Friday, May 31, 2013
Unsolvable problems. Insurmountable obstacles. Immovable obstructions. Unfillable voids. Without these and other challenges that reveal the true nature of our dependence, we would never consider the necessity of trusting and submitting ourselves to God.
"Before I was afflicted, I went astray. But now have I kept Thy word" (Psalm 119:67).
Would that we might consistently walk with our Heavenly Father apart from challenges, and one day we shall. But this is not that day. The Lord thus measures His determinations and allowances of trouble to come our way according to His perfect love, wisdom, purpose and power. Certainly, our blessings draw us to God and reveal His wonderful kindness,devotion, generosity and tender mercies. Our buffetings, however, also draw us to God in the revelation of those same Divine qualities. Moreover, we discover His marvelous capacity to deliver us no less in the fire than from the fire. Indeed, the three young men of the book of Daniel would have seen the power of God had He delivered them from Nebuchaddnezzar's fiery furnace. They saw the Lord Himself because He chose instead to meet them in the flames. The wicked king also saw in the blaze he lit a King far greater than himself. "Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God" (Daniel 3:25).
God awaits us in our furnaces. His protecting presence assures that the flames that do not consume us with fire illuminate us with light. We presently require such experience if we are to truly walk with Him in consistent recognition of His supply and our need. Certainly, we look forward to that Heavenly day when our glorified sensibilities will eliminate the need for refining fires. Again, however, this is not that day. This is rather that day and time when buffeting as well as blessing reveals the glory of the Lord Jesus in necessary ways of grace, truth, and love.
"We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God."
Thursday, May 30, 2013
In the trusting heart, love begets love.
"We love Him because He first loved us" (I John 4:19).
The source of loving Godoriginates in His loving us. We would have no interest in the concept or the relationship if the Lord did not reveal to us His devotion, and if His Spirit did not work in our hearts to motivate and enable our reciprocal response. Of course, this does not involve programming or coercion on God's part, but rather a drawing of us to Himself whereby we freely join King David is his declaration of both determination and dependence: "I will love Thee, o Lord my strength!" (Psalm 18:1). Indeed, when our "I will love" unites with "O Lord, my strength," we apprehend the blessed reason for our existence, namely, we honor our Lord by being loved and by loving in response.
Our love for God would have no meaning or blessedness to Him if we had no role in the relationship. However, our love for God could not exist without His moving upon us and within us. Again, we must determine to love, but always from the recognition that dependence on the Holy Spirit enables our capacity for love. As the Lord Jesus told His disciples, "Without Me, ye can do nothing," and then, as the Apostle Paul wrote, "I can do all things through Christ which strengheneth me" (John 15:5; Philippians 4:13). This union of faith and devotion doubtless blesses our Heavenly Father's heart far more than we can imagine, and it surely blesses our own hearts.
I once heard someone say that loving God is actually God loving Himself in us. This is not true, in my view. We possess a real and distinct personhood, whereby we make genuine determinations to devote ourselves to the Lord Jesus. We do so, however, in full awareness of His love, "shed abroad in our hearts by the HolySpirit which is given unto us" (Romans 5:5). In accordance with the New Testament dynamic of "we shall live by Him," we will to love God in full awareness and confidence that He works in us "both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (I John 4:9; Philippians 2:13). Is it God, or is it us? Yes. It is both. He receives all the glory because He is the originator and enabler of the relationship. We receive blessing because we willingly and consciously experience the essence of our existence. Yes, in the trusting heart, love, the love of God for man, begets love, the love of man for God. A sublime mystery in many ways, and one so wondrous that even angels desire to gaze upon the beauty and glory (I Peter 1:12).
"The grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus."
(I Timothy 1:14)
"O love the LORD, all ye His saints."(Psalm 31:23)
Wednesday, May 29, 2013
(A repeat from 2005)
Responsibility becomes privilege when we view the labors of life as being performed in the Lord's vineyard. "Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not to men" (Colossians3:23).
"I have to do" becomes "I get to do" as we realize that "whatsoever ye do" bears the potential for worshipping and glorifying the Lord Jesus Christ. God does not categorize our lives into the sacred and the secular as we walk with Him, but rather calls us to the realization that altars exist everywhere for the born again believer.
The salvation of the Lord Jesus provides a far greater and more invasive reality than we often realize. He infuses His life, love, zest and Divine enthusiasm into everything in our lives. We fail to experience the gift only because of ignorance or unbelief. Our blessed Lord is near - He is here - and He purposes to walk with us and within us to enable a joyous life of love, faith and obedience in all things. He made for this, and let us encourage each other continually to open our eyes and see the beauty of the vineyard in which we labor. Even more, let us behold the beauty of the vineyard's Master because again, He is here, and we are privileged - we get to do all that we do with Him and for Him. We can cut the grass in the joy of Christ as we do it with Him, and for Him. Or care for the baby. Or drive to work. Or perform our work. Or brush our teeth. Or deal with problems and challenges. Or breathe the next breath. Or do anything, excepting sin. Anything, and everything. Anywhere, and everywhere. Any time, and all the time, opportunity awaits to apprehend and appropriate the living Person, presence, and power of God .
"I will dwell in them and walk in them, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people." (II Corinthians 6:16)
Tuesday, May 28, 2013
With a hot, humid Gulf Coast summer drawing nigh, I purchased an electric fan last night that will help to prevent our air conditioner from running nonstop in the days to come.
