Saturday, August 31, 2013


    We influence every person with whom we come in contact, either positively or negative, concerning the glory of God as revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ.

    "We are ambassadors for Christ" (II Corinthians 5:20).

    This is at once both the most blessed and the most challenging of truths.  First, nothing infuses more meaning and significance into our lives than the truth that we exist to reflect the the light of the Lord Jesus.  We must have a known and affirmed reason for being if our hearts are to know the joyful fulfillment for which they were made.  "To live is Christ" declared the Apostle Paul (Philippians 1:21).  This is the reason for our being.  First, we receive our Lord into our hearts by His grace.  Then, we realize and devote ourselves to the sublime wonder of serving as the lamps of His light by that same grace.  In attitude, demeanor, word, and deed, we seek to represent our Lord well, casting forth a ray of illumination in all that we do whereby He is honored and revealed.  No greater joy of life and being fills our heart and lives.  Indeed, no other joy of life and being can fill our heart and lives.  Again, to live is Christ.

    Such truth also offers the most daunting of challenges.  Our native tendencies flow in the direction of affirming ourselves rather than Another.  "All seek their own" (Philippians 2:21).  There will be a fight if we accept our ambassadorship, a struggle of spirit and flesh as the world, the devil, and the flesh align in an axis of aggressive challenge against our office.  Countless temptations confront us with strong inclination to represent ourselves rather than our Lord. More importantly, however, countless infusions of grace provide overcoming ability to enable our devotion to the life that is Christ.  Our Lord dwells within His trusting children by the Holy Spirit.  He is the light in essence; we are the light in expression.  "I am the Light of the world... ye are the light of the world" (John 8:12; Matthew  5:14).  Thus, we begin our days in the recognition of this singular reason for life and being...

     "Heavenly Father, thank You for delivering us from the exhausting burden of seeking to affirm and promote ourselves.  Thank You even more for the blessed peace and joy of seeking to affirm and promote Your Son and our Savior, the Lord Jesus.  We are Yours in this day and forever for such a heart-filling and thrilling purpose.  So, as the prophet of old said to You, 'Here am I, Lord.  Send me.'  In the name of the Lord Jesus we pray... Amen."

"We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake."
(II Corinthians 4:5)

Friday, August 30, 2013

 "The Heart of the Matter, the Matter of the Heart"

    By definition, prayer involves the acknowledgment of our need for relationship with God, along with the request for His meeting of all our needs.  This presents an interesting challenge since the understanding of our needs and the needs of others is, at best, limited. 

    “We know not what we should pray for as we ought” (Romans8:26).    

God alone sees the heart from which the issues of life proceed.  We may possess awareness of outward details, which does provide some insight into our praying.   However, the truth of the matter is that we actually see very little of the truth of any matter. God answers prayers from the heart, about the heart.  He certainly doesn’t ignore circumstances, situations, or conditions, but there are always deeper issues that occupy our Lord’s closest attention.    

“The Lord looketh on the heart” (I Samuel 16:7).    

His provision of a morsel of bread, for example, bears far more significance than merely satisfying our hunger.  He seeks to reveal His love thereby, drawing us into relationship with Him, or strengthening an already existing bond.  This is why Scripture calls us to give thanks for our food.  In so doing, we look to God and relate to Him in heart, even as we enjoy His blessing physically.  "The eyes of all wait upon Thee, and Thou givest them their meat in due season" (Psalm 145:15).   

I find this truth of our limited vision to be a marvelously simplifying relief concerning prayer.  Indeed, I don’t have to spend overmuch time attempting to figure out what to pray for others, or for myself.  Instead, I approach the Lord with the request that He act in accordance with His perfect and infinite understanding.    

“Heavenly Father, I come to You with the request that You work in Joe’s life according to Your perfect understanding of how Your glory and will may best be furthered in his life.  I trust You to meet the needs of his heart and life accordingly, and to reveal to Joe Your heart, even as You work in him by Your hand.”     

Such prayer aligns us with God’s focus on the deepest matters of Joe’s existence.  Certainly, we may also include specific requests for Joe concerning matters for which we do possess knowledge.  However, our primary intent involves asking our Heavenly Father to do for Joe that which He knows needs to be done.  This streamlines our communication with God as it emphasizes not our praying, but rather the One to whom we pray.   Many of my early spiritual influences emphasized the importance of much time spent in prayer.  I understand their perspective and concern, and certainly don’t advocate that we rush through our prayers.  However, communication with God draws us into an eternal reality wherein a mere moment’s utterance of faith may open the door for powerful Divine involvement in people and circumstances.  The issue primarily concerns our heart and intentions.  Asking our Lord to do that which He sees fit to accomplish may involve moments, or we may sometimes linger before the Throne, as it were.  Whichever may be the case, true prayer, again, by definition, calls upon God to do that which He deems best.  He knows the details of need because He knows that which we do not know, namely, the heart of every matter, and the matter of every heart. 

“Thou only knowest the hearts of the children of men." (I Chronicles 6:30) 

"When ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking."(Matthew 6:7)

Thursday, August 29, 2013

"The Sweetest Name"

    What's in a name?  Much.

She shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call His name Jesus: for He shall save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21).

    The name "Jesus" means "Jehovah is salvation."  Thus, in our Savior's very name, the fundamental relationship between God and man presents itself, namely, that He is a deliverer and we need a deliverer.  We are needy, and the Lord is the supplier for our needs.  "
I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee" (Isaiah 41:10).

    This may seem axiomatic, but the strain of pride that exists in the flesh of even the most godly among us strongly tempts us to self-sufficiency and exaltation.  God made us, He sustains our very existence, and "He giveth to all life and breath and all things" (Acts 17:25).  Nevertheless, we remain susceptible to believe ourselves independently capable of navigating the course of our lives.  Rightly understood, however, simply uttering the name of the Lord Jesus expresses the truth that "in Him, we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28).  This most humbling of truths, received and assimilated by faith, establishes our awareness that should our Lord decide to withhold our next breath, heartbeat, or brainwave, all our lofty goals and determinations will instantly dissolve.  We are need.  God is supply.  The thought or mention of our Savior's name exalts the Lord as it humbles us. 

    In this day, our Heavenly Father offers to us His abundant provision, as revealed by and through His Son.  "
Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him" (Colossians 3:17).  This is life, truth, and reality.  There is no other, and the hymn-writer beautifully expressed the glory in her ode to that "Name which is above every name..."

Jesus is the sweetest name I know,
And He’s just the same as His lovely Name,
And that’s the reason why I love Him so;
Oh, Jesus is the sweetest name I know.

"The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous runneth into it and is safe."
(Proverbs 18:10)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

"I Can't! I Can!"

    Born again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ live in an interesting duality of "can't" and "I can."

    "Without Me, ye can do nothing" (John 15:5).
    "We are weak in Him" (II Corinthians 13:4).
    "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" (Philippians 4:13).
I also labor, striving according to His working, which worketh in me mightily" (Colossians 1:29).

    I cannot!  I can, through Him!  Both these 
spiritual sensibilities must fill our hearts and minds as we seek to trust and obey God.  Indeed, His standards are so high that we could never begin to fulfill them in and of ourselves.  Never, however, did our Lord expect or call us to fulfill such an impossibility.  He rather fills us with the Spirit of His Son when we believe, leading and enabling us to godliness as we trust and submit ourselves to Him.  Thus, we forever maintain within our hearts and minds the acknowledgement of "I can't."  We do not stop there, however, but rather affirm our weakness as the vessel and branch of Christ's strength, or as the Lord declared to the Apostle Paul "My strength is made perfect in weakness" (II Corinthians 12:9).  Thus, we confess, "I can, through Christ."

