Wednesday, April 30, 2014

"To Love, To Live. To Live, To Love"

   I was faced with a decision yesterday between an action that would cause me discomfort and one that would create a problem for someone else.  The details of the matter are unimportant, involving a personal matter known only to the Lord and myself.

   At first, I hesitated to embrace the discomfort.  I quickly realized, however, the path laid before me by our Heavenly Father.

   "Let every one of us please his neighbor for his good to edification. For even Christ pleased not Himself… The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister and give His life a ransom for many" (Romans 15:1-2; Mark 10:45).

   Created by the God who "is love," our way of peace always flows in the direction of His way of unselfish devotion to others (I John 4:8).  "Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He said, It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35).  In my circumstance yesterday, it did not initially seem or feel that deferring to others offered the best outcome.  In my heart, however, I knew it was.  Indeed, any opportunity to "walk, even as He walked" invites us to experience the wonder of love that comprises the sublime being of our triune God (I John 2:6).  This is joy, pure and unmitigated, revealed unto and within us by the indwelling Spirit of Christ.  "The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us" (Romans 5:5).

    Left to ourselves, the unholy trinity of I, me, and my would govern our every attitude, word, and action.  Thankfully, our Lord does not leave His trusting children in Christ to ourselves, leading and enabling us to walk in the glory of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit's unselfish devotion to others.  Opportunities such as the one I reference from yesterday continually present themselves in countless forms and fashions.  Our Lord privileges us to travel the path of love He long ago paved during a lifetime of joyful self sacrifice.  The same joy awaits all who recognize that in God's creation, to love is to live, and to live is to love.  Nothing else fits either definition, either in Him or in ourselves.

"Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame."

(Hebrews 12:2)

Weekly Memory Verse

  Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise: be thankful unto Him, and bless His name.

(Psalm 100:4)



Tuesday, April 29, 2014

“The Condemned and the Converted”

    Two classes of people exist in the world, the condemned and the converted.

    “He that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18).
    “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

    Similarities and difference characterize the two groups.

    Both were originally born of Adam’s race, and thus conceived in the sin inherited from our original forebear.   Through unbelief, the condemned remain in their plight.   God’s grace, however, spiritually rescues and births the converted into a new family, headed by the Lord Jesus Christ (John 3:17; II Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 3:15).

    God deems the condemned as “dead in trespasses and sins.”   Conversely, He declares the converted as “alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Ephesians 2:1; Romans 6:11).

    The sins of the condemned remain their own despite the work of the Lord Jesus “for the sins of the whole world.”  The sins of the converted are forgiven, never to be accounted to them in the sense of condemnation and wrath (I John 2:2; Romans 4:8).

    Both companies still sin.  The origin of such in the condemned, however, involves both spirit and flesh.  The converted, in contrast, sin as the result of yielding to the fleshly lusts of the law of sin in their members (I John 1:8; Romans 7:17-25; Ephesians 2:3).

    The condemned cannot save themselves from the mastery of sin.  The converted did not and cannot do so either, but rather freely received - and continue to receive - the grace of “the Author and Finisher of our faith,” the Lord Jesus (Ephesians 2:7-8; Hebrews 12:2).

    The  condemned “live and move and have being” in God, while also receiving “life and breath and all things” from Him.  They do not, however, know or appreciate this.  The converted live in the same beneficence, while seeking to offer perpetual praise and thanksgiving to the One whom they recognize and affirm as the Giver of “every good gift and every perfect gift” (Acts 17:25-28; Psalm 107:1-2; James 1:17).

    The list could go on and on, if space permitted.  We close, however, with perhaps the most consequential characteristic that separates the two classes.  The Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ dwells in the converted as the free gift of God’s grace, thus fulfilling their very reason for being.  Sadly and tragically, this is not the case in the condemned, who thus exist in the dark unreality of not being what they were made to be.  Christ thus serves as the defining issue of the condemned and the converted, either by His presence or absence.  May our Heavenly Father increase our knowledge of His Son’s preeminence.  And may He influence those in our world who do do not recognize the Lord Jesus as Creator, Redeemer, and the very Life of life (Romans 8:9: Colossians 1:27).

“This is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.  He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.
(I John 5:11-12)

Weekly Memory Verse
   Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise: be thankful unto Him, and bless His name.
(Psalm 100:4)

Monday, April 28, 2014

"Call Unto Me"

    Computers (including the one on which I presently write) genuflect to Frances, acknowledging her as their Exalted Master.  On the other hand, they sneer at me.  “Ha!  You think I’m going to do what you want me to do?! Ha!”

    Some people, including my wife, seem to possess an intuitive knack for these devices that so fill and influence modern life.  Regarding Frances, this is not to say that she hasn’t worked very hard to develop her knowledge and skill.  She has, and I am abundantly blessed to have her with me as my own personal I.T. department.  On literally hundreds of occasions through the years, I’ve needed to avail myself of her services as my desktops, laptops, and now, Chromebook, mock me as I attempt to perform the simplest of procedures.  “Frances!  I need your help!”  I get the last laugh, of course, because I can literally (almost) see my computer tuck its tail between its legs as its aforementioned Exalted Master takes matters into her beautiful and talented hands.

    Our spiritual enemies, concerning far more serious matters of life and eternity, mock us when we seek to address their challenges and assaults by our own means.   We respond in such fashion to our own peril, in contrast to God’s faithful angels,  who defer to Him when demonic entities seek to ply their nefarious trade:

    “Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee” (Jude 1:9).

