Monday, April 30, 2012

“Think On These Things”

    Our spiritual enemies seek to capture the attention of our minds, diverting and distracting us to matters of little consequence at best, or of destructive consequence at worst.

     God’s remedy for this temptation involves the proactive determination to set the sails of our thinking whereby the wind of the Spirit leads us in peace and blessedness.

     “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8).

    The Apostle Paul commands that we make conscious choices regarding the content of our minds.  Relationship with God requires an active mind wherein we consistently determine to replace untrue thought patterns and notions that pop into our heads with things “true… honest…just… pure… lovely… of good report…virtuous… praiseworthy.”  Born again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ must recognize this vital calling to put off carnal and devilish thinking by putting on the thoughts of God, as revealed in His Word.  “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105).

    Believers do not have to be brilliant, nor must we be intellectuals in order to walk with God.  Thinking, however, is required.  We must also prepare ourselves to think rightly by exposing ourselves to “the lamp” and “the light.”  What has God said in His Word about the matters that approach and enter into our minds?  How and whether we ask this question determines the peace of our hearts.  “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusteth in Thee” (Isaiah 26:3).  More importantly, a life of consistent faith and obedience largely hinges on whether we know what God has said in order that we might replace the dark and destructive musings of the world, the devil and the flesh.  Only thereby do we possess the means to “think on these things,” and thus rest in the “perfect peace” of a mind “stayed on Thee.”

The thoughts of the righteous are right: but the counsels of the wicked are deceit.”
(Proverbs 12:5)

Friday, April 27, 2012

“No Ledger”

      Love keeps no ledger.

     “Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.  But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Romans 4:4-5).

     As mentioned in a previous message this week, we do not owe God, despite the fact that He has given to us “life and breath and all things” (Acts 17:25).  He relates to those who know Him in a saving and personal way by grace, that is, by freely given favor, freely received.  The Lord Jesus Christ made possible such a relationship by bearing our obligation to God on the cross of Calvary in order to birth a bond of familial love.   “As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become sons of God, even to them that believe on His name” (John 1:12).

     Just as a loving earthly parent does not keep accounts regarding the things we do for our children, neither does our Heavenly Father view us as His debtors.  Certainly, in our own hearts and minds we may feel such a sensibility, wishing that in some way we could repay Him.  However, one does not purchase a gift, either as it is initially received, or as it benefits in the long run.  We rather gratefully receive God’s beneficence, causing reciprocal love to spring up in our heart that responds in grateful devotion rather than a cold and sterile sense of duty.  There is a difference, and it is vast.  “We love Him because He first loved us” (I John 4:19).
     So much was given to provide for us a place in God’s “whole family in Heaven and earth” (Ephesians 3:15).  The “Beloved Son” was smitten and forsaken on the cross of Calvary in order to birth “many sons.”  The freely given nature of such a gift is in direct proportion to its brutally remitted cost.  Thus, our Heavenly Father would have us to know and enjoy the blessedness made possible by His Son’s agony.  As we do, we will discover ongoing change in our heart whereby a ledgerless Christianity leads to consistent and joyous faithfulness to the One so faithful to us.  Yes, God views us as owing Him nothing.  And we view Him as worthy of a long eternity of receiving our ardent and utmost love, worship, faith, devotion and obedience.

“Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.”
(I John 3:1)
“I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be My sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.”
(II Corinthians 6:17-18)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

“How Shall We Sing?”

    “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.  We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.  For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.  How shall we sing the LORD's song in a strange land?” (Psalm 137:1-4).

    In a lifetime of changing circumstances, situations and conditions, we will sometimes look back on days gone by with sad and wistful remembrance.  Israel, led away into captivity by God’s chastening hand, experienced this brokenness of heart, even to the degree of a despairing unbelief that robbed them of “the Lord’s song.”  They “sat down” by the rivers of Babylon, stilled their harps in the trees, and mourned over a past that would not return.  “How shall we sing?” 

    Let us make the question personal.  How shall we sing the Lord’s song when comfortable and familiar venues become memories?  More importantly, is it even possible to so trust the Lord that He gives to us songs in “a strange land?”  The Biblical answer, affirmed again and again in the pages of God’s Word, is an emphatic “Yes!”  The Lord Jesus Christ is that present, that able, that willing, and that loving to so fill our hearts in the midst of loss that believers must expect “songs in the night” to issue forth from places in which it seems that the melodies and harmonies of praise could never arise (Job 35:10).

