Monday, September 30, 2013

"The Easy Yoke, the Light Burden"

Part 1

     A great wave of relief graces our hearts when we discover ourselves to be servants rather than masters, and stewards rather than owners.  An even greater peace blesses us as we realize the character and nature of our rightful Lord.

    "Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me.  For I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30).

    Our hearts were never made to view themselves as the primary responsible agent of our existence.  Our responsibility rather lies in devotion and submission unto the One wise enough, worthy enough, and wealthy enough to properly function as our master and owner.  The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ possesses perfect knowledge - "His understanding is infinite" - and He is "the LORD, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth" (Psalm 147:5; Genesis 14:22).  Moreover, He is a benevolent Sovereign, as opposed to all others who seek to govern us, including ourselves.  Only the Lord Jesus calls us to absolute servanthood and stewardship with the promise also of an easy yoke and a light burden.  All others, again, including and especially ourselves, engender cruel, crushing, and harsh bondage as they burden the soul with weight too heavy to bear because we were never meant to bear it. 

    Let us relinquish the notion that we actually own anything in our possession - and then breathe the sweet sigh of peace as finally the things we've thought ourselves to possess no longer possess us.  Yes, we are stewards rather than owners.  Let us also enjoy the rest of heart, soul, and mind that graces all who recognize the blessedness of being servant sons and daughters of God rather than masters of our own destiny.  Wondrous tranquility descends upon us as "Not my will, but Thine be done" becomes the governing sensibility of our existence (Luke 22:42).  In this moment, our "meek and lowly" Master and Owner calls us to the easy yoke and the light burden of His governance and possession.  There is no greater peace than kneeling before Him in grateful acknowledgement of His rightful place upon the throne of our hearts.  Indeed, there is no other peace.

"He is thy God."
(Deuteronomy 10:21)
"He is thy Lord."
(Psalm 45:11)

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Walk of Faith"


    "We walk by faith" (II Corinthians 5:7).

     From our ultimate Heavenly vantage point, we will realize that during our earthly lifetime, our worst enemies often served (unwittingly to them and to us) as dear friends.

     "I sought the LORD, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. They looked unto Him, and were lightened: and their faces were not ashamed. This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles." (Psalm 34:4-6).

    "Fears" and "troubles" serve as opportunities to experience conscious relationship with God in the hearts of those who recognize Him as the Life of our lives.  Anything, be it blessing or buffeting, that moves us to communicate with and trust the Lord provides the same opportunity we see throughout the pages of Scripture. 

    In their barrenness, Abraham and Sarah cannot conceive children, thus providing opportunity for them to trust God for his gift of Isaac, one of the clearest foreshadowings of the Lord Jesus Christ in all Scripture.  "By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure" (Hebrews 11:17-19).

     Joseph is cast into exile by his brothers, only to become their redeemer.  "Ye thought evil against me, but God meant it unto good" (Genesis 50:3). 

     Job, faithful but fearful before his terrible trials, comes forth from them with an exponentially expanded knowledge of his Lord's redeeming Person and grace.  "I have heard of Thee with the hearing of mine ear; but now, mine eye seeth Thee" (Job 42:5).

    Hannaniah, Azariah, and Mishael (a.k.a. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednigo) enter by faith into the fieriest of furnaces, only to discover in the light of Nebuchaddnezzar's flames the most glorious of Saviors.  "Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonied, and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counselors, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king. He answered and said, 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 3:24-25).

    Disciples, terrified by the winds and waves of a violent storm on the sea of Galilee, are wise enough to approach and awaken their Master, discovering Him to also be the God of whom the Old Testament declares, "Fire, and hail; snow, and vapor; stormy wind fulfilling His word" (Psalm 148:8).  "The men marveled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?!" (Matthew 8:27).

    Paul and Silas, cast into prison for faithfully preaching the Gospel, find opportunity for further faith in the God of the Gospel, thus leading to an earthquake of spiritual liberation for the very man who jailed them, along with his family.  "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?  And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway" (Acts 16:30-33).

    Most importantly, the Christ "smitten of God" and forsaken by His Father and the Holy Spirit on the cross of Calvary, becomes the Christ risen from the dead and exalted as King of kings and Lord of lords.  "Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name" (Philippians 2:5-9).

    Ponder your own history and write your own story of glory known along pathways of pain, loss, bewilderment, and sorrow.  Remember the prayers prayed, and the choices to trust God when no feeling or inclination seemed to accompany approach to the throne of grace.  Recall that somehow, somewhere deep within the heart, you knew that the Lord was there, in the very midst of both yourself and of the trial.  You knew Him in that way of faith that only presents itself when all seems to contradict and deny the fact of God's presence and loving involvement.  "The Light shineth in darkness" (John 1:5).  Foes became friends in those dark hours as they led us know the heart of God when we could not see or understand His hand.  Yes, anything that helps to usher us along our step by step by step by step walk of faith must be looked upon as a benefit as well as a buffeting.  Because anything - including the "enemy" we presently face -  that leads us to seek our Lord will one day be known as His blessing of wisdom, grace, and love.

"And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.  For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong."
(II Corinthians 12:7-10)

Friday, September 27, 2013

"The Walk of Faith"

Part 2

    "We walk by faith" (II Corinthians 5:7).

     In our present existence, we require challenge if we are to consistently walk by faith. 

   "Before I was afflicted, I went astray.  But now have I kept Thy word" (Psalm 119:67).

    God often lengthens the leash of our spiritual enemies, allowing them to present obstacles to our trust in Him.  He purposes this as a good thing, for a variety of reasons.  First, He desires our faith to be a conscious and vitally realized sensibility.  If our prayers instantly led to perfect assurance and an unfettered emotional and mental experience, much of our confidence in the Lord would lie unrealized as a subterranean stream rather than as rivers of living water.  Both Old Testament and New declare that "the just shall live by faith," and we are most vibrantly alive when we realize and must affirm (and reaffirm) our faith in the Lord Jesus (Habbakuk 2:3; Romans 1:17). 

    Our Heavenly Father also calls us to overcome challenges by the power of His presence and might.  Regarding such matters, Paul wrote, "In all these things, we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us" (Romans 8:37).  God is greatly glorified when we trust Him, and even more glorified when we face and transcend obstacles to our confidence in Him.  A challenged faith leads to conquering faithfulness through the power of Christ as we expect our enemies to lie in wait, as it were, just outside the Throneroom where we offer our prayers.  Rather than flee because we have prayed, the world, the devil, and the flesh are often allowed by God begin their taunting attack before we seem to have crossed the threshold.  This provides opportunity to "fight the good fight of faith," and glorify our Lord as we expect and engage enemies who seek our discouragement (I Timothy 6:12).

