Saturday, November 29, 2014

Glen and Frances's Excellent Adventure. Part 2

Friends: The following is Part 2 of my account of the hike Frances and I enjoyed back in October.  I meant to write and send this several weeks ago, but am just getting around to it.  This part concerns the people we stayed with and encountered along the way, that is, the best part of our journey.

"Glen and Frances's Excellent Adventure"

(also known as) 

The Mountains and The People

Part 2 - The People

     Unlike the mountains, which started and ended wonderfully, but bore a tough middle part, the people who graced us during our journey to the Smokies and North Georgia blessed us from beginning to finish.

    We set out from Mobile on Sunday morning, October 19th, driving to the home of our friends Tom, JJ, William, and Erin Webb, in Maryville, Tennessee.  We spent the night with the Webbs, arriving much later than anticipated due to our GPS losing signal on the way to their home (they live in the most beautiful region of Nowhere one can begin to imagine, a place where satellite signals have yet to reach because their programmers do not know it exists :)  ).  At the time, we thought that our Sunday evening hours with these loved ones would be our only real time together.  So we enjoyed each other as much as possible before heading for bed and the rest that would prepare us for the beginning of our hike the next morning.  We dreamt of trails, trees, mountain vistas, and friendly bears who would surely help direct us along our way.  "Yogi, how are you, and how nice of you to greet us!"

    The next morning, we skipped breakfast due to nervous anticipation regarding our adventure, our excellent adventure (this was our first hike, after all).  Tom, JJ and the kids shared our excitement, and we made the 2 hour drive to Alum Cave Trailhead in the fog for which the Smokies are named.  When we arrived, a number of people were already there, preparing to start on the trail to Mt. Leconte.  This was good, because it seemed unclear where the trail actually started, and the last thing we wanted was to begin our journey heading in the wrong direction!  We put on our packs, for the first time adorning ourselves for the real thing, gave JJ, William, and Erin hugs, and left for our journey with William's final words ringing in our ears: "I'm glad it's y'all going and not me!"   Later in the day, we would find ourselves convinced of young William's keen intelligence and wisdom beyond his years.

    We took the perfunctory pictures at the beginning of the trail (having made sure we embarked from the right place).  Then we began on what seemed to be a smooth and effortless path, with little incline or challenge.  Five minutes into the journey, I commented, "I like hiking so far!"  Frances agreed.  "I like it too!"  Little did we realize that the hiking wouldn't begin until later, when Mt. Leconte and Dante's Boulevard Trail wiped the smile off our faces, and sucked the air out of our lungs.  But enough about the mountain, and the mountains.  This is about the people, the blessed people.

    Not long into our ascent, we met the first of a number of nice folks we would encounter on the trail.  Robert and his niece Heather slowed down for a moment, and allowed us to pass.  We exchanged pleasantries, commented on the beautiful day and trail, then bid each other Godspeed.  Later, Frances and I stopped for a break, took off our packs, and sat on some rocks to have a snack and catch our breath.  Our new friends caught up with us, and were nice enough to pause for a more lengthy chat.  We learned that Robert had recently undergone heart surgery because he wanted to hike the Alum Cave Trail.  His cardiologist recommended that he have his fuel injectors (a.k.a. - arteries) cleaned out before making the journey.  What a guy!  Heather told us she is an exercise physiologist, giving her what surely seems like a completely unfair advantage in hiking mountains!  Frances mentioned that we perform some of our ministry in retirement communities and nursing homes.  It turns out that Robert has also performed such ministry, and Heather does some work with senior adults, developing exercise regimens.  This led to much back and forth, including Robert informing us that he had once helped to care for the son of one E.M. Bounds, a noted 19th century author on prayer whose books I, along with many others, have read.  We had a great time of fellowship with Robert and Heather, and then again set forth on our respective journeys.  Finally, we encountered our new friends again at Alum Caves, the end of the ascent for them, and another rest stop for us.  We enjoyed a final chat for a few moments, Heather took a picture of Frances and me that is Frances's favorite photograph of our trip, and I asked Robert for his email address so we could stay in touch.  I'm happy to say that we made contact a week or so later after the hike, and even happier that Robert is now on our mailing list for the Orange Moon devotionals.  We are honored, and when we think of our first hike, we will also think of these first friends we made along the way.

   One of the interesting relational aspects of our hike involves the several tandems of brothers we met.  This happened at least three times, with different families of male siblings.  The first brothers - I'll presently call them Peter and Paul due to faulty memory - provided a wealth of good information about the trail on which we hiked.  These young men said their father enjoyed the outdoors, and had long ago instilled a passion in them for the trails.  He no longer hiked, but Peter and Paul continue to journey together whenever possible.  Frances and I found this very interesting and very special.  We met other brotherly trail teams, including three siblings our age who also told us their dad's inspiration for hiking that translated into a lifelong pastime for his trio of sons.  I can only imagine the memories shared by all the brothers, whose hikes today descend from days and nights with dads that doubtless helped bond the sons not only to their fathers, but to each other.  The spiritual principle in such truth seems obvious to the point of almost not requiring mention.  Almost.  Allow me to simply say that the nearer believers draw to our Father, the nearer we inevitably draw to each other.  The two bondings go hand in hand, heart in heart.  "This commandment have we from Him, that he who loveth God love his brother also" (I John 4:21).

    Because we shortened our hike (for reasons referenced in Part 1), we lengthened our time with Tom, JJ, William and Erin.  JJ and William picked us up at Newfound Gap on Tuesday afternoon, allowing us to spend the evening and the next full day with the Webbs.  This proved to be so wonderful that we remain thrilled to have changed our original plans from a 3 day hike to a day and a half.  "A man's heart deviseth his way, but the Lord directeth his steps" (Proverbs 16:9).  We have much history with this family.  Tom and I met more than two decades ago when he lived in Mobile.  He owned an ice cream shop at a local mall, and the instant we shook hands, it seemed as if we'd known each other for a lifetime (to this day, we wonder if we knew each other at some point in our youth, but can't come up with a specific memory to confirm).  He met and married JJ over a decade ago, and moved to Maryville within a few years of their marriage (oh yes, before their departure, Tom found our youngest daughter Emmie, age 8 at the time, when she ventured away from the house to find our beagle who had strayed.  I'll leave it at that for now, but I suspect you'll see the story in an Orange Moon devotional not too many days from now).  Tom performs Biblical counseling for a group of Christian doctors, JJ is a full time homemaker, and home schools William, 11, and Erin, 8.  We love visiting the Webbs, and had a great time on Tuesday night after our hike regaling (hopefully) the family with tales of our times on the trail.  We then spent most of Wednesday in Knoxville with JJ and the children.  We toured the town square and market, visited the Knoxville Museum, and shopped.  A street vendor sold us the best tamales we've ever eaten, I did my best to spoil William and Erin, and Frances and JJ enjoyed being together because they are good friends and rarely have the opportunity.  It was a beautiful day weather-wise, and even more, fellowship-wise.  We then went out to dinner with Tom and JJ, caught up on the things of the Lord and life, and completely enjoyed every minute of our time with these dear friends.  Indeed, at one point during our visit, Erin looked across the table at Frances and myself.  "I'm so glad you came to visit us!" she said with her beautiful heart and smile.  So are we, Erin.  So are we.

    We left early on Thursday morning, regretfully, but also gratefully that we had more time with the cherished Webb family than we originally expected.  Our route would take us through North Georgia and its mountains, autumn-hued trees, and on this day, brilliant blue skies and sunshine.  We won't forget the drive, and the mutual joy shared in beholding so much beauty and grace.  We ventured to Suwanee, Georgia, and the home of Bryan and Peggy Wheeler, dear friends we had never before met face to face, but whom we knew through the Orange Moon devotionals.  Peggy signed up to receive them in the early days of our writing and distributing them, leading to countless back and forths by email through the years.  We knew that we'd have a great time in Bryan and Peggy's actual presence, but we didn't know how great.  Arriving in Suwanee at lunchtime, Peggy served us a superb meal (the first of many) as we began to get to know each other face to face.  We had a wonderful time of fellowship, went for a walk on a nature trail near Bryan and Peggy's house, and rejoiced as our email bond of the years progressed into the joy of each other's company.  When Bryan came home from work later in the afternoon, the blessing multiplied.  He is a gracious Christian gentleman, a joy to talk to, and as with Peggy, made us feel completely welcome in their beautiful home.  