     How shall we sing?  The answer lies in the understanding that our dedication, devotion and determination is not the issue.  Were the Lord’s song based on human resiliency, even the most godly among us would never voice the first note.   God Himself is the issue, that is, do we know Him to be so faithful and able that we can have expectation to sing in the strange land?  “My expectation is from Him” declared the Psalmist (Psalm 62:5).  Regardless of scenarios of loss we can imagine, or scenarios of loss that have already happened, we must believe that the Spirit of God composes the most beautiful songs of God on tear-stained pages and stanzas.

“Why Do They Sing?”

“Why do they sing, these men who’ve lost everything?
How can they smile, when their hearts
Must be so broken?
Whence comes the song, in a life that must seem so wrong?
Why do they sing, oh why?

Well, I think I see the source of their melody,
And I think I hear
 the Voice in their rhapsody.
It tells of a hope for those lost so long ago,
Why do they sing, oh why?

I think I know: Jesus, Jesus, oh Jesus.
Jesus, Jesus, oh Jesus”

(From a song we composed about the men 
with whom we do services at our local Rescue Mission)

“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: and the prisoners heard them.”
(Acts 16:22-25)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

“Afar Off? Very Present!”

    Trouble causes us to feel alone, even as the Psalmist bewailed the sense of orphanage that resulted from his difficulties.

     “Why standest Thou afar off, O LORD?   Why hidest Thou Thyself in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1).

    The same David, however, unequivocally declared God to be more than near in times of trouble.

     “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

      Which is it?  Afar off, or very present?  The answer is both, that is, trouble causes us to feel as if our Lord is a trillion miles away.  The truth, however, is that God draws closer to His trusting children when we hurt than at any other time.  The Apostle Paul wrote that the Lord “comforteth us in all our tribulation,” meaning that from the beginning of trouble, our Heavenly Father is on the scene with help and balm (II Corinthians 1:4).  Indeed, the heart of God draws near to the need of man by the magnetism of an unfathomable grace and mercy. 

     Again, however, we initially do not feel it.  Emotions, thoughts, and even physical sensations tell us that God has hidden Himself, and rather than being “very present,” He seems very far away.  This challenge calls us to trust His Word at times when such faith seems especially difficult.  We must “endure, as seeing Him who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:27).  We open the eyes of our heart to behold that “the Light shineth in darkness” (John 1:5).  We make a choice, against all the world, the devil and the flesh throw against us, to believe the Lord’s promise of His keeping, comforting and providing presence.  “What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee” (Psalm 56:3).

    In a lifetime wherein trouble comes “as the sparks fly upward,” we must expect much opportunity to offer prayers of faith flying upward to the throne of God (Job 5:7).  “Trouble’s sure!” wrote the poet Housman.  Even more, the “faith… once delivered unto the saints” works surely in the saints by the Holy Spirit’s quiet moving to draw us unto trust (Jude 1:3).  Contrary feelings offer the chance to walk in conscious faith.  The challenge is great, but never is the trusting heart more vibrantly alive than those times when it must arise to decisively affirm, “I will trust in Thee!”  Or, as the prophet and the apostle unite to proclaim…

“The just shall live by faith.”
(Habbakuk 2:4; Romans 1:17)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

“Tempered Testimonies”

    God often receives blame regarding things for which He is not responsible.

     “Your father hath deceived me, and changed my wages ten times; but God suffered him not to hurt me.  If he said thus, The speckled shall be thy wages; then all the cattle bare speckled: and if he said thus, The ringstraked shall be thy hire; then bare all the cattle ringstraked.  Thus God hath taken away the cattle of your father, and given them to me” (Genesis 31:7-9).

     Jacob’s declaration to Rachel that “God hath taken away the cattle of your father and given them to me,” conveniently ignores the breeding scheme Jacob used to make the cattle ringstraked (Genesis 30:27-43).  In so doing, Jacob implied that the Lord had led him to act in a manipulating, dishonest manner.  Certainly, we might expect such disingenuousness from a man who lived much of his life as a schemer.  We must be careful, however, that we ourselves do not assign to God that which He has not said or done.

     Such caution will lead to a tempering of our testimonies, as it were.  While we may be eager to honor the Lord by speaking of accomplishments we believe to be His doing, we must also recognize that we misrepresent God if we misstate or overstate His actions.  Good intentions do not negate the seriousness of a false representation of our Lord.  “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain: for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain” (Deuteronomy 5:11).  The wise believer thus exercises much caution and deliberation before he bears witness to works he believes to be of Divine origin.
    Everything the believer says or does reflects on his or her Lord.  Certainly He is worthy of credit where credit is due, and much opportunity will present itself to “tell of all Thy wondrous works” (Psalm 26:7).  At the same time, we do well to avoid at all costs misrepresentation of our God.  His doings require no hyperbole, and deliberate, thoughtful, truthful testimony always bears the best and most bountiful fruit.