Actually, I bought not just any old fan, but a metal-bladed version that offers an interesting feature. It sounds like the fans of old, especially like those my paternal grandparents owned when I was a child. It also moves air like yesterday's devices, as opposed to occasional puffs and wisps of wind the newer, plastic-bladed fans struggle to emit. I recall many mid-afternoon naps on summer days at my grandparents farm,sleeping comfortably to the soothing music of the fan's whiras rapidly moving molecules of air almost made their warm house seem cool.
It seems hard these days to find products of the quality we once knew. This may actually be an illusion based onembellishment of our memories, but in many cases it is actually true that things aren't made to the same standard as in days of old. In many ways, we seem to be caught in a downward spiral of diminishing quality as "more" replaces "better" in our thinking and in our values.
"The world passeth away" (I John 2:17).
In such times, born again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ do well to remember God's emphasis on quality, as opposed to quantity. Indeed, we can seemingly do much for Him, while actually doing very little. The Apostle Paul went so far as to declare that we could give everything we own to feed the poor, but if we did so without the love of Christ, it would profit us "nothing" (I Corinthians13:3). With God, "Why?" is always more important than "What?" God's directs His primary gaze into the interior regions of our being, wherein we must hold to the highest standards and seek the finest quality - "Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life" (Proverbs 23:4).
The Lord Jesus Christ is the standard, and He is the quality. "Walk, even as He walked" (I John2:6). Upon first consideration, such truth casts us to our faces in despair upon the realization that we cannot in and of ourselves accomplish such a purpose. Thankfully, further consideration lifts us with with hope. "I will dwell in them, and walk in them" (II Corinthians 6:16). When we believe, our Savior indwells by His Spirit to institute a work of grace-elicited quality - "He... hath begun a good work in you" - and thereafter works incessantly to constitute His character, nature, and way as our character, nature, and way - "He... will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6). "Beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, weare changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (II Corinthians3:18). The work requires a lifetime, and the path to the quality of Christlikness is not always smooth and uninterrupted. Nevertheless, our Lord moves upon and within us to install both His standard and His enabling as the purpose and the power of our hearts. The pleasant draft and hum of a device that hearkens back to different - and in some ways, better - days blesses me as I write this. More importantly, the experience reminds me that our Lord's standard of quality remains the same. Yes, the Lord Jesus is the standard and the quality, and He works today in your heart and mine to make His way of heart our way of heart.
"The Lord looketh on the heart." (I Samuel 16:7)
Monday, May 27, 2013
(On this Memorial Day in the United States, we give thanks for the patriots who sacrificed so much to obtain and maintain our freedom, which also reminds us of the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ to obtain and maintain our spiritual liberty. Below are the lyrics to one of our songs, written as a tribute to our Lord, and to our patriots.)
and still their lifeblood flows to guard, to guard sweet liberty.
But it doesn’t seem to flow so freely, the river of my thanks,
how rarely does it seem that I have knelt to offer thanks.
that freedom is so many things, but it is never free.
And help me to remember, Lord, oh keep it close at hand,
that this song was written with the blood spilled in so many lands.
and at the throne of God and Christ it still avails for me.
And I wish that far more than I have my heart had given praise,
how rarely does it seem that I have knelt and offered thanks.
that freedom is so many things, but it is never free.
And help me to remember, Lord, oh keep it close at hand,
that this song was written with the blood spilled from Your dear hands.
for He lived and taught and bore the cross, His grace we might receive.
And the truth that He was speaking of, the bright and shining light,
is that if we are to know sweet freedom, Someone had to die.
that freedom is so many things, but it is never free.
And help me to remember, Lord, oh keep it close at hand,
that this song was written with the blood spilled from Your dear hands.
"If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed."
Saturday, May 25, 2013
How do we view areas of life wherein we have particular difficulty in doing the will of God? Should we resign ourselves to sin and failure, believing that our past failuresmake likely or even ensure future unfaithfulness? Or do we maintain hope for overcoming the temptations that seem to be tailor made to our personality and inclinations? (which they are).
The Biblical answer of both Old and New Testament is obvious.
"My expectation is from Him" (Psalm 62:5).
"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).
God means our human weakness to serve not as the gateway to sin, but rather as the springboard of faith and submission whereby we find ourselves "strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power." In matters wherein we have often distrusted and disobeyed, however, we tend to embrace the expectation that today and tomorrow will be just like yesterday. This false anticipation (and no matter what our experience, it is false)sets us up for such ongoing experience of failure. Indeed, which is greater, our human weakness, or the power of God that dwells in us by the Holy Spirit? Again, the Biblical answer is obvious. No matter how many times we may have committed a particular sin, the greater reality of the matter has been, is, and always will be the overcoming presence and enabling of Christ. Our false expectation of unbelief - "Well, I just can't overcome this, and I will always be this way" - actually sets us up for ongoing failure, fueling the fire that the Holy Spirit is more than able to douse within us. "God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work" (IICorinthians 9:8).
Whatever the attitudinal, verbal, or behavioral sin may be that challenges us, we may have to first deal with the anticipatory sin, as it were, that establishes the crumbling foundation of unbelief that leads to our failures. No matter how many times we have fallen in a particular matter, God calls us to expect His overcoming grace and enabling the next time we face the temptation. He will be there with power, as He has been on every occasion in the past. Joining David - "My expectation is from Him" - as opposed to basing our anticipation on yesterday's failures, will make our obedience far more likely and realized through Christ. Yes, the God who spoke a vast universe into existence, and who sustains it by His word, can empower us to overcome temptation, including the ones that have too often felled us in the past. This we must believe, because it is true, and because the anticipation of faith leads to the actualization of faithfulness.
