Thursday, January 31, 2013

"With An Everlasting Love"

    The singer of old intoned, "Love is gone. Written on your spirit this sad song, love is gone."  She referred, of course, to the romantic love that does often seem to come and go.  Fickle is the human heart in such matters, especially in a generation that perceives connections more in terms of chemistry than commitment. 

    Thankfully, another love can be written on our spirits with indelible devotion, affection, and faithfulness.

    "I have loved thee with an everlasting love" (Jeremiah 31:3).
    "The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us" (Romans 5:5).

    When the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ enters our hearts through faith, He comes to stay in an "everlasting love" that will never wane.  Our experience of such goodness ebbs and flows, of course, and God's application of love will sometimes challenge our very concept of His heart and way.  Nevertheless, the born again believer will never find written on the spirit that God's love is gone.  The Spirit of Christ comes to stay when He enters our hearts, and "shed abroad" love fills our innermost being regardless of our perception and reception.

     This we must believe about the God who so loves human hearts that He seeks to make them His home.  This includes your heart and mine if we have believedThe One who cherishes us most dearly cherishes us most nearly.  Through the Holy Spirit, God imparts His devotion not simply upon us, but within us.  He enters our spirits, shuts the door, as it were, and forever thereafter we may sing, "Love is here.  Written on our spirit this joyful anthem of grace, love is here."
   Of no other love can this be said, because there is no other "everlasting love."  By definition, such devotion and commitment requires the life eternal found only in the Christ who is, who was, and who always will be.  Thus, the love of being loved and responding in kind will be with the trusting heart forevermore.  This is love, the love of God which enters the spirits of those who believe in the Lord Jesus with the promise...

"I will never leave thee nor forsake thee."
(Hebrews 13:5)

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

"This Glory of Love"

During our journey from new birth in Christ until our departure from this present world, the Holy Spirit works to replace the self-centered control of our flesh with the God and others-centered character of the Lord Jesus.

"Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Philippians 2-3-8).

When pondering things for which to worship and adore our Savior, His sublime life of unselfishness provides a lifelong and eternal source of wonder. He was tempted by selfishness "in all points," as declared by the writer of Hebrews (Hebrews 4:15). Never once, however, did the Lord Jesus succumb,being "yet without sin." As one who has sadly been both tempted and succumbed again and again, I find this truth about our Lord to drive me to my knees and to my face again and again.

Certainly,the Lord Jesus was and is God. However, He lived His earthly life as a man led and enabled by God -"The Son can do nothing of Himself... "I live by the Father" (John 5:19; 6:57). His temptations were thus real. They were felt. They challenged His human faculties, senses, and physical frame. Overcoming them involved the sacrifice of momentary pleasure that sin offers (Hebrews 11:25). And, in a human life of more than three decades, our Savior overcame every temptation to the selfishness of sin offered by the world, the devil, and the flesh.

We've all known people who live in a consistently unselfish manner. It's a beautiful thing. Only One, however, lived an entire lifetime in perfect devotion to God and others. "Beautiful" does not begin to describe this glory of love. Nor are further words necessary or wise. Let us rather bow head and heart, and if physically and circumstantially possible, bowed knees are also more than appropriate to accompany the acknowledgement of so wondrous and unselfish a Savior.

"The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister and give His life a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:28)

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Received - Revolutionized

     I once heard a preacher say, "God loves us as we are.  But He also loves us enough not to leave us as we are."  The Bible confirms this truth of a Heavenly Father who sent His Son to die for us "while we were yet sinners" (Romans 5:8).  Scripture also declares that the Gospel believed and received births a "new man, created in righteousness and true holiness," in whom God works to "conform to the image of His Son" (Ephesians 4:24; Romans 8:29).

     Merely forgiving us and granting eternal life to us would not have solved our fundamental problem.  We require a heart transplant, as it were, in order to deal with the sinful root of sin's mastery.  Moreover, our thoughts, attitudes, words, actions and ways of relating to God and man must undergo progressive reorientation from the self-centeredness of flesh unto the love of Christ.  Finally, we must be glorified in that day when "we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is" (I John 3:2).  Anything less than the transforming miracle of grace begun, perpetuated and culminated by the power of the Lord Jesus, and which changes us into His image, would leave us in the miserable darkness and unfulfilled yearning of self-centeredness.  This God could not and would not do, and thus the Gospel of His Son promises the grace of a love that meets us where we are, but does not leave us where we are.

