Tuesday, September 30, 2014

"Upon a Rock"

    Our assurance in Christ stands in stark contrast to the uncertainty of the present world in which we live.

    "Thou hast made the earth to tremble… And the Lord said, There is a place by Me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock" (Psalm 60:2; Exodus 33:21).

    Even if we dot every "i" and cross every "t" of our existence, a trembling earth still means that no certainty exists about the conditions and circumstances of our tomorrows (or even our today).  We may increase the odds statistically of success, security, and better outcomes, but the present realm offers no guarantees to even the best planners among us regarding every contingency.  The Lord Jesus Christ spoke pointedly to this truth in the Gospel of Luke:

   "He spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully.  And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do because I have no room to bestow my fruits?  And he said, This will I do, I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there will I bestow all my fruits and goods.  And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years.  Take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.  But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee.  Then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?" (Luke 12:16:20).

   This is not to argue against wise preparation for contingencies to come.  We reap that which we sow in our current existence, and God Himself operates according to His "eternal purpose in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 6:7; Ephesians 3:11).  It nevertheless remains true that if we trust in our planning and preparation as a substitute for confidence in the Lord Jesus Christ, we must be hopeful that our Heavenly Father will cause the barns of our foolishness to tremble in order to illuminate our wayward confidence.  We trust in dust when we look to anything other than His promised "place by Me" as the rock upon which we stand.  Indeed, we plan and prepare from His security rather than to it, trusting that He will personally and particularly guide us for the future that is in fact to come, as opposed to that which might come.  As the old saying goes, "Proper planning prevents poor performance."  In a world such as this, our hope for "proper planning" requires the wisdom of the Great Planner Himself, even as Solomon blessedly promised…

"A man's heart deviseth his way, but the Lord directeth his steps."
(Proverbs 16:9)

Weekly Memory Verse
    Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord."
(Colossians 3:16)

Monday, September 29, 2014

"For a Little Time"

    "Time passes.  Will you?"  I can still see the taunting challenge on the sign above the blackboard in my 7th grade Social Studies class.  Thankfully, I successfully completed the course, and at this point in life, the truth of the inexorable movement of the hands of the clock (or in these days, the digital readout!) more occupies my consideration.  Time indeed passes, quickly, even as James informed and warned:

   "What is your life?  It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time and then vanisheth away" (James 4:14).

    At 13, I may have wondered about the passage of time.  At 57, I don't.  I look back in the realization that I blinked, and entire epochs of life's journey raced by so quickly that I barely seemed to experience them.  Moreover, the older we get, the faster the pace of the moments.  So, if the Lord to grants to me more days, weeks, months, and years of this earthly sojourn, I'm sure they will even more confirm the brevity of a vanishing "little time."

    All this would be troubling were it not for the reality of eternity and its everlasting life in the Lord Jesus Christ.  "This is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son" (I John 5:11).  The brief appearance of time ultimately gives way to the substantive reality of forever.  For those who believe, joy awaits as the vapor clears to make way for the vivid clarity of life as lived in the direct presence of God.  Thus, we do not fear the truth that "time passes."  We rather rejoice as the setting sun of this present life heralds the glory of forever in the light of the risen Son.    "And so shall we ever be with the Lord" declared the Apostle Paul of the eternity that offers infinitely more than time can ever provide (I Thessalonians 4:17).

    Time matters, and we do well to recognize and respond to the vital significance of this present life.  "Occupy til I come" commands the Master of His servants (Luke 19:13).  We do not mourn the temporal nature of our present existence, recognizing its preparatory nature for greater realties to come.  The "vapor" wafts away ever more quickly, making way for the life to come, the eternal life to come in Christ for all who believe.  This is joy to the trusting heart, and motivating encouragement and challenge to "occupy" until the brief appearance of this present life gives way to an infinitely greater and everlastingly glorious illumination…

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

Weekly Memory Verse
    Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord."
(Colossians 3:16)

Friday, September 26, 2014

"The General and the Specific"

    "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding.  In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths" (Proverbs 3:5-6).

    Solomon's familiar command and promise graces us with an altar of heart we first build in general terms, and then visit often to specifically experience the power of God through faith and consecration.

    Walking with God involves the ongoing discovery of His faithfulness whereby we realize He can be trusted completely - "with all thy heart."  Of our Heavenly Father, Scripture declares "God cannot lie" and "the Lord is righteous in all His ways and holy in all His works" (Titus 1:2; Psalm 145:17).  Of ourselves, we cannot affirm such consistency of integrity, way, and work.  We nevertheless find ourselves tempted to depend upon our own understanding, often without realizing the path of inevitable frustration upon which we venture.  Our determination to acknowledge the Lord Jesus Christ in all our ways beckons us to trust Him in this particular matter, or that specific challenge.  Indeed, when the focus of our faith narrows from the broad view of the forest unto a single tree, as it were, we discover how pointedly involved and dynamically active our Father is in our lives.

    We do well to maintain an ongoing conversation with our Lord concerning the general and the specific.  We must be sure we have built the altar whereupon we sacrifice our understanding as the lynch pin of our confidence.  We rather look to God, using our understanding as He illuminates and guides, but depending on Him as the source of all light and enabling.  The Spirit of God and the Word of God then specify our determination by the narrowed focus that pointedly directs our faith in the Lord Jesus.  Sometimes the matter involves realization - "I've never thought about trusting the Lord for this."  Or it may lead to repentance - "Father, I have failed to trust and acknowledge You in that, but rather have leaned upon my own understanding."  Both illuminations call us to the power of knowing God in the general and the specific, the former providing foundation for our confidence, and the latter building the walls of our dwelling in our Lord's presence, glory, and guidance.

"We are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh."
(Philippians 3:3)

Weekly Memory Verse
    Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual restore such a one in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted."
(James 6:1)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

"A Quiet Spirit"

    On several occasions over the years, I've heard people, including preachers, suggest, "Why can't we get as excited in church as we do at football games?  We must love games more than Jesus!"

    I'm sure there are folks who do worship football more than God.  I should know.  I live in the state of Alabama.  However, I don't think we should concern ourselves with seeking to duplicate in church services the responses experienced at gladiatorial contests on the gridiron.  A great difference exists between zealotry and godly devotion.  The former operates, at best, through the energy of the flesh.  At worst, there may be devilish influences who seek to convince us that advancing an air-filled bag of leather on a beautifully manicured (or these days, vacuumed) lawn offers something truly important for the soul.  No criticism of football is intended here (I must continue to live in this state).  I only suggest that the sensibilities of football fandom correlate very little with the heart realities of genuine godliness.