    This understanding is vital.  If we believe ourselves to be independently capable of even the slightest act of godliness, we will crash upon the rocks of futility.  Conversely, if our "I can't" fails to serve as the basis of "I can, through Christ," we will fail to avail ourselves of the powerful work of enabling grace provided by the indwelling Holy Spirit.  Indeed, the Christian life involves not Christ alone, or ourselves alone, but rather the Spirit of the Lord Jesus walking in us so that we might walk through Him.

    "I will dwell in them and walk in them" (II Corinthians 6:16).
    "Walk ye in Him" (Colossians 2:6).

    I recall a discussion with a young lady who struggled with some of Scripture's lofty commands, as we all do at times.  "I just can't do them!," she cried.  I told her that I fully understood the challenge she faced, and that she was half right in her cry of futility.  "It is true that apart from the Lord Jesus, you cannot obey God's commands."  I let that thought sink in, and then continued.  "However, the truth of the matter is that as a born again Christian, you are not apart from the Lord Jesus.  No, He dwells in you by His Spirit to enable all faithfulness and godliness.  He lives in you so that you may live and walk through Him.  Therefore, let your true and proper "I can't" serve as the springboard of faith: "I can, through Christ!"

    The New Testament epistles state this blessed duality of Truth throughout their pages, both directly and implicitly.  We must affirm the same in heart and mind, humbly acknowledging our weakness even as we confidently affirm the power of God present and active in our hearts.  The proud will sneer at this Scriptural light as it strikes at the heart of self-sufficiency.  The passive will find it decidedly uncomfortable as it forbids excuses for unbelief and disobedience.  "I can't."  This is true, but it is not the full and final ray of light in so vital a matter as faithfulness to God.  "I can, through Christ!"  Such a gift of grace completes the understanding that must guide our lives in both time, even as it will in eternity.  Thereby our Lord saves us from both pride and passivity, and thereby a far more consistent relationship with Him blesses our lives with the joy of faith and faithfulness.

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

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

"One. Three"

A decidedly monotheistic Bible nevertheless pluralistically refers to God as the Scriptures begin their revelation of man's existence and nature.   

"And God said, Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness" (Genesis 1:26).   

Note the significance of this statement.  One God speaks, but refers to Himself in triune terms: Us, Our, Our.  Thus, in the Biblical introduction of man, the Holy Spirit provides the greater and more important introduction of the nature and being of man's Creator.  Our Lord exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God dwelling in and as three distinct persons and personalities.  Scripture, unapologetically proclaims the truth, never seeking to explain as it affirms the Divine plurality existing in the Divine unity.    "To us there is but one God, the Father" (I Corinthians 8:6).    "Unto the Son He saith, Thy throne, o God, is forever and ever" (Hebrews 1:8).    "God is a Spirit" (John 4:24).   

The fact that "God is love" requires His plurality (I John 4:8).  Indeed, the Lord has always been as He is - "I am the Lord, I change not" (Malachi 3:6).  By definition, love "seeketh not her own," that is, love must have an object other than itself in order to exist and express itself (I Corinthians 13:5).  Thus, before the creation of angels and humans, the unchanging God required a recipient of His giving essence.  This He possessed in Himself.  The three Persons of the Godhead gave and received to and from each other, even as the Lord Jesus Christ declared to His Father, "O Father, glorify thou Me with Thine own self with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was... Thou lovedst Me before the foundation of the world" (John 17:5; 24).  The love of God is, in fact, the very essence of reality.  When nothing else existed, one God did, one Lord dwelling as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in a sublime and pristine glory of otherness and devotion to one another.     

No truth more illuminates our hearts and minds, and no truth more escorts us to the brink of mystery.  The beauty of Triune glory presents to our minds a conundrum of perplexity.  How can One be Three, and Three, One?  Whenever this question comes to mind, I tend to smile and think of what the Lord might say if we could directly ask this question.  "How could One not be Three, and Three, One?," He might suggest.  "How could an egg exist merely as a shell, rather than its three components comprising one delicious edition of your breakfast this morning?  Or how could a single ray of light be composed of anything less than light, heat, and ultraviolet constituents?"     

Fullness of faith does not require fullness of understanding.  The Bible declares God to exist as a "He" and as an "Us."  This is truth.  This is essence.  This is reality.  This is what, or rather, Who, existed when nothing else did.  Let us bow to worship the Father, through the person and merits of the Son, as led and empowered by the Holy Spirit.  Yes, let us bow to worship this one God, dwelling in and as three glorious and wondrous Persons.

"Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord."(Deuteronomy 6:4 )        

Monday, August 26, 2013


    Many years ago, a sitting American president redefined one of the most elemental words in the English language in order to escape impeachment and removal from office.  When asked about a false statement he had made, the man responded, "It depends on what you mean by 'is'." 

      I am reminded of another redefinition of terms by a political leader, a ruler who also sought to avoid the threat of Truth.

Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, inquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found Him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship Him also" (Matthew 2:7-8).

    Herod, of course, had no intention to worship, unless one redefines terminology to include murder as an expression of devotion to God.  This cannot be done in real terms, but every person can decide for himself whether he will accept the norm of language and the meaning of words.  Moreover, people like kings and presidents influence others when they redefine commonly accepted definitions, always to the harm of their community and culture.  In Herod's case, the Lord Jesus Christ was ultimately murdered in the name of worship - "
The time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service" (John 16:2).  In the case of the aforementioned president, well, it's harder than ever to know what politicians and governmental leaders mean by their pronouncements since the man redefined "is."

    This causes me to think of born again believers, and our relationship with words, particularly, God's words.  "Every word of God is pure" (Proverbs 30:5).  How careful are we with Scripture?  Few more important questions relate to our relationship with the Lord Jesus.  What does the Bible actually say about the issues of life?  Do we hold opinions, viewpoints, and convictions based upon clearly reasoned and researched content and meaning of words, verses, passages, and chapters?  Or, as I try to keep much in mind, "Have I considered the Biblical teaching of particular matters well enough to legitimately hold an opinion about them?" (boy, I wish I'd never thought of that question!).  The consequences of linguistic distortions by kings and presidents pale in comparison to our errors.  Indeed, their detours from Truth merely affect matters of time.  The detours of believers, however, affect eternity.  "
The things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal" (II Corinthians 4:18).

    "What does the Bible actually say?"  We should write the question on the flyleaf of our copy of Scripture.  We should type it onto an often viewed computer screen.  We should put a business card bearing the inscription in our wallet or purse.  Most of all, we should deeply etch the question into our hearts and minds.  Words matter, particularly God's words.  Meaning exists, real and clearly defined meaning.  "Is" means is.  And our lives and eternity are affected by how well we ask and seek answers to the great spiritual and moral question of our existence.  "What does the Bible actually say?"

"Thy Word is truth."
(John 17:17)
Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not; but have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God" (II Corinthians 4:1-2)

Friday, August 23, 2013

"In All Our Tribulation"

    The piercing of our Lord's heart on the cross of Calvary speaks to His perfect identification with "the feeling of our infirmities" (John 19:34; Hebrews 4:15).

     Aching and breaking hearts find the Lord Jesus Christ drawing near with complete understanding, identification, and empathy.  He "comforteth us in all our tribulation" because He perfectly knows what and how we feel when the swords of our lives thrust into the depths of our being (II Corinthians 1:4).  The blades come in many sizes, many shapes, and many degrees of keenness and ferocity.  All hurt, and some pierce so deeply and with such violence that we cannot imagine the possibility of recovery from the wounds inflicted.  Indeed, we may feel as did the prophet: "
For these things I weep; mine eye, mine eye runneth down with water, because the comforter that should relieve my soul is far from me: my children are desolate, because the enemy prevailed" (Lamentations 1:16). 