     Perhaps most importantly, the necessity of a step by step walk of faith means that we must consciously relate to our Heavenly Father.  The necessity of reaffirmation makes for communication that might not happen if we could perfectly trust God without challenge.  "I'm back again, Father, to remember and reaffirm Your faithfulness, and my trust in You."  The God who "delights" in the prayers of His trusting children doesn't find such repeated approach as an indication of our lack of faith, but rather of the reality of the world in which we presently live (Proverbs 15:8).  Such reality leads to relationship in those who recognize the life of faith presently involves a walk amid challenge rather than a recline of comfort.  This provides much opportunity to commune again and again with a Father to whom our voices are sweet (Song of Solomon 2:14).  This is indeed a good thing, and presently, a necessary thing that leads to the wonder of realized relationship with the very Life of our lives.

"Pray without ceasing."
(I Thessalonians 5:17)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

"The Walk of Faith"

Part 1

    "We walk by faith" (II Corinthians 5:7).

    During times of doubt, uncertainty, and trepidation, we often approach the Lord in faith and sincerity, trusting Him to be and do whatever we may need.  In the moment, we experience the fulfillment of His promise of a peace "which passeth all understanding" (Philippians 4:7).

    Sometimes, however, we quickly feel renewed turmoil in our soul.  Feelings of fear return, and we find our thoughts again flowing against rather than with the current of faith.  Does this mean that we didn't actually trust the Lord to begin with?  Certainly, this can be the case.  Sometimes our hearts are not actually in our requests, and we pray without true confidence in God's faithfulness.  "Let him ask in faith, nothing wavering.  For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea, driven with the wind and tossed.  For let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord" (James 1:6-7).

    This possibility notwithstanding, renewed challenges of faith do not always means that we haven't trusted God.  We "walk" by faith, as the Apostle Paul declared.  A walk involves steps, in this case, steps whereby we often must reaffirm within our hearts the truths of God's Word.  Some matters involve frequent choices to continue in journeys of faith amid feelings, thoughts, and conditions that strongly challenge our confidence.  As we often suggest, relationship with God through Christ is not for the lazy of heart and mind, even as Paul commanded, "Exercise thyself rather unto godliness" (I Timothy 4:7).

    We've all heard the old saw, "Don't just take your cares to the Lord.  Leave them with Him!"  There is truth in this adage, but it can also be misleading.  Indeed, it would be nice if we could simply pray a prayer, arise from the altar, and make our way with perfect mental and emotional assurance.  However, it often doesn't work that way in a fallen world filled with fallen devils and fallen flesh.  "There are many adversaries" declared the Apostle Paul, who himself confessed concurrent sensibilities of faith and fleshly confusion: "We are perplexed, but not in despair (I Corinthians 16:9; II Corinthians 4:8).  Our enemies, as allowed by God, lie in wait all along the path that leads from the throne of grace.  Their taunts challenge us as we make our way, making it necessary to remember and reaffirm the promises of God we've chosen to believe.

     This is a good thing, actually.  We'll consider the reasons for this in our next consideration of "The Walk of Faith."

"Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusteth in Thee."
(Isaiah 26:3)

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

"Becoming, Knowing"

Only when we become parents ourselves do we finally realize the blessing and challenge we presented to our own fathers and mothers.  I tried to remember this as our children were growing up, particularly in those times when their actions fostered trepidation in Dad and Mom's hearts.  "How can they not see the unnecessary concern they're foisting upon us?!"  The thought usually followed, sometimes after a long travail of soul and a sigh of difficult acknowledgement, "They haven't been where we are.  They cannot really know."

    This principle holds true in most experiences of life, wherein we must become in order to know.  Intriguingly, the Bible even references the eternal and infinite God in such terms.

    "We have not a 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. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:15-16).

     The God whose "understanding is infinite" knows all things with utterly complete understanding, and wisdom (Psalm 147:5).  As God, nothing escapes this perfection of perception.  In the Lord Jesus Christ, however, the Infinite enrobed Himself with human limitations, thus enabling Him to enter into an awareness (or lack thereof) not possible in His divinity.  Only as man could the Son of God view things without infinite understanding, and thus share the challenges fostered by incomplete comprehension and even uncertainty.  "Of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father... My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" (Mark 13:32; Matthew 27:46).  Indeed, of the many sacrifices made by our Savior for the purpose of redeeming us, none more fill me with grateful wonder and awe than His willingness to experience knowledge and understanding less than infinite.  The Lord Jesus knows what it means not to know, and He knows it from a basis of having eternally known with His Father and the Holy Spirit all there is to know.  This reveals a sacrifice of love for us certainly beyond any understanding to which we will ever ascend.

    Our Lord - again, as man - fulfilled the principle of becoming in order to know, that is, to enter into our experience.  The same reality holds true in us.  Apply the principle to events of life that perhaps belie our ability to comprehend.  Why did God allow us to go through this challenge, or that particular heartbreak?  Perhaps because His perfect purposes for us required that we become in order to know.  Our sphere of influence may well require that we enter into its experience for the purpose of our being bright and illuminating rays of Christ's light for those with whom we live our lives.  This was the Lord's way, and as He dwells and walks in us, it will be our way as well.

"This man, because He continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood. Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them.  For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens."
(Hebrews 7:24-26)

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"The Soulflinger"

  Every so often, it seems like a good time to share my favorite poem with you, that is, "The Darkling Thrush" by Thomas Hardy.  For various reasons, this seems like one of those occasions.

"The Darkling Thrush"

I leant upon a coppice gate
when Frost was specter-grey,
and Winter's dregs made desolate
the weakening eye of day.

The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
 like strings of broken lyres,
and all mankind that haunted nigh
had sought their household fires.

The land's sharp features seemed to be
the Century's corpse outleant,
his crypt the cloudy canopy,
the wind his death-lament.

The ancient pulse of germ and birth
was shrunken hard and dry,
and every spirit upon earth
seemed fervorless as I.

At once, a voice arose among
the bleak twigs overhead,
in a full-hearted evensong
of joy illimited;

An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
in blast-beruffled plume,
had chosen thus to fling his soul
upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
of such ecstatic sound,
was written on terrestrial things
afar or nigh around,

That I could think there trembled through
his happy good-night air
some blessed Hope, whereof he knew,
and I was unaware.

(Thomas Hardy, December 31, 1900)

     The thrush is my favorite literary figure.  Outside of Scripture, no character more thrills, inspires, and challenges me to see and affirm God's working in all things, including times of "the growing gloom."  I do not know whether Thomas Hardy was a believer.  Some historical indication is that he was not.  The Lord nevertheless moved upon him as he wrote "The Darkling Thrush," providing a special grace of imagery, inspiration, and meaning.  I have never read the poem without being deeply affected, to the point of often being moved to tears.  And, I don't suppose I ever will.

"They caught Paul and Silas, and drew them into the marketplace unto the rulers, and brought them to the magistrates, saying, These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city, and teach customs, which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans. And the multitude rose up together against them: and the magistrates rent off their clothes, and commanded to beat them. And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely:who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks. And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God."
(Acts 16:19-25' emphasis added)

Saturday, September 21, 2013

"The Wonder of Biscoff, the Wonder of God"

(Thanks to my son Noah for inspiration on this one).   