    Certainly, born again believers in the Lord Jesus experience times of individual and corporate excitement in our walk with God.  The norm, however, involves "a quiet spirit" that fosters genuine peace and stability (I Peter 3:4).  The reason for such emphasis involves the sometimes forgotten truth that we cannot function in a state of excitement.  Indeed, even positive stimulations of emotion can render us helpless in the successful fulfillment of our responsibilities.  Your great, great, great aunt passes away, for example, the one you only met once as a child, and whose perfume  still memorably wafts in your olfactory senses after all these years (whew!).  For some reason, Aunt Smelly decided to write you into her will, leaving her vast fortune to you and you only.  You find out while at work in the middle of the afternoon.  Excitement fills your soul (along with a little guilt - "Well, her perfume really wasn't that bad!").  A vast fortune!  Wow!  Now here's the question: how much work will you get done in the rest of the day?  Not much likely, not much at all (and you may turn in your notice the next morning, leaving the job behind forever).  

   Life in the Spirit requires a stability and stillness of heart that makes reasoned choices of faith possible.  This does not preclude excitement, both individually and corporately, and we thank God for times of happy exhilaration in Christ.  Too much emphasis on the release of adrenaline, however, leads to false expectations and poor performance in our walk with God.  Most of our life in Christ involves the choices of love, faith, submission, and devotion to God and others that must occur in an environment of little or no emotion.  We need not fear such quietness of spirit and heart. We must rather expect that the Lord of summit experiences walks with us on the level plains where most of life is lived.  Thereupon He meets us with the grace that enables consistent faithfulness and functioning that requires stillness of soul far more exhilaration of emotion.

"In quietness and confidence shall be your strength."
(Isaiah 30:15)

Weekly Memory Verse
    Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual restore such a one in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted."
(James 6:1)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

"Someone To Thank"

    Yesterday, the first full day of autumn, brought beautiful sunshine and the first cool breezes of the year to our subtropical region.  Moreover, a local store offered one of the quintessential features of fall, namely, the initial fruits of the McIntosh apple crop for the year.  The timing of these blessings seemed Divinely and personally coordinated, and I received and enjoyed them as such.

    "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning" (James 1:17).

   If you've been with us awhile, you may recall my fondness for McIntosh apples.  As I wrote to a dear friend yesterday, these jewels of God's horticultural creativity are the "perfect balance of sweet and tart, soft without being mealy, and fragranced like Eden."  I'm also a fan of cool breezes after a long summer of heat and humidity (pretty sure I'm not alone in this inclination!).  Add beautiful sunshine and the calendar event of autumn's arrival, and all in all, you have the makings of a pretty good day.  It was, and that which really made it wonderful was the realization of coordination rather than coincidence.  Indeed, what if there had been no one to thank for yesterday's blessedness?  What if it had not actually been blessedness, but rather the mere confluence of natural events that just happened to happen?  

     It would still have been a nice day.  The apples would have looked, smelled, and tasted as they did.  The sun would have shined, the breezes would have dried the sweat from our summer-laden brows, and the calendar would have dutifully recorded the first day of fall.  But what if there had been no one to thank? I shudder at the thought.  Humanity's innate capacity for the expression of gratitude requires a recipient for our offering.  The recipient must also be conscious for thanksgiving to have any real meaning and significance.  Thanking our lucky stars, as it were, doesn't do much for either ourselves or the stars.  There must be someone to thank for blessings to actually be blessings, and for our experience of "good gifts and perfect gifts" to grace our hearts with true joy rather than mere enjoyment.  There must be God, "the Father of Lights" who bears a heart of generosity beyond imagining, and who, as the hymn writer so beautifully pens, "Out of His infinite riches in Jesus, He giveth and giveth and giveth again."

    There was someone to thank yesterday, as there will be in this day and forevermore.  Wonderfully, the Holy Spirit bore witness within my heart of apples, breezes, sunshine, and autumn consisting not merely of beauty, but of the Artist whose sublime heart and mind fashions such grace.  Gratitude felt and offered completed the experience of the gift given and received, along with opportunities such as this to share the appreciation with others.  "O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together!" (Psalm 34:3).  There is Someone to thank, and He blesses us not only by His gifts, but by the capacity for thanksgiving that elicits within our hearts the reality and realization of the Giver.

"God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work… being enriched in everything to all bountifulness, which causeth through us thanksgiving to God."
(II Corinthians 9:8-11)

Weekly Memory Verse
    Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual restore such a one in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted."
(James 6:1)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

"As We Love"

    When tempted to discouragement (and for the born again believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, discouragement is a temptation), we do well to remember that we are not alone in the challenge.  "There hath no temptation taken you, but such as is common to man" (I Corinthians 10:13).  Many of our brothers and sisters face the same or greater difficulty in the hour of our trial, thus providing to us the opportunity to set forth from the dark harbor of focusing upon ourselves.  The light of God calls us to venture forth upon the sea of His devotion to others, seeking their comfort and encouragement through prayer and the offering ourselves to the Lord for whatever benefit we can be to our fellow believers.

    "So then death worketh in us, but life in you" (II Corinthians 4:12).

    We best know our Heavenly Father's love not when He bestows it upon us, but rather when He bestows it by and through us unto others.  Such unselfishness comprises the very nature of His love, which "seeketh not her own" (I Corinthians 13:5).  We would thus expect our greatest awareness of God's devotion and affection in accordance with the Savior's declaration, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35).  It often happens that we realize the wonder of His love as we love, rather than as we are loved.  Or, it may be that we are most being loved by our Lord as He graces us with the privileged responsibility to "walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us and given Himself an offering and a sacrifice to God as a sweet-smelling savor" (Ephesian 5:2).

    When feeling discouraged leads us to seek the encouragement of others, we can be sure that, like the Lord Jesus, our offering and sacrifice is to God "a sweet-smelling savor."  How it must please Him to see His Son so revealed in us, and how it glorifies Him and the power of His others-devoted character, nature, and way.  Upward, outward, and away from ourselves provides the Christ-motivated and enabled perspective that glorifies God, blesses others, and provides for us the soul-encouraging reality that bears witness to our own belovedness.  This is the way of love, God's love, and it is our way.

