Friday, March 30, 2012

“His Children Together”

(For Ray, Wayne, John and Steve)

    Frances and I attend a gathering of Christian friends at a local restaurant on Fridays mornings for breakfast.  Six of us regularly get together at these meetings, with one driving all the way from another state to be with us.

     “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!  It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments; as the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the LORD commanded the blessing, even life forevermore” (Psalm 133:1-3).

      The “good” and the “pleasant” of brotherly union surely grace our own hearts with blessing.  I look forward to the aforementioned gathering each week with much anticipation of good fellowship, and I am never disappointed.  However, I also believe that God Himself finds much joy when He sees His children come together in meetings such as these.  Indeed, He Himself does the gathering as the Holy Spirit leads like-hearted and minded believers to enjoy each other’s presence, and even more, the presence of God as He leads us in discussion, prayer, and the simple enjoyment of being with dear friends.  While not a “church meeting” in the standard sense, I nevertheless believe that such gatherings provide an element of sanctifying grace that greatly affects our walk with God.  “Iron sharpeneth iron, so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend” (Proverbs 27:17).

    I share this to encourage such gatherings, as God provides opportunity.  In days such as these, believers need each other’s affirmation, challenge, and shared determination to trust and obey the Lord Jesus by the enabling of the Holy Spirit.  Certainly, we experience this in formal gatherings for the preaching and teaching of Scripture, prayer, singing and sharing together.  However, smaller and more personal times of fellowship also serve the Lord’s purposes for constituting believers as one body with many members.  Close friends usually know our lives well enough to be the Lord’s means of touching us in a way that specifically addresses areas of need.  They challenge us with an accountability that requires more than just casual acquaintance.  We also learn much from each other as we share together God’s Word and His working in our lives.  Finally, a special aspect of God’s presence graces us when we gather together, providing a dispensation of His Person of which we may not be consciously aware, but which nevertheless imparts the Spirit of Christ to our hearts.

     Frances and I count our Friday morning gatherings as a special gift to our hearts from the Father who loves to see His children together.  As with the oil that ran down upon Aaron’s beard and garment, I believe that God “commanded the blessing,” and I have no doubt it assures us of the glory of “life forevermore.”  For this we give much thanks, and we look forward to next Friday!

“Both He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, I will declare Thy name unto My brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto Thee.  And again, I will put my trust in Him. And again, Behold I and the children which God hath given Me.”
(Hebrews 2:11-13)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Attacked? Counterattack!

     We live in a world that frequently offers sights, sounds, images and ideas of discouragement.  Our flesh is also subject to downcast feelings and sensibilities.  Spiritual enemies furthermore desire to lead us into sloughs of despondency that hinder the “joy unspeakable and full of glory” promised to all who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.

     How do we respond to this three-pronged attack on our walk with God and ministry to others?   The Biblical answer commands a three-pronged counterattack, as enabled by the Word of God, the Spirit of God, and the church of God.

     First, we remember and affirm the countless assurances of Scripture that promise a heart of joy even in the midst of feelings and experiences of sorrow.  “Thy words were found and I did eat them, and Thy Word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of my heart” (Jeremiah 15:16).   Read consistently with a trusting, humble attitude, the Bible will so reveal the Heart of God to us that our own hearts will find in Him our truest and purest joy, that is, Himself.  “These things have I spoken unto you, that My joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full” (John 15:11).   Indeed, we could lose everything, but if Christ remained in our hearts, the essence of our joy would abide.

    This speaks of the second line of counterattack, namely, the indwelling Holy Spirit.   “The Comforter” applies balm to sorrow whereby our joy can be unhindered.  Most importantly, He reveals and glorifies the Lord Jesus unto and within the trusting heart, providing cause for joy even in times of grief and loss.  “As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” confessed the Apostle Paul, a man whose chronicle of suffering would seem to have made continual rejoicing impossible.  Nothing could be further from the truth, even as Paul wrote the joy-filled epistle to the Philippians from a Roman prison.  “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again, I say rejoice” (Philippians 4:4).

     Finally, we seek encouragement through the body of Christ, that is, in our fellow believers.  Certainly we receive encouragement from our brothers and sisters in Christ, but our primary means of personal strengthening flows from encouragement we give out to others.  “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).  When we feel down, we can be sure that we are not alone.  Other brothers and sisters are going through the same, and our personal challenge first provides opportunity to offer ourselves to the Lord for the encouragement of others.  This may come through a word, an action, a prayer, or perhaps simply the caring countenance of our face as we self-sacrificially determine to use our sorrows as opportunity to minister comfort to others.  “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God” (II Corinthians 1:3-4).

    The world, the devil, and the flesh, including our own, seek to discourage us.  Let us get our spiritual dander up about it, as it were.  By definition, born again believers in the Lord Jesus are vessels of His joyful heart.  “The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in Him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth” (Psalm 28:7).  Indeed, when attacked by despondency, the Captain of our salvation plans and seeks to execute counterattack (actually, He devised the plans from eternity past).  Let us hear His command, and through His Word, His Spirit, and His church, let us stand to “fight the good fight of faith” (I Timothy 6:12).  The victory of the risen Lord Jesus shines forth from us thereby, and joys ascend from our sorrows we would never had known had we not been tempted by defeated but blustering enemies.

