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Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

My oldest brother sent out a family email with a link (Major DW Whittle) and a “hope they will encourage you…” concerning the last words penned by D.W. Whittle, who wrote some 200 hymns. Well they did indeed encourage me for reasons of knowing at present a minor bit of the pain from which he must have written these faith filled words and his focus on heaven and God’s presence then and now. But I was also challenged by the words, “The last words he wrote have never been set to music.” I determined the meter to be 6, 6, 8, 6. I looked in one of my hymnbooks and did not find a tune that fit the words. There was not an exact match of the meter to this this poem, but even if there had been, tunes don’t always fit the syllable emphases. So, foolish neophyte songwriter that I am, I wrote my own tune. Singing it through, I realized that the first line needed an eighth note couplet for differing phrasing in different verses. Then I realized that in three of the lines Mr. Whittle had not been so exact in his number of syllables. In one of these the eighth note couplet took care of it, but in verse 4 I could find no other way to fit the words to the tune than to eliminate two words and add two tied eighth notes that are used in this verse. The deletions I made don’t significantly change the meaning and are shown in parentheses below. Still, line 3 has 9 syllables so “cre-a” in “creation’s” is divided into the two eighth notes.

“Not every night is thus;
Some nights with pain are drear.
(Then) I join my moan with creation’s groan
(And) the chimes I do not hear.”

If somehow my tune might introduce this encouraging poem to singing it for some number of Christians, it would have been well worth the effort. It was worth it anyway as I reflected on God’s goodness to me communicated through the words and sang about it.

My Lord Draws Nigh tune is a link to the melody written and a short mp3 file of me singing the second verse. Enjoy and be encouraged by considering the goodness and nearness of our God.

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On this Labor Day, after chores were done and the moderate heat of afternoon had come, I decided to take a walk. Having focused too much on circumstances and societal ills recently, I was reminded by hymns and prayer and preaching of the Word and reading of the Scriptures and fellowship with brothers and sisters yesterday that I needed to once again renew my perspective in things that are “true, …honorable, …right, …pure, …lovely, …of good repute, …any excellence and …worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8). As I began my walk, parts of my body aching, the sun heating*, and my thoughts melancholy, I told God that I wanted His peace and joy. In fact, I pleaded, “I needed Your peace; I need Your joy.” As I thought about why, the following words began to come:

I need Your peace; I need Your joy
Though trials come and storms destroy
Forever on this hope depend
That I am Yours; You will defend**

This world with sorrows ever bent
To rob our joy to full extent
Broken relationships and plans
Beg for a healing from Your hand

Your purposes are hard to see
Sense of security can flee
I on this confidence rely
My soul will to You upward fly

My health and body will decay
Unless suddenly in a day
And some loved ones before me go
We saints ever with You, I know

So frequently with sin beset
With worries frequently I fret
Temptations against me array
Through Your Word and Spirit I pray

And by these means I overcome
And more like Jesus I become
More victory through You I win
And peace and joy in You begin

I am so apt to be drawn to the difficulties of any situation and must constantly place before my mind, my eyes, my ears, and my heart the eternal truths of God’s grace in salvation, past, present, and future. I am thankful that “He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.” (Psalm 103:14) And even more so that “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.” (2 Peter 1:3) My hope, our hope, is in Him.

A writing note about the order of the verses. If you number the verses as seen, 1 – 6, the original order as written was 1,2,,3,5,6,4. I cannot decide if the beginning of peace and joy should be the end or if the order would better be 1,2,4,5,3,6 so that heaven is last. If you care to think about it, I would appreciate some feedback.

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*for which I had come out for a “therapeutic sweat”

**”I am Yours whom You will defend” was how I originally wrote the line, and I think it may more clearly communicate the intent, but “That I am Yours; You will defend” seems to fit the meter and flow better.

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Over a period of time I was talking to a friend about her need of Jesus. During this time I had a loved one who was sick, bills were piling up, responsibilities seemed endless and overwhelming. One day in the presence of my friend I opened up about my fears and difficulties. On the one hand I guess it made me seem like a more real person, but the next time the subject of Jesus came up I quite honestly said, “I am asking you to trust Jesus when I sometimes struggle to trust Him myself.” She was quite understanding about my struggles, but I had a moment of deep conviction. If we are going to point a skeptical and dying world to the Savior, we must learn ourselves to react in faith rather than fear.

Just as “courage”, according to a quote by Franklin D. Roosevelt, “is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear,” so faith is not the lack of fear, discouragement, loneliness, temptation, confusion, or any other difficulty, but the firm conviction that God is greater and able and willing to give us peace and patience in the midst of the difficulty and regardless of the physical outcome.

I had a moment of fear the other day as I crawled into a tight crawl space to jack up a floor supported by rotten floor joists, which I needed to replace. It was so tight that I could not turn on my side until later when I dug out a space for my hips and shoulders. The fear was momentarily paralyzing, but then I took a deep breath and prayed that God would give me calmness. A peace washed over me in seconds. I had to pray again later when it happened again. I ended up working in this situation for eight hours, only crawling the 20 feet to the tight exit when I needed to cut a board or get an additional tool.