"For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake… all things are for your sakes."
(II Corinthians 4:11; 15)

Weekly Memory Verse
    Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual restore such a one in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted."
(James 6:1)

Monday, September 22, 2014


    In the garden of Gethsemane, the agonized Lord Jesus Christ experienced the most powerful temptation ever known by a human being, leading Him to beseech His Father, "If it be possible, let this cup pass from Me" (Matthew 26:39).  

    The cup bore the approaching wrath of God that would fall upon our Savior as He bore our sins on the cross of Calvary.  Isaiah makes mention of "the cup of My fury" in reference to Israel, foreshadowing the day when the Father, for our sakes, would smite His beloved Son with untold sorrow and forsakenness (Isaiah 51:22).  Little wonder that the Son who had eternally known only His Father's infinite love would be tempted to seek deliverance from such heartbreaking loss.  "The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into His hand" declared the Lord Jesus at an earlier time during His ministry (John 3:35).  On the cross, however, Divine fury would replace love, along with the greatest loss ever known by a human heart - "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27:46).

   The Savior overcame the temptation of Gethsemane, coming forth from the garden to proclaim, "The cup which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?" (John 18:11).  He drank to the full, and was thus "stricken, smitten of God, afflicted" (Isaiah 53:4).  In so doing, He walked a path of temptation far more difficult than any challenge we will ever face.  Never will we feel conflicting emotion or inclination that compares with our Lord's yearning to avoid His Father's wrath.  Doubtless everything in His tender soul longed to remain in the Divine favor.  But everything in His trusting spirit longed to obey - "I do always those things that please Him" (John 8:29).  He followed the latter path, to the eternal praise of His Name, and He now dwells in those who believe to enable our faithfulness during trials of temptation.  "No temptation hath overtaken 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" - "I am the way" (I Corinthians 10:13; John 14:6; emphasis added).

    By definition, temptation always involves the sense and feeling of desire for things contrary to God's will.  One cannot be enticed to do that which is foreign to inclination.  Temptation, however, is not sin.  Thus, the Lord Jesus could be tempted to experience desire for escape from His Father's wrath despite the fact of the cross being the most necessary component - along with the resurrection - of God's redemptive purposes in His Son - "Christ must needs have suffered" (Acts 17:3).  He submitted to His Father's will, as He did throughout His earthly lifetime, and obeyed.  Thus, we look to Him in times of temptation as the One who walked the same challenging path upon which we tread, and as the One who now lives in us by His Spirit to enable our faith and faithfulness.  He traveled the way of challenge, and now He is our "way to escape"…

"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 bold unto the throne of grace to obtain mercy, and to find grace to help in time of need."
(Hebrews 4:15-16)

Weekly Memory Verse
    Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual restore such a one in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted."
(James 6:1)

Friday, September 19, 2014

"A Heapin' Helpin' of Mercy"

    We expect the world to be the world (and pity us if we expect more!).  We do not, however expect the church to be the world, that is, we anticipate that Christians will act like Christians, or more literally, like Christ.

    We rightly maintain such expectation, encouraging and challenging each other to "walk, even as He walked" (I John 2:6).  No coddling of a lesser standard of life exists in the New Testament, nor should we fail to "exhort one another daily, while it is called today, lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin" (Hebrews 3:13).  This being the case, however, it remains true that we all fail at times to trust and obey our Lord, to our own detriment and that of our brethren.  Allow me to shock you: sometimes Christians don't act like Christians.  They (we!) act like the world.

    As the country preacher once suggested, "a heapin' helpin' of mercy" will be required as we live our earthly lives among fellow believers.  The Apostle Paul confirmed such truth: "Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.  And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you" (Ephesians 4:31-32).  When believers act like the world, it is incumbent upon other believers to act like, well, like believers.  We never condone sin in others or ourselves, and we must love our brothers and sisters enough to humbly challenge obvious waywardness.  However, a heart of tendermercies, like unto our Father's heart, must govern our response to brothers and sisters who stumble along the path of righteousness, particularly if their fall affects us.  We recall the "heapin' helpin" of forgiveness God has bestowed upon us.  We also affirm that the Christ of mercy constitutes His trusting children as "vessels of mercy", that is, as recipients of pardon who also become bestowers of the same (Romans 9:23).

    Walking in mercy toward our brethren does not come natural to any of us.  It comes supernaturally.  "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).  The indwelling Spirit of the Lord Jesus manifests in us the mercy in which He delights as we trust and submit ourselves to Him (Micah 7:18; Romans 7:22).  Yes, sometimes the church will act like the world, providing to us opportunity to act even more like the church.  The challenge of grace is great, but the Christ of grace who inhabits us is infinitely greater.  Let us therefore expect the challenge and the opportunity, remembering the mercy we have received from our Father as the mercy we now bestow upon our brothers and sisters.

"And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another."
(I Thessalonians 3:12)

Weekly Memory Verse
    Give unto the Lord the glory due unto His name.  Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
(Psalm 49:2)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

"Works of Love"

    God, the abundantly generous Giver beyond measure, bestows His nature and disposition into the hearts of those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.

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

    In the light of His loving presence within us, our Heavenly Father leads us into a life of opportunity to "walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us" (Ephesians 5:2).  We discover the truth of our Lord's words, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35).  Moreover, we realize that through Christ, countless ways of giving present themselves to our hearts.  Certainly we may bestow material gifts to others.  However, the love of God manifests itself in countless other ways as we recognize its dynamic presence within us.  The Apostle Paul affirmed the Macedonian believers as examples.  They gave of their means, Paul writes, but they "first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God" (II Corinthians 8:3-5).

  How will our Heavenly Father lead us to love Him and others in this day?  These are the great issues of this, the only day we actually have to live in the light of truth and reality.  The two great commands, repeated in Old Testament and New, call us to love God and others (Matthew 22:37-39).  Perhaps a prayer, or an encouraging word (or a challenging word), or a contact, or the bestowal of forgiveness, or the sacrifice of time, effort, attention, possession, and our personal wants for the blessing of others - the Lord will lead and enable us to know the joy of His giving heart as we affirm its living presence in our spirits.  Our calling involves trusting that He dwells within us for the fulfillment of such holy purpose, and the presenting of ourselves to the leading and enabling of the Holy Spirit for God's works of love in and by us.  Thus, we do well to pray for ourselves and each other the request Paul made for the believers of Philippi...

"And this I pray, that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and in all judgment" (Philippians 1:9).