    Many Bible students consider Michael to be the most powerful of God’s angels.  Nevertheless, he recognizes the Lord as the source of his strength, particularly regarding confrontations with Satan.  How much more must believers defer from the foolishness of seeking to face our spiritual challenges through our own insufficient auspices?  “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might commands the Apostle Paul (Ephesians 6:10; emphasis added).  God mightily enables us, and Paul also declares, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheth me” (Philippians 4:13).  However, the power never becomes our own. We must avoid the devil’s error of believing the glory that flows within and through us originates in us (Ezekiel 28:17).

    Frances, as she does in so many ways, provides a strikingly vivid example to me of how to deal with the spiritual challenges of life.  I recognize her prowess in the matter of computers, while acknowledging my lack thereof.  When trouble comes, therefore, I call her.  Subsequently, she either shows me what to do, or she takes matters into her own hands (“Let me drive” is how she usually puts it).  In similar manner, our Heavenly Father either enables us to face the battles of life by leading us in His wisdom and enabling, or He simply deals with the matters Himself. Either way, the power is of Him, through Him, and by Him…

“Call unto Me and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.”
(Jeremiahs 33:3)    
“We also are weak in Him, but we shall live with Him by the power of God toward you.”
(II Corinthians 13:4)

Weekly Memory Verse
   Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise: be thankful unto Him, and bless His name.
(Psalm 100:4)

Saturday, April 26, 2014

“Provided, Guided, Kept”

     The New Testament declares of born again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ that “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us.”  Moreover, the Apostle Paul prayed for the Thessalonian Christians, “The Lord direct your hearts into the love of God.”  Finally, Jude commands us to “keep yourselves in the love of God” (Romans 5:5; II Thessalonians 3:5; Jude 1:21).

     1.  God’s love is present within us.
     2.  He must guide us into His love.
     3.  We play a role in preserving our awareness and experience of our Lord’s love.

     We must embrace Paul’s affirmation of our Lord’s love “shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.”  Faith in Christ imparts to believers the devotion, motivation, and power necessary to “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength” (Mark 12:30).  We may not always remember and respond to the fact of such presence and enabling, but it always exists within us through the indwelling Holy Spirit.  We love our Heavenly Father as we seek to do everything, that is, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheth me” (Philippians 4:13).

    Thus, Paul prays for the Lord to direct the Thessalonians’ hearts into God’s love.  This involves the faith of remembrance, affirmation, and expectation.  The presence of our Lord’s love within us must be actualized in our personal awareness and outward expression.  “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25).  We must frequently encourage and challenge ourselves and each other to acknowledge that the power to fulfill the most important reason for our existence - to love God - dwells nearer than our next breath.  Paul’s prayer for direction into such truth and reality serves as a prime example of how we also should intercede for each other and ourselves concerning our walk with the Lord.

    The final aspect of keeping ourselves in the love of God involves the environment of our hearts, as it were.  Again, we play a vital role in the matter of experiencing and expressing the fact of our Lord’s devotion to us.  We seek to do those things that make far more likely our remembrance of how greatly we are loved by God, and how greatly we are to love Him.  This involves our thinking, attitudes, habits, relationships, and ways of responding to life’s blessings and challenges.  “Does this make more likely my realization and experience of life in the reality of God’s love?  Or does it hinder such blessedness?”  Keeping these questions in heart and mind goes far in fulfilling our privileged responsibility to “keep yourselves in the love of God.”

    God provides His love unto and within us, and works to guide our hearts more and more into this greatest of all gifts.  We respond by seeking to maintain ourselves in that which makes likely our devoted response.  Such reciprocity in relationship honors our Lord, blesses His heart, and enlivens us to experience the abundance of life found only in living, conscious relationship with the Life of our lives…

“We love Him because He first loved us.”
(I John 4:19)

Weekly Memory Verse
    Thou art my rock and my fortress; therefore for Thy name's sake lead me, and guide me.
(Psalm 31:3)

“Orange Moon Origins”

     We have a lot of new people on our email mailing list (and fold on Facebook now, too), and I thought I’d share a bit of Orange Moon history since it’s been quite a while since last doing so.

    The theme began for Frances and me on her birthday one year (I think it was September 2, 1987 or ‘88).  We came home from a celebration of the day at her parent’s house, and at dusk, I sat on our back steps with my guitar.  A stunningly beautiful moon rose through the trees as I played, and to this day I don’t think I’ve seen another one so brilliantly and fiery orange.  I gazed at it in wonder as chords, melodies, and lyrics of a love song for Frances seemed to drift down from the glorious scene in the sky.  As a favorite musician said about one of his pieces, “It was floating around, looking for a home, and found me.”  It felt very much like that as I seemed to listen to the song rather than play and sing it for the first time. 

    Frances loved the song (entitled, of course, “Orange Moon”), and the concept gradually became somewhat of a theme for our lives and ministry.  Indeed, to this day, when an orange moon appears somewhere in the sky, somebody calls or sends an email (or these days, a text) to let me know that they’ve seen the wondrous sight.   In their journeys, our children have contacted us from college campuses, Great Britain, and the war zone of Iraq to let us know they’ve been reminded of mom and dad.  Many of you have done the same, and it blesses us beyond measure.

    How does this lead to an “Orange Moon Cafe?”  Or a “Special of the Day” from it?  A blessed deliverance from insanity answers that question.  In the mid 90s, Frances and I both entertained the notion of opening a coffee shop with a Christian emphasis.  We love such environs, and what other name could we give such a place than “The Orange Moon Cafe?”  Thankfully, a friend who knew about our notion invited me to breakfast, looked across the table, and basically told me I was nuts! He was right, of course.  Frances and I had no business experience, we were already busy in ministry, and we were still in the process of raising a family.  I came to my senses across that breakfast table, and shelved the idea as the most fanciful  of notions, and the most blessed of deliverances.  No Orange Moon Cafe came to pass, and I often breathe a sigh of relief when I gratefully think of the matter (interestingly, in Augusta, Georgia, there was a restaurant the bore the name until it recently closed.  We had always hoped to visit some day).

