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Archive for the ‘God Thoughts’ Category

It has been a good week, a busy week, but somehow not a good busy, at least from the perspective of getting as much done as I would have liked. When these things happen, one needs to consider what has gotten done. I was surprised to recollect that many of the things accomplished were of a more eternal nature, and therefore a greater good than what I thought I wanted to accomplish. You know what I mean?

Well, last Sunday the preacher was still preaching in Philippians 1. There is so much there, and he is in no hurry. As he was filling out the dual themes of humility and unity in Paul’s pleas to the Philippi church, and indeed in Scripture at large, I was trying to come to a conclusion as to how to put it all into a simple, concise form for my little brain, sort of an applicational nugget for future reference. My mind thinks in diagrams, or flowcharts as I like to call them. Following is my condensed version of all that he said. Simplification has its multiple dangers, not least of which is over-simplification. And furthermore, my diagrams, though I believe true, are not exhaustive nor universally applicable. For example, in the following diagram, gratitude can certainly be gotten at from differing circumstances and thought patterns, as may most everything in the flowchart. These disclaimers having been said, check this out and compare it to Philippians 1, especially verses 27 to 30:

*Philppians 1:27

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I have nearly completed an abridged version of John Owen’s book, “The Glory of Christ.” (1) The book lifts your gaze from the mundane and glitzy things of this Earth to a deeper vision of who Christ is in His humanity. Theologically I did not learn much but devotionally I was challenged to a new level of pursuit of God.

On page 33, Owens writes, “It is impossible that someone who never meditates with delight on the glory of Christ here in this world, who does not make every effort to behold it by faith as it is revealed in Scripture, should ever have any real gracious desire to behold it in heaven.”

This statement and similar ones jolted me. Though the statement above could be applied to all Christ is in His divinity and humanity, Owen spends most of his time talking about Jesus’ humanity. Why do I not meditate and revel in the glory of Christ’s humility, willing submission, lowliness of life, and cruel death. Why could I not? As I read these things I came to realize the problem was not in ignoring or undervaluing what He did for me. Rather, I did not understand these things to be glorious. Glory in Hebrew is Kabod, meaning “heavy”. So, God’s glory is heavy or substantial. We think of brightness and omnipotent and exalted and incessantly praised and sovereign. These things come to mind when I think of the glory of God. Here Owens was urging me to see poverty, humility, and submission to death as glorious. Considering His willingness, facility, and power in carrying them out, indeed, they are glorious. I was pushed to consider them in a different way.

In consideration of my need for a mindset shift about how I considered Christ’s glory, I wrote the following poem:

Glory in lowliness
Who would have thought?
Supreme humility
Salvation brought

Glory seen in brightness
I would have thought
But here He was in flesh
No fanfare sought

Glory means weightiness
Substantial thought
Yet His work as Savior
Our poor souls bought

Glory submissiveness
Opposing thought?
But here He was dying
Salvation wrought

Glory in humbleness
Meek in all thought
His pattern and decree
While here He taught

Glory of God’s likeness
Oh blessed thought
In all He is and did
Him we exalt

  1. “The Glory of Christ” by John Owen, abridged and made easy to read by R.J.K. Law, first published 1684, abridged edition 1994, reprinted 2018, Puritan Paperbacks. (Not a very proper bibliography, but more than enough to find it online.)

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The radio preacher reminded me that thanksgiving is not just a privilege but a command. As 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” I reflected on how much and how well that I thank God. Though I sometimes do more and frequently when singing hymns, I too often reduce my thanksgiving down to a quick prayer before a meal along the lines of “Thank You for this food and for this day.” In itself there is nothing wrong with the phrase, but it is trivial when repeated. Given all that God has given me, it is a wholly incomplete thought. So, I began to write a poem. As a few verses came, I then realized that it would be hard to say that this poem was ever really at an end. His gifts and goodness are infinite, and I could never thank Him for all that He is and all that He has done. That’s OK. I can start and continue and perhaps I have covered a few categories.

