Friday, March 29, 2013
Thursday, March 28, 2013
“Exercise thyself unto godliness” (I Timothy 4:7).
As with the determination to engage our bodies for the purpose of strength, health, and greater ability to physically function, so must born again believers determine to act in a manner whereby we are spiritually energized.
Growth in the grace and truth of the Lord Jesus Christ does not simply happen. The work undertaken by God to conform us into the image of His Son begins with His powerful activity on our behalf – “it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). Our free response to such grace, as enabled by the indwelling Holy Spirit, determines how well we will actually know and honor our Lord – “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). As A.W. Tozer once wrote, “We will all know God about as well as we want to know Him.”
I think of this truth often when working out physically. The truths of the gym all reflect the greater truths of the heart. We make sacrifices of time, effort, strain, and even pain in order to strengthen ourselves physically. We expect benefit from doing so, and if we properly exercise, bodily, mental, and emotional rewards ensue. As I once heard a preacher declare, “the Bible says that bodily exercise profiteth little. But it does profit – a little.” Spiritual exercise, conversely, promises far greater benefits whereby we become able to “lay hold on eternal life” as the faculties of our hearts are prepared to apprehend the living presence of God (I Timothy 6:12). Indeed, just as physical exercise enables us to function better in this temporal world, spiritual exercise activates our capacity to live in accordance with eternal realities.
“Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might” (Ephesians 6:10). Note that Paul commands us to experience the strength of God. Recall also his teaching that “the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made” (Romans 1:20). Thus, the truths of the gym do indeed reflect the greater truths of the heart. We must engage the muscles and sinews of our spirits, as it were, if they are to function in a manner worthy of our high calling in Christ. Making the daily sacrifices of time, effort, strain and even pain, as led and enabled by the Holy Spirit, accomplishes this preparatory spiritual exercise whereby we are enabled to fulfill the work of God for the glory of God.
“For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power.” (Colossians 1:9-11)
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
(Friends: in the last several years, I’ve written a number of messages about our grandson Jackson under the title, “Jackson’s Chronicles.” I’ve intended to do a similar series concerning his sister, five year old sister Emma, a character in her own right. I’m glad to introduce her to you today, and as with her brother, Emma has a way of saying things that amuse, but even more, that offer glimpses into God’s truth that only children can provide. Frances wrote today about the following incident in her Powder Room blog, and if you only have time for one essay, I’d recommend reading hers!).
While having coffee and ice cream with our son Noah and his daughter Emma, she did something that led him to tease her. “You’re a nut, Emma!” he said, laughing.
She is. You’d have to know her to appreciate it, but I assure you that Emma has a way of looking at things unique to her. She’s very bright, very inquisitive, and analyzes and expresses her findings about things with insights beyond her years (oh all right, I know I’m her grandfather, and am at least a little biased!). With a twinkle in her eye, Emma is insightful and funny, and she knows it.
Frances decided to pick up on Noah’s pronouncement of his daughter’s nuthood. “What kind of nut are you, Emma? Are you a peanut?” Emma responded, “No ma’am.” Frances continued, “Are you a cashew?” Again, “No ma’am.” Her grandmother went down the list of nutty possibilities, each eliciting a negative response. In Emma’s mind, she’s not a walnut, pecan, or hazelnut any more than she’s a peanut or cashew.
Finally, Frances decided to let Emma herself answer the question. “So, Emma, if you’re not all those kinds of nuts, what kind are you?” With that twinkle in her eye, our granddaughter pronounced, proudly and without reservation, “I’m a doughnut!”
The Bible speaks much to Christians about our self perception and understanding of our spiritual identity in Christ. Indeed, deep within our redeemed and Christ-inhabited being, we are not the person we were before we believed.
“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).
Before we can do, we must be. Before we can be, we must receive, as a free gift of grace, the heartchanging presence of the Holy Spirit into our innermost depths. Moreover, before we can consistently do in accordance with our Christ-infused being, we must consistently believe ourselves to be the “new creature” affirmed by the Apostle Paul”
“Reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:11).