    We were blessed also to meet other friends, including Ruth Bursi, who joined our mailing list last year, and Cheri, a dear friend of Peggy's who attends the Bible study for women Peggy teaches in her home.  During our walks, we also had the pleasure of meeting other friends of Peggy (Diane and Barb) who blessed us greatly.  Barb has a daughter, Emily, challenged with great physical difficulties, but who honors the Lord nevertheless by a heart of faith and life of subsequent labor on His behalf.  Suffice it to say that our time in Suwanee served as one of those "exceeding, abundantly above" blessings of God far greater than we could have anticipated.  Bryan and Peggy, already dear friends, became far more in our time with them, culminating in a visit to Mercier Apple Orchard in Blue Ridge, Georgia on the last day of our trip.  I think I've already written about that in an Orange Moon devotional, but I'll reiterate that the joy of fulfilling a lifelong dream of picking apples was tempered by the realization that when we finished, we'd part ways with Bryan and Peggy.  Not an easy thing to do after so wonderful a time together.

    We returned to Mobile, driving through the aforementioned Georgia mountains that served to remind us of the Artist who painted them.  During the drive, I thought often of how blessed I had been to meet and rejoice together with people so dear that I have no words to describe their blessedness to my heart.  Of course, this goes especially for the one dearest to my heart.  Frances and I shared both great joy and great agony in our trip to Tennessee and Georgia.  As referenced in a previous message, Monday afternoon on Boulevard Trail challenged us in ways we'd never before experienced.  Having bit off more miles than we could chew in one day, we both felt pretty close to choking on it as we exhaustedly staggered up one ascending trail after another.  The Lord led us through, however, and we now have yet another memory of His shared grace, provision, and protection.  Pantings, pangs, and even tears have now been redeemed into smiles and laughter as we remember our journey into Dante's Circle (a.k.a. Boulevard Trail), and then our ascent the next  morning into the glories that cause us to look forward to our next hike.  Frances and I did it all together, as we have done all during the last 38 years of our lives.  Again, I have no words to describe such unspeakably monumental grace, other than to echo Solomon, "Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favor of the Lord" (Proverbs 18:22).  It was an excellent adventure, as given by our Father, the goodness of whom I echo another who long ago expressed the glory far better than I can…

"Now unto Him who is able to do exceeding, abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, to Him be glory in the church forever and ever, world without end.  Amen."
(Ephesians 3:20-21).

Friday, November 28, 2014

"Happy and Thanksgiving"

(Thanks to Alison for inspiration on this one)

     In an email several days ago, a dear Orange Moon friend wished us a happy Thanksgiving.  As I read the greeting, a thought flashed in my mind that had never before occurred to me, namely, that "happy" and "thanksgiving" go hand in hand, and heart in heart.

    "Joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody" (Psalm 51:3).

   God made the human heart with capacities for gratitude that must be resident and active for His joy to fill and fulfill us.  Had Adam and Eve rejoiced in the gifts God had given rather than lusting for more, they would have rejoiced and obeyed.  If Israel had trusted the Lord's providence rather than longing for the leeks and onions of Egypt, God's chosen earthly nation would have entered the promised land rather than wander forty years in a wilderness.  The Corinthians would have escaped much divine chastening had they maintained the Lord's supper as an observance of grateful remembrance rather than allowing it to degenerate into a self-centered revelry.  We could go on and on with the Biblical record of ingratitude fostering unhappy results in the hearts of God's people.  Moreover, we have our own history of joys and miseries experienced as the direct result of our response to circumstances, conditions, and situations which, at the very least, the Lord allowed for His glory, our benefit, and the benefit of others.  "In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you" (I Thessalonians 5:18).

    Certainly we do not mean to suggest that feelings of happiness will instantly accompany every offering of gratitude to God.  Sometimes we must "sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving" (Psalm 107:22).  The life of faith frequently requires offerings of gratitude as accompanied by tears, and voiced in the cauldron of pain and discomfort.  We may have to wait until the morning, as it were, for emotions of joy to accompany affirmations of thanksgiving expressed during nights of weeping (Psalm 30:5).  Still, a joy beyond feeling graces us deeply within when we give thanks as an act of faith and obedience expressed to the One so worthy of our devotion in all things.  "Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me" declared the Psalmist" (Psalm 50:23).  Through Christ, such sacrificial gratitude is possible in those who remember that He dwells within us as One who faced and overcame far more tribulation than we will ever encounter.  "In the world ye shall have tribulation.  But be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).

   Hand in hand, heart in heart walk happiness (as defined by God) and thanksgiving (as inspired and enabled by God).  A simple greeting illuminated this clearly proclaimed Biblical truth.  Walking it out will not be so straightforward, but as we open our eyes to our Lord's loving involvement in all things, opportunities for gratitude and accompanying joy await us available only to those who join the Psalmist in his determination of faith, expectation, and submission to God…

"I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving."
(Psalm 116:17)

Weekly Memory Verse
    He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the first born from the dead, that in all things He might have the preeminence."
(Colossians 1:18)

Thursday, November 27, 2014


The Special of the Day… From the Orange Moon Cafe...


     No believer will escape during his or her earthly sojourn the experience of crying out to the Lord with legitimate requests, only to feel that He has not heard or responded.

    "Lord, why castest Thou off my soul?  Why hidest Thou Thy face from me?" (Psalm 88:14).

    The truth, of course, promises that rather than casting us away or hiding His face from us, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble" (Psalm 46:1).  Our Lord actually draws nearer and more responsive in times of our desperation than at any other.  As we often suggest in these messages, He is always present with us, but He is "very present" with us in tribulation.  It doesn't feel this way, however, and actually, as in the case of the Psalmist referenced above, it feels just the opposite.  

    Why must it be this way?  Why would a God whose Word contains so many assurances of His presence, loving care, and devoted involvement allow us or even bring us to dark places where His promised Light seems not to shine?  As in our recent series on sickness, we could consider together numerous Biblical reasons for the challenge.  Presently, however, I want to offer the simple suggestion that in those desperate and dreadful hours when we cry out to no seeming avail, our Heavenly Father acts no less lovingly and perfectly than in days of light when Heaven shines bright with ready answers and responses.  

    "As for God, His way is perfect" (II Samuel 22:31).

    Everything our Lord does or does not do in your life and mine proceeds from perfection, flows in perfection, and culminates in perfection.  The God whose way is perfect can act in no other manner or measure of quality.  We must hide this fundamental Biblical truth as deeply and surely in our hearts as possible, affirming constantly to each other and to ourselves that come what may, "He hath done all things well" (Mark 7:37).  A thousand devils may scream at us otherwise, along with the flesh of others and our own flesh that protest something to be amiss in God's ways and purposes.  As with Eve, Satan would have us believe that the Lord is withholding some good thing that we need (Genesis 3:4-6).  This is not true.  God cannot do such a thing and remain who He is.  "My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:19).

    Only one child of God ever experienced real abandonment of the Father.  "My God, My God why hast Thou forsaken Me?!" cried the Lord Jesus Christ into the darkness of His travail on Calvary.  No answer came, in our Savior's case because for our sakes, God the Father and God the Holy Spirit did abandon the Lord Jesus to die alone on the cross.  "Smitten of God" pronounces the prophet of the Christ smitten with the forlorn forsakenness that served as the fiery forge from which the shining and enduring promise emerged, "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee" (Isaiah 53:4; Hebrews 13:5).  Thus, we can never be forsaken, nor does God fail to act on our behalf when we cry to Him, even if His perfect action involves seeming inaction.

    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.  He is faithful and true, perfectly faithful and true.  Let us dig deeply, hiding the treasure where it cannot be uprooted - "As for God, His way is perfect."

"I am with you always."
(Matthew 28:20)

Weekly Memory Verse
    He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the first born from the dead, that in all things He might have the preeminence."
(Colossians 1:18)


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

“In Times of Sickness"

(Friends: this is longer than usual, but it addresses a vital issue that requires much Biblical awareness and understanding.  Thanks for your patience.  Glen)

     As I write this, I have shingles - on the roof, and on the left side of my torso.  The former lie quietly and faithfully atop our house, so much so that I rarely think about them.  The latter maintain a noisy and running conversation with their host.  “Hey Glen, we’re still here!  Hope you’re enjoying our visit - Ha! - and don’t worry, we’re planning on staying awhile!”  Add a pulled muscle to my upper back (which may actually be a shingles nerve involvement), and it has made for, shall we say, an interesting week.