Many fears and difficulties are not so obvious as these two examples I have given. Because of their subtlety, many fears and doubts can creep up on us almost unbeknownst to us. We are tied up in a web of fear we never saw being wrapped around us. We learned it as a child. We think it the natural reaction of any sane person. We hardly give it heed, but are nonetheless confined by its stifling cords.

And that thought directs my mind immediately to Hebrews 12:1-2: “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” The great antidote for fear encumbrance is “fixing our eyes on Jesus”. It was the same for us at salvation when the fiery serpent of sin had bitten us and we were destined for death. “And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.” (Numbers 21:9) Looking was equivalent to believing and had an immediate positive effect for John 3:14-15 says, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.” So, salvation was just a look, or glance, trusting God in Christ to overcome temptation, including fears; faith walk is a “fixing” of our gaze on Jesus. Every moment we are tempted to fear or go our own way, we must fix our gaze on Jesus. The result is that “no temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man, and God is willing, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will give you the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it.” (I Corinthians 10:13) And when you are tempted to have a worrying fear, “be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, let your request be made known unto God, and the peace of God will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

The Hebrews passage begins with “Therefore”, which points you back to the “chapter of faith”, Hebrews 11. This “great cloud of witnesses” fortifies our gaze on Jesus. We are not in this alone. Others have had worse difficulties and still fixed their eyes on Jesus. As the Holy Spirit enabled them to overcome Satan, temptation, and death by the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 12:11), so we are encouraged to do the same. Practicing this “fixing” brings endurance and the realization that Jesus suffered far more and had a victorious end.

I want to react in faith, not fear. It is a more peaceful way to live and a strong testimony for the truth of God being in my life. The realization that garden variety fear was stifling my walk and my witness has brought focus to my reaction in the last few weeks. I hope it is a focus that causes me to more frequently fix my eyes on Jesus in faith rather the circumstances in fear.

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Rarely do I complete a deck repair in one day, but this job was that small. There were two decks, the main 12 x 12, and smaller 4 1/2 x 10. The larger one had three boards with developing rot, a quick fix. I also replaced three balusters there.

The smaller one had an end rail that was fencing (??), almost an afterthought put up shabbily. Because of the position the back post and the proximity of the tree, I had to put the balusters on the inside.

The lower deck was also made with 2 x 6 joists. I would not use those on anything more than four foot spans. So, I installed a post in the middle to strengthen the span.

Off to one side of the smaller deck was an eroding flower garden. I installed a little barrier and back filled it to preserve the level space.

Small jobs are good. I get the satisfaction of quick completion. Also, most companies won’t mess with a job this small, but a day’s work is a day’s work. God has continued to provide work right along to pay our accelerated bills. I am constantly reminded that I can and should trust Him and must continue to do so, and that this demonstration of His faithfulness and provision means that I can trust in other areas as well. My faith has moments of faltering, but I have not seen Him unable or unwilling to provide as I am diligent to ask and walk into the opportunities which He provides.

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It’s not enough that you know
Or have had a Jesus moment
Life in Him will make you grow
Sanctifying development

If you are not really sure
Receive the gift He does proffer
Then you will surely endure
No better or lasting offer

I would fall away from Him
By doubt or outright rebellion
Going out upon a limb
Cast away to oblivion

Nothing can me separate
Or plunge me headlong into hell
Nor peace with God confiscate
Of these with joy I do tell

I may walk by the Spirit
And not according to the flesh
Trust His words in Holy Writ
My joy and resolve intermesh

After the trials of this life
One day I will look on His face
When forgotten all the strife
With success completed the race

Some of my poetry is straight up how I feel and what I believe. Other parts are aspiration based on what I believe can be and should be and will be. This poem is a combination. Life is complicated and messy, but God is faithful and enables me more as the years go along and I submit to Him more. May He and the the grace He provides be glorified in my turning to Him in every difficulty and disappointment.

Also see “Response to Troubles and Trials

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We need hope, but from whence does it come?

Certainly a sense of purpose or destiny or family and friends bring hope, but what about when these fail or seem distant? Hear what source of hope the Scriptures give us:

“For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 15:4-6

Given that this was written before any of the four Gospels and the book of Acts, it must refer to the Old Testament from which Jesus had “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”” Luke 24:45-47 Now, I am not excluding the great encouragement and instruction given by the New Testament, but I magnify the value of reading and studying the Old, especially for those many of you who don’t spend much time there or see much value in it, thinking I’m “not under law but under grace” Romans 6:14 (1) It was written for our instruction, so read the instruction manual before assembly.

Now we get to the meat of our source of hope. The passage reveals a two-fold instruction on hope from God with an ancillary instruction on hope from fellow believers.

