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Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

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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With what are you struggling? Struggling with temptation is a matter of replacing it with something good and godly. I find that Romans 6:11 helps me to focus in times of temptation. Philippians 4:8 helps it to be less of a problem in the first place and less burdensome when happening. But what if the struggle is not a temptation but concerning a desire that you have thought to be a godly ambition? You pursue it, but thus far, to no avail. Patience and acquiescence to God’s will are certainly needed, but as platitudes they do not answer questions about how to proceed. So, here is how I am struggling:

My senses all say no
As do comments and circumstances
Whence comes this great desire
When all else says there are thin chances

To prayer I did devote
This ambition of which I now speak
Much counsel, plans I wrote
And God’s will in this matter I seek

How do I now proceed?
Exercise patience and longer wait?
More scrutiny it need?
Oh my mind and emotional state?

Is it time to give up?
To admit it was not in God’s will?
Accept this empty cup
As good providence rather than ill?

This I know above all
God is good and His will is the best
May stumble but not fall
Be bewildered but finally blest

I will continue on
Trusting God and in His guidance rest
Listening I will hone
Find His direction and pass the test

 

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As I have mentioned several times recently, and as anyone in my area will attest, there have been more than usual number of days with gray skies and fewer of sunshine than normally. On just such a day yesterday, I began to consider.

Snow on the mountain
Wind in the trees
Frost on the pasture
Chilled by degrees

Gray sky overcast
Sun seldom guest
Trees in dark profile
Season of rest

All is damp and cold
The days are short
Food scarce for creatures
Few birds report

In this bleak season
Emotions wane
Foreboding reason
Given to pain

Now the time for faith
Let the truth ring
After these dark days
Then will come Spring

Even wintertime
Has its beauty
Seek out what is good
Fulfill duty

Embrace these gray days
Count it all joy
Draws you to Jesus
And sins destroy

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Frances Havergal wrote the following poem for New Year greeting cards in 1874, which later became a hymn:

Another year is dawning, dear Father, let it be
In working or in waiting, another year with Thee.
Another year of progress, another year of praise,
Another year of proving Thy presence all the days.

Another year of mercies, of faithfulness and grace,
Another year of gladness in the shining of Thy face;
Another year of leaning upon Thy loving breast;
Another year of trusting, of quiet, happy rest.

Another year of service, of witness for Thy love,
Another year of training for holier work above.
Another year is dawning, dear Father, let it be
On earth, or else in Heaven, another year for Thee.

It is a time to reflect on the past, take stock of the present, and aspire to a better future. Much if not most of life is beyond our control, but she clearly pleads God’s provision, not for an easy time, but for a fruitful time in belief and service to God. I ask that my Christian brothers and sisters be blessed with just what this poem requests, “another year for Thee”.

There are other of my friends and readers who do not yet know God through His Son, Jesus Christ. I plead with God to choose you in this new year to be His child. Though He is the one who chooses, in some mysterious and yet simple way we must choose Him as He enables us to. The offer is there; knowledge of God and life eternal awaits. Trust Jesus to take away the guilt of your offenses against God by the sacrifice He made on the cross. It is not a complex choice, but it is a definite one. Do not reject Him for some misguided sense of fairness:

“Give us fairness,” said many voices.
“You don’t want fair,” he said,
“For then we would all be dead.”

Grace that will set you free,
Mercy to pardon, can’t you see?
You have no other choices.

And why would we all be dead? “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) “For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, Our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) There is the same sentence with the bad news, death, is the good news, eternal life. 

May your New Year be blessed with the knowledge of God and joy in serving Him.

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Today’s Sunday School lesson was about Samuel’s call from God and God’s judgment on Israel and Eli in I Samuel 3 and 4. I started with an introduction to set the stage for why Samuel was where he was when he was. I had the children read various verses in chapters 1 and 2 (1:1-2, 10-11, 20, 26-28; 2:2:1), interspersing explanation about what was going on. The point of my introduction was to show how God set the stage for Samuel’s call in God’s working in Hannah’s walk of faith. In the middle of pointing out to my 4th through 6th graders about Hannah’s journey of faith, a five point alliteration came forcefully to me (Later I increased it to seven.). In fact, as I jumped up and began to review the points I had just made, I wrote it on my new, spacious whiteboard. The pastor’s daughter said, “It’s an alliteration! I thought those usually have only three words.” (You have to be laughing at this point.) Here it is in the form of seven:

     Problem- Hannah had no children.