Thank You for this food and for this day
For all provisions along the way
Thank You for Your presence all the time
For Your wondrous attributes sublime

Thank You for this recent year gone by
For blessings, for trials that make us sigh
Thank You, too, for many times of rest
For faith, strength, and refuge in each test

Thank You for true fellowship in church
For prayers and good help when in a lurch
Thank You for the Word preached unashamed
For witnesses of fame and unnamed

Thank You for purpose and work to do
For times to say and live what is true
Thank You for Your Word to contemplate
For times to retreat and recreate

Thank You for those to love and be loved
For people to reach who are unloved
Thank You for the Gospel that saved me
For the blood of Christ that set me free

Thank You for beauty in all You’ve made
For Your glory that will never fade
Thank You for this world’s wondrous design
For Your knowledge and power divine

Thank You for heaven we will enjoy
For no more sin our peace to destroy
Thank You for eternity with You
For no more sorrow and all things new

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Perhaps it is a funny name for a poem before Christmas, but I do not mean chronologically beyond Christmas but rather conceptually beyond Christmas. The baby in the manger is a good historical reality and symbol for the humility of the divine Son of God, but it is only the beginning and by no means to the focus of His coming. As a lady reflected to me the other day, “We should always connect Christmas to Easter.”* For that matter I would add, we should connect First Advent to Second (judgment and heaven), and to Passover (the Cross), and to Resurrection. It is important and essential that we know and believe Jesus is fully God and fully man, as the Christmas story conveys, and why that is important in God’s salvation plan.

It has been quite some time since I have written a poem for Christmas. If you want to read my last ones, click on “Advent Colors” and “Tabernacled Among Us“, and then click on “The Fullness of the Empty” for a short commentary that explains much of what is intended to be conveyed in the following poem.

Just a little note to say
That we remember the day
Christ came to Earth as a man
To fulfill God’s saving plan

In the manger there He lay
All for us our sins to pay
Lived a life utterly pure
By His death made us secure

Exalted divinity
In fragile humanity
Perfect substitute we trust
By faith we can and we must

As man could die in our place
As God rescue Adam’s race
The little babe of Bethlehem
Came here sin and death to stem

The first noel angels sang
From David a Savior sprang
Peace and joy to Earth He’ll bring
With hope the ransomed will sing

Gold a present for the King
He has come, let the bells ring
Speaks of glory of divine
Never tarnish, always shine

Frankincense, means for the Priest
To please God well for us least
Our sins are gone, we rejoice
Loudly give our praise voice

Myrrh encases the Savior
Who died for our behavior
Symbol of a true wonder
Death could not hold Him under

Unto us a Son given
With death and hell has striven
Next time He will rule outright
With one word put foes to flight

Merry Christmas and a new year of knowing God better and following Him more closely.

*I am quoting, but I no longer use that term. I prefer Resurrection Day and I regularly use the term First Advent.

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I Peter 1:3-9: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.”

The bold type I added to point out that the best reason to rejoice is contained in this passage. For those of you who believe in and follow Christ as your Savior and Lord, your faith brings with it an assurance of being one day in heaven in the presence of God. A joy inexpressible is one that wells up despite the circumstances and beyond ability to explain. It is full of the glory we see in Christ, both for who He is and what He has done.

Paul gets a bit redundant when he is talking about the security of our home in heaven. He says our inheritance is imperishable, will not fade away, reserved, protected by the power of God. “In this” refers to what? The “this” is the soon to be revealed inheritance of heaven, most notably the presence of God. For though we do not see Him now, we are among the “pure in heart”, who “shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8) By no merit of my own, but only by His free, sovereign grace am I afforded in heaven a place.

Heaven is mine, I will rejoice
To thanksgiving and praise give voice

Believe the truth and love God’s Son
Salvation eternally done

Focus my mind on things above
Nurture, rekindle my first love

And when trials come, I will rejoice
For heaven is mine by His choice

Persevere will I by His strength
And rejoice in heaven at length

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Some of my deepest moments of awe come when I consider the contrast between who I am and who God is. In all of His nature and all of His ways He is wholly other and above me. And then to think that His mercy is so gracious toward me. Lean into the contrast and be in awe of God and His marvelous mercy and great grace.