 Prepare for me to either bless or ruin your life with the following.  At first you'll thank me.  Later, however, you may come looking for me with a big stick! (remember the many Scriptures about forgiveness, please!).

    My son Noah just called with a culinary tip.  "Dad, you need to get a chocolate bar (85% cacao, pretty dark) and spread Biscoff cream on it."  My immediate reaction involved awe and excitement.  First, I love chocolate, although the 85% version is a bit stout for my taste buds.  However, with a slathering of Biscoff cream, well, we're talking potential for a completely off the charts comestible experience.

    Oh, you don't know what Biscoff cream is?  Well, it's a spread derived from Biscoff cookies, with a texture, but not the taste of peanut butter.  Biscoff cookies?  Words escape me at this point, but I'll do the best I can.  Biscoff are a version of a Belgian cookie called "speculoos."  They possess a perfect balance of softness and crunch, which serves as the vehicle for a caramel flavor that is graced by a sublime amalgam of spices I am sure God personally gave to the Lotus Company that makes the cookies (only He could have devised such a recipe!).  Many Americans know Biscoff because they've long been served on Delta Airlines.  Our family discovered them through the recommendation of our youngest daughter Emmie's suitor, Sheldon.  He's British, and they're more familiar with the cookies over there than here (and yes, I acknowledge that all you English folk who receive these messages are smarter than us Yanks!).  Personally, I believe that Biscoff are among the top 100 evidences (maybe top 50!) that God exists, and that He loves us infinitely more than we can begin to imagine.  Indeed, He not only gave the recipe to the Lotus folks, but He gave us taste buds to enjoy the wonder of Biscoff!  Amazing!

    "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights... God...giveth us richly all things to enjoy" (James 1:17; I Timothy 6:17).

     A friend and I just yesterday discussed the matter of our Lord's desiring that we know and experience true joy and pleasure.  Moreover, He purposes that we will know Him as the heart of all joy.  "In Thy presence is fullness of joy; at Thy right hand are pleasures forevermore" (Psalm 16:11).  I suppose that Biscoff - and many other things in life - would provide a bit of joy and happiness if one didn't know the Lord Jesus Christ.  When we do know Him, however, that is, when we do know the Giver of "every good gift and every perfect gift," enjoyment becomes opportunity for worship.  A small cookie indeed reminds us of a huge and monumental truth, namely, that God made food with flavor, and He gave us the capacity to taste and savor.  He could have omitted such opportunity for our enjoyment.  He could have created food as a mere necessity, and He could have programmed us to eat simply as a matter of survival.  This He did not do, however, because when God made man, He made him to rejoice.  Think of what this says about Him.  I will join you, and then let us fall to our knees and faces in the wonder not of Biscoff, but of our unspeakably wonderful Lord.

    I close now.  I have to go get a chocolate bar!  85%!  Also, I do not recommend the overeating of Biscoff, which if you happen to experience, I take no responsibility and will not allow myself to be clubbed with the aforementioned big stick! :)

"Rejoice in the Lord alway, and again, I say rejoice."
(Philippians 4:4)
"Thou openest Thine hand, and satisfieth the desire of every living thing."
(Psalm 145:16)  

Friday, September 20, 2013

"Rest Well, Work Well"

(Part 3)

   A final and vital aspect of our consideration regarding resting in the Lord Jesus Christ involves the inevitable consequences of such grace.

    "This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works" (Titus 3:8).

    The Apostle Paul wrote this mandate because of the first century error known as Gnosticism.  Early in the church, this deception arose due to the Greek philosophical influence on born again believers who lived in the culture of their day.  Gnostics emphasized knowledge, often to the exclusion of a corresponding life and lifestyle.  These deceivers taught that so long as the believer possessed an inward spiritual and intellectual experience of Christ, it did not matter how he lived outwardly.  Moreover, they did not believe in the reality of matter.  Spirit alone was considered as "real," thus exacerbating the error of viewing mere knowledge as enough to suffice in relating to God.  Nothing could be further from the truth, and many believers were misled into a grievously damaged spiritual understanding and practice by the emptiness of "faith without works" (James 2:20).  The same error plagues our generation among professing believers, and we must be careful to strongly affirm both faith and its effect on our faithfulness to God's Word.

    Any supposed experience of  resting in Christ that does not lead to an increasingly consistent life of active faithfulness and obedience to God must be held suspect.   A trusting dependence on the Lord Jesus connects us, as it were, with the dynamic power source of godliness that dwells within us.  The Holy Spirit who bears witness to the all sufficiency of the Savior in freely justifying us also proclaims the same Savior's presence and power for the enabling of growing godliness.  As we suggested at the outset of this consideration, good rest leads to good works.  In fact, the truth of the matter is that if we are having difficulty regarding doing the will of God, we can be sure our deeper challenge involves our need to better know and trust the Lord Jesus.  "Beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (II Corinthians 3:18).

    The more we "grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ," the more we will experience genuine motivation and enabling to do the will of God (II Peter 3:18).  We will not achieve perfection of attitude, word, and behavior in this lifetime.  We can, however, acquire an ever increasing knowledge of our Lord's perfection in providing an all sufficient salvation.  Thereby will we grow, both in faith, and its corresponding "works of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:11).   Yes, if we rest well, we will work well.

"What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid!"
(Romans 6:1-2)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

"Rest Well, Work Well"

(Part 2)

    "Return unto thy rest, o my soul, for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee" (Psalm 116:7).

     How often must we join the Psalmist in remembering and returning to the boundless generosity and provision of our Heavenly Father, and then experiencing the heart of rest from which we live our lives in the Lord Jesus Christ.

    A fallen world, a fallen devil, and fallen flesh tempt us to forget that "His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him that hath called us to glory and virtue" (II Peter 1:3).  Take a moment and ponder deeply the Apostle Peter's assurance of boundless provision and preparation for every moment of our existence.  In the past tense, Peter declares that God has already provided "all things" that relate to both outward and inward exigencies - "life and godliness."  We thus live from a basis of provision and the rest that always graces our hearts and minds when we know we can deal with whatever may come our way. 

     Again, however, we too often fail to remember how abundantly our Father has prepared us and provided for us.  We must therefore frequently say unto our souls, as did David, "Return unto thy rest."  This fact actually forms and informs a primary reason we write and send out these devotionals.  Indeed, knowing that our enemies seek constantly to foment turmoil in both circumstance and heart, we all need reminders that we are a superabundantly prepared and provided for people.  Nothing can approach or reach the shores of our lives beyond our spiritual capacity through Christ to meet and overcome.  "These things have I spoken unto you that ye might have peace.  In the world ye shall have tribulation,  But be of good cheer, I have overcome the world... This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith" (John 16:33; I John 5:4).  Our hearts rest as we remember and affirm such blessed truth of "so great salvation," as provided by so great a Savior (Hebrews 2:3).