Our dear little Emma is not an actual doughnut, of course. I will, however, think of her in this imaginary regard for the rest of my life. “I’m a doughnut!” That which is not imaginary is our being in Christ, again, provided as a free gift of grace when we received Him into the temple of our hearts. We may not always act, think, speak and respond accordingly. But we always are who and what we are in Christ. The more we discover the New Testament’s ongoing refrain of a “new creature,” the more our walk will correspond with our being. With humor, Emma reminded me of this blessed truth, to be taken as seriously as any belief that forms and informs our Christian understanding…
“If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25) “Ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light.” (Ephesians 5:8)
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Seeking God’s grace apart from truth is meaningless at best, and dangerous at worst (resulting in a compromised Gospel that bears little resemblance to the authentic reality). Affirming truth apart from grace leads to either sterile legalism, or harsh and arrogant self righteousness.
“The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).
Grace never comes alone, nor can we survive the presence of truth without its inseparable companion of grace. Keeping this in mind will open the meaning of Scripture to us, from Genesis to Revelation. Indeed, grace came looking for Adam after he sinned – and then told him the truth when it found him. Truth condemned our original forefather, and then grace covered him with the bloody coat of a slain sacrifice (Genesis 3:8-21). Moreover, the book of Revelation concludes the Biblical record with the sublime offer of grace –“Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” In the same breath, however, the Apostle John warns that tampering with the truth of God’s Word will lead to destruction – “I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book” (Revelation 22:17-18).
I’ve said it myself so often that I could never fuss at anyone who blithely declares, “It’s all grace!” Furthermore, I have so often bludgeoned others and myself with graceless affirmations of truth that I cannot criticize anyone who directly states or tacitly implies, “It’s all about truth!” Still, the point must be made. It’s not “all grace,” nor is it “all about truth.” Again, “grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (emphasis added). One without the other is like a train track with only one rail. At best, we shall get nowhere on such an insufficient line. At worst, we shall end in catastrophe.
The writer of Hebrews succinctly states the case for grace and truth: “Let us have grace, that we may serve God acceptably” (Hebrews 12:28). The freely given results in the faithfully governed. Light rightly understood leads to life richly undertaken. Grace and truth. Ever and always, for and within the trusting heart, grace and truth.
“The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) “Ye heard before in the word of the truth of the Gospel; which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth.” (Colossians 1:6-7)
Monday, March 25, 2013
(Friends: thanks to our good friend Ray T., who sent us a story last week that led to writing the following. Glen).
There’s another world in which to sing, this is not the only one. A place beyond, a realm on high, far past the moon and sun.
For trusting hearts fly to that place, when time on earth is done, to voice the melody of grace composed by God’s dear Son.
For there’s another world in which to sing, This is not the only one.
If we listen closely now, with heart rather than ear, the strains of glad refrains of joy may seem to hasten near.
For deep within the trusting heart, our spirits chance to hear, that place beyond more near than far, its songs of praise quite clear.
For there’s another world in which to sing, This is not the only one.
Forevermore, the bells will peal a symphony of song, as Heaven’s holy harmony sounds from its ransomed throng. ‘ Praise to the Father, glory be forever to the Son. As God the Holy Spirit leads our hearts to sound as one…
For there’s another world in which to sing. This is not the only one.
Yes, there’s another world in which to sing. This is not the only one.
“I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 89:1)
Friday, March 22, 2013
In my elementary school days, the public school I attended broadcast the 100 th Psalm over the intercom as each day began.
“Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands. Serve the LORD with gladness: come before His presence with singing. Know ye that the LORD He is God: it is He that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture. Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise: be thankful unto Him, and bless His name. For the LORD is good; His mercy is everlasting; and His truth endureth to all generations.”
I have little doubt that this hearing of King David’s beautiful song in my childhood influenced my reception of the Lord Jesus Christ at the age of eighteen. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17). At the time, I didn’t realize that such a preparatory work was being accomplished in my heart by the Holy Spirit. Indeed, I’m quite certain that most mornings, I didn’t pay that much attention to the words. The Lord nevertheless penetrated my heart and mind with His truth, tilling the spiritual soil and planting the seed of Christ that would one day sprout into my personal experience of life eternal.
Most of God’s preparatory work in our lives takes place without our knowing it is happening. Circumstances, events, conditions, situations and people come and go, seemingly as the mere natural progression of chance and circumstance. If we could see more clearly the heart and hand of God at work, we’d realize far more meaning and significance in the happenings of our lives. This includes the present moment, wherein our Heavenly Father doubtless accomplishes necessary tilling and planting for a harvest later to come.