"There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it."(I Corinthians 10:13)
Friday, May 24, 2013
God often accomplishes supernatural works through apparently natural means.
"My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:19).
"Blessed is every one that feareth the LORD; that walketh in His ways. For thou shalt eat the labor of thine hands: happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee" (Psalm 128:1-2).
Which is it that supplies for our needs, the provision of God, or "the labor of thine hands?" The answer is both. Of course, our Lord is the source of all supply. "He giveth to all life and breath and all things" (Acts 17:25). However, He most often administers this generous abundance through the earthly expression of our efforts. Again, the supernatural flows through the conduit of the natural, so much so that we will fail to see the open hand of God if we disbelieve or forget His promised supply for "all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus."
This truth of the spiritual revealed in and by the natural applies to countless aspects of our lives. Many things appear simply to occur as theexpression of the normal course of events. A follows B, B follows C, and life seems to simply fall out according to naturalistic cause and effect. In reality, the presence and working ofthe Lord Jesus pervades all things in a purposeful application of power that would terrify us if we could fully see if for even the briefest moment. Our Lord "upholds all things by the word of His power" (Hebrews 1:3). Thus, we are as fish that live in a mighty ocean of vibrant and teeming life, of His life. We may not always see it, understand it, or appropriate the wonder of His working, nor are we presently meant to walk by sight. We rather walk by faith, and the trusting heart will be given enoughglimpses of Divine glory to thrill us, fill us, and fulfill us (II Corinthians 5:7).
The Lord Jesus Himself provides the clearest insight into the truth of the natural and the supernatural. Was and is He the Divine God or the human man? Again, the answer is both. The heavenly and the earthly somehow perfectly unite in our blessed Lord, revealing the ultimate intention of our Heavenly Father to reveal the Unseen through the seen. "No man hath seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him" (John 1:18). Yes, supernatural works often flow through natural means. Such truth begins in the very person of God Himself, as revealed in His Son. Let us therefore expect such truth to be wrought in our lives and this day. Because it will.
"In Him we live and move and have our being."
Thursday, May 23, 2013
No one should more fear the Lord than those who have a strong assurance of His love, grace, and mercy.
"Let us have grace, that we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and godly fear" (Hebrews 12:28).
The writer of Hebrews reveals the connection between grace and godly fear. This may seem counter intuitive upon first consideration. Indeed, grace saves believers from the wrath of God unto living, family relationship with the Lord as ourHeavenly Father. We are dear and beloved children to Him,being freely "accepted in the Beloved," namely, in the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:1; 1:6;II Thessalonians 2:13). Why then should we fear the One who loves us to the degree that He gave His Son to a cross of sorrow, pain, forsakenness and death in order to shower forth His grace upon us?
God's love itself provides our answer. Our Heavenly Father eternally devotes Himself to our best interest and well being. He always acts according to our truest need, as opposed to our desire and pleasure. He will not be swayed from this loving emphasis by the sentimentality that often characterizes human "love." How often do we act toward each other in a manner that that seems genuinely loving, but which actually originates in the mere attempt to make the moment more pleasant and manageable. Certainly there are times when the Holy Spirit ministers comfort through us to each other with soft and tender administrations. However, we also sometimes coddle each other when our truest need involves challenge. In such times, self-interest rather than love guides our words and actions, a mistake that our Lord never makes. He loves us purely and perfectly, and if our best interests sometimes require the rod, He will wield it for our benefit.
We should fear such love, and thus, we who most believe in God's lovingkindness and tender mercies should also be those who hold a solemn and fearful reverence for Him deep within our hearts. Our Heavenly Father loves us enough to hurt us if the need requires. A Biblical view of Divine love includes fear of the devotion to us that ministers both the tender caress and the chastening rod. Yes, the love of God and the fear of God reside together in the hearts of those who realize the holy purity of His commitment to us.
"In the fear of the Lord is strong confidence, and His children shall have a place of refuge. The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, to depart from the snares of death."(Proverbs 14:26-27)
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
No one should more fear the Lord than those who have a strong assurance of His love, grace, and mercy.
"Let us have grace, that we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and godly fear" (Hebrews 12:28).
The writer of Hebrews reveals the connection between grace and godly fear. This may seemcounter intuitive upon first consideration. Indeed, grace saves believers from the wrath ofGod unto living, family relationship with the Lord as our Heavenly Father. We are dear and beloved children to Him, being freely "accepted in the Beloved," namely, in the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:1; 1:6; II Thessalonians 2:13). Why then should we fear the One who loves us to the degree that He gave His Son to a cross of sorrow, pain, forsakenness and death in order toshower forth His grace upon us?
God's love itself provides our answer. OurHeavenly Father eternally devotes Himself to our best interest and well being. He always acts according to our truest need, as opposed to our desire and pleasure. He will not be swayed from this loving emphasis by the sentimentality that often characterizes human "love." How often do we act toward each other in a manner that that seems genuinely loving, but which actually originates in the mere attempt to make the moment more pleasant and manageable. Certainly there are times when the Holy Spirit ministers comfort through us to each other withsoft and tender administrations. However, we also sometimes coddle each other when our truest need involves challenge. In such times, self-interest rather than love guides our words and actions, a mistake that our Lord never makes. He loves us purely and perfectly, and if our best interests sometimes require the rod, He will wield it for our benefit.