     The truth of the matter is that our Comforter is not far from us at all, but rather more near than ever as "a very present help in trouble" (Psalm 46:1). In such times, however, we may seem to have but a mustard seed of faith to plant concerning God's ability to apply comforting balm and salve to our bleeding soul.  We may well feel as if overwhelming sorrow will always be our portion, and that the sword will never be removed.  Thankfully, that mustard seed is all that our Heavenly Father requires in order to bring forth an abundant harvest of comfort in the heart of the child who casts his offering into soil that itself may seem fallow and lifeless.  In such times, we might pray...

    "Heavenly Father, I do not see how You can comfort me.  I don't know how You can remove the sword that presently pierces my heart.  But I choose to believe that You can, and that You will.  I believe that You know the pain I feel, and that somehow You abide therein.  And I believe that You are wise enough, strong enough, loving enough, and present enough to comfort me.  I have but this tiny seed, Father.  But I believe it will be enough to receive a portion of redeeming life far beyond any balm I can imagine.  I thank You, and I look to You as the Comforter You are, and who You promise to be.

    The One who made our hearts can heal the wounds that pierce our hearts.  This is the Truth, and our experience thereof awaits our choice to believe in the God who, again, "comforteth us in all our tribulation."

I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever."
(John 14:16)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

"In the Flames"

    Several years ago, Frances and I came into possession of a taped recording of a church service we attended on January 23, 1977.  The tape is very special to us because after the service, Frances and I realized that the Lord had purposes for us other than being friends.  Yes, on that night, we begin to court (some of our younger readers may require that I define this term!).

    I've listened to the recording again in the last several days, trying to imagine the scene, and also what we were thinking and feeling during the service.  As always, I'm most intrigued by verses the preacher highlighted in his message, namely, Ephesians 3:20-21:

      "Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end, Amen."

     Frances and I took this passage as the life verse for our marriage and family.  Interestingly, however, this commitment came a good while after the service in which our pastor focused on the Apostle Paul's statement.  When we found the tape so many years later, we were surprised and blessed to discover the emphasis on the verses.  We hadn't recalled the preacher's message when we later determined that the Ephesians passage would serve as our guiding light.  So, discovering that he had highlighted the verses on the very night we began to realize God's will for our life together gave us chill bumps and yet another confirmation of the shared path to which He called us.

     I share this for the purpose of emphasizing the wonderful promise and assurance of God's provision, as declared by Paul.  Our Lord is not merely able to accomplish what we perceive our needs to involve.  His capacity rather extends "exceeding, abundantly above" our very capacity to "ask or think."  The pastor's message mentioned the experience of 
Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, the Hebrew names of those young men better known as the Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednigo.  These servants of God experienced a fiery furnace because they wouldn't compromise their faith and devotion to Him (Daniel 3).  Rather than deliver them from the flames, their Heavenly Father delivered these trusting young men in the flames.  The Lord Jesus Christ Himself met them therein, thus accomplishing an "exceeding abundantly above" revelation of grace far beyond anything mere deliverance from could have provided. 

     We might well remember and affirm the Lord's working in the young mens' lives had He doused the flames, and we might benefit by the encouragement of God's mighty ability to deliver.  However, a far greater illumination and promise blesses us in the truth that our Lord often purposes to meet us in our trials.  When He does this, we can be sure that He determines a blessedness far beyond our imaginings.  Indeed, right now we all likely have challenges for which the only answer seems extrication.  That's as far as our asking and thinking can go.  Our Heavenly Father, however, knows His ability to bless us in far greater measure than delivering us from our trial.  His imaginings, as it were, extend to "exceeding, abundantly above" because they require a far greater display of wisdom and power as God delivers us in our trial.  "
In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them" (Isaiah 63:9).

     The experience of such presence and grace requires our confidence that such Truth is, in fact, true.  The story of the young men's fiery trial appears in Scripture to meet us in those furnaces of life where "the angel of His presence" awaits with an exceedingly abundant deliverance.  By faith, we will know our Lord no less - and perhaps even more - than did our brethren of old.  Long ago, on a night when two paths converged into one, our Heavenly Father began to show us that He is that present, that able, that willing, and that loving.  Never has He disappointed us.  And never will He.

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

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

"The Wind In His Fists"   

Frances and I are throwbacks to previous generations.  Indeed, I often wonder why we weren't born in the 1920s rather than the 1950s.  This especially concerns our spiritual perspectives and practices.  Our beliefs are based on traditional doctrinal understandings, we attempt to speak and write accordingly, and we mostly sing the old hymns of the faith in the services we conduct (the one exception to our old-fashioned ways involves our being computer geeks, especially in the case of Frances, whose very presence intimidates and commands computers to behave themselves and do her bidding without question!  "Yes, your Majesty!").  Moreover, these devotionals evidence the one exception to our proclivities since you receive them by email rather than the USPS (does it still exist, by the way?).   

Actually, I know why we'reprogrammed (there's that pesky, new-fangled computer stuff again!) in this way.  A significant portion of our ministry, about half, takes place in retirement communities and nursing facilities.  We primarily encounter senior adults in our services, that is, people whose sensibilities and experiences mostly hearken back to previous generations.  These folks tend to share our viewpoints and ways of doing things, especially as it relates to church and spiritual matters.  We're therefore a pretty good fit together, and this brings me to the reason I write this, namely, that our Heavenly Father is a very good "Fitter," as it were.   

"God... worketh all things after the counsel of His own will" (Ephesians 1:3; 11).   

Our Heavenly Father exists as the great coordinator of all things.  Indeed, He is so lovingly, intimately, and powerfully involved in His creation that He can ordain real freedom in both angels and humans, see them misuse it, but nevertheless fit all things into His "eternal purpose in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 3:11).  How does He do this?  It takes a far more foolish mind than even my own to believe that an understandable answer to this question exists.  Of this we can be sure: for those who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and love God by Him, "all things work together for good" (Romans 8:28).  Our lives, which so often seem like the strange and misshapen forms of a billion piece jigsaw puzzle, are actually the components of a Divine purpose we may never understand, but which we can trust with complete and joyful confidence.  So, when some of us wonder why we were seemingly born out of season, for example, we may discover even in this lifetime the "Why?" of God's ways.     

Some questions, however, await answers only to be discovered only when we reach the shores of another place, and the dimensions of another time.  Our Father does not always explain His perfect coordination.  We wouldn't understand even if He tried.  "Who hath gathered the wind in His fists?" cried Agur, the writer of the 30th Proverb.  His response?  "Surely I am more brutish than any man, and have not the understanding of a man. I neither learned wisdom, nor have the knowledge of the Holy" (Proverbs 30:1-2).  I think this is one of Scripture's wisest statements.  Dear Agur knew that he could never know God's gathering of such things as the wind.  Nor can we know how our Lord gathers the components of our lives in order to fit them into a perfect and Christ-united whole of God's glory.  We can know that He will, however, and we must believe accordingly.  Moreover, we must trust that the unanswered "Whys?" of this hour serve the purposes of the Great Coordinator who does indeed gather both seasonal and unseasonal winds in His fists for perfect purposes, born out of perfect love.  

"His understanding is infinite."(Psalm 147:5)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

"Bruised Toes"

"I'm trying to find a church and a preacher who won't be too tough on me."   

The dear lady honestly expressed her desire to avoid spiritual challenge as we considered her possible attendance at one of our services.  I couldn't help but smile in response.  We're all tempted to want coddling rather than exhortation. 

"I understand how you feel, "Ma'am," I said.  "However, the truth of the matter is that we need preachers and teachers to step on our toes a bit if they are to be of real benefit to us."   

"Preach the Word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine" (II Timothy 4:2).   