    My “guests" have generated a lot of thought about the Bible’s teaching regarding physical illness.  I’d like to take the occasion to address the matter in a series of essays concerning the reasons God allows and sometimes even determines sickness.  The issue is not complex in Biblical terms, but it does require a thoughtful and thorough understanding if we are to respond to the discomforts, pains, and limitations caused by illness.  Most importantly, we must seek the Lord in times of sickness, a pursuit that cannot adequately occur if we do not know the Bible’s teaching regarding this challenging matter.



   We begin with an overview of the reasons illness sometimes confronts born again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.  The Bible addresses a variety of spiritual implications regarding sickness.  As you read each particular consideration, remember that not every malady experienced fits into that category.  Sometimes we suffer for one reason, sometimes for the other.  We must keep this in mind in order to rightly understand and respond to Scriptural truth in times of illness.

1.  We live in a fallen world, the ground cursed by God because of sin, and the atmosphere poisoned by Satan’s presence and involvement.  As members of this fallen realm (our faculties and members being composed of earthly substance) we sometimes experience the inevitable consequences of earth's imperfection.

    “Unto Adam He said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree which I commanded thee, saying thou shalt not eat of it, cursed is the ground for thy sake” (Genesis 3:17).
    “In time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2).
    “We know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.  And not they only, but ourselves also, which have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan without ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body” (Romans 8:22-23).

   Obviously, God did not glorify us physically when we believed, to the extent that the Apostle Paul wrote, “If Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin” (Romans 8:10).  The problem with our bodies is far worse than we think.  They are not just imperfect, susceptible to sin, and sometimes ill or injured.  God pronounces them dead, to the degree that we require His perpetual enlivening - “But if the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by His Spirit that dwelleth in you” (Romans 8:11).  Such a condition in our present earthly environment fosters the possibility and actuality of sickness in all believers.  In the case of my shingles for example, the varicella zoster virus (chicken pox) lay dormant in my body for 50 years after I contracted the disease during my childhood.  For some reason, the virus activated last week, causing the herpes zoster virus that generates shingles.  In a fallen world, such virulent contagions exist as the result of God’s curse upon the earth.  It’s the world in which we live, which thankfully will one day be purified by fire (II Peter 3:10-14).  Presently, however, we sometimes experience its imperfections in terms of physical illness.

2.  God sometimes allows Satan to attack the bodies of believers with physical illness.

   “The Lord said unto Satan, Hast thou considered My servant Job, that there is none like him in all the earth, a perfect and upright man, one that feareth God and escheweth evil?  And still he holdeth fast his integrity, although thou  movedst Me against him to destroy him without cause.  And Satan answered the Lord, and said, Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life.  But put forth thine hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse Thee to Thy face.  And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, he is in thine hand, but save his life.  So went Satan forth from the presence of the Lord, and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown” (Job 2:3-7).
    “Lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations,  there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure” (II Corinthians 12:7).

    For His glory, our benefit, and the benefit of those to whom we minister Christ, God sometimes uses the devil’s malevolence against us to administer our humble recognition that any goodness that flows through us is not of us (as in the case of Paul mentioned above).  Or as with Job, physical calamity serves to reveal God and His truth in far greater measure as we trust and submit to Him in times of illness - “I have heard of Thee by the hearing of Mine ear, but now mine eye seeth Thee” (Job 42:5).  We need difficulty in order to grow in both understanding and humility, difficulty that sometimes involves the Lord lengthening the devil’s leash in order to allow our enemy to smite us with physical illness that serves God’s good purposes. “Before I was  afflicted, I went astray.  But now have I kept Thy Word” (Psalm 119:67)

3.  God sometimes chastens His children with illness.

   “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.  For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.  But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world” (I Corinthians 11:30-32).

    The context of the chastening referenced by Paul involved the Corinthians’ disrespect for the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper.  The holy observance had devolved into a debauched and self-centered revelry rather than the grateful remembrance of our Savior’s broken body and shed blood (I Corinthians 11:20-26).  This led to the Lord’s severe chastening in some - death -  along with weakness and sickness in others.  Thus, we must take into consideration that illness can sometimes involve God’s scourging rod, administered in love, but nevertheless applied by the hardship of physical malady.  This is not always the case, of course, but we cannot omit the possibility in times of sickness.  “Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth” (Hebrews 12:6).

4.  Sometimes, illness prepares us for ministry to others.

   Consider again Paul’s thorn in the flesh.  We do not know the actual constitution or nature of our brother's thorn.  Many students of Scripture believe it to have involved some physical malady because of the language and description expressed by the Apostle (I hold this view).  Moreover, as mentioned, Paul’s challenge bears enough similarity to Job’s trial that it seems plausible that God allowed Satan attack to Apostle with a bodily infirmity.  More importantly, we know beyond doubt that Paul’s bearing of the thorn led to his bestowal of the Rose of Sharon for those to whom he ministered - "Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body” (II Corinthians 4:10).

    I can personally testify that the physical challenge of the last week has made me much more mindful of other brothers and sisters dealing with illness, leading to far more prayers for them than I would have otherwise offered.  If we never experienced illness, or if God always instantly healed when we do, those who must endure physical pain and weakness would seem as alien beings to our own sensibilities.  This belies the loving identification of Christ with His people, or of Christ living in us for His people.  We must hurt in order to sympathize and empathize with others, and even more, in order to minister to others the same holy balm we receive, whether in healing or in enabling grace.  “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of all mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble” (II Corinthians 1:2-3).

5.  Sometimes sickness leads to the bestowal of Divine healing, and the revelation of God’s power in our bodies.  Or, it can reveal even greater wonder, namely, the bestowal of sufficient grace to the heart.

   “But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, He said unto the sick of the palsy, I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy couch and go into thine house.  And immediately He rose up before them and took up that thereon he lay, and departed to his own house, glorifying God.  And they were all amazed, and they glorified God” (Luke 5:24-26).

   The God who made our bodies can fix them.  Ultimately, He will accomplish such grace by the glorification that will render us physically perfect, being “raised in glory” as was our Lord (I Corinthians 15:43).  In the present, He heals in accordance with the honor of His Son and the best interests of His eternal purpose in Christ.  This sometimes involves the instantaneous removal of illness and injury, a God honoring occurrence when it happens.

     In our family, the subject always leads us to remember an event in our eldest daughter’s Marie’s life.  She fell off a slide as a young girl, striking her head when she hit the ground.  She seemed fine at first, but as brain injuries often exhibit, she progressively lost the ability to communicate and function normally.  By the time we reached the hospital, things had deteriorated to the loss of consciousness and the very real possibility (which may have been an actuality) of severe brain trauma.  It goes without saying that we and others whom we contacted prayed fervently for a miracle.  We received it, praise the Lord.  Marie woke up instantaneously and was fine.  She communicated as if nothing ever happened, and has never looked back (she’s a beautiful and brilliant attorney)  As the saying goes, she’s right as rain!  The physician treating Marie made the statement doctors always express when such occurrences happen.  He said to Frances, “Mrs. Davis, I’ve never seen anything like this in all my career!”   I sometimes wonder if he remembers seeing the Great Physician take over when human efforts would likely have been to no avail.  Yes, sometimes our Lord heals.

    Many times, however, Scripture teaches that God allows illness to remain for a season (perhaps even for a lifetime).  Consider Timothy, plagued with stomach issues, for whom Paul prescribed medicine rather than bestowing apostolic healing - “Use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake, and for thine often infirmities” (I Timothy 5:23).  A reading of the Apostle’s letters to Timothy indicates how important he viewed his protege’s life and ministry.  Thus, we cannot imagine that Paul did not pray for Timothy’s physical healing, to no avail.  Paul also writes of another colleague in similar fashion: “Trophimus have I left at Miletum sick” (II Timothy 4:20).  Again, we do not know details, but certainly the Paul through whom God healed so many must have prayed for his brother’s healing, without results.  As in the Apostle's own experience, however, God chose to administer grace rather than healing, thus providing opportunity for His name to be glorified in a particularly beautiful expression of Divine goodness.  I would go so far as to suggest that presently, God’s determination to not heal can sometimes offer even greater revelations of His grace and greatness than a restored body.