God is transcendent, we are not so
Yet he condescends to us below

High and exalted; humble and low
Not to be faulted, if You cared not so

Holy and righteous; sinful condemned
Grace most amazing toward those who sinned

Having all knowledge; foolish unwise
Imparting truth, discerning all lies

Glory and honor; guilty with shame
Growing in blessing, glory and fame

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Pastor continued his exposition of Philippians today. He explained with references that the dual themes of the book are joy and humility. Paul presents himself as a bondservant, equal to Timothy, and the Philippians as saints, that is, sanctified slaves. The scriptural bondservant or slave is not a compelled or degraded slave of our understanding, but a voluntary servant to a great and glorious master who makes us kings and priests.

I heard the whole sermon, but I had a moment of mental wondering when he said the following: “I am content to be a third-row galley slave pushing the kingdom of God forward. I am not the captain of the ship.”

My mind went immediately to the scene in the movie, “Ben Hur”, in which Judah Ben-Hur (Charleton Heston) is being punished unjustly by being a Roman galley slave. The general admires him and has his chains undone before the battle begins. Judah in his mid-ship starboard placement rows defiantly with anger. Later, when the ship is sunk by a portside ramming, he rescues the drowning but victorious general to be adopted as his son and victorious companion in the parade before the emperor in Rome.

All of this flashed through my mind but is not where my focus alighted. The pastor was talking about humility that is not recognized, not angry pride that is rewarded. I visualized a third-row port-side galley slave rowing for all he is worth going down with the ship. Am I willing to stay in my voluntary bonds to further the kingdom of God when this ship called America goes down? Oh, yes, I will receive reward in heaven, but I may never see any praise or reward or even the results of my efforts on this side of heaven. One day soon persecution is coming and the cause of Christ will be a punishable crime, even a capital offense. How many will stay at their post and keep rowing then? Who among us will continue “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.”? (Hebrews 12:2) And who among us will “consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (v.3)? Will we be able to continue to the point of shedding blood though we “have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin.”? (v.4) God is so very gracious to call his bondservants to do hard things but with abundant reward with joy now and into eternity. “Therefore, we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18) Let us focus on these things, brothers and sisters. Unbelievers seek this path of salvation, purpose, and reward “while it is said, “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts, as when they provoked Me.”” (Hebrews 3:15) Repent, believe, and serve our great and glorious Master, Jesus Christ.

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I have over the years used and shared a metaphor for God’s dealing with me and directing me. For many years I traveled a curvy, steep, two-lane road over the mountains to get to healthcare and hiking and climbing destinations. I have traveled it alone, with my family, with my wife, or with friends in all conditions: snow, blazing heat, intense storm, beautiful Autumn days, full bloom of Spring, wildlife crossing the road, semi’s and cars and motorcycles (1) wrecked, and fog.

This metaphor, I believe, first began to form in my mind when talking to my former landlord about traveling this stretch of pavement. He was a telephone lineman for many years until his retirement. He once told me that he had seen fog so thick on that stretch of road that he actually walked beside his truck with hand on the steering wheel looking down to see the white stripes on the pavement in order to make progress. He was not given to exaggeration or metaphor, but regardless, the image in my mind directed me toward how I would feel many times subsequent in the midst of trying to move from one point to another in my life. As the old hymn says, “God Leads His Dear Children Along” (2), sometimes in the clear blue, sometimes in the dark, and sometimes through deep fog. He makes use of the conditions of our circumstances He has allowed or created for His glory and our good. More specifically, He may be about encouraging our souls in the crisp, new morning or slowing us down to follow closely in the fog. We may only be able to see one dashed line ahead of us on our life’s road, which causes us to pay attention and pray constantly. I have felt as though He has closed in the fog so near at times that I could only see the next step in front of me, and that light only a moment before I took the step. Perhaps He knew I would run ahead and miss the path if given more light, or perhaps He was training me to follow closely, trusting only Him.