Weekly Memory Verse
    Give unto the Lord the glory due unto His name.  Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
(Psalm 49:2)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

"The Blessing and Challenge of Joy" Conclusion

Conclusion (or, "Brown Eyes and Buster")

    Frances and I met in church in the spring of 1976.  We became friends before our courtship began, and often frequented a local restaurant after church to talk about the Lord, our lives, and whatever subject might come up (and, unbeknownst to us initially, to fall in love).

    One day, Frances shared with me about a passage in the book of James.  "The Lord is teaching me," she said, "to count it all joy when ye fall into diverse temptations" (James 1:2).  I was familiar with the command, having been disturbed by it several times already in my still fledgling Christian life.

    "Oh, it doesn't mean that" I immediately responded with an air of 19 year old male wisdom and authority (now there's an oxymoronic phrase!).  I'm quite certain I expected my pontification to end the discussion, hoping to move on to less challenging matters.

    Frances, however, was not dazzled by my spiritual brilliance, insight, and cocksure demeanor.  "What do you mean that it doesn't mean that?"  She looked directly into my green eyes with her beautiful, but piercing brown eyes.

    I would come to learn over the years that the brown eyes usually win.  I averted my gaze to avoid their challenge, and repeated, "Well, it doesn't mean that."

    Frances didn't divert her gaze.  She rather looked at me with puzzlement and consternation (a word of advice: in matters of Scripture, one does well not to raise questions with Frances about their authority and obvious meaning).  "If it doesn't mean that," she said, "then what does it mean?"

    I didn't have the foggiest idea.  I just knew it couldn't possibly mean that we are to count as "all joy" every trial and tribulation of our lives.  And that's what I what I told her.  Frances paused for a brief moment, gathered her thoughts, and then declared, "Well, buster (she didn't actually say "buster."  But it felt like she did!), "Well, until you can tell me what it does mean, I think I'll just take it at face value!"

    More than thirty eight years later, she still does so.  I joined the parade of faith not too long after the aforementioned episode as I witnessed Frances exemplify and affirm the truth of counting it all joy.    James meant what he wrote.  Even more, our Heavenly Father meant what James wrote.  He unequivocally calls us to consider every trouble of our lives in the joy of His working all things after the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).  Note that He does not call us to "feel" our challenges joyfully, but to count them so, that is, to view them through the lens of the faith that sees His involvement in all things.  Sometimes sorrow will wrack our hearts and tears will stream from our eyes as we look Heavenward to affirm joy in Christ - "as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing" (II Corinthians 6:10).  Joy begins with conviction and faith as we choose to "rejoice in the Lord" regardless of condition, circumstance, or emotional sensibility (Philippians 4:4).  Glad feeling will come later as God vindicates the confidence we choose to maintain when our world seems to be crashing in upon us and our hearts feel crushed.  "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed and the mountains be carried into the sea" (Psalm 46:1-2).

   Again, Frances continues to count it all joy.  As for "Buster," well, I'm learning.  I'm grateful for the example with whom I live this life in which God's presence and loving involvement fills all things.  Yes, it does mean that.  We can and must affirm the joy of Christ in all things and at all times.  We do so because His joy resides within our spirits if we have believed, and because failure to count it all joy means that we are living in the darkness and delusion that chooses not to see Truth and reality.   Too much was sacrificed to bring us in the Light for such unbelief to govern our hearts, and too much is at stake in our lives to count our challenges, whatever their nature, as anything but "all joy."

"Rejoice in the Lord, ye righteous, and give thanks at the remembrance of His holiness."
(Psalm 97:12)

Weekly Memory Verse
    Give unto the Lord the glory due unto His name.  Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
(Psalm 49:2)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

"The Blessing and Challenge of Joy" Part 3

    "As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing…" (II Corinthians 6:10).

    The earthly perspective of joy and sorrow views the two inner conditions as mutually exclusive.  Conversely, the heavenly view sees joy and sorrow as existing concurrently in the hearts of those who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.  

    Indeed, the same Apostle Paul who both exemplified and commanded, "Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice" also testified of great heaviness of heart concerning the waywardness of the nation of his heritage, Israel: "I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart" (Philippians 4:4; Romans 9:2).  "As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing" - such spiritual enigma comprises the inward atmosphere and environment of the believers in Christ.  We rejoice in the Lord Jesus, seeking to experience and express the unshakable gladness of heart we have in Him.  Life in a fallen world, however, frequently ushers us to the threshold and beyond of sadness.  Sorrow resides in the same chamber of the soul wherein joy abounds, and regardless of how much we may trust the Lord and rejoice in Him, we still feel the feelings of pain regarding difficult circumstances, situations, and conditions.  Mutually exclusive?  No, concurrent.

    We must accept this challenging spiritual reality, known only in Christ.  We seek to make the choice to rejoice in Him at all times and in all things whether we feel the feelings of gladness in our emotions or not.  As mentioned in Part 1 of this consideration, God's joy comprises a far deeper and greater reality than mere feeling.  Deep spiritual conviction rather constitutes the believer's gladness, known first as a matter of faith rather than emotion or sense.  Indeed, we may rejoice when every known and felt emotion seems wracked with sorrow.  We "count it all joy" even if we feel it all sorrow, choosing to "joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ" as a determination to see the Light of God's promised presence and involvement when all seems enshrouded in darkness (James 1:2; Romans 5:11).  

    The time will come when "God shall wipe away all tears" from the eyes of His trusting children in Christ (Revelation 21:4).  This is not that time.  For now, we rejoice even when sadness resides in our hearts.  Moreover, as did Paul, we rejoice in times of gladness fully aware that there is much to be sorrowful about in our present existence.  Joy and sorrow, for now concurrent rather than mutually exclusive in the hearts of those who know the "Man of sorrows" who is also the Lord "anointed with the oil of gladness" (Isaiah 53:3; Hebrews 1:9).

"The Light shineth in darkness."
(John 1:5)

Weekly Memory Verse
    Give unto the Lord the glory due unto His name.  Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
(Psalm 49:2)

Monday, September 15, 2014

Dear Orange Moon Friends

    Those of you who have been with us for awhile may remember the account of our meeting for the first time Gerry and Elaine Udstuen in Central Park, New York City on May 14, 2010 (thanks to Frances, the great chronicler of our lives, for the precise date of the encounter!).  We had a brief, but wonderful time of fellowship in the Lord on this, the only time we have ever seen Gerry and Elaine face to face.  We just "happened" to end up in the same place at the same time in Central Park on that day, leading to our sharing together the common faith we hold in the Lord Jesus (Gerry was a retired pastor), and also hearing Gerry sing for the first and only time face to face - "I have a favorite hymn that's been on my heart lately.  Would you mind if I sang a few verses?"  We didn't mind, nor did I mind hearing Gerry sing in numerous phone calls over the last few years.  If, by some chance, you find it strange to think of an 83 year old man singing to friends he'd just met, on a park bench in the heart of New York city (or on subsequent occasions over the phone), well, you just don't know Gerry.  It was absolutely and perfectly appropriate, and sublimely beautiful.