“In Thy presence is fullness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures forever more.”
(Psalm 16:11)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

“So Good and Great a Father”

    Saying goodbye to my son on the occasions he left for military duty has blessed and challenged my heart in ways unlike any other experience.

     First, I am grateful to have such a son (while recognizing that the qualities that made Noah a Force Reconnaissance Marine came solely from the maternal side of the equation!  I say this not to be humble.  It is true, as anyone who knows Frances will attest).  It is a wonderful thing to so respect an offspring that you see numerous qualities in him you’d like to emulate (wonderfully, this applies to my daughters no less than Noah).  Knowing also how seriously he takes his oath to defend the Constitution of the United States, at whatever cost, also causes me to realize that good and noble things dwell in the heart of my son, things that only God could have instilled and inspired.

    Great challenge also comes in times of Noah’s deployments.  The possibilities that come to mind need no explanation, and the sentiment of “commending him to the grace of God” becomes far more than a hopeful phrase or even prayer.  Seeking our Lord for Noah’s strengthening and protection comes from somewhere deep inside my heart beyond thoughts, words, and any sensibility that I could ever discern apart from the experience that opens such a portal of the soul.  I’ve often said that having children will make one pray if nothing else will.  Having a child in harm’s way exponentially increases the likelihood of our seeking the help of God.

     In such times, I have found it an especially blessed thing that the Father to whom I pray well knows the experience of sending a beloved Offspring into harm’s way. 

     God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him” (I John 4:9).

    My experience of challenge in Noah’s deployments is a mere glimmer of that which God the Father experienced in the departure of His Son from Heaven.  He fully knew all that would transpire, from the lowly manger to the horrible cross.  Even more, the Father knew that His Son’s sorrows and pains would result not only from the evil of human and devilish sources, but also “by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23).  Scripture does not record how God the Father felt about His role in consigning His Son to such a fate, almost surely because our hearts and minds possess no capacity to grasp such inscrutable mystery.  We only know that He acted out of a heart of love for us for which we will never be able to give enough thanks.

     Noah’s deployments have caused me to think about such things, and have, I hope, enhanced my loving appreciation for so good and great a Father as He who gave to us the Lord Jesus Christ.  How wonderful it is to commend my own son to the care of such a God!  And how wonderful to have brothers and sisters such as you to join me in the request for providential safekeeping.  Bless you, and most of all…

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
(Ephesians 1:3)

Monday, March 26, 2012

“A Greater Thing”

     Paul’s epistle to the Romans exists largely because of an unfulfilled desire in the heart of the Apostle.

    “I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end you may be established” (Romans 1:11).

    At the time of his writing Romans, Paul had not been able to visit Rome because of other God - ordained responsibilities. 

    “So have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man's foundation: but as it is written, To whom He was not spoken of, they shall see: and they that have not heard shall understand.  For which cause also I have been much hindered from coming to you” (Romans 15:20-22).

     Had Paul been able to fulfill his natural inclination to visit the believers of Rome, there would have been little reason for his writing the most detailed doctrinal treatise of the New Testament.  Lack of opportunity for one thing opened a door for the Holy Spirit to create a greater thing that blessed not merely a company of the faithful in one venue, but millions upon millions throughout the world.

     Paul likely did not know that his letter would become a portion of Scripture.   Nor do we know how our lack of opportunity to do things we’d love to do will lead to God’s production of greater things that bless far more people than fulfilled inclinations would allow.  Of course, one might say, “But I’m not the Apostle Paul.”  True, but then, “God is not a respecter of persons,” meaning that all who trust the Lord Jesus Christ and seek to honor Him become the subjects of His working to reveal Himself and His truth (Acts 10:34).  Just as Paul may not have recognized that his writing to Rome would become the holy Writ of the Bible, so we may not recognize the importance of our doings as led and enabled by the Spirit of God.

     “Heavenly Father, the path we would choose lies closed before us.  We feel disappointment, and wish it would open.  But if not, we choose to believe that You purpose a different and greater destination whereby You will be far more honored in us, and others will be blessed by us.  So we trust and submit ourselves to You in the confidence that unfulfilled desires portend of glories that our own minds could never conceive or fathom.  Thy will be done, Father, in the name of the Lord Jesus, Amen.”

“A man’s heart deviseth his way, but the Lord directeth his steps.”
(Proverbs 16:9)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

“The Greatest Day of My Life!”

    To be loved by a child opens up a place in our heart that we never know exists until little eyes and little hearts look at us with complete devotion of affection and innocence.

     Our son Noah has discovered such blessedness in the last five years since the birth of his children Jackson and Emma.  As he prepares for another deployment with the United States Marine Corp and the separation from Jackson and Emma it will involve, the gift of their love becomes even more known and appreciated.