As I have shared and contemplated this metaphor, one little detail has not satisfied me. It seems to be a mixed metaphor with vehicle and dashed lines on the one hand and footsteps and path on the other. I may tell someone the fog on the mountain story only to finish with the footsteps along the path. Musing on this discrepancy a few days ago, a more pointed application illumined my understanding. Sometimes I may go at a pace of a car in the fog and others I must pick each step one at a time, not knowing what precipice I may be traversing (3). God chooses the pace by the depth and duration of the fog and roughness of the path. The weather is not the point; following patiently and circumspectly without either running ahead or falling behind is. I long for some clear days, but I cherish the quiet intimacy of the fog.

  1. Not having gained the fame of “The Dragon”, it is nonetheless a draw for motorcyclists who like the challenge of the curvy highlighted by exceptional scenery: NC181.
  2. Colored, underlined script are links, in case you didn’t know. I am reminding myself as I tell you that I should write a blog entry about the circumstances in which I learned and sang that hymn over the years. God is good to direct.
  3. Having read the Chronicles of Narnia to my granddaughter recently, this idea reminds me of the scene when Lucy had seen Aslan in the woods near the precipice’s edge, pleading with his eyes to follow her. Her siblings, save Edmund, and the dwarf voted her down. When their choice failed, Aslan graciously appeared again, and they followed through the dark down a narrow path between cliffs to its base. At the bottom when the sun arose and the fog cleared, one of the siblings, I believe it may have been Edmund, remarked how amazing it was they navigated safely down the path. But, of course, they did, Aslan was leading.

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David (e.g. Psalm 144:1) and several of the prophets (e.g. Isaiah 1:4) and patriarchs (e.g. Genesis 22:14), even Hagar (Genesis 16:13), gave names to God for who He is and what He had done for them. I don’t know if it is appropriate for me to do that since I am not a Spirit-inspired writer of Scripture, the canon being complete.

I have been contemplating recently how God should be Lord of every area of my life, the public and private, the work and leisure, the thoughts and actions, all of it. It is so easy to then proceed in mind to all the things I have to be and do. But I am wholly incapable of the big and the small, the short and long term, the internal or external. I need Him for it all. He must be my all in all. To me He is Lord Ubiquitous. He is not merely omnipresent, but present and enabling in every area of my life according to His desire and for His glory. His power to do right is present in every challenge, temptation, joy, provision, even failure, and certainly forgiveness. As a Spirit-indwelt son of My Father I only need to obey, looking to Him in each situation. Oh Lord, keep me from neglect and rebellion of You. Enable me to trust rather than fear.

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GPS is recognized as the acronym for Global Positioning System, an amazing gridwork of 31 functioning satellites that allow very accurate position and time information for anyone with a receiver.

gps is a new acronym I have been thinking about that orients the user to true evaluation of the source of good. gps stands for gracious providential serendipity. Grace is unmerited favor, or as I like to say, “getting what you don’t deserve”, compared to mercy, which is “not getting what you do deserve.” Providence is divine guidance and provision. Serendipity is “the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for” (1) So, unmerited guidance or provision in an area unsought for is gps. God knows our need and desire and frequently graciously provides for us apart from our knowledge.

Several times recently I have been in utter need of knowledge and discernment regarding what I was doing. I prayed for clear answers. In the sense of seeking an answer, the guidance was definitely sought for, but the answer was several times surprising in content, delivery, and source. God is indeed gracious; He is sovereign; He has all knowledge and all power. I am constantly in need of His guidance but especially cognizant at the moment of that fact with significant decisions on the near horizon. I need some good gps signals.

  1. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/serendipity

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One sunny day not long ago I was resting and reading for a short period of time. After I completed the passage, a deep essay on theology, I looked up and called my wife’s name. The house sounded empty. I cruised through the rooms and she was not to be found. Then I looked out the window and there she was wandering around in the yard with her head down. I went out and made a comment about the beautiful day and asked her what she was doing. She raised up a hand grasping small flowers, most people would call weeds, and said, “They cover the yard, and they are so beautiful.” She had three different flowers. I began the search, and we found seven different types of flowers, some hardly as big as the head of a pin, but covering the yard with blues, yellows, violets, and wee little whites. All the detail for male and female flower parts and nectar production and beautiful little petals. How much of God’s beauty goes unnoticed because we are looking but not perceiving, looking inward and not around us, looking to find fault rather than encouragement, or looking to show off rather than being shown to? So small, frequently unnoticed, but declaring God’s glory anyway, quietly turning heavenward.