   Gerry and I shared email addresses and phone numbers that day.  Better yet, we used them, staying in touch mostly in calls every few months.  You may recall that not long after our meeting, Gerry and Elaine's daughter Amy was diagnosed with cancer.  She went to be with the Lord in December, 2010, and I still hear the echoes of Gerry's affirmations of faith throughout the difficult journey.  I also still hear his weeping as joy and sorrow resided concurrently in his heart, as it always does in God's trusting children in Christ during times of great trial.  I wrote a song for Amy, and for Gerry and Elaine during the difficult time (we will include it on a CD we are working on and will distribute later in the fall).  God's grace united with Gerry and Elaine's faith for inspiration, and I must confess that the first time I ever sang the song, it was to Gerry over the phone (following his example, of course).  "Love hopeth all things" goes the refrain, "love believeth all things, and love will never end, this I see, this I see…").

    I write these words with a profound sense of bittersweetness, and of the aforementioned concurrent joy and sorrow of the heart.  I received a call from Elaine on Saturday, informing me that Gerry went to be with the Lord in August.  Doctors diagnosed cancer several months before.  The prognosis was not hopeful, and at 87, Gerry decided not to attempt the difficult process of cancer treatments.  Elaine said that he lived the last few months of his earthly journey as he lived the rest of his life, trusting the Lord and honoring Him every step of the way.  Not long before he passed into the Lord's direct presence, he told Elaine, "Tell Glen I'll be waiting for him."  I'm sure you can imagine how I cherish those words, and even more, the prospect of the reunion to come.

   Indeed, on that day, May 14, 2010, that blessed day, Gerry told Frances and I as we parted, "Well, I don't guess we'll see each other down here again."  He smiled as he looked skyward and added, "But we will Up There."  Yes we will, and I look forward to being with my brother again.  Until then, I will miss the phone calls, the words of love, faith, and wisdom, and the songs (thankfully, Gerry sent me a tape several years ago that included his singing of favorite hymns).  My brother was a unique and wonderful gift to me, one that came as an unexpected blessing, and whose holy influence will linger in my heart for the rest of my life.   I know you will join me in praying for Elaine, and I encourage you to anticipate with great joy hearing Gerry sing in our future and Heavenly home.  I can assure you it will be a wondrous blessing "Up There."  Because it surely was "down here."  Until then, my friend and brother...

"The Lord is my strength and my shield.  My heart trusted in Him, and I am helped.  Therefore, my heart greatly rejoiceth, with with my song will I praise Him."
(Psalm 28:7)

“The Blessing and Challenge of Joy” Part 2

    Biblical joy, as presently experienced by believers in a fallen world, constitutes not only the most wondrous of gifts, but also the most monumental of challenges.

    "Rejoice in the Lord alway, and again I say, rejoice" (Philippians 4:4).

    Written from a Roman prison, the Apostle Paul beckons born again believers to a joy in the Lord Jesus Christ that transcends circumstance, situation, and condition.  Moreover, he testifies of the Savior's capacity to fill our hearts when our lives would seem to be emptied of the requirements of joyfulness - "I have learned in whatsoever state I am in therewith to be content" (Philippians 4:11).  From a venue of such loss, Paul confessed his discovery of a Christ so present, so powerful, and so lovingly involved in the hearts of trusting believers that He can reveal the joy of His heart whenever, wherever, and however.  

    What does this mean in practical reality and the outworking of such grace?  James illuminates us regarding this vital spiritual matter.  

    "My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into diverse temptations" (James 1:2).

    Note that James does not command that we "feel" it all joy.  He rather calls us to a determination of the heart and mind, or a consideration of faith whereby we believe that the Christ whom Paul discovered as the source of contentment is the same Christ whom can still and fill our hearts whenever, wherever, and however.  Do we believe this about Him, regardless of how we may feel emotionally and physically?  Is He that willing and able to be the transcendent joy of our hearts?  Is the Lord Jesus who He declared Himself to be, and can He do for us what He promised He can do?  These are the questions of joy, the answers of which primarily involve not how we feel, but Who we know.

    Christ, conviction, and emotion constitute joy as defined by Scripture.  We must never reverse the order in our understanding of Truth.   God is our joy.  He calls us to believe, to "count it all joy."  As we trust Him, He manifests such gladness in the depths of our being even when our surface emotional state, as it were, ripples with sorrow and consternation.  "As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing" declared the Apostle of the concurrent sadness and joyfulness often known by believers as we affirm Christ as our joy on glorious summits and in dark valleys (II Corinthians 6:10).  We shall not be disappointed as we join David in his determination of faith…

"I will go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy."
(Psalm 43:4)

Tomorrow: concurrent joy and sorrow in born again believers

Weekly Memory Verse
    Give unto the Lord the glory due unto His name.  Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
(Psalm 49:2)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

"The Blessing and Challenge of Joy" Part 1

   Joy, as promised and commanded by Scripture, constitutes an amazing blessing and a monumental challenge.  Let us first consider the blessing.

   "Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy" (Psalm 43:4).
    In the Lord Jesus Christ, God gives to us not a thing, or a concept, or an emotion called joy.  He rather gives Himself to us as our joy, as our "exceeding joy."  The Ancient of Days, the eternally Ancient of Days, bestows upon and within His redeemed children the glad glories of His triune heart.  We presently know them in limited fashion, likely because too much of the Divine assurance and gladness would burst our finite hearts.  Indeed, it is vitally important that we learn and assimilate the Biblical portrayal of our Lord as the most joyous Person(s) imaginable.  God is joy, according to the Psalmist.  In an infinite measure of pleasure, the Father rejoices in the Son and Holy Spirit.  The Son similarly rejoices in the Father and the Holy Spirit.  And the Holy Spirit rejoices in the Father and the Son to a degree beyond degree.  Such glory forms both the essence of joyfulness, as well as providing its gift and expression in the hearts of those who believe.  "The fruit of the Spirit is… joy", and thus in this moment and forevermore, the glad heart of God dwells within the spirits of every trusting son and daughter of God in Christ.  We may not feel it because joy constitutes far more than mere emotion (Galatians 5:22).  We may, in fact, feel just the opposite.  Nevertheless, our Lord gave to us the joy of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit when we believed, and He presently and forevermore dwells within every son and daughter as "God, my exceeding joy."