     Before ever we existed, God perfectly foresaw every moment of both blessedness and challenge we would ever experience (Acts 15:18).  He purposed to provide His Son and the Holy Spirit as the supply for all things and all times.  When we were conceived, our Heavenly Father faithfully fulfilled His purpose and determination to provide.  Thus, He has always been what we needed Him to be, and more.  Moreover, He is so now, in this moment.  We have all too often failed to see, to remember, and to affirm the Christ-provided abundance in which we live.  We may be missing it right now, and if so, the Holy Spirit and David beckon us, "Return unto thy rest, o my soul.  For the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee." 

     It does not matter what we are presently facing.  The "Who" of this and of every moment long ago determined to be - "bountifully" - everything we will ever need Him to be.  This is truth.  This is peace.  And this is rest.  There is none other, and we need none other because no one has ever trusted in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and been disappointed for doing so.  And no one ever will. 

"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)
"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, For Thy 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 through Him that loved us."
(Romans 8:35-37)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

"Rest Well, Work Well"

(Part 1)

    In earthly terms, if we rest well, we find ourselves prepared to work well and to fulfill our responsibilities.  Conversely, fitful sleep makes for far greater difficulty in dealing with the issues of life.

     The same principle holds even more true in matters of the Spirit.

    "We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works" (Ephesians 2:10).

     Scripture calls us to "rest in the Lord," and to "trust in the Lord with all thy heart" (Psalm 37:7; Proverbs 3:5).  Upon this foundation of complete dependence whereby we no longer view ourselves as our own workmanship, we then find dynamic motivation and enabling for a life "unto good works."  First, rest, then work.  As in our physical existence, so must we spiritually keep this order always in heart and mind.  Reversal of the sequence leads to frustration and failure.  Maintaining the proper order ensures a heart of peace, which leads to hands energized by the Holy Spirit to "maintain good works for necessary uses" (Titus 3:14).

     No greater challenge presents itself to the born again believer in the Lord Jesus.  Our spiritual enemies continually seek to hinder our spiritual rest.  Indeed, they cannot steal from us the salvation that begins "not of works," but of "by grace are ye saved through faith" (Ephesians 2:7-9).  The world, the devil, and the flesh, however, can tempt us to a "fitful sleep," as it were.  That is, they can distract us from the remembrance and affirmation of the experience of grace that must empower our ongoing devotion to God no less than it birthed us into saving relationship with Him.  "As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him" (Colossians 2:6).  We must therefore steep ourselves in the Bible's continual declaration that we work well only as we rest well.  The writer of Hebrews concludes this portion of our consideration with one of Scripture's brightest rays of light concerning this vital matter of spiritual order and sequence...

"Let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and godly fear."
(Hebrews 12:28)

(Tomorrow: Part 2 - "Return unto thy rest" - Psalm 116:7)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

"How You Have Loved Me"

   I became a born again believer in the Lord Jesus Christ thirty eight years ago today, on September 17, 1975.  Each year on this anniversary, the thought occurs to me of all I would have missed had I never come to know our blessed Savior.  It's a truly frightening thought, both for time and eternity.  It also reminds me of all of you, who so graciously allow us to add to your already full email boxes with these messages.  Thanks so much, and be sure that I thank God for you.  Your friendship and fellowship are gifts I wouldn't have wanted to have missed!

    The words below are the lyrics of  a song I wrote last week that seem appropriate for this day.  It's called "How You Have Loved Me," and speaks to the main thought that always crosses my mind on this day each year, namely, that the Lord has been so graciously and undeservedly good to me.

"How You Have Loved Me"

Heavenly Father, how You have loved me,
so much more than words could ever say.
And when I think of all Your undeserved blessings,
my heart is filled with grateful praise...

O Heavenly Father, how You have loved me.

I know that all comes to us because of Jesus,
He is the fount of every grace.
For the wonder of Your heart is that You see us
enrobed in righteousness our Savior gave...

O Heavenly Father, how You have loved me.

Eternity won't be long enough to praise You.
Forever will not suffice.
But in this moment, Father, I praise You,
as deep within my heart I realize...

O Heavenly Father, how You have loved me,
how You have loved me.

"But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.  For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast."
(Ephesians 2:4-9)

Monday, September 16, 2013

"Not By Sight"

   "We walk by faith, not by sight" (II Corinthians 5:7).
    "He (Moses) endured as seeing Him who is invisible" (Hebrews 11:27).

    In a discussion with a new believer many years ago, the young man commented with a bit of exasperation, "If only I see and hear Christ the way the disciples did, my faith would be a lot stronger!"

    In the ultimate sense, this statement was true.  God's purposes involve "face to face" relationship with the risen Lord Jesus Christ in eternity to come (I Corinthians 13:12).  We will one day enter directly into our Savior's presence, and will shine forth in a perfected and glorified state of love, faith, obedience, and devotion to God.  This "blessed hope" promises wonders beyond imagining, and we do well to look forward to an unfettered and unshadowed experience of relationship with God.

    For the present, however, to "see and hear Christ the way the disciples did" would not strengthen us for the life of faith to which our Heavenly Father presently calls us.  Indeed, the experience of these early followers of the Lord abundantly confirms this fact.  Only after the Lord Jesus left them did Peter, John, James and the rest enter into lives of such faithfulness that rather than forsake Him (as they did when He died on the cross), the Apostles would faithfully bear their own crosses.  All, with the possible exception of John, are believed to have been martyred for their faith in the Savior.  Moreover, legend holds that the Peter who thrice denied the Lord Jesus at Calvary requested upon his own execution to be crucified upside down (because he believed himself unworthy to die as did his Lord).  The Lord's disciples thus lived - and died - far greater lives of faithfulness when they couldn't see Him than when they could.

     What made the difference?  The indwelling Christ, as revealed in the Apostles' hearts by the Holy Spirit, provides the answer.

    "I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him: but ye know Him; for He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you" (John 14:16-17).

    For now, it is best that we not see, that we not hear, that we not touch, that we not experience the Lord Jesus with our senses.  As presently constituted, we would make idols of tangible evidences, worshiping the gifts rather than the Giver.  This would lead not to faith, but an increasingly degraded understanding of God and relationship with Him.  More importantly, there are things about our Lord that can only be learned when we must walk with Him apart from sight and evidence.  These are the days when the Holy Spirit's presence in our inward environment constitutes opportunity to know the heart of God, and thus to honor Him in an outward environment wherein His dynamic involvement is most often veiled to anything but the eyes of faith.  Indeed, the our Lord's presence is most often in direct proportion to the appearance of His absence.  He thus privileges His trusting children to a life of faith wherein the faithfulness of God somehow shines all the brighter because we must first experience it as a matter of trust rather than sight.

    A final thought.  How it must bless the heart of our Father when we must "look" to Him and for Him in the darkness, and with tear-filled eyes that make our vision even more clouded.  As the old saying suggests, "When we cannot see the hand of God, we must trust His heart."  Yes, there are glories in these days of faith that will not be available to us in an eternity when we shall know even as we are known (I Corinthians 13:12).  May we thus respond as the Holy Spirit offers to us opportunities to know, love, trust, and obey a Father whom we cannot see as yet, but who will nonetheless reveal Himself in sublime and singular ways reserved for those who trust His heart when they cannot see His hand.

