(a repeat from 2010)

"I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth" (II Peter 1:12).

We can "know" God's truth. We can even be "established" in it. But we will still need "remembrance of these things" throughout our earthly lifetimes.

The Apostle Peter recognized his calling to awaken believers to the realities of who our Lord is, and who we are in relationship to Him. He knew that the best and brightest among us nevertheless require remembrance of the Lord Jesus Christ in the many blessed aspects of His person and office. Life in a fallen world can distract and deceive us, and at times we all seem to aimlessly wander down paths of unbelief that we have encountered before, to our own detriment. We should know better, and there is no excuse. However, our Lord does not refer to His trusting children as sheep for no reason. These animals are not considered to be the smartest of God's creatures, and thus require the shepherd's constant attention in protecting them from peril. So do we, and thankfully, our Great Shepherd is merciful and patient with us in our times of forgetting "those things which are most surely believed among us" (Luke 1:1).

Realizing this about ourselves will go far in leading us to do something about it. We will more consistently expose ourselves to the light of God's Word that helps to keep our path brightly illuminated. We will pray, and ask God to keep His truth fresh and increasingly enhanced in our minds. We will fellowship with other sheep who recognize their own need to be put in remembrance of our Shepherd's presence and provision. Perhaps most importantly, we will realize how utterly dependent we are on His constant devotion to our benefit. "I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Thy servant" (Psalm 119:176).

"Lord, I forgot." We will have to confess this at times in our earthly lives, and bitter tears may accompany our admission. Again, forgetting is not excusable because our Heavenly Father has "given unto us all things that pertaineth to life and godliness" (II Peter 1:3). However, we will find Him patient, understanding, and forgiving even as He does not condone our waywardness. Our Great Shepherd is a "great shepherd," and He is also a "good shepherd" (Hebrews 13:20; John 10:14). He does not forget us, and He knows His sheep. Even more, He loves His sheep, including me and you who are far too prone to forgetfulness of His perfect faithfulness. He is willing to remind us, and to send Apostle Peters our way who "will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things."

"He hath made His wonderful works to be remembered: the LORD is gracious and full of compassion."
(Psalm 111:4)

Friday, November 25, 2011

"Beyond the Norm"

I have a cold (which is the reason this is late going out, by the way). Doubtless I came in contact in recent days with the virus that causes such maladies, and my immune system was unable to fight off the invading and rapidly multiplying swarm (Ow! that sounds nasty, doesn't it? Feels nasty). This supplies the natural explanation.

But is there something more than merely the natural in such experiences? Born again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ definitively believe there is something beyond the norm in the midst of our everyday experiences. "All things work together for good to that that love God" (Romans 8:28). Furthermore, "His understanding is infinite," meaning that His knowledge of my existence transcends the span of time and experience (Psalm 147:5). No moment or experience comes to us unanticipated by the Lord, nor without the weaving of His purposes into whatever we may face. I must therefore receive the cold as something He either determined or allowed for His glory, my benefit, and the benefit of others in my life.

Life takes on a different meaning altogether when we perceive the realities of both the natural and the supernatural. Earthly things are real, and we respond to them as such. With earnest intention and effort, we make provision for those necessities for which can supply with our minds, hands and feet. Nevertheless, we believe in God's involvement and supply, trusting that He is working even as we are working (and supplying the strength for our efforts). Furthermore, those challenges we can't overcome also press us to the same faith in God's involvement and supply as we prayerfully trust and submit ourselves to Him.

Along these lines, I'm taking medicines for my cold, resting, and yes, Frances, I promise to drink plenty of fluids! I'm also trusting in the providence and provision of the God so lovingly involved in my existence that He counts the dwindling numbers of hairs on my head (Matthew 10:30). At the very least, He allowed the molecular gates of my sinuses to be open when the virus approached and entered. I may or may not ever know the whys and wherefores for this episode and illness in my life. Such knowledge is not necessary. It is necessary, however, that I trust the Lord's willingness and ability to perfectly fit the natural realities of a cold into His greater purposes of supernatural glory. In this act of faith, my heart is kept at peace, and I am far more likely to fulfill God's will in the present distress. That's all I need to know for now, and all that is required to glorify the Lord Jesus who purposes to waste no moment or exigency in our lives...

"God... worketh all things after the counsel of His own will."
(Ephesians 1:11)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

"A Life of Gratitude"

In His Word, God calls us to a life of abundant and ongoing thanksgiving.

"In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you" (I Thessalonians 5:18).

Our Heavenly Father does not need our thanksgiving, of course, but He does find great pleasure in it. Just as we teach our children to give thanks not for our benefit, but rather for theirs, so does our Lord call us to a life of gratitude that meets particular needs in our lives.

1. Thanksgiving enhances and protects the faith whereby we live. Consistently expressing appreciation to God strengthens our relationship with Him by fortifying remembrance of the Source of every "good gift and every perfect gift in our lives" (James 1:17). It also helps keep us from pride when things are going well, and bitterness when life becomes difficult.

2. Thanksgiving personalizes relationship with God, and with people. Saying "thank you" with a genuine heart is a very relational expression. Indeed, imagine a world where gratitude did not exist in thought, emotion and expression. A gray and drab scenario of the impersonal emerges where God would be largely unknown, and where "heart" would be replaced by mere mechanism.