     Just before Noah returned last week from a several month period of training, Jackson, who had been counting down the days until his dad’s return, said, “Tomorrow my daddy comes home.  Tomorrow is the greatest day of my life!” (I’ve not yet been able to think about that statement without accompanying tears.  Probably never will).

     I believe, hopefully with a great deal of reverence, that there is a childlike quality in God’s love for us.  By this, I don’t discount His infinite greatness, or the deep reverence and even fear that must characterize the perception of our awe-inspiring Creator. However, the Bible frequently speaks of the love of God for us in terms of the most rapt and affectionate devotion.  I do not think it is inappropriate, therefore, to see in the child’s love a ray of light that reveals a particularly sublime aspect of the Divine heart wherein we discover our belovedness in the eyes of God. 

     It is a great day in our Father’s heart, as it were, when we come home to Him.  This is true in the case of the unbeliever’s salvation: “I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth” (Luke 15:7).  In similar manner, the approach of believers to the throne of grace blesses God far more than we can imagine - “The prayer of the upright is His delight” (Proverbs 15:8).  Of all Biblical truth, I find this to be the most sanctifying, the most motivating, the most thrilling, the most convicting, and above all, the most love-inspiring.  “We love Him because He first loved us” (I John 4:19).

    You can learn a lot from the heart of a child.  The Maker of such beautiful things deposits qualities of Himself in little eyes, voices, and yearnings of young souls who reveal a pure intensity of devotion often difficult to find in older hearts.  Perhaps this explains our Lord’s command to “suffer the little children to come unto Me.”  Yes, He saw something of Himself in such ones, even as the childhood He lived confirms that little ones have something to tell us about the love of the good and great One.

    I thank you in advance for your prayers for Noah and his family as he deploys for a season of service to his nation.  And I look forward to another “greatest day of my life” when Jackson and Emma will again have counted down the days until their daddy’s return.  When I think of that blessed time, I’ll try to remember the lesson that shines forth from their devotion, revealing another and even greater Love…

“The Lord taketh pleasure in His people.”
(Psalm 149:4)

Friday, March 23, 2012

“Beyond Our Means”

     In the natural realm, living beyond our means leads to trouble and even disaster (see United States of America, 2012 A.D.).

     Conversely, in spiritual terms, God calls and commands His trusting children in Christ to live far beyond our human capacities and abilities.   “Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might” (Ephesians 6:10).
     The Scottish preacher James Stewart beautifully illustrated this truth.   

    "But now!  Now in Christ the new dynamic has appeared. Now there are incalculable resources for the fight. Surely the most wrong-headed psychology in the world is that which speaks of you and me as closed personalities, with just so much strength and no more, with strictly limited reserves of power.  For what Christ has done is to make us feel, at all the gateways of our nature, the pressure and bombardment of the infinite energies of a world unseen. He has shown us how our little life, with unsearchable riches to draw on, can be reinforced beyond all calculation. I may not be able to fight down some evil thing. But if Christ were here, He could. So then, if Christ is in me, in me, He can. This transfusion of spirit and energy is really possible. If Shakespeare were in you, what poetry you could write! If Mozart were in you, what music you could make! That cannot be. But here is something that can: if Christ were in you, what a life you could live! This is faith's logic. God wants you to know that you can rise above the level of your limitations. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me: Galatians 2:20).”

     The believer must look with great anticipation to God’s mighty presence and working whereby He enables us to live triumphantly for His glory.  Indeed, failure to look always results in failure to live.  As the children of children of Israel gazed upon the brass serpent on a pole in order to healed of their venomous sickness, so do Christians look to the crucified and risen Lord Jesus as “the author and finisher of our faith” (Exodus 21; Hebrews 12:2).  He provides the leading and enabling for a life of godliness beyond our meager means (actually, beyond our non-existent means – “Without Me, ye can do nothing” – John 15:5).  The issue, therefore, is never our weakness, but rather our failure to believe and submit ourselves to “the power that worketh in us” (Ephesians 3:20).

     There is poetry of piety to be written by our lives as Christ’s life infuses us with His strength.  Symphonies of spirituality await us as the Composer of all faith and obedience moves within us to “let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us” (Psalm 90:17).  The stanzas and strains will likely resound most often in quiet and unobtrusive ways, heard only by a few as most of us live our lives without great pomp and circumstance.  Nevertheless, the glory of God will be revealed in ways far more consequential than we can imagine.  We will know that we live far beyond our spiritual means, and one day we will see that the Poet and the Composer did far greater things by us than seemed possible because we joined the Psalmist in anticipation of Divine beauty graciously bestowed…

“My expectation is from Him.”
(Psalm 62:5)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

“Dying Breaths… Saving Confessions”

    In the last moments of a heretofore-wasted life, grace entered and redeemed the heart of a man whose story became one of the great evangels of the Christian faith.

     “Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom” (Luke 23:42 ). 