    In this present life, born again believers comprise a work begun, and a work in progress.  "He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6).  Today will be such a day of change in us.  We may or may not perceive the Carpenter's skillful hand as it forms and reforms us spiritually, mentally, emotionally, volitionally and physically.  Sometimes He works in subtle ways, unknown even to ourselves.  He works nonetheless as we trust and submit ourselves to the newness of life already in us, and to the newness of life that remains to be revealed in every aspect of our character, nature, and way.  Our Lord could grant to us no greater gift than to make us like Himself.  This is love, the love of God, in its most blessed devotion and expression of a grace that both receives and revolutionizes the sinner.

"And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto Him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst... When Jesus had lifted up Himself, and saw none but the woman, He said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more."
(John 8:3; 10-11).

Monday, January 28, 2013

"The Lonely Highway"

     "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference" (Robert Frost).

     Are you familiar with these concluding words of Frost's poem, "The Road Not Taken"?  Committed born again believers know the truth expressed thereby, regardless of whether or not we know the poetry.

     Where the masses venture, we cannot follow. 

    "Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat.  Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it" (Matthew 7:13-14). 

    Believers require great courage, infused and fortified by the Holy Spirit, in order to travel the path to which God calls His trusting sons and daughters in Christ.  We must be willing to walk in the company of few, or even of none if the need so requires.   Both paths lead us away from the well worn streets and lanes traversed by those who seek and heed the influence of the masses rather than the One.  "Come and follow Me" (Matthew 19:21).

   As Frost suggested, the road less traveled will make all the difference.  Even more, it will make us different, different in the sense that we will become the particular person God made and redeemed us to be.  Such a work cannot take place in crowded streets and lanes, but rather upon that lonely highway whereupon the face of the Lord Jesus is easily seen, as it were, and His voice distinctly heard.  "This is the way; walk ye in it" (Isaiah 30:21).  Our Heavenly Father blesses us with brothers and sisters in Christ, with whom we live our lives in worship, fellowship, ministry and love.  He also calls us to a personal relationship and experience of Himself pondered along pathways paved deep in the heart, where few will go.  Yes, a life lived by, through and with the Lord Jesus will lead down a road less traveled.  And it will make all the difference.

"From that time many of His disciples went back, and walked no more with Him. Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?  Then Simon Peter answered Him, Lord, to whom shall we go?  Thou hast the words of eternal life.
(John 6:66-68)
"I watch, and am as a sparrow alone upon the house top."
(Psalm 102:7).

Sunday, January 27, 2013

"Willing and Able" Part 2

     The Apostle Paul discovered God's willingness and ability in a manner greatly challenging in the moment, but far more greatly blessed in the sense of the ultimate and the eternal.

    "And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me" (II Corinthians 12:7-9).

     Sometimes we pray for for the departure of some trouble, as in the case of the leper's disease mentioned in yesterday's message: "If Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean" (Matthew 8:2).  And, as we considered, the Lord would, could, and did.  The leprosy left in answer to the man's prayer, and God revealed His willingness and ability through the Lord Jesus.  Sometimes, however, we pray for deliverance, as did Paul on three occasions, and God's willingness manifests itself not in the departure of grievance, but in the distribution of grace.

    If we could speak with the Apostle, would he tell us that God answered his thrice-offered prayer?  "Abundantly!" he would answer.  Or perhaps, "Triply!"  Indeed, Paul would testify emphatically that the thorn allowed to remain revealed his Lord's willingness and ability in a manner far greater than its removal could ever have offered.  Both for himself and for those to whom our brother of old ministered the Gospel (including ourselves in the reading of his words), Paul's experience of God in the thorn illuminated pathways into the Divine heart that could never have been traveled had the Apostle's prayers been answered precisely as prayed. 