Many years ago I watched a program about the exploration and mapping of the cave Lechuguilla that is in Carlsbad Caverns National Park. At the very back of the cave is a room with intricate gypsum stalactites, one 20 feet long. The majority of the cave was not discovered until 1986 when cavers broke through an extensive breakdown blocking the main passage. The Cave of the Crystals in northern Mexico features selenite crystals up to 37 feet long and 4 feet in diameter. The conditions are harsh in terms of temperature, humidity, and vaporous sulfuric acid. The cave was discovered in 2000 by two miners after extensive pumping cleared the room of water.

Many other examples of once hidden beauties and wonders could be paraded before you, but these several examples demonstrate to me that God has many hidden beauties in His Creation, quietly giving glory to Him, and how many may never be discovered? Secondly, I believe it gives new meaning to why we explore at all. We don’t just climb a mountain because it is there, we seek something, something wonderful or beautiful or hidden. Our desire to discover and explore reveals God’s glory. Many explorers and exploration societies give glory to the explorers or the less than scientific explanations of what is found, but pieces of God’s character in power and design and goodness and wisdom are revealed in what we find. That is a worthy reason to explore and discover, reveal and describe.

The seventh type of flower is hidden around back and several are facing away, but they decorated our window sill for few days.

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I found the following reflection from 2011 that I never published. It still the way my wife and I do life.

One of the choices our family has made over the years is to live materially conservative lives. Obviously, if a family has financial limitations then their life must be lived frugally to maintain stability. That has been our allotment for which we are thankful to God. As I have said in times past, “Though we don’t always know how, the bills are always paid.” However, it is possible even within this forced frugality framework to choose convenience overr conservation. For instance, three of our babies wore exclusively cloth diapers and the fourth wore them until continuous diaper rash persuaded us otherwise. It began as a clear way to save money but continued as a mindset on how to conserve resources.

          Another attempt at conserving resources is the compost pile. We began our marriage with two gardens and continued maintaining one for most of our first fifteen years of marriage. We miss our gardens but our present plot is very poorly drained with very heavy soil that doesn’t grow garden vegetables well. But even now without a garden we deliver our ‘wet’ garbage to a covered compost bin that is about 3’ x 5’ x 2 ½ ‘ high. The compost pile helps return nutrients to the ground, reduces the number of times a month trash must be delivered by the rural resident to the dump, and reduces the amount of landfill usage.

          For me personally the compost has had another benefit. Though life is busy and I send one of the children out or my wife frequently took it out in times past, I actually enjoy taking out the small bucket full of scraps. In winter I most often carry it out after dark in anything but the hardest rain and never minding the cold. The smell of the air may suggest a coming snow or rain. The wind chills the nose and ears and shoulders and tells of fast changes to warmer or colder. But the best times are the clear, quiet cold nights when the stars are at full brightness. That is a time to reflect on the celestial light peering down through the bare twigs onto the detrital refuse of Earth below, and everything in between- a quiet moment to consider God and His most excellent Creation.

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As I listened to the pastor preaching on the parable of the Lamp in Luke 8, my heart was stirred to further consider the truths of the passage. In the Gospels, Jesus is constantly urging His listeners to hear Him or else affirming the value of doing so. Following are two examples where He does the latter, revealing the relationship to God and blessing that comes from listening to His Word.

“But He answered and said to them, “My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it.” Luke 8:21

“But He said, “On the contrary, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.” Luke 11:28

What does Jesus mean by hearing? Certainly He does not mean merely receiving vibrations of air into one’s ears or even registering their reception or even focus on the communication. Jesus warns against this type of hearing in the preceding parable in Luke 8. “His disciples began questioning Him as to what this parable meant. And He said, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, ‘so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand. [Isaiah 6:9]'”” (Luke 8:9-10) Jesus is defining ‘hearing’ as understanding and acting on what you understand. In the continuation of Isaiah call in chapter 6 of that book, God continues with what Jesus has quoted above (v.10):

“Render the hearts of this people insensitive,
Their ears dull, and their eyes dim,
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
Hear with their ears,
Understand with their hearts,
And return and be healed.”