3. Thanksgiving confirms a primary truth that Adam's race must discover and increasingly know. Namely, God is God, and we are not. Long ago, Satan tempted our original forefathers with the dark notion that "ye shall be as gods" (Genesis 3:5). Adam subsequently partook of the forbidden fruit, plunging the human race into a dark abyss of deception regarding who God is, and who we are. Expressing gratitude to Him helps to remind us that our Lord is source, supply and sustenance, and that we are recipients, dependents and supplicants. Few greater lessons will ever be learned, by few greater teachers.

4. As A.W. Tozer wrote, thanksgiving "sweetens the soul." Life in a fallen world can harden and embitter the one who fails to see God's good giving expressed in difficult times, as well as in pleasant. A heart full of gratitude will always remain tender, bearing the sweet "fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:11).

5. Thanksgiving comforts. The balm offered by our Lord must be received. When, in times of heartache and heartbreak, we look toward Heaven with "the sacrifice of thanksgiving," the Holy Spirit salves the wounds we trustingly expose to His loving ability and willingness (Psalm 116:17). Always would our Lord have us to be active participants in our relationship with Him. Thanksgiving provides a major component whereby God's giving of comfort and our receiving thereof results in assurance of heart and mind.

6. Thanksgiving glorifies the Lord. "I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify Him with thanksgiving" (Psalm 69:30). Living gratefully both in attitude and expression powerfully reveals and honors the Lord Jesus to those with whom we live our lives. The Psalmist desired "that I may publish with the voice of thanksgiving, and tell of all Thy wondrous works" (Psalm 26:7). To "publish" and "tell" - we give thanks so that others may be drawn unto the warm hearth of gratitude whereby the warm heart of God is known, trusted, and loved.

7. Finally, we give thanks in order to please the heart of our Heavenly Father. Again, He does not require our thanksgiving, nor does He command gratitude for any selfish reason whatsoever. We do need gratitude, however, for all of the reasons mentioned in this essay, and many more. When gratefulness fills our hearts, minds and tongues, the fact and dynamic working of God on our behalf becomes realized and assimilated. This is His holy intention, that the knowledge of our belovedness might grace us with a life of abounding joy, peace, and a heart filled and fulfilled by the Lord Jesus. The same fills and fulfills our Father's heart, and if we needed no other reason to give thanks, surely this would be eternally and infinitely enough.

"Surely the righteous shall give thanks unto Thy name: the upright shall dwell in Thy presence."
(Psalm 140:13)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

"Let All Flesh Bless His Holy Name"

Psalm 145

As we approach the day set aside in the United States for thanksgiving, I am reminded of the Psalm that to me seems to be at once the most majestic and the most tender of all the songs written by the Psalmists. I thought I'd send it along in the confidence it will inspire in you the same sense of gratitude and desire to give thanks it always elicits in me.

"I will extol Thee, my God, O king; and I will bless Thy name for ever and ever. Every day will I bless Thee; and I will praise Thy name for ever and ever. Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; and His greatness is unsearchable. One generation shall praise Thy works to another, and shall declare Thy mighty acts. I will speak of the glorious honor of Thy majesty, and of Thy wondrous works. And men shall speak of the might of Thy terrible acts: and I will declare Thy greatness. They shall abundantly utter the memory of Thy great goodness, and shall sing of Thy righteousness.

The LORD is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy. The LORD is good to all: and His tender mercies are over all His works. All thy works shall praise Thee, O LORD; and Thy saints shall bless Thee. They shall speak of the glory of Thy kingdom, and talk of Thy power; to make known to the sons of men His mighty acts, and the glorious majesty of His kingdom. Thy kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and Thy dominion endureth throughout all generations. The LORD upholdeth all that fall, and raiseth up all those that be bowed down.

The eyes of all wait upon Thee; and Thou givest them their meat in due season. Thou openest Thine hand, and satisfiest the desire of every living thing. The LORD is righteous in all His ways, and holy in all His works. The LORD is nigh unto all them that call upon Him, to all that call upon Him in truth. He will fulfil the desire of them that fear Him: He also will hear their cry, and will save them. The LORD preserveth all them that love Him: but all the wicked will He destroy. My mouth shall speak the praise of the LORD: and let all flesh bless His holy name for ever and ever."

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

"The Glory of Humility"

In the short run, humility suffers and apparently loses. "They crucified Him" (Matthew 27:35).

In the long run, however, humility openly wins. "Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:9-11).

In our own lives as Christ-inhabited believers, the pattern will repeat itself over and over. As our Lord calls us to "walk, even as He walked," countless opportunities for humility will present themselves whereby we forego our interests, reputation and desires in order to glorify the Lord Jesus and bless others (I John 2:6). The way will often be hard, the path painful, and the will of God challenging to our human sensibilities. We will suffer small losses that no one knows about but ourselves and our Heavenly Father. And we will suffer great losses that everyone knows about. Along the way, our hearts will be kept in peace, but the storms will rage in every other venue of our existence. "We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22).