"Jesus Christ, whom having not seen, ye love, in whom though now ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory."
(I Peter 1:7-8)
"Blessed are they who have not see, and yet have believed."
(John 20:29)

Saturday, September 14, 2013

"Banned From the Chicken Farm"

   Our beagle Sparrow often suggests that I try to find her a job at a chicken farm (well, she doesn't actually say it.  But I can read her request in her big, brown beagle eyes).  She assures me that the flock would be safe in her paws, but with her culinary love for the tasty fowl, I'm not so sure...

    "I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple" (Romans 16:16-18).

    If there is a devil - and there is - and if he is a deceiver - and he is - one might expect his most effective ploy against God's trusting children would involve placing false prophets and teachers in pulpits or behind broadcast microphones.  This is precisely what he does.  Indeed, many people lend instant credibility to a man who introduces himself as a preacher.  I can think of fewer more grave errors a Christian can commit.  Personally, my spiritual antenna goes up as soon as I am introduced to someone who refers to themselves in ministerial terms (I can suggest and practice this since I also affirm this calling).  This does not mean that I immediately hold the person in suspicion.  No, I just remember our enemy, and that from the early days of the church, Satan knew the pulpit would serve as a conveyor not only of God's light, but of devilish darkness.

    I would suggest this same caution to all.  "Does he serve the Lord Jesus?  Or is he seeking to fill his own belly?"  Moreover, "Is his message faithful to the doctrines of Scripture, and is he devoted to their authority and to the supremacy of Christ they affirm?"  We must keep these questions constantly in mind if we are to avoid being sheared of our wool - or worse - by wolves that cloak themselves in the garb of shepherds.  Such deceivers abound, especially in a media generation where those possessed of the ability to smoothly exude "good words and fair speeches" can instantly reach the ears and pocketbooks of millions.  We don't want to be among "the simple" who fall prey to their cunning.  So, I'm sorry, Sparrow, you won't be working as the guardhound at a chicken farm.  Nor, by God's grace, will I allow myself to be swayed by those who similarly promise "ministry" when they're actually seeking a meal, and far more.

"Such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works."
(II Corinthians 11:13-15)

Friday, September 13, 2013

"The Sufferer"

   The norm of Christian fellowship involves our being vessels of God's illumination, encouragement, and challenge to one another.  "Exhort one another daily" commands the writer of Hebrews (Hebrews 3:13).  We live for, with, and unto each other as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, and as mutual members of "the whole family in Heaven and in earth" (Ephesians 3:15).

    Such fellowship notwithstanding, there are times when, as A.W. Tozer once wrote, "the saint must walk alone."  Indeed, sometimes a John must be exiled to an island of Patmos if the Book of Revelation is to be written (Revelation 1:9).  In such times, we may feel as if no one understands, and perhaps that no one cares.  Our Lord Himself cried out on the cross of Calvary, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27:46).  Somewhere deep within, we will know that Somebody does care, and that Somebody remains with us, just as He promised.  But we won't feel it.  Nor will our thoughts flow automatically with the current of faith.  Moreover, to make the challenge all the more heart-rending, our physical bodies may feel the brunt of aloneness and its overwhelming burden.

They go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits' end" (Psalm 107:26). 

    I try never to offer pat answers, or merely fling Bible verses at brothers and sisters experiencing such times.  I do, however, encourage the sufferer to remember the aforementioned Sufferer, and the truth that no one knows lonely like the Lord Jesus.  He entered far more deeply into the forlorn darkness than any other conscious being will ever experience.  The prophetic Psalm contains this utterness of despair: "
Why art Thou so far from helping Me, and from the words of My roaring? O my God, I cry in the daytime, but Thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent" (Psalm 22:1-2).  No other supplicant than the Lord Jesus can rightly utter these words.  We may feel as if we can, but the cries of all other humble and sincere hearts do, in fact, reach the ears of our Heavenly Father: "In my distress, I cried unto the Lord and He heard me" (Psalm 120:1).  Of the Lord Jesus, however, it can and must be said that on the cross of Calvary, He suffered being stripped completely bare of the presence of God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.  Yes, a Heart that had always known the joy of perfect love and communion with the blessed Others of the Godhead experienced utter abandonment as He was "smitten of God" (Isaiah 53:4).  No answer came when our Savior cried out His anguished "Why?"  Thus, He was left to suffer and die alone so that...

    ...We might never be left in such a forsaken place.  Again, we may not feel it in those times when we must seemingly hurt alone.  We may have a hard time getting our thoughts to think in terms of truth.  And we may feel the weight of all on our shoulders, and in every ounce of our physical frame.  It nevertheless remains true that God remains not only near, but nearer than at any other time.  "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble" (Psalm 42:1).  Always present; very present in trouble.   This is the God who so loves us that He promises, "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee" (Hebrews 13:5).  He did, however, leave His Son to die alone on the cross of Calvary, and this is why we must always remember that no one knows lonely like the Lord Jesus.  And thus, no one can comfort us like Him either.  Sometimes, this may be all we have to carry us through those paths we must walk alone.  It will be enough, however, or better said, He will be enough.

"I am with thee; be not dismayed."
(Isaiah 41:10)

"Autumn Speaks, Autumn Sings"

   Last night, my son and I discussed the fact that along the Gulf Coast of the United States where we live, the autumn season does not provide the array of hues and colors that people see in many other parts of our nation.  Indeed, in the next few weeks, the wonder of fall will grace the northern and central regions of our nation with a fiery display of beauty that has inspired countless artists through the centuries.  None have ever matched God's virtuosity, nor will anyone ever paint on a canvas the glory He splashes upon groves, forests, and sometimes, simply a single tree.  Here in the subtropics, we'll see a little of that on our popcorn trees, and the occasional maple some folks plant for ornamental purposes.  By and large, however, our evergreens will remain, well, ever and green. 

    Autumn's beauty always reminds me that death is required to bring forth the display.  Leaves must die in order to achieve their sublime hue.  Certainly, they're beautiful when lively and green.   The new growth of a spring forest blesses us with its own expression of wonder.  Still, the colors of fall are unmatched in their varied and vibrant gallery, and again, death (the loss of chlorophyll due to less light and water) originates and hastens the process.  This speaks to us of even more beautiful glories provided by loss, darkness, and thirst.

    "Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour.  And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say,My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27:45-46).
    "After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst" (John 19:28).

    The Lord Jesus Christ was glorious in the eternal past (John 17:5).  He is even more glorious, having lived, died, and been raised from death in order to save us from our sins.  Thereby, He became our Savior as well as our Creator.  God's holiness and justice required such a loss and such a fall for the Lord Jesus to be constituted as our hope and our redemption.  "Without shedding of blood is no remission" (Hebrews 9:22).   The trusting heart thus looks back on the cross, with all it's horror and ugliness, and we see nevertheless see our Lord's beautiful heart in the most vivid display imaginable.  "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (I John 4:10).  Autumn speaks to us of such glory, even for those of us who see it in only the most limited measure.  Indeed, falling and lovely leaves sing to us of a fallen and lovely Savior, risen again from the dead, and more beautiful than ever.