    Such wondrous truth provides the reason that prayers and songs of rejoicing have ascended Heavenward throughout history not only from summits of light, but also from dark venues where rejoicing would seem impossible.  If we could spiritually hear the echoes, we would discover that prisons, dungeons, sickbeds, martyr's pyres, crosses, gravesides, and every form of sad place have served as the canyons of grace from which anthems have sounded and resounded.  The Spirit of the Lord Jesus composes such unlikely music within us as we trust and submit ourselves to God.  He sang with His disciples even as the cross of Calvary loomed immediately before Him, and in our troubles, He sings within our hearts "my song in the night" that must sound sublimely beautiful to the heart of the Father in whom we trust (Matthew 26:30; Psalm 77:6).

   True joy in the human heart consists of Divine and human gladness mingled in the glory of God's love bestowed, received, and returned as graced by the particular characteristics of our Christ-redeemed and inhabited humanity.  He rejoices in us - "the Lord taketh pleasure in His people" - and we rejoice in Him - "the righteous shall be glad in the Lord" (Psalm 149:4; 64:10).  Unto those once unbelieving and rebellious, the Father of Heaven freely bestows through His Son and His Spirit the joyous atmosphere and sensibilities of His heart.  We "joy in the God of my salvation" because the joy of the God of our salvation inhabits our spirits (Habbakuk 3:18).  Known both in times both pleasant and unpleasant by those who believe, such a gift reveals the surpassing glory of so great and so glad a Lord.

"He will joy over thee with singing."
(Zephaniah 3:17)
"I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation."
(Habakkuk 3:18

Part 2, Monday - The challenge of joy and the choice to rejoice.

Weekly Memory Verse
    The Lord is gracious and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy."
(Psalm 145:8

Friday, September 12, 2014

“Living Reality, Loving Response”

   "I will extol Thee, my God, o King, and I will bless Thy name forever and ever.  Every day will I bless Thee, and I will praise Thy name forever and ever" (Psalm 145:1-2).

    Why did David determine to exalt his Lord day by day and throughout eternity?  Was it a simply a matter of obedience to the God who commands us to extol, bless, and praise Him?  Certainly this supplies a portion of the answer.  We bring our accolades to the throne of grace as a matter of submission to our Lord and His Word.  "Give unto the Lord the glory due unto His name" (Psalm 29:2).  Obligation and responsibility call us to "enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise" (Psalm 100:4).  He is God, we are His creation, and duty demands that we heed the call to praise and thank Him now and forevermore.

    This is not all the answer, however, nor is it the main answer.  "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity (love), I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal" (I Corinthians 13:1).  The Psalmist determined to sing the praises of God in the here and hereafter because he wanted to do so.  The heart of King David was enraptured and overwhelmed by his living experience of the person and truth of God: "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever" (Psalm 23:6).  Our Heavenly Father purposes that "goodness and mercy" elicit praise and thanksgiving.  Indeed, He does not need our accolade, nor is He an egotist who requires the reminder of His goodness and greatness from the conscious beings He created.  He rather loves our affirmations because they flow from hearts aware of our great need for Him, and amazed by the greatness of His provision in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Again, goodness and mercy cultivate praise and thanksgiving as the love of God known, received, and assimilated births within us genuine love for God.

    Our Lord has no interest in praise for the mere sake of praise, or of thanksgiving merely because it is the proper function of those subservient to Him.  One of God's most strident chastenings of Israel resulted from their heartless commitment - "Thou servedst not the Lord with joyfulness and with gladness of heart for the abundance of all things" (Deuteronomy 28:47-48).  Reality must serve as the motivating power of our appreciation and gratitude.  We must know the Lord Jesus well enough that we praise Him with the joyfulness and gladness of heart missing from Israel's heartless commitment.  The Holy Spirit dwells within believers to instill such grace as we trust and submit ourselves to God through Christ.  We must expect His working in us to foster the living reality that elicits loving response.  Our Heavenly Father is not content with anything less, nor should we be.

"Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning."
(Psalm 110:3)

Weekly Memory Verse
    The Lord is gracious and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy."
(Psalm 145:8

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Prayer - Unanswered Part 2

    The hard truth about prayer is that rather than twist God's arm, as it were, to fulfill our desires, prayer actually involves His working in us to align our hearts with His purposes.

"This is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us

(I John 5:14).

Our desires have a role in the blessed gift of supplication and intercession, but only as they correlate to the will of God. "Delight thyself also in the Lord" declared David, and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart" (Psalm 37:4). First, a properly directed delight - in the Lord - and then the fulfillment of our wants - the desires of thine heart. The former must always precede the latter, and if prayers seem unanswered, we may well have reversed the vital and holy order of His supremacy and our service.

Tempted to the extent of bloody sweat in the garden of Gethsemane - 'If it be possible, let this cup pass from Me" - the Lord Jesus Christ overcame - "nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt" (Matthew 26:39). Our Savior felt the normal human aversion to sorrow, particularly, the cup that forebode of His Father's wrath. He prayed accordingly. However, the Christ who declared, "I do always those things that please Him" knew that true prayer begins with the will of the Father. Thus, He expressed His desire, but deferred to His Father's will should there be conflict between Divine and human intentions. No greater light regarding the intentions and practice of prayer exists in Scripture than this holy account of the holiest of prayers, unanswered.

Prayer, as led by the Word of God and the Spirit of God, turns us inside out. Our Father's will increasingly supplants the will of our flesh as the dominant influence of our lives when we rightly commune with Him. A hard truth indeed, but blessed to those who recognize the perfection of God's way, and the joy of "not as I wilt, but as Thou wilt"...

"I delight to do Thy will, o Lord, yea, Thy law is within my heart."

(Psalm 40:8)

Weekly Memory Verse

The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and of great mercy.

(Psalm 145:8)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

"Prayers, Unanswered"

    We will one day thank our Heavenly Father for the prayers He did not answer as much as for those He did.

"Ye ask and receive not because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your own lusts" (James 4:3).