We should fear such love, and thus, we who most believe in God's lovingkindness and tender mercies should also be those who hold a solemnand fearful reverence for Him deep within ourhearts. Our Heavenly Father loves us enough to hurt us if the need requires. A Biblical view of Divine love includes fear of the devotion to us that ministers both the tender caress and the chastening rod. Yes, the love of God and the fear of God reside together in the hearts of those who realize the holy purity of His commitment to us.
"In the fear of the Lord is strong confidence, and His children shall have a place of refuge. The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, to depart from the snares of death."
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
In a results-oriented culture, born again believers must not allow pragmatism to triumph over principle.
"Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name? And inThy name have cast out devils? And in Thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you. Depart from Me, ye that work iniquity" (Matthew 7:22-23).
The fact that some way or method seems to be effective does not ensure that God has originated our doing. For example, if finding a way to attract large numbers causes us to marvel without question that the Lord is at work, we will have to conclude that well-attended athleticevents, rock concerts, and political rallies are actsof God. Or, if statistical data concerning first time "decisions" for Christ confirms in our minds a movement of God, we must minimize the New Testament's constant emphasis on "continuing in the faith grounded and settled" (Colossians 1:23).
Many years ago, a music minister possessed of some of the finest musical gifts and abilities Ihave ever seen told me of a summer tour on which he had take a youth choir. "They sang their hearts out in churches throughout theSouth," he said. "We had hundreds of kids come forward in our services to pray and sign decisioncards. We truly believed God had done a great thing through the choir." The minister continued, however, by sadly shaking his head. "That fall I decided to contact the churches where we had ministered to see how the new converts were doing. To my shock, every youth minister with whom I spoke told me that there had been almost no lasting effect among those who had prayed and made decisions. It took some thought and prayer, but I finally realized that our method had not been Biblical. We had emphasized song rather than preaching and teaching the Word of God." The minister concluded, "We saw a lot of response because you can prompt people to do just about anythingor make any decision through the emotionalpersuasion of music. Apparently, however, our efforts led to very little true repentance. "It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe" (I Corinthians 1:21).
This godly man, now with the Lord, shared this with me as warning that God's will must be done in God's way, or it's not God's will. Apparent results do not guarantee actual reality. I've never forgotten the minister's words, or the obvious truth they conveyed. In his case, he learned, as he told me, that nowhere in Scripture is it taught that we can sing people unto Christ, as it were. Godly music is rather a fruit of the Holy Spirit's presence in already trusting hearts, given as a particularly beautiful way for believersto express our love and devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ. "Sing unto the Lord, o ye saints of His" (Psalm 30:4). The minister had unintentionally misused God's gift, and the deceptive "results" taught him the great truth that, again, God's will must be done in God's way, or it is not God's will.
Our Lord is Himself guided by the principle of His character, nature, and way. He calls us to the same, and we tread on dangerous, deceiving ground if we substitute the pragmatism of "It works!" for the faithfulness of "I will meditate inThy precepts, and have respect unto Thy ways" (Psalm 119:15). Indeed, consider that those young people who made questionable choices for Christ in response to emotional persuasionmay now believe they have found the Gospel to be wanting in true reality and power. Dangerous, deceiving ground indeed, and let us reiterate yet again, God's will must be done in God's way, or it is not God's will.
"Blessed is everyone that feareth the Lord, that walketh in His ways."
Monday, May 20, 2013
Pride originates less in an exalted view of ourselves, and more in the failure to comprehend the greatness of the God who originated and sustains our being.
"I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up... then said I, Woe is me, for I am undone!" (Isaiah 6:1; 5).
The prophet's view of the Infinite caused him to feel less than finite. However "done" he was before the vision, he became "undone" afterwards. We all need such understanding and experience, whereby our knowledge of the Holy elicits awareness in us of how small and unholy we are incomparison to Him. Just as importantly, we discover that "in Him, we live and move and have our being," and that "He giveth unto all life and breath and all things" (Acts 17:25; 28).
In such light, pride dissolves "as a snail which melteth" (Psalm 58:8). Indeed, true humility results from exposing ourselves to the illumination that enables us first to see God rightly. The prophet's vision of the Old Testament translates into the believer's understanding of the Scriptures in the New Testament. Indeed, the wise Christian consistently reads and ponders the Bible because he or she recognizes the need for a growing perception of God, and a lessening perception of ourselves. As John the Baptist confessed, "He must increase, but I must decrease!" (John 3:30). We humble ourselves by exalting our Lord, a determination that results from the discovery of His glorious and wondrous greatness. "In Thy light shall we see light" (Psalm 36:9). Most amazingly, God Himself, in the person of His Son, took upon Himself the humble form of a servant. The Lord Jesus Christ showed us the proper sensibility of human humility, even though He rightly "thought it not robbery to be equal with God" (Philippians 2:6). Thus, just as the understanding of God's greatness drives us to our faces, so does His willingness to become "a little lower than angels" reveal to us the wicked insanity of our own pride (Hebrews 2:7). May we open God's Word often to discover the glory of both His greatness and His lowliness. Thereby will we find our proper place of being undone, and thereby our Lord will lift us up in His love, grace, mercy, and the peace of knowing both Him and ourselves rightly.
"Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up." (James 4:10)
Saturday, May 18, 2013
In a media age where a portion of Christianity and of Christians has become very public, I remain convinced that the vast majority of God's working occurs privately among the unknown, the hidden, the forgotten, and the nameless.
"In the morning the dew lay round about the host. And when the dew that lay was gone up, behold, upon the face of the wilderness there lay a small round thing, as small as the hoar frost on the ground. And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, It is manna" (Exodus 16:13-15).
We rightly focus on the manna when considering God's provision for Israel during their wilderness sojourn. Note, however, that the manna did not come alone. It came with the dew, which evaporated into forgotteness as it left sustenance to the Jews. As purposed by God, had there been no dew, there would have been no manna. Nevertheless, we don't hear many sermons or read many books or articles about the dew, which is just as it should be.
"We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord" (II Corinthians 4:5).
The human heart does not fare well when exposed to fame and notoriety. Doubtless, there are notable exceptions for whom we should hold much respect. Most of us, however, would find our flesh profoundly energized if we ever received the "15 minutes of fame" that Andy Warhol once said would eventually characterize the experiences of people in the 21st century. First, we'd think far too well or highly of ourselves, believing that we had achieved of our own devices the adulation, affirmation, and attention of the masses. It wouldn't be long,however, before personal disillusionment began to chip away at the inner monument we erected to ourselves. We would know our unworthiness of the smiles, the cheers, the pats on the back, and the place we held in the deluded hearts of our admirers. Such a contradiction creates a profound spiritual and moral unease in the heart, which explains the strange and self-destructive behaviors we see among so many entertainers, politicians, athletes, and sadly, even Christian luminaries.
Thankfully, Warhol's expectation has yet to fulfilled. Most of us remain obscure, a blessed gift for which we should often offer grateful praise to the Dewmaker. History ever moves toward the fulfillment of the prophet's blessed promise: "the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day" (Isaiah 2:11). Moreover, the Holy Spirit ever moves in our hearts and lives to elicit such quiet godliness that even our left hand remains unaware of the doings of the right (Matthew 6:3). This is peace, the peace of the dew that rejoices in its evaporation whereby the manna alone remains to be found, consumed, and gratefully appreciated.
"Not unto us, o Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory!"
Friday, May 17, 2013
(For the Pastors)
I do not know most of your pastors. I do, however, know something about them. In this day, and in every day, they will be savagely attacked by spiritual enemies who seek to hinder God's light from shining forth in their hearts and through their ministries.
"Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the Word ofGod" (Hebrews 13:7).
The attacks will most often be quiet and behind the scenes. Indeed, you will never know theyhave occurred. Temptations to discouragement, distraction, deception, and even despair will be foisted upon your pastors by malevolent influences who seek to harm you by harming them. "They watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you" (Hebrews 13:17). Thus, we must "remember them," which by Biblical definition involves much more than simply recollection. We must pray forpastors, first with request for their personal walk with the Lord, and then for theirprotection from the enemies who seek their destruction. Moreover, as we pray, we offer ourselves to our Heavenly Father for pastors, that we mightbe and do for them whatever He would have us to be and to do.
This consideration leads me to pray for the many pastors who receive these devotionals, and for the pastors of all of you who also receive them. I would seek to "remember them" in this day and in every day, again, being aware that Satan and his minions surely do not forget them. I know you join me in this intercession, and in the offering of ourselves to God for pastors. Indeed, we do well to thank God for them, to seek God for them, and realize our privileged responsibility of forming, as it were, a ring of spiritual protection around them. Yes, in this and in every day, your pastors will be savagely attacked. May it therefore be far more true in this and in every day that they will be spiritually guarded by our prayers and the offering of ourselves to God for these watchers for our souls.
"I will give you pastors according to Mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding." (Jeremiah 3:15)
"He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ." (Ephesians 4:11-12)
Thursday, May 16, 2013
One of my fondest childhood memories involves my grandfather making lemonade at the end of each summer day. We drank a glass (or maybe two!) with my grandmother on the front porch of their farmhouse while watching the sun go down.
I thought of this yesterday while myself making lemonade for our family. I still enjoy a glass myself, of course, but the greater joy involves the pleasure our youngest daughter Emmie derives from the concoction (other members of our family don't seem to have the same family predilection to lemonade, although Frances does also like it). Emmie loves it like I do, and has often heard me share the memory chronicled above (which, being herself nostalgic, adds for her an extra bit of lemony, sugary goodness, I think).
At 56, I suspect I've reached the crest of the hill and am now on my earthly life's other side (I've never had the desire or the notion that I would live past the more than 112 years that would indicate I'm still heading up the hill). Thus, many of the blessings of God I will experience in this life are memories rather than expectations. I have no problem with this, being, like Emmie, a very nostalgic person. This is especially true because I have so many opportunities to communicate my remembrances in spoken and written form. In so doing, I almost feel like I'm reliving God's blessings, feeling yet again the enjoyment of His good gifts of people, places, experiences, and events. "I remember the days of old; I meditate on all Thy works; I muse on the work of Thy hands"(Psalm 143:5).