Those who are blood bought, Holy Spirit sealed believers (2) increase in hope of their relationship to God and future rescue through persisting in faith in the midst of difficulty- perseverance. In fact, the teaching of perseverance of the saints is pointing out how believers persist in belief to the end while “the Spirit explicitly says” of those who do not truly belonging to God through belief in Jesus “that in later times some will fall away from the faith.” I Timothy 4:1

How does this strange occurrence of hardship increasing trust in God work? As the believer comes to understand that he or she does not deserve anything and yet God is carrying him or her through difficulty and revealing Himself in the process, the believer trusts more. The unbeliever begins to doubt that God cares and pulls further away. Many a believer will also struggle with doubts and be estranged, but it will not persist. In the end faith will persist. The believer perseveres.

The greatest help to perseverance is the Word of God. For this reason, Open Doors, a ministry to persecuted believers all over the world, frequently reports how believers ask for Scriptures over security, food, or shelter. The Bible brings hope and especially when we are paying attention during difficulty. The passage says “the encouragement of the Scriptures”. As we read of others who struggled but found God’s grace to persevere, we find strength. Promises of God impart strength. Ultimately, the excellency of the character of God imparts strength. Strength comes in the form of hope. When we are hopeless, then we are weak. When we are full of hope, then we are strong, strong in the Lord.

But God gives yet another avenue for increasing hope- fellowship. The passage speaks of “same mind”, that is, unity of belief and purpose. Then it says “with one voice glorify”, which is unified worship. When we worship together in unity and convey how God has increased our faith in difficulty and have comforted others in their difficulty with the hope of God and shared Scriptures of encouragement and instruction, then true fellowship and encouragement has occurred and hope is increased. For this reason “let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:24-25

The other disciplines of the faith like prayer, witness, fasting, service, and so forth, are all a part of this perseverance-Scripture-fellowship encouragement that strengthens faith leading to hope. What a good God we have who for His glory and our good by “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.” 2 Peter 1:3

And one day we will be removed from all difficulty and spend eternity in His presence. That will be glory!

  1. In context, this verse has nothing to do with the value or truth of the Old Testament. Rather, it refers to the source and power for overcoming sin, grace applied by the Holy Spirit and not striving to fulfill the requirement of the law. Why? Well it is because “a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 2:16
  2. These are not a special breed or dispensation of believers, just plain believers. I use these adjectives to exclude those who have mental assent to the things of God and are spectators in the church, but not saved.

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I was in need of going over the mountain a couple of days ago. I have done the trip so, so many times. I decided that I needed to stop on the way back to take a little hike and break up the trip. I appreciate scenes I have already seen and return to many frequently. I especially enjoy showing others little wonders of nature that I have seen. But I was alone and I longed to see something new, and it did not have to be big or impressive. I found what I suspect to be an underappreciated little jewel off the far end of the Linville Falls Access Parking Lot. Old growth forests are few in the Eastern United States. I content myself with enjoying the occasional lone larger tree. This Eastern White Pine is a healthy example.

The trail is very short. By the time you walk to the far end of the parking lot, you are half way there. The trail goes up over a little hump past several large trees and then down into a narrow notch where the park service has a bridge just right for viewing and walking up between the boulders.

In the middle of the bridge, voila’, Dugger’s Creek Falls.

On the far side of the bridge the steps go up between the boulders in such an inviting way.

Always desirous of a little adventure and a better picture, I got off trail just at the base of these stairs. Inviting though they be, they were a bit too civilized for my present frame of mind. Instead, I battled a bit of rhododendron and some small drop offs. The falls, in the 12 to 15 feet wide notch and cloaked in rhodo’s was not having it.

So, I went to the top of the falls in order to check out how and where the water squirms between the cracks and voids of the notch. If you look closely, you can see the bridge. If it were summer, I would probably wade up the stream to the base of the falls, but I don’t have a waterproof camera, so that would not be recorded.

Above the falls the creek comes rushing down into the notch, still a steep pitch with more broken boulders along the sides.

The scene is green with Galax and fern and moss.

The rock form is definitely foliated metamorphic, the layers curiously formed in waves.

The trail exits the woods onto the road just out of sight of the bridge or falls, but just before it does you get one more good view.

Not quite satisfied until I have explored every little turn and divot, I crossed the creek and worked my way under the bridge and edged up along the small cliffs. It was no use. The likelihood of wet feet or more (e.g. wet cellphone) stopped me short of completing every inch. I was satisfied with one more picture and a rock scramble back up to the trail.

On the beyond the bridge side of the trail are several plagues with quotes. The following was apt to my present situation.

The author does not say why we are in need of these things, and it is certainly true that many never consider that they are. But when I muse upon why this quote is true, it seems to me to point to the beauty of God as the why we seek the beauty in nature. We cannot now see Him, though Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8) We want to see His beauty and seek it in nature. But “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word.” (Psalm 119:9) But no one is able apart from the righteousness that Christ imparts, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:230 As He told those questioning Him about the work of God, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (John 6:29) Therefore, I look forward, not based on my merit, but His in which I trust, to seeing His beautiful, awesome visage one day, just as I seeks its tarnished and veiled reflection in His Creation I so enjoy experiencing.