"He is altogether lovely."
(Song of Solomon 5:16)

Thursday, September 12, 2013

"Steinway L1037"

   I recently watched again one of  my favorite documentaries.  It involves the Steinway Piano Company, and chronicles the yearlong process of building one of their concert grand pianos.  From selection of the wood to the final tuning, we see "L1037" as master craftsman ply their art and trade to produce an instrument of unsurpassed aural and visual beauty (for a mere $100,000 or so, you can enjoy one of these jewels in your living room!  For $200,000, you can have one in your den also!).

    Steinway may be the last piano manufacturer that, for all practical purposes, constructs everything by hand.  Much technical knowledge is required, of course, but no school exists where a new Steinway employee can learn the process.  Everything is passed down from one generation of craftsmen to the next.  Moreover, there's much "art" in the building of the piano, as certain aspects of the construction require an intuitive gift just as much as knowledge and skill.  "Every one of our pianos has its own voice" said one of those artisan/technicians, referring to the human touch that crafts the piano, along with technical principles of design and construction.  Finally, the tuning process requires a month, and is accomplished by ear.  This contrasts with most companies that rely on computers to effect perfect pitch and a "perfect" relationship of note to note, but which lack the mysterious, but beautiful voicing a gifted human tuner can create.

    The documentary always reminds me of the art, craft, and skill of Another.  "We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works" (Ephesians 2:10).  Our Heavenly Father initiates a spiritual process in all who trust in the Lord Jesus, a masterpiece of wisdom, power, and love that culminates in our being like our Savior.  "He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6).  The process requires so much more than we can ever imagine.  Indeed, we are much unlikeChrist when we first believe.  The earthly traits and disposition of our forefather Adam constitute us as fleshly in our original birth.  Salvation births a new and spiritual person, but Christlikeness in character, nature, and way requires a long molding and melding accomplished by a Hand of wondrous craft, skill, and art.

    The "art" fascinates me the most.  We are all so different, and God's intentions for each of us involve a finished product like His Son.  Nevertheless, we all possess unique spiritual and moral facets through which the light of Christ shines in a beautifully singular way.  It would be one thing to fashion us in such a manner that Christ is uniformly established in us.  It is quite another to birth, rear, and perfect a Paul who is like, but unlike Peter, or a Mary, like but unlike Martha, or a Glen like his brethren, but strangely and inexplicably unlike them! (at this time, I'd bow and give thanks for that, if I were you...).  This requires an artist, that is, someone technically skilled, but who infuses into his medium and finished product a "something" the viewer or listener can perceive and enjoy, but can't quite understand or explain.

    I had an opportunity to play a Steinway years ago, in the days when I moved pianos.  However, the instrument belonged to a woman who had survived the Holocaust in Auschwitz.  Age and health issues prevented her from playing anymore, and I just didn't feel right touching the keys dear to her, but which she could no longer enjoy.  I was honored to simply to move the piano for her.  In contrast, our Heavenly Father will eternally enjoy the fruit of His artistry, labor, and the sacrifice made by His Son for the purpose of "bringing many sons unto glory" (Hebrews 2:10).  We are His workmanship, and in this day and this moment, we can be sure that He works for the sublime purpose that will one day be perfectly fulfilled in all His trusting sons and daughters...

"Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us."
(Psalm 90:17)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

"Go To Give"

   The cable, satellite dish, and phone companies send out some incredible HD video and audio signals in these days of unparalleled high tech innovation.  Crystal clear images far more vivid than reality, along with frequencies of sound to satisfy even the most ardent audiophile, travel through wires and the atmosphere to television, computers, stereos, and even phones.

    That is, if our electronic receivers are functioning properly.  The purest and most intense signal remains as mere potential if our machines are unable to receive and process the pulses of energy transmitted.  Indeed, it is not enough that "Send" mechanisms work properly.  Our "Receive" devices must also function if the images and sound are to reach and stimulate our senses.

     The same principle applies in spiritual matters.  We've all likely left a church service or Bible study with the thought, "I didn't get much out of that today."  Certainly, this can mean that the preacher or teacher failed to deliver a worthy or adequate message.  However, the source of difficulty may well have originated in ourselves.  Our spiritual receptors might have been unable to assimilate the truth and Spirit of truth communicated.  Moreover, we place ourselves on uncertain ground if we attend Christian meetings for what we can receive.  We must rather go to give.

    "Charity (love) seeketh not her own" (I Corinthians 13:5).

    Regardless of our role and calling in the church, the love of Christ in our hearts presses us to gather with fellow believers for the primary purpose of being a blessing.  We need not preach or teach in order to minister to our brothers and sisters.  Indeed, in the heart committed to God's love, the Holy Spirit possesses countless means of gracing others through us.  A loving demeanor, a kind greeting, a word of encouragement or challenge, prayers offered, and the simple fact of our Christ-inhabited presence - all provide support and strengthening for the "fitly framed together" structure of love that comprises the body of Christ (Ephesians 2:21).  When we go to give in the expectation and confidence of faith that we have a vital place in the gathering of believers, we can be sure that our Heavenly Father honors our devotion in ways that we will not know until perhaps a brother or sister greets us in Heaven.  "Do you remember that day back in September of 2013 when our paths crossed in church?  The lovingkindness you expressed and the prayer you later prayed for me helped me to get through a really hard time.  I'm so grateful to the Lord, and to you for being His heart and voice to me."  We may not remember such a time, but perhaps we will recall that on the journey to church, we committed our way to the Lord.  "Father, bless my brothers and sisters through me for the glory of the Lord Jesus, in any way You see fit.  For I go to give."

    Such an attitude means that we will "get something out of church" regardless of whether the preacher or teacher sent forth, as it were, an HD signal.  As such a communicator, I am well aware of the importance of the sender being in a proper frame of prepared heart and mind.  However, I also know that the hearer must be possessed of that same heart and mind.  "I go to give" helps to establish such an attitude of heart whereby good signals and good receivers unite to reveal a high definition display of the Lord Jesus in our midst, and in our message.

"In lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others."
(Philippians 2:3-4)

Monday, September 9, 2013

"Loved, But Not Always Liked"

   The mention of my mother's Bible in yesterday's message reminded me of something she said to me a number of times as I was growing up.

    "Glen, I always love you. But I don't  always like you!"

    I knew precisely what she meant by these words.  I understood when she said them, and looking back on far too many moments of waywardness during my youth, I really understand them now!  Indeed, I know that I held a special and unshakable place of affection, devotion and commitment in my mother's heart.  But I'm also very aware that many times my attitudes, words, and actions were far from likable.