Thus, we can make a joyful noise, serving the Lord with gladness and approaching Him with singing. We can rejoice that we belong to Him and not ourselves. We can praise and thank Him in complete confidence that our yesterdays, todays and tomorrows serve purposes of preparation for this life and for eternity. Yes indeed, the Lord is good. His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endureth to all generations.
“God… worketh all things after the counsel of His own will.” (Ephesians 1:11)
Thursday, March 21, 2013
It is permissible for even the most ardent believer to momentarily frown and perhaps even shudder a bit when thinking of the time when we will, as Shakespeare wrote, “have shuffled off this mortal coil” through physical death. We’re human, and will initially feel the reactions of our present limitations regardless of how strongly we trust the Lord Jesus Christ.
Quickly, however, our frown and shudder must be replaced with a smile and a deep rejoicing in the realization that our earthly demise opens the door into heavenly delight. Such abundance of joy primarily references not streets of gold, or gates of pearl, or even reunions with loved ones, as wonderful as such things and experiences will surely be. No, the chief delight of Heaven is the Lord Jesus Christ, the beloved of His Father, the object of joyous worship by angels, and the wonder of heavenly saints who, like us, trusted initially in One whom they could not see. They see Him now, however, and if they could communicate with us, would tell us that any fear of death for the trusting heart is but an illusion that will fly away upon first sight of our Redeemer.
“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me” (Psalm 23:4).
Whence we go, we shall not go alone. Indeed, we will never have been with anyone so much as we will be with the Lord Jesus when He and His angels come to escort us to our eternal home in the heavenlies. The hindrance of our damaged humanity will drop away from our redeemed spirits, and the veil shall be lifted. Our Savior will have come for us, as He promised, and we will spiritually experience His presence in a manner far beyond any measure we knew during our earthly sojourn. “Thou art with me” will be the dominant sensibility of passing through the valley of the shadow, and our mortality will be “swallowed up of life” (II Corinthians 5:4).
I believe this truth to be a most sanctifying consideration for the present moment. When we choose by faith to overcome the temptation to fear death, great and good things happen in our hearts that cause us to pursue a life that genuinely honors God. Indeed, the only reason we need not quake and shudder when considering death is that our blessed Lord Jesus “was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man ” (Hebrews 2:9). Such remembrance can only serve to foster an increased devotion of loving gratitude in the trusting heart. Thereby we bow heart and knee to give thanks, and thereby we arise with a heart determined to requite the Savior’s death by a life lived for His glory…
“I will walk before the LORD in the land of the living… O LORD, truly I am Thy servant; I am Thy servant, and the son of Thine handmaid: Thou hast loosed my bonds. I will offer to Thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the LORD.” (Psalm 116: 9; 16-17)
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
“I am the life… Christ died” (John 14:6; I Corinthians 15:3).
I often wonder what must have happened in the being of the Lord Jesus Christ when “the Prince of life” experienced that which is a complete aberration of who and what He is (Acts 3:15).
No answer is forthcoming to such an inquiry, of course. Finite beings who must receive life cannot fathom what it is to be life. Thus, we cannot begin to comprehend the contradiction of spirit and soul that occurred when the Lord Jesus bowed His head and willingly entered into the dark realm of death for our sakes. We can attempt to imagine, based upon our own experiences that flow against the course of our interests, inclinations and preferences. This will not take us far, however, into understanding the horror of our Savior’s entrance into that which is completely foreign to His nature of vibrant life.
Mindful of this inability to comprehend, our best response involves availing ourselves of “the grace of life” which ever flows from the Lord Jesus’ sacrifice (I Peter 3:7). We live because He died. Moreover, we live because He lives in the resurrection that took place three days after His death on the cross. “Because I live, ye shall live also” (John 14:19). A Life beyond life presents itself to trusting hearts at all times as the risen Christ dwells with and within born again believers. Thus, we may not be able to understand what our Lord did for us. We can, however, avail ourselves to the holy benefit. This is our worship and expression of gratitude as we seek to live in a manner that bears witness to our blessed Prince of life, who for our sakes entered into death so that He might freely give unto us His eternal life.
“He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew not sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” (II Corinthians 5:21)
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Monday, March 18, 2013
Friday, March 15, 2013
The old hymn sings it beautifully. “Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.”