“I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity.”
(I Timothy 2:7)

Monday, April 23, 2012

“Paid In Full”

     You’ve probably heard the old adage, “In God we trust.  All others pay cash.”

    Ask any retail business owner about the truth of this saying.  They’ll tell many stories of extending credit to deadbeats who never intended to pay their debts, and also to responsible people who had every intention of repayment, but who fell on hard times and couldn’t fulfill their obligation.

     In spiritual terms, the entirety of Adam’s race fits into both categories regarding our obligation to God.  He creates us, sustains our being, and we belong to Him (Psalm 24:1).  However, we fail to respond responsibly, as it were, and thus require someone else to step in and do for us what the Apostle Paul (typifying the Lord Jesus Christ) did for Onesimus regarding his debt to Philemon…

     “If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account; I Paul have written it with mine own hand, I will repay it” (Philemon 1:18-19).

     This is exactly what the Lord Jesus says to His Father regarding a deadbeat and impoverished race of those who owe Him everything.  Our sins were placed on the Savior’s account.  Then, God imputes the perfect faithfulness of Christ’s righteousness to our account when we believe.  We go forth from the transaction of grace cleared from all obligation, and birthed into a family relationship with God wherein “freely given” gifts of a Father to beloved children mean that we will never again incur debt toward God (I Corinthians 2:12).  We serve not from obligation, but from love.  He gives, we receive, and more and more, the love He showers upon us returns to Heaven as the love springing upon from our hearts in grateful adoration.

     We owe God nothing.  That’s a powerful statement, and one that appears to be anything but true.  However, by His own design, our Heavenly Father gives to born again believers a relationship wherein “Paid In Full” will forever characterize an unending forever of grace.  Even more, we are sons and daughters of a most generous Father who would never think in terms of His offspring “owing” Him for His beneficence.  God would have us free from any sense of debt and obligation in order that we may serve Him in a boundless joy of heartfelt devotion.  Our blessed Savior gave to us such a sublime relationship by the sacrifice of His life.  Yes, “Jesus paid it all, “ as the old hymn declares.  Or, as another song beautifully proclaims…

“He paid a debt He did not owe.
I owed a debt I could not pay.
I needed someone to wash my sins away.
And now I sing a brand new song,
‘Amazing Grace’ the whole day long!
Christ Jesus paid a debt that I could never pay.

“And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification.  For if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.)  Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.”
(Romans 5:15-18)

Saturday, April 21, 2012

“A Perfect Father”

    All parents find themselves at times executing discipline on their children in ways that seem less than perfect.  We may be too harsh or less firm than we need to be.  We also may perceive our motives as tainted by selfishness, resulting in a chastening that may involve our own benefit far more than that of our child.

     This presents a great challenge to born again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, all of whom have been on the receiving end of parental imperfections, and many who have been the bestowers thereof.  The challenge lies in the temptation to transfer our sometimes wayward disciplining to our perception of God.  Because we often do not understand His ways and reasonings, our spiritual enemies tempt us to suspect that our Heavenly Father acts from imperfect motives.  In principle, we know this is not true.   In practice, however, we may succumb to the insidious innuendo of Satan that causes us to wonder if God’s way is indeed perfect (II Samuel 22:31).

     “Whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth” (Hebrews 12:6).

     Recalling that the love of God “seeketh not her own,” we recognize and affirm that perfect unselfishness guides His every action (I Corinthians 13:5).  Indeed, our Lord has never had a selfish moment, and He never will.  His discipline, whether of correction from wrong, or training toward righteousness, always flows from a Heart of goodness that even eternity will not allow us to fully explore.  Our benefit always results from the hard things God determines or allows to confront us, and we do well to look toward Heaven with thanksgiving not only for the blessings of the delightful, but also for the buffetings of the difficult.  All work together for good to those who love the Lord Jesus Christ, and we shall one day look back on dark valleys with no less grateful wonder than sun-graced summits.

    A final point.  We can be sure that our Father in Heaven takes no pleasure in wielding the rod of chastening any more than does a loving earthly parent.  He simply knows the perfection of His wisdom and way, and He knows our present need for affliction as well as affirmation.  Yes, a perfect Father birthed us and now rears us in Christ.  We can be sure of His love, even in times when the tears formed by His necessary correction fall from eyes that see the rod as a branch of grace.

“Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.”
(Hebrews 12:11)
“Before I was afflicted, I went astray.  But now I have kept Thy Word.”
(Psalm 119:67)

Friday, April 20, 2012


(Thanks to our dear friend, Pastor John Canning, for inspiration on this one.)

     Legend tells the story of particularly miserable first half played by the Notre Dame football team many years ago.  Coach Knute Rockne delayed entering the locker room during the break until just before the second half kickoff.  He opened the door and stepped inside, but then paused and turned around to leave, apparently as if he were in the wrong place.  “Oh excuse me, ladies,” he said as he left, “I thought this was the locker room of the Notre Dame football team!”

    At the story goes, an enraged Fighting Irish team annihilated the opposing team in the second half.  This brings to mind the issue of motivation.  How do we encourage ourselves and others to live lives that truly honor the Lord Jesus Christ in thought, attitude, word and deed? 

    While working well with young men in an athletic endeavor, Rockne’s method surely does not apply to the living of a godly life.  The love of God is our motivation.  “Walk in love” (Ephesians 5:2).  First, our Lord reveals His love to us, drawing us to Himself through the saving grace of the Lord Jesus.  Then He deposits His love in us when we believing, bestowing the indwelling Holy Spirit within our heart.  Finally, He works to reveal His love by us unto others (I John 4:19; Romans 5:5; I John 2:6).

     No ridicule or belittling exists in this working of God in our hearts.  He rather humbles us by rightly revealing our limitations – “Without Me, ye can do nothing” (John 15:5).  He encourages us by promising His ongoing work within our hearts – “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).  He warns us that such a work of love does not preclude firm discipline, as necessary – “Whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth” (Hebrews 12:6).  He assures us of restoration when we fall – “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).  And He promises an inviolability of relationship that will ultimately result in our being conformed to the image of the Lord Jesus – “I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

    A strong sense of respect for us, as it were, permeates these ways of God regarding His motivating work in us.  Our Lord humbles without humiliating because He bore our humiliation (Acts 8:33).  Thus, His justifying work allows God to deal with us in a manner of solemn dignity and devotion to our ultimate conformity to His Son.  Such understanding of our Father’s way will increase our respect for Him, our love for Him, and our motivation to honor Him by always playing our second half far better than the first.

“Though the LORD be high, yet hath He respect unto the lowly.”
(Psalm 138:6)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

“Shadows, Hidden Places”

    Rather than the “quiet desperation” believed by Thoreau to be the sensibility in which most people live, God offers quiet devotion to those who trust and submit to the Lord Jesus Christ.

     “In quietness and confidence shall be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15).

    We live most of our lives in context of the everyday responsibilities, necessities and pleasures that offer little fanfare, pomp or circumstance.  Finding and loving God there, in the quiet of the mundane, offers our greatest opportunity to discover His heart and His dynamic working in our lives.  “In quietness… shall be your strength.”

    The expectation of faith opens our eyes to this unobtrusive way of a Savior who lived more than 90% of His earthly life in obscurity.  “In confidence… shall be your strength.”  Expecting God along the well worn pathways of our lives makes it likely that we will discover His grace and truth in venues easily missed by those who look for Him in the wind, the earthquake and the fire rather than a still, small voice (I Kings 19:11-12).  Certainly, our Lord will part a Red Sea when necessary, or stop the sun in its tracks.  However, the norm of His involvement comprises displays of love that glimmer only for those with eyes to see that the Lord is at hand.

    Upon our arrival in Heaven, we shall doubtless behold glories of infinite majesty and magnitude.  The God whom the heaven of heavens cannot contain will overwhelm us: “His greatness is unsearchable” (Psalm 145:3).  However, if the life of the Lord Jesus is any indication, we will also view a facet of God that will no less elicit enraptured wonder.  A complete lack of the ostentatious will whisper forth from a stillness of humility no less overwhelming than infinite greatness.  The quiet devotion to which our Heavenly Father calls believers speaks of this beauty to come, along with His present working in the shadows and hidden places of our lives.

"Come unto Me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me. For I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls."
(Matthew 11:28-30)
“Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not!”
(Genesis 28:16)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

“Judgment Past”

    Having fired a watery arrow of destruction into the heart of a world wicked beyond redemption, the Lord rested His weapon in the sky for all to see that never again would the earth be judged by a flood.

     “I do set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth.  And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud: and I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh” (Genesis 9:13-15).