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Preaching from John 20:19-23, my preacher asked, “Do you feel overwhelmed, uncertain, and afraid like the disciples on the day of the resurrection? Jesus meets us with a message that overcomes.” He went on to explain that Jesus provided forgiveness, peace, joy, purpose, and help through the power of the resurrection. I had already been thinking about Resurrection Celebration, but this gave so much more fuel for musing and giving praise.

Risen, oh risen from the dead
Joy in our hearts is widely spread
Death now forever overcome
For those who trust Him, rescued from

Without death no resurrection
His sacrifice, our protection
From God’s retribution and wrath
Giving us new life, a new path

His rising shows His power to save
Power to quell fear of the grave
Securing true peace for His own
The Spirit now sent from the throne

And by this power we now live
Witnesses who the Gospel give
Others know this peace and power
Stand unscathed in the judgement hour

Christ the first fruits to rise anew
Harvest of saints will not be few
On final resurrection day
Peace, joy, and nothing to dismay

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At my son’s church recently, the words to this hymn were projected on the screen while the pianist played the tuned. I wanted to sing it, but the reflection of words and music while I held the cup was intense and instructive.

Stricken, smitten, and afflicted,
See Him dying on the tree!
‘Tis the Christ by man rejected;
Yes, my soul, ’tis He, ’tis He!
‘Tis the long-expected prophet,
David’s Son, yet David’s Lord;
By His Son, God now has spoken
Tis the true and faithful Word.

Tell me, ye who hear him groaning,
Was there ever grief like his?
Friends thro’ fear his cause disowning,
Foes insulting his distress;
Many hands were raised to wound him,
None would interpose to save;
But the deepest stroke that pierced him
Was the stroke that Justice gave.

Ye who think of sin but lightly,
Nor suppose the evil great
Here may view its nature rightly,
Here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the sacrifice appointed,
See who bears the awful load;
‘Tis the Word, the Lord’s Anointed,
Son of Man and Son of God.

Here we have a firm foundation,
Here the refuge of the lost;
Christ’s the Rock of our salvation,
His the name of which we boast.
Lamb of God, for sinners wounded,
Sacrifice to cancel guilt!
None shall ever be confounded
Who on him their hope have built.

Thomas Kelly, Psalms and Hymns, 1802

The tune is wholly appropriate for the words: The Cyber Hymnal 6349. Stricken, smitten, and afflicted | Hymnary.org, a dirge tune if there ever was one. God made a most terrible event on a dark day (Matthew 27:45) into a glorious rescue mission (Acts 2:22-39).

“Here may view its nature rightly” struck me with considerable force. We play around with our little white lies and fleshly indulgences, but my sin caused the Savior’s cruel death. And then on the heels of this hard and convicting news is the strong hope and confidence we have in “Christ, the Rock of our salvation.”

Seeing how sinful, low, and helpless we are exalts the greatness of His mercy and grace all the more. We should dwell on the utter sinfulness of our sin only long enough to repent of it and see the height of salvation to which we run for refuge, comfort, and power for living.

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Last Sunday as I entered the church auditorium, I greeted a couple and conversed with them for a moment. I complimented the lady on her coat, which was sorta of a yellowish-tan, not quite gold or orange color. So, I followed up my first comment with, “What would you call that color?” Without hesitation she responded, “I’d call it sunshine.” Her husband and I chuckled and I said, “That sounds like it should be the beginning of a poem.

Fast forward to Wednesday morning. I was driving my wife to a doctor’s appointment 1:15 minutes away. About a third of the way into the trip I told my wife about the conversation on Sunday. She said that was cheery. We both went back to our thoughts and the following poem began to come. I didn’t write anything down until we reached our destination. I had composed the 1st verse and two lines of the 2nd verse by the time we arrived.

“I’d call it sunshine”
Even though the day be drear
I’d look for joy
In the midst of trial and fear

Not pretend it’s fine
When hardships are all around
But peace with God
Is settling and profound

Can’t keep it in line
There is so much going on
God controls all
It’s trust and rest I must hone

I am His, He’s mine
Though life is full of trouble
Unchanging grace
And His Word are comforts double

This poem is not about pretending everything is OK when it is not. It is not an Optimist’s perspective. Instead, this is a reminder for those who know God to look at the unseen realities that God has revealed and living based on that. And it is a reminder for those who have not come to know God that there is a spiritual reality that they should consider and seek to know God.

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I have recently determined that there are several ways of asking why of God. “God, why is this happening to me?” is the simple question, but the intent behind asking reveals the heart and faith of the questioner.

“Why?” is frequently an accusation that God is being unfair to strap you with a particular problem or difficulty. You lose your job. “Why did this happen to me, God? I’m supposed to support my family, pay my bills, and pay my taxes. How am I supposed to fulfill my responsibilities.”

But “Why?” can be asked in a different way to mean “What do you want me to learn from this difficulty?” and “How will you get glory from this difficulty?” That is, “Why is this difficulty occurring to further Your kingdom and glory in me and those around me?” You lost your job. “Why did this happen, Lord? Were you trying to get my attention because I was doing something wrong, or are You trying to increase my faith, or do You have a better career in mind? Be glorified through Your provision for my family during this difficulty and in my reactions and trust in You. Bless my wife and children with provision and security. Bless those looking on with a sense of Your goodness to us.”