     Prayer- At the tabernacle Hannah poured out her heart to God.

              Petition- Hannah asked for a son.

              Promise- Hannah promised to give the son back to God to serve Him.

     Pregnant- Hannah received the gift of a son in due time.

     Presentation- Hannah presented Samuel before God to serve Him continually.

     Praise- Hannah gave praise to God for His gift, power, and sovereignty.

God used Hannah’s problem to bring praise to Him, pleasure to Hannah, and a prophet to Israel.

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I have the same question as Gideon when God’s messenger said to him, “The Lord is with you”: “O my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.” (Judges 6:12,13) The prophet Habakkuk feels a sense of desperation as he surveys the landscape of difficulty before him. He pleads, “LORD, I have heard the report about You and I fear, O LORD, revive Your work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.” (3:1-2) And Ethan the Ezrahite asks, How long, O LordWill You hide Yourself forever? Will Your wrath burn like fire?” (Psalm 89:46) And he questions, too, Where are Your former lovingkindnesses, O Lord, which You swore to David in Your faithfulness?” (v.49) The sons of Korah, a designated group of Levites for praising God, wrote, O God, we have heard with our ears, our fathers have told us the work that You did in their days, in the days of old.” (Psalm 44:1) But they are discouraged and ask, Why do You hide Your face and forget our affliction and our oppression?” (v.24)

Some of the questioning that people do may well be jeering unbelief that says, “prove it”, similar to “He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is the Christ of God, His Chosen One.” (Luke 23:35) For others it may be more like Gideon, who said to God, “Do not let Your anger burn against me that I may speak once more; please let me make a test once more with the fleece, let it now be dry only on the fleece, and let there be dew on all the ground. God did so that night; for it was dry only on the fleece, and dew was on all the ground.” (Judges 6:39-40). 

There is a decided difference between these two types of questioning, for The Lord will not allow the righteous to hunger, but He will reject the craving of the wicked.” (Proverbs 10:3) I believe that the verse refers to both physical and spiritual hunger. God will help those with doubts who really want to believe. In Mark 9:14-29, Jesus heals a boy possessed by a demon. He is clearly frustrated by the crowds unbelief (v.19), but shows patience with the struggling father whose belief is faltering: “But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us! And Jesus said to him, “‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe; help my unbelief.”” (v.22-24) Jesus casts out the demon and raises the son.

So, what do we do with the times when we need direction, help, or rescue, but God seems not to show. Were His works only in the past as stated and implied by the prophets I quoted above? A somewhat frequent saying I hear among Christians is “God has to show up” or “God showed up.” I understand the sentiment in these statements, which is similar to the questions of the prophets, but it is not as though God is not continuously present.

And so Samuel places an Ebenezer; Joshua erects a monument; the half tribes of Manasseh and Reuben erect a facsimile altar. Others like Laban put up monuments for self-protection or like Absalom for self-aggrandizement, but properly intentioned markers are good to reduce spiritual forgetfulness and faltering faith. It seems as though we modern believers should have much less need for markers, because we have the completed Word of God to strengthen us. We also have far more distractions and false voices. Perhaps rather than a stone edifice,  each time we see God work, we could hang a representative picture on the wall or have a book of remembrances we could pass down to our children that reminds us of God’s faithfulness. Maybe this blog is my attempt to remind myself, my readers, and one day my descendants that our Creator and Savior is He who rescues and sustains and directs even when the path seems winding, dark, and without destination.

And God seems to like markers, too:

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.’” Revelation 2:17

“you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” I Peter 2:5

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“Happy Birthday to my first love, America,” the Facebook newsfeed read. Given the picture of the young man sitting in front of an American flag and it appearing on July 4th, there was context for the content. Still it sent a shiver up my spine.

Among countries, my first love. Among homelands, my first love. Sure. But just “my first love, America?” Where is the sense of priority? How about God and country, or even better, God, family, and country?

Politics and patriotism are not the solutions to our problems. Helping our fellowman and giving sacrificially are not the solutions to our problems. Raw moral courage and consistency are not the solutions to our problems. Environmental awareness and action are not the solutions to our problems. They are part of the solution, but America, in great pride and ungodliness, has cast God aside.