The faithful communicator of God's truth illuminates, encourages, and challenges, as led and enabled by the Holy Spirit.  He serves as a lamp of Divine light, revealing the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Thereby, hope presents itself to human hearts, that is, the assurance that Christ is whatever we need Him to be concerning redemption and the living of a godly life of faithfulness and peace.  Such light and encouragement then calls us to the crossroad of decision.  Will we trust and submit ourselves to the Lord Jesus, experiencing the redeeming consequences thereof?  Or will we disbelieve and reject Him?  The genuine preacher or teacher does not fail to warn us of the dire result that ensues when we turn away from the Lord rather than unto Him.  "To be carnally minded is death" (Romans 8:6).   

Of course, God's called servants walk to their pulpits with bruised feet themselves, as it were.  Their study and preparation to speak means that their own toes have felt the pressure of warning and exhortation.  Thus, they do not deliver their challenge in  "holier than thou" arrogance or self importance.  They rather illuminate, encourage, and challenge in the humility of heart that frequently elicits the request, "Search me, o God, and know myheart.  Try me and know mythoughts" (Psalm 139:23; emphasis added).  Indeed, let us not waste our time or jeopardize our walk with the Lord by exposing ourselves to any communicator who does not exhort, but who does not also give clear indication that he has himself been the subject of his Master's exhortation. 

"Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears."(Acts 20:28-31)

Monday, August 19, 2013

"Kept... To Keep"

Assured of his eternal Heavenly salvation - "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I've committed to Him against that day" - the Apostle Paul could not be certain that a lifetime of earthly faithfulness would characterize his walk with God - "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" (II Timothy1:12; I Corinthians 9:27).    

The Lord Jesus Christ faithfully secured Paul in His redeemed flock, as He does all who receive His free gift of eternal life.  God charged Paul, however, with keeping his body under submission, that is, the Lord called the Apostle to serve as steward of his humanity by consistently remembering, affirming, and acting upon the truth that his body belonged not to himself, but to his God.  The same mandate of determined participation in a faithful earthly life also applies to all believers.   

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to His abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (I Peter 1:3-5).   

"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service" (Romans 12:1).   

Thankfully, we know that Paul did in fact finish his course, remaining faithful to the end through the power of the Spirit of Christ (II Timothy 4:7-8).  As was the case with our brother of old, however, we do not know that we ourselves will join him in a lifetime of faithfulness.  We can be sure of a salvation kept by Christ, again, as Paul knew.  Our application of such grace during our earthly lifetime, however, remains a daily adventure and challenge.  Our spiritual enemies seek to discourage and sidetrack us.  They possess the means to do so.  They cannot take our salvation from us, because to do would require them to somehow prevent the securing work of our heavenly High Priest, who "ever liveth to make intercession for us" (Hebrews7:25).  Our enemies can, however, sidetrack the present life of faithfulness to which our Heavenly Father calls us.  "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour" (I Peter 5:8).      

A relationship kept by God makes possible an ongoing fellowship and faithfulness with God.  The relationship is sure.  The experience of fellowship and faithfulness is not.  We wouldn't want it any other way.  Indeed, if salvation required our efforts to access and maintain, no human being could attain the perfection required.  Conversely, if the living of the Christian life did not require our passionate participation and trusting submission to God, no human being would find relationship with the Lord Jesus meaningful or real.   Our Heavenly Father constituted us as persons rather than robots or computers.  No mere programmed machine could glorify Him in the manner believers accomplish, as led and enabled by the Holy Spirit.  Nor could we truly experience life apart from the vital freedom whereby love is real, choices matter, and consequences, whether positive or negative, always ensue from our innermost determinations.  "I will love Thee, o Lord my strength" declared the Psalmist who well knew the necessity of both his "I will," and God's "strength" (Psalm18:1).  We must know the same, rejoicing in the gift of being kept by our Savior.  Upon the basis of such mercy, we then devote ourselves to keeping under submission our human capacities and faculties by deliberately availing ourselves of God's abiding presence and power.  We are kept, as it were, in order to keep.  Indeed, a growing understanding of "kept" makes possible and actual a growing experience of "keep."  

"Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen."(Jude 1:24-25)

"Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life."(Jude 1:21)

Friday, August 16, 2013

"Of Song, and Of Singing"

(For Stefan and Vicki.  May your life together be blessed with music from Above, and with the One whose love gives so great a gift.)

    A very special couple, whose wedding I will conduct later this month, presented to me a ukulele as an expression of appreciation (of course, they perhaps should have waited until after the ceremony to be sure that a gift is in order!).  I had been given a ukulele many years ago that had broken as I began to learn it, and mentioned to the groom in passing that I'd someday like to try the instrument again.  Unbeknownst to me, he and his fiancee graciously took my comment as a cue.  I was blessed, surprised, and delighted by Stefan and Vicki's kindness, or as I said to them, "You shouldn't have done this!  But I'm glad you did!"

    I love the prospect of learning a new instrument.  Having come to music somewhat behind schedule (in my late 20s), I discovered some wonderful Biblical and life lessons in the adventure and the challenge.

1.  Rome wasn't built in a day, or as the Bible declares of itself and our quest to know its truth, "
For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little" (Isaiah 28:10).  While some learn to play instruments more rapidly than others, everyone must learn by a process of time, discipline, and practice (there may be exceptions to this among people with autism, some who seem miraculously gifted to pick up an instrument and immediately play with virtuosity).  Step by step provides the way to musical proficiency, as it does in a growing walk with the Lord, loving relationship with people, and just about anything worth being and doing in this life.

2.  Music, like so many things in life, involves both the both the technical and the transcendental.  Facts must be learned, skills cultivated, and dexterity developed to play any musical instrument.  It also helps to learn some music theory, although many musicians play without the deeper understanding of music's heart and soul.  At the end of the day, however, much happens in the performance of an instrument that cannot be comprehended or explained.  The sum is far greater than its parts, as it were.  Indeed, whether in performance or in listening, every honest soul must admit that music touches a place in our hearts far beyond understanding and explanation.

      This truth about music speaks to our worship of God, which must be "in Spirit and in truth" (John 4:24).  In His Word, our Lord gave to us facts, principles, and doctrines that can be rationally understood, at least to some degree and measure.  "With all thy getting, get understanding" (Proverbs 4:7).  It remains true, however, that the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ also comprises realities far beyond mere mental and rational inquiry.  He "dwells in the light which no man can approach unto" (I Timothy 6:16).  God is a Person, three Persons dwelling in One actually.  Moreover, He is infinite in His being and understanding.  To know Him thus reveals that we can never fully know Him.  The greatest and most technically skilled musicians would say the same of their art and craft.

3.  Music confirms the existence of God.  Space does not permit an explanation of this premise.  Allow me simply to suggest, respectfully, that I marvel that anyone who knows and performs music can fail to realize the truth that man could not have created this sublime union of art and craft.  Indeed, I am far more puzzled by the existence of atheist and agnostic musicians than I am by the existence of God.  The truth of the matter is that music is His sublime creation, constituted in us for the glory of the Lord Jesus, and for the especially beautiful expression of God's goodness revealed unto and within us.  Melody, harmony, rhythm, tempo, and the "greater sum" of inexplicable wonder and loveliness speak to our hearts of other dimensions, realities, and most of all, of another Heart and Mind.

4.  Finally, and this is personal, music speaks of God's working and coordinating all things together for His glory, and our good.  As mentioned, I found music - or it found me - far beyond the normal schedule.  Indeed, had you told me when I was 27 that the next 28 years would involve playing, performing, and singing in thousands of services and meetings, I would not have believed it.  Nor would have I have imagined writing music and songs.  Perhaps most of all, I wouldn't have thought that the singing Frances and I previously and privately performed in the car together was a prelude to the countless duets we have enjoyed singing publicly during the last few decades.  "Not possible" would have been my response all those years ago to such a notion.