There is a third, mixed reaction to difficulty that involves asking “Why?”. I am reminded of the honest answer of the father in Mark 9:24, “I do believe, help my unbelief.” I can relate well to this response. I frequently respond initially with “Why…that’s not fair?” but then consider God’s goodness in times past and the Scriptures about His faithfulness and moderate my stance to “Why is this happening in this way for my instruction and Your glory?” In reality, it usually comes out in more colloquial language: “God, what are you up to?” or “What am I supposed to learn from this?” or “How do You get glory from this?”

I mark my progress in the faith largely by how quickly I move on to trust. And at times I am finding myself responding in faith immediately. Perhaps because of a sense of inability or defenselessness, I seem to respond in trust more immediately the more drastic the difficulty or disappointment. And that is the good in trials for us, learning to trust without accusations of “WHY?”

But lest you think I am saying that I have arrived, I also shrink back into discouragement and complaining all too often. A circumstance, a Scripture, my wife, a friend, or even a stranger communicate how blessed I am and how foolish ungratefulness is and I am set, sometimes hard, back onto the path of faith. May God patiently work His plan in me and through my circumstances, and I would append that request to say, may He do it gently because I am frail (“For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust,” encourages Psalm 103:14.).

I have been thinking about Job lately. Do you feel like Job whose friend, Eliphaz, encouraged him by saying, “For man is born for trouble, as sparks fly upward.” (Job 5:7)? That’ll put pep in the step, not! I keep having to “humble [myself] under the mighty hand of God,… casting all [my] anxiety on Him, for He cares for [me]”.*

As I told my Sunday School class, “Resist temptation and replace it with something better.” Jesus is always better. Thanksgiving diverts my attention from temptation to Him. I’m preachin’ to myself. You can listen in if it gives you any help. Maybe I will even get to the place of saying with James, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

*I inserted personal pronouns in place of yourself, your, you.

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My recent reflection on the hymn “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” (“The Only Begotten of the Father”) had a precursor thought to it in the form of a poem. I noticed the late 4th century date of composition and reflected that there was much heresy in the church then that centered mostly around the person and work of Christ.* True believers are called upon to always “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” (Jude 1:3) Considering both the earnestly contending for the faith that has occurred in times of challenge to the truth and the person and work of Christ as revealed in Scripture, I wrote the following poem:

Songs, sermons, various creeds
Born in time of heresy
For those moments and those needs
Help us all their truths to see

To the Christ of Scripture point
The One Who God did anoint
God the Savior did appoint
He beginning and endpoint

Our focus must always be
Second person of the Three
In Jesus the Father see
He bought grace so rich and free

By words and deeds we defend
Truth of Christ against new trend
Knowing truth will transcend
Not allow with error to blend

New songs of praise we should write
With Scripture truth, never trite
Sermons preach with Gospel might
Know the creeds, why they are right

*In reality, there is always a focus on destroying our knowledge and faith about the person and work of Christ. This early time was just when many of the heresies went through the church the first time or first became public.

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I am participating in a Ligonier Connect Bible Study online with my pastor and six or more other believers at my church. After answering questions and listening to a short lecture online, we have a Zoom meeting on Saturday evening to discuss the content. Fellowship with the saints over the Word of God, Christ, and our walk with God is always invigorating, encouraging and raising one’s spirit. Our topic is particularly encouraging since it is on assurance of saving faith. It can and should be sought after by the believer, because assurance strengthens faith, which in turn develops godliness and a desire for godliness.

In this last week’s lecture, Dr. Joel Beke mentions the key passages on assurance: I John, Galatians 5, Matthew 5, and II Peter 1:6-10. John states his theme toward the end of his book: “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (I John 5:13). Galatians 5:22-24 lists the fruits of the Spirit. Matthew 5-7 is the “Sermon on the Mount”, which Jesus begins by stating the “Beatitudes”, characteristics of those who are kingdom citizens. Peter is exhorting the believers to exercise “His [God’s] precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust” (v.4) by “applying all diligence” (v.5) in your faith. There is not a contradiction between what God gives and our proper utilization of it.

Dr. Beke’s lecture was very good, emphasizing the need to both trust the promises of God and “test yourselves to see if you are in the faith” (II Corinthians 13:5). I appreciated most that he dealt with the nuances of testing your faith to be sure you neither deceive yourself into thinking you have saving faith when you have none nor deceive yourself into despairing of faith. I wanted him to provide a list of the assurances, the external and internal (“practical and mystic evidences” as he said it). Since he did not, I have attempted to list and organize them for my benefit and yours. Dr. Beke said there are about 30 evidences in these passages. I came up with the number 37. I combined some because they seemed to be saying the same thing, but I am sure I combine differently than he does. For example, I speculate that he may have clumped all beliefs about who Jesus is into one evidence, whereas I kept them as four separate items. Also, I expanded the II Peter passage by three verses, adding one more evidence.