Every loving parent knows the reality of goodness bestowed upon our children by our decision to say no. We've all likely heard the pleadings for things that may shine as beautiful jewels in our children's eyes, but which we know to be dangerous impostors that would bring great harm if provided. Moreover, we've all likely begged God to give, or supply, or solve, or heal, or to show Himself openly strong on our behalf, only to find Heaven seemingly still and unresponsive. The Psalmist wondered and grieved in bewilderment, "Why sleepest Thou, o Lord?" (Psalm 44:23). It feels this way sometimes, although we know that our Lord does not slumber in His loving care for those who trust the Lord Jesus Christ (Psalm 121:4).

Perhaps even now we beseech our Heavenly Father for that which we are certain is in our best interests, and more importantly, would honor Him. We may even quote Scriptural promises to Him that seem to authenticate our requests. Still, no answer. Again, in some cases, perhaps in many, love may be the reason our Lord does not seem to act on our behalf. He sees the clearly the impostors that glimmer like jewels. We don't. Yes, one day we will thank God for unanswered prayers. This day provides a good beginning for such gratitude as we trust our Father's faithful heart when we cannot understand His still hand. Love sometimes best bestows its goodness when it does not bestow that which would fulfill our desires, but which would endanger our well being.

"This is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us."

(I John 5:14)

Weekly Memory Verse

The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and of great mercy.

(Psalm 145:8)

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

"The Peace of Stewardship"

      Blessed relief descends upon us from Heaven when we realize our role and responsibility as stewards of our lives rather than as owners and masters.

     "Ye are not your own" (I Corinthians 6:19). 

     When we perceive ourselves as the captain of our own fate, a deceptive influence leads to either pride or despair, depending on how we evaluate our performance in governing our lives.  The darkness began long ago in Eden, when our forefathers embraced the devilish lie that "ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:5).  Thereafter, Adam's offspring see themselves as far more than we are, failing to recognize the fundamental truth that "in Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28).  Moreover, our true Owner and Master provides "life and breath and all things" (Acts 17:25).  We belong to Him, whether knowingly or not - "the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world, and all they that dwell therein" (Psalm 24:1).  God saturates the existence of all who dwell in His creation, but our spiritual and moral alienation from Him gravely deludes us until and unless the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ "calls you out of darkness into His marvelous light" (I Peter 2:9).

    Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, births us into the light of truth about ourselves, our lives, our possessions, our relationships, our bodies, our all.  Trusting submission to Him guides us in the peace of stewardship - "Trust in the Lord with all thy heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding.  In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy paths" (Proverbs 3:5-6).  Indeed, let breath the sweet breath of Heavenly peace that stills our hearts with the truth that we do not belong to ourselves, we are not the arbiters of our destiny, and our possessions are not our possessions.  We rather exist as the beneficiaries of "the Most High God, the Possessor of Heaven and earth" (Genesis 14:19).  We belong to Him, we receive from Him, and we seek to gratefully honor Him as the steward sons and daughters amazed by the grace of deliverance from the wicked insanity of seeking to captain our own fate.  This is tranquility for the sons and daughters of God in Christ, the stillness of eternity and of this day wherein our Heavenly Father graces us with the rest of belonging to Him rather than to ourselves.  Sweet indeed is the breath of such peace, as bestowed by the Prince of peace who speaks by His Word and His Spirit even in this holy moment of the peace of stewardship…

"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)

Weekly Memory Verse
    The Lord is gracious and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy."
(Psalm 145:8

Monday, September 8, 2014

"For Us"

   From the inception of the human race, a slanderer has sought to besmirch the character, nature, and way of God.

   "The serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die, for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:4-5).

    The devil insinuated that God withheld a good thing from Adam and Eve, and thus did not have their best interests in mind.  Our enemy continues until this hour with such false accusation, attacking the Lord's intentions and actions regarding humanity.  He confronts both believer and non-believer alike with the slander of God, seeking to discourage faith and faithfulness by portraying the Lord as one not to be fully trusted.  Certainly, the consequences are eternally dire for those who never believe.  "The god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, let the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them" (II Corinthians 4:4).  Born again believers in the Lord Jesus also lose much when we respond to Satan's attempts to discourage our confidence in our Heavenly Father's wondrously loving intentions toward us.  As in the case of God's servant Job in the Old Testament, our enemy seeks to foment questioning in our hearts regarding the Lord's determinations and allowances in our lives.  The hardships and pains we experience serve as fodder for the devil's suggestions that God somehow does not always act wisely and fairly.  In principle and doctrine, we may know that He does.  Along the hard and sometimes treacherous paths of life as lived in a fallen world, however, the strongest believer may descend into valleys wherein the Lord's way seems so strange and challenging that questions arise in our minds, and even more, in our hearts.  "Why, Lord?… How, Lord?… Where are You, Lord?"  No less than the King David who so often affirmed the faithfulness and abiding presence of God nevertheless cried out into a night bereft of moon and stars, "Why standest Thou afar off, o Lord?  Why hidest Thyself in times of trouble?" (Psalm 10:1). 

    The truth of the matter proclaims to our hearts that we possess no capacity for fully knowing the devotion and trustworthiness of our blessed Lord.  "Thy faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds" affirmed David in a better moment when reality inspired his declarations (Psalm 36:5).  Our Father is "for us" (Romans 8:31).  He always and eternally acts in the best interests of His trusting children in Christ, and even bestows goodness on those who reject Him.  "The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works" (Psalm 145:9).  We cannot imagine how good He really is, nor how lovingly devoted to our benefit.  God can be trusted.  In times of light and of darkness, He can be trusted.  Indeed, no one has ever committed their confidence to the Father of our Lord Jesus and been disappointed for doing so.  And no one ever will…

"He that believeth on Him shall not be confounded."
(I Peter 2:6)
"God… cannot lie."
(Titus 1:2)
"The Lord is faithful."
(II Thessalonians 3:3)

Weekly Memory Verse
    The Lord is gracious and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy."
(Psalm 145:8

Saturday, September 6, 2014

"The Matter At Hand"

   We might never be able to overemphasize prayer.  We can surely, however, wrongly emphasize this blessed gift and calling of God.

    "When ye spread forth your hands, I will hide Mine eyes from you.  Yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear.  Your hands are full of blood.  Wash you, make you clean, put away the evil of your doings from before Mine eyes.  Cease to do evil, learn to do well, seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow" (Isaiah 1:15-17).