‘Return’ is an action of faith. Jesus makes a hard connection between hearing and heeding in the Word, His Word, God’s Word. You “hear…and do it” (Luke 8:21) and you “hear… and observe it.” (Luke 11:28) When you hear and heed, then you will highlight the goodness and power of God to change your life. You will be His “mother” and “brother” and “by this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) In John 15:7-9, Jesus calls this hearing, heeding “abid[ing”, which then results in highlighting the Father (glorified by this”) by “bear[ing] much fruit”.

Of course, this brings much blessing (Proverbs 4:4, John 14:21) to the one who truly hears, faithfully heeds, and graciously highlights the goodness of God.

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Partial obedience precipitates lasting consequences.

Do you remember Saul’s debacle with Amalek (1)? In First Samuel 15:1-3 the Lord spoke to Saul through His prophet: “Then Samuel said to Saul, “The Lord sent me to anoint you as king over His people, over Israel; now therefore, listen to the words of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he set himself against him on the way while he was coming up from Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’”

He did not kill all the people of Amalek nor their livestock. It came back to haunt him and all Israel.

My pastor was teaching from I Samuel 30 and 31. Amalekites burned Ziklag and took David’s and his men’s possessions and women and children. David attempted to kill every Amalekite (2), for it says he fought from twilight until dusk of the next day. But 400 young men escaped on camels. Now there must have been at least some Amalek women and children at home and other men, too, but this band of young men could certainly repopulate Amalek in time.

Then comes I Samuel 31 and II Samuel 1. Saul and Jonathan are killed in battle by horrible means and their bodies hung from the walls of Beth-shan. When a messenger tells David what has happened, David has him cut down for killing God’s Anointed, Saul (3). The messenger, euthanizer was an Amalekite. So, Saul’s failure to fully obey God in the beginning came back to cause him problem in the end.

And the difficulty did not end there. One Amalekite, Haman the Agagite (4) set out to destroy all Jews in the time of Esther. His designs were foiled by Mordecai and Esther (Esther 9), but he came close to succeeding.

Partial obedience seems like full obedience to the half-hearted disciple. This word is hard. Sinner that I am, I have been there working my half-hearted obedience. And God says, “Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He has also rejected you from being king.” (I Samuel 15:22-23) Oh, God give me a whole heart like David’s, so that I may be as him, a man after God’s heart. (Acts 13:22)

  1. Amalek was the grandson of Esau, so Amalekites were Edomites. (I Chronicles 1:36)
  2. Amalek was stubborn in resistance to God and His people. God hardened their hearts and, “Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this in a book as a memorial and recite it to Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” Moses built an altar and named it The Lord is My Banner; and he said, “The Lord has sworn; the Lord will have war against Amalek from generation to generation.”” (Exodus 17:14-16) When Balaam prophesied the final time before Balak, he repeated the idea of Moses’ prophecy, “And he looked at Amalek and took up his discourse and said, “Amalek was the first of the nations, but his end shall be destruction.”” (Numbers 24:20)
  3. Neither the Philistines’ arrows nor Saul’s own sword, but the Amalekite at Saul’s request killed him.
  4. Agagites were descendants of Agag, king of Amalek, at the time of Samuel and Saul. Saul foolishly spared him but Samuel cut him down. (I Samuel 15:8,33)

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My pastor’s teaching is sound biblically and practical. He was teaching from Philippians 4:20-23: “Now to our God and Father be the glory forever and ever. Amen. Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” Packed into these closing words are a doxology, a greeting, and a benediction. He pointed out that we should make use of these words to affect how we live in the following ways. The doxology focuses us to “live for God’s glory”. The greeting encourages us to “love people”, especially the saints. The benediction blesses us to “remember the grace of Christ.” He encouraged us to pray these three things before we arise in the morning. Now I had thought at the time that this was good instruction but that the third word, “remember”, was weak. This morning upon rising I was looking for a different word or phrase. In synch with preacher language I decided upon “lay hold of the grace of Christ.” I think that I thought to pray when I awoke because he asked what we should pray before we arose. In my then present frame of mind, I suggested “In the difficulties of this day…” So, I composed my thoughts before God and hope that He will work these truths into my life this day and for many to come:

“Dear Lord, in the midst of today’s joys and difficulties, help me to live for Your glory, love people, and lay hold of the grace of Christ.”