I further tried to organize the evidences into categories. This is where I ran into problems. At first I had a catch all category that was titled “Emotions/Intentions/Actions”, but I quickly realized that would include everything on the list. So, I separated out “Practice of Righteousness”, but that is still too vague. On that point of vagueness, John lists “practicing righteousness” as a way to know you know God, but that seemed to be a summary of all that he meant and not merely a concrete evidence. I say all of this to say, the process of delineating every single evidence of saving faith is not easy, but the testing of yourself to see that you have saving faith is encouraging and faith building, joy producing, and useful and advisable. I hope that you are encouraged as you read the Scriptures from the list that I have provided. Don’t hesitate to suggest ways that I may better organize my list.

Evidence for Assurance

Or click here to see a clearer Word document version.

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My pastor preached an informative, challenging, and encouraging sermon this morning on John 14:1-3. I am always trying to organize information so that I may digest it. If it is not organized in my brain, I have trouble living it, because I don’t know what the next step is or even where to look for it. He gave four reasons from the passage that Jesus gave for why their hearts should not be troubled: 1) Jesus is trustworthy (v.1), 2) We have a sure promise of a home with God (v.2), 3) Christ began preparing a place for us immediately afterwards through the cross, the resurrection, and the ascension (v.2)*, and 4) Jesus is coming again to take us to be with Him (v.3).

We will outlast troubles, while troubles will burn away like the morning fog, he said. He ended the sermon with the most encouraging book ends of the eighth chapter of Romans. From verse 1, we know that there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”, and from verses 38 and 39, “[nothing] will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus.”

Which of following two responses will you have to troubles and trials, brother and sister? Friend, will you consider the hope and peace you may have by trusting Christ, who saves** all those who trust Him?

Responses to Trouble

*Pastor agreed with me that those past preparations do not exclude the present and future preparations in us and the world and in heaven.

**He saves not only through troubles and trials but more importantly from sin and eternity under God’s wrath in hell.

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Paul and Jeremiah were compelled to preach the Word that God gave to them. Paul said, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel.” Jeremiah said, “But if I say, ‘I will not remember Him or speak anymore in His name,’ then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot endure it.” From whence came these obligations? Is some obligation common with all believers? If so, how do we fulfill these compulsions?

Preaching from Romans 1:12-15, my pastor communicated obligations that Paul had before God. My pastor made such conclusive statements as* ‘When duty is delight we please God and find joy,’ and ‘When love empowers our duty, it becomes delight’ glorifying God. From his explanation I took the clear point that our obligations before God must turn into love which will then result in eagerness.

obligation —> love —> eagerness

I wish it was easier to draw that here, because I would keep the arrow** between obligation and love dashed while making the one between love and eagerness solid. Eagerness will follow what you love, but love is not a necessary or normal result of obligation. And I said to my pastor after the sermon that I was challenged to muse on how to get from obligation to love. This is that musing.

How might I make the transition from obligation to love? I began to peer further back behind obligation, and further ahead of eagerness to find motivation for loving my obligations. Obligations before God come from His command. His command may come in the form of inner compulsions or providentially guided circumstances, but all must proceed out of and agree with God’s Word. God’s commands come from His purpose, which in turn come from His character. At the other end, delight will result in diligence in the form of prayer, pursuit, and practice. Diligence will bring about God’s purpose through the power He supplies, revealing the glory of His character and works. It would look something like the following:

God’s attributes —> God’s purpose —> God’s command —> my obligation —> my love —> my eagerness —> my diligence —> God’s purpose in me accomplished —> praise to the glory of God’s attributes and works***

If instead of focussing on my obligation before God or even His command, I focus on the beauty of His attributes and the praise of His glory, my love for Him will be increased along with a love of the obligations that bring that praise to Him. I must know my obligations before God. I must obey His commands. But I must focus on Him, His attributes and grace toward me, so that I love Him more along with all of my responsibilities before Him.

After I communicated these ideas to a friend, she said so concisely, “I don’t have to. I get to.” She went on to say, “I get to be a teacher. I get to be a mother. I get to wash the clothes.” Her attitude and simplicity are refreshing and true. I still needed to consider the why behind them so that when “I’m not feelin’ it”, I can focus on the One who is beautiful and merciful and worthy. Everything else will follow, if not immediately, then progressively and surely.

 

*When I use a ‘ instead a “, I mean it to communicate approximate quote rather than court evidence quote.

**As I tell my students, arrows mean for me cause and effect (cause—>effect). Sometimes that is just sequence or correlation, but with a desire to find and communicate cause and effect.