"He that loseth his life for My sake shall find it" (Matthew 10:39). Humility wins even as it loses, and it certainly wins in the end. God most reveals His character and nature to us when He leads us along the pathways once trodden by our Savior. Thereby we discover the joy of loving meekness that foregoes many pleasures of the present for the surpassing glories of the future. "Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2). Revealed victory in the future. Veiled, but nevertheless realized victory in the present. This is the way of humility, the way of Christ, and our way as we walk the Blood-stained path that leads to the glory not of arrogance and self affirmation, but of humility.

"Before honor is humility."
(Proverbs 15:33)

"Sweet Is Thy Voice"

(A repeat from 2009)

"Let me hear thy voice, for sweet is thy voice... He shall hear my voice" (Song of Solomon 2:14; Psalm 55:17).

There are voices we love to hear, voices whose sound warms our hearts with happiness, comfort, assurance, communion, and love.

There are voices God loves to hear, voices whose sound warms His heart with joy as the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ graces the prayers of sons and daughters adopted into His heavenly family. Such voices are yours and mine. "God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying Abba Father" (Galatians 4:6).

This is a hard truth to understand and assimilate into our consciousness. We cannot physically see God's response to our words. Even more, we may have a sense that we have too often brought displeasure to Him by our failures, and by the too frequent neglect of prayer that many believers perceive as their greatest spiritual weakness. "Perhaps my voice was sweet to Him long ago," we may sadly mourn. "But not anymore."

On the contrary, the Bible reveals that precious are the utterances offered from souls keenly aware of their unworthiness to voice even a word toward Heaven. "The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart, and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit" (Psalm 34:18). "He delighteth in mercy" declared the prophet, and if we could physically see the response of God to our prayers in times of both faithfulness and waywardness, glad welcome would grace the scene (Micah 7:18). "I will arise and go unto my father, and will say unto him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. Make me as one of thy hired servants. "And he arose and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck and kissed him" (Luke 15:18-20).

We rightly consider the blessed effects of prayer in our own hearts. Less often do we consider the blessed effects of prayer in God's heart. Fewer considerations are more vital for born again believers in the Lord Jesus. His heart has known much pain, sorrow, and grief from the human race. If our voice brings sweetness to such a heart, then may our voices be heard! Who can understand such a thing, that creatures such as ourselves possess the capacity to bless One so beyond who and what we are? Such a wonder trancends understanding, but not faith, and not the love of Christ directed to us, and dwelling in us (Romans 5:5). Indeed, those voices sweet to us sound forth from hearts whom we love. It is no different with God.

"The prayer of the upright is His delight."
(Proverbs 15:8)

Monday, November 21, 2011

"Who He Is; What He Does"

God's doings and ways flow from His being and character.

"For Thou art great, and doest wondrous things" (Psalm 86:10).

We praise the Lord for who and what He is; we thank Him for what He does. Both realities bless and awe us as we open our eyes to the fact of His pervasive involvement in our lives. If we have trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ, God resides both with and within us. We are spiritually united with His being - "He that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit" (I Corinthians 6:17). Our Lord also continually acts on our behalf - "God... worketh all things after the counsel of His own will" (Ephesians 1:11). Thus, the Holy Spirit graces believers with ongoing opportunities for praise and thanksgiving as we freely experience both the heart and hand of our Heavenly Father.

It may be in God that His person and actions are virtually synonymous, being so perfectly united as to be inseparable. I nevertheless find it helpful in my understanding (and Scripturally sanctioned) to think of our Lord's being and doing as distinct realities. Accordingly, praise and thanksgiving also become distinct responses to the presence and involvement of God. One directs focus to His character, nature and essential being, while the other spotlights His wondrous doings. Maintaining the distinction provides a dual appreciation and admiration warranted by the wonder that is God. It also provides a dual impact on our own being and way: "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).

A long and sublimely blessed eternity awaits the sons and daughters of God in Christ. Our Lord will forever amaze us with who He is and what He does. In fact, such blessedness has already begun as we live our lives in expectation of beholding the glory of God. Much opportunity for praise and thanksgiving will fill this day as we anticipate the spear-pierced heart and nail-scarred hands of the Lord Jesus to be present on our behalf. Who God is - what a wonder! What He does - no less a wonder! Offerings of adoration and gratitude comprise the proper response to both realities, and powerful effect upon our own being and way.

"Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise."
(Psalm 100:4)

Friday, November 18, 2011

"Homeward To the Heavenlies"

(Friends: this is only the third time in thirteen years we have sent out two messages in the same day. But this one is ready, and I somehow feel it is meant to go out today. Thanks, Glen.)

We shall depart from this present world in either of several different ways. Perhaps we shall leave as did Caleb, whose strength and vision remained undimmed and unabated throughout his lifetime. Or we may linger as did Jacob, with weakness and blindness challenging our last days. Sudden physical death may take us like Abel, slain by his brother. Or, as with Enoch, we may leave this planet by way of Rapture (certainly the best case scenario!).

Whatever our God-chosen path through "the valley of the shadow of death" may involve, the most important characteristic will be "Thou art with me" (Psalm 23:4). Indeed, the case can be Biblically made that our last earthly moment will also be our most God-saturated moment since David declared the Lord to be "a very present help in trouble" (Psalm 46:1). Certainly death is our greatest "trouble." Just as certainly, God is "very present" therein. I suspect that if we could physically see the spiritual realities that take place as believers depart this fallen world unto a perfect and glorious Heaven, many of our tears would go unshed.