I share this with you to encourage such remembrance and reliving of God's generosity as revealed in your own life. You may or may not be nostalgic, but you don't have to be in order to know the blessedness of remembering "the days of old." As we have often considered together in recent years, memories provide opportunities for thanksgiving. Indeed, when recalling my grandfather's lemonade, I said "Thank You" once again to the Lord who provided such a blessing to a child who would not come to know Him for many years after the last sip, the last sundown, and the last afternoon with my grandparents. I didn't know to thank God then, but I do now, and the remembrance forms an altar in my heart whereupon I can presently lay an offering of gratitude. Doing so completes the circle of giving, receiving, and gratitude that causes blessings to be fully experienced, enjoyed, and glorifying to the sublime Giver of "every good gift and every perfect gift" (James 1:17). Yes, I can almost still taste my grandfather's lemonade. The goodness that provided such a gift, however, well, I don't have to almost savor that..."O taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man that trusteth in Him."(Psalm 34:8)
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Establishing as a matter of doctrine and principle that our motivation for prayer must begin with the glory, will, and purposes of God places us in a genuinely prayerful heart and mind.
"Our Father, which art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come,Thy will be done on earth, as in Heaven... Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen" (Matthew 6:9; 13).
The model prayer of the Lord Jesus Christ begins and concludes with the God-centered focus that enables us to fulfill the high calling of God for everything in our lives: "Whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God" (I Corinthians 10:31). Certainly, of all that we do in seeking to walk with our Lord, prayer must dwell at or near the top of the list as a means to honor the Lord Jesus. Selfish praying will not get us far with God, even as James warned: "Ye ask and receive not because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts" (James 4:3). We must rather seek to pray as a matter of love, that is, of Christ's indwelling love motivating, guiding, and empowering us to emphasize the honor and will of our Heavenly Father.
This, of course, does not preclude the consideration of our needs and desires as we pray. The Lord Jesus also taught us to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil" (Matthew 6:11-13). Moreover, the Apostle Peter commanded that we cast our cares upon God in the certain knowledge that "He careth for you" (I Peter 5:7). We can and must pour out our hearts regarding matters important to us with great assurance that things that personally matter to us matter even more to our Lord. As we do so, however, keeping the primary focus of prayer close in heart and mind will mold and sometimes reshape our prayers even as we offer them. I cannot count the times when, as I prayed about a matter of concern important to me, I realized that selfishness formed and informed my attitude concerning the issue. In fact, there have been times when correction of the attitude served as the primary answer to the prayer. Thus, even as we pray about matters that concern us, maintaining the glory of God as our chief intention will often accomplish far more and better things than our requests initially involve. A God-centered determination in the matter of prayer greatly simplifies our practice of this most blessed spiritual gift and calling. Indeed, few things more befuddle us than attempting to figure out what we ourselves and others need. "We know not what to pray for as we ought" (Romans 8:26). Conversely, the Bible plainly declares our Heavenly Father's intention in all things, namely, that His Son should be glorified, known, loved, trusted and obeyed. His "eternal purpose" is "in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 3:11). As we establish and seek to maintain this as our purpose also, we will discover the peace of unselfish love forming and informing our praying. We shall discover also a greater desire to pray, and a more consistent uniting of our heart with our Heavenly Father, whose Christ-saturated purposes and intentions we share.
" Having made known unto us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He hath purposed in Himself: that in the dispensation of the fulness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in Him: in whom also we have obtained an inheritance." (Ephesians 1:9-11).
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
The light of God's Word accomplishes two primary purposes. First, it reveals the perfection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Furthermore, the Bible also exposes the imperfections of humanity.
"Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of Me" (John 5:39).
"This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil" (John 3:19).
I've been reminded of this truth while reading a book entitled "The Age of Edison," which chronicles the invention of the incandescent light bulb. Great societal changes occurred when electricity replaced kerosene and gas as the primary fuel sources for conveying illumination. The darkness of night gave way to brilliantly lit city streets and parks, an experience not always enjoyed because the electric lamps that preceded incandescent bulbs cast such bright light that the imperfection of people's complexions stood forth in bold relief. Many therefore avoided the exposure until incandescence made possible lamps that cast a softer and kinder illumination.
If Scripture merely exposed humanity's waywardness, we would run from it no less than our ancestors avoided these prototypes of artificial light. Thankfully, the revelation of our sin does not comprise the primary reason for the Bible's existence. No, the revelation of God's saving grace in the Lord Jesus Christ forms and informs the most brilliant glimmer of Scriptural illumination. Before sinners ever existed, our Heavenly Father purposed "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Revelation 13:8). God's first light thus first exposes the person and work of the Lord Jesus, and then reveals our desperate need for the grace that flows from the bloody sacrifice of His atoning sacrifice on the cross of Calvary.
In our communication of the Gospel, this Divine order of supply preceding need must never be reversed. Before shining necessary light upon human sinfulness, we must first proclaim the truth of Divine salvation in the Lord Jesus. We bear witness to the Redeemer, and then to the sin from which He saves all who humble themselves to receive His free gift of forgiveness and a new life. Thereby we direct the lamp of God's light toward the glory and revelation of the Savior, just as He declared that the Scriptures "testify of Me." And thereby we illuminate the stark contrast between Christ and ourselves that reveals how much we require His mercy. Yes, God's first light always shines upon the Lord Jesus, and then upon the sin from which He saves those who come to Him by faith.
"Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by Him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain."
Monday, May 13, 2013
Why is it that our most cherished beliefs and convictions often seem the most difficult to maintain in practical, everyday experience and practice? "The good that I would, I do not" (Romans 7:19).
