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Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

I process my greatest joys and deepest trials and conflicts by writing. I don’t always communicate those on my blog, but here goes.

I was reading as the young couple entered the doctor’s office. Both tall and slender, dressed in black and gray, he walked with a bit of a swagger. I glanced up from my reading and offered for one of them to take a seat as I cleared my personal effects from the chair beside me, mumbling an apology for all my stuff. She bade him to sit down, which he did and turned to me and said, “Hi brother, my name is …”, extending his hand. I returned in kind and we began talking about his first visit to the office. I made a comment about his girlfriend’s (as it turned out) accent, to which he rejoined that she is a citizen of Kazakhstan, later showing me her passport with the Cyrillic lettering. We discussed her native Russian language, homeland, Tartar heritage, and travels.

In the course of the conversation I offered for him to read the first sentence of the book I was reading, published in 1833 but written in 1562, with the warning that the one sentence goes on for a page and a half. Seeing that the sentence was an introduction and authorization by counselors of Queen Elizabeth I under her authority to read the following sermons in the churches in the absence of a proper sermon, it precipitated a spiritual conversation. He commented that he took his girlfriend to church recently, seeming to imply that she had not been before as she thought it was curious. I asked him if he was a believer in Jesus to which he replied yes, and continued by describing his church attendance and regular reading of God’s Word. Now his girlfriend got involved in the conversation. As that progressed she ascertained me that she has a relationship with God. Pressed as to what kind, it quickly became evident that she thought herself god and communed with God and that any sincere belief in God was a path to God. I quoted John 14:6, which says, “Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except by Me.'” She rebutted that it was a very exclusive claim. “Yes, it is,” I replied. There were many more rejoinders, so I am giving the essence, most intense parts, and highlights only. “So, then you are saying that a Muslim (remember that she is from Kazakhstan) who has never heard of Jesus is doomed to hell.” I replied that many churches are springing up in Muslim and tribal and isolated places all over the world. “You are saying that I am going to hell.” I explained that is what the Bible is saying, for anyone who does not trust Jesus. Jesus is claiming to be the only way to God. “That is a very arrogant statement,” she said, looking me straight in the face. I replied, “I would agree with you if it were just me saying it, but that is what Jesus is saying. I am only the messenger.” She continued with the skeptic’s angle, saying that anyone could know that their way was right, and that there were many ways to God. I rejoined with evidence of the resurrection. “People don’t just rise from the dead.” The boyfriend ended the conversation by interjecting a possible way out, that Jesus was only referring to His immediate audience. I tried to reply with Scripture, but they both lost interest and the moment was ended. He and I trailed off into polite conversation about our mutual love of nature and exchanged contact information for a possible hike together in the future.

Had not several of the workers in the office been close by to hear most of the conversation, it might have ended with that. But I had seen the receptionist glare at me several times during the conversation and leave quite quickly as the conversation died down. In a few minutes the doctor called me aside, instructing me to not ever talk about religion or politics in his office again. What amazed me most was his previous claim that he is a Christian.* The conversation had not been loud, and though we vehemently disagreed, it did not end in ugly words. Had the doctor asked me to be careful about overheard conversations or to take care in how I talk to the people I meet in his office, I could have understood, but for him, claiming to be a Christian, to require me to not talk about God because it would upset some people who were there for healing was shocking to me. Have we become Christians in name only, fearing and revolting at the possibility of confronting people with the truth? He was trying to be forceful to get me to agree to not talk about these subjects. I was just replying “OK”, intending only to acknowledge his words. I may need to go back and clarify that I can not agree to not sharing Christ if the subject should come up. I wish that at that moment I had remembered the reply Peter and John had given to the rulers and elders: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20)

Several hours later I was assisting my wife and saw the young woman sitting in a nearby therapy chair. She smiled at me and gave what appeared to be a bit of a wave. I smiled back. After I had helped my wife, I went over and spoke to her, both of us agreeing that we enjoyed meeting each other. She gave no sign of awkwardness or disapproval. Given her total rejection of our discussion about salvation earlier, at least outwardly, I wondered who the conversation had been for: her, her boyfriend, the receptionist, the nurse, the patient assistant, or all of the above.

*I had a friend read this article before I published it, asking if I was out of line or missed something. He cautioned that I needed to see the situation from the doctor’s point of view. Perhaps he had a bad day, or maybe he just wanted to calm his employee who had just complained to him. I then realized that he had gotten the conversation secondhand and not accurately at that.

