Tuesday, January 31, 2017

"The Next Step"

"The Next Step"    

   Frances and I  look forward to this coming Saturday, when we hope to fulfill a long-planned goal.  We will compete (well, not actually compete) in what we're calling the Orange Moon Marathon (a walking version, actually, of which we are the only two entrants).  We plan on starting the journey long before sunrise, and will try to finish by early afternoon.  As referenced, we've been planning such an event for the last several years, and we're excited about finally making the attempt.  Heretofore, our longest walk was 23.17 miles during a hike last year, so we're confident that by God's grace, we can successfully finish our personal marathon.  Frances has plotted our route, and we'll zig and zag around Mobile streets until doubtless exhausting all our zigs and zags.  Oh yes, would you believe that I plan on riding in a little red wagon that Frances will pull behind her throughout the entire walk?  :):)  Well, if we actually had a little red wagon...

   I share this with you because the Bible frequently references relationship with God in terms of a "walk".  Living by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ involves a step by step process of putting one spiritual foot in front of another, as it were.  The Apostle Paul uses terminology that confirms this truth, describing the Christian life in terms of "faith to faith" (Romans 1:17).  One step of trusting and submitting to God leads to another, and another, and another.  Thus, we never rest upon laurels, knowing that regardless of how well we may overcome present challenges by God's grace received through faith, others await us just around the corner.  Walking with our Lord presents born again believers with the ongoing opportunity to do that for which He spiritually birthed us: "The just shall live by faith" (Galatians 3:11).  This involves countless moments when we must consciously and decisively determine to believe the Word of God in the face of anything or anyone that may contradict its perfect Truth.  "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith" (I John 5:4).

    If our calculations are correct, we will walk about 60,000 steps this Saturday.  But only one at a time.  The same holds true of the far more important walk by faith to which our Lord calls His trusting children.  We cannot specifically commit our trust regarding the challenges down the road.  We rather face the step, the next step, at hand.  Am I trusting God regarding the present matters of my life, and the lives of those to whom God has given me responsibility?  If so, further steps will follow "from faith to faith".  I'll try to think a lot about this vital truth on Saturday, and hope that it strengthens my understanding and resolve to "walk by faith, not by sight" (II Corinthians 5:7).  We'll appreciate your prayers, by the way, and oh yes, does anybody have a little red wagon?

"In Thee do I trust: cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; for I lift up my soul unto Thee."
(Psalm 143:8)

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

Monday, January 30, 2017



   We can all imagine scenarios that cause us to wonder how we would respond to future possibilities.  More literally, our spiritual enemies tempt us to view the matters in terms of facing them alone - "How would I deal with that?" .  For born again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, this is the wrong question.

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

   "How would we deal with that?" (meaning, "How will the Lord and I respond to whatever the future may hold?").  The very essence of the Christian life involves the active presence of God in all things, including the pleasant, the painful, and even the prosaic matters that seem to elicit neither joy or sorrow.  As we frequently suggest in these messages, we live life as a "we" rather than as a "me".  Thus, when thoughts of a future encountered alone come to mind, we must quickly dismiss them in remembrance of our Heavenly Father's promised presence of loving involvement.  "I will dwell in them and walk in them" (II Corinthians 6:16).

    The pleasant things of life come to us as the gifts of God.  "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights" (James 1:17).  Thus, we look forward to a future of opportunity to experience the generosity of our Lord, and also our privileged responsibility of offer thanksgiving.  The painful things of life will be experienced in a dispensation of His presence beyond the norm - "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble" (Psalm 46:1).  The prosaic and commonplace events will also be experienced with the Lord Jesus, and thus can become extraordinary as we remember and affirm His promised coordination of "all things together for good" (Romans 8:28).  The anticipation of "We" changes everything in our prospects when we expect God to be the other Party in our journey together.

    Our spiritual enemies tempt us to contemplate the future as a landscape barren of the most important reality of all, namely, the presence and working of the Lord on our behalf.    The future includes this day, of course, and as we embark upon the present journey, let us rejoice that whence we go, we go not alone.  Our Heavenly Father journeys with us as we go, and He will be awaiting us at our destinations.  "I am with you always" promised the Lord Jesus.  Moreover, His promise involves far more than mere presence, but rather the accompanying assurance of grace, provision, enabling, and intimate involvement in every moment.  We respond by faith, and the determination to remember and affirm always the living of life as a "We".

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

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

Friday, January 27, 2017

“Efficient Or Sufficient?”

"Efficient Or Sufficient?"    

   Sometimes when we seek God in our pains, difficulties and challenges, He administers "efficient" grace, that is, He obviously answers our prayers in the manner we desire and expect.

   "This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles" (Psalm 34:6).

   At other times, we seek God in our challenges and He administers "sufficient" grace.  The Apostle Paul experienced this form of Divine response when he suffered a "thorn in the flesh" (II Corinthians 12:7).

   "And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me" (II Corinthians 12:9).

    Presently, we desire the former means of God's deliverance.  There is nothing wrong with desiring to be saved from our troubles, and we rightly rejoice when the Lord's purposes allow for obvious provision and deliverance.  However, when our Heavenly Father must stay His hand, allowing trials to continue, the long term benefit may greatly surpass the blessing of quick salvation from our troubles.  Paul was kept humble by the enduring thorn, thus enabling the continued ministry to others that requires humility before God and people.  He also doubtless discovered glories of the Lord's heart that cannot be known in the pleasant times of life.  We must consider as well that had God quickly plucked the Apostle's thorn, his particular testimony of sufficient grace would not exist on the pages of Scripture.  We would not know nearly as well the truth of Divine strength as made perfect in weakness, nor the reality that in our presently existence, lingering thorns are accompanied by the "very present help" of God that often reveals His greatness far more than thorns removed (Psalm 46:1).