    How relatively simple a matter for the God who created our bodies and knows them perfectly to repair them with merely a touch, or an utterance.  When He does, we rejoice and praise Him.  However, when our Heavenly Father wills that illness must linger, He purposes a far greater challenge for Himself.  Rather than merely working upon our physical frame, He must work within our hearts to illuminate, encourage, and challenge us to trust and submit ourselves to Him.  He cannot merely touch or speak to foster such faith.  He must rather work in our hearts and minds to reveal His truth about sickness and His providential purposes - "all things work together for good to them that love God" (Romans 8:28).  We have a say in this matter, that is, we choose either to trust God in our affliction, or not.  He does not program our response, nor can He do so without violating the very definition of the relational "fellowship” to which He calls us (Greek: joint participation; association - I John 1:7).  Thus, our Father must work in a far deeper way to bring glory to His Son when He defers healing.  Moreover, the outcome is not certain.  Some believers choose to trust and submit to God in times of sickness.  Others don’t.  This fosters even far greater honor to our blessed Lord, when through the Spirit, He overcomes our native human inclinations, leading to trust rather than doubt, and to praise rather than complaining.

    God does not presently heal every sickness or injury.  The experience of Paul, Timothy, and Trophimus confirms such plainly revealed Biblical truth.  When He does heal, we rejoice and much glory flows to His Name.  When He does not, if we choose to nonetheless honor our Heavenly Father by trusting and submitting to Him, we may honor Him even more as He works in our heart rather than our body (James 1:2).

6.  Our Heavenly Father cares when we hurt physically, even when He must Himself escort us into the valley of pain.  He is “touched with the feeling of our infirmities” (Hebrews 4:15).  God’s heart is “full of compassion” (Psalm 86:15).  He hurts when we hurt.  Moreover, as an infinite being possessed of a perfect emotional nature,  He hurts more than we hurt.  Our daughter Marie again provides illustration from our family’s history.

    When Marie was one year old, we visited Frances’s parents’ house.  As we sat in the dining room talking, we heard a bump and a scream (most parents could write a book based on that phrase!).  We raced into the den where Marie had been playing.  She sat bloodied and crying, with a deep gash just above her left eyelid inflicted when she fell and struck her forehead against a coffee table.  Frances immediately assessed the situation.  “We’re going to the hospital” she announced, and off we went as fast as the law allows.  We arrived at the hospital and checked in.  A nurse promptly beckoned us to bring Marie into an examination room.  Well, actually not “us”.  “Only one parent is allowed” she said in no uncertain terms.  Such times are for Mama, of course.  I returned to my chair in the waiting room, and nervously prayed and fidgeted while waiting to see what would happen with Marie.

    I don’t know how long I sat there, but after awhile, a nurse called me back to the treatment area.  “Mr. Davis, we’re going to need your help.”  I had no idea what the nurse meant, but when I arrived into the room where Marie had been taken, I was stunned by the sight.  My precious little daughter lay on a table, her entire body covered with a sterile sheet.  A small hole offered the only opening, slit just in the area of Marie’s eye.  I would also discover that she was bound by what one could only call a straitjacket.  The nurse looked at me, and declared with no uncertainty or possibility of argument.  “Mr. Davis, we’re going to need you to hold your daughter’s head while we repair her wound.”

    Sometimes life changes in a moment.  So much ran through my mind as tears begin to well in my eyes.  “I’m going to have to hold Marie still while these people so strange to her inflict pain upon her.  She doesn’t understand and she believes that I am the person who, along with her mother, loves her more than anyone in all the world.  How can I do this?”  All this took place in my mind, perhaps in less than a second, as my heart literally broke.  I walked to the table, looked down at Marie, and attempted as brave a smile as I could muster under the circumstances.  “Sweetheart, it’s going to be ok.  Daddy has to help these nice people make you better, and it will all be over before you know it.”  I touched her on the shoulder, feeling the restraints of the strait jacket, and the breaking of my heart yet again.  I looked at the doctor.  “Ok, I’m ready.”  I leaned down, took Marie’s head firmly into my hands, and told her that I loved her.

    Marie cried throughout the procedure.  I did too.  I tried to reassure her continuously that all would be well, but she didn’t understand how the person who loved her more than anyone in the world could subject her to such abject terror and grievous pain.  My broken heart broke again and again, and I don’t recall whether I prayed, or even could have prayed.  I do know this.  At some point, when all seemed completely dark and agonizing, a thought came to me.  Not a voice, not an impression, but a thought that changed my life instantaneously and  became the basis for just about everything I believe about the Bible’s declaration of God’s love and compassion.  “I think that if God were to speak to me audibly in this moment” came the insight, “He would tell me that for the rest of my life, every time He must take me through pain, sorrow, and bewilderment of any kind, I should remember this moment.  Because what I am now feeling is what He feels, just a glimmer, in fact, of what He feels.”

    The surgery went well.  Marie recovered, and her beautiful brow gives no indication whatsoever of that bump and scream from so long ago.  My heart recovered also, but not completely.  I never share this story without an old wound bleeding again just a bit.  More importantly, however, I never remember the episode without a fresh dispensation of complete amazement, the kind that happens when the realization of God’s wondrous heart graces us yet again.  His trusting children in Christ will never feel a twinge of pain that does not coincide with a stab of pain in the depths of our Father’s heart.  “His compassions fail not” (Lamentation 3:22).  Our Father takes no pleasure, but rather much pain when He must allow or determine that we hurt.  I will always believe the season Frances, Marie, and I shared in that emergency room allowed just a glimpse into the heart of One who loves us so much that He immerses Himself in our blessings and our buffetings.  Yes, our Lord cares when we suffer, including the maladies that sometimes must find their way to our physical frames.

Next: Responses To Sickness

“Pray for one another, that ye may be healed.”
(James 5:16)
“He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”
(II Corinthians 12:9)

Weekly Memory Verse
    He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the first born from the dead, that in all things He might have the preeminence.”
(Colossians 1:18)

"In Times of Sickness" Part 2

     God allows and sometimes even determines sickness for a variety of reasons in the experience of born again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ (as referenced at length in Part 1 of this consideration).

1.  We live in a fallen world due to sin, the ground cursed by God, and the atmosphere poisoned by the presence of Satan.  Sometimes we suffer as the natural consequence of living in such a        realm.
2.  God sometimes allows Satan to attack believers with illness.
3.  God sometimes chastens His children with sickness.
4.  Sometimes we suffer as preparation for ministry to others.
5.  Sometimes sickness leads to the bestowal of Divine healing, and the revelation of God's power.  Or, it may lead to the bestowal of enabling grace, and the revelation of God's heart.
6.  We discover the caring and compassion of God as we look to Him and submit ourselves to Him in times of illness.

    How we respond to sickness determines how we experience the challenge of pain, weakness, and limitation.  The most important aspect of the matter is that we do respond - to God - in times of illness.  The aforementioned Biblical truths provide the basis for such response.  When sickness confronts us, we do well to remember the possibilities it offers as it arrives on our doorstep.  I try to consider the reasons in a prayerful remembrance to the Lord.  

    "Heavenly Father, I look to You in this time of difficulty with praise and thanksgiving that You have allowed or perhaps determined this challenge to come my way.  I thank You that You do all things for the glory of Your Son, for my benefit, and for the benefit of those with whom You have called me to live my life.  I do not presently know why this sickness has come my way.  But You do, and I trust that whatever the purpose, You will lead me to honor the Lord Jesus, walk with You through this in faith and submission, and provide opportunity for the bestowal of Your love and truth to others as You reveal Your strength in my weakness.  As You see fit, I trust You to show me if this is simply a consequence of life in a fallen world, or if it a devilish attack, or Your chastening, or a preparation for ministry to others, or an opportunity for healing, or for the grace to endure, or perhaps the blessed opportunity to discover Your loving compassion in a greater way.  Whatever the case, Lord, I choose to trust You and submit myself to You, as enabled by Your Spirit, for the glory of the Lord Jesus."

    Upon this basis of Truth and trusting response, we embark upon a path on which we are far more likely to experience our challenge in the context of God's presence and involvement.  Many more specific choices of faith and submission will be required as the pains and limitations confront us.  If we realize that our trial involves the Lord's chastening, repentance and the determination to change must characterize our response.  Prayers for others suffering like we are will surely grace our hearts and tongues.  If we believe ourselves subject to devilish attack, we pray accordingly for the Lord's protection and deliverance.  Our Father may heal us instantaneously as we seek Him, a blessed gift for which we give much thanks.  However, He may also allow our thorn to remain, bestowing upon us the same gift given to the Apostle Paul so long ago, "My grace is sufficient for thee" (II Corinthians 12:9).  Finally, we may simply discover the heart of God as His tendermercies reach us in the hour of our deepest agony.  We trust His heart when we cannot understand His hand, and we shall not be disappointed when we do so.