*** Notice that this cause and effect chain goes full circle: “so that God will be all in all.” (I Corinthians 15:28)

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I could see this backyard lawn without any detail other than the fairly short grass. As I observed, I* walked over to the center of the yard and drove a narrowly triangular stake into the ground. Then I tied one end of a small rope that was curled up on a spool onto the stake and began unwinding it as I moved away from the stake. I always kept the rope taut but it danced up and down as I went. After a few moments I paused and looked back at the rope and the stake. As my eyes focussed on different segments of the rope, I saw knots tied at irregular intervals. I compared these knots to their distance from and similarity to the stake. Only in daydreams and dreams can Physics laws be overcome. For then I released the rope, which stayed taut, walked back to several of the more noticeable knots and drove stakes into the ground through the knots. I stood back, observing, as the rope continued to unfurl for what, with a pause**, would be eternity future. 

When the scene vanished from my mind, I immediately realized that it was a metaphor for my life and salvation. The ground, which like a plane, receded off infinitely forward and backward, but unlike a plane had depth of soil, represented salvation. I was being grounded in a salvation that was decided in eternity past and would be executed throughout all of eternity future.

The stake was my moment of salvation. And here is the reason that I believe this line of musing came upon me. I had been considering Jesus’ words to Zaccheus, “Today salvation has come to this house, because, he, too, is a son of Abraham.” When I read “today”, I understood that Jesus meant that in that moment, in space and time, Jesus had come to Zaccheus in salvation. I have been among varying brothers over time as concerns their understanding of Jesus’ work of salvation. Some say you must receive Jesus; it is your choice. Others say that to ask someone to receive Jesus is wrong and counter to God’s ordaining of salvation in a person’s life. Salvation is wholly of God and “it is your choice” puts man in the driver seat of a vehicle he can’t control. It is wrong. But God is both eternal and transcendent while personal and present. He works in eternity and He works in time. He has predestined those who will be saved and brings it about- all glory to Him. But we do not know the when, the how, or the who, so we plead with people to believe and receive Jesus. When they do, God has accomplished in that moment what He ordained long ago. There is a stake planted in time and eternity. 

Some people know when that stake was planted; some do not. It is planted nonetheless. When a person does not know, perhaps it is obscured by the fog of life or the mysterious moment and work of God was not by Him revealed to that person. When a person knows the when, it may be a helpful source of assurance. Our little rope is firmly attached there and our life is subsequently unfurled. But the main source of assurance is those ancillary stakes in our lives resulting from knots or difficulties in our lives. When we continue to believe and act on that belief throughout our life, we confirm and deepen that faith by driving another stake into salvation. We become more assured. God provides the event in our lives, the stake of faith, the hammer of confirmation, and the strength of remembrance. He animates every part of our faith, but He involves us. All of those stakes ground the rope of my life in the ground of eternal salvation. Jesus holds them firm in Him.

I feel certain that someone could punch holes*** in my metaphor, but the the points I intend are 1) God accomplishes salvation in time and eternity, 2) God involves us, and 3) We have assurance through faith in God throughout the events of our lives. That assurance is described in the letter of I John. One phrase, “by this we know”, occurs 8 times in the book along with other similar affirmations of assurance God gives us that we belong to Him. The best way to have assurance that you believe is to believe right now, which builds more assurance for those trying times when it is harder to believe. “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…” (Acts 16:31) is a stake in the ground of salvation then and again and again and now and in the future. Faith does not provide salvation; Jesus provides salvation. Be always clinging to Him.

*It is weird to think of yourself as watching yourself in a dream or daydream.

**For the believer death is not an annihilation of life but a mere transition or pause.

***That pun has holes all in it, but I’ll stake my writing on the truth of it.

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Recently, I gave each of my older grandchildren (that’s 4 out of 6, who are old enough to understand what I am saying) a polished black rock. I told them that every time they look at it or rub it with their thumb to keep it shiny, they should think, “Jesus is  like a rock that is unchanged.” He is firm. He is sturdy. He is dependable. He provides for us. The Scripture describes Him as a rock in I Corinthians 10:4: “and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from the same spiritual rock which followed them, and the rock was Christ.”

The illustrations for Paul’s comments in I Corinthians are found in Exodus 17:1-7, Numbers 20:1-13, and Deuteronomy 8:15, 32:1-43 (The Song of Moses). If you read the Numbers passage, you will see that God got angry with Moses and Aaron for striking the rock this second time instead of speaking to it as God had commanded. Even though Moses’ anger showed a presumption on his part, what God says to them reveals the source of God’s anger as resulting from them not treating (or representing) God as holy before the congregation. They had disobeyed God’s direct command. I have long wondered why God got so angry. I believe ultimately it may be because Moses’ careless and angry action destroyed a symbol God had designed to explain His work with man. The first time before a rock (Exodus 17), God commanded Moses to strike the rock. The second time (Numbers 20), God commanded Moses to speak to the rock. The first time Christ came He was struck on the cross to deliver us from sin, for “in that day a fountain will be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for impurity.” (Zechariah 13:1) Just as the rock poured forth life giving water for the people when Moses struck it, so Christ poured forth life giving blood when the nails were struck into his hands and feet. The second time Christ will come “having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await him.” (Hebrews 9:28) He will gladly provide all we need and more for those for whom He was struck to rescue them. “Ask, and it will be given unto you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the it will be open to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened to him.” (Matthew 7:7-8) 

In Deuteronomy, Moses teaches Israel a song about the dependability, consistency, strength, perfection, faithfulness, righteousness, and jealousy for His people of Israel’s God, their Rock.