     "I will, be thou clean!" declared the Lord Jesus to the leper.  We all have testimonies of such deliverance, and we rejoice.  "I will, be thou blessed with My grace" declared the Lord implicitly to Paul.  Perhaps just now, a lingering thorn pricks and draws blood yet again in our bodies, or even more, in our hearts.  If so, let us rejoice all the more.  When our Heavenly Father allows pain to remain, He purposes that it might cause us to draw near unto Himself for the comfort of grace known only in His realized presence.  Either in deliverance from thorns, or deliverance unto grace, the Lord Jesus is willing, He is able, and most importantly, He is present to be whatever we need Him to be, and do whatever we need Him to do.  Let us therefore trust the ability of His hand, and even more, the willingness of His heart.

"Thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling."
(Psalm 116:8)
 "In Thy presence is fullness of joy; at Thy right hand are pleasures forevermore."
(Psalm 16:11)

Friday, January 25, 2013

"Willing and Able"    

         My father died just before I reached the age of three years old.  I have little recollection of him,but my family assures me that he loved me dearly.  Doubtless, he much desired to remain with my mother and me, but health issues prevented him from doing so.  He was willing, abundantly willing, but unable.     

Conversely, we hear too often in our generation the sad story of men who fatheroffspring in the biological sense, but who fail to fulfill the parental responsibility of loving and remaining with mother and children.  These men are most often strong, healthy, and possessed of the means to rear their sons and daughters.  They lack, however, the inclination to do so.  They are able, abundantly able, butunwilling.   

Thankfully, abundant willingness and ability fill the heart of our Heavenly Father.  He can be with us forevermore.  He can be whatever we need Him to be, and do whatever we need Him to do. He also wants to do sowith an intensity ofdesire far more passionate and purposeful than we can begin to imagine.  I think of this often when recalling the story of the leper who discovered the power of God's hand, and the love of His heart.   

"And, behold, there came a leper and worshiped Him, saying, Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean. And Jesus put forth His hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed" (Matthew 8:2-3).   

The leper's healing required both willingness and ability on the part of the Lord Jesus.  Had either been absent, the dread disease wouldhave remained.  More importantly, the leper would have not have known the caring that irresistibly draws the heart of God to human need.  "But Thou, o Lord, art a God full of compassion" (Psalm 86:15).  The Savior could. He would.  He did.  The sublime essence of the Gospel shines forth in this historical narrative that must become personal conviction, faith, and experience in each of our lives.  "I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear: butnow mine eye seethThee" (Job 42:5).   

Whatever "leprosy" may plague us just now, be it matters of the spirit, soul, or body, God is willing and able to make us clean.  He will, of course, do so according tothe perfection of His own wisdom and way.  But He will inevitably act on our  behalf as we come to Him trusting in both His willingness and ability.  Nothing is too hard for Him.  Moreover, no need finds Him lacking in the desire to supply.  This we can believe.  This wemust believe.  He is theGod of the "can" and the "will."  Let us trust Him accordingly, discovering thereby the blessed truth that the Father of our Lord Jesus has never disappointed anyone who has looked to Him withconfidence in His ability and willingness.   And no one ever will."

He that believeth on Him shall not be confounded."(I Peter 2:6)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

"Everything In Heart"

    The wisest and richest man who ever lived came back from the realm of things to report, "There's nothing there!" 
    "And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labor: and this was my portion of all my labor. Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labor that I had labored to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11).

    God Himself provides "life and breath and all things" (Acts 17:25).  Moreover, He purposes our pleasure in them: "God... giveth us richly all things to enjoy" (I Timothy 6:17).  Things nevertheless tempt us, or rather, our spiritual enemies use things to tempt us.  Because enjoyable possessions, places, experiences and events bring pleasure to us, Satan and his minions seek to prompt the notion that God's good gifts can satisfy us spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically.   They cannot, nor does the Lord mean for us to equate the gifts with the Giver.  He rather intends that His blessings serve to draw us to Himself by revealing the grace, mercy, and lovingkindness of His heart and Person, wherein our truest fulfillment does in fact exist: "He is thy life" (Deuteronomy 30:20).