I thought of this yesterday when considering what I believe to be the most important truth about prayer, namely, that our understanding must center on Divine glory, purpose, and pleasure rather than human benefit.
"Whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God" (I Corinthians10:31).
"After this manner, pray ye... Thy will be done on earth, as in Heaven" (Matthew6:9; 10).
"The prayer of the upright is His delight" (Proverbs 15:8).
True prayer must begin with a God-centered focus and intention. Our Heavenly Father has chosen to effect much of His will through the requests and intercessions of His trusting children in Christ, leading to Hishonor and exaltation. Moreover, He delights in our prayers becauseof His great love for us. Thus, a proper Biblical view originates and continues in the light of that which prayer accomplishes for our Lord's glory, will, and pleasure. Again, this I believe and seek to remember and practice, as enabled by the Holy Spirit's leadership and enabling.
Alas, however, how easy it is to think about prayer and to pray in a very different manner. Our natural inclinations involve more about what prayer does for us than what it does for God. Intriguingly, few spiritual realities, if wrongly considered and practiced, can lead to more self-centeredness than prayer. As A.W. Tozer once wrote, "Many people speak much of praying for revival, while secretly hoping that they will ride in the lead car of the tickertape parade that heralds its arrival." In and of ourselves, some form of this misguided and carnally motivated praying will always result when we seek to approach our Lord. The self-centeredness of our flesh is incorrigible and runs deep in our thoughts and sensibilities, tempting us to view even sacred things as opportunity to promote and practice selfish things.
Little wonder that the disciples asked their Master, "Lord, teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1). At the heart of this request (doubtless unbeknownst to the disciples) lies the deeper plea, "Lord, teach us to pray in accordance with Your love and truth, whereby we look unto our Heavenly Father rather than into ourselves!" We require God's working to enable such prayer, and we also require the awareness of how much we need His working. Indeed, true prayer may be as simple as a child's utterance. However, finding this unaffected simplicity of heart within us presents us a challenging path for all who seek to communicate with God in truth. We will further consider this challenge in tomorrow's message.
"Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ insincerity."(Ephesians 6:24)
Saturday, May 11, 2013
Some difficult things in life are beyond our ability to change. We've done everything we can, tried every possible remedy, and as born again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, we've prayed every prayer we can pray. Still, nothing changes, and we find ourselves faced with a dilemma of indeterminate or lifelong challenge.
For the unbeliever, the best response involves simply resignation and the determination to make the best of a tough situation. This is not, however, the way of God in thelives of His trusting children.
"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, ForThy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors throughHim that loved us" (Romans 8:35-37).
What if God determines or allows ongoing difficulty as opportunity for us to live as "more than conquerors throughHim?" He does, of course, and thus our Lord calls us to far more than mereresignation andmaking the best of enduring hardship. Indeed, by definition, living as "conquerors" requires challenges to overcome. Moreover, we are not simply called to conquer, but to be "more than conquerors through Him." What does the Apostle Paul mean by this affirmation of something beyond, something farbeyond, the overcoming of difficulty? The answer lies in the "through Him." That is, enduring difficulties offer the possibility of knowing God in a manner impossible to discover in pleasant circumstances and conditions. As we often suggest, quick deliverance from trial reveals the power of God's hand and the wisdom of His mind. Knowing His grace during a long journey upon rocky paths, however, unveils to us God's heart. We rejoice in the former, as we should. Nevertheless, we will one day discover that the latter path offered even greater glories and greater forays into thesublime being of the Lord Jesus.
This perspective of faith, based upon the Bible's plain and frequent affirmation of grace best blooming amid thorns, does not come easy. Nor is itinevitable that we will choose to see our lingering trial in suchholy light. The Truth is true, but the choice is ours regarding whether we will believe andexperience the power of its reality. This is written as a reminder and encouragement to my own heart, and to yours. Enduring hardship offers to us the possibility ofedifying holiness as we consistently draw near to the Lord whose Light shines most brightly against the backdrop of darkness. He purposes to reveal Himself to us along the path of our challenge in a manner He could never display in any other way. Merely resign ourselves to do the best we can? Never, for the trusting son or daughter of God in Christ! We rather draw upon "through Him" resources, and then live in the expectation of glories that could never be known save on long and difficult paths.
"Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. Behold, we count them happy which endure."(James 5:10-11)
Friday, May 10, 2013
Yesterday, upon leaving the retirement community where we conduct services, we encountered a man sitting in a wheelchair whom we'd never met. He looked at us with an excited smile and said, "My name is Alfred. Can I have a hug?" The aide with Alfred gave us a knowing smile, indicating that this is a common greeting he bestows upon people he meets. We gladly responded because it was evident that Alfred is a special person who has lived a lifetime perhaps not knowing and experiencing things familiar to most people, but who seems to have discovered certain realities we all know to be blessed and desirable.
"God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty" (I Corinthians 1:27).
We will likely be stunned upon our arrival in Heaven by that which our Lord considers to be most important, most valuable, and most to be sought after. I firmly believe, for example, that many people like Alfred who never have the opportunity to live life in what we might call "normal" conditions and circumstances, nevertheless experience internal glories of heart, perception and reality far beyond anything the average person knows. I've shared with you before my experience of standing behind a mother and her child in a grocery story checkout line. The little girl had Downs Syndrome, but she was all smiles and all devoted to communicating with me in genuine joy and exuberance. As we enjoyed our brief moment of fellowship, in my heart I asked our Heavenly Father, "Bless this child, Lord." The thought instantly came to mind that if the Lord were to respond to me audibly, He'd simply say, "Glen, You don't even have to ask." Indeed, it would be just like the God revealed in Scripture to bestow sublime and hidden glories to those whom He allows to experience life in ways that doubtless involve great challenge, but which also grant special wonders of Himself.