     Universally referred to as “the thief on the cross,” the man is more accurately “the saint of Heaven” and “preacher of the Gospel.”  Indeed, how many souls have trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ, many in the late hours of life, because the Bible records the story of a thief crying out to the God so desirous to redeem that dying breaths can become saving confessions of the Savior? 

     One might think that the thief become saint expressed a great audacity in seeking grace while hanging on a justly deserved cross.  This would be true were it not for the fact that it was not the man who sought grace, but grace that sought the man.  This is always the Divine order of salvation, that Christ is revealed for who He is by the Word of God and the Holy Spirit.  No one in history ever had a clearer view of the true nature of the Lord Jesus than the men who hung beside Him on Mount Calvary’s crosses, and thankfully, one responded to the mercy he witnessed flowing from the wounds of the Lamb of God.

    We may boldly proclaim our message of hope to those who have little time left in a lifetime wherein God was ignored or denied.  I suspect that a significant portion of the redeemed population of Heaven will fit this company of souls snatched from the fire in the very nick of time.  Why else would the story of the thief become saint have found its way into the pages of Scripture?   Thus, we go forth to dying scenes of the most reprobate, declaring that the Spirit of the Lord Jesus searches far into the night to, as preachers of old used to say, “save the soul that is nearest hell.”  Yes, our Lord is that loving, that merciful, that desirous to save, and that completely possessed of a grace that transforms lifelong thieves into late hour saints who will doubtless love Him forevermore with a unique and sacred devotion.

“Wherefore He is able to save them to the uttermost, who come unto God by Him, seeing that He ever liveth to make intercession for them.”
(Hebrews 7:25)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Jim Kelly – Revisited

     I’ve been thinking a lot about Jim Kelly lately.

     Jim was a resident of the retirement community where we conduct three services a week.  He went to be with the Lord five years ago, and I still miss him every time we gather to pray, sing, and share the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ with the residents of the community.

     Jim was 101 years old when he passed away (passed upward, actually!).  Or rather, his body was that old.  Jim’s spirit, attitude and zest for living never got past his late teens or early 20s.  I can’t recall how many times I heard our ancient but young friend say, “You know, Glen, I think this has been the best day of my life!”  And he meant it.

     The story I most often tell about Jim involves a day when I met him as he was heading toward the chapel for our services.  He looked at me very seriously and said, “Glen, I just got back from the doctor, and he gives me six months.”  I was taken aback, and prayerfully looking for the best way to respond to this difficult news.  Before I could utter a word, however, Jim smiled and said, “Yep, Glen, I don’t have to go back to the doctor for six months!”  Then he broke into his trademark Jim Kelly uproarious laughter that still echoes through the halls of that community where the mention of his name brings instantaneous smiles to those who knew him.

    Jim played golf until he was 97 years old.  He became a favorite fan among the players of the Senior PGA Tour (now known as the Champions Tour).  He attended their tournament each year held at a nearby city, and held court with the likes of Lee Trevino, Gary Player, Ray Floyd, and many other golfers who, like everyone who met and knew Jim, came away amazed and impressed by the young man who dwelt in an old body.  Not long before he died, Jim also received a nice letter from none other than Jack Nicklaus, the greatest of all golfers, and a man acquainted with presidents, kings, and powerful, famous people of all kinds.  He also knew, however, that the Jim Kellys of the world are the rarest of souls, and the ones who touch the deepest part of the hearts they encounter.

    Near the end of his life, Jim gave me a number of golf balls autographed by the Senior Tour players.  He had a box of these balls in his room, and directed me to reach in and take some.  I’d pick out a ball, read the name, and Jim would say, “Yes Glen, you can have that one.”  However, if I happened to select one with Trevino, Player, or other luminaries of the Tour, I’d hear, “Nope, Glen, better leave that one in there!”  On the last such occasion after he had given me some signed balls, I looked at him and said, “You know, Jim I’m disappointed that you haven’t given me an autographed ball of my all time favorite golfer.”  I then pulled a new ball from my pocket, and handed it to Jim with a pen.”   The official “Jim Kelly” autographed golf ball still sits in a glass case in a place of prominence in our den.

     I could go on and on about Jim, but the main thing you must know about him is that he was a committed born again believer in the Lord Jesus Christ.  This was the source of Jim’s zest for life.  Indeed, this was Jim’s life.  When I think of my friend, I think of a man who truly lived more than an entire century because for most of that time he was united to the Savior he loved.  Jim’s legacy in my heart reminds me always that we can either exist, waiting to die.  Or we can live, waiting to be glorified.  Christ is the sole issue of this matter, and Jim chose the latter course of following in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul’s joyful exultation, “To live is Christ” (Philippians 1:21).

     I would not want to have lived without having known Jim Kelly.  If you didn’t, my sympathies are with you.  However, come to think of it, if you’re reading this, you likely know the One who made Jim the man that he is (I like writing that in the present tense because Jim is more alive now than ever, as he dwells in the direct presence of the Lord Jesus).  Therefore, the Source of a life truly lived abides with us all if we have believed.  Just writing about Jim Kelly has been a refresher for me, and a challenge to greet each new day, regardless of its circumstances, situations and conditions, with the expectation of being able to echo our dear brother’s triumphant cry, joyfully declared from a nursing home and wheelchair, “You know, Glen, I think this has been the best day of my life!”