     "With God, all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26).  The Lord, of course, knew how our ministry would develop over the years (or more literally, how He would develop it).  So, I truly believe He led me to Andy's Music Store that day in August, 1985, where the purchase of my first guitar opened a door of life we didn't even know existed.  It has been such a benefit to be able to lead music and sing, as well as preach and teach.  We don't have to haul around a song leader.  No, Frances just hauls me and my guitar around, and the three of us, by the grace of God, can do what we need to do! :)  I can't imagine now how it could have been any other way, and the truth of the matter is that it couldn't have.  "A man's heart deviseth his way.  But the Lord directeth his steps" (Proverbs 16:9).

    A few more thoughts.  The very title of this devotional originates with our music, namely, in a song I wrote for Frances on her birthday many years ago.  The title, "Orange Moon," became the banner under which we conduct the entirety of our ministry.  Certainly, we might well have written and published a devotional that bore another title.  But to us, it just wouldn't have been the same.  Indeed, when I think of how many notes and even phone calls I have received from you folks over the years after you've seen an orange moon rising in the sky, I bow my head and give thanks.  Even more, when I think of our children being away from us in faraway places (places like Iraq, Great Britain, and NYC), it brings tears to my eyes as I remember them saying, "Mom, Dad, I saw an orange moon tonight.  And I thought about you."

     Finally, I have been given the privilege all these years of singing with my favorite singer.  I'll get in trouble with her if I write too much, but suffice it to say that the Lord somehow built into Frances's voice an ethereal reverb that will take you to another place, another wonderful place, if you listen carefully enough.  So often when singing with her (and by the way, with Steve and Jack also who have blessed us with their gifts by often performing with us.  Thanks, gentlemen), I want to stop and just listen.  You do need a melody, I guess, but maybe the greatest joy of God's surprising gift of music to my heart and life is that it has provided so much opportunity to hear His beautiful voice in the beautiful voice of my wife.  "
Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favor of the LORD" (Proverbs 18:22).

    Thank you, Stefan and Vicki.  I will cherish your gift, and I will learn to play it!  And thank You, Lord, our musical God who made such a gift of song, and of singing.  How glorious You must be, and how lovely Your heart to have imagined and created so sublime a blessing for Your children. 

I will sing unto the LORD as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have my being."
(Psalm 104:33)

Thursday, August 15, 2013

"A Special Dispensation"

    Recently, I heard a radio weatherman report that our area faced a "60% risk of rain."

    Risk?  I'm familiar with a "chance" of rain predicted in percentages.  I've never, however, heard the possibility of rain reported in terms of portending peril.  Indeed, under normal circumstances, I don't tend to think of rain in terms of danger.  The people of Noah's generation might disagree with me, but I nevertheless find the weatherman's choice of terms to be a bit unusual.  It is true that we live in the wettest city in the United States, a locale where even times of drought find us experiencing more rainfall than most places receive in a normal year.  The citizens of Mobile, Alabama nevertheless do not perceive rain to be a dangerous thing, again, under normal circumstances.  Injecting terms of fear, of "risk," into the discussion therefore seems misleading when considered in real meteorological terms.

Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompense; He will come and save you" (Isaiah 35:4).

    The rhetoric of born again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ comprises a vital aspect of our walk of faith.  The God who has given to us "the Spirit of.... power, of love, and of a sound mind" would have us communicate assurance and courage to each other (II Timothy 1:7).  We are often tempted, however, to commiserate rather than comfort.  Certainly, we live in a world of challenge, trouble, and possibilities of peril.  Even more, however, we live in the security of being "hid with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3).  Nothing can approach us that has not been determined or allowed by our Heavenly Father.  Whether He secures the hedges that guard us, or at times allows a breach for enemies to traverse, God fits all together for the glory of His Son and our good (Romans 8:28).  Thus, as we consider challenges to come, or challenges at hand, we do well to encourage each other with the single greatest truth about every trial...

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

    Present both with and within us always, our Lord is "very" present in our difficulties.  His children's peril draws a special dispensation of His presence.  We may not feel it, and appearances may seem to belie the Truth.  Nevertheless, our Father so waits to meet us in our tempests that we can accurately speak in terms of confident assurance concerning them all.  We can survive and even thrive in anything so long as the Lord Jesus fulfills the promise of His presence - "I am with you always" - and we can be sure that He always will (Matthew 28:20).  This we must believe if we are to experience His special dispensation of being "very" with us in trouble, discovering that the appearance of risk actually indicates the reality of God's presence.  As Isaiah commanded, let us say this to each other.  Because it is true.

Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; who comforteth us in all our tribulation."
(II Corinthians 1:3-4)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

"So Good a God, So Good a Man"

    Our memory verse this week speaks to the truth that the Lord Jesus Christ experienced temptation in His human rather than His Divine nature.  "God cannot be tempted with evil" (James 1:13).

    Of course, we tread on thin ice when we attempt to understand or explain the mystery that "God was manifest in the flesh" (I Timothy 3:16).  Divinity and humanity perfectly unite in the Lord Jesus.  How this "hypostatic union" (as termed by theologians) exists and how it functions will likely forever remain an enigma in our finite minds.  Our Savior is no less God because He is man, and no less man because He is God.  As we often suggest, there is no one like Him in both Heaven and earth, and God alone fathoms how His Son can dwell as man without compromising His deity, and as God without instantly obliterating His human soul and body.

The Jews answered Him, saying, For a good work we stone Thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that Thou, being a man, makest Thyself God" (John 10:33).
Will God indeed dwell on the earth?  Behold, the heaven and Heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee!" (I Kings 8:27).

    Regarding our current consideration, James' definitive statement that "God cannot be tempted with evil" allows us to know with certainty that the Lord Jesus faced temptation as a man.  Many pathways of thought proceed from this wonder of humility and condescension.  The truth, however, that most touches my heart involves the fact that our Savior knows from personal experience what it feels like to be tempted.  He never succumbed, of course, but He fully knows the pressure of thoughts, feelings, and yearnings contrary to the glory and will of God.  In fact, He knows such challenge far more than anyone else because only of Christ can it be said that He "was in all points tempted" (Hebrews 4:15; emphasis added).  The Lord Jesus experienced the full gamut of human temptation, and even more, He knew the sacrifice involved in overcoming conflicting sensibilities to the godliness of His character, nature, and way.  Indeed, "Yes!" affirmed to God always involves a "No!" directed toward some fleshly experience that offers a real, if fleeting, momentary pleasure.  "
By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season" (Hebrews 11:24-25).

    This is written as an offering of appreciation toward so good a God, and so good a Man.  Yes, in both Heaven and earth, there is no one like the Lord Jesus.  The more we know and ponder the extent of His sacrifice for us, the more we will love, trust, and seek to honor and obey Him in all things.  This is life, for "to live is Christ" (Philippians 1:21).  And this is mystery, because the more we know of Christ, the more we realize how little of Him we can fathom.  A long eternity awaits the trusting heart, beckoning us to journey ever further into the Mystery, wherein glorious illumination graces us with Christ Jesus, the Wonder of all wonders...

For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."
(II Corinthians 4:6)
"We have not an High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin."
(Hebrews 4:15)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

"Wise and Harmless"

     I once knew a gentleman, a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, who felt as if he had to directly inject the subject of God into every conversation (and sometimes it seemed, every sentence or paragraph).  This was especially true in the company of unbelievers, creating many awkward and uncomfortable situations in which more harm than good seemed to result as the gentleman's manner hindered and misrepresented his message.

    "Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves" (Matthew 10:16).
    "The servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle unto all men" (II Timothy 2:24).