    As we ponder our Heavenly Father's gifts, we do well to richly enjoy them with a grateful heart.  We also do well to hold them lightly, as it were, remembering our proclivity to mistake gifts for the Giver.  Indeed, we shall depart from this present life with nothing in hand.  If we have trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ, however, we shall depart with everything in heart.  "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, Thou art with me" (Psalm 23:4).  This should tell us much about the gifts, the Giver, and the necessity of appreciating and using the former, but worshiping, trusting, and affirming to the Latter...

"Thou art my portion, o Lord!"
(Psalm 119:57)

"Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth" (Luke 12:15). 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

"Consider Him"

  When feeling indifferent toward God, or at the very least, not as passionate and determined toward Him as in times past, what are born again Christians to do in order to regain and transcend former experiences of devotion?  The writer of Hebrews pointedly addresses thisquestion.    "Consider Him... lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds" (Hebrews12:3).    

The one thing that began our faith remains the one thing that perpetuates and enhances it.  "As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him, rooted and built up in Him" (Colossians2:6-7).  Not only are we"rooted" in Him, we are also "built up" in Him.  The Christian life increasingly experienced and lived thus involves our "looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith" (Hebrews12:2). 

This presses us to consider the four fundamental questions of our existence, both in time and eternity.  
Who is the Lord Jesus?  What has He done for us?  What is He doing for us? What does He promise to do for us forevermore?  In some manner, remembrance of the answers to these holy inquiries, or fresh insights thereunto, will always serve as the invigorating power of a life lived in and by the love of God.   
Our spiritual enemies ever seek to move us away from the wellspring of the Christian life, which is Christ Himself. "I am the... life" (John14:6). 

 The distractions and deceptions begin from the moment of our new birth, and will continue until the moment of our departure from this present life.  We must understand and expect the nature of Satan's attempts to divert us from emphasis on the person and work of the Lord Jesus, whom theApostle Paul declaredmust "have the preeminence" in all things (Colossians 1:18).  Indeed, we can busy ourselves on many things supposedly "Christian," running to and fro in that which we perceive to be the work of the Lord.  If, however, the Lord Jesus does not remain the center and circumference of every endeavor, we shall soon find ourselves weary in well doing at best, or deceived and deceiving at worst.  "Christ, the power of God" affirmed Paul of the only enabling and enduring source ofgenuine passion for the living and true God (ICorinthians 1:24).    Again, who is the Lord Jesus, what has He done for us, what is He doing, and what will He bedoing forevermore?  If we find ourselves less ardent today than in daysgone by, answers to these questions will restore unto us the joy of our salvation.  Nothing elsewill accomplish this absolute necessity as we live in a relationship withthat began with Christ, continues with Him, and will end wit...well, there shall be no end to the everlasting wonder of sogreat a salvation,provided and energized by so great a Savior!

"In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sentHis only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him."(I John 4:9)       

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

"The Hard Prayers"

    Some things are hard to pray about because they are hard to think about.

    "My soul is weary of my life; I will leave my complaint upon myself; I will speak in the bitterness of my soul" (Job 10:1).

    Job speaks for us all regarding the fleshly temptation to either internalize our troubles - "I will leave my complaint upon myself " - or, if we do express ourselves, we "speak in the bitterness of my soul."  Neither pathway leads to peace, but rather to further troubling of heart and mind.  Scripture therefore calls us to the sacrifice of praying the hard prayers, and offering them in faith rather than bitterness.

    "As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my meat day and night, while they continually say unto me, Where is thy God?  When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me: for I had gone with the multitude, I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holy day" (Psalm 42:1-4).

    Note David's determination: "I pour out my soul in me" (meaning, of course, to God).  Consider also David's attitude of prayer: "with the voice of joy and praise."  The Psalmist realized his need to express himself to the Lord regarding those things that elicited tears, regardless of how difficult it might be to speak to even God about them.  He also knew that communication with God begins with joyful praise, even concerning matters that wound us deeply.  That is, we make the choice to rejoice in our Lord whether we feel happy feelings or not.  "Rejoice in the Lord alway, and again I say, rejoice" (Philippians 4:4).  Moreover, we praise God for who He is, and for the wonder of His loving willingness whereby He calls us to Himself for comfort.  "When my soul fainted within me I remembered the LORD: and my prayer came in unto Thee, into Thine holy temple" (Jonah 2:7).