Whether our departure is abrupt or lingering, we must believe that our Heavenly Father never draws more near to us than when He escorts us homeward to the heavenlies. If our fellow believers who have already made the journey could speak to us, their message would be joyful and sure: "If you're going to fear anything, brother or sister, don't fear death! Because in that holy moment of passage, you will be enveloped in a Presence that will fill and fulfill your heart like you've never known before, and like you cannot imagine! Yes, you will discover to the complete enrapturing of your spirit that "Thou art with me" means far more than words can ever tell! Indeed, on this side we don't say that "we died" when we left the earth and came home. We say that "we lived!"

There is absolutely nothing for believers to fear about death. Nothing. Nothing! We will be tempted otherwise, of course, but in every moment of such devilish challenge, let us remember the Word of God's promise of "Thou art with me," and its perfect assurance of grace for the last journey...

"Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same; that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage."
(Hebrews 2:14-15)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

"The Present of the Present"

Many years ago, when our daughter Marie was very small, we had a discussion about God as the supplier of all things in our lives.

"He giveth to all life and breath and all things... Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights" (James 1:17; Acts 17:25).

I explained to Marie that God is the source of all provision, and that His generosity graces every moment of our lives. She pondered the thought for a moment, and then responded with the profound wisdom that our Heavenly Father often seems to reserve for expression through the heart of a child. "Oh, I see, Daddy," she said, "the present is a present!"

Outside the pages of Scripture, I don't expect in this lifetime to hear anything more true or more necessary to the proper understanding of life and existence. The present is a present, a gift from the God whose beneficence knows no bounds. "God... giveth us richly all things to enjoy" (I Timothy 6:17). For the born again believer in the Lord Jesus, this perspective of grace and faith assures us that regardless of the condition, circumstance or situation of the moment, "all things" are working together "for good" (Romans 8:28).

Of course, our Heavenly Father's good gifts often come to us wrapped in strange and even painful packaging. Many moments do not feel or appear to be gifts. Nevertheless, we shall one day discover that God wasted nothing in His perpetual working to grace us with exactly what we need in every second of our existence. The pleasant, the painful, and all possibilities in between come to us as expressions of bestowals of grace from the One for whom giving is synonymous with being.

This moment, this present, is a present. If we see it as such, joy and peace fill our hearts as the natural expression of our perspective of truth and reality (even if we are also feeling the sorrow and pains that often come in a fallen world). "Whoso trusteth in the LORD, happy is he" (Proverbs 16:20). If we perceive otherwise, that is, if we view this moment primarily as a burden, an injustice, or an unfortunate falling out of dilemma, difficulty or disaster, we miss the blessedness that graces this one time that will be like no other. Thank you, Marie, for so long ago and at such a tender age being a lamp for God's illuminating and warming light. And thank You, Lord, for this moment, the present that comes to us in the present.

A Gift
It is a gift, this moment.
It is a gift, this breath.
It is a gift, this Savior,
put to death, but raised again,
it is a gift.
It is a gift, to be loved and to love.
It is a gift, from Heaven above.
It is a gift, by the Spirit of God's Son,
born again, our hearts in Him,
it is a gift.

"Thou openest Thine hand, and satisfiest the desire of every living thing."
(Psalm 145:16)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


(Thanks to my Aunt Phyllis for inspiration on this one.)

"He's an amazing God." My Aunt Phyllis uttered these very true words last night during a phone conversation. They led me to ponder the wonder, as I like to say, or to consider anew and afresh the Bible's declarations of a God beyond our capacity for thought, who nevertheless calls us to use our minds to think of Him.

"Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee" (Isaiah 26:3).

Our minds were made for the primary purpose of thinking about their Maker. We can use them for nothing better, and there is nothing worse we can do to our capacity for thought than to neglect its first privilege and responsibility. "How precious are Thy thoughts unto me, o God... The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God. God is not in all his thoughts" (Psalm 139:17; 10:4). We walk in either light or darkness to the degree that we direct our minds Heavenward in the consideration of the wonder that is our Lord.

By this, we do not imply merely philosophical or esoteric meditations. On the contrary, thinking about the Lord Jesus Christ involves the most practical usage of our brains and hearts. We "live through Him," that is, the Lord Jesus saturates every moment of our existence in both time and eternity - "to live is Christ" (I John 4:9; Philippians 1:21). Consistent consideration of His person, presence and working as revealed in Scripture therefore serves to enable a walk in "the light of life," as opposed to stumbling along the dark and treacherous path of ignorance and unbelief (John 8:12). A mind "stayed on Thee" is a mind far more prepared to navigate the course of life in all the varieties of its twists, turns, and challenges.

Some ponderings of God, however, do call us beyond merely the necessary and pragmatic. Some leave us with minds almost numbed with wonder. Some overwhelm our hearts with emotions elicited by no other meditation. And some leave us grasping for words to describe the glories that trace their way through our trusting thoughts. "Amazing," or better yet, "Amazing!" is one of those descriptions that come as close as any other to expressing the inexpressible. Indeed, a mind often used to think of its Maker will be a mind filled with wonder, fascination, and the necessary atmosphere of worshipful expectation. Our brains were made for such fulfilling consideration, and nothing begins to compare with directing them toward thoughts of the Amazing.