The Scriptures state it even more beautifully. “But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God… For by one offering He hath perfected forever them that are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:12; 14).
Our Savior apprehended the gift of salvation for us by the sacrifice of Himself in order that we may freely appropriate such marvelous grace by faith. He worked so that we might believe. Indeed, the redemption of the Lord Jesus is the freest gift even given, paid for by highest price ever remitted. Thus, the born again believer unapologetically proclaims the sublime beauty of yet another hymn, “Nothing in my hand I bring, only to Thy cross I cling.” Or, as the Apostle Paul wrote to Titus, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us” (Titus 3:5).
The more such grace and mercy illuminates our hearts, the more the love of God and love for God will grow in motivation and magnitude. Indeed, Love begets love. “We love Him because He first loved us” (I John 4:19). So many of the hymns of our faith tell the story, the wondrous story of the God who did for us that which we could not do for ourselves. Even more, the Bible promises that as we grow in the grace and knowledge of the Christ who “paid it all,” we shall grow also in faith, faithfulness, and a life that truly honors the One worthy of more glory than even eternity will allow Him to receive. Yes, the love known and received that began our Christian life is the same love increasingly known and received that perpetuates it, even as the Apostle Paul proclaimed…
“As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him.” (Colossians 2:6)
Thursday, March 14, 2013
In recent years, we’ve returned on several occasions to the matter of our memories serving not simply as a means of recollection, but of praise and thanksgiving.
“I will remember the works of the LORD: surely I will remember Thy wonders of old. I will meditate also of all Thy work, and talk of Thy doings. Thy way, O God, is in the sanctuary: who is so great a God as our God?” (Psalm 77:11-12).
If God is as pointedly involved in our lives as the Bible declares, and if “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights,” remembrance of the past offers continual opportunity for the expression of gratitude to our Heavenly Father (James 1:17). God privileges His trusting sons and daughters in Christ to journey down memory lane, as it were, not simply to recollect with our minds, but to commune with Him in our hearts. Are there things God has done in our past for which we’ve never given thanks? Doubtless, there are. Are there things He has done for which we have given thanks, but which we’d like to express gratitude yet again? Our Heavenly Father certainly won’t be bored by hearing another “Thank You.”
We do well to include both the pleasures and the pains of life in our offering of gratitude. Again, an all-involved God who works all things together for good to those who love Him can justifiably receive thanksgiving for the rose and the thorn. In our present existence, we require the experience of both in order to know the Lord and to be changed into the likeness of Christ. Remembrance of both blessing and buffeting therefore offers opportunity for the gratitude that reflects faith in the God who wastes nothing in our lives as He fulfills His good and loving purposes in our lives.
This is written as yet another reminder to my own heart, and perhaps to yours. Our capacity for remembrance exists not simply to enable us to function, but also to worship. Our recollections become more than memories as our journeys through the past remind us not simply of people, events, blessings and difficulties, but of the God who was graciously and actively there in all.
“In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (I Thessalonians 5:18)
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
It is a wondrous thing that the Lord Jesus Christ took humanity upon Himself in order to redeem us from our sins. “Great is the mystery of godliness; God was manifest in the flesh” (I Timothy 3:16).
It may be even more wondrous, however, that our salvation required the Lord Jesus to adopt a nature even beneath another class of created beings. “We see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man” (Hebrews 2:9).
Great indeed is the mystery. Accordingly, I’m not sure it’s a worthy or productive endeavor to attempt too much understanding of how an infinite God could become “lower” than a finite race made by His own creative fiat. Such truth simply is what it is, and it exists without jeopardizing the Divinity or place of Christ as God the Son, and as the Maker and Sustainer of our being. The Lord Jesus is no less God because He is man. Nor is He any less man because He is God. Great indeed is the mystery!
I do believe it to be a worthy and productive endeavor that One glorious beyond imagining would willingly humble Himself beyond even more imagining. I am quite certain when we get to Heaven that the truth of God’s greatness will bring us to our knees in awe. However, His lowliness may even more astound us with the wonder our Lord’s wonder. “I am meek and lowly in heart” declared the Savior, who also confessed, “The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He seeth the Father do: for what things soever He doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise” (John 5:19). Add to this the humility of the Holy Spirit, who “shall not speak of Himself,” and a sublime display of triune character presents itself beyond all fathoming (John 16:13).