    Hard prayers, by definition, are hard to pray.  They are absolutely necessary, however, if we are to experience the comfort and strengthening only God can provide.  Are there things about which we really haven't fully communicated with our Heavenly Father?  Like Job, have we left some complaints upon ourselves, failing to decisively cast, as the Apostle Peter commanded, all our care upon Him? (I Peter 5:7).  Or have we prayed in bitterness of soul rather than faith of the spirit?  If so, may the sun not set on this day before we have approached our Heavenly Father with the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, and with the determination that we will pray about the issues that most require God's grace and our faith.  Much encouragement awaits us in His loving presence, and much enabling to experience the Christ whose brightest illuminations seem to shine in the darkest nights.  Yes, let us pray the hard prayers.

"In my distress I cried unto the Lord, and He heard me."
(Psalm 120:1)

Monday, January 21, 2013

"Fearfully. Wonderfully."

(Friends: as I sat down to write this morning, I simply looked at my hand.  Which led to the following.)

    "I will praise Thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are Thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well" (Psalm 139:14).

     The Psalmist considered the marvel of his own existence and constitution, concluding it to be a fearful and wonderful thing.

    The latter aspect we can easily understand.  Human beings are indeed a thing of wonder, even when considered in our spiritually and morally fallen condition.  Possessed with capacities unlike any other creation, a mere glance at any part of our bodies should cause us to shake our heads, even as we bow them to join David in his proper acknowledgement of our Maker: "I will praise Thee."  Further consideration of our mental, emotional, verbal and relational capacities enhances our appreciation of God's goodness whereby He constituted us akin to Himself by creating Adam in His image.  Most wonderfully, our Lord made us for relationship with Him, as made possible by our spirits possessing the potential of intimate union with God as His habitation - "I will dwell in them" (Ephesians 2:22; II Corinthians 6:16).  Yes indeed, we are wonderfully made.

    The "fearfully" aspect leads us down a different pathway of consideration.  What kind of being could conceive and then actually make a human being?  Who are we dealing with when we ponder the fact of a God possessed of such wisdom and power?  How great must He be?  So great that the word "great" seems a woefully inadequate attempt to describe Him.  It is.  The Bible uses the term, however, along with other adjectives that at least initiate the consideration and affirmation of One declared by David to be beyond discovery: "Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; and His greatness is unsearchable."  Little wonder that Scripture tells us that the fear of God is the beginning of both wisdom and knowledge" (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10).  How could it be otherwise, for yes indeed, we are fearfully made.

    God's greatness must necessarily cast us to our knees in those moments when we allow our hearts and minds to actually consider the fearful vastness and power of the Lord of Scripture.  His goodness, however, raises up as we remember the saving grace and mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ.  In Him, the God beyond understanding and knowing becomes the God nearer and more intimate than our next breath.  Fearfully.  Wonderfully.  Gloriously!

"And when I saw Him, I fell at his feet as dead. And He laid His right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not."
(Revelation 1:17)

Friday, January 18, 2013

"To Look Above" 

   "We bow our heads to look above." 
While this song lyric may seem like seem contradictory in natural terms, born again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ understand the truth that our clearest and highest view of spiritual reality comes when we assume the lowest posture of humility.   

"Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up" (James 4:10).   

Pride blinds us to truth, the truth about God, ourselves, and others.  We forget that our Lord occupies a singular place in His divine being and existence - "Thou art God alone" (Psalm 86:10).  We ignore our complete dependence on Him - "He giveth to all life and breath and all things" (Acts 17:25).  We turn away from the Christ-enabled humility whereby we walk in the quality of His sublime character - "let each esteem others better than themselves" (Psalm 2:3).  Indeed, we stumble in blindness when we promote ourselves rather than kneeling upon the knees of our heart to glorify the Lord Jesus and seek the furtherance and blessing of others.   