    Not long after, however, our version of such a “place” did come to pass.  In October, 1998, Frances began to send passages of a favorite devotional book to friends and family by email.  There was likely no problem with this, but we did both wonder about copyright infringement.  The thought came to me that we should write and send out our own email devotional, again, just to family and a few friends.  We began, and the title seemed ready at hand.  Thus, “The Special of the Day… From the Orange Moon Cafe” was born in bytes and bits rather than brick and mortar.  Little did we realize how many friends in Christ would grace our lives as a result, or that fifteen years and more than four thousand devotionals later, we’d still be writing and sending, and you’d still be reading.

    Reciting the story always causes me to think of the truth that sometimes our Heavenly Father has something in mind that we don’t fully comprehend.   Israel, in response to hundreds of prophecies, looked for a Messiah to deliver them from their bondage.  The Lord faithfully fulfilled His promises, but did so in His first coming by offering escape from the mastery of sin in the heart.  God’s earthly people largely missed their Deliverer as a result, failing to realize that we don’t always process the Lord’s promises as clearly and accurately as necessary.  He tells us what He will do in His Word.  He doesn’t always tell us how He will do it, and we must be ready always for promises fulfilled through unlikely ways and means.  “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24). 

    I’m so grateful that we realized the Lord’s intentions, both in avoiding brick and mortar, with all its complications, and embracing bytes and bits, with all its blessings.  You are that blessing to us, and I will always be grateful for that moon from so long ago, which led to the ongoing gift of your friendship and fellowship.  As I told a dear friend the other day, I never feel more at peace than when writing the Orange Moon devotionals.  And I never feel more amazed by grace than to know that you read and hopefully benefit from them.  Our Lord is kind, and I thank Him, and I thank you.

“Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding, abundantly above all 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.”
(Ephesians 3:20-21)

Weekly Memory Verse
    Thou art my rock and my fortress; therefore for Thy name's sake lead me, and guide me.
(Psalm 31:3)

“For His Sake”

     “I have learned by experience that the Lord hath blessed me for Thy sake” (Genesis 30:27).
     Laban’s acknowledgement to Jacob provides one of the clearest and simplest Old Testament foreshadowings of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

    “God… hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3).

    Left to our own merit and attainment, God would have to completely and utterly reject every son and daughter of Adam.  “All we like sheep have gone astray” (Isaiah 53:6).  However, since Christ our Good Shepherd did not wander from His Father’s will for even the briefest detour, He could make atonement for our sins by dying for us, and then impute His righteousness to us through resurrection and the giving of the Holy Spirit to believers.  “Christ is made unto us…righteousness” (I Corinthians 1:30).  Thus, born again believers enter into God’s favor for Christ when we trust Him in the new birth.

    We do well, however, to “learn by experience that the Lord hath blessed me for Thy sake.”  Every gift our Heavenly Father bestows upon us comes with a price tag marked “Paid In Full.”  The cost?  Our blessed Savior’s tortured suffering, forsakenness, and shedding of His lifeblood on the cross of Calvary.  God blesses us first for the sake of His Son.  He gives to as the free gift of grace that which the Lord Jesus deserves, just as at Calvary He gave to Christ what we deserve.  The more we grow in our knowledge of Scripture and our walk with God, the more we discover the blessedness of G-R-A-C-E: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.

    Through an everlasting eternity, the sons and daughters of God in Christ will discover how dear the Lord Jesus is in the heart of His Father.  He is our Father also, and so dear to Him that He will graciously impart to us the same favor to those united unto His beloved Son.  Thus, in this life and the next we may “learn by experience” the wonder of being united to the Father’s chief delight, who must be the chief delight in the hearts of all blessed through His merits, and for His sake.

“The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.”
(Romans 8:16-17)

Weekly Memory Verse
    Thou art my rock and my fortress; therefore for Thy name's sake lead me, and guide me.
(Psalm 31:3)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

“To Ascend So High, To See So Far”

     I passed through a neighborhood recently where I once lived as a child.  We moved away nearly forty years ago, but a tree still stands in which I and friends of those days built a tri-level treehouse (well, if you know anything about my building skills, you’ll realize that I probably did more carrying of boards and handing other guys the tools than actual construction!).

     The tree I reference was and is very tall.  From the top level, it seemed we could see beyond our neighborhood to places throughout our city.  It thrilled young boys’ souls to ascend so high, and to see so far.  I’ve never been one for heights, but memory tells me that I never had much difficulty with the lofty perch that granted such a view and such a rush of excitement and adventure.

    “God… hath raised us up together and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4...6).

    The Apostle Paul declares that a part of us, the very heart of us, already dwells in the heavenlies with our Lord.  Just as His Spirit comes to indwell us upon the earth when we believe in the Lord Jesus, so do our spirits soar to be with Him in His abode.  Don’t ask me to explain this, other than to say that spiritual reality transcends time and space, allowing for sublime and mysterious glories to grace our being for which we presently have little capacity for comprehension.  “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24).

    A way to experience such glory, however, does actually present itself to us.  “Forever, o Lord, Thy Word is settled in Heaven” (Psalm 119:89).   God sent forth His settled Heavenly truth to the earth in order to settle it within our hearts.  When we open the Bible, therefore, we discover the perspective of Heaven, and of Heaven’s God.  We view truth and reality from His vantage point: “In Thy light shall we see light” (Psalm 36:9).  Rather than base opinions, beliefs, and convictions on our limited earthly vision, we ascend to a better and higher perch from which we view all things with God’s vision.  The heavenly home of our spirits becomes far more realized, and far more influential in every other aspect of our life and being.  “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).