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When the pastor preached from 1 Samuel 1 yesterday morning, I was particularly struck by Hannah’s response to Eli, the High Priest: “Then Eli said to her, “How long will you make yourself drunk? Put away your wine from you.” But Hannah replied, “No, my lord, I am a woman oppressed in spirit; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have poured out my soul before the Lord. Do not consider your maidservant as a worthless woman, for I have spoken until now out of my great concern and provocation.”” (I Samuel 1:14-16) She uses drinking wine as a metaphor for how she is presenting her request to God. As I contemplated this turn of words, I considered how we so often get it backwards.

We pour comfort into ourselves that results in pain when we should pour out our pain before God that results in comfort from Him.

The comforts we seek are drink, drugs, food, sex, attention, things, excitement, accomplishments, money, relationships. Some are bad in and of themselves, but others are not inherently bad, but we sour them by our selfish pursuit of them. Instead, you should be “casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” (I Peter 5:7) And “be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7) As the pastor pointed out, what we need most is God. He is our source of peace, even when there is no resolution of the problem, not our comfort food or drink, not a psych evaluation.

The result in Hannah was as follows: “So the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.” (I Samuel 1:18) Did she just pretend that she was not distraught? Did her troubles vanish in a moment? No, her faith in God that caused her to pour out her spirit to God, had resulted in the comfort from God. She did not even know at that moment if God would answer her request for a child in the affirmative, but she trusted God to do what was best. As pastor pointed out, she was a type for Mary, who had a strange and stressful pregnancy and birth, but trusted God through it all. And when she visited her cousin Elizabeth in Luke chapter 1, Mary quotes or alludes to much of what Hannah prayed in praise to God in 1 Samuel 2, both speaking boldly of God’s salvation.

In my times of stress and strain, I need to pour out my spirit to God concerning my troubles and trials. As Corrie Ten Boom said at the end of the “Hiding Place” that she and Betsy learned from concentration camp to tell others, “However deep our suffering, God is deeper.”

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While the Papists and Heathen celebrate All Hallows Eve, many believers across the world remember Reformation Day when a struggling monk was seeking the truth and setoff a firestorm of changed hearts and minds.

We must all as believers relive times of revival and reformation, for as the nailing of the Ninety-five Theses to the Wittenberg Church door was only a beginning, so our day of salvation and moments of rededication are only beginnings. It is usually at this moment that we quote II Chronicles 7:14 about the the people of God humbling themselves and calling on God’s name or Hosea 6:1 in which we are admonished to return to God. These are worthy of deepest consideration, as we are so often self-deceived about the depth of our walk before God.

But today I call to your attention the words of Daniel 9:3-5: “So I gave my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed and said, “Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, we have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly and rebelled, even turning aside from Your commandments and ordinances.” The church in America and our church specifically has seen a period of barrenness and declension in numbers and depth of spiritual life. We need revival. We need restoration. We need reformation.

It is appropriate that we should sing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” by Martin Luther on this day. Not only is it appropriate to remember the work of God through a humble monk, but even more so to recall that God can and will overcome the forces of Satan, the world system, and our sinfulness. We need to call on Him to be gracious to work it powerfully in us now, in this day, in our church, in our country, in our hearts.

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Isaiah 53:3: “He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.” Certainly Psalm 22 conveys Christ’s death in sorrowful and grief ridden detail. It is the most quoted Psalm in the New Testament (NT). But He was not esteemed and was despised in His life which increased His sorrows and grief as conveyed by the second most NT quoted Psalm, 69. (1) It is interesting that these two Psalms are the most quoted in the NT. The NT writers, inspired by the Holy Spirit thought it most important that we understand how Jesus fulfilled the role of Suffering Servant and what it means for us.

I should count, but it seems like David is repining and distressed at least as often in the Psalms as he dwells on a “good theme” (Psalm 45:1 (2)) It is obvious from these most NT quoted Psalms that David is acting in the capacity of a prophet concerning the coming Messiah, but also he is simply stressed and strained. (3)

Concerning the prophecy, since so much of Psalm 69 is quoted in the NT as referring to Christ (4), it seems reasonable to think it most all refers to Him. The deep waters that threaten Him in vs.1 and 2 are in deep contrast to the deep thirst He experienced on the cross. What were those deep mire and deep waters that threatened Him? Was it the wrath of God poured out on Him for our sin? And what was He restoring (v.4), other than our relationship with the Father, that He had not stolen? Verse 5 obviously does not apply to the Perfect, Holy One, and you might think that v.6 doesn’t either. But Isaiah says, “Kings will be your guardians, and their princesses your nurses. They will bow down to you with their faces to the earth and lick the dust of your feet; and you will know that I am the Lord; Those who hopefully wait for Me will not be put to shame.” (49:23), and Paul says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (1:16) When we trust in Him, we do not find ourselves ashamed of Him. Death loses its sting and trials have purpose and are ultimately for our good, (James 1:2ff, Romans 8:28)

On the subject of David’s complaint, I wonder at the spiritual battle going on while he was trying to be a righteous king trying to do justice. All of the “dogs” (5) bay and howl when their sinful scavenging is called into question. How were the evil doers blaspheming God concerning His sanctuary that caused David’s zeal to flare up? We know what caused it with Jesus: money changers. People were making up excuses to accuse David. In the midst of these trials, God knows that we are but dust, so we may call out to Him as David did. He called out in complaint. He called out in faith. He called out in praise. He called out in curses upon His enemies. He called out, pleading with God to answer him quickly and decisively.