     Countless opportunities to speak of Christ and His gospel present themselves throughout our lifetime.  The Apostle Paul calls us to "preach the Word; be instant in season, out of season" (II Timothy 2:4).  Such readiness and willingness does not mean, however, that we must artificially create environments and atmospheres of communication.  Indeed, few aspects of the Christian life more require the leadership and enabling of the Holy Spirit than our bearing witness of the Lord Jesus.  How easily we can misrepresent Him, in either message or manner.  No less than Paul requested prayer "that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly" (Ephesians 6:19).  Such a request indicates that the Apostle knew his need for both proper words - "utterance" - and the fearless motivation to "boldly" share them when and as given by the Lord.  Moreover, just as our brother of old trusted the Lord rather than himself in the matter of sharing Christ, so must we follow in the path of faith and dependence.  "Without Me, ye can do nothing" (John 15:5).

    The Holy Spirit works within us to prepare and execute our communication of God's saving grace in the Lord Jesus.  He does so in a wisdom and knowledge far beyond human means.  We do not know what those to whom we witness need to hear.  We do know, however, our need to be led of the Spirit in order to make our words effectual rather than meaningless or perhaps even harmful to the cause of Christ.  In so vital a matter as representing the Lord Jesus, we must never merely speak in to order to be speaking.  We rather trust His leadership and enabling, resulting in a witness never forced, misdirected, or inappropriate to the circumstances of the moment.  Yes, the Faithful and True Witness Himself dwells and walks within us by His Spirit (Revelation 3:14).  We can rely on our Lord to give many opportunities to speak words for Him, as originated and empowered by Him.

When the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, He shall testify of Me: and ye also shall bear witness."
(John 15:26-27)

Monday, August 12, 2013

"The Faithful God"

    God's doings proceed from His being.  The character, nature, and person of His heart account for the actions, activities and accomplishments of His hand.

And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is His name? what shall I say unto them?  And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and He said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you" (Exodus 3:13-14).
The LORD is righteous in all His ways, and holy in all His works" (Psalm 145:7).

    The "Who" and "What" of God perfectly and eternally align.  Our Lord never acts in opposition to His righteousness and holiness, thus establishing the basis of our confidence, and the reason we can safely "trust in the Lord with all thy heart" (Proverbs 3:5; emphasis added).  Without reserve, the convicted sinner can come to the Lord Jesus Christ in full assurance that "by grace are ye saved through faith" (Ephesians 2:8).  Moreover, the converted saint can walk with God in full assurance of empowerment to a life of faithful godliness as the indwelling Spirit of Christ fulfills His sublime promise, "I will dwell in them, and walk in them" (II Corinthians 6:16).

    In no one else can we trust "with all thy heart."  Certainly, we all know consistently faithful and trustworthy people, that is, those devoted to a life of responsibility to God and others.  We give thanks for such noble hearts.  We do not, however, expect perfection from anyone other than the Lord.  He alone will always be who and what He is, and He alone will always act in the pristine perfection that originates in His character, nature, and person.  "
Know therefore that the LORD thy God, He is God, the faithful God" (Deuteronomy 7:9).

    There is Someone to trust.  There is Someone who will be tomorrow who He is today, and who will be today who He was yesterday.  There is Someone to whom we can vouchsafe our hearts with complete and utter abandon.  There is Someone whose every promise will be fulfilled, and whose every word is spoken in truth.  There is Someone whose heart always guides His hand, and whose hand always fulfills the intentions of His heart.  There is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the faithful God.  Yes, we can entrust time and eternity to Him, and we can entrust to Him this moment, whatever it may hold.  Because no one has ever trusted in this, the faithful God, and been disappointed for doing so.  And no one ever will.

And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and He that sat upon him was called Faithful and True."
(Revelation 19:11)

Friday, August 9, 2013

"The Good Shepherd"

    Every human being needs a shepherd, and only One exists who will suffice.

    "I am the Good Shepherd; the Good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep" (John 10:11).

    God made our hearts to serve as the dwellingplace of the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Thus, He shepherds us from within, dwelling and walking in us as the very Life of our lives (II Corinthians 6:16).  All others who attempt to occupy the sanctum of our spirits lead us to misery, destruction, and a bitter present and end.  "All that ever came before Me are thieves and robbers" (John 10:8).

    Note the completely different quality of character between the Good Shepherd and those who seek to usurp His role.  He sacrifices His very life for us; the others seek to fleece and shear us of our wool.  In simple terms, our Lord is sublimely unselfish to a measure and degree beyond all imagining.  The "thieves and robbers," conversely, selfishly use us for their own purposes (while almost always falsely promising benefits and blessings in exchange for our devotion).  The Former perpetually governs us for our benefit, working "all things together for good" (Romans 8:28).  The latter concern themselves with their own belly, or other self-interested motivations that would instantly repel us if we could see into those dark hearts that sometimes shine as "an angel of light" (II Corinthians 11:14). 

    The unselfish nature of the Good Shepherd comprises the very heart of His character, nature, and way.  A long eternity will not allow full disclosure and discovery of His altruistic goodness.  Imagine, a Being exists who has never acted selfishly, nor who will ever do so during the "from everlasting to everlasting" duration of His existence.  He does not think selfishly, He does not feel selfishly, no selfish attitude every motivates or sullies His disposition, and He loves with such self sacrificial caring that wounds permanently etch His hands, feet and side.  Even His wrath speaks of character beyond our comprehension.  What kind of Heart creates other beings with the freedom to reject Him?  A selfish God would have made and programmed robots.  The living and true God, however, created human hearts with a personal freedom that will certainly lead to terrible consequences for those who misuse their liberty, but which nevertheless references the mystery of His loving nature and way.

    "The Good Shepherd giveth..."  Perhaps this incomplete phrasing of our Lord's statement about Himself most clearly makes the point we seek to propose.  We are governed by a Giver if we have believed.  Thus, our hearts are safe forevermore in His care, and safe in this moment.  This is peace, the peace of dwelling in the pastures of the shepherd, the Good Shepherd.

Psalm 23

    The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.  He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.  He leadeth me beside the still waters.  He restoreth my soul.  He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake.  Yea, thou I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.  For Thou art with me, Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.  Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.  Thou anoinest my head with oil, my cup runneth over.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."

Thursday, August 8, 2013

"Vessels of Mercy"

    Seeking to inculcate bitterness in born again believers occupies a great deal of Satan's time and energy.

    "To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ; lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices" (II Corinthians 2:10-11).
Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath. Neither give place to the devil" (Ephesians 4:26-27).

     The serpent infects us with a spiritually paralyzing venom when we allow him to inject us with resentment and unforgiveness toward those who offend us.  The mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ provides the only antidote,beginning with thremembrance of how much for which we ourselves have been granted pardon.  Indeed, the sins of others toward us pale in comparison to our offenses toward the Savior.  As in His parable of the debtor servants, our obligation to God involves a vast fortune.  Conversely,  small is the debt, relatively speaking, of 
those who may owe us apology and/or restitution  (Matthew 18:21-35).  Let us recall that God's beloved Son was tortured to death and forsaken on the cross of Calvary for our sins.  From the wounds inflicted thereupon, forgiving and redeeming pardon enveloped us when we believed. Remembering such mercy received establishes the basis for mercy bestowed.

     Overcoming the temptation to bitterness also involves the aforementioned truth that the enemy of our souls always plays a role in the challenge.  "I forgave... lest Satan should get an advantage of us" declared the ApostlePaul.  Moreover, Paul taught that wrath allowed to fester in us beyond the setting of the sun provides opportunity to the devil.  Thefailure to forgive involves not only the weakness of human flesh, but also the wickedness of Satanic attacks upon the realized love of Christ in our hearts.  Ongoing bitterness indicates that we believe the devilish lies of one in whom there is no truth, as opposed to trusting the Word of the God who "cannot lie" (John 8:44; Titus 1:2).  Certainly,the recognition of a lying devil's involvement inmatters of unforgiveness helps motivate us regarding the overcoming of bitterness toward others.  "Wwrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places" (Ephesians 6:12).
    Finally, the mercy we have received fromGod is now His mercy revealed in us by theindwelling Holy Spirit. 