    Perhaps just now we may need to ascend so high and to see so far.  An open Bible, read with a humble, trusting, expectant heart allows for such perspective regarding blessings, challenges, and everything in our life.  Long ago, the Lord began to call my heart to such glory before ever I knew Him.  A tree still stands to remind, and far more, the Word “settled in Heaven” presently beckons me in a far greater way to ascend so high and to see so far.  I know you join me in the ascent and the sight, and let us rejoice together that the Scriptures call us to that higher Place…

“Come and see the works of God” (Psalm 66:5).

“We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
(II Corinthians 4:18)

Weekly Memory Verse
    Thou art my rock and my fortress; therefore for Thy name's sake lead me, and guide me.
(Psalm 31:3)

Monday, April 21, 2014

"From the Ashes"

     The column’s title postulated a dire prospect: “Why Christianity Is Dying In Great Britain.”  The writer accurately depicted the societal, cultural, moral, and religious changes that have happened in England for many years, suggesting that the country has largely either left the notion of God behind, or is moving toward a different religious milieu.

    However, is Christianity really dying in Great Britain?  Can it actually die there or anywhere?  It cannot, that is, if we consider the matter not merely in an institutional sense, but in terms of the very definition of the spiritual reality birthed by its crucified and risen Founder. 

    “Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over Him. For in that He died, He died unto sin once: but in that He liveth, He liveth unto God” (Romans 6:9-10).

    Just as in His earthly life, so the reports of our Lord’s cultural demise are always, to borrow from Mark Twain, greatly exaggerated.  As we often suggest, so much of His doing occurs under the surface and behind the scenes that God’s working often requires us to confess with Jacob after his dream of the angelic ladder,  “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not!” (Genesis 28:16).  Moreover, the cross of the Lord Jesus upon which our faith began seemed like an event bereft of God’s presence and working rather than the truth that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself” (II Corinthians 5:19).  We can thus be sure that the Spirit of God executes the purposes of God regardless of appearances that may indicate otherwise.  “The Light shineth in darkness” (John 1:5).

    Certainly, the spiritual condition of Great Britain and of all nations in this hour of history presents a troubling prospect.  We need not, however, worry that Christianity, if we reference the reality as opposed to the institution, will somehow perish from the nations.  Far from it.  Again, our faith began in death and resurrection as enacted in our Lord’s personal history.  The same dynamic process takes place in our lives and in the ebb and flow of nations, cultures, and societies.  The Lord always has His people, whether along public pathways or in catacombs, and the risen Christ still walks and works among all.  He may be harder to see in some venues, but He is there nonetheless.  Death presages resurrection where the Lord Jesus is involved, and He is involved everywhere and in all things.  “The whole earth is full of His glory” (Isaiah 6:3).

    Great Britain’s drift from truth and reality grieves me, as does the same in my own nation, the United States.  I seek to remember, however, that as long as the tomb once occupied by our Lord remains empty, we live in the light of His victory.  Through the ages, our enemies have been allowed by God much liberty in setting afire the Gospel of Christ, only to see its flames of grace reignite from the ashes.  Let us pray that the believers of England will see the opportunities provided by the growing darkness to shine every more brightly for the glory of God.  And let us see all look for the same in our own nations and personal venues of life and ministry.

“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)

Weekly Memory Verse
    For through Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.
(Ephesians 2:18)

"The Holy Proportion"

    To the degree our Lord was forsaken on the cross of Calvary by our Heavenly Father, we will never be alone.

    “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46).
    “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee” (Hebrews 13:5).

    The Lord Jesus purchased for His trusting children the eternal presence of God in our born again spirits.  “I am with thee always” (Matthew 28:20).  Thus, we will live both time and eternity with Somebody, that is, with the One whom we cannot truly live without.  God made us for Himself.  He alone enlivens and actualizes the components of our “fearfully and wonderfully” created humanity (Psalm 139:14).  Moreover, He purposes to serve as the primary companion of our hearts.  “He is thy life” (Deuteronomy 30:20).  Such wonder of God received, known, and experienced comes to us through its loss as known and experienced when our Savior died for our sins in lonely abandonment on the cross.

    In those times when it seems difficult to trust in the presence of God, remembrance of the holy proportion we encourages us.  Again, to the degree He was forsaken, we will never be.  The Lord Jesus gave to us, and eternally gives to us, the very gift of God’s person and presence.  At the highest cost to Himself, He provided for us the glory revealed in His very name…

“They shall call His name Emmanuel, which, being interpreted is, God with us.”
(Matthew 1:23)

Weekly Memory Verse
    For through Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.
(Ephesians 2:18)

Thursday, April 17, 2014


    The book of Esther holds a special place in the pages of Scripture, serving as the only book that does not directly mention the fact or person of God.  The Lord and His truth fill Esther nonetheless in spiritual metaphor, along with prophetic foreshadowings concerning Israel and the Gentiles, the intercessory ministries of Mordecai and Esther that point to the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Divine providence whereby God protects and delivers His people.

    The question that always comes to mind when reading Esther involves the wonder of what kind of God would inspire an entire book of the Bible that does not reference His existence?   Just as the Lord Jesus lived most of His earthly lifetime with little fanfare, so does the writer of Esther avoid direct mention of God in order to shine the spotlight upon Him even more beautifully.

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

    To the trusting heart, the Lord Jesus glimmers forth in all the more beauty because He possessed “no beauty” during His earthly sojourn.   His veiled glory serves as sublime backdrop for the glory of His character, nature, and way.  Indeed, consider that the Savior willingly “made Himself of no reputation” in order to save us from sin (Philippians 2:7).  He lived so inauspiciously that His own brethren did not know who He was (John 7:5).  Most importantly, He died in shame and rejection by both God and man as one apparently worthy of regard from neither.  Yes, considering such lack of beauty convinces our hearts even more of how beautiful the Lord Jesus truly is.