    Efficient or sufficient.  Our Heavenly Father works in both manners of grace to glorify His Son, benefit us, and prepare us for ministry to others.  We trust and honor Him regarding both aspects of His perfect way in our lives, rejoicing in the power of His hand discovered in times of obvious deliverance, and the nearness of His heart when He must allow our thorns to remain for greater revelations of His glory.

"And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong."
(II Corinthians 12:9-10)

Weekly Memory Verse 
    I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.
(I Timothy 2:1-2)

Thursday, January 26, 2017

“The Comfort Of Our Hearts”

"The Comfort Of Our Hearts"   

   I know someone for whom you can pray.  Mr. Stevens attends our services at one of the local retirement communities where we conduct meetings.  He's in his 90s, served in World War II on the front lines of Italy, had a long career in manufacturing, and remains in relatively good health.  He greatly misses his wife, who went to be with the Lord last year after more than 6 decades of marriage to her husband.  "I had a wonderful wife" says Mr. Stevens of his beloved, whom he never mentions without shedding a tear.  He is a truly gracious and kind man who loves the Lord.  Frances and I are honored to know him.  

   I share this with you to request those prayers I mentioned for a man you would love if you were blessed to know him.  I would also suggest that praying for people like Mr. Stevens reminds me of the gift God has given to His trusting sons and daughters in Christ.  Indeed, if we could administer comfort to a fellow believer hurting due to loss, we would want to do so.  We can do so.  Or rather, God promises to act in love toward people as we pray for them.  He administers His provision according to His perfect wisdom, and we may never see how He answers the prayers we pray for the deep recesses of hurting hearts.  But He will,  just as He does in our own hearts when others pray for us.  The Apostle Paul referred to our Heavenly Father as "the God of all comfort" (II Corinthians 1:3).  By His very nature, our Lord loves to assuage the inner wounds inflicted upon us by a world in many ways as beautiful as a rose, but also characterized by painful thorns.  We play a blessed role in the matter as our Lord calls us to unite our hearts with Him for His ministry to our brothers and sisters in Christ.

   Mr. Stevens will greatly appreciate your prayers for him.  I appreciate them also.  Most importantly, the Heavenly Father who finds "delight" in the prayers of His children will also delight to respond to our expressed concern for our brother in Christ.  What a gift God gives to us in seeking His grace for each other.  As we frequently suggest, our Father loves to answer our prayers far more than we desire to pray them.  I'm sure this is particularly true regarding the comfort of our hearts, as administered by "the God of all comfort", and the intercessions of those who approach the Throne of grace for the glory of God, and benefit of our brothers and sisters.

"Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains: for the LORD hath comforted His people, and will have mercy upon His afflicted."
(Isaiah 49:13)

Weekly Memory Verse 
    I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.
(I Timothy 2:1-2)

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

"The Why of Love"

"The Why of Love"    

   "Ought not Christ to have suffered, and entered into His glory?" (Luke 24:26).
   Human reasoning would conclude that the Lord Jesus Christ should not have entered His glory by way of suffering.  While "tempted in all points like as we are", our Savior never succumbed to the enticement to sin (Hebrews 4:15).  Since the Biblical standard mandates "the soul that sinneth, it shall die", justice would seem to dictate that that Lord Jesus should "enter into His glory" by the way of life rather than death (Ezekiel 18:4).  Instead, He was "marred more than any man" at the hands of sinful humanity, and "smitten of God" with Divine wrath and forsakenness when He died on the cross of Calvary (Isaiah 52:14; 53:4).  The Prince of life, and the One whose being constitutes the very essence of life, died.  How can such a thing have happened?

   Far more than "How?", we should turn our attention to "Why?"  The answer lies in the very heart of the Gospel message.

   "Christ also suffered for us, who His own self bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness" (I Peter 2:21; 24).
   "He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" (II Corinthians 5:21).

   Somehow, the King of righteousness became that which He was not, a mystery beyond comprehension.  He "bore our sins", and even more, was "made to be sin".  That which is not beyond comprehension is the reason, namely, that God so loves us as to deliver us from the unrighteousness we are apart from Christ.  Servants of sin become sons and daughters of righteousness because the Son of God yielded Himself to that which was completely foreign to His holy soul.  To the degree that the Lord Jesus bore and even became our sins on the cross, believers bear and become His righteousness.  Thus, according to God's reasoning and purpose, we "ought" to be redeemed by freely given grace and mercy because according to the same purpose, the Lord Jesus "ought" to have suffered.  The Why explains the "ought", the Why of love.  The How we will never understand.

   Again, this is the heart of the Gospel, the foundational truth from which we should never venture too far.  We are who we are and are "accepted in the Beloved" because the Beloved become the object of God's wrath rather than His love (Ephesians 1:6).  We do well to make it personal, realizing the degree of grace and mercy we have known because of so great a gift, granted to us by so high a cost.  Yes, according to the purposes of our Heavenly Father, His perfect Son "ought to have suffered" for the wondrous purpose of saving us from our willful imperfection.  How can such a thing be?  We will never know.  However, we do know why, the Why of love.