    Having fired a wrathful arrow of destruction into the heart of His sinless Son, who was “made to be sin for us,” the Lord rested His weapon in the pages of His Word for all to know that grace makes possible our escape from judgment (II Corinthians 5:21).

     “And, having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself; by Him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.  And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath He reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in His sight” (Colossians 1:20-22).

    Born again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are “saved from the wrath to come” because we are united to the One who has, for our deliverance, already experienced God’s wrath against sin (I Thessalonians 1:10).  “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).  Thus, just as a beautiful bow in the clouds proclaims judgment past, beautiful affirmations of Scripture promise that the believing heart is no longer subject to the wrath of God.  We are rather “accepted in the Beloved,” and “justified by faith” (Ephesians 1:6; Galatians 3:24).

    Rarely do rainbows present themselves, and when they do, the sight is always lovely.  The Scriptures, however, continually beckon us to open pages that reveal a Savior who is “altogether lovely” (Song of Solomon 5:16).  Indeed, in this moment we can view the relaxed bow once used to fire God’s judgment into Christ’s heart, whether in the prophecies of the Old Testament, or the affirmations of the New.  May we often avail ourselves of the beautiful grace proclaimed, and the necessary reminders of judgment past, and glories to come.

Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.  But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”
(Isaiah 53:4-6)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

“Much To Us - More To Him”

     Why read the Bible? Many good answers present themselves as we consider the great gift of God’s Word to our hearts. 

     More pointedly, what is the primary reason for reading the Bible?  We must answer this question in a God-centered way, that is, regardless of how helpful and necessary the Word of God may be to us, our own benefit cannot serve as the first motivation for reading. 

     “Whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31).

    “All” includes the reading of Scripture.  Primarily, then, we open and ponder God’s Word to honor Him.  The act, humbly and rightly exercised, reveals our devotion to the One so devoted to us.  It shows our acknowledgement of His goodness and His greatness, and proclaims our recognition of His singular Person and being – “Thou art God alone” (Psalm 86:10).

    In this regard, a companion truth centered in our Lord makes the consistent reading of the Bible more likely, and even more blessedly personal.  The Lord Jesus Christ revealed this motivation in His declaration of desire to bless His Father’s heart.

     “I do always those things that please Him” (John 8:29).

     “Walk, even as He walked” (I John 2:6).  Because we are united with the Spirit of the Lord Jesus, believers also possess the potential to bring pleasure to the heart of God.  We can elicit happiness in our Lord’s emotions. Take a moment to ponder the enormity of this truth, so plainly and so often declared by Scripture.  “The Lord taketh pleasure in His people” (Psalm 149:4). 

    Surely, our earnest reading of the Bible blesses the One who has so blessed us.  Along with honoring Him, this awareness of bringing pleasure to the heart of God serves as a primary motivation for our consistent attending to the pages of Scripture.   Indeed, nothing more elicits desire in the heart of believers than the possibility that we might bless the One who has so blessed us.  “We love Him because He first loved us” (I John 4:19).

    When we open the Scriptures with a trusting heart, we directly or tacitly say to our Heavenly Father, “I want to listen to You.  What You have said, and are saying, Lord, matters to me. As Samuel said, Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth”(I Samuel 3:9).  For us, this is an act of faith, of devotion, of submission, and most of all, of love.  For God, it is an act that pleases His heart for more reasons than we will ever in this life know.  Indeed, the Word of God calls us into the heart of God.  Our entrance therein means much to us.  It means even more to Him.

      A final thought.  Many readings of Scripture result in no spectacular experience of light, insight or the sense that God is near.  We have all likely felt or said, “I didn’t seem to get much out of the Bible today.”  While we likely received more than we realized, the truth of the matter is that our reception is not the primary issue.  “What did God get out of my reading today?”  Again, more than we will ever in this life know.  For the devoted heart, this would be enough to motivate the reading of the Bible even if we didn’t derive so much personal blessing and benefit in its blessed pages.

“Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and Thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by Thy name, O LORD God of hosts.”
(Jeremiah 15:16)

Monday, April 16, 2012

“The Worst Thing… The Best Thing"

    The worst thing that will ever happen to us has already happened to us.

     “Christ died” (Romans 5:6).

     No “worst case scenario” we can imagine will ever compare with that horrific day when the Prince of life suffered and died at the hands of the humanity He so loved.  We put to death the only perfectly innocent person who ever lived, after inflicting upon Him shame, rejection, forsakenness and a misery of soul and body none other will ever know.  It matters not that we weren’t even born when the crime took place.  Our sins made necessary the cross, and all are complicit in the worst and most unjust event of history.