"Consider Him."
(Hebrews 12:3)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

"Why, Lord?"

From Moses to Gideon to Job to David to Isaiah to Jeremiah, and finally, even to the Lord Jesus Christ, the people of God have looked Heavenward with the question regarding the difficulties of life, "Why?"

Sometimes answers come in the pages of Scripture. Sometimes the Holy Spirit grants insight in our thinking to put 2 and 2 together, as it were, and 4 clearly appears. And sometimes the voice and experience of a fellow believer illuminate our understanding, enabling us to interpret the reasons for God's determinations and allowances in our lives.

Sometimes, however, answers never come. Or if they do, we miss them or cannot understand our Lord's whys and wherefores. Some things are simply beyond us in this lifetime, and some things God, in the perfection of His wisdom and way, simply chooses not reveal to us. "The secret things belong unto the Lord our God" (Deuteronomy 29:29).

Unto a race long ago infected by Satan's lie that "ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil," the inability to understand comes as a bitter pill to swallow (Genesis 3:5). Our enemy tempts us to believe that if only we can know and interpret the reasons for the painful things that fall out in life, we can deal with them. Our problem, we think, is lack of knowledge and information. Again, sometimes this is the case, and God answers our "Why?" But many times, such an answer would actually serve to further bewilder and trouble us, or worse, to confirm us in the pride of believing in our own ability to successfully navigate the course of life, given enough information.

Thus, our Heavenly Father sometimes grants no direct answer to "Why?" He leaves us in the darkness of ignorance in order to usher us further into the light of faith. As the old saying perfectly expresses, "We must trust His heart when we cannot understand His hand." Often, this is the answer to "Why?" Our Father would have us to know Him rather than merely His ways. When darkness enshrouds both the path behind and the path before us, we cling more tightly, listen more intently, and trust as a matter of our very survival. "You know, Lord, You understand - and that is enough." It is a hard way, no doubt, but it is a blessed way as the unseen Hand provides opportunity for a glorious Heart to shine forth in the bold relief provided by the backdrop of darkness.

"I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the LORD, which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel."
(Isaiah 45:3)
"The darkness and the light are both alike unto Thee."
(Psalm 139:12)

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Beginning and the Continuing

As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him: rooted and built up in Him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving" (Colossians 2:6-7).

That which happened when our relationship with God began through Christ must continue as we subsequently live the Christian life.

This raises the question: what in fact happened when we believed in the Lord Jesus? While the details of our experience of salvation are personal to all of us, the essence of beginning our relationship with God involves several common and elemental aspects of truth.

First, we realized that the Gospel offers a Savior who promises to be all that we need Him to be, and do all that we need Him to do.
"Before Abraham was, I am" (John 8:58).
"He is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him" (Hebrews 7:25).

Salvation begins by God giving a more than adequate Savior, and then communicating to us the fact of so great a gift. Christ is, and Christ can. Upon this basis, the Holy Spirit then communicates to us a corollary truth, namely, we are not, and we cannot.

"Ye were sometimes darkness, but not are ye light in the Lord" (Ephesians 5:8).
"All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).

Before we believed, we "were" darkness, that is, our very essence was wrongly constituted. Rather than our spirit serving as "the candle of the Lord," we were enshrouded with the blackness of being "alienated from the life of God" (Proverbs 20:27; Ephesians 4:18). Subsequently, our doings were wrong, including our thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, words, actions and relatings to God and man. We were not, and we could not.

Salvation resulted when we accepted the truth of both realities. That is, God's I AM and I CAN united with our I am not and I cannot. We believed with our hearts the facts about our Lord, and about ourselves. Into the acknowledged void of our emptiness and inability, the abundant fullness and power of the Lord Jesus entered, providing forgiveness, newness of life, and the establishment of living relationship with God. He graciously provided, we freely received, and a powerful work of grace resulted.

"As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him." The glory continues as we walk in truth, or rather we experience "the hope of glory," which is "Christ in you" (Colossians 1:27). The soil in which salvation was planted - "rooted in Him" - serves as the same soil in which our new life thrives - "built up in Him." Him. Him. Him! Christ is the I AM and I CAN. We remain the I am not and I cannot. However, in the wonder of Divine/human relationship, God's being and ability inhabits and empowers us to to degree that we are and we can!

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

That which happened when we initially believed in order to be saved remains that which happens our Savior reveals Himself in our thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, words, deeds and relationship to God and man. He provides, we receive, and the saving grace of the Lord Jesus results in manifested leading and enabling.

Our spiritual enemies continually seek to distract us from the dynamic of the Savior's all sufficient and encompassing salvation. We must therefore often encourage and challenge each other to remember that the grace that birthed us is the grace that matures us. Again, that which happened when eternal life in Christ Jesus came to us must continue as eternal life in Christ Jesus leads and enables us. He is. He can. We are not. We can't. But by Him, in Him, and through Him, we are and we can! This is salvation in it's inception, its perpetuation, and its... well, there is no culmination to an eternity of the glad anthem sung by those who rejoice in the salvation of Christ only, Christ always, Christ forever!