    No sickness comes our way without Divine involvement and purpose.  Whether allowed or determined by God, when the challenge reaches us, He constitutes the context, as it were.  Or, as the Lord Jesus declared to His disciples when meeting them in the storm, "It is I" (John 6:18-20).  The way will not be easy, but as in every other arena of life in Christ, we don't expect it to be.    May we look for our Lord to meet us in times of illness, with glories of Himself unknowable in any other condition.  He will faithfully fulfill the ancient promise of His presence, and we will faithfully honor Him in times of sickness…

"The Lord will strengthen him upon the bed of languishing, Thou wilt make all his bed in his sickness."
(Psalm 41:3)

Weekly Memory Verse
    He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the first born from the dead, that in all things He might have the preeminence."
(Colossians 1:18)

Monday, November 24, 2014

"No Experts"

     If spiritual maturity could be measured, and if we could find the godliest believer on the planet, he or she would be no less in need of growth in God's grace and truth than would the least mature Christian.

    "But grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (II Peter 3:18).

    The Apostle Peter directed his command to all (and would have included himself if asked).  Because we are united to an infinite Lord possessed of character and nature qualities that have no measure, we will always be discovering new aspects of His glory, and thus subject to growth.  We become more like Him as we know Him better, and we always need to know Him better.  "Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more" (I Thessalonians 4:1).

   In a world of experts on every subject, there are none in the body of Christ.  "If any man think that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know" (I Corinthians 8:2).  Certainly some have progressed more than others, and some are called to communicate God's truth (and faithfully and effectively do so).  However, the Apostle Paul informs us in no matter about God and His truth does any person ever reach exalted status.  No experts on prayer exist in Christendom, nor on faith, or obedience, or prophecy, or evangelism, or how to interpret Scripture, or on God and His inexorable ways, or on any other subject.  Again, of every believer, Paul declared "nothing yet as he ought to know."  All stand in need of growth.

    This is a vital truth to know and embrace, primarily because in our generation, modern marketing tactics assign, whether directly or tacitly, expert status to Christian communicators no less than to the world's virtuosos.  This is a dangerous business because it can lead to overmuch confidence in those who may possess eloquent voices and skillful pens, but who nevertheless walk on feet of clay.  Such ones may be faithful brethren and undershepherds, but their frailty as human beings must not be overlooked.  Only One warrants our unreserved and unequivocal faith, and He countenances no rivals.   "His name alone is excellent" (Psalm 148:13).  Failure to recognize such truth can lead to more spiritual maladies than we can presently consider.  Suffice it to suggest that we recognize our native tendency to exalt things and people other than God, and the Bible's clear teaching that regarding our Lord and His truth, all stand in need of growth.  There are no experts.

"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
    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)

Saturday, November 22, 2014

“It Ain’t Just Talk!"

   After losing his first match with Joe Frazier, battered heavyweight boxer Muhammed Ali commented, ruefully, "You know all that talk about Joe Frazier's left hook?  It ain't just talk!"

   If Satan could express himself truthfully for a moment, he would have to confess the same about the Lord Jesus Christ and His church.  "You know all that talk about "greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world?  It ain't just talk!" (I John 4:4).  Indeed, for 2,000 years, since winning the war of the ages on the cross of Calvary and rising from the dead, the Lord Jesus has worked in and through His people to bludgeon Satan by revealing the truth of "Greater is He."    It doesn't always appear to be so, of course.  The devil sometimes wins skirmishes in our personal lives, our churches, and our culture.  Difficult consequences result, but in the hearts of those who remember that our faith began with the appearance of ruinous defeat that led to the the triumph of the ages, opportunity presents itself to affirm the victory of the Lord Jesus yet again.  We fight from victory rather than for it, even as the Apostle John declared, "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith" (I John 5:4).

    In similar manner to Job's experience, God allowed "a messenger of Satan" to buffet the Apostle Paul with a "thorn in the flesh" (II Corinthians 12:7).  Thrice Paul prayed until the Lord revealed to His servant that sufficient grace rather than deliverance would serve as Divine provision.  This enabled the Apostle to know and communicate the risen Christ in far greater fashion than a removed thorn could have provided.  When the painful intruder pricked Paul and drew blood, as it were, our brother of old accessed God's grace for himself, and more importantly, for others.  Nearly 2,000 years later we still benefit from Paul's Scripturally recorded experience and testimony.  When our Heavenly Father allows messengers of Satan to approach and remain, He does so to batter His defeated enemy yet again as we herald Christ's resurrection from the very arena of our apparent defeat and painful challenge.  And it ain't just talk!

Over and Over and Over and Over

Sometimes it seems that the enemy of our soul wins
over and over and over again.
But if we could see the truth much more clearly, my friend,
we'd see Christ triumph over death, hell, and sin
over and over and over again…
over and over and over and over again.

The tomb is empty, the throne above occupied,
for Christ is risen again, from death glorified.
So remember when hot, stinging tears fill your eyes
the triumph He's shown so many times in our lives,
over and over and over again…
over and over and  over and over again.

Forever draws nigh, we will be with Him there soon, my friend.
The trials of this life will be gone when we're with Him in Heaven.
Glories we'll see, majesty without end, that sing the glad hymn Christ is risen again,
over and over and over again.
Over and over and over and over again.

"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
    My flesh and my heart faith, but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever.
(Psalm 73:26)

Friday, November 21, 2014

"Asleep On a Pillow"

(A repeat from 2010)

   Winds howled. Great waves crashed against the sides of the ship. Capsizing and death by drowning seemed imminent. Strong, hardy men feared and cried out for their lives. The Lord Jesus Christ slept on a pillow in the ship's stern.

    "And the same day, when the even was come, He saith unto them, Let us pass over unto the other side. And when they had sent away the multitude, they took Him even as He was in the ship. And there were also with Him other little ships. And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. And He was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake Him, and say unto Him, Master, carest Thou not that we perish? And He arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. And He said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? How is it that ye have no faith? And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?" (Mark 4:35-41).

     The Lord Jesus slept because He knew that no wind and no sea could have capsized a ship whose journey began with His word, "Let us pass over unto the other side." The storms of our lives belong to our Lord, as the Psalmist declared, "Fire, and hail; snow, and vapor; stormy wind fulfilling His word" (Psalm 148:8). They cannot blow, they cannot bluster unless He gives them rein to do so. Sometimes they howl at us personally. Sometimes they threaten those whom we love. And sometimes the waves crash against nations and cultures. Whatever the case, we do well to remember our Lord "asleep on a pillow."

     Of course, God does not sleep in the sense of caring for us, or of His working all things after the counsel of His own will. "Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep" (Psalm 121:4). It remains true, however, that the storms of our lives do not find the Lord Jesus with a furrowed brow, a rapidly beating heart, or hands wringing in frustration or desperation. No, in this sense, we do well to see Him sleeping like a baby, without a care in the world.

     We shall pass over to the other side. "He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6). Our Savior is the author of our faith, and He is the finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). He knows that which has been in our lives, that which is, and that which shall be. He knows that He is everything we will ever need Him to be. Most importantly, He knows His own heart, which is filled with a love for us that "passeth knowledge" (Ephesians 3:19). In this most vital sense, no wind can capsize our ship. No wave can drown us. No storm can cause that we shall not pass over to the other side. The One who loves us more than life itself will see to that.
     See your Savior, "asleep on a pillow." As long as the One to whom we have entrusted both time and eternity is not overwrought or overwhelmed with care, all will be well. In this hour, all is well for the trusting sons and daughters of God in Christ regardless of the storms that threaten. Our Master has said, "Let us pass over to the other side." And so we shall.

"I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be forever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before Him."
(Ecclesiastes 3:14)

Weekly Memory Verse
    My flesh and my heart faith, but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever.
(Psalm 73:26)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

"He Lives, We Live"

   Early in my Christian life, a school of thought influenced me that proposed the notion that "believers cannot live the Christian life, so Christ must live it in and through us."  I latched onto the concept, which does in fact bear some truth.  It is not true enough, however, and the results of the teaching limited my experience of walking with the Lord at best, and at worst, led to doctrinal and practical diversion from God and His truth.