    I'm glad my mother told me of her abiding love, and of my waxing and waning likability.  I think it speaks directly to God's view of His trusting children in Christ.  He loves us dearly, as we all know.  The Apostle Paul references our Lord's "great love" for us (Ephesians 2:4).  Moreover, His love endures eternally.  "I have loved thee with an everlasting love" (Jeremiah 31:3).  However, our Heavenly Father is not such a sentimentalist that He ignores or looks past the times when, internally or externally, we do not reflect the character, nature, and way of the Christ who lives within us.  Attitudes, words, and acts of unbelief and disobedience displease Him, as well they should.  They also lead to disciplinary action on God's part if we do not respond to the Holy Spirit's convicting and correcting action on behalf of God's glory, and our best interest.  Such chastening, while the fruit of Divine displeasure, nevertheless confirms our Heavenly Father's love for us no less than His more tender ministrations of devotion.

He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes" (Proverbs 13:24).
   "Whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth" (Hebrews 12:6).

    My mother taught me much as she reared me, including the truth that parental pleasure and displeasure actually exist as branches of the same tree of genuine love.  Children need both the caress and the chastening, including God's trusting children in Christ.  We do well to encourage each other regarding the former, and warn each other concerning the latter.  Again, our Lord is not a sentimentalist who, as one writer suggested, "acts like the kindly old grandfather who just wants the young people to be happy."  No, God is love, and love always - always - meets the need in whatever manner best administers the supply.  This is why we rightly cherish Him.  And this is why we rightly fear Him.  Yes, He loves us enough to be eternally pleased that we are His sons and daughters in Christ.  And, He loves us enough to be displeased when we do not act like it.

We have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?  For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but He for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby."
(Hebrews 12:9-11)

Sunday, September 8, 2013

  "Beautiful On the Inside"

(We don't usually send out a message on Sunday, but the following is so fresh in heart and mind that I'd like to share it today.  Also, while the following concerns someone else, writing it also made me think much of my dear friend Bill, who also experiences the circumstances mentioned, and who shows a similar devotion of grace.  Glen)

        First, Mr. Ray is the husband of Sara, a dear lady who has a form of dementia that has gradually separated much of this present world from her perception and consciousness.  And, as time goes by, from Mr. Ray.  He nevertheless treats and relates to her in the same love that I'm sure has graced their many, many decades together.  He spends most of the day with her at the nursing care facility, attending to her every need, never leaving her side, and simply being with her.  As I write these words, I can honestly say after many years of ministry in such facilities, I have never seen greater devotion, love, and sacrifice.  As I told him this morning before our service, "Mr. Ray, you are the example to me of everything a husband is called to be."

    In recent weeks, Ray and Sara have been able to attend our services because she grows increasingly quieter and more withdrawn.  Before, Mr. Ray felt uncomfortable, believing that they would be a distraction.  But now, they honor us with their presence.  How they honor us!  This has happened so often over the years, as countless people whose physical and mental impairments belie a richness of spirit, and of Christ.  Indeed, Mr. Ray and Sarah are dedicated believers in the Lord Jesus, and in the days when they couldn't attend our services, I always rejoiced in the blessing I knew would ensue when he would tell me, "I'm praying that you'll have a good meeting."

     This morning, I shared a message that began with my showing the congregation my mother's Bible.  Her torn and ragged Bible, that is.  It's literally in tatters, but I still use it sometimes in honor of her, and also because it illustrates a wonderful prophetic passage of Scripture concerning the Lord Jesus Christ.

    "He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him" (Isaiah 53:2).    

   In His first coming, our Savior so veiled His glory that His own brethren did not know who He was (John 7:5).  No form.  No comeliness.  No beauty.  Sort of like my mother's Bible, God's written Word that seems to me perfectly reflective of the Lord Jesus during His earthly sojourn.  I shared this thought in today's message, and here, Mr. Ray reenters the narrative.  "Glen," he said as the service concluded, "You know, your mother's Bible may not be much on the outside.  But it's beautiful on the inside!"

    Yes it is, Mr. Ray.  As are you, and as is the Spirit of the risen Lord Jesus who so beautifully shines in your heart, your hands, your devotion, and your love for your wife.  I do not expect to see in this lifetime a greater expression of Christ walking in a husband, or of the sublime fulfillment of Scripture that you are to me, and now to many others who will read this...

"Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it."
(Ephesians 5:25)

Friday, September 6, 2013

"To Live"

Part 2

    Modern research, technology, therapy and medicine make possible a longer lifespan for people in Western culture than any other generation has ever known.

     This provides real benefit in many cases, as both the quantity and quality of our lives are enhanced.  A dark side, however, exists in the truth that for many, a longer life simply involves a lingering existence wherein the loss of people, things, mobility and the ability to enjoy makes for a difficult departure from this present world.

    Will we ourselves linger?  Or will we bid a quick farewell, as determined by God?  We do not know.  This being true, we must be sure that our convictions about life and living coincide with truth and reality, as declared by the Word of God.  What is life?  The Bible re-coins the question.  "Who is life?"  Indeed, life is a person, One Person only.  "I am the... life."  The Lord Jesus Christ is life (John 14:6).  Living is defined in the same terms.  "To live is Christ" (Philippians 1:21).  Thus, our normal definitions of life and living crash on the rocks of Scriptural truth.  We should be glad that they do, for the aforementioned reason that we may lose just about everything before the last beat of our heart.

    If we live long enough, we will see many, and perhaps most, of those dear to us pass away from us.  Things will either be lost, left behind, or drained of their pleasure as our capacity for enjoyment dissolves.  Waning mobility means that places will likely become memories to recall rather than venues to appreciate and anticipate.  The loss of our goings and our doings will more and more reveal our human limitations as we discover the truth of the Psalmist's plaintive resignation, "Man is like to vanity: his days are as a shadow that passeth away" (Psalm 144:4).

     Such words would be difficult to write if an answer of life and fulfillment did not exist.  It does.  Again, Christ is life.  To live is Christ.  The only thing, the only One we cannot afford to lose, we cannot lose, if we have believed.  The possibility of a lingering earthly existence demands that we embrace this, the great reality of our being.  Nothing can fulfill us in this or in any moment save the the Lord Jesus.  Our hearts exist for His abiding presence to serve as the very Life of our lives.  Thus, if we linger, He will be our life, peace, joy, and strength no less in the losses of age than in the liberties of youth.  This we must believe, first because it is true, and then, because the glory of God revealed by us hinges upon our faith in Christ as the sole satisfying content of our hearts.  Have we built this most important altar within our hearts?  If so, do we visit it regularly to remember and affirm the life of Christ as our life?  The uncertainties of today, and perhaps of many days to come, demands that we choose to believe our hearts to have been made for One, and for One only.

"O send out Thy light and Thy truth.  Let them lead me, let them bring me unto Thy holy hill, and to Thy tabernacles.  Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy."
(Psalm 43:3-4)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

"To Live"

    "When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory" (Colossians 3:4).

    People define life in many ways.  We think of it in terms of physical process, or in regard to circumstance, situation, or condition.  If our heart beats and brainwaves exist within our organ of thought, we consider ourselves to be alive.  Or if we find ourselves able to do the things we most enjoy, we perceive ourselves to be truly living.  "My family is my life... My job is my life... My hobby is my life... My freedom is my life." 