     However, in the marvelous grace of God, the “worst thing” became for us the best thing.

     “But God raised Him from the dead… If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Acts 13:30; Romans 10:9-10).

     Having made atonement for our sins in His death, the Lord Jesus came forth from His tomb in a newness of life not only for Himself, but for all who trust in His redeeming work.  “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away, behold, all things are become new” (II Corinthians 5:17).  The cross led to the empty tomb, which leads to our full hearts, as indwelt by the Holy Spirit when we believe.  Indeed, the worst thing made possible our becoming “the habitation of God through the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22).  While we don’t fully realize the enormity of such a gift at present, the day will come when a long eternity stretches forth in which we will forever be the very home of God.  In that day, we will understand that the worst thing provided to us the best thing.

     In this holy light, all other challenges and difficulties fade in comparison.  Indeed, if God can birth the best thing from the tomb of the worst thing, then surely He can cause every other darkness to serve as the lamp of His light.  It matters not the nature or the severity of the difficulty, an empty tomb resounds through the ages to declare God’s redeeming grace.  Yes, the worst thing became for the believing heart the best thing.  Little wonder that the Apostle Paul exultantly proclaimed of every darkness and difficulty…

“In all these things, we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.”
(Romans 8:37)

Friday, April 13, 2012

The 501st Challenge

     When we initially trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, some fleshly patterns of thought, attitude, word and emotion may quickly pass away from our practice.  Others, however, may remain a temptation to us, some for a long time.

     We rejoice in the carnalities quickly eliminated.  The challenges that linger, however, confront us in two ways.  First, we must seek to overcome our particular temptations through the leading and power of the Holy Spirit.  Regardless of how long we have been dealing with the issue (or how many times we may have failed), we continue to seek God’s grace to “through the Spirit mortify the deeds of the body” (Romans 8:13).  We cannot change the past.  We can trust the Lord for His promised forgiveness and cleansing, and we can live this day in expectation of His enabling.  As David declared, “My expectation is from Him,” meaning that we anticipate today’s experience based not on yesterday’s failure, but on God’s presence in the present (Psalm 62:5). 

     The second front of challenge regarding lingering temptations involves the possibility of discouragement.  While God is never responsible for our sins, the devil nevertheless tempts us to waver from trust in the Lord Jesus.  We may feel we have trusted God, prayed and submitted to Him as best we can.  Temptation and failures nevertheless continue, and our spiritual enemies whisper or scream that God has let us down.  We may know and even affirm that this is not true.  Still, the notion may remain in the back of our minds.  If allowed to do so, we can be sure that it will work its way to the forefront of our thoughts and attitudes, leading to the discouragement that leads to flight from the field of battle.  More importantly, we find ourselves discouraged from knowing our perfectly faithful God as He is, and from trusting Him without reserve.

    Our Heavenly Father Himself left us with our flesh and its proclivities when we believed.  Never is there an excuse or condoning of our sins, but there is understanding in God’s mind regarding the challenges we face.  Most of all, there is mercy in His heart, and the patience that enables us to also endure as we remember that “the Lord is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression” (Number 14:28).  Thus, we do not give up because He does not give up.  If we have failed 500 times regarding a particular fleshly matter, we still look at the possibility of the 501st challenge with expectation of God’s grace and enabling.  We continue to trust Him, recognizing that this is the primary challenge that must be overcome if all others are to be faced in the attitude of heart that ultimately leads to triumph.

“He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.”
(Philippians 1:6)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

“Not Unto Us”

    The human heart does not cope well with the challenges and temptations of fame.  We rather exist to direct attention and honor to Another.

     “Let him that glorieth, glory in the Lord” (II Corinthians 10:17).

     Rare is the soul that escapes unscathed when drawn into the clutches of notoriety.  We see this sad moral pathology in every venue of life, be it politics, entertainment, sports, business, and perhaps most of all, religion. 

     The latter category, of course, most relates to born again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.  In our market driven generation, the church has its “stars” no less than the other fields mentioned.  One can only imagine the difficulties faced by such luminaries as they seek to live sincere, godly lives.  Fame brings sensibilities to the heart and mind that largely flow in a different direction than the current of Christ’s glory.  Once a person has a “name,” he must work to keep it before the eyes of its particular audience.  Indeed, fame is fleeting, and is a difficult thing to relinquish once possessed.  While we might hope that well-known Christians would avoid such self-serving deception (and doubtless, some do), we must remember that the famous always have people around them telling them how wonderful they are, and how much the masses need them.  Thus, the temptation to maintain notoriety beckons constantly, as too many headlines of the last few generations of famous believers attest.