    No book of Scripture feels more God-saturated that the book of Esther.  Our Lord requires no mention in order to shine forth in glory and vivid revelation from this blessed portion of God’s Word.  The same is true in us as our Heavenly Father works in ways that can only be recognized by those who possess eyes of “seeing Him who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:27).  Rarely does the Lord herald His arrival, presence, and working in our lives.  Most of what He does occurs behind the scenes, as it were, and under the surface.  Just as Esther required Mordecai to open her eyes to the realization that God placed her in the king’s palace “for such a time as this,” so must He frequently encourage and challenge us to believe the truth of His dynamic presence (Esther 4:14).  As we frequently suggest, we may not know what God is doing, but we can know that He is doing.  “God… worketh all things after the counsel of His own will” (Ephesians 1: 3;11).

     The presence and working of our Heavenly Father often exists in direct proportion to the appearance of His absence.  “We walk by faith, not by sight” (II Corinthians 5:7).  The book of Esther illuminates such truth by veiling the God who fills its holy pages.  Let us expect such in our own lives as our Lord most often moves upon and within us quietly for the glory of His name, our benefit, and the benefit of those in our sphere of influence.  What is He doing?  We may not know.  That He is doing.  Of this we can be sure.

“Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.”
(John 7:24)

Weekly Memory Verse
    For through Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.
(Ephesians 2:18)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

“The Second Man”

    “The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven.  As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the Heavenly” (I Corinthians 15:47-49).

     Placed in a garden of plenty, the first man, Adam, succumbed to temptation by disbelieving the word of God (Genesis 3:1-6).

     Placed in a wilderness of starvation, the second man, the Lord Jesus Christ, overcame temptation by trusting the Word of His Father (Matthew 4:1-10).

    Born again believers in the Lord Jesus are spiritually united with Him, thus enabling us to “bear the image of the Heavenly.”  We retain, however, the humanity inherited from Adam, thus meaning we can still at times express the earthliness of our physical forefather.  “The flesh lusteth against the spirit” (Galatians 5:17).  The Apostle Paul specifically defines this fleshly propensity in his first letter to the Corinthians:

    “Ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” (I Corinthians 3:3).

    Paul states that carnality involves our living as if we are merely human, as opposed to the truth that believers are human as inhabited by the Divine.  We can walk in the lonely fleshliness of Adam, or in the truth of God’s presence, as revealed in us through the indwelling Spirit of Christ.  The Lord Jesus overcame temptation through the word and power of God - “I live by the Father” (John 6:57).  Adam fell by failing to avail himself of God’s enabling, hearkening to Eve’s voice rather than his Lord’s (Genesis 3:17).  The second man faced and overcame temptation with, by, and through God.  Again, “I live by the Father.” The first man faced and sucumbed to temptation in and of himself.  Again, “are ye not carnal, and walk as men?”

    Our challenges involve the same root issue.  Temptation causes us to feel alone.  If we succumb to the deception, we fall and fail because we disbelieve the truth of our Lord’s enabling presence.  If we overcome, we do so in the same manner our Lord overcame in the wilderness.  He lived by the Father, and we “live through Him” (I John 4:9).  Thereby we “bear the image of the Heavenly” because we “walk, even as He walked” (I John 2:6). 

    The Christ in whom we trust is also the Christ who Himself lived a lifetime of trust.  Thus, He serves as the example of our faith, the object of our faith, and the enabling of our faith - “Christ, the power of God” (I Corinthians 1:24).  Little wonder that the writer of Hebrews calls us to “look unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).  The second man, the Lord from Heaven knows the life we live, and His indwelling presence provides the life God calls us to live.  Through Him, and only through Him do we overcome the temptation to walk as if we are merely ourselves, rather than affirming the truth that we are ourselves as inhabited by the living God.

“I will dwell in them and walk in them.”
(II Corinthians 6:16)
“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… Jesus saith unto Him, I am the way.”
(I Corinthians 10:13; John 14:6)

Weekly Memory Verse
    For through Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.
(Ephesians 2:18)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

“Thoughts and Intents”

    “What?” matters.  “Why?” matters more.
    “Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (I Samuel 16:7).
    “The word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

    Good things done for the wrong reasons will burn like empty chaff when God judges the works of His trusting children in Christ (I Corinthians 3:12-15).  Moreover, we may hinder others who see through the hypocrisy of words and actions that may appear pure, but which actually proceed from an unholy fount of self-centered intention.  We must therefore keep our hearts ever before the Lord for His motive-purifying work of grace and truth in the Lord Jesus.  “Search me and know my heart” prayed King David (Psalm 139:23).  We do well to join him, and to also do that which David could not do, namely, keep our hearts in the Bible that both directly and implicitly focuses our attention on “Why?”

    The Spirit of God ever works in us to establish the glory of the Lord Jesus as the first reason for all things.  “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord” (I Corinthians 10:31).  That which honors Him proceeds from the heart of God to our own hearts.  Anything that fails to accomplish such purpose also fails to meet the test of motive and intention.  Thus, we do well to keep an ongoing communication with our Heavenly Father about everything in our lives.  “Does this reflect well on the Lord Jesus, and am I doing it for this holy purpose, as led and enabled by the Holy Spirit?”  This will be the defining and determining issue of the Judgement Seat of Christ.  It is also the defining and determining issue of this day, and this moment…

“He is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things He might have the preeminence.”
(Colossians 1:18)

Weekly Memory Verse
    For through Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.
(Ephesians 2:18)

Monday, April 14, 2014

"The Assurance of Acceptance"

    God's grace grants to believers blessedness based upon the merits of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  He gives to us that which the Lord Jesus deserves.