    "The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us" (Romans 5:5). 

    It matters not how strongly we may feel the inclination to remain in unforgiveness and bitterness. The love of God in us transcends the power of the world, the devil, and the flesh.  Through Christ, we can bestow pardon and blessing on our offenders.  "Greater is He that is in you than He that is in the world" (I John 4:4).  This we must believe about God and about ourselves in order to honor Him, to maintain our experience of His peace in our hearts, and to effect reconciliation with those offenders who respond to our bestowal of grace.  Thereby, the works of Satan crash on the rocks of God's truth as our Lord enables us to know and practice the truth of being His"vessels of mercy" (Romans 9:23).  Few more important aspects of Christ's presence and working grace our trusting hearts, and fewtruths more instill in us the realization of His salvation freely bestowed upon us and within us when we believed.

"Freely ye have received, freely give."
(Matthew 8:10)

"Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you."
(Ephesians 4:31-32)

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

"Corporal Education"

    My recollections of my father are few.  He died when I was two, and I sometimes wonder if the supposed memories I have of him actually involve things people told me about him. 

    The one episode that does seem etched in my heart and mind concerns a day when my father entered our living room and found me playing with the electrical cord of our television set.  He immediately removed me from the danger, and proceeded to, shall we say, "educate" me about the perils of electricity.  His lesson was more corporal than verbal, and to this day I still have a very healthy respect for electricity.

    I've always suspected that some might think it sad that the only real memory of my father involves such a disciplinary moment.  I don't view it that way at all.  No, it seems to me that my dad's inflicting of pain for the purpose of education confirms to me the measure and degree of his love for me.  Indeed, some lessons are not learned by the hearing of words, but rather by the experience of consequences.

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

    We live in a generation that ignores and even rejects the obvious truth that choices and actions lead to consequences.  The resultant destruction of such willful blindness screams at us at every day, and born again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ do well to swim against the spiritual and moral tide that drowns so many.  Yes, God loves us enough to ensure that "whatsoever a  man soweth, that shall he also reap" (Galatians 6:7).  Such truth applies to unbelievers, who experience Divinely ordered consequences every day of their lives, despite their refusal to acknowledge the obvious.  Even more, God graces His trusting sons and daughters in Christ with blessedness as we trust and obey Him, the blessedness of a heart at peace.  Inner turmoil ensues, however, when we disregard the Life of our lives, and sometimes, outward consequences of discipline also result as our Heavenly Father's loving heart results in the love of His chastening hand.  "Thou hast afflicted me!" cried out an anguished David in Psalm 88.  Psalm 89 begins, however, with the joyous exclamation of the saint who discovers God's devotion in both gentleness and firmness: "I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever!"

     I think of my father, and of the difficult episode that comprises perhaps my only real memory of him.  More than half a century after the sting of his discipline abated, the lesson he taught thereby lingers.  Far more, the assurance of his love for me lives on in my heart.  Such recollection of days gone by speaks to me of this day, and of another Father whose love for His children involves both the caress of affection, and the rod of loving discipline.  We do well to praise and thank Him for both.

He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes."
(Proverbs 13:24)

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

"Forever's Journey"

    More than six decades after trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ, and after more than a half century of ministry, Dr. J. Vernon McGee made one of the wisest statements I've ever heard uttered by human lips:

    "I feel like I know less about Him today, at the end of my ministry, than I knew about Him when I first started."

     These words thrill me on a number of levels.  They speak of greatness, of humility, and of brilliant light received in the enigma of blinding illumination.

     First, "His greatness is unsearchable" (Psalm 145:3).  A true knowledge of God discovers an eternal Infinity that allows little more than the mere touching of the hem of His garment in our understanding of Him.  The more we know, the more we realize we don't know.  This doesn't preclude personal and intellectual comprehension, of course.  "With all thy getting, get understanding" counseled Solomon of the quest to know God and His truth (Proverbs 4:7).  We can and must begin the quest, and we can and must venture ever further into the light of Christ.  "Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (II Peter 3:18).  It remains true, however, that the more we "increase in the knowledge of God,", as commanded by the Apostle Paul, the more we realize the writer Faber's poetic wisdom...

     "Shoreless Ocean, who can sound Thee?  Thine own eternity is round Thee, Majesty Divine!"

     I also find particularly winsome the humility expressed by Dr. McGee.  At the time of his statement, he was one of the most well known preachers in the world.  His "Thru the Bible" radio program remains on the air nearly 25 years after his heavenly homegoing, and during his lifetime, he preached to literally millions of people.  The frank admission of how little he knew after so many years of life, study, and ministry says much, not about Dr. McGee, but about the Lord who worked in his heart to keep His servant in the proper place of recognizing the greatness of the Divine, and the limitation of the human.  "O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself" (Jeremiah 10:23).

    Finally, Dr. McGee beautifully expresses the truth discovered by all who glimpse the light of God, namely, that it blinds even as it illuminates.  Again, the more we know, the more we realize how very little we know.  If we could indeed find that person who presently best knows the Lord, and if we could inquire, "Please, what would you tell us about Him?!", their answer might be, "I am blind!"  Think about that for awhile, and realize the brilliance of Light that would shine forth from the frank admission.  It's not that we cannot know our Lord, nor that we cannot fathom His truth.  It's just that the Vision at hand causes us to realize the unreachable Horizon that forevermore beckons us.

"Forever's Journey

There is no end to the quest we know, 
forever beckons on.
For our spirits soar in skies so blue,
above all clouds of storm.

Yes, we fly into the heart of God
as in His Son we trust.
And earth will soon be nothing more
than long forgotten dust.

So spread your wings and catch the wind,
o journeyman of hope,
and race toward horizons blessed
with those who also know

That the quest of hearts is Jesus,
He is our shining sun.
It matters not how far we've come,
the journey's just begun.

Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen."
(I Timothy 1:17) 

Monday, August 5, 2013

"Relationship... Fellowship"

Part 2

   "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:9).

     Confession of sin by believers involves a different understanding and application than we often realize.  In the original Greek from which the New Testament is translated, the root word of confess, "homologeo," means "to say the same thing."  Confessing our sins, therefore, means that we say the same thing about them that God says, as opposed to the commonly held notion of merely admitting that we have sinned.  This raises the vital question: what does God say about our sins?  Moreover, what is the first thing the Lord would have us know about our sins? 

     The Apostle John answers the question for us in an enigmatic description of the Lord Jesus Christ, found in the book of Revelation.  Therein, John refers to our Lord as "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Revelation 13:8). In the timeless heart and mind of God, the Lord Jesus' atoning death on the cross of Calvary existed before He even created humanity.  This does not preclude the necessity of Christ's tangible sacrifice in space and time - "without shedding of blood is  no remission" (Hebrews 9:22).  It does mean, however, that our Heavenly Father's supply of saving grace in the Lord Jesus preceded our need.  Thus, the first truth about our sins always directs us to the person and work of Christ.  Yes, the first truth whereby we confess, or say the same thing about our sins, is that our Lord died for us.