     Another temptation faced by notable believers involves the immediately credibility given by many followers.  Certainly, in our reasoned moments, Christians recognize that the ability to speak well, write well and sing well does not automatically indicate that the communicator lives well.  Fawning followers, however, may convince even the most carnal preacher, author or singer that he or she possesses a knowledge, insight or experience of God above the believer who quietly lives a life of faith and devotion. 

     A.W. Tozer, a strong advocate of prayer, once wrote that “about the worst thing that can happen to a Christian is to gain a reputation as a prayer warrior.”  Tozer sought to spotlight the temptation to pride and self-importance that comes with any form of notoriety.  His cogent assertion applies directly to our current consideration.  We always do best by living in the unobtrusive “under the radar” manner that avoids the temptations of reputation that few of us can overcome.

    Most importantly, no human being should be exalted whose sins were responsible for the Lord Jesus being tortured to death, and forsaken by God and man.  This includes us all, and we should ever blush with embarrassment when we succumb to the temptation to promote ourselves, or our name.  Should unsought notoriety come to us, we must remember that we will be tempted to vulgar sensibilities unworthy of anyone who looks at his unscarred hands in remembrance of other Hands not so fortunate.  We must also pray for those believers whose names are well-known.  May our Lord graciously keep them in the midst of a challenge that only His power and presence can overcome.

Let Me Be Forgotten

As the dew that brought sweet manna, and quietly stole away,
We long to be forgotten, Lord, to seek no accolade.
For each day the light grows brighter
as it shines from Your dear face,
only One is due all honor, only One inhabits praise.

So let us be forgotten, Lord, oh let us be forgotten.

Yes, I see it, Lord, no, I see them, those prints upon Your  hands.
And I know that ‘til forever, the cry of Heavenly lands
Will sing bless the name of Jesus, praise to the Father be,
As by the Spirit’s humble heart
We bow our heads and fall unto our knees.

So let us be forgotten, Lord, oh let us be forgotten.
Oh, take our lives and let them be
A hidden cross, revealing Thee.

“Not unto us, o Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory, for Thy mercy and Thy truth’s sake.”
(Psalm 115:1)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Invited To Obedience Conclusion

    “I beseech (invite) you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1-2).

     The fact that the Apostle Paul invites rather than commands the consecration of our bodies to God does not lessen the seriousness of the calling.  It rather exponentially heightens it because the Holy Spirit’s dynamic presence in born again believers equips us “to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). 

    It would be one thing for Paul to beckon unbelievers to such “living sacrifice.”  No heart exists in them for such dedication to God.  It is quite another that the Apostle invites believers to present our bodies because desire to the degree of delight for God’s will dwells within our innermost spiritual being.  The Spirit of Christ’s presence within us ensures such inclination, provided as a gift of grace no less than our justification and ultimate glorification.  Thus, Paul writes to those equipped through Christ to respond, and thus, much is required to those so blessed.

      The challenge of this calling involves a significant step of faith.  We often do not feel delight for the will of God, nor do our thoughts and physical sensations always coincide with faithful obedience.  “The flesh lusteth against the spirit” (Galatians 5:17).   Furthermore, our past experience has not always coincided with delight for obedience to God.  Therefore, we must believe the New Testament’s frequent affirmation and explanation of the “new man, created in righteousness and true holiness” that comprises our redeemed selves in Christ (Ephesians 4:24).  Responding in faith to such truth establishes our subsequent walk as we more and more discover that delight for the will of God really does infuse our Christ-inhabited spirits.  “For we which have believed do enter into rest” (Hebrews 4:3).

    This is “reasonable service” because that which God commands, He first provides.  He works in us to will.  This we must believe.  Then He works in us to do.  This we also must believe.  The choice involves faith, as we might expect since “the just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17).  May we heed the invitation to such trust, and then to the joyful presentation of our bodies to the Lord who purchased them at the cost of His own.  Peace will result, the peace of walking according to God’s delight, and in the miracle of His redeeming grace, to our delight.

“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.”
(I Corinthians 6:9-11)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Invited To Obedience Part 6

     Our spiritual enemies cannot reverse the change that takes place in those who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.  They cannot remove the indwelling Holy Spirit, nor can they destroy the “new man, created in righteousness and true holiness” we become through the new birth (Ephesians 4:24).