We scale the summit to gaze upon vistas of wonder when "we bow our heads to look above."  The humility of Christ lifts us up and clarifies our vision to rightly see God.  In that holy light, we rightly view ourselves and others.  This is peace, and there is no other tranquility of heart and mind.  Glorious scenes await us from the lowly place that actually offers the highest and clearest view of this day, and forever.
"In reverence, Lord, we come to Thee.
We bow our heads to look above.
We give our hearts to ponder Thee
,in wondering awe, and grateful love.How can it be, Lord, that You love us sowhen we have fallen so fa
I do not think that we will ever know,and so I kneel, o Lord."

"Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.  And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

Thursday, January 17, 2013

"Being and Doing"

    I recently discussed with a friend the matter of being and doing, as taught in Scripture.  It's an interesting consideration, and one that the Bible often addresses.

    "Now are ye light in the Lord; walk as children of light" (Ephesians 5:8).

    Through the indwelling presence of Christ, "the light of the world," born again believers in the Lord Jesus are light (John 8:12).  That is, we are His lamps.  This being is given to us as a free gift whereby God constitutes us as "new creatures" in the innermost heart of our identity (II Corinthians 5:17).  Nothing changes, or can change this blessed truth of who we are in Christ, and who He is in us.

    Our walk, however, constitutes a different matter.  We may or may not think, believe, speak, act and relate in accordance with who we are.  We should, of course, and the power of the Holy Spirit is always available to us in order to unite and correlate our being and doing.  Nevertheless, it remains possible in our present existence to act in contradiction to the person we most deeply are in Christ.  The Corinthian believers, for example, whom Paul strongly affirms as he opens his first epistle to them, are also decisively challenged as the letter continues.  "In everything ye are enriched by Him...  are ye not carnal, and walk as men?" (I Corinthians 1:5; 3:3). Their walk did not reveal and express their being.

    We rejoice in the freely given spiritual being birthed when we believed in the Lord Jesus.  "That which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6).  We also recognize our privileged responsibility to live accordingly, as enabled by indwelling Spirit of the Lord Jesus.  "Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh" (Galatians 5:16).  We are former ugly ducklings, as it were, who by grace were transformed into Christ-inhabited and enlivened swans when we believed.  This we must know, and this we apply by faith as we seek to live lives that honor our Savior.  Remembering and affirming these Biblical truths of being and doing will go far in enabling a growing experience of the expressions of our life revealing the essence of our life.

"If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit."
(Galatians 5:15)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

"Food For Worship - and Joy!"

     (The following is in no way intended as dietary advice, but rather as a consideration of Biblical truth relating to food and drink).

    Do we enjoy our food?  Unless physically hindered, we should.  Our Heavenly Father gives gifts such as food and the taste buds with which to experience His sustenance not merely as a matter of survival, but of delight.  "Every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labor, it is the gift of God" (Ecclesiastes 3:13).

    This raises interesting questions and issues, particularly about what it means to "enjoy our food."  We live in a generation that can make this quite difficult.  On one hand, the world calls us to sumptuously feast.  On the other, it warns that food will kill us.  Recognizing such conflict and hypocrisy emanating from fleshly and perhaps even devilish sources, how are born again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ meant to view the matter of sustenance?

    First, we rejoice that this most basic issue of our physical being provides opportunity for loving worship and devotion.   "Whatsoever ye do, whether ye eat or drink, do all to the glory of God" commanded the Apostle Paul (I Corinthians 10:31).  Moreover, Paul also declared that "unto the pure, all things are pure" (Titus 1:15).  God grants to us the privilege and responsibility to honor Him in all things.  Indeed, we do well to build an altar in our hearts, as it were, whereupon we sacrifice all reasons other than the glory of the Lord Jesus as our paramount purpose for the food we eat and the drink we drink.  This is living Christianity, in which our intimately involved God blesses us with the opportunity to know and love Him in the most common and everyday matters of our existence.

    Perhaps our first step in such worship involves the grateful recognition that every morsel of sustenance comes to us as God's gift.

     "The Lord... giveth food to all flesh.  O give thanks unto the God of heaven" (Psalm 136:1; 25-26). 