It is as in the time of Jeremiah: “For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, The fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” (2:13) Once this was a nation called to be a “city upon a hill” (Puritan John Winthrop, 1630), and declared to be “great because she is good.”, but the time has come for the rest of that quote to be fulfilled: “If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” (summation of Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America”) Now I know that the naysayers out there will say that she never was good, and there is some truth to that (broken treaties, persecutions, immoral cities, environment abusing, etc), but there was a seeking after God and a general acknowledgement of God and His moral code, and many good things that were done, and God’s blessing upon us.

But the gig is up! Repent, America, before the judgment comes. It is determined and it will not delay if we continue to go on heedlessly. Now is the time to turn and plead with God for mercy, before He says no more and your future is sealed. Some will say, but God is always forgiving, how can you say that He will not forgive. Yes, He is, and He is also just and He hardens those who continue to refuse Him. Perhaps the atheists, agnostics, and amoralists will ignore me, but what of the church goers and spiritual crowd who claim a knowledge of God, but refuse to submit to the clear call of the Gospel and the simple moral absolutes of His Law. Repent or we are doomed.

Do you want to show allegiance to America on this 4th of July. Order your allegiance to God, Our Creator and Savior. Quit making excuses that you will take care of it later (which you probably won’t have), or it’s none of my business (more than that, my responsibility to declare the truth), or you have my own beliefs about God (not according to His Holy Word), or I don’t hurt anybody (but you offend God by keeping Him at arm’s length and sleep with your girlfriend as if that is OK since it is consensual), or I see no evidence that God exists (though the heavens declare His glory and all Creation points to His power and wisdom), or I’ve always been a good person and help everyone that I can (but refuse to turn to God in Jesus to rescue you from your coveting what belongs to others and disrespecting your parents and elders and those in authority).

God have mercy on us, as Thomas Jefferson said, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that His justice cannot sleep forever.”

God is merciful, and because He has still given us freedom, albeit dwindling, we have opportunity to turn to Him. Jesus, “He Himself  bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” (I Peter 2:24)  Don’t think that you can make it in your own goodness or by another way for “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

And what does this have to do with the 4th of July? Our very survival as a country and a culture is dependent upon us turning back to God. Most of you likely to read this are my friends, many of whom agree with what I have said, though perhaps some of you think I should soften the delivery (to which I reply, “We are way too far down the road for tender pleading.”), but I plead with you to share this with others who may be in danger of ignoring the need to turn away from their wickedness to God.

I love my country; I love my family more, but my first love is and must be my God, my Savior, to whom all allegiance is due.

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I hugely enjoy fellowshipping in other churches on the rare occasions that I travel. This Memorial Day weekend was just one of those times. I am encouraged by God’s universal church worshipping God and the teaching of God’s Word, interpreted by the same Holy Spirit, sounding forth. God is at work in many and various places to accomplish His work, and God’s people are seeking Him.

Visiting a small church called “Grace…” [only part of the name I could remember, or needed to know] in New Port Richey, Florida, the pastor’s son-in-law, who is a policeman, preached on trials from James 1:1-12. Following are a few paraphrases of his words on purpose and perspective in the midst of trials:

“We don’t have it in us to have joy” [deep, light-hearted confidence]; it comes from the Holy Spirit within us enabling us to “delight in the

       1) person of God,    

       2) the purpose of God, and

       3) the people of God.”

“Our life purpose is to portray the superiority of God in our lives”, giving glory to God.

The purpose of our trials is to glorify God by our winning when it looks like we are losing [because of trials].

Trials test our faith: pop quiz:

1) “Do you believe God is in control?”

2) “Do you believe God is good?”

3 “Are you willing to wait on God’s perfect timing in every area of your

    life?”

The endurance or steadfastness referred to in verse three means to ‘remain under’. Trials are a stress, a pressure, an uncomfortable force in our lives. ‘Everything God wants to do in our lives and use to bless us comes through us remaining under God’s control’ in the midst of trials.

This spattering of my sermon notes does not convey the full weight of the sermon, but it does give you pieces of wisdom that I think are worth reading over several times. Trials are for believers to test and strengthen their faith and give glory to God. We are not spared trials because they are what are best for us and give the most glory to God. May His name be praised in all that I do.

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