"In due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him."
(Romans 5:6-9)

Weekly Memory Verse 
    I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.
(I Timothy 2:1-2)

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

"The Death Sentence"

"The Death Sentence"    

   The challenges of life serve to encourage and challenge us to trust the "Christ, who is our life" (Colossians 3:4).  

   "We would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life: but we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead" (II Corinthians 1:8-9).

   By definition, born again believers have joined our Lord in His pronouncement of a death sentence regarding faith in ourselves.  Our relationship with God began by the realization that we could not redeem ourselves from our sins.  We looked away to the Lord Jesus who died and rose again to obtain for us the salvation that required His extreme work of grace on our behalf.  "Nothing in my hands I bring; only to Thy cross I cling!" proclaimed the hymn writer.  We trusted Christ to be for us and do for us that which we could never be and do for ourselves.  "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us" (Titus 3:5).  This is salvation, and there is no other.  The Judge has ruled accordingly, and again, we have agreed that hope lies not in ourselves, but in the mercifully provided Son of the  Judge.

   "As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him" (Colossians 2:6).

   We continue in the same way we began.  This requires specific applications of the death sentence.  When challenge comes, our natural tendency often elicits the question, "How am I going to deal with this?"   Such inquiry originates in the fleshly holdovers of our former trust in ourselves rather than the Lord.  We do have to deal with the matters of life, but we do not do so as merely "I".  Just as we did not begin our relationship with God by wondering "How am I going to save myself?", we also pass the death sentence on any notion that we must navigate challenging seas by ourselves.   "How will the Lord lead, enable, and provide, and how will He direct my response to Him in this matter?"  This constitutes the the glory of life lived as "We" rather than merely "me".  The indwelling Holy Spirit empowers us to execute, as it were, our natural tendencies to live as if we are merely ourselves, rather than being ourselves as inhabited by His vibrant revelation of the life of Christ in us.

   The Judge has ruled.  We are to "look unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith" (Hebrews 12:2).  Thereby we carry out the decreed sentence of death regarding faith in ourselves.  We choose to trust the Lord Jesus for the living of our lives in the same manner our life in Him began.  The challenges are great.  He is greater.  We experience such greatness as we rejoice in His life, and execute the necessary death sentence on the delusion of pride and independence.  Or, as the Psalmist declared…

"He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool."
(Proverbs 28:26)
"If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live."
(Romans 8:13)

Weekly Memory Verse 
    I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.
(I Timothy 2:1-2)

Monday, January 23, 2017

“This Treasure… In Earthen Vessels”

"This Treasure… In Earthen Vessels"    

   We all have matters about which we seek to trust and submit ourselves to the Lord while everything in us seems to flow with the opposing current of dread, fear, and unbelief.

   "The flesh lusteth against the spirit" (Galatians 5:17).

   Contrary thoughts and feelings do not always mean that we are have succumbed to unbelief.  Regardless of how well we know the Lord Jesus Christ and how much we may trust Him about the matters of our lives, we still live in a realm of temptation.  This includes our own humanity in which a "law of sin" still remains that can be enticed (Romans 7:22-25).  Thus, we may commit our hearts to a course of confidence in the Lord about an issue.  Nevertheless, we may also experience conflicting sensibilities that challenge our determination.  The flesh may indeed "lust against the spirit". 

   Victory over temptation in our present existence does not involve eradication of carnal tendencies, but rather the overcoming of them.  "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith" (I John 5:4).  Genuine faith can reside concurrently with contrary thoughts and emotions in born again believers.  We must understand this in order to  continue in confidence because if we believe that trusting God eliminates contrary sensibilities, overwhelming discouragement awaits us as we seek to faithfully walk with our Lord.  Again, overcoming rather than eradication presently constitutes life in a fallen world.  No less than the Apostle Paul testified to such experience: "We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair" (II Corinthians 4:7-8).

   Thoughts and feelings of doubt may indicate we have not genuinely trusted God.  However, they may also indicate the challenging of a genuine confidence.  "Fight the good fight of faith" (I Timothy 6:12).  If to the best of our awareness and understanding, we have committed our confidence to our Lord and His Word, we recognize that conflict calls us to reaffirm His faithfulness and our faith.  Herein we stand, and herein we walk in these "earthen vessels" wherein dwells the heavenly "Treasure" whose abundant life enables us to overcome not in the absence, but in the presence of our enemies.

"Stand fast (firm) in the Lord."
(Philippians 4:1) 

Weekly Memory Verse 
    I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.
(I Timothy 2:1-2)

Friday, January 20, 2017

“Chick Filet”

"Chick Filet"    
   After a visit to a local Chick Filet last night, the thought occurred to me that I have never been disappointed with the food, service, and staff at any one of their establishments I've ever visited.  I cannot say this about any other fast food restaurant, and with some, you almost feel it's a hit or miss proposition regarding all three aspects of their business.  

    Of course, Chick Filet was founded and is still operated by dedicated believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.  This means that the company is governed by the determination and purpose set forth by the Apostle Paul: "Whether therefore ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God" (I Corinthians 10:31).  I'm sure that not every employee of the company professes faith in the Lord Jesus, but the pervading influence of God nevertheless governs the way Chick Filet does business.  Again, this stands in stark contrast to other establishments, and serves as a credit to the Lord and a testament to His guidance and enabling in the lives of those who trust Him.  "I will dwell in them and walk in them" (II Corinthians 6:16).