David helps to solidify our understanding about God as our Rock. His most direct explanation of the rock metaphor comes in Psalm 18. In verses 1-3 he sets forth the idea of the Lord as his rock:

“I love You, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.”

The rock metaphor becomes a shorthand for David of security, protection, salvation, strength, victory, and all else that God means to him regarding physical, mental, and spiritual rescue from all variety of enemies. God is for him a firm place where his foot doesn’t slip and his enemies don’t overcome him (v.36-37)

I know that my grandchildren can’t understand all of that right now, but learning dependence upon God is a good lesson to begin early. We will always need to come around to learning it at a deeper level and life provides many opportunities to review that lesson.

20190729_083735

 

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Some of my friends have already seen this or were there, but others might benefit from what this video has to say. I had the privilege of preaching at my church this past Sunday. I felt led and carried along, so that I believe it is a message that God gave me. I give Him the glory for anything of profit therein. It is a message for the church of America. I hope that you will take the time to listen to it:

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“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. ” (Galatians 5:1)

“So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty.” (James 2:12)

What is liberty? How do we obtain it? How do we live in (or by) it? Many lengthy treatises have been written on this subject but a simple, functional definition is frequently beyond our grasp. I began to think on liberty after considering a line in the hymn, “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy”, by Fredrick Faber: “There’s a kindness in God’s justice, which is more than liberty.” In order to understand the meaning intended by this line you must understand kindness, justice, and liberty, not from a humanist standpoint, as we frequently do with liberty, but from God’s viewpoint.

A short article on Christian liberty I found online had a succinct discussion and concise conclusion: “The ultimate goal for the Christian should be to glorify God, edify fellow believers, and have a good reputation before unbelievers.” (https://www.gotquestions.org/Christian-liberty.html) This sentence confirms what I had heard to be a simple statement of what Christian liberty (and therefore any real liberty) is: Liberty is the freedom to do what is right.

In order to stand firm in that liberty we need to stay out of two miry, hazardous ditches: legalism and license. We best keep our eyes fixed ahead on Jesus and the liberty trail He has blazed rather than fearing or obsessing over the ditches on either side of us. We must be aware of them, wary of them, and wise to them, but if we obey the voice of God as He guides us, we need not fret over them.

So how do I run the right wheel of liberty merrily along without being tracked into the icy waters of the ditch legalism? I love the hymn that says, “Free from the Law, oh, happy condition, Jesus hath bled and there is remission; Cursed by the law and bruised by the fall, Christ hath redeemed us once for all.” As the Scripture says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us…” (Galatians 3:13). That curse was death demanded by the righteousness of God proclaimed by the Law. In fact, “we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.” (Romans 7:6) There it is! The Spirit gives us the power and freedom to do what is right. The statutes of the Law for the Christian were abolished in Christ, but not the moral law, the ten commandments. Instead, we are now enabled to do what is right- blessed liberty!

Many friends reading this blog will not have trouble with the aforementioned ditch. So how do I run a true course with the left wheel of liberty and avoid sliding off into the ditch license? Again I refer to this old hymn: “Children of God- oh, glorious calling, Surely His grace will keep us from falling; Passing from death to life at His call, Blessed salvation once for all.” I see three Scripture based answers to the license danger in this hymn verse: 1) His grace keeps us from falling (2 Corinthians 12:9), 2) The glory of our calling in Christ gives us purpose and worth to resist mere license (Romans 6:1-4), and 3) We are being fitted for heaven which brings great hope and focus (2 Corinthians 5:1-2). 

So the “standing firm” of the initial verse of this blog entry means walking in liberty without tracking or sliding into the ditches. When you “Consider yourself dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 6:11) you guard on the one side and “So speak and so act as those judged by the law of liberty,” (James 2:12) in defense of the other. Tracking in liberty is not looking at the worrisome waves on either side, but keeping full view of the Savior out in front of us. And He even knows our frailty and extends a hand to catch us up when we call for help. (Matthew 14:28-33)

We extend this liberty to others in the natural realm through governance, community involvement, church unity, and family togetherness, so that they may come to see true liberty in the spiritual realm through the two great commandments: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40), and thus be saved to eternal joy and peace. Happy Independence Day!

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During prayer time this morning I was convicted about the extent of my failure in relationships over the years. Rather than mope I asked God to heal relationships and continue to change me. After a short season my prayer was interrupted by the words of the first verse of the following poem. Over the next hour, as I began planning for my students, I came back to the poem until two more verses appeared.

I am not who I will become
Or who I should be

But I am not who I once was
Jesus changes me

Each day I choose for right or wrong
Reaping what you see
By His grace I can do what’s right
Jesus sets me free

Today I’m here, tomorrow there
God knows where I’ll be
Best not fret or scheme or worry
Jesus directs me

 

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