   In essence, the Lord chided Israel, "Get off your knees, get on your feet, and with your hands do those things of My will that lie obviously before you.  Indeed, prayer is no substitute for fulfilling the matter at hand.  We may pray as we do so, but we spin our spiritual wheels if time spent in apparent communion with God would be better spent in doing His obvious will.  Indeed, our spiritual enemies do not hesitate to tempt us with good things in order to hinder our doing of the best thing, namely, our Lord's will concerning the matter at hand.

    We live in times wherein prayer is considered among believers more than in any other generation.  We may well be actually praying more than ever.  This can certainly be a good thing, but only if our "many prayers" correlate with a life devoted to the will of God in all things.  Sometimes our Father may direct us away from the Throne and unto the fields where crops need our tending.  Again, we may pray as we go and as we work, but only if we expend the same spiritual energy in the going and the working.  Prayer is no substitute for the obvious, for the responsibility, for the matter at hand.

"Beware of the scribes, which desire to walk in long robes, and love greetings in the markets, and the highest seats in the synagogues, and the chief rooms at feasts, which devour widows' houses, and for a show make long prayers."
(Luke 20:46-47)

Weekly Memory Verse
    I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.
(Psalm 116:9)

Friday, September 5, 2014

"The Mustard Seed" Part 2

   When considering the possibility of extreme circumstances, such as the woman we referenced who lived the majority of her life in bed without limbs, our thoughts may immediately fly to our potential response.  "Would I have enough faith to endure such a circumstance, or even as the faithful sister, to thrive?"  

    Let us settle the question immediately by proposing that it is misguided.  Such an inquiry means that we are focused on ourselves rather than the Lord Jesus Christ, "the author and finisher of our faith" (Hebrews 12:2).  We must rather ask, "In such a challenge, would He be present, enabling, and faithful to His promises?"

    "When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee, and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee.  When thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee" (Isaiah 43:2).   

    Our own capacity for faith does not comprise the primary issue of faithfulness.  The Lord Jesus revealed this when He declared that the tiniest measure of trusting God, a mustard seed, engages the power of God to move mountains (Matthew 13:31-32).  Indeed, the story of the faithful sister actually spotlights the faithful Lord unto whom she looked, and the assurance of His  promise,  "He that believeth on Me, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water" (John 7:38).  By definition, the Christian life involves our determination to trust the Lord for every act of faithful obedience, distrusting our own capacities in the process: "We are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh" (Philippians 3:3).  Our sister of old would chide us if we emphasized her faith, directing us rather to the gracious Lord who reminded her of His promise that "living waters" flow from the stark simplicity of "believeth on Me."  She actually did little, thus engaging the Lord who enabled her to subsequently do so much for His glory and the blessing others.  Or, as Paul confessed, "I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me" (I Corinthians 15:10).

   The primary issue of faithfulness involves not the possibility of what we might do in extreme circumstances of the future.  We must rather focus on the challenge of now, be it extreme or of the more usual variety (which can feel quite extreme).  Will we trust the Lord for His "rivers of living water" right now?  Again, this is not the primary issue of faith and faithfulness.  Instead, we first look upward and away.  Is the Lord Jesus present, involved, and able to empower our faith and faithfulness in the present moment?  This is the question that focuses our hearts and minds whereby we trust God as the fruit of His person and promise.  As in the blessed experience of our sister of old, to the degree we direct our attention accordingly will be the degree to which we walk accordingly.

"Trust in the Lord with all thy heart and lean not unto thine own understanding.  In all Thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths."
(Proverbs 3:5-6)

Weekly Memory Verse
    I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.
(Psalm 116:9)

Thursday, September 4, 2014

"The Mustard Seed" Part 1

   The British author J. Sidlow Baxter recounts the story of an Australian young lady from the 19th century who progressively lost her limbs over the course of several years.  She lay in bed for the majority of her lifetime, unable to move about or do anything that most would consider necessary for happiness and fulfillment.  Early in the days of her calamity, however, she read the promise of the Lord Jesus in the Gospel of John: "He that believeth on Me, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water" (John 7:38).  The girl took her Lord at His word.  "I believe in You, Lord.  So I trust You to somehow work in me to bring forth life to others, even from this bed of apparent languishing."

    Taken at His Word, the Lord Jesus took the young lady to places of glory, glory in His heart.  He filled her with His peace and joy.  He led her to ask a friend to devise an apparatus to be attached to her shoulder that could hold a calligrapher's pen.  He illuminated and strengthened her to learn how to move her body so as to write the most beautiful and Christ-filled letters.  He moved hundreds of people to visit the woman confined to an earthly bed, but liberated to soar in the Heavenlies by the Spirit of the Lord Jesus.  The people all came away blessed by the scene of Strength made perfect in weakness, of Vibrancy bursting forth from stillness, of Life proceeding from the appearance of death, and of Rivers of living water flowing from the seemingly driest of deserts.

    We may mistakenly conclude, "What great faith the young lady had!"  If she could speak to us, however, a word of correction would lovingly chide us.  "The source of the life I lived was not faith" she would tell us.  "It takes but a mustard seed of that to move mountains.  No, the source of my joy and fulfillment in the bed of languishing that became a bed of life was the faithfulness of our Savior and the truth of His promise."  Indeed, early in her trial, our Heavenly Father directed the girl's heart to Himself, and to the unconditional promise of her heart serving as the tributary of His love, life, and saving grace in Christ.  No circumstances, conditions, or situations can prevent the fulfillment of such assurance when we take the Lord Jesus at His Word.  "He that believeth on Me…"

    We can all imagine scenarios such as the one we presently consider, calamities that would seemingly overwhelm and swamp us with despair (or perhaps we even presently find ourselves in such a time).  Perhaps they might, but only if we could not find the modicum of that mustard seed in our hearts.  Could the Lord Jesus so reveal Himself unto and within us in such circumstance?  Is He that present, able, and willing to fill our hearts?  Has He already overcome death itself for the purpose of our resurrection as well as His own?  The answers are obvious, but our response, of course, is not so certain.  Would we possess and plant that mustard seed?  This is where the young lady most instructs us.  She recognized that her peace and faithfulness would proceed not from herself, but rather from the peace and faithfulness of Christ.  She looked away to Him by believing His simple promise.  The Lord Jesus then did what He always does in the hearts of those who trust Him.  He keeps His promises.  Because, as we often declare, 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…

"Thy Word is truth."
(John 17:17)
"Thy faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds."
(Psalm 36:5)

Weekly Memory Verse
    I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.
(Psalm 116:9)