     The most important part of any meal is the time when we bow head and heart to say "Thank You" to the One who gives to us "life and breath and all things" (Acts 17:25).  No morsel of food can be fully enjoyed if we fail to acknowledge our Lord as "the Bread of life," whose nail-scarred Hand "satisfieth the desire of every living thing" (John 6:35; Psalm 145:16).  Partaking with a heart of true acknowledgement and gratitude initiates the experience of eating as God intends it be, that is, the enjoyment of Him, as well as the food He provides (Frances reminds me that we can also express gratitude throughout the meal, which I've often done when eating something I particularly enjoy).

    For some, pace can be a matter of eating with genuine appreciation to the Provider.  By nature, I am a very fast eater, eclipsed only by the world speed eating record holder, Frances (uhoh, maybe I shouldn't divulge that!).  Over the years, however, we both have wondered whether we really enjoy our meals as we race through them.  Frances and I are both still working on this, and would covet your prayers.  We are learning in principle that true enjoyment of God's gift of food takes more time than we naturally want to give.  So, we are trying to slow down in order to, as the saying goes, "savor the flavor," that is, to view meals as a gift meant to be truly enjoyed.  Indeed, in most cases, the longer it takes to eat, the more we truly acknowledge and appreciate the blessing.

     Quantity also provides opportunity and challenge for believers.  Too much food can no more be enjoyed than too little food.  Think of it.  Overeating may give a momentary bit of pleasure, but the aftermath is difficult both physically and emotionally.  The pleasure we are meant to find in eating does not manifest itself when we are overly full.  Even worse is the dissatisfaction of realizing, "I wish I hadn't eaten all that."  This is not true enjoyment of food as God intends, and thus it is not the experience of His provision that eating can and should be.  Those who truly enjoy food and eating thus plan to eat amounts that please and satisfy in a manner whereby we enjoy the experience before, during and after meals.

    Regarding the "before" aspect of eating, we cannot truly worship when consuming food by impulse rather than conscious deliberation.    Eating and drinking worshipfully and gratefully involves making determined choices rather than being carried along by whims of impulseWe will see every morsel and sip as the gift of God, and as the opportunity to gratefully experience true worship as we choose to eat and drink for His glory.  Eating on a whim hinders this rich opportunity to experience consumption as both a conscious spiritual and physical partaking of our Lord's goodness.

    We add a complicating factor to eating if appearance becomes a significant issue.  Certainly what and how much we eat affects our physical stature, and I don't suggest that we must completely discount the matter.  However, the Lord Jesus Christ commanded that we "judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment" (John 7:24).  We add unnecessary temptations to either pride or despair when we partake primarily to affect the shape of our bodies.  When I find myself overly attentive to my physical appearance, I try to remember and affirm, "Lord, "I'm here to glorify and reveal You rather than myself or my physical frame."

   Biblical consideration of food and eating leads to the godly enjoyment whereby our hearts rest in this elemental aspect of our existence. We don't live to eat in gluttonous excess, nor do we merely eat to live in the failure to realize the reason for food's flavor and our tongue's taste buds.  We rather eat to glorify the Lord Jesus, and experience Him in worship, thanksgiving, and the realization that He can be known - and enjoyed - in the everyday realities of life.  This is His loving intention for us, wherein God dwells with us to reveal Himself in the loving provision of the daily bread meant to bestow not only survival, but opportunity for worship and joy.

"God... giveth us richly all things to enjoy" (I Timothy 6:17).

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

"Fast and Hard"

    My youngest daughter Emmie and I drove through a shopping center parking lot yesterday where there used to be a baseball field.  I recounted to her the story from more than forty years ago (or was it just yesterday?) of playing for the Little League district championship on that field.  I also told her about the moment in that game when one of the most frightening occurrences in my life took place.

    We led 2-1 in the bottom of the fifth inning.  The opposing team had runners on first and third.  There were no outs, and a good hitter stood at the plate.  Our pitcher, a flamethrower named Dink (not sure if that was his real or a nickname), delivered a pitch with which the hitter solidly connected.  His vicious line drive, however, flew right at Dink, who made a great catch to get the batter out.  He then instantly turned and threw the ball to me at first base in order to double the runner who had taken off for second base when his teammate hit the ball so hard (for those of you perhaps in nations other than the United States who don't know baseball, that means we would get two outs on one play).