    God, conversely, defines life in terms of One, that is, His Son.  "To live is Christ" declared the Apostle Paul (Philippians 1:21).  Paul knew that human beings actually exist as temples, "temples of God" wherein the Holy Spirit alone can fulfill the reason for our existence (I Corinthians 3:16).  God made us to serve as His dwellingplace.  He only can fill and fulfill our hearts.  "I am thy God" He proclaimed to Israel (Isaiah 41:10).  No one and nothing else can truthfully make this claim because, again, He alone exists as the Deity whom our hearts were made to welcome as our very life.

    A.W. Tozer referenced this truth in a sublime, but greatly challenging truth in his book, "The Pursuit of God."

    "God is so vastly wonderful, so utterly and completely delightful, that He can, without anything other than Himself, meet and overflow the deepest demands of our total nature."

    Beautifully stated, these words may first elicit admiration and enthusiastic agreement, as well they should.  This is truth and reality.  However, further consideration must elicit the honest acknowledgement that our native fleshly tendencies do not flow with the current of this River of life.  "The flesh lusteth against the Spirit" (Galatians 5:17).  Left to ourselves, we are all polytheists in the sense that we naturally perceive fulfillment to exist in many aspects of experience, condition, circumstance, and situation.  The Bible counters this false worship by declaring Christ to be our life, and the Holy Spirit takes residence within our hearts when we believe for the purpose of establishing one God as the abiding Divinity of our innermost being.  This we must believe, regardless of conflicting experience, evidence, and sensibility.  "The deepest demands of our total nature" require but One for their satisfaction and abundant fulfillment.  "He is thy life" (Deuteronomy 30:20).

   We must build an altar within our hearts whereupon we sacrifice the idolatries of believing that anything or anyone other than the Spirit of Christ can serve as our life.  Indeed, we could lose everything, but if Christ remains, we have, in terms of a fulfilled heart and reason for existence, lost nothing.  God made us for Himself, and He will not rest until we know and embrace this most important truth as the holy light burning within the inner sanctum of our spirits.  No truth more challenges our capacity for faith.  And no truth more blesses is with joy and peace than the discovery of the Lord Jesus alone as the Life of our lives.  Again, to live is Christ.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.  Nothing else.

"I am the the way, the truth and the life."
(John 14:6)

"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, September 3, 2013

  "Valleys and Battlefields"

 "I will be with thee" (Isaiah 43:2).    

So long as God's promised presence abides with us, nothing can confront us that we cannot endure, and more than endure.  "In all these things, we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us."  The "things" referenced by the Apostle Paul include "tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, and sword" (Romans 8:35-37).  Indeed, there is nothing to conquer in times of quiet, orderly, and pleasant walks through beautiful and tranquil gardens.  We rather require valleys and battlefields for such experience.  Certainly, the Lord Jesus can be glorified in us when things are going well, as we gratefully trust and submit ourselves to Him with praise and thanksgiving.  Far greater glory awaits, however, when we must descend into dark valleys, or upon fields of conflict where we find ourselves engaged in violent struggle.  "Glorify ye the Lord in the fires" (Isaiah 24:15).   

One day, it will not be this way.  One day, those beautiful and tranquil gardens will greet us as our eternally, abiding portion.  Rest from the battles and summit vistas of wonder await us when all things shall have been redeemed, purified, and perfected.  Yes, one day... This, however, is not that day.  This is the day of conflict, wherein we awaken upon a spiritual battlefield with the smoke of conflict and fiery darts filling the air all around us.  This is the day for necessary descents into valleys where we often cannot see a firm place of footing for our next step.  This is the day for challenge, but far more, for our overcoming of challenge.      

"In the world, ye shall have much tribulation.  But be of good cheer, I have overcome the world... Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world.  And this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith" (John 16:33; I John 5:4).    
In the valley and on the battlefield, the Captain of our salvation awaits to lead us unto glories that can be known nowhere else.  He bears the wounds of conflict, but far more, He wears the crown of victory.  Yes, the Lord Jesus Christ overcame so that we might overcome.  "I am with thee" He declares to our hearts.  Little more needs to be known, remembered, and affirmed in order to traverse the valley, and conquer on the battlefield.  Because so long as our Lord is with us, we can endure any challenge, and more than endure.

"For by Thee I have run through a troop: by my God have I leaped over a wall."  (II Samuel 22:30)

Monday, September 2, 2013

"These Momentous Days"

    This past week, I conducted a funeral and a wedding for the same family in the span of three days.  Yvonne, the mother of Sheldon, our youngest daughter Emmie's boyfriend, went to be with her Lord on August 20.  The family is British, so the service was delayed for a week so that family and friends could make the journey over from England to say their farewells.  However, the wedding of Yvonne's eldest son Stefan had been scheduled many months ago for August 30.  This meant the two services, so different in their purpose and emotional sensibility, would occur within a two day period.  Stefan and his fiancee Vicki wanted to delay their wedding, of course, as it became evident that Yvonne's departure drew near.  In the last days of her life, however, Yvonne insisted that the wedding go on as planned.  I think she knew that the event could serve as a comfort and catharsis for the family, and looking back on how the week unfolded, this proved to be true.

     "Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep" (Romans 12:15).

    Our Lord met with us in both services.  I would say that He rejoiced with us, and wept with us.  This is who He is, that is, He is the God "full of compassion" (Psalm 86:15).  Our cares are His cares, our joys His joys, our sorrows His sorrows, and our life His life.  He loved and loves Yvonne, as we did, and as we do.  She required His accompaniment through "the valley of the shadow of death," and He faithfully fulfilled His promise to be with her in the journey Home (Psalm 23:4).  We required His comforting presence because Yvonne left us, and He faithfully fulfilled His promise to be "a very present help in trouble" (Psalm 46:1).  Thus, I am more convinced than ever of the Truth we often share in sermons, lessons, and essays, namely, that the Lord Jesus is always everything we need Him to be, and more.  Nothing can present itself to us that will not find our blessed Savior to be God's more than abundant supply of grace, presence, and enabling.  This we must believe and establish as the abiding conviction of our hearts, first, because it is true, and also because our experience of this presence and supply requires our faith.

     The family will, of course, continue to require God's presence and comfort in the days to come, and He will be there for them.  I know that you will pray for them, that they will trust Him accordingly, and that the balm of the comforting Holy Spirit will salve their wounds of loss.  Pray also for Stefan and Vicki as they enter their marital life together.  It began in a particularly holy time, and doubtless our Lord has special purposes for this couple who have found a place deep in my heart and affections.  Yvonne's husband Rob will also appreciate your prayers, as will each of her six children.  Finally, I would mention Sheldon particularly, because we are closest to him.  He was Yvonne's youngest, and I have never met a finer young man.  He was very close to his mother, and he will need God's grace in days to come.  What a joy it is to know that it will be there in abundant measure, and that the Lord who met with Yvonne and her family in these momentous days will meet them along the way of all days to come.

"I will be with thee."
(Isaiah 43:2)