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Jesus said, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” (John 17:17)

Reading in the Proverbs lately, the sanctifying role of God’s Word to bring understanding and wisdom has captured my notice.

The confused understand; the despondent move toward hope; the fearful find security; the naive accept knowledge; the conflicted settle into peace; the foolish walk in wisdom; the sad perk up with joy; the timid boldly tell of the Savior; the persecuted receive comfort; the sinners dodge wrath and bask in blessing; the righteous are clothed in discernment and eternal riches.

Our God through communicating to man imparts life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; The Lord gives grace and glory; No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.” (Psalm 84:11) “I wait for the Lord, my sol does wait, and in His word do I hope.” (Psalm 130:5)

May you discover more of His grace and glory, and may His blessing overtake you in His light and protection that surround you, as you seek to walk uprightly before Him in 2022.

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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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“’For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord.” Isaiah 55:8

Consequently, don’t be surprised when God accomplishes His will in what seems like to you a totally novel and unexpected way. Consider the following description of what God accomplished through Paul:

“Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear. Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice.” Philippians 1:12-18

So, you see, a seeming hindrance to the Gospel God used as an advancement of the Gospel. And Paul “want[s] them to know” (v.12), not because He is bragging, but always because he wants them to be encouraged about God’s glory in His character and works (provision, guidance, enabling, etc). The result for the hearers would be faith rather than fear.

Paul’s “circumstances turned out” (v.12) is not an admission of fortune (luck) or coincidence but a declaration of providence, which is “divine guidance or care” (Merriam-Webster). God carries out what He designs to do according to His Word (Isaiah 55:8-11) and for His people: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

The enemies of God tried to silence Paul by false accusations concerning desecrating the temple by bring Gentiles inside and inciting riots (Acts 24:5-9: Tertullus before Felix). The result for Paul when he wrote Philippians was house arrest in Rome for two years, always chained to a Roman soldier. The result that God brought about for the Gospel and the people of God was two-fold. Firstly, Paul had a captive audience with the chained soldiers and others who could come and go. This situation exposed the Praetorian Guard assigned to guard him and Caesar’s household (Philippians 4:22) to the Gospel which may not have happened otherwise. Secondly, believers who heard of God’s protection of Paul, Paul’s boldness, and people being saved, were encouraged and emboldened to share the Gospel in the face of difficulty. Paul later said in 2 Timothy 2:8-9, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel, for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal; but the word of God is not imprisoned.” The Gospel cannot be stopped, even if Christians are silenced, imprisoned, or killed.

We think that God saves in a certain way, but He is sovereign in salvation and may accomplish an individual’s salvation by many, varied, and frequently unexpected means. “Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife” (v.15). What these people meant as a distressing situation for Paul, he instead saw as assistance in spreading the Gospel. It reminds me of the Proverbs: “The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.” (16:1), “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” (16:9), and “Many plans are in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the Lord will stand.” (19:21) God’s counsel overcomes men’s plans in order to accomplish His will. Jesus confirmed a similar situation to His disciples: “John answered and said, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name; and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow along with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not hinder him; for he who is not against you is for you.” Even the best of preaching is a form of foolishness for Paul says, “ For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” (I Corinthians 1:21) That does not mean that well-studied, well-intentioned, and well-delivered preaching of the Gospel is not valuable and not used of God, but only that man’s best is far short of God’s glory.

I glean two encouragements from this passage: 1) Even when everything seems to not go well and even appears to be a failure, God is not hindered from accomplishing His purposes, and 2) I am humbled because God is gracious to use me and pleased when I obey, but He does not need me and my best efforts do not impress Him.

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