“The hoary (gray) head is a crown of glory if it be found in the way of righteousness.”
(Proverbs 16:31)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

“The Freest Gift”

     In a generation constantly solicited by sellers, God blesses His trusting children in Christ by sending us forth with the offer of the freest gift ever given.

     “By the righteousness of One, the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life” (Romans 5:18).

     In both message and method, believers must declare that the Gospel of the Lord Jesus offers a gift for which the highest price has already been remitted.  “Ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ” (I Peter 1:18-19).  God requires nothing of the hearer except the receiving of the Gift with the most serious of intentions: “With the heart, man believeth unto righteousness” (Romans 10:10).  We also require nothing, save the listener’s earnest attention to the most important of truths: “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17). 

     The Apostle Paul rejoiced in his commission to proclaim the freest gift.  “What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge” (I Corinthians 9:18).  Paul declares his remuneration in ministry to be the joy of seeking nothing as he offered all.  Indeed, the Apostle labored with his hands in order to be sure that anyone who heard his message knew that he had no ulterior motives in preaching the message of that Gift already paid for (II Corinthians 12:14; I Corinthians 4:12).

     The love of Christ “seeketh not her own” (I Corinthians 13:5).   “Freely ye have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8).  Our reward is this, the purest joy of offering the freest gift.  May our Lord lead and enable us always to join Paul in his determination of unselfish devotion to the glory of God and the blessing of others: “I seek not yours, but you.”  Great fulfillment of heart awaits us as we go forth as self-sacrificial sheep in a generation of hungry wolves, exemplifying our great and good Shepherd who gave all to freely provide a gift far too costly for anyone else to afford.

“I have preached to you the Gospel freely.”
(II Corinthians 11:7)

Monday, March 19, 2012

“User Error”

     I've been having trouble typing of late, with the cursor on my computer screen seeming to jump around crazily. I initially blamed the keyboard, telling Frances, "My keys have gotten so sensitive that I barely touch them and they throw letters on the screen that aren't supposed to be there!"  There is actually a setting on my computer for the rate at which letters appear after touching their key, which I changed in the expectation it would resolve my issue.  It didn’t help, however, and the problem continued.

    Last week I finally discovered the true source of the difficulty, namely, user error. The position of my hands has become very sloppy over the years, and I’ve also been attempting to type too fast (without realizing it).  Addressing these two issues has pretty much solved my problem, and I've discovered again that, as Frances has long suggested, computer problems are more often than not computer user problems.

    Since Adam and Eve shifted blame from themselves after their sin in the Garden of Eden, their offspring through the ages tend to follow in the wake of self-delusion.  We’d much rather blame someone other than ourselves, or, as in my case, something rather than ourselves.  “Stupid computer!”  No, stupid Glen.  This was the issue in my recent dilemma, and hopefully I will respond to yet another reminder that my initial response to trouble best begins with a look toward myself.

    This truth applies even more to the spiritual and moral issues of our existence.  Indeed, hell will be full of people who bemoaned throughout their lifetime, “It’s not my fault!”  Sadly, such delusion often characterizes born again believers, and we do well to remember our fleshly tendency to shift blame for sin away from ourselves.  Other people can certainly influence us to travel downward paths.  However, if we jump into the pit of sin and wrong, in whatever form, the fault is ours.  “I acknowledged my sin unto Thee” (Psalm 32:5).  The unbeliever cannot be saved apart from such God-fostered self-awareness, nor can the believer live the Christian life.

    I have let my computer keyboard off the hook.  I’ve replaced it with myself, acknowledging that the fault was mine.   My typing is much better, and my petty self-pity no longer deludes me, at least regarding this issue.  May the Lord search me for other areas where “user error” is clearly the problem, but even more, where “user blame shifting” hinders God’s solution of grace in Christ for those who trust Him by accepting personal responsibility for their faults.

“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)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

“Loss Lost”

     I have a dear friend whose life completely changed three years ago.  Great and unexpected loss came to the doorstep of his soul, entered in without invitation, and sought to destroy every sense of blessing, familiarity, companionship, peace, joy, belovedness and love he had ever known.  Many tears were shed, many nights passed without rest or sleep, many days brought bewilderment, and many moments seemed to ruthlessly tear at the very fabric of my friend’s existence.  “Oh that my grief were thoroughly weighed, and my calamity laid in the balances together!  For now it would be heavier than the sand of the sea” (Job 6:2-3).