In the book of Revelation the Apostle John was told to “behold the Lion of the tribe of Judah.” He looked, and “beheld… a Lamb as it had been slain” (Revelation 5:5-6). Christ is to be feared as the Lion, no doubt, by those who reject Him, and even by those who love Him as we realize the full magnitude of who and what He is. This elicits the proper respect of God that must fill our devoted hearts. However, our Savior must also be known as the Lamb, whose character will forever amaze us with lowliness. This fosters in us the love of God, and love for God that must occupy the foremost place in our hearts. A little lower than the angels? Yes, and the realization causes in us a view of Him higher than the heavens, and far more glorious than even eternity will fully unveil.
“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” (Philippians 2:5-11).
I never write one of these messages (or preach a sermon) without feeling a palpable sense of unworthiness to do so. In fact, my first thought in choosing a subject nearly always involves the thought, “Well, I’ll just write about the Lord’s amazing faithfulness, in contrast to my own too frequent lack thereof.” “If we believe not, yet He abideth faithful” (II Peter 2:13).
I suppose if any of us ever do feel worthy to bear the name of the Lord Jesus Christ according to our own faithfulness, we will have disqualified ourselves from serious consideration to serve as the Lord’s messengers. Indeed, the Apostle Paul who declared that God “counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry” also confessed, “God called me by His grace,” and “We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord” (I Timothy 1:12; Galatians 1;15; II Corinthians 4:5).
I recall many years ago hearing a preacher confidently boast, “You can’t buy me! I will not compromise!” In stark contrast, Paul, long into his service as the Lord’s apostle, acknowledged the possibility that he could be deterred from finishing his course.
“I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection, lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (I Corinthians 9:27).
As you might imagine, the boasting preacher compromised, becoming one whose own name and reputation seemed as important as the One he purported to represent. Paul, conversely, finished his course because he emphasized his Lord’s uncompromising character, nature, and way rather than the delusion that he could not fall (II Timothy 4:7).
Never are our detours from the path of righteousness inevitable or excusable. The Lord Jesus suffered and died for such unfaithfulness, smitten by both God and man. Paul’s concern about being disqualified from ministry moreover reveals that we can disqualify ourselves from representing the Lord if unbelief and disobedience are allowed to dominate our lives. Nevertheless, our Heavenly Father mercifully teaches us a necessary humility as we more and more discover the contrast between His perfect faithfulness and our far from perfect walk with Him. I know of no more qualifying realization than this remembrance that the grace that saves us is also the grace that grants us the completely undeserved privilege to “preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord.”
“Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory, for Thy mercy, and for Thy truth's sake.” (Psalm 115:1)
Monday, March 11, 2013
Born again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ experience an enigma of grace as we trust our Heavenly Father in times of pain, loss, and difficulty.
“As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (II Corinthians 6:10).
The world views joy and sorrow as mutually exclusive, and for those who do not know the Lord Jesus, this is true. For Christians, however, the indwelling Holy Spirit makes possible our capacity to rejoice when sorrow wracks our hearts and hot tears fall from our faces. We “count it all joy” even when we do not “feel” it all joy (James 1:2). We do so because the Word of God and the Spirit of God bear witness that our very faith began on a cross of loss, agony, forsakenness and death, all of which led to an eternal resurrection not only for the Lord Jesus, but for all who trust in His redeeming work. “For the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).
We believe in a God who works all things together for good to those who love Him (Romans 8:28). We believe that our greatest joys are directly proportional to our deepest sorrows. We believe that loss is gain, tribulation precedes triumph, and that we pass through the gate of death in order to enter into the glory of eternal life. We believe that the Lord Jesus is risen from the dead, and that His newness of life impacts every moment of both time and eternity. We believe that the potential of honoring our God awaits us as much, or more, in dark valleys as on brilliants summits. We believe that He is present enough, powerful enough, purposeful enough, wise enough, and loving enough to somehow grace us with joy where it seems that only sorrow could reside.
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea” (Psalm 46:1-2).