    I never saw the ball as it approached me at just below warp speed (like I said, Dink was a flamethrower.  At 12, he could throw a baseball harder than most sixteen year olds).  Forty three years later, I can still feel the moment of panic as I saw Dink wheel to throw the ball as hard as he possibly could in my direction.  "It's going to hit me in the face, and I'm going to die," I thought to myself (although I must have thought pretty fast because the ball reached me in probably less than a second).

    In that last moment of my life (which turned out not to be my last moment), I had the wherewithal to stick my glove up, most likely as a matter of self protection.  Somehow, some way, Dink's laser throw found it's way into my glove.  It stuck there, again, somehow, some way, and my right foot found the base.  We doubled the runner, and then Dink struck out the next batter as I trembled and tried not to hyperventilate after nearly being killed by a projectile that, again, I never saw.  We won the game and the district championship, and then went on to the state tournament where we lost when facing a 6 foot 1 inch, twelve year old pitcher who threw harder than Dink, and whose pitches, like Dink's throw, I don't think me or any of my teammates ever actually saw (scary, ain't it?).

     Life approaches us fast and hard, and often we don't see it coming.  Sometimes we put up a glove, and catch the ball before it strikes us.  But sometimes it hits us flush in the face.  Both possibilities must lead us to our Heavenly Father.  The former elicits grateful praise and thanksgiving as we know without question that either God or an angel sent by Him enabled us to meet the challenge.  The latter scenario involves a far more difficult matter of trusting that when our Lord lowers the hedge (or the glove), He does so in complete confidence that He can fit our difficulty into His good and loving purposes for us.  The Apostle Paul's beloved Romans 8:28 proclaims the blessed truth: "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose." Indeed, the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ is wise enough, powerful enough, involved enough, and loving enough to coordinate everything that happens to us into His sublime purpose of conforming us to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29).  Such remembrance in times of both catching the ball of life, as it were, or being struck by it assures our hearts with "the peace of God, which passeth all understanding" (Philippians 4:7).

   I'd have a different story to tell if the ball had hit me in the face (and a different face!).  I'm most grateful for how things happened, and Dink, wherever you are, I try to remember to pray for you whenever it comes to mind that you nearly killed me! :)   I'm even more grateful, however, that had things happened differently, the Lord would have been no less able to have woven His perfect purposes into the fabric of His glory and my best interest.  This is peace, my dear brothers and sisters, the peace of "all things" and every contingency working together for good.  All.  Every.

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

Monday, January 14, 2013

"Neither Should He Eat"

    "Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ" (John 1:17).
    "If any would not work, neither should he eat" (II Thessalonians 3:10).

    Had grace only come by the Lord Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul would have commanded that everyone be fed, including the responsible and the irresponsible.  However, since our Savior's advent, death and resurrection bestowed both grace and truth, Paul mandated that irresponsibility should not be rewarded.  The Apostle rather advises that the church assembly in Thessalonica should not provide sustenance for those unwilling to work for it.

    God's grace in Christ, the freest gift ever given, does not promote irresponsibility when properly communicated and applied.  We do the heart no favors by feeding the belly if the hands are able but too lazy to labor.  Of course, we will happily and generously feed those who cannot help themselves, revealing the gracious love of Christ as we do.  We reveal such love no less vividly, however, when we choose not to help those who simply seek to take advantage of our largess.  "No" can be as loving and kind as "Yes" when we determine that our giving would merely promote further taking by those unwilling to accept the basic responsibilities of life.

    When we allow people to take advantage of us because we forget that truth is always the companion of grace, those who victimize us lose respect for us, and more importantly, for the Gospel.  Thereby we misrepresent our Lord and His purposes in human hearts.  The Christ who came to pardon guilty people came no less to transform irresponsible people into those who do not work for grace, but who certainly work from grace.  May our Heavenly Father grant to us much wisdom in communicating His free gift, the freest gift ever given, as the power of the Lord Jesus whereby hands, and feet are energized to perform the tasks of life with the zeal, determination and effort that reveal the presence of genuine grace in the heart.

"For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly."
(Philippians 3:18-19)