"We also are weak in Him, but we shall live with Him by the power of God toward you."
(II Corinthians 13:4)
"By the grace of God I am what I am: and His grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me."
(I Corinthians 15:10)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Remembered No More

One of the godliest men who ever lived was also a man who comsigned a brave, noble warrior to death so that he could steal his wife (with whom he had already had an illicit relationship - II Samuel 11; Acts 13:22).

King David suffered terrible consequences for his depraved sin against Bathsheba and her husband Uriah, a shameful episode that Scripture chronicles in all its shame and gore. Nevertheless, the New Testament does not mention his waywardness, or anything at all in negative terms concerning David. He rather shines forth as "a man after Mine own heart," and most importantly, the New Testament writers frequently affirm the relationship between the Psalmist and the Lord Jesus Christ. "Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead" (Acts 13:22; II Timothy 2:8).

Surely no overlooking or minimizing of sin is implied by the New Testament omission. Instead, the Holy Spirit would spotlight and maximize the wondrous grace of God, or as the Apostle Paul affirmed, "Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound" (Romans 5:20). The mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ provides forgiveness and cleansing to the humble, repentant heart far beyond any measure we can conceive. The Bible provides the most vivid description of such infinite span, declaring that "as far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us" (Psalm 103:12). That's a long way, a long way of grace, and a distance which we do well to establish and often nurture in our fundamental doctrines and beliefs.

The horrors of sin most reveal themselves when compared with the extent to which God went to provide forgiveness, and the extent to which we are forgiven when we avail ourselves of His mercy. The Lord Jesus Christ was tortured to death and forsaken by God and man in order to make possible forgiveness and newness of life. Those who believe are so justified that God "will not impute sin" to them (dealing with them as a loving Father rather than a condemning judge - Romans 4:8). David of the Old Testament trusted in such a coming redemption, and was so justified that the New Testament never mentions the very real wickedness of his sin with Bathsheba and Uriah.

Let us remember this when our spiritual enemies would claim that no hope of restoration exists for ourselves or others when we fall into deep pits of unbelief and disobedience. No greater lie has ever been told. Indeed, if we will come by the way of grace through faith paved by the Lord Jesus, and stained by His blood, we will discover with David a Father who runs to greet us with forgiveness and restoration. And, in perhaps the most redeeming aspect of His mercy, we will hear the voice of the Spirit in the pages of Scripture as He proclaims the one thing that a God of infinite understanding forgets...

"Their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more."
(Hebrews 8:12)

Thursday, November 10, 2011


Several days ago, as I sanded a corner wall of our house in preparation to paint, I needed to move some equipment I had placed in the area the day before. The thought came to mind that I'd better keep my eyes open. "You never know what might have crawled under there," I mused.

Sure enough, something had crawled - or more literally, slithered - under the equipment. A twelve foot long killer snake lay coiled, and ready to strike. Well, he was actually more like twelve inches. And he wasn't coiled. Or ready to strike. And he wasn't a killer, or at least a mankiller. Indeed, for the life of me, I couldn't get the fellow to go away from the area so I could do my work. I think he liked me!

At the time, the feeling was not mutual (since then, however, George - that's his name - has become a friend, at least in his mind. I saw him again the next day, in a different area of the yard, and again, he didn't want to leave my company). When I first saw George, I screamed and jumped a bit, to be honest. Thankfully, my noisy electric sander was on at the time, so my cries were muffled and the neighbors didn't hear me. I'm not a fan of snakes, and would prefer that they find other people's equipment as a place to catch a nap. My heart beat pretty fast for awhile after meeting George, and as I returned to my painting, I felt really nervous in the expectation that a host of his family, friends, church and community social club were nearby and poised to do that for which George, God bless him, seems to have little inclination.

I was being tempted to embrace fear. The initial start I experienced when I moved the equipment was a normal human reaction to a possible danger. God Himself installed this capacity in human beings, and other creatures, as a means of protection. Thus, there was nothing wrong in my first response. My ongoing sense of trepidation, however, was not an acceptable thought pattern and attitude in which the Lord would have had me to continue. "What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee" (Psalm 56:3). I had a choice to make, a choice to trust God deep within my heart and mind. Even more, I had a wonderful opportunity to personally relate to our Lord by affirming the peace of His presence.

We all have our particular temptations regarding fear. It is vital that we understand they are, in fact, temptations. No more prevalent command exists in Scripture, either directly or by implication, than the mandate to "Fear not!" (Isaiah 41:13). As in my experience with George, many experiences of life initially prompt in us a start, or a feeling of concern. All - all - must be dealt with quickly and decisively by the affirmation within our hearts and on our lips - "I will trust in Thee." The fearful Christian is a walking oxymoron, as it were, and one who cannot glorify his Lord because he so misrepresents who the Lord Jesus Christ is, and what He does on our behalf.

We had rain yesterday, after a long dry period (likely the reason George has been near our house). George has probably returned to his own home, and I may not see him again (which, and don't tell George I said this, will be fine with me!). I'll remember him, however, because my friend - yes, my friend! - provided opportunity to seek the great Friend of my heart. Every temptation to fear offers and commands such response, and may "what time I am afraid" always be met with the remembrance of God's faithful keeping - "I will trust in Thee!"

"Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not."
(Isaiah 35:4)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


My favorite poem, by Thomas Hardy, and a few thoughts to follow.

The Darkling Thrush

I leant upon a coppice gate, when frost was spectre gray,
and winter's dregs made desolate the weakening eye of day.

The tangled binestems scored the sky like strings of broken lyres,
and all mankind that haunted nigh had sought their household fires.

The land's sharp features seemed to be the Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy, the wind his death lament.

The ancient pulse of germ and birth was shrunken hard and dry,
and every spirit upon earth seemed fervorless as I.

At once a voice arose amid the bleak twigs overhead,
in a full-hearted evensong of joy illimited.

An ancient thrush, frail, gaunt and small, in blast beruffled plume,
had chosen thus to fling his soul upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings, of such ecstatic sound,
was written on terrestrial things, afar or nigh around,

That I could think there trembled through his happy good night air,
some blessed Hope whereof he knew, and I was unaware.

Hardy wrote "The Darkling Thrush" on December 31, 1899, perhaps as the lament to the closing century, and an expression of concern for times to come.

There is little evidence Hardy was a believer, although he was fairly well-versed in Biblical thought (as indicated by poem's conclusion regarding "some blessed Hope," a decidedly Christian expression of confidence in the Lord Jesus Christ amid a dark and fallen world - Titus 2:13). When I first discovered the poem many years ago, I was unfamiliar with Hardy, and thought he must have been a Christian. Indeed, few literary characters more express to me the attitude and expression to which believers are called than the thrush of Hardy's imagination. "To fling his soul upon the growing gloom" because he viewed a hope that others could not see seems to me a particularly vivid description of the life of faith to which God calls his trusting children. Thus, I love the darkling thrush, and long to follow his example of being what several friends and I refer to as "soulflingers."

I find it fascinating that an unbeliever could have written so powerful an image of trust "amid the growing gloom." This points to the truth that God can reveal much of Himself and His truth even in those who do not know Him. All exist in His creation, and all "live and move and have their being" in Him (Acts 17:28). Thus, all will somehow serve His purposes, whether wittingly and joyfully, or not. Of the Lord Jesus and His incarnation, the Apostle John declared, "the Light shineth in darkness" (John 1:5). The illumination continues, and while the untrusting soul most often purveys darkness, God nevertheless often reveals His light in and through those who refuse to respond to it themselves. "Yea, the darkness hideth not from Thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to Thee" (Psalm 139:12).

Most importantly, the darkling thrush calls born again believers in the Lord Jesus to see the Light that always "shineth in darkness." We are the voices of hope, the "blessed Hope," in a world that either has no hope, or that places its confidence in false and doomed expectations. Our Heavenly Father would have us fling our souls upon the growing gloom by personally rejoicing in the Lord Jesus, and by bearing witness to the reason for our song and testimony. He is more than able and willing to birth such hope in us, and then send us forth as soulflingers unto a lost and dying world. Hardy's darkling thrush serves as a beautiful example of our high and holy calling, and as a testimony to the power of the risen Christ, who "giveth songs in the night" (Job 35:10).

"And the multitude rose up together against them: and the magistrates rent off their clothes, and commanded to beat them. And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely: who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks. And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God."
(Acts 16:22-25)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

"The Delight of the Infinite"

God's mind is very different from ours. "His understanding is infinite" (Psalm 147:5).

We have no frame of reference for thinking without limitations. In real terms, the brightest among us see and understand but a glimpse of truth and reality. Unto our Lord, however, "all things are naked and opened." His thought transcends time, encompassing the knowledge of past, present and future as if they were but one moment. His understanding includes the knowledge of all information about everything in the universe, to the minutest detail. And He thinks with perfect wisdom, making possible perfect analysis and response to every contingency (Acts 15:18; Hebrews 4:13; Psalm 36:6). Yes, of the countless characteristics that create the chasm between God and man, none are more revealing than the span that exists between His thoughts and ours.

Nevertheless, communication between our Lord and ourselves remains possible, and greatly desired by Him. Why He would desire our fellowship is difficult to fathom, but He does. "Call unto Me, and I will answer thee, and show thou great and mighty things, which Thou knowest not" (Jeremiah 33:3). God loves fellowship with human hearts, to the degree He gave His Son to a cross of shame, forsakenness and death to make it possible. There is something in us He desires, and something that even brings Him great pleasure as we trust and respond to Him. "The prayer of the upright is His delight" (Proverbs 15:8). Of all the wonders that come to mind when pondering the God of the Bible, none more thrill and fascinate me than the infinite measure of loving humility that causes such a One to enjoy being with us, and listening to us.

I am convinced that a life of consistent communication with God begins not with the awareness of our need for it, but rather with the knowledge of His great pleasure in our fellowship. Indeed, the believer who increasingly realizes his capacity to delight the heart of the Father who redeemed him at the highest cost will long to often direct his own heart Heavenward. We will never understand how the Infinite finds delight in finite creatures such as ourselves. But we can enjoy the fact of it, and bask in the warmth of His joy that graces the path to the throne of grace. Yes, the God who knows all invites those who know so little to come into His light, discovering glad welcome and the exultation of the Psalmist...