     Yesterday I received a text message from my friend that included a picture.  The details are not important, but the message and picture revealed that his days of travail led not to destruction, but to resurrection and great gain.  Loss lost, as it were, despite the fact that God allowed it ravage this man’s soul.  Because throughout his trial, the Lord assured my friend’s heart that he was not alone, and that David’s confession of God being “a very present help in trouble” was, is, and always will be true (Psalm 46:1).  Deep in his heart, my friend trusted and submitted to God in the sleepless nights and grief-laden days, often by what seemed the tiniest shred of faith.  Subsequently, the text and picture he sent yesterday bear powerful witness to another testimony, this of Jonah: “I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the Lord, and He heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and Thou heardst my voice” (Jonah 2:2).

     If you knew the details of the story, and if you had received the text message and picture, the thought would come to your mind that comes to mine: God can be trusted.  Of course, you doubtless have your own details, your own story, and your own experience of loss knocking, entering, and ravaging.   Perhaps even now, the destruction rends your soul and threatens the fabric of your heart.  “The tiniest thread of faith” seems all that remains whereby your trust in God endures when everything around you passes away.  Let me express it again, God can be trusted.  My friend would tell you this, and he would say that a tiny thread of faith is all we need to lay hold of the infinite faithfulness of the Lord Jesus Christ in our hour of sorrow.  Indeed, my friend’s experience bears witness to the truth that keeps us and redeems us, namely, that no one has ever trusted in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and been disappointed for doing so.  And no one ever will.  Yes, loss lost in the heart of my friend, and the triumph of the risen Christ once again shined forth in a world wherein He is the only hope available, and the only hope needed.

“So the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning.”
(Job 42:12)

Friday, March 16, 2012

“One River”

      Because God so blesses us through people, we must be careful to remember that He alone can fill and fulfill our hearts.

    “He is thy life” (Deuteronomy 30:20).

     We put great and undue pressure on others and on ourselves when we succumb to the temptation of believing that anyone other the Lord Jesus Christ provides for our deepest need.  Since Adam “hearkened to the voice” of Eve rather than God, humanity’s natural tendency has led us to seek fulfillment in the finite capacities and companionship of flesh rather than the heart of the Divine (Genesis 3:17).  We thus expect and demand from people that which they cannot provide, especially those near and dear to us.  More importantly, we fail to avail ourselves of the joy and peace whereby the Life of our lives graces the deepest part of us, and the very heart of us.

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

     The Holy Spirit continually works in the life of believers to teach and remind us that we exist for the love of God and love for God.  Other people reveal this truth to us, and our Lord’s goodness flows through countless human hearts as tributaries of the River of life.  We give thanks, and rightly respond in kind to the streams that so bless us.  But there is only one River.  Christ is that River, and having Him, we have all that we will ever need to satisfy our deepest yearning.  This we must affirm within ourselves and to each other in response to the Spirit of God’s constant beckoning to our hearts…

“Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst, but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”
(John 4:14)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

“Two Births”

     The entrance of the Lord Jesus Christ into the world elicited two births that required the miraculous power of God.

     Elisabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, became pregnant long after her childbearing years had ended, and after being barren during those years.  Mary, the mother of the Lord Jesus, experienced the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit and conceived despite the fact that she was a virgin (Luke 1).  God blessed both women with holy offspring, but in different ways that speak to His working in the lives of all His trusting children.

     The birth of John reveals “the patience of the saints” whereby God calls us to trust His promises that seem long beyond the bounds of time, possibility, and fulfillment.  Doubtless Elisabeth had long desired a baby, and had prayed countless prayers for the end of her barrenness.  Opportunity seemed to pass away with time, however, and Elisabeth passed into her later years with a broken heart.  God repaired her heart by touching her womb with a newness of life that replaces barrenness with a fruitfulness of untold joy and resurrection.

     We may also wait on the Lord for things we believe to be His will, but dreams fade and even seem to die as days dissolve and years pass away into an apparent oblivion of barrenness that seems beyond even the capacities of God to redeem.  How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily?” (Psalm 13:2).  The answer may be that we wait very long, but we shall not be disappointed if we do.  “I waited patiently for the Lord, and He inclined unto me and heard my cry” (Psalm 40:1).

     With Mary, the Lord called her to believe in an impossibility that never happened before, and has not happened since.  Indeed, God’s way in Mary’s experience was fresh and unique to the human mother of our Lord.  “A virgin shall conceive,” foretold the prophet in the singular, and indeed, a virgin did conceive.  But only one, and Mary thus experienced a personal working of the Holy Spirit that will forever grace her with the angel Gabriel’s “blessed art thou among women” affirmation (Luke 1:28). 

     In similar manner, every believer may rightly anticipate an “only one” experience of God’s working in our lives.  As we walk with the Lord, He will work in fresh and unique ways in our personal experience.  Few will see the blessedness, but we will know that the power of God has graced us with the virgin conception of a gift that only He could imagine, inspire and initiate, leading us to exult with Mary, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior!” (Luke 1:46-47).

     Elisabeth experienced a miraculous resurrection of her womb.  Mary knew a miraculous creation in her womb.  The same Redeemer and Creator dwells among us, and let us expect both His touching of our barrenness, and His origination of our blessedness.   

“Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.”
(Isaiah 43:19)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

“Keeping” God’s Word

     “And hereby do we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments” (I John 2:3).

     While closely related, the “keeping” of God’s commandments and obedience to them are not the same thing.

     The Greek root word for “keep” is tereo, meaning to watch, or guard, or keep from escaping.  This implies that we are to receive the Word of God into our hearts and minds, and then to be sure that it remains within us as the guiding light of our lives.  The Psalmist spoke to this matter:

     “Thy Word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against Thee” (Psalm 119:11).

    In this light, we see that hiding or keeping God’s Word leads to obedience rather than it actually being obedience.  The distinction is important in our understanding because a life of consistent faithfulness to the commandments of Scripture primarily results not  from our disciplined determination to obey, but rather from our response of faith to the presence and power of God that “worketh in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).  “The just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17).

     “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:13).  Consistently exposing ourselves to the truths of the Bible fosters new understanding of the Lord Jesus Christ, and also reminds and refreshes us of truths already known.  Thereby we keep God’s light from escaping our perceptions and consciousness, thus preparing us to trust Him in that devotion and submission whereby “the obedience of faith” flows from the source of the indwelling Holy Spirit.  Reading Scripture, prayerfully responding to its Light, and regularly considering the Word of God with faithful believers establishes a strong fortress within our hearts whereby we “keep His commandments.”  Subsequently, we discover ourselves enabled to more consistently obey those commandments because we are vitally connected to the power source of all true godliness…

“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)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

“With Our Feelings”

     Born again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ seek to avoid living by our feelings.  We cannot, however, escape the fact that we live with them.

     The Apostle Paul testified to the experience of being “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (II Corinthians 6:10).  Rather than viewing sorrow and joy as mutually exclusive sensibilities, Paul recognized their concurrent presence in the hearts of believers.  We exist as both heavenly and earthly beings in our present existence, with both realms having powerful influence on our mental, emotional and physical state. 

      “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.  We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body” (II Corinthians 4:7-10).

     Genuine godliness in this lifetime involves not only the Treasure, and not merely the earthen vessel, but rather the Treasure in the earthen vessel.  Thus, we must expect conflicting sensibilities, even to the degree that no less than Paul confessed, “When I would do good, evil is present with me” (Romans 7:21).   

     Acknowledging the opposing forces of feeling within us prepares us to live with the conflict, but more importantly, to live by the deeper movings and motivations of the indwelling Holy Spirit.  Indeed, we learn to expect changing mental, emotional and physical conditions, but even more, we anticipate the power of God to enable consistent faithfulness regardless of how we feel.  The matter involves faith, the faith that rightly believes the presence of Christ to be the dominant influence of our hearts.  It is, and to the degree we acknowledge such liberating truth will be the degree to which we learn to live with our feelings, but not by them.

“We faint not, but though our outward man perish, our inward man is renewed day by day.”
(II Corinthians 4:16)

Monday, March 12, 2012

“No Reputation”

In the recorded lineage of the Lord Jesus Christ, the remembrance of a most sordid scandal appears.
"And Jesse begat David the king, and David the king begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Urias" (Matthew 1:6).
One might have suspected that the Holy Spirit would have omitted the chronicle of such a terrible evil as David's actions with Bathsheba that led to adultery, murder, the death of a child, and the sword never thereafter leaving David’s house (II Samuel 11-12). David repented of his sin, and God forgave him. But the scars of his waywardness remained for a lifetime, and proper remembrance of the king’s godliness is always tempered by recollection of his abject failure concerning Bathsheba.
The Holy Spirit nevertheless alludes to David’s illicit relationship in the very genealogy of the Lord Jesus. In fact, the entire heritage of Christ includes a rogue’s gallery of sinners, that is, every person on the list descended from sinful Adam. Perfection thus proceeded from imperfection through the agency of the virgin conception of Christ in Mary (our Lord’s father being God rather a human descendant of Adam). The sinless One thus appears in a heritage of sinners, and to the uneducated mind, appears to be as one of them.
“Christ Jesus… made Himself of no reputation” (Philippians 2:5; 7). The only glory-worthy human being who ever lived spent most of His earthly sojourn in complete obscurity (to the degree his own brethren did not know who He was). He participated in a sinner’s baptism, fellowshipped with the unsavory, died as an apparently guilty criminal, and to this day appears only in glory within the hearts of those who trust and personally know Him. Indeed, in our generation, blasphemers regularly scoff at the notion of Christ’s perfection and uniqueness, affirming Him as perhaps a good teacher, but denying any notion of pristine Divinity. He thus remains of “no reputation” to the masses.
Such humility in God should drive us to our knees and faces no less than the awesome majesty, power and glory that will one day reveal the exalted Christ. Only the God of Scripture, the true and living God, would have purposed such a revelation of Himself as displayed in His beloved Son. He alone would send His Beloved to a life of abasement in order to redeem lowly creatures who rebelled and refused to humble themselves. Who must our God be to purpose such a redemptive reality of God and man united in Christ? Only eternity will begin to fully tell the story of Perfection so loving the imperfect that He became as one of us in order we might be redeemed by the humility that so brightly reveals the glory of God.
“But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man. For it became Him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, I will declare Thy name unto My brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto Thee.”
(Hebrews 2:9-12)

Friday, March 9, 2012

“A Quiver Full of Prayers”

      In these days of much concern regarding our nation, the world, and particularly, our political leaders, a particular neglect in my life comes to mind.
     “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior” (I Timothy 2:1-3).