I do not believe that God finds pleasure in the suffering of His children. In His perfect love and wisdom, however, He does find it necessary to both determine and allow hardship in our lives. This being the case, can you imagine what must happen in the heart of God when our particular earth seems to have been removed, and when the mountains of our lives have been carried into the midst of the sea, and yet… and yet with broken heart and sorrowful soul we look to Him with the confession, “Father, I trust You and I rejoice in You!” No, we can’t imagine what happens in our Lord’s infinite heart when we so believe in His perfect and loving faithfulness. It must be joy to Him to be so trusted, and it surely honors the One so worthy of our trust and of all glory. Thus, may we “count it all joy when we fall into diverse temptations,” fulfilling our high calling of God’s grace in Christ…
“Whoso offereth praise glorfieth Me.” (Psalm 50:23)
Friday, March 8, 2013
The primary effect of joy involves not ourselves, but rather our Lord.
“Rejoice evermore” (I Thessalonians 5:16). “Whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31).
We rejoice first and foremost to honor and obey God. He made us to experience fulfillment, peace and joy not through self-interest, but through the otherness of love, which “seeketh not her own” (I Corinthians 13:5). So long as we seek to fill our own hearts, therefore, we shall find them woefully empty. When, through Christ, we devote ourselves to God and to others, we shall find them wonderfully full. “Give, and it shall be give unto you” (Luke 6:38). The self sacrificial determination to “count it all joy when ye fall into diverse temptations” makes possible this discovery of a rejoicing that graces our hearts because the blessing of our own hearts is no longer paramount in our determination (James 1:2).
The choice to rejoice in difficulty actually provides one of the great ministries available to every believer. Indeed, a thousand sermons may not influence more than the hurting Christian who exemplifies and bears witness to the truth that the Lord Jesus is as capable of revealing His joy in pain as well as in pleasure. The Apostle Paul who testified of being “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” speaks to us as much by his testimony of joy in Christ as by His teaching of how such joy is to be known (II Corinthians 6:10). Indeed, let us consider the trials of our own present circumstance, condition and situation. Could they be determined or allowed by God in order to provide opportunity for glorifying and revealing the Lord Jesus to our particular sphere of influence? The Biblical answer is obvious, and our rejoicing not only makes possible such ministry. It is such ministry.
“The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister and give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). This same Christ now dwells in those who believe through the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Thus, His joy is now our joy, and His joy is the glory of His Father and the blessing of others. Fewer more challenging commands present themselves in Scripture than this calling to “count it all joy.” However, fewer promises more assure our hearts of the “great salvation” provided by the Lord Jesus (Hebrews 2:3). He is wise enough, powerful enough, present enough, and loving enough to compose songs of joy within our hearts where singing is rarely heard. Our Lord is glorified thereby, others are blessed, and this is our joy.
“Shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?… “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.” (Psalm 137:4; Acts 16:22-25)
Thursday, March 7, 2013
“My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into diverse temptations, knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience” (James 1:2-3).
James’ command solely addresses born again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ – “My brethren” – because only those inhabited by the Holy Spirit can possibly rejoice in losses, pains, sorrows, heartaches and heartbreaks.
“We also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:11).
The Apostle Paul confirms that true rejoicing occurs as the result of a Divine presence and working within our hearts – “in God, through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Only thereby can we expect and experience joy where it seems it could not be, or in terms expressed by the Apostle Peter, “joy unspeakable and full of glory” (I Peter 1:8). Yes, just as there is a “peace which passeth all understanding,” there is a joy that defies description, a joy that appears where, again, it seems it could not be (Philippians 4:7).
James provides vivid insight into how we enter into such wonder. He calls us to “count it all joy when ye fall into diverse temptations.” Note that he doesn’t command that we “feel” it all joy. Few more important truths present themselves to us in Scripture than this illumination that joy is not first a matter of emotion, but of reasoned and determined faith. The word “count” is translated from the Greek root, “hegeomai,” meaning to lead with thoughtful and reasoned consideration.