   As Frances and I drove away from the restaurant last night, I realized what an example Chick Filet upholds by the quality and consistency of their performance.  They serve the Bread of life by how and what they do.  They witness to the goodness and greatness of Christ by deed (including the company policy to close on Sundays).  While very successful financially, Chick Filet is far more successful spiritually, to the degree that my visit last night caused me to think, "I want to live my life as a believer in the same way Chick Filet conducts their business."  What an influence, and to be able to think such thoughts about a company in these challenging times for American businesses elicits much gratitude and appreciation.

    The thought occurred to me as I wrote this affirmation that my words may seem like an advertisement.  This is not my intention.  I don't personally know anyone who works for Chick Filet, and have no vested interest in the company.  On second thought, I actually do have an interest, and I do know Someone who works for the company!  So, while not an advertisement in the business sense, this is a commendation in every other way.  Most importantly, I write to give thanks to the true Founder and and Executor of a business that serves hearts more than bellies.  I suppose that there is no other way to conclude than… "Eat more chickin!"  And, as Paul wrote to the believers of Rome...

"I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world."
(Romans 1:8)

Weekly Memory Verse 
    So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.
(Psalm 90:12)

Thursday, January 19, 2017

"Consider Him"

(a repeat from 2014)

"Consider Him"    

   "For consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds" (Hebrews 12:3.

     Spiritual discouragement results from directing our focus inwardly toward ourselves rather than "looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith" (Hebrews 12:2).  The Apostle Peter walked on water while looking to the Lord Jesus Christ, but faltered when he turned his gaze upon his own fear of wind and wave.  In the same manner, we fare well or poorly based on how consistently we "consider Him".  "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed upon Thee, because he trusteth in Thee" (Isaiah 26:3).

    What does it mean to "consider Him?"  The answer lies in the Bible's teaching concerning the Person and work of Christ on our behalf.

1.  He dwells with and within us if we have believed.  "I am with thee always... God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying Abba Father" (Matthew 28:20; Galatians 4:6).  We can survive and even thrive in every challenge as we remember our Lord's abiding presence.  The recognition that we are not alone prepares and enables us to know His assurance in all things.  "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).

2.  He knows our past, present, and future as if they are but one moment.  "The flutter of an angel's wing a thousand years hence is as known by God as if it were happening right now" wrote A.W. Tozer.  We cannot anticipate the future, we remember relatively little of the past, and even this present hour holds more mystery than light for us.  Conversely, our Lord possesses infinite understanding (Psalm 147:5).  God perfectly knows our yesterdays, todays, and tomorrows, to the minutest detail.  Thus, He is perfectly prepared to be for us all that we need Him to be in every contingency, of whatever nature and measure.  He journeys with us to our destinations, and He awaits our arrival there with loving provision.

3.  Our Heavenly Father coordinates everything in the lives of His trusting children in Christ (Romans 8:28).  Our lives may seem like an unfinished trillion piece jigsaw puzzle to us.  God, however, sees the finished work rather than disjointed components.  Having trusted our lives and well being to Him, we rest in assurance of the holy outcome, namely, of being conformed to the spiritual and moral image of the Lord Jesus (Romans 8:29).

4.  "God... "cannot lie" (Titus 1:2).  Our Lord has made promises to us that cannot fail to be fulfilled.  The Bible affirms God's faithful provision and purposeful working in every moment of our eternal existence.  "And 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 Corinthians 9:8).  Note the extent of the Apostle Paul's declaration: "always... in all things."  This our Lord promises, and no one has ever trusted the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and been disappointed for doing so.  And no one ever will.

5.  Finally, let us consider the blessed truth of how beloved we are in the heart of God.  Our well being in both time and eternity matters more to Him than it does to us.  Indeed, if we could count the hairs on our head, few of us would care enough to do so.  God, however, can, and He does (Matthew 10:30).  Thus, He values us far more than we value ourselves.  We can rest our hearts in this safe harbor of the love of the Lord Jesus, even if appearances would seem to indicate overwhelming tempest and storm.  "Consider Him."  Yes, consider His presence, His knowledge, His coordination, His faithfulness, and most of all, His love.  Such pondering provides more than enough strength and assurance to deliver us from spiritual weariness and discouragement....

"They looked unto Him and were lightened."
(Psalm 34:5)
"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 
    So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.
(Psalm 90:12)

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

"Mrs. Copeland"

(this serves as a companion to yesterday's message)

"Mrs. Copeland"    

   Mrs. Copeland was the toughest teacher I ever encountered.  She loaded us up with work in class, and then assigned projects to be completed at home.  This seemed pretty onerous for sixth graders, and Mrs. Copeland also bore a no nonsense "Do your work or else!" demeanor that made her seem crotchety and cantankerous to many of her students.  She actually wasn't (my mother knew her personally), but she believed her classroom persona required a bit of fearsomeness and even intimidation.  Mrs. Copeland's method worked for me.  I never more applied myself in school than the year I spent in her class.

   "Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (II Corinthians 7:1).