    "Christ in you, the hope of glory… I also labor, striving according to His working, which worketh in me mightily" (Colossians 1:27; 29).
    "In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him" (I John 4:9).

    A careful and thorough consideration of the New Testament reveals the foundational truth that the Spirit of the Lord Jesus lives in us so that we may live through Him.  As the Apostle Paul testified, he labored, but through the presence and power of "His working".   Rather than the elimination of our humanity in the living of the Christian life, we rather present our selves, our members, and our faculties to God in the expectation of their full engagement, as led, motivated, and empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit.  Salvation does not remove us from a life lived to God's glory.  It rather redeems us to the enabling whereby our Lord's births a "new man, created in righteousness and true holiness" (Ephesians 4:24).  Note that this spiritual person we now are was not created as righteousness and true holiness, but rather in these qualities of Christ's sublime character.  Thus, our Heavenly Father calls us to "reckon ye also yourselves to be… alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:11).  Christ serves as the life, the power, the provision, the love, and the essence of all spiritual qualities.  We are ourselves alive, however, as spiritually constituted in His life.  Again, we live - through Him.

    This perspective bore revolutionary impact in my life, delivering me from the half-truth, as it were, referenced above.   I remain very much a work in progress, of course, but having the proper Biblical affirmation established in heart and mind more consistently enables the proper response of faith, submission, and the realization that whatever challenge of obedience to God the moment may present, the Spirit of Christ lives in me that I may live through Him.  Certainly we cannot walk in faithfulness apart from the Lord Jesus - "Without Me ye can do nothing" (John 15:5).  By definition, however, believers are not apart from our Savior - "I will dwell in them and walk in them" (II Corinthians 6:16).  Thus, we go forth in confidence of His life empowering our living, to the glory of God and a far more consistent response to His Word and His presence in our hearts.  Rather than passively waiting for the Lord to move us, we rather engage ourselves in the faith that affirms His present and dynamic enabling of heart, mind, faculties, and members.  Yes, the Spirit of the Lord Jesus lives in us so that we may live through Him.  Or, as Paul vividly described…

"I am crucified with Christ.  Nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me."
(Galatians 2:20)

Weekly Memory Verse
    My flesh and my heart faith, but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever.
(Psalm 73:26)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

“Altars In Pain"

   The Old Testament declares that God is "full of compassion" (Psalm 86:15).  The Lord also possesses infinite understanding (Psalm 147:5).  Thus, He perfectly knows the challenges faced by human beings, and cares about them more than do we ourselves.

    It remains true, however, that the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, brought experience into the Divine awareness of our pains and sorrows.  "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" (Hebrews 4:15).  God's knowledge of challenge now unites with mental, emotional, and physical participation in human difficulty.  Thus, the full compassion of the Old Testament is transcended by an even greater involvement in the New.  Through experience, the Lord Jesus knows beyond knowledge our infirmities, and thus cares about us with more loving concern than we could ever measure or fathom.

    The Spirit of Christ also dwells in those who believe for the purpose of filling us with His compassion.  "Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body" (II Corinthians 4:10).  Our pains enable us to identify with others for the purpose of revealing Christ's life to our sphere of influence.  As we trust and submit ourselves to God in difficulty, His love births awareness and compassion in us for others who hurt, thus preparing us for ministries we could never fulfill apart from pain.  This includes prayerful ntercessions that would not be offered, self sacrificial actions that remain undone, testimonies of God's comfort we could not profess, and caring for others that only originates in our discovery of God's compassion for us when we hurt.

    Our Lord knows, He cares, and He can do something about our hurting hearts and bodies.  At or near the top of the list, He can transform our perception of suffering into a different reality altogether as we realize that the risen life of Christ can flow to others through the portals of our wounds.  Somewhere, somebody else hurts as we do.  Our pain offers an altar whereupon we devote ourselves to God and others for the glory of the Lord Jesus, and the ministry of His caring compassion, comfort, and enabling.  How easily we sink into our difficulties, to no benefit whatsoever.  But how mightily the Spirit of God can bring us forth, as He did the Lord Jesus, from tombs that actually serve to reveal His life to others.  This was His way so long ago, and the very foundation of our faith.  It is now our way in the present day, and the very fount of living Water revealed in and through us for the glory of God and the benefit of those with whom we live our lives…

"For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.  So then death worketh in us, but life in you."
(II Corinthians 4:11-12)

Weekly Memory Verse
    My flesh and my heart faith, but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever.
(Psalm 73:26)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

"Small Moments, Small Matters"

    Most of it involves the little things, most of life, that is.  Millions of small moments and matters determine the course of our lives, while only a few big things, relatively speaking, happen to any of us.

    "He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in that which is much" (Luke 16:10).

    If we can increasingly discover and avail ourselves of the Lord Jesus Christ in the everyday issues of life, we will greatly impact our sphere of influence for His glory.  Moreover, our own hearts and lives will know the peace and joy God purposes His trusting children to experience through the dynamic involvement of His presence in our lives.  Conversely, if we wait for the spectacular and the extraordinary regarding our Heavenly Father's working, we will miss much that strengthens our confidence in His working.  As Jacob confessed regarding his dream of the angelic ladder at Luz, "Surely the Lord is in this place and I knew it not!" (Genesis 28:16).  The man of God renamed the holy venue "Bethel" (house of God), realizing how close he came to missing his Lord's presence and involvement due to ignorance of how often He meets us in the obscure and unexpected.  Or, in terms of our present consideration, in the small moments and matters.

    Such truth greatly challenges us because it necessitates that we remain spiritually awake and attuned.  As in Jacob's experience, we may miss much if we fail to realize God's emphasis on the seemingly ordinary and mundane issues of our lives.  Indeed, most people in our Lord's incarnate day failed to see the reality of "Emmanuel...God with us" (Matthew 1:23).  The Lord Jesus lived in such an inauspicious manner throughout most of His earthly lifetime that when His ministry began, His own brethren did not know who He was (John 7:5).  Our Savior was too small, as it were.  In His present spiritual involvement in our lives, He tends to remain so, requiring that "walk by faith, not by sight" (II Corinthians 7:5).  Reminding and encouraging each other to remember such truth helps us to remain alert to the Christ who often comes to us unobtrusively that we will miss Him if we do not expect Him in the small moments and the small matters.

"The LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: and after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire, a still small voice.
(I Kings 19:11-12)

Weekly Memory Verse
    My flesh and my heart faith, but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever.
(Psalm 73:26)

Monday, November 17, 2014

"Forever In Time"

    Eternity and time met in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ" - "From everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God….  When the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son" (Galatians Psalm 90:2; 4:4).

   I'll leave to other and better hearts and minds the philosophical challenges of such mystery as revealed in the God who is man and the man who is God.  I'd rather share a personal anecdote, as provided by my eight year old grandson Jackson.  He and his sister Emma (7) spent the night with us Saturday.  Yesterday morning, as I busily prepared for Sunday services, Jack asked if we could throw the football.  I didn't have time for fun, but then again, I did.  "I'll have just a minute or two before we leave, Jack" I said, and repeated for emphasis, "just a minute or two."

   We went outside and threw the ball for those minutes, and enjoyed the brief opportunity to engage in one of Jackson's favorite pastimes (mine too, particularly since I remember hundreds, if not  thousands, of similar episodes with Jackson's dad as he grew up).  "I wish I had more time, but I have to go, Jack" I said as the brief moment passed quickly away.  Jack responded, "I know, Grandaddy."  As we walked into the house, Jackson thanked me for taking the time to throw the football with him.  "You know, Granddaddy", he said, "it may only have been two minutes, but it was one of the most fun two minutes I've ever had!"   I had to agree, and as you can imagine, Jack's comment made those minutes all the more blessed.

   Sometimes the briefest moment of time so finds it way into your heart that you know it will be with you for a lifetime.  Even more, God often infuses eternal glories into the temporal, even as the "from everlasting to everlasting" Son entered the realm  of time for our benefit in both realities.  One can only imagine the sense of limitation such incarnation involved.  Indeed, how does an eternal, infinite being confine Himself within the constraints and restraints of time?   The Apostle Paul provides the only answer, a non-answer, actually: "Great is the mystery of godliness. God was manifest in the flesh" (I Timothy 3:16).  Such mystery continues as the Spirit of the Lord Jesus involves Himself in the moments of our lives.  As we walk by faith and its anticipation of Divine involvement, our Heavenly Father frequently reveals features of forever in time, glories that will be eternally with us that first engaged and impacted us in brief moments of this present realm so different from God's "everlasting to everlasting."  