    “Righteousness….shall be imputed, if we believe on Him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification” (Romans 4:22; 24-25).

   God's mercy led to His Son experiencing wrath and rejection on the cross of Calvary.  He gave to Christ that which we deserve.

    “He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (II Corinthians 5:21).

    To the degree we know and embrace such blessed truth by faith will be the degree to which we avail ourselves of the freely given relationship with God we receive when we trust in Christ.  If we look to ourselves or to our own faithfulness and merit, discouragement inevitably awaits.  Conversely, if we “look to Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith,” consistent encouragement keeps us approaching the throne of grace (Hebrews 12:2).  Our spiritual enemies know this quite well, and thus seek to direct our attention to how we feel and whether or not we measure up to God’s standards.  Thus, we must know quite well the heart and life-changing truth of redirecting our focus upon the Lord Jesus.  Who is He?  What has He done?  What is He doing?  And what will He be doing forevermore?  Attention to these holy questions, as guided by the Scriptures, leads to the growing Christlikeness of which the Apostle Paul wrote,  “Beholding as in the 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).

    We must relate to God in order to love, trust, obey, and communicate Him to our world.  Moreover, we must approach Him in the proper attire in order to be received.  The grace and mercy of the Lord Jesus made such relationship possible when it freely enrobed us with the necessary righteousness for our entrance into communion with God (I Corinthians 1:30).  We come through Christ always, or we do not come at all.  His Person, His merits, and His work on our behalf provide access, and the assurance of acceptance.  No truth more promises realized relationship with God, and no truth more encourages us to avail ourselves of so gracious and merciful a gift…

     “And lest the shadow of a spot should on my soul be found, He took the robe my Savior wrought, and cast it all around” (Issac Watts).

“For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich.”
(II Corinthians 8:9)
“He hath made us accepted in the Beloved.”
(Ephesians 1:6)

Weekly Memory Verse
    For through Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.
(Ephesians 2:18)

Friday, April 11, 2014

"First Matters of the Day"

     Our spiritual enemies tempt us from the first moment of wakefulness with the prodding to make the new day about ourselves.  “How do I feel?... What do I need to do today?... Where must I go?... What problems linger from yesterday?.”  On and on the list goes of valid questions to be addressed and challenges to be faced.  They must not, however, comprise the first matters of the day.  We rather do well to quickly direct our hearts upward, outward, and away to the true reason for our existence. 

     “We have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him” (I John 4:16).
     “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Mark 22:37-39).

    Born again believers in the Lord Jesus exist in the very love of God.  He loved us and loves us.  Moreover, He freely gave to us the Holy Spirit, by whom “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts” (Romans 5:5).   Thus, as we awaken, we do not have to dig a hole and jump into the pit of dark self centeredness to which our enemies invite us.  Instead, we can remember and affirm our belovedness in the heart of God, and we can devote ourselves to the glory of loving Him and others as the primary purpose of the day.  We ascend to the summit of our life and being in Christ, again, gazing upward, outward, and away to the glorious vista of a life lived as He lives, namely, for God and for others.

     In such devotion, we do not fail to attend to personal matters.  In fact, we deal with them far better because we recognize their role in enabling us to “walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us” (Ephesians 5:2).  We see everything more clearly because God directs our focus upon the first matters of His glory, will, and eternal purpose in Christ, and upon the needs of others in our sphere of influence.  Beautiful indeed is the vista of God’s love wherein we may blessedly begin our days looking upward, outward, and away from ourselves…

“In lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.  Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.”
(Philippians 2:3-5)

Weekly Memory Verse
     Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath, for it is written, Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, saith the Lord.
(Romans 12:19)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

“The Sword”

   I suppose it’s a guy thing…

   Yesterday, I found my old pocket knife in the back of a drawer.  I thought it long lost, and I suppose it was (if you saw the drawer, you’d understand).  It felt really good to open the blades, sharpen them, snap them shut, and deposit my trusty sword where it belongs.  In my pocket.  There’s just something so right about having such a tool close at hand.  I can’t recall how many times in the last few years I’ve needed a knife for some task.  String that required cutting.  A box to be opened.  A stick that needed to be whittled.  A pocketknife to be felt in the pocket when you’re reaching for your keys.  You know, the very necessities of life.

  I suspect you know where I’m going with this.

   “Take… the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God... Thy Word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against Thee” (Ephesians 6:17; Psalm 119:12).

     The Christian life involves bearing and wielding a weapon - the Word of God - whereby we overcome the attacks of the world, the flesh, and the devil.  As the Lord Jesus Christ Himself practiced in the wilderness temptation, we remember, believe, and affirm the truth of Scripture.  Thereby we counter falsehoods our enemies tempt us to believe.  Note also that our Savior specifically applied passages from Deuteronomy that specifically applied to the challenges He faced (Matthew 4:1-11).  We must do the same in order to face our own challenges.  Thus, we cannot leave our sword in a drawer, as it were.  It must be carried, remembered, and utilized in order to overcome temptation.

   My pocketknife reminds me of such things, and thus serves far greater purposes than its normal functions of cutting, whittling, and providing pocket weight (again, it’s a guy thing).  I’m grateful, and hope to remember a far greater and more necessary Sword that serves far greater and more necessary purposes…

“For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”
(Hebrews 4:12)

Weekly Memory Verse
    Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath, for it is written, Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, saith the Lord.
(Romans 12:19)

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

"The Gift of Himself"

    Rare is the occasion I have opportunity to speak to a group of children.  Most of our ministry involves adults, so it’s always a special time when we get to share with young people the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    Today was one of those times.  I spoke to 150 or so children in a Christian school morning assembly.  I’ve known about this meeting for a couple of months.  When asked to speak to the students, I immediately began to prayerfully consider what I might say to them about the Lord Jesus.  A thought came to mind, and I’ve known ever since the subject matter I would present.  Indeed, I often focus on the subject whenever I speak to a group of people with whom I may never have the opportunity to meet again.