    The New Testament plainly teaches that a proper place for fear exists in Christians' walk with the Lord.  Like Mrs. Copeland - and far more - our Heavenly Father knows that we require the honing of discipline, along with the encouragement of lovingkindness.  Solomon taught that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of both wisdom and knowledge (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10).  In the passage above, the Apostle Paul informs us that fearing God also has a place in the continuance of our growth in His grace and truth.  The issue involves the love that seeks the best interest of its recipient, as opposed to pleasantries that might make us feel better while allowing harm to ravage our actual well being.  Mrs. Copeland understood this in the academic sense, and instilled a healthy dose of fear in her students.  Thus, the memory of her glimmers with the realization of her good will toward us, even as she sought to keep our noses to the grindstone.  Even more, she serves as a good reminder of how God deals with us in both tenderness and firmness.  

    One more thing about Mrs. Copeland confirms my recollection of her.  She gave me the first Bible I ever owned.  One day, as class began, a group of gentleman entered our classroom carrying boxes.  The men were members of the Gideon organization, a worldwide group of laymen devoted to placing the Scriptures in people's hands and hearts.  The men opened the containers and distributed copies of the New Testament to each student.  I can still recall the thrill of my first possession of God's Word.  Mrs. Copeland saw to it that her students had access to the Gospel, and invited her Gideon friends to bless us with Scripture.  I think about this often, and about her.  It would be several years after her gift of the Bible that I came to know the Christ of the Bible.  But I have little doubt that her love for the Lord, His Word, and her students had much to do with my salvation.  "The Lord gave the Word: great was the company of those that published it" (Psalm 68:11).

   I look forward too seeing Mrs. Copeland in Heaven.  I'll thank her there, both for her toughness as a teacher, and her faithfulness as a witness to the Lord and His Word.  Both aspects illuminated my heart to the Lord she sought to convey to her students.  Thus, her legacy remains with me in this moment, and forevermore.

"Stablish Thy Word unto Thy servant, who is devoted to Thy fear."
(Psalm 119:38)

Weekly Memory Verse 
    So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.
(Psalm 90:12)

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

“A Hard Day, and Then Homework!”

"A Hard Day, and Then Homework!"    

   Little Johnny came home from school one day, clearly distraught and angry.  "What's the matter, sweetheart?" asked his mother.  Johnny looked up at his mother with tear-filled eyes.  "It's Mrs. Johnson, my teacher!" he responded.  "We worked hard all day in class, and now she's loaded us down with homework.  I have to copy my spelling words, read a chapter in history, do 15 math problems, and write a paragraph about what I think personal responsibility means."  Johnny paused and sighed in disgust.  "It will take me at least an hour to do all that!"

    Johnny's mother looked at her son with obvious sympathy.  "I see what you mean, darling!  That is way too much work to do after a full day at school.  Now don't you worry about any of it.  You just go into the kitchen right now and have a big snack.  Then go out and play with your friends until dark.  I'll make your favorite supper, and after that, you can watch TV until bedtime.  And don't you worry about your teacher.  I'll send a note and give that Mrs Johnson a piece of my mind about putting so much work on my little darling!"

    Well, little Johnny didn't fall far from the tree, did he?  Certainly we read this account with much distaste for Johnny's attitude, but far more, we find his mother to be the source of her son's laziness and irresponsibility.  Truly loving parents teach their children to fulfill responsibilities before enjoying pleasures.  This is true among people, and it is especially true of our Heavenly Father.

   "He openeth also their ear to discipline" (Job 36:10).

   We sometimes wonder why God works in our lives as He does.  He may lead us along difficult paths whereupon responsibilities and challenges seem overwhelming.  We long for respite that doesn't seem to come, regardless of how much we hope and pray.  Like Johnny, life feels like a hard day at school, and then homework.  Unlike Johnny's mother, however, our Heavenly Father directs us to keep our hand on the wheel of the duties He places before us.  He calls us to face our challenges in faith and submission to His purposes.  He comforts us in our challenges as we look to Him, but He does not coddle us.  Indeed, He loves us far too much for that.  And yes, it is love that disciplines rather than delivers.  "He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him" (Proverbs 13:24).

   Johnny would not have been pleased had his mother admonished him to fulfill his responsibilities.  He would nevertheless have greatly benefitted from the genuine love that emphasizes responsibility over pleasure.  As will we, when God's hand seems firm because His heart is so deeply devoted to our best interest.  This is the love of reality rather than removal from necessary responsibility.  The hard paths of life are paved with Divine love no less than the pleasant, and perhaps even more.

"Thou hast showed Thy people hard things:  Thou hast made us to drink the wine of astonishment. Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth, that Thy beloved may be delivered."
(Psalm 60:3-5)

Weekly Memory Verse 
    So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.
(Psalm 90:12)

Monday, January 16, 2017

"The Principal Thing"

"The Principal Thing"    

   Wisdom can be defined as the capacity to properly apply knowledge and understanding.    "I (wisdom) lead in the way of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of judgment" (Proverbs 8:20).  We can possess facts, and we can even properly coordinate them in our minds in terms of understanding.  However, consistently righteous decision making and exercising of good judgment requires something more.  It requires wisdom.

   "Christ... is made unto us wisdom" (I Corinthians 1:30).