"In Thy presence is fullness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore."
(Psalm 16:11)

Monday, November 7, 2011

"Great and Good"

"God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for our food." You likely remember the child's blessing, and maybe also prayed it. It's simple, it rhymes, and it's easy to remember. More importantly, however, it is rich in Biblical doctrine and spiritual illumination.

"Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and His greatness is unsearchable... Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!" (Psalm 145:3; 107:8).

God's unsearchable greatness implies His power and ability. He can. His goodness speaks of His sublime winsomeness of heart and inclination. He will. Our thanksgiving reveals that we recognize both aspects of so glorious a Being of both character and capacity. Thank You, Lord. All three aspects unite to reveal relationship between the Divine and the human, and all three grace the child's prayer that affirms God's willingness and ability, and our faith in both.

Several days ago, we attended a college football game in which a player was apparently severely injured. He lay on the field for a long time as medical personnel attended to him. The teams and the spectators anxiously viewed the scene as concern grew by the moment, and especially when it became evident that the young man would be carried from the field on a stretcher, and taken to the hospital. Finally, both teams knelt with their respective chaplains to pray. The crowd obviously joined in as a holy hush descended upon thousands of people who only moments before had been noisily involved in the game.

It was quite a scene to see large, strong and aggressive young men on their knees, and quite a sound to hear quiet among thousands of people. I know that many who knelt, prayed, and became quiet are not believers, but nevertheless by conscious decision or unwitting implication, all were enveloped in an atmosphere of "God is great, God is good." That is, together we all sought the Lord's power and His willingness to come to the aid of the fallen competitor. And He did. It turns our that the young man had a moderate spleen injury from which He will recover. "Let us thank Him."

The hand of God is powerful beyond all understanding and expectation. The heart of God is willing, beyond all imagination and hope. This the believer believes, and seeks to experience moment by moment, day by day, and glory by glory. And this the child's blessing affirms, gracing us early in life with the light that must guide us throughout our lives. God is great. He can. God is good. He will. Let us thank Him.

"Oh how great is Thy goodness, which Thou hast laid up for them that fear Thee; which Thou hast wrought for them that trust in Thee before the sons of men!"
(Psalm 31:19)

Friday, November 4, 2011

"Little By Little"

Several months ago, I began a project to perform some long overdue work on the outside of our house. Or did someone else begin the project?

I opt for the latter possibility. I've been needing to do some repairs, paint, trim our large oak tree and clear out other foliage for a while. There just didn't seem to be time to do all of this, however, as our lives and ministry seem to get busier with every passing week and month. As summer ended, the matter weighed heavily on my mind, and I wondered how I would ever get the work done.

I recall a day in early September when I awoke to another day of wondering what to do. I decided to very specifically ask the Lord for His wisdom in the matter (yes, I should have done this much sooner than I did!). The thought occurred to me as I prayed that while I didn't have large blocks of time available for the project, it might be possible to break things up and do just a little bit each day. I decided that I would spend an hour a day for as long as it took to do the work, trusting the Lord to motivate, lead and enable me to little by little take care of the business at hand.

Six weeks into the project, I look back in complete amazement. So much has been done, again, little by little, hour by hour. I've been able to find an hour for the project most days, and occasionally, even two or three. Most of the house is painted, repairs have been done, the oak tree trimmed (you wouldn't believe the small forest I sawed and lopped off that monster!), and much foliage has been cleared. I can't believe it, to be honest with you, and sometimes I think it's all been a pleasant dream from which I'll awaken to the disturbing reality that the work still lies in front of me.

"The work." I write this to you primarily to express the fact that the project really hasn't seemed like work at all. I feel rather like a spectator who has watched someone else do for me what I could not have done myself. Of course, the truth of the matter is that my brain, hands, energy and time have been actively engaged for the last six weeks, and an outside observer watching the project would say, "Glen has done a lot of work on his house and in his yard." This is true, but it hasn't felt like it. I can literally say I've enjoyed every minute of the labors. We've had a beautiful, moderate fall in our area, the work has been a pleasure (and I haven't fallen off a ladder!), no major glitches arose, and most importantly, I have known and I know that, as the Psalmist's exulted, "This is the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes" (Psalm 118:23).
There's an old saying, "Enjoy what you're doing and you'll never work a day in your life." This is both true and not true. We do work when our labors are enjoyable, but as with the "little by little project" of recent days, it often doesn't feel like work. Most importantly, when our work is more literally "the Lord's doing," we feel as if we are viewing our lives from the spectator's vantage point. "Commit thy way unto the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass" (Psalm 37:5). We are spectators in one sense, and active participants in another. The Lord Jesus said, "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work" (John 5:17). This is our way as well because the Savior now lives in us, and we are to "walk, even as He walked" (I John 2:6).

Oh yes, one more interesting aspect of the last six weeks. I have conducted more services during this time than ever in all our years of ministry. New writing projects have also presented themselves, and I've been able, by God's grace, to maintain the personal contacts we believe to be the heart of all true Christian endeavor. Or more literally, the Lord's doing has led and enabled the doings of these blessed days of little by little wherein I witnessed the faithfulness of the Lord Jesus, as revealed in work that hasn't felt like work.

"I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me."
(I Corinthians 15:10)