    “I am with you always… I will never leave thee nor forsake thee” (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5).

   Since the school is strongly Christian, I was confident the children hear the Gospel regularly.  In fact, I’m sure that many of them may already know the Lord.  This allowed me to speak in terms beyond evangelism since I’m sure they hear the message of God’s saving grace nearly every day.  I therefore told these very well-behaved young people that of the gifts God gives to us when we trust in the Lord Jesus, the most wonderful (and the heart of all others) is Himself.  “The Lord comes to live with and within us when we believe” I said.  “You will therefore never, ever be alone in this life or in eternity.”

    I cannot express what a wonderful thing it is to be called to tell brothers and sisters in Christ, both young and old, this most blessed of all truths.  Indeed, often on the way to conduct services in various places, the privilege overwhelms me.  Again, in Christ, God gives to us Himself.  I wanted these young people to hear this, although I’m sure they’ve heard it before.  If somehow this truth of God’s abiding presence can become fixed within their understanding and convictions at an early age, the truth will make their blessings more blessed, their troubles more endurable, and their everyday lives and responsibilities more filled with meaning, fulfillment, and the Light of Christ’s life.  For those who have yet to believe, I’m sure that God can use such truth in their hearts as a means of drawing to faith in the Lord Jesus.  Yes, God has already made our hearts His home, or He wants to do so.  The opportunity to tell people this is privilege indeed.

    May we all remember that our hearts are so precious to God that He desires to dwell within them.  Moreover, we mean so much to Him that He will be with us always, and He will never leave nor forsake us.  I rejoiced at the prospect of communicating such truth as I traveled to the school this morning, and I rejoiced on the trip home for having done so.  I pray that the children will remember, and that we will remember…

    “I am with you always… I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”

“I am continually with Thee, Thou hast holden me by my right hand.”
(Psalm 73:23)

Weekly Memory Verse
     Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath, for it is written, Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, saith the Lord.
(Romans 12:19

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

“Fellow Travelers”

     We should be wary of those who communicate the Gospel of Christ with the attitude of being confident experts rather than humble supplicants.

    “I count not myself to have apprehended” (Philippians 3:13).

    No less than the Apostle Paul considered himself a fellow traveler with those to whom he preached and taught God’s truth.  This is not to say that Paul did not know the Lord well.  Certainly he did, and our brother of old remains perhaps the chief example of the power of the Lord Jesus in the life of a trusting believer.  The Apostle would tell us, however, that during his earthly sojourn, he felt the same sense of need for growth in God’s grace and truth we feel.  Moreover, he recognized that regardless of how far along the path of righteousness he journeyed, the goal of conformity to the image of the Lord Jesus seemed like a land whose borders remained far off in the distance.

    I want to listen to those communicators who are confident in their relationship with the Lord, but who are not confident in their own spiritual abilities and attainments.  There is a difference.  The latter speaks of self delusion and self importance.  The former references grace and the faithfulness of God.  The experts (so-called) garner attention for themselves and their opinion and insight.  The Lord’s faithful preachers and teachers bear in demeanor, attitude, and word  the yearning of the Psalmist: “Not unto us, o Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory, for Thy mercy and for Thy truth’s sake!” (Psalm 115:1).  May our Heavenly Father lead us to those who bear this “Not unto us… but unto Thy name” determination of leading others not to themselves, but to Him.

“I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.  And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.”
(I Corinthians 2:2-5)

Weekly Memory Verse
     Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath, for it is written, Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, saith the Lord.
(Romans 12:19

Monday, April 7, 2014

"The Triumph of Humility"

    In the conflict between aggression and humility, waged at Calvary, the former seemingly won a skirmish.  The latter, however, won the battle, and ultimately,the war, as the Lord Jesus Christ trounced His foes under nail-scarred feet.

    "Ye killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead" (Acts 3:15).

    It always works this way.  The world, the devil, and the flesh use their weapons against those who walk in Christ's humility (Galatians 4:29).  God allows His enemies temporary victories for the purpose of revealing the triumph of His Son in greater measure and degree.  Indeed, we likely face battles just now in which much seems lost because our Heavenly Father led us down the path of meekness and lowliness.  Perhaps we remained quiet when we could have spoken to plead our cause.  Or we responded in grace to an offender rather than in kind.  Or we chose to trust God rather than aggressively seek to forge our way into a position or place that might have benefited our circumstance, but which would have damaged our heart.  The way of humility, motivated and enabled by our Lord, led to loss and difficulty.  If we find ourselves in such circumstance, let us not deny the challenge of our enemies' momentary gains.  However, let us also remember the truth of our Savior's ultimate victory:   

     "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 a sheep for the slaughter.  Nay in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us" (Romans 8:35-37).

     Troubled.  Distressed.  Persecuted.  Starved.  Stripped.  Imperiled.  Slashed.  God's trusting sons and daughters in Christ experience all (whether literally or figuratively).  We also experience His triumph as we walk in the faith and humility whereby the Lord Jesus won the battle of the ages.  Aggression threw all it could muster at humility - and lost.  The appearance of its victory gave way to the fact of its crushing defeat.  Christ is risen from the dead, and by His victory and life, believers experience our Lord and His way as we walk with Him in His way.  "The servant is not greater than his Lord; if they have persecuted Me, they will persecute you" (John 15:20).