    I believe we should expect such glory, as provided by the Lord who "worketh all things after the counsel of His own will" (Ephesians 1:11).  Jackson reminded me yesterday that just a minute or two can provide joy in the moments, and joy in the memories of the moments.  The time we spent will be with me for the rest of my life, primarily because of my grandson's response to our experience together.  Moreover, Jackson reminds me to anticipate our Heavenly Father's involved presence whereby His forever fills our time with glories and benefits that shall be with us "to everlasting."

"For the life was manifested and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us."
(I John 1:2)
"My expectation is from Him."
(Psalm 62:5)

Weekly Memory Verse
    My flesh and my heart faith, but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever.
(Psalm 73:26)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

"More Than Music"

"More Than Music"  

    I find it a bit of a dilemma, as enrobed in a blessing.

    I wandered into a music store recently, proceeding to make the mistake experienced by all guitar players at some point in their playing history.  I picked up a guitar, played one chord, and was completely blown away by the sound and feel of the instrument.  Known as a GS Mini Taylor, it nevertheless sounded like a very large, very resonate, and very beautiful ensemble of wood and steel.  The more I played the guitar, the more I loved the sound.  To top it off, as a slightly smaller instrument, it frets and plays like a dream.  The price is also more than reasonable considering the guitar's quality, so much so that the salesman told me I could simply trade in my current guitar, a ten year old Taylor 310 CE, for an even swap.  Thus comprises the blessing, a great guitar for no cost at all.

    Here enters the dilemma.  I love my current Taylor guitar.  I mean, I LOVE my guitar.  Frances bought it for me in 2005 as a wonderful gift.  It sounds beautiful and plays nicely (although not as easily as the MiniTaylor mentioned above).  Most of all, the 310 and I have a blessed history together.  My friend and I have made music together in nearly 4,000 services in the last decade.  I've written dozens of songs with it, and have never had a moment's problem with the guitar in all these years.  The 310 travels well, it stays in tune, and when I pick it up and play it, something more than music results in my heart and mind.  

   So what do I do?  There's really no question or dilemma regarding the matter.  I will be faithful to my friend.  I will keep my 310.  There is no way I could say farewell to one who has been so loyal to me, and who remains so until this day.  I understand, of course, that a guitar is an inanimate object that possesses no heart, mind, spirit, or soul.  Indeed, referring to the 310 as a "friend" may involve silliness on my part.  It feels like a friend, however, and I am enough of a romantic to dismiss any notion of trading the 310 for any other guitar.  Yes, I will be faithful to my friend. 

    All this reminds me, of course, that "there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother" (Proverbs 18:24).  The faithfulness of my guitar elicits desire in me to respond in kind.  This reflects the truth that loyalty to our "closer than a brother" God always proceeds as the fruit of His loyalty to us.  The writer of Hebrews profoundly declares such truth - "Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering, for He is faithful that promised" (Hebrews 10:23).  We "hold fast" based upon "He is faithful."   Moreover, the same writer calls us to "consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds" (Hebrews 12:3).  Considering our Lord's faithfulness motivates and empowers our own faithfulness.  Indeed, the more we "grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ," the more we experience the blessed truth that "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" (II Peter 3:18; II Corinthians 9:8).

    The faithfulness of my friend, the 310, sings to me of my dearest and best friend, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus.  Yet again, the 310 blesses me with more than music as it reflects the Light from above that illuminates, encourages, and challenges us to walk in trustworthiness to God through the power of His trustworthiness to us.  How could I bid farewell to such a devoted and loyal companion?  I can't.  I won't.

"Beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord."
(II Corinthians 3:18)
Weekly Memory Verse
   The Lord will give strength unto His people; the Lord will bless His people with peace."
(Psalm 29:11)


Friday, November 14, 2014

The Mountain

Friends: Several weeks ago, Frances and I journeyed to the Smoky Mountains for our first hike, and even more, for the opportunity to be with people we love, and others whom we would come to love.  The Lord blessed both the hiking and the people aspects of the trip, particularly the latter, in ways that made our time in Tennessee and Georgia one of the most wonderful occasions of our lives.  I haven’t known whether I would write about the blessing because it remains so large in our hearts and minds that it seems difficult to imagine encapsulating it into a few essays.  Several days ago, however, the words seemed to come, and I send the first part to you as the introduction to what we affectionately refer to as

“Glen and Frances’s Excellent Adventure”

(also known as) 

The Mountains and The People

Part 1 - The Mountains

      As I type these words on Monday afternoon, November 3rd, I consider the fact that two weeks ago at this time, Frances and I journeyed upon a course which, at a certain point in our hike, she unaffectionately referred to as “Dante’s Outer Circle of Hell” (a.k.a. - the Boulevard Trail that spans the distance between the summit of Mount Leconte and the Icewater Shelter in the Smoky Mountains).

     We traveled the five and a half miles to the Leconte summit during the morning, experiencing much greater effort and difficulty than anticipated.  The paths that lead to Leconte, while beautiful, frequently offer to hikers steep ascents and rock-strewn paths.  Sheer precipices border the left side of many trails, motivating hikers to hug the mountain on the right (some of which have steel rods hewn into the rock, providing cables to grip in order to allow for hopefully safe passage).  We enjoyed much of the climb, but found it tough and tiring.

    Upon reaching the summit of Mt. Leconte, we breathed a sigh of relief - at least somewhat.  However, we still had nearly six miles to go before reaching our space reserved for the night at Icewater Shelter.  We couldn’t rest on the laurels, therefore, of having ascended to Leconte’s 6500 foot elevation.  We couldn’t rest at all.  We had to reach the shelter before dark because of Smoky Mountain National Park rules, and because Dante’s Outer Circle/Boulevard Trail offers very few flat areas suitable for pitching a tent.  We considered the possibility of turning around and descending Mt. Leconte, ending our hike on the same day it started.  The prospect seemed more than appealing.  Somehow, though, I just couldn’t see us doing that.  “We’re not known for quitting, Frances” I said.  She nodded.  We looked at each other, took a deep breath, and set off on the Boulevard Trail, excuse me, Dante’s Outer Circle, that would summon every bit of physical and emotional energy we possessed (which would not be enough, thus making us eternally grateful that we live by the strength of Another).  

     Supplementing the challenge included the omission that during our brief moment on the summit of Leconte ("Yep, this is the top. Now let’s go!”), we forgot to replenish our water supply.  It made for the possibility of an interesting afternoon, and I now report to you that it was.  Oh, how it was!  Not long after we set out for Icewater Shelter, I began to suffer severe leg cramps due to dehydration (which necessitated my drinking much of our water supply).  Frances injured her knee (she didn’t inform me about her impairment until the next morning).  And we ran out of water halfway through the afternoon.  Thankfully, we encountered no bears during this period because if we had, well, I don’t think I could have been as civil and gracious as I might normally have been.  “Get out of my face, Yogi!”  Moreover, Frances would likely have murdered any beast that sought our company and fellowship (the Smokies folks frown severely on bearicide).  We grew more and more exhausted, frustrated, concerned about reaching the shelter, and downright angry at ourselves for having misjudged the trail and our limitations.   “I hate hiking” said I at one point.  “I hate it too” responded Frances (ah, the joys of marital unity!).  Then and there we determined that never again would we allow ourselves back on any trail other the ones that lead to our refrigerator and restroom at home.  Home.  I’m sure we both thought, “I wish I was home with Dorothy and Toto in Kansas!” (although we live in Alabama, and don’t know any “Dorothy” or “Toto" in Kansas).

    When all hope seemed lost, a ray of light shined into the Inferno.  We came upon a mountain stream.  A mountain stream!  As I typed that last sentence, a thought occurred to me for the first time since encountering the glorious trickle that cascaded down the rocks.  25 years ago, I wrote a guitar instrumental called “Mountain Stream.”  It has long been one of my and Frances’ favorite pieces of music we’ve done, and little did we know that perhaps it was written as the prelude to the beautiful stream in the rocks that provided blessed relief in a most difficult time in our lives (I’ve included the link to the music below if you’d like to hear it).  Thank the Lord, our water problem was solved.  We filled our containers, drank, and then continued the journey to the shelter, refreshed, but still unsure as to whether we’d make it before dark.  The last few miles of Boulevard Trail challenge weary hikers with one twisting, uphill ascent after another (supplementing the delightful torture with numerous fallen trees that require either a climb or a contorting posture that reminds one, uncomfortably, of long ago Limbo competitions - ouch!).  I’m not embarrassed to admit that our “hike” at times devolved into a stagger. 