     I find politics and governance very interesting, but sadly, not interesting enough to pray often enough for those who lead us.  Indeed, if I had prayed - in obedience to the clear command of Scripture - as often as I have complained, my heart would be far more filled with the peace of Christ, and I might well have had the impact upon our leaders that a believer’s prayer makes possible.

     This is not to say that it is wrong to be troubled by what we perceive to be questionable or faulty governance, or to even voice our concerns.  The Bible calls us to “abhor that which is evil” (Romans 12:9).  It is to say, however, that a quiver full of complaints rather than a quiver full of intercessions reveals a lack of response to the truth of God’s involvement in all things whereby He “worketh all things after the counsel of His own will” (Ephesians 1:11).  More importantly, as in my case, failure to consistently pray for “all that are in authority” involves direct disobedience  to the command of Scripture.

     We can rest our hearts in the truth that history is His Story.  Nothing catches our Heavenly Father by surprise, He is prepared for every political contingency, and He guards our hearts even if He allows the wicked to jeopardize the outer courts of our dwelling.  Who can say what He might do if we empty our quiver of complaints in order to fill it with prayers?  I thank the Lord personally for His patience and mercy with the problem child that I am, and I close this consideration to find that place of prayer “for kings, and for all that are in authority.”

“I complained and my spirit was overwhelmed.”
(Psalm 77:3)
“God forbid that I should sin against the LORD in ceasing to pray for you.”
(I Samuel 12:23)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Summit and the Abyss

    Yesterday I had several opportunities to share with both groups and individuals the Apostle Paul's affirmation of God's assurance that He is wise enough, powerful enough, and most of all, loving enough to weave together all things in our lives unto a positive end.

    "For we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, and who are the called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28).
    There are no greater encouragements in Scripture than the promise that both the highest mountaintops and lowest valleys serve as our Heavenly Father's means whereby He does the best thing He could do for us. That is, He works in all things that we might be "conformed to the image of His Son" (Romans 8:29). This is the "good" referenced by Paul in Romans 8:28 that requires both heights and depths to fulfill. To become like the Lord Jesus in character involves both additions and subtractions to our being, meaning that the Christian life necessarily involves joy and sorrow. "I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need" (Philippians 4:12).

    Such truth causes Romans 8:28 to be both blessed promise and stringent challenge to our hearts. We are doubtless greatly assured, but we must also face the fact that God's promise to waste nothing in our lives eliminates every excuse for self pity, despondency and despair. "All" means all, and thus we look into both light and darkness to see the good of our Heavenly Father's working in every contingency. This explains our calling to give thanks "in everything" as we make ongoing choices to believe that the great Weaver is stitching threads both pleasant and unpleasant into the tapestry of Christ being formed in us (I Thessalonians 5:18).

    In this day, the calling beckons us to realize that our innumerable blessings work toward our conformity to the spiritual and moral character of Christ. Let us give thanks. We also recognize that our many trials and tribulations accomplish the same exalted purpose. Let us give thanks. Again, our Father could do no better thing for us than to make us like His Son. And He can only fulfill this "good" by leading us to both the summit and the abyss. In both venues we discover the Lord Jesus if we look with eyes of faith, and thus find ourselves "changed into His image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (II Corinthians 3:18).

“The darkness and the light are both alike to Thee."
(Psalm 139:12)

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

In Reverence

(the lyrics to a new song we plan to record this spring to include on our next CD)
In reverence, Lord, we come to Thee,
We bow our heads, to look Above.
We give our hearts to ponder Thee
With wondering awe and grateful love.

How can it be, Lord, that you love us so?
When we have fallen so far?
I do not think that we will ever know
And so we kneel, o Lord.

In reverence, Lord, You thrill our hearts,
How You amaze us evermore.
As by Your Son, such grace imparts
To us a free and open door.

How can it be, Lord, that You bore the wounds,
The stripes our sins brought unto Thee?
Yes, we recall the lonely cross and tomb,
Whereby our hearts are healed!

How wonderful, Lord, You must be, How kind your tender love and grace.
How beautiful the sight we’ll see when first we look upon Your face. 

In reverence, Lord, forevermore,
We’ll bow our head, to look with love.
We’ll give our hearts, Christ to explore,
Forever won’t be long enough.

Our precious Lord, how we thank You so
We fall unto our face.
Oh look into our grateful hearts and know
Our reverence for Thy grace.

“Let us have grace, that we may serve Thee acceptably, 
with reverence  and godly fear.”
(Hebrews 12:28)