   We do well to fill our hearts with the knowledge that applies to our relationship with God and His will for our lives.  "Receive my instruction and not silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold" (Proverbs 8:10).  We should also seek to rightly put truths together in order to have understanding, or as the prophet taught, "Precept must be upon precept" (Isaiah 28:10).  "With all thy getting, get understanding" (Proverbs 4:7).  We nevertheless require the personal leadership of the Lord Jesus Christ if we are to successfully navigate the course of our lives for the glory of God.  This constitutes the Christian life in terms of conscious fellowship with our Lord, as opposed to merely filling our minds with facts, and seeking to apply principles as best we can.  Certainly we fill our minds, and we seek to apply principles.  But we do so in the confidence that the indwelling Spirit of God works in us "both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13).  He applies the wisdom of Christ in our decision making as we humbly and prayerfully relate to our Heavenly Father in the awareness of His promised presence, and our need for a guiding Shepherd who dwells nearer than our next breath.  The Lord directed Jacob accordingly, and we be confident of the same wisdom, presence, and enabling: "Return unto the land of thy fathers and thy kindred, and I will be with thee" (Genesis 31:3).

   We might consider this in terms of heart and mind.  The latter is vitally important and must never be minimized or discounted.  "Think on these things" commanded the Apostle Paul of various aspects of life in Christ (Philippians 4:8).  However, "out of it (the heart) are the issues of life" (Proverbs 4:23).  This involves something more than thought and understanding.  This involves the personalized wisdom of Christ as He leads, and our looking to Him with confidence of His guidance.  Our Heavenly Father does not program machines as He directs His trusting children.  He rather walks with and within us in a Person to person, Heart to heart relationship of love.  He will not be satisfied with anything less, and neither should we.  "Wisdom is the principle thing" declared Solomon, because wisdom is Christ revealed in our hearts and minds by the Holy Spirit as we live our lives in personal fellowship with our Heavenly Father, and as He directs our decision making for His glory (Proverbs 4:7).  

"With Him is wisdom and strength; He hath counsel and understanding."
(Job 12:13)

Weekly Memory Verse 
    So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.
(Psalm 90:12)

Friday, January 13, 2017

“The Lord Is My Shepherd”

"The Lord Is My Shepherd" 

   "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want" (Psalm 23:1).

   Doubtless David meant to communicate the truth of God's promised provision in all things by the affirmation, "I shall not want".

    "My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:19).

   However, a more foundational truth found in the Psalmist's declaration involves the promise that when we enter into relationship with the Lord by faith, we will never be in want of the Shepherd Himself.  Before we need His supply of all things, we need Him.  "Ye were as sheep going astray, but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls" (I Peter 2:25).  God made human beings as needy creatures (thus, His reference to us as sheep).  We exist for a dependent relationship on Him whereby we receive His presence and working as trusting supplicants of grace.  We actively apply ourselves and use the gifts God gives as "good stewards of the manifold grace of God" (I Peter 4:10).  Nevertheless we keep always in heart and mind the words of the Lord Jesus: "Without Me, ye can do nothing" (John 15:5).  Sheep must have a shepherd.  People must also have a shepherd, a "Good Shepherd… Great Shepherd… Chief Shepherd" (John 10:11; Hebrews 13:20; I Peter 5:4).

   No spiritually sane human being wants to face this day - this moment! - without the presence, promise, and provision of One greater than ourselves.  The insanity of megalomania tempts all of us to believe that we possess capacity to find "green pastures" and "still waters" by our own devices (Psalm 23:2).  We cannot.  No way.  Not a chance.  Will not happen.  Again, "Without Me, ye can do nothing…"  We are never in want of a Shepherd if we have trusted the Lord Jesus.  But we can live as a sheep who seeks to find its own way.  Thus, we must recognize and overcome the insanity of attempting to navigate the course of our lives by our own devices.  We possess no capacity of for a shepherd-less life, and no more grievous deception tempts us than the delusion of a life lived apart from our Good, Great, and Chief Shepherd.  The Lord Jesus is the willing, able, and only One who can direct us along the challenging paths of a fallen world.  By Him, we rejoice with David regarding God's provision of all things, and even more, of Himself - "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want."

"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 (an easy one this week!  But vital.)
   To live is Christ.
(Philippians 1:21)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

"More Important" Part 2

"More Important" 

Part 2

   If the Gospel's primary message communicated God's love for us rather than His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, believing the message would leave us just as self-centered as we were before our conversion (possibly more).  Divine love, however, exists as the pristinely pure perfection of complete unselfishness.  "Charity (love) seeketh not her own" (I Corinthians 13:5). The reception of grace in the Lord Jesus must therefore redeem us from our self-devotion unto the sublime beauty of God's commitment to the blessing of others.

   "Walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savor" (Ephesians 5:2).

   We have no personal frame of reference - yet  - for the wonder of absolute unselfishness.  We do not yet perfectly know our Lord as He is, nor do we perfectly respond to His motivation and enabling of love in us.  One day we will, as glorification for born again believers ultimately redeems us from every trace of devilish and fleshly devotion to ourselves.  For now, we seek to grow in the grace of God's love known, received, and assimilated in us through the indwelling Holy Spirit.  As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians, "And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment" (Philippians 1:9).  This involves our primary focus on the love of God as it exists in God.  Again, it is more important to know that God loves His Son the Lord Jesus than it is to know that He loves us.  Such a journey into the Divine heart leads us into our Lord's reality and away from the dark unreality of our fleshly self centeredness.  We discover His love for us along the way, in far greater measure and truth.  However, we realize and respond to the reality that the true knowledge of ourselves begins with the knowledge of God.  Our salvation began by believing that Jesus is the Son of God.  It continues and grows as we increasingly realize that God's eternal purpose involves the exaltation and revelation of the Son He loves.  