    We must expect our Heavenly Father to orchestrate and allow in our lives many contests between aggression and humility.  A difficult, but blessed path lies before us as we walk in the nature and character of He who declared, "I am meek and lowly in heart" (Matthew 11:29).   Remembering the glorious triumph of humility won by our Savior at Calvary and the empty tomb enables us to wage our own battle in the confidence of His victory revealed yet again in us. 

"Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.  And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.  Wherefore God hath also highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in Heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father."
(Philippians 2:5-11)

Weekly Memory Verse
   Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath, for it is written, Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, saith the Lord.
(Romans 12:19)

Friday, April 4, 2014

"Authentic Living"

    "The just shall live by faith" (Romans 1:17).

    We are  most consciously alive when we are most consciously trusting the Lord.  This requires challenge and hardship because in our present existence, we tend to drift and even recede spiritually if the waters upon which we sail become too smooth.

    "To live is Christ" declared the Apostle Paul from a Roman prison (Philippians 1:21).  Paul well knew that life must be defined not in terms of circumstance and condition, but ofChrist.  The Lord Jesus known, loved, trusted, obeyed, and communicated by example of life and word of mouth provides the opportunity for a life governed by proximity to God rather than pleasurable situation.  The former promises a peace that "passeth understanding, while the latter offers a merely "hope for the best" wistfulness that ebbs and flows based upon circumstance (Philippians 4:7).

    Such a path of faith is not easy.  Trusting and submitting to God in the face of contrary emotions and conflicting appearances requires much exercise of heart and mind, as led by the Holy Spirit.  This very process implies the authentic living afforded by opportunities to believe God and His Word.   Again, "to live is Christ," and we "live by faith."  Nothing else qualifies as life in terms defined by Scripture, Anything, therefore, that leads us to consciously depend on our Heavenly Father offers to us vivid experience of the promise made by the Lord Jesus...

"I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly."
(John 10:10)

Weekly Memory Verse
    The wicked flee when no man pursueth, but the righteous are bold as a lion.
(Proverbs 28:1)

Thursday, April 3, 2014

"The Competition"

(Read this all the way through, Frances, before you become terrified...)

"The Competition"

    Yesterday afternoon during my walk, I heard a train approaching a railroad crossing toward which I also headed.  A row of bushes blocked my view of the tracks, meaning that I didn't know whether I would be able to pass over before the train reached the crossing.

    I stepped past the bushes to discover the train loomed near as it sounded.  However, the thought crossed my  mind, "I can make it, if I go now."  Note that I write, "the thought crossed my  mind."   Such a notion originated in ancient insanities of my youth, wherein I would likely have challenged thousands of tons of mass, force and speed (and I daresay, would have won).  Thankfully, however, current notions of the Holy Spirit, along with a bit of experience and maturity, stopped me in my tracks before the train perhaps accomplished that for me.  I stepped back a respectful and healthy  distance as the train passed, deafeningly blaring its horn as the ground literally trembled beneath my feet (I promise, Frances, there was never a chance that I might have chanced it!).

   Our children were conceived by parents possessed of what one might call pathological competitive streaks (which perhaps explains the fact that one is a lawyer, another is a Force Recon Marine, and the youngest will always be completely convinced that she is smarter and more able than the rest of us combined!).  Frances and I discovered these proclivities in ourselves when we first started courting.  I worked at a church that had racquetball courts.  I suggested we play.  We did, and I still walk with a bit of limp! (just kidding!).  Then and there, we realized that our inner competitive fires burned too hot to challenge each other, and over the years, we've only allowed a few competitions between ourselves.  I've actually backed away from pretty much all competition, with the exception perhaps of a smartphone quiz game our family recently discovered (the aforementioned youngest, Emmie, and I competed for the first time tonight.  We tied, and pretty much decided we'd leave it at that for the purposes of peace and a continued loving relationship :)   ).  All this to say that while I am sure competition can be a healthy thing, it seems rather to bring out in me responses and sensibilities I'd just as soon remain dormant.

    Interestingly, however, the Apostle Paul injects certain notions of competitiveness into spiritual matters of our relationship with God:

    "Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway" (I Corinthians 9:24-27).

    Note that Paul suggests competition (to the degree of warfare) against his body.  That is, he sought to bring into subjection, through the power of the Holy Spirit, those natural inclinations of our fleshly humanity that war against the spirit.  "If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live" (Romans 8:13).  Such earthly proclivities include thoughts, attitudes, demeanor, opinions, emotions, words, actions, habits, and ways of relating to God and man.  When we see or sense such human expressions that do not correspond with the character of Christ as revealed in Scripture, Paul suggests that we view them as enemy combatants to be overcome.  That is, the person we most deeply are in Christ, united with His Spirit, arises in the power of our Lord to "mortify" (put to death) anything that originates in fleshly and devilish influence.  This we accomplish by acknowledging His enabling presence, and by affirming that we are "alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:11).  We choose to believe that, regardless of contrary fleshly inclinations, our truest delight involves trusting and obeying God.  "I delight in the law of God after the inward man" (Romans 7:22).  Thereby we find ourselves more and more consistently winning the competition, as it were, between our spiritual delight and our fleshly lusts.

    I may or may not have won the race with the train.  I wisely chose to refrain from such foolishness.  I can, however, win the competition with my flesh through the power of the indwelling Spirit of the Lord Jesus.  I haven't always done so, of course, and will doubtless lose more battles along the way (although losses are never inevitable or excusable).  Our Lord grants to us a life and a lifetime of such purposeful devotion to the prize: "run, that ye may obtain."  Let us recognize how equipped we are for the battle, and how vital it is that we enter and remain in the race for the glory of the Lord Jesus and the fulfillment of God's will.

"Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."
(Philippians 3:13-14)

Weekly Memory Verse
   The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion.
(Proverbs 28:1)