Before departing from Alfred yesterday, he had given both Frances and I two hugs, and a hearty "God bless you." He'd actually given far more, of course. As I shared with a friend this morning, Alfred emanated a bright and shining light from his wheelchair, and far more, from his heart. I have no doubt as to the Source of such beautiful illumination. Surely, our new friend has experienced challenges in a lifetime that does not include many blessings you and I experience. Some day, however, I'm confident that a glorified Alfred will be able to tell us of wonders of the Lord Jesus Christ he discovered during his earthly sojourn that you and I couldn't even imagine. Our blessed Lord is drawn to need, and we can be sure that He does in fact commune with truly special people like Alfred in a most special way of love and affection. Yes, indeed, it would be just like our Lord to bestow such grace, wouldn't it?
"My strength is made perfect in weakness."(II Corinthians 12:9)
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
"What's this world coming to?"
Our dear friend and excellent Bible teacher Larry Voas once asked his pastor father the question we all rhetorically express when confronted with an ever downward-trending spiritual and moral environment. Larry's dad, who recently went to be with our Lord, offered a sublimely wonderful answer that once you hear (or in this case, read), you will never forget.
"That's not the question to ask, Larry," responded Pastor Voas. "No, the question is rather, "Who came to this world?"
"Christ came" (Romans 9:5).
As long as the hills and lanes of Judea remain the venue whereupon the Prince of Peace walked in redeeming and revealing love, and as long as His Spirit comes yet again to the hearts of those who believe, the greater and transcendent truth will be not "What?", but "Who?" Indeed, let us apply this to our personal experience. When confronted with challenges, whether great or small, the details, circumstances, conditions and effects all matter. Yes, the "What?" matters. That which matters far more, however, is the "Who?"
Who knew this circumstance would come into my life before ever I was born?
Who promises to be everything I will ever need in every condition and situation, including this particular "What"?
Who overcame the worst thing that ever happened, the cross, and transformed it into the best thing that ever happened, namely, prelude to the resurrection and the salvation of all who believe? Who promises to repeat this life from death spiritual dynamic in my life?
Who is with me always, and promises never to leave nor forsake me? Who is wise enough, powerful enough, involved enough, and loving enough to fit all things, including this particular "What?" into His good and loving purposes?
So long as the "Who?" of the Lord Jesus Christ graces our lives with His purpose, power, and presence, every "What?" pales in significance and power. "God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that ye, having sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work" (II Corinthians 9:8). This we must believe because it is true. Our experience of the power of such truth hinges upon our choice to affirm that regardless of the nature, extent, or effect of the "What?", the presence and working of the "Who?" transcends. What is this world coming to? What is my life coming to? Let us answer these questions with the greater inquiries - Who came to this world? And who came into my life when I trusted Him? Thanks, Pastor Voas, thanks Larry, and thank You, Lord!
"I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly."(John 10:10)
Tuesday, May 7, 2013
The succinct and simple phrase, uttered from a heart of genuine repentance and contrition, bears such power that throughout history, blood enemies have been transformed into blood brothers when one party or both humbled themselves to express remorse.
Even more, the Divine and human hearts have entered into rich and redemptive relationship when the latter acknowledges to the Former, "I have sinned. And I am sorry."
"Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool" (Isaiah1:18).
When the Holy Spirit reveals to us the suffering and dying Lamb of God, whose wool became "red like crimson," He freely offers the possibility of our scarlet sins becoming "white as snow." We cannot but sorrow when such illumination shines upon the light of Calvary and the darkness of our unbelief and disobedience. Our Christian life begins with such faith and contrition, and continues accordingly. "I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance. For ye were made sorry after a godly manner... for godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of" (II Corinthians 7:9-10). When necessary contrition characterizes our relationship with God, we will find ourselves also willing and able to express the same to people we wrong. I found myself this morning faced with such an opportunity. Last night, my eldest daughter Marie shared something with me important to her. When I awoke today, I realized I had failed to give her my fullest attention during the discussion. I have no doubt that my realization resulted from the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and I apologized first to God, and then to Marie. Both forgave me, and Marie and I had another very enjoyable discussion this morning wherein Iwas fully engaged. After we talked, I realized how gracious our Heavenly Father is to reveal to us our wrongs, and then to give opportunity for repentance directed toward both God and people. Such repentance leads to behavioral as well as attitudinal change, resulting in humility, faith, and works of loving obedience wrought by the Spirit of God who dwells within us.
"I'm sorry." Where conflict and division reign, the simple utterance may dethrone the darkness to make way for the Prince of Peace to reveal His blessed rule and authority. Certainly, in the hearts who respond to the Holy Spirit's conviction, the peace of Christ will reign even if the party to whom we express remorse fails to respond in mercy. We cannot lose when we so humble ourselves, and when the "white as snow" forgiveness of God graces our hearts with the sweet blessedness of His freely given pardon in the Lord Jesus.
"There is forgiveness with Thee."(Psalm 130:4)
"And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: and bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found."(Luke15:21-24)
Monday, May 6, 2013