Herein lies a beautiful insight into our relationship with God regarding true joy. By definition, Christians do not lead themselves – “as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Romans 8:14). We do, however, respond to our Lord’s leadership – “Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children” (Ephesians 5:1). Therefore, when James commands that we rejoice by a reasoned and thoughtful leadership, he calls us first to direct our attention unto our Leader. We “look unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). Then, with remembrance and consideration of who He is, we make the choice to rejoice as a matter of faith, whatever we may feel emotionally. In times of trouble and difficulty, our Good and Great Shepherd beckons us to a field of joy. “Come with Me. I know where your rejoicing is. Trust Me and follow.” As we consider His perfect faithfulness and respond, we find ourselves rejoicing as a matter of deep conviction long before we reach that supposed “field of joy.” Indeed, we discover that which the Psalmist long ago experienced, namely, that God Himself is the essence of true joy: “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God” (Psalm 61:10).
Joy often expresses itself in happy feelings. Let us give thanks for those blessed times. The essence of joy, however, resides not in our emotions, but in God Himself and in our response of faith to who He is. Those who consistently “count it all joy” know this blessed truth of a rejoicing that can be known wherever, whenever, and in whatever.
“O send out Thy light and Thy truth: let them lead me; let them bring me unto Thy holy hill, and to Thy tabernacles. Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy.” (Psalm 43:3-4)
Tomorrow: the effects of “count it all joy.”
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
Many years ago, before we realized we would be husband and wife, Frances and I often frequented a restaurant after church on Sunday nights. As friends and as young believers, we’d talk about the Lord, His involvement in our lives, and whatever else came to mind.
One evening, Frances commented that she believed the Lord was teaching her to “count it all joy when ye fall into diverse temptations” (James 1:2). I responded, “Oh, it doesn’t mean that.”
Frances, understandably, was taken aback. “What do you mean, it doesn’t mean that?” she asked.
“Well, I’m not quite sure what it means. But I know for certain that it cannot possibly mean that we can count everything as all joy!”
Frances was not, as those of you who know her can imagine, satisfied with my condescending response. “So, you don’t know what it means to count it all joy when we experience troubles and difficulties?” I recall her looking me right in the eye as she asked the question.
This made me a bit nervous (you don’t want Frances to look you right in the eyes after you’ve been condescending, I can assure you!). I cleared my throat again, this time nervously. “Well, well, no, I can’t say what it means”. Frances pressed the issue. “But you say it doesn’t mean what it actually says?” She had me, of course, and I attempted a stuttering response, from which my future wife saved me by continuing to look me right in the eyes and then declaring, “I’ll tell you what. Until you can tell me what it means that James commands we count it all joy when we fall into diverse temptations, I think I’ll just take God’s Word at face value!”
More than three and half decades later, Frances still takes this mandate of Scripture at face value, exemplifying and affirming it in countless challenges and trials. Moreover, I came around not too long after the above episode, agreeing that this command of Scripture means what it says, and actually promises one of the most miraculous assurances made to us by the Holy Spirit. Indeed, if God can justifiably and fairly command that we view difficulties, distresses, disasters and even catastrophes as “all joy,” He must know that He possesses the capacity to reveal and enable His joy in all things.
We’ll consider the details and outworking of this truth in messages to come. For now, let us simply realize that our Lord believes (knows) He can enable us to rejoice at all times and in all things. We must increasingly join Him, affirming confidence in His confidence. Indeed, there is no pit deep enough that the light of God’s joy cannot penetrate to illuminate. Dungeons, dark valleys, crosses, sickbeds, gravesides and dark nights through the ages all resound with this truth, as countless echoes of praise and thanksgiving from such strange places bear witness. In this present hour, believers testify of experiencing God’s joy even as tears fall from their faces and sorrow wracks their hearts – “as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (II Corinthians 6:10).
I’m so glad that one of those faithful saints bore such witness in that evening so long ago. I’m so glad that I married her! I rejoice all the more that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ knows Himself and His ability with such confidence that He can command us to rejoice where and when joy seems impossible…
“Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.” (Habakkuk 3:17-18) “Our heart shall rejoice in Him, because we have trusted in His holy name.” (Psalm 33:21)
Tuesday, March 5, 2013
In Philippi, the Apostle Paul, with his freedom, the skin of his back, and his ministry apparently stripped away, “prayed and sang praises unto God” with his fellow servant Silas (Acts 16:25). From a Roman prison, the same Paul commanded believers to “rejoice in the Lord alway, and again, I say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). He repeats the admonition in his first epistle to the Thessalonians: “Rejoice evermore” (I Thessalonians 5:16). Thus, by both example and command, Paul encourages and challenges us with the Christ-enabled potential to know God’s joy in all things and at all times.