   I could go on with other uncomfortable features of this encouraging report, but enough fun for now.  We finally came upon a sign that read, “Appalachian Trail”.  Even more blessedly, we nearly wept as the sign also reported, “Icewater Shelter, 0.2 miles.”  We did weep, joyfully!  We would make it before dark!  No bear would die unnecessarily!  We would finally execute the longed for collapse we so richly deserved (after setting up our tent).  All this happened, we ate our granola bar/cheese cracker supper, and I descended into an exhausted, coma-like sleep until regaining consciousness at sunrise the next morning to discover that Frances had lain awake throughout much of the night.  “I hurt my knee yesterday, and every time I move, it’s excruciating.”  Again, she hadn’t informed me of this the previous day, perhaps thinking it would feel better when rested.  It didn’t, and we faced another challenge as the sun rose.  How would Frances walk the three miles to Newfound Gap to meet our friends?  “I will do it” she said.  And I knew she would because I know Frances, and even more, I know her sublime capacity to access the Lord’s grace and enabling.

   This provides another twist to the story.  We originally planned a four day, three night hike in the mountains.  By the end of our first day, however, we wondered if we might need to adjust our original itinerary.  We knew the rest of the hike did not portend of the challenges we faced on day one.  However, those challenges had surprised us greatly.  What new levels of Dante’s hellish circles might lie ahead?  Should we proceed with our original plan?  Could we proceed, considering Frances’s knee?  We decided, therefore, to get in touch with our friends and ask them to pick us up at Newfound Gap on Tuesday rather than attempting to reach our original destination of Davenport Gap several days later.  Frances’s injury sealed the deal, that is, if she would be able to walk those three miles on rugged mountain trails to Newfound.  Add to the concern the words a hiker told us the day before, in passing: “It’s $15,000 if you have to get a MediVac flight off these mountains.”  Gulp!  “And,” he added, “most health insurance polices don’t cover the service.”  Guuullllpppp! (which led to the prayer, “Lord, You do cover MediVacs for your trusting, albeit, misguided children?  You do, don’t You?!).  

    I lay in the tent praying, as had Frances throughout the night.  We know the Lord well enough and have experienced His provision often enough to be sure He would help, supply, and GET US OUT OF THESE GODFORSAKEN MOUNTAINS!!! (uh, sorry, Lord!).  Actually, they weren’t Godforsaken.  They were God-filled, just as their breathtaking beauty and magnitude declare with such splendor.  We got up, which for Frances was saying a lot.  Her knee was painful and unsteady, but as the trooper you all know she is, she helped me (actually, I helped her) take our tent down.  In doing so, she knelt down, which caused her to stretch her quadriceps muscles.  This seemed to ease the tension in her leg, and miraculously, a great deal of the pain in her knee.  “I”m pretty sure I can walk,” she said with much relief, and to my great amazement and joy.  She did walk that day, all the way down the mountain to Newfound Gap, and I’m happy to report she’s still walking back at home, with no apparent lasting damage to her knee.  Yes, the mountains were God-filled.

    We had the most joyous journey from Icewater Shelter to Newfound.  As part of the Appalachian Trail, these paths are much better maintained, although still quite steep and rocky at many points.  We took our time, something we couldn’t do the day before.  This allowed for the very reason one chooses to hike in the Smoky Mountains, namely, to gaze with rapture upon one of God’s annual fall exhibitions, as held in one of His most beautiful art galleries.  In Autumn, the Smokies glimmer with hues and colors that no human artist can duplicate, or even imagine.  The sky gleams never so blue as in October, the thrill of the chill (winds, that is) graces summer-weary brows, and the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ speaks and sings to your heart the anthems of His beautiful heart.  Oh yes, the mountains were God-filled.  We reveled in the scenes that hurry and exhaustion made impossible the day before.  More importantly, we took more time to offer praise and thanksgiving to the Artist for inviting us to His glorious exhibition.

    A possible complication involved the fact of spotty to non-existent cell phone reception in the region we hiked.  Our change in plans necessitated getting touch with our friends Tom and JJ to see if they could pick us up two days early.  As we departed Icewater, I texted Tom with the requests and put the phone in my pocket, thinking, hoping, and praying that sometime later in the day the message would transmit.  Less than 15 minutes into our journey, I decided to look at my phone to see if just maybe….   “Yes.”  There it was on the screen!  Just one word, one glorious, blessed word!  Not only had my message transmitted, but my dear brother and friend Tom had already responded!  “Yes!”   JJ and the kids would be at Newfound to pick us up, providing yet another indication of how full of God the Smoky Mountains actually are.  This made our journey all the more joyous, and we skipped down the trails, well, we didn’t actually skip because Frances had a sore knee, and as a big, tough guy, I don’t skip.  Except in the heart, and I can tell you that therein, we did in fact skip down the trails of God’s mountains!

    We made it to Newfound Gap with an hour or so to spare before JJ arrived to pick us up.  We encountered several hundred people taking in the autumnal beauty of the mountain views Newfound offers.  Frances and I were the only people adorned with full hiking gear.  We drew many stares, leading us to postulate that some of the folks must have thought, “Wow, there’s some experienced hiking veterans.”  Pardon me for a moment as I break into uproarious laughter!  Indeed, near the finish of our hike, some folks stopped us to ask about our journey.  We told them where we started and where we would finish.  “You’re my heroes” said one nice lady, “real hikers!”  I love Frances’s response, one of the truest utterances she’s ever expressed in a lifetime of uttering truth: “It’s just a facade!”  It was, but I will say that we learned a lot in a day and a half in the mountains, and next time…

    Oh yes, I didn’t mention that there will be a next time, Lord willing.  Actually, we’re planning on many next times!  We love hiking! (ah, the joys of marital unity! - see addendum). Yes, somehow between late afternoon on Monday in Dante’s Outer Ring and early Tuesday morning in the Smoky God-filled Mountains, the Lord of those glorious peaks and valleys changed our hearts and minds about the matter.  Tuesday morning and the journey to Newfound Gap will forever remain as one of the most blessed times of our life together.  Monday afternoon on Dante Boulevard?  We now laugh about it every time we mention it.  We chuckle about our mistakes in planning, knowing that we bit off a whole lot more mountain than we could begin to chew in one day.  We snicker as we recall our staggers.  We give thanks as we cherish the thought of safe and unharmed bears.  We smile when we think of hearing the first trickles of the blessed mountain stream that sang to our hearts more than two decades before slaking our thirst during the hardest afternoon of our lives.  We bow our heads upon the memory of the sign that told us we were close to shelter.  And most of all, I personally remember this: at the most difficult part of our journey, when the ascents seemed far too steep for exhausted hikers, and especially for Frances, when the rocks and the crevices and every step brought searing pain to her leg, she began to sing, over and over and over again:  

“Lord, You are more precious than silver, Lord You are much finer than gold, Lord You are more beautiful than diamonds, and nothing I desire compares to You.”

   I suspect the mountains still ring with the echoes of that beautiful and ethereal voice (those of you who’ve heard Frances sing know what I’m talking about).  Over and over and over again Frances sang the chorus, breathlessly as the struggle seemed to go on forever.  Sometimes she sang amid sobs.  Sometimes she sang as a misstep brought searing pain to her knee.  At the end, she sang with sighs of abounding joy as we discovered yet again the central truth we seek to share in our life and ministry, namely, that 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.  He is perfectly faithful and true.  Indeed, I’ll remember the sights and sounds of our journey for a lifetime, and I trust, for an eternity.  But none will compare with hearing my blessed wife sing when only the Spirit of God could have inspired and enabled music in the Smoky God-filled mountains, where for a time, it seemed music could not be.  Indeed, “Lord, You are more precious than silver…


    Before our hike, our first hike, Frances and I agreed that we would either love the experience or hate it.  We also acknowledged the somewhat troubling possibility that one of us might feel one way, and one the other (come to think of it, forget the “somewhat!”  It would have been really troubling!).  Thus, the fact that we experienced the same range of opinion and emotion - from hatred to love - causes us to yet again bow head and heart to the Lord who brought us together nearly four decades ago, and who keeps us together in both heart and life.  Yet again, “more precious than silver…"

Mountain Stream:      (may take a little while to load)