God knows my frame, too, that I am but dust. I must call out to Him for help with my challenges and problems and weaknesses. For “The humble have seen it and are glad; you who seek God, let your heart revive. For the Lord hears the needy and does not despise His who are prisoners.” (Psalm 69:32-33)

  1. http://e-mechanika.pl/ryq4jqn/096575-most-quoted-psalms-in-the-new-testament Psalm 110:1 is the most NT quoted verse in the Psalms.
  2. And Psalm 45 is not even written by David, but the sons of Korah.
  3. In Physics stress is causative applied force and strain is the resulting deformation. Psychophysically we can have stress, troubles and trials, and either be strained, worrying or sick or depressed or complaining, or not.
  4. Verses 3, 4, 9a, 9b, 21, 22-23, and 25 are quoted in the NT. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psalm_69#New_Testament
  5. “Dogs” was a Jewish derogatory term for Gentiles in Jesus’ day, but the insult had a wider meaning for any evil doer (see Isaiah 56:11, Philippians 3:2, Revelation 22:15)

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In a previous post (My Lord Draws Nigh), I shared my attempt to put a poem by the hymn writer, DW Whittle, to music. Having sung the second verse, my nephew asked me if I would sing the rest so that he could hear how it sounds.

Understanding Mr. Whittle’s words requires a knowledge of Scripture. Specifically, he refers to bells spoken of in Exodus 28:33-35: “You shall make on its hem pomegranates of blue and purple and scarlet material, all around on its hem, and bells of gold between them all around: a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, all around on the hem of the robe. It shall be on Aaron when he ministers; and its tinkling shall be heard when he enters and leaves the holy place before the Lord, so that he will not die.” “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:31), so that the priests had to approach an holy God with much reverential fear and caution.

But the text turns this fear to a joy, because our gracious “Heavenly High Priest”, “Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.” (Hebrews 7:22) This high priest of Hebrews is superior, as it says, “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16)

In the words of Mr. Whittle’s poem I have inserted dashes where two notes are needed to sing the word and braces for words that I have dropped out in the singing because they don’t fit the meter. I believe that these deletions do not significantly change the meaning of the text.

“Swift, with melodious feet,
The midnight hours pass by;
As with each passing bell so sweet,
I think, ‘My Lord draws nigh.’

“I see Hea-ven’s open door,
I hear God’s gracious voice;
I see the blood-washed ’round the throne,
And with them I rejoice.

“It may be – that these sounds
Are [the] golden bells so sweet
Which tell me of the near approach
Of [the] Heavenly High Priest’s feet.

“Not every night is thus;
Some nights with pain are drear.
[Then] I join my moan with crea-tion’s groan
[And] the chimes I do not hear.

“[But] the Lord remains the same;
Faithful He must abide;
And on His word my soul I’ll rest,
For He is by my side.

“Some midnight sleepless saints,
Made quick by pain to hear,
Shall join the glad and welcome cry,
‘The Bridegroom draweth near.’

“Then I shall see His face
His beauteous image bear;
I’ll know His love and wondrous grace,
And in His glory share.

“So sing my soul in praise,
As bells chime o’er and o’er,
The coming of the Lord draws near,
When time shall be no more.”

Major D. W. Whittle died March 4, 1901, at Northfield, Massachusetts.

I am greatly encouraged by courageous Christians of the past and commend to you the reading of biographies of past Christians. I re-watched the movie, “The Hiding Place”, with my wife a few nights ago. Betsy and Corrie ten Boom became deep in the faith because of how they entrusted their very lives to God in the midst of suffering. We may learn much from these faithful ones concerning how to live for Christ. I was struck by two things about DW Whittle’s story: 1) He was so focused on Christ that in the midst of pain that would lead to his death in two weeks, he could compose such deep trust and worship of God, and 2) “In speaking of his hymns he once said, “I hope that I will never write a hymn that does not contain a message — there are too many hymns that are just a meaningless jingle of words; to do good a hymn must be founded on God’s word and carry the message of God’s love.”” (by Jacob Henry Hall). Let us seek to write and speak and sing act in every way based in God’s word with the message of God’s love.

If you would like to hear my singing of this poem to the tune that I wrote, click on My Lord Draws Nigh.

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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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