Human understanding scoffs at such a notion. Fleshly reasoning perceives joy as the fruit of pleasant and desirable circumstance, situation, and condition. Our experience seems to confirm, as pain and difficulty foster in us thoughts, emotions, and physical sensibilities that seem to escort joy to the exit door of our hearts. Rather than rejoice when trouble comes, our natural tendency seems to coincide far more with the plaintive sigh of the Psalmist, “I mourn in my complaint” (Psalm 55:2).
This raises a challenging intellectual issue for committed born again believers. We believe a Bible filled with commands to rejoice always. Moreover, the Word of God promises the possibility and power in Christ to do so, providing both examples and assurances that joy can be known in prisons no less than palaces. Therefore, if joy cannot be known in all things, we must – and if intellectually honest, we should – close our Bible, proceed to our trash receptacle, and deposit the sham of this false and dangerous document therein. Better to live in the light of reality, sad as it may be, than to participate in a fantasy that creates false expectations at best, and insane delusion at worst.
If, however, we know in our hearts that God’s Word is in fact God’s Word, we must face the difficult truth about joy, namely, that through Christ we can “rejoice in the Lord always” and “evermore.” And, let us be honest: this is a difficult truth. Our flesh resists the notion of joy based not on circumstances, situations, and conditions. Even more, our spiritual enemies mock the possibility of “always” and “evermore” joy. They point to past failure - “You didn’t rejoice then!” They create possibilities of future disaster and catastrophe – “What if that happens?!” Perhaps most discouragingly, they emphasize our present dilemma – “can you really say you’re rejoicing in this?!” Indeed, the challenges of the world, the devil and the flesh concerning joy confront us with savage ferocity because the joyful believer does such harm to their nefarious purposes (e.g. – the aforementioned Apostle Paul as a chief example).
What are we to do about joy? Our first step as believers is to believe. That is, we must doctrinally and personally build an altar within our hearts whereupon we sacrifice the devilish and fleshly notion that circumstances, situations and conditions determine our rejoicing. They influence it, of course, but they do not determine whether we obey God in the matter of joy. Indeed, failure to “rejoice in the Lord always” often proceeds from failure to establish as a matter of personal principle that the Lord Jesus is able to reveal His joy in us at all times, and in all things. Repentance will accompany the building of this heart altar, leading to the establishment of faith and expectation that God’s joy awaits us whether we venture to palace or prison…
“Thy Word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart.”
Tomorrow: “Count it all joy.”
Monday, March 4, 2013
Saturday, March 2, 2013
It often concerns me that I tend to awake in the morning with thoughts as scrambled as the eggs I might have for breakfast. Rather than immediately think of the Lord, my mind ventures down paths of distraction and diversion. Too often, the words of the Psalmist fail to characterize my own initial experience of the day.
“As for me, I will behold Thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with Thy likeness” (Psalm 17:15).
I have recently realized a major reason for my failure to behold, namely, my focus has been on my beholding rather than on God’s face and likeness. I’ve concerned myself far more with the response I should have than the One who inspires an early gaze Heavenward. By this, I do not mean to imply that my response is not important and necessary. Certainly it is. I am not a programmed robot, but rather a living person, free in Christ to seek or to not seek Him. However, what most (only) causes me to genuinely “look unto Jesus, the author and finisher of my faith?” (Hebrews 12:2). The answer is simply the remembrance and affirmation that He is looking unto me. “Many, O LORD my God, are Thy wonderful works which Thou hast done, and Thy thoughts which are to us-ward: they cannot be reckoned up in order unto Thee: if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered” (Psalm 40:5).
We will not get far in our walk with God apart from the ongoing remembrance that the tributary of our faithfulness ever and always flows from the abundant source of His faithfulness. “ There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High” (Psalm 46:4). Christ is the river; we who believe are the streams. I hope to awaken more and more to this joyful remembrance of His perfect devotion to me. I would ask for your prayers accordingly, and I will offer the same for you. As we do, our own devotion will unscramble in our hearts and minds, causing early receptions of the grace that leads to faith, worship, and an obedience born not of mere duty and obligation, but of loving gratitude, affection and wonder…
“We love Him because He first loved us.” (I John 4:19) “He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of His belly shall flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:38)