   The practical expression of such truth involves joining our Heavenly Father in His devotion to the Lord Jesus, as He motivates and enables us by the Holy Spirit.  His "Beloved Son" must more and more become our Beloved Savior (Matthew 3:17).  God the Father's first purpose is to exalt Christ.  As we make this our first purpose, we find ourselves drawn into the eternally ancient love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The Lord Jesus prayed for us to know this, and then died and rose again to make answer to the prayer possible.  This is truth, this is reality, this is essence, this is life, and this is love.  We close with our Savior's intercession, and the Apostle Paul's affirmation of its fulfillment…

"Father, I will that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am; that they may behold My glory, which Thou hast given Me: for Thou lovedst Me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, the world hath not known Thee: but I have known Thee, and these have known that Thou hast sent Me. And I have declared unto them Thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me may be in them, and I in them."
(John 17:24-26)
"The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us."
(Romans 5:5)

Weekly Memory Verse (an easy one this week!  But vital.)
   To live is Christ.
(Philippians 1:21)

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

“More Important”

"More Important" 

    It is more important to know that God loves His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, than it is to know that He loves us.

   "Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God" (I John 4:15).

    Salvation involves faith in the relationship that eternally exists between the Father and the Son, as revealed by the Holy Spirit.  We can believe that God loves us without approaching the threshold of genuine faith.  Many unbelievers hold to such a notion that may impart an emotional sense of comfort and security.  However, the Lord Jesus plainly stated the truth: "If ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins" (John 8:24).  That to which the Lord refers in this warning is His Sonship to God the Father (John 8:16-19).  

    The reason for this God-centered and human-humbling truth involves the fact of our Lord's singular role as "the high and lofty One, that inhabiteth eternity" (Isaiah 57:15).  God alone has forever existed - "from everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God" (Psalm 90:2).  Thus, He exists as the heart of all reality, and the essence of truth.  Created beings exist by His determination, both in our origination and the sustaining of our being.  We must therefore know and understand our Lord as He is, responding to the fact of God as the light and life of existence.  "In thy light shall we see light" (Psalm 36:9).  We must therefore know Him as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit because this is who and what He is.  We must know Him in terms of the loving, mutual devotion that exists in the character, nature, and way of the triune God.  Sin gravely blinded the human race to this Truth of all truths.  Salvation imparts new hearts and eyes to behold the love of the Father for His Son, the Son's devoted response, and the Holy Spirit's revelation of such wonder and glory.  Thus, the Gospel commands that we believe Jesus to be the Son of God as the truth whereby we are saved from our sins.

    Certainly God loves us with an intensity that "passeth knowledge" (Ephesians 3:19).  We do well to grow in the realization and reception thereof.  However, such understanding begins with our awareness of the triune devotion of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to one another.  We were made to behold this beauty of holiness.   Perhaps the reason humanity so cherishes love stories involves the truth that we were made to know the loving reality that forever exists in God.  Salvation results from faith in such glory, and growth in our salvation results from increasing knowledge of such love.  As the Lord Jesus plainly stated, "This is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou has sent" (John 17:3).  Let us plant the truth deeply within our hearts: it is more important to know that God loves the Lord Jesus than it is to know that He loves us.  

"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)

Weekly Memory Verse (an easy one this week!  But vital.)
   To live is Christ.
(Philippians 1:21)

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

“Journeys To the Past”

(Thanks to my dear friend and brother, Tom W., for inspiration on this one).

"Journeys To the Past" 

    When we journey to the past, we must be sure we go with God.

    "I will remember the works of the LORD: surely I will remember Thy wonders of old" (Psalm 77:11).

   Such recollection involves remembrance of both our blessings and our challenges.  As we frequently suggest, thinking back on the gifts of God provides opportunity for more than memories.  "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights" (James 1:17).  When we remember our blessings with gratitude and consciously expressed thanksgiving, the Holy Spirit graces our recollections with a strengthened faith and determination to presently trust and honor our Lord.  Thus, we journey to the past of blessedness in remembrance of God's goodness.  "Give thanks at the remembrance of His holiness" (Psalm 30:4).

   It is just as important that we never look back without factoring our Heavenly Father's involved presence regarding the pains, difficulties, and sorrows of yesterday.  He was there, in all of them, either determining or allowing our challenges in complete confidence that He could weave them together for His glory, our benefit, and the benefit of others.  Regarding wrongs committed against us, for example, God did not determine people to mistreat, neglect, or hurt us.  "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man" (James 1:13).  In the mysteries of His wisdom, however, He did allow the trials that occurred as the result of those who hurt or neglected us.  We thus journey with our Lord to the painful portions of our past for the purpose of seeing Him there with compassion, and also with the commitment to work together for good the wrongs committed against us.  We give thanks for those times, and for the ongoing work of the Lord to redeem us from their effects.  As Joseph confessed to the brothers who so dreadfully wronged him, "Ye thought evil against me, but God meant it unto good" (Genesis 50:20).

   When we journey to our past, we must not go alone.  We go with God, the One who is able to illuminate our view of days gone by.  We choose to see Him in our yesterdays, believing that our Lord is so wise, so able, so involved, so powerful, and so loving that every good gift was from Him.  We also choose to believe that no painful moment of the past is beyond His capacity to redeem and use for great benefit.  The choices to view some matters in this perspective are not easy, and we will not fully understand how God works all things together for our good.  We just know that He does.  His Word declares this truth.  He cannot lie.  He always fulfills His promises.  Thus, we journey to the past for the primary purpose of seeing our Heavenly Father there in the blessings, in the buffetings, and in all.  We give thanks, and we rest our hearts in the God of our yesterdays, todays, and forever.