   In this light of amazing grace and mercy, we remember and express, "Father, the Lord Jesus suffered and died on the cross for this sin"before we also honestly acknowledge, "Father, I have sinned."  We begin our confession in remembrance of "the Lamb slain."  Such truth, and our response thereunto, paves several necessary pathways in our journey of repentance and restoration of fellowship.  First, we reestablish our Christ-focus and exaltation, the detour from which led us into sin to begin with.  We also far more likely experience true contrition and "godly sorrow" as we consider that our sin led to our Savior's tortured, forsaken agony of death on the cross (II Corinthians 7:10).  Finally, the remembrance of such sacrifice provides assurance that God truly desires to forgive and cleanse us for whatever sin we have committed.  We join David in the confident affirmation, "There is forgiveness with Thee" (Psalm 130:4).  Thereby will we be far more likely to believe and effectually avail ourselves of His restorative pardon.

     It also becomes far more likely that we will take full responsibility for our waywardness, as opposed to the blame shifting that frequently tempts us.  Focusing on the suffering and death of the Lord Jesus for our sins provides a purifying sensibility and motivation of our heart and mind.  As the old saying goes, "The blood of Christ cleanses sin, not excuses."  Remembering our Savior's tortured and forsaken agony helps us avoid adding insult to injury, as it were, by failing to place the responsibility for sin squarely on the shoulders where it belongs, namely, our own. "I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me" (Psalm 51:3).

    The Biblical understanding of confession, of saying the same thing about sin that God says, leads to a more effectual experience of the forgiveness and cleansing that maintains our walk of fellowship with Him.  Indeed, we do our Lord, ourselves, and those with whom we live no favors by wallowing in the mire of sins and their resultant sense of alienation from God.  Our Heavenly Father would quickly reestablish our walk with Him if we sin.  His Son's sacrifice provides that way of forgiveness and cleansing.  Our remembrance and affirmation thereof leads to genuine repentance, honest acknowledgement, and trusting confidence that if we fall, we can get up.  The power of Christ's atonement and the Holy Spirit's application of such truth to our hearts accomplishes this vital restoration as we confess our sins, that is, as we say the same thing about them that God says.

"If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.  And the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all sin."
(I John 1:7)

Friday, August 2, 2013

"Relationship... Fellowship"

    Forgiveness for the born again believer in the Lord Jesus Christ bears a different meaning and effect than for the unbeliever first receiving God's saving grace.

And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath He quickened together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses" (Colossians 2:13).

    The Apostle Paul clearly references the Colossians' initial reception of salvation, declaring a one time forgiveness for "all trespasses," as confirmed by his usage of theaorist verb tense in original language of the New Testament (indicating a punctiliar, one time bestowal of pardon).  When we trust in the Lord Jesus, God so justifies and enrobes us in Christ's righteousness that forgiveness, as pertaining to our fundamental relationship with God, need never be accessed again.  Paul confirms this in his epistle to the Romans: "Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin" (Romans 4:8).

    Conversely, in his first epistle, the Apostle John addresses the ongoing forgiveness required by believers for the maintaining of our fellowship and experience of God's presence, peace, and joy. 

    "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:9).

    John, clearly writing to and about born again believers, concerns himself not with the settled issue of our eternal family union with our Heavenly Father, but rather with the realized access of such freely given grace and relationship.  "If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin" (I John 1:7).  Notthe Apostle's clear meaning: he addresses "fellowship," not "relationship."  Indeed, if we sin, born again believers require the forgiveness of a Father with whom we live in a family bond, as opposed to the unbeliever's need for pardon and deliverance from the justice of a judge.  Of course, in the twinkling moment when a rebel sinner becomes a trusting son or daughter in Christ, he or she enters into the family forgiveness environment, as it were, of Divine and fatherly mercy.

     This is a vital issue of Biblical understanding for believers.  After the new birth, we never again require justifying mercy and forgiveness.  We do, however, need the clean and clear conscience provided by restorative mercy and forgiveness.  The effects of Christ's bloody sacrifice on the cross of Calvary provide such grace for maintenance of fellowship, just as they did for the origination of our relationship with God.  Again, to believers, John declares, "These things write I unto you, that ye sin not.  And, if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (I John 2:1).  Christians require application of Christ's sacrifice to our conscience if we distrust and disobey our Lord, choosing to believe "there is forgiveness with Thee" (Psalm 130:4).  We affirm that Christ died f
or our sins, and we also acknowledge that no one else is responsible for them other than ourselves (Psalm 130:4).  Thereby, the Holy Spirit bears witness deep within our hearts that fellowship is restored, and the prayer of King David is answered in our own personal experience: "Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation" (Psalm 51:12 - note, by the way, that this plea of David, offered upon his confession of the terrible sin he committed with Bathsheba, does not involve the restoration of salvation itself, but rather the "joy" of salvation).

    Many believers fail to walk in peace because they fail to avail themselves of "having our hearts cleansed of an evil conscience" (Hebrews 10:22).  It's hard to imagine a greater tragedy than being a son or daughter of the Most High, "justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus," but living with a guilt-ridden conscience that remains uncleansed through the neglect of unbelief (Romans 3:24).  Certainly, the ideal and the goal is to "sin not."  If we sin, however, we need not wallow in the mire of a stained conscience, nor would our Heavenly Father have us do so.  We rather remember His fatherly forgiveness, based upon the sacrifice of His Son.

     Initial forgiveness, received when we first trust in the Lord Jesus, establishes permanent relationship with God.  Ongoing forgiveness, received within the family environment of a Father and His children, maintains the fellowship of such relationship.  Understanding the difference comprises a vital doctrinal understanding of Biblical truth, maintaining both a heart at peace, and a walk of fellowship and faithfulness.

 Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which He hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, having an high priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for He is faithful that promised)."
(Hebrews 10:19-23).

Thursday, August 1, 2013

"Beneficiaries of Blessing"

(We rarely send out two messages in one day, but the timing of this seems right.  Thanks, Glen).

    I'll shortly be heading to the local retirement community where we conduct three services a week.  I'm reminded of a prayer list I came upon last night while looking through old files.  "Jim... Mrs. Crawford... Mrs. Duvall... Donald... Mr. Schnars... Bonnie... Mrs. Williams..." - I don't have space here to list them all.  There are literally hundreds, and perhaps even thousands for whom to give thanks.  So many names of people who have long since gone on to be with our Lord appeared before my eyes, dear ones who no longer need our prayers.  I smiled as faces flashed through my mind, and moments remembered with some very special friends also brought tears tomy eyes.

When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me: for I had gone with the multitude, I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holy day" (Psalm 42:4).

    Frances and I often say to each other that we certainly hope we have ministered and been a blessing to the people we have known in this ministry.  We know, however, the blessing we have received from them.  It so often works that way in life, that is, the ones who seem to be helping and supporting actually find themselves to be the chief beneficiaries of blessing.  I cannot imagine having missed the spiritual enrichment of witnessing so many brothers and sisters in Christ as they trusted Him in difficult circumstances and conditions near the end of their earthly lifetime.  As 10year old Jim Kelly responded whenever we asked how he was doing, "Glen, this is the best day of my life!"  And he meant it.  Yes, our dear brother well knew that true joy and peace depend not on place, situation, and condition, but on the living and realized presence of the Lord Jesus.  So many other have borne the same testimony, and even today I will be in the presence of people who have certainly lost much.  They have not, however, lost the true Life of their lives, and Joy of their joys.  "In Thy presence is fullness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore" (Psalm 16:11).

    It is pure bliss to know that I will see my brother and sisteragain in that blessed Place where no wheelchairs or hospital beds are needed.  Most of all, to see them in the direct presence of the Lord Jesus will indeed be "fullness of joy" and "pleasures forevermore."  What a journey it has been, with people who have taught us lessons we could have learned nowhere else, and who most of all, have been shining reflections to us of the One who gave them "the peace of God, which passeth all understanding," and "joy unspeakable, and full of glory" (Philippians 4:7; I Peter 1:8).

"I thank my God upon every remembrance of you."
(Philippians 1:3)