     The world, the devil and the flesh can, however, tempt us to ignorance, distraction, forgetfulness, deception and discouragement regarding God’s internal work of grace that results in a “delight in the law of God after the inward man” (Romans 7:22).  We can “neglect so great salvation ” (Hebrews 2:3).  We can fail to avail ourselves of the living, dynamic presence of our Savior.  We can disbelieve the truth of His working in us “both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).  We can disobey our Lord’s command to “judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteousness judgment” (John 7:24).  Moreover, we can live as spiritual paupers despite possessing “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8). 

      Can there be a greater tragedy than a born again believer failing to live according to the truest delight of his heart, as wrought by the indwelling Spirit of Christ?  Hardly, and so we must get our dander up, as it were, that our foes seek to hide, distract or deceive us from us the truth of who the Lord Jesus is, and who we are as spiritually united to Him.  Indeed, from the initial moment of our salvation, the devil and his minions have sought to keep us from the truth that leads us and enables us to walk in consistent obedience and godliness.  Again, they cannot take the fact of our redemption in Christ, but they can, if allowed, pilfer our experience and outworking of  “so great salvation.” 

    They have too often been successful, haven’t they?  Every honest believer will confess as much.  However, we will confess even more that our Savior has been even far more faithful to continue His working to change us into His image.  “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).  Indeed, if our enemies seem relentless, remember that God is far more determined to finish in us that which He started.  He forgives, cleanses and restores when we fall, and He seeks to remind us that fleshly unbelief and disobedience bring only misery because our Christ-inhabited spirits long for a life that honors Him and fulfills the will of God.

     This we must believe in times of faithfulness, when trust and obedience are known as delight.  This we must also believe (perhaps even more) in times of walking after the lusts of the flesh.  Evidence, appearance and emotion may scream or whisper to us that we are miserable wretches who will never consistently walk with God.  Left to ourselves, this would be true.  However, the very definition of Biblical Christianity is that God does not leave us to ourselves !  “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works” (Ephesians 2:10).  Rather than leave us to ourselves, God changed our very selves when we believed, and He now works to enable us to walk accordingly.  “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25).  Yes, this we must believe on brightly lit summits and in dark valleys because it is true in both venues.

Tomorrow: We conclude our consideration of God’s invitation to present our bodies a living sacrifice, based upon an already accomplished and ongoing work in our spirits.

“Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savor of His knowledge by us in every place.”
(II Corinthians 2:14)

Monday, April 9, 2012

Invited To Obedience Part 5

     The understanding and affirmation of a Christ-changed heart that “delights in the law of God” does not provide a “method,” or “key” or “secret” for the living of a godly life (Romans 7:22).

     There are no such “magic bullets,” as it were, that slay the potential for sin that will always exist during our earthly sojourn.  There is rather Truth, that is, the living truth of the Person of Christ – “I am… the truth” – and the written truth of the Bible – “The entrance of Thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple” (John 14:6; Psalm 119:130).  God’s desire for born again believers involves living relationship whereby godliness involves the ongoing need for knowing, trusting and communing with Him.  Methods, keys and secrets would lead to ritual rather than reality, and to a cold, sterile attempt to obey commands rather than the joyful fruitbearing of being loved by God, and loving Him in response.  Our Heavenly Father will be satisfied by nothing less, and neither will we.

     Recognizing that such relationship with God is the delight of our hearts does help establish a strong foundation upon which we grow in faith and obedience.  Many believers mistake our challenge with the flesh as indication that we are no less at war with God and His will than we were before we believed.  However, God does not view the matter in this way.  Throughout the New Testament epistles, declarations of an already accomplished work of change in our innermost being call us to expect consistent and increasing faithfulness to God.  To the degree we know and account such truth to be true, we will find ourselves far more prepared to walk in accordance with the truth.  The swan lived as the ugly duckling he formerly was until in the mirrored waters of the lake he discovered he had become more than he thought himself to be.  In similar manner, failure to know and believe the work already performed in our innermost being will keep us from the practical outworking of such grace.  “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25).

    This truth is blessed encouragement to the weary and frustrated.  “Come unto Me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give your rest” (Matthew 11:28).  It is also, however, great challenge.  “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required” (Luke 12:48).  The gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit and a Christ-changed heart removes every excuse for sin and a life lived without faithful trust and obedience.  Born again believers are super-charged vessels inhabited by “Christ, the power of God” (I Corinthians 1:24).  Thus, no justifiable reason for ungodliness exists, and no justifiable reason for failure to “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (II Peter 3:18).

Tomorrow: our enemies’ attempts to hinder our knowledge of the truth that leads to more consistent godliness.

“His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him that hath called us to glory and virtue.”
(II Peter 1:3)