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

Weekly Memory Verse (an easy one this week!  But vital.)
   To live is Christ.
(Philippians 1:21)

Monday, January 9, 2017

"The Omission of God"

"The Omission of God" 

    In an article that would seemingly have nothing to do with the origins of the human race, I recently read an author make propositions that completely omitted any consideration of God from our creation and existence.

   "And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind" (Romans 8:28).

   It is difficult to understand how people live, having completely rejected the Creator and Sustainer of their existence.  The truth of the matter is that unbelievers are not actually alive, as God defines life.  "I am… the life" declared the Lord Jesus, and the Apostle Paul echoed, "To live is Christ" (John 14:6; Philippians 1:21).  Thus, we are merely existing and waiting to die, or we are vibrantly alive through Christ, and waiting to be glorified.  The latter path of life begins with the new birth, when we enter into Christ by grace through faith.  "And you hath He quickened (enlivened), who were dead in trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1).  Subsequently, we seek to experience life in the Lord Jesus by availing ourselves of His indwelling and dynamic presence on our behalf.  We can be alive in Him, but not actually live, again, according to God's definition of authentic life.  Through unbelief, we can journey as if were are merely ourselves, as opposed to being ourselves as inhabited by the risen Prince of life.  Thus, Paul commands that we "reckon ye also yourselves to be… alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:11).

   Even the most ardent born again believers can experience life as does the aforementioned author who lives - well, he merely exists - in the omission of God.  It is not inevitable at present that Christians will trust and submit to the Lord Jesus in a manner that leads to life as it is truly is.  We can be alive, but not actually live.  The matter involves the Lord Jesus - again, "to live is Christ".  This involves confidence in His presence and working in us, and also submission to the will of God as defined by Scripture and enabled by the Holy Spirit.  Upon reading the words of the author I reference, I instantly sneered within.  "How can he think that way?!"  However, the thought quickly came to mind that too many times, I also "think that way".  At least in terms of how I view my life, the case can be made that the omission of God still too often characterizes my response and subsequent experience.  I know you join me in desiring to truly live rather than merely exist.  Let us therefore seek the light of Christ that leads to the life of Christ affirmed, assimilated, and accessed in a manner that fosters the inclusion of God.  This is life, as defined by God.  There is no other.

"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)

Weekly Memory Verse (an easy one this week!  But vital.)
   To live is Christ.
(Philippians 1:21)

Friday, January 6, 2017

“Prerequisites of Peace” Addendum

"Prerequisites of Peace"


    "Be careful for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.  And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6-7). 

   The prerequisites, as taught by the Apostle Paul:

1.  The determination to not be governed by fear.
2.  Prayerful fellowship with God.
3.  Supplication, or humbly acknowledging our need for His help.
4.  Thanksgiving.
5.  Specific offering of requests for God's help.

   Before closing our consideration of the prerequisites of peace, I'd like to emphasize the point that in our present existence, tranquility of heart and mind often exists concurrently with thoughts and feelings that seem in conflict with the still waters of a Christ-secured spirit.

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

   The Apostle Paul confirms that conflicting sensibilities sometimes characterize the inward experience of born again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.  "The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary one to the other" (Galatians 5:17).  As we have considered, the realized peace of Christ does not involve the elimination of conflict, but rather the overcoming of it.  "This is the victory that overcometh the the world, even our faith" (I John 5:4).  We can fulfill the prerequisites of peace in genuine faith and submission to our Heavenly Father, but still experience conflicting emotions, thoughts, and even physical sensations.  Paul testified to such experience in his own life and walk with the Lord: "We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair" (II Corinthians 4:8).  

   We must realize and remember this truth so that we may not be discouraged when battles still rage even through we have committed our trust to the Lord.  This includes internal conflict.  We don't always feel better, and thoughts may still course through our minds that belie our confidence in God.  By definition, a "kept" heart and mind exists in venues that requires its keeping.  Thus, we expect our enemies to challenge us when we trust the Lord.  We counter by remembering the truth of God we have believed, and by affirming we have believed it.  Having chosen confidence rather than fear, along with prayerful fellowship, humble supplication, grateful thanksgiving, and specific requests as our chosen path, we make our stand in the face of all challenge.  "My heart is fixed, o God, my heart is fixed!" declared the Psalmist (Psalm 57:7).  We declare it with him, regardless of feelings, thoughts, and physical sensations to the contrary.  "I believed, therefore have I spoken" (Psalm 116:10).

    Our Heavenly Father desires our realization of peace far more than do we ourselves.  One day, such grace will be perfectly manifested as He delivers us from the presence of conflict.   This is not that day.  This is the day of challenge, and of "the good fight of faith" (I Timothy 6:12).  We know the peace of Christ even as battles still rage around and within us.  Thus, the experience of peace requires both God's bestowal through Christ, and our response to His grace.  The prerequisites of peace lie before us, as proclaimed in God's Word.  Our fulfillment of them, as enabled by the Holy Spirit, leads to a secured heart and mind in the very midst of our enemies' attacks.  This is the will of God for us, and this is the way of God for us in our present existence.  How greatly He is glorified as we walk in His peace freely given, and His peace faithfully received.

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

Weekly Memory Verse
     I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for Thou, LORD, only makest me dwell in safety.
(Psalm 4:8)