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Archive for the ‘Grace’ Category

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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I read the book of Titus recently and came away reflecting on the contrasts of our sinful past, our God altered present, and our glory bound future. Paul speaks some ugly things about Cretans, but makes it clear that all we sinners share the same ground. The difference for believers is that Christ, “to rescue me from danger, interposed His precious blood.”* Paul wanted Titus to silence the “empty talkers” and “liars” who “deny Him”, so that they will not “upset whole families” on the one hand, and “be sound in the faith” on the other. This reminds me that we must stop soft peddling the Gospel because it is not true to God or His Word and because sinners need to hear the truth of the desperation of their condition in order to be saved. The following poem came slowly with much labor, but I think the result communicates the essence of the passage (Titus 1:10-16, 2:11-14).

Lazy and rebellious
You know the kind
Hateful and pugnacious
A good one hard to find

Foolish, godless, enslaved
And such were we
Deceivers and deceived
Who truth refuse to see

Defiled, unbelieving
Claim to know God
Worthless for well-doing
Perverse things get the nod

God’s grace has now appeared
Salvation come
Ungodliness denied
We more righteous become

For blessed hope looking
Glory of Christ
Savior and God stooping
His redemption sufficed

From every lawless deed
To purify
For Himself His own breed
Ardent good works thereby

*from the hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”

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Blue Ridge Parkway Milestone

I enjoy the occasional foray into the realm of etymology. Word origin provides insight into the many and varied meanings and connotations of words and metaphors. There is a humorous twist on the origin of the terms mile and milestone. I assumed that since mile is a thoroughly English measurement of distance that the word, though perhaps not the concept, came from bloody ole England. Afterall, the U.S. is the only major country in the world to still be using the English system. But no, when traced back, mile comes from the Latin mil, or one thousand, which is quite base ten, or metric. Milestones then were stone markers called mille passus, meaning one thousand paces (1), along Roman roads. They were first placed every one thousand steps along the Apian Way out of Rome. Even then they would not have actually paced off the distance, but would have used a standard chain or rope length, the stade (eight stades to a mile). (2)

Etymology was only a small part of why I’m writing this blog entry, but it is fascinating. Metaphorically, milestones are visual, emotional, mental, or group markers for significant events or changes. Milestones typically include salvation, graduations from educational institutions, marriage, arrival of children, job changes or promotions, retirement, lifestyle changes, or significant personal goals reached like weight loss or the first marathon. The term can be overused, particularly in the business and education worlds it seems to me, and there is definitely a difference in significance levels from eternal to trivial. Nonetheless, the idea is solid and shows up in Scripture, even promoted by God (Joshua 4:1-7), and used by prophets (I Kings 18:31, I Samuel 7:10-12).

I have been privileged to have many profitable and enjoyable  milestones in my life, and a few significant ones of late. All five of my children are now married and I have just recently retired.

I passed a small milestone in blogging, which I only inadvertently realized while rereading a few blog entries. This very entry is my 500th blog entry. Having written in this blog since July of 2007, it is quite an accomplishment for me to have continued with only a few months in all of that time of not publishing at least one entry. In fact, the average number of blog entries per month over the that period of 13 years has been just over three entries. It causes me to muse upon why I would be so consistent for so long. The obvious answer is a love and a need of the this forum. I need an outlet for my thoughts and love this particular one that is potentially interactive (3). It gives me a voice, an influence, if ever so small, and a sense of not forgetting what experiences and insights God has so graciously given to me, that is, an online journal. It may hopefully be part of my intellectual inheritance to my children and grandchildren.

But a question arose in my mind: Would a milestone be a milestone if we were unaware of it? I don’t think that this is the existentialist argument about a tree falling in the forest (4), because we are talking about a metaphor for the perception rather than a physical mile marker. When I consider this idea, it reveals to me how dull and fickle our perceptions are. They are dull because we do not perceive significant events that have eternal consequences for good or for ill (John 3:7-8), and they are fickle in that we may see them as significant in one situation and for one group or person but not for another or not at another time. What revealing of missed opportunities and privileges may be ours when our lives are reviewed in eternity. I am thankful for God’s grace to test all things by fire and reveal those works which were by and for Him (I Corinthians 3:10-15, 21-13), for I will come forth as gold (Job 23:10).

So, I conclude this 500th mille passus of sorts with one further testimony to God’s goodness in my life. He has been and will be at work in my life to bring it to a good and completed conclusion (Philippians 1:6), not because I am deserving or always willing or cooperative or able, but because He is good and powerful and has attached me to His riches by His grace. To Him be all praise.

 

1) How our mile got to be such an odd number, 5280 feet, is more complicated, though the origin of the whole measurement seems to have been the Roman’s copying of the distance around a Greek stadium track for running events, and thus the unit stade.

2) I wonder if they had workers who held signs for travelers to avoid collisions in construction zones?

3) Oh, that it were more so, that I had to moderate multiple comments, questions, reprimands, and encouragements on each entry. Alas, life is busy.

4) If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it does it make a sound? Being a Christian and a student of Science but not an Existentialist, I would retort that of course it makes a sound. It vibrates air particles, following God’s physical laws.

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I am thankful to God for life and grace. Today I am 60 years old. I appreciate all of my friends who have said, “Happy Birthday”. I got to thinking. I am twice as old as one of my colleagues, four times as old as most of my students, six time older than the students of my Sunday School class, and about 9 to 42 times as old as my grandchildren, oh, and about 1/16th the age of Methuselah. I pray that God may sustain me for better service in the coming years that He has ordained for me than in the ones past. He is the one to whom I give glory and thanks for health, purpose, ministry, direction, freedom, family, knowledge, opportunity, possessions, and comforts. This life is short with joys and struggles. I came in with a snowstorm and have no idea how I may go out, but I best put away futility and enjoy what God has given me while I may, not is a lackadaisical way, but in diligent life and service with thanksgiving. For He is worthy and life is short. I want to choose joy and decisiveness and humility over worry and regret and need of self justification. May it be so.

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I’m not complaining to say the following about 2019. It has simply been a difficult year. Health, stress, strained relationships, loneliness, unfulfilled dreams and expectations, they have all been there. But God has been there, too, and He ordained, allowed, and prescribed the difficulty as well as directed, sustained, and provided in the midst of it. I am not here to say everything is alright now, but I am here to say God’s presence has been more obvious in the midst of the ongoing difficulties. Forgive the overuse of a single rhyme sound. After the first verse came, it became a challenge to continue with coherent, true, and heartfelt lines. Some people say don’t look back, but bracing for the next wave, as well as riding it, requires a steady foothold and keen balance based in knowing your source of propulsion and floatation.

Oh, my goodness, what a year!
Losing things I thought were dear
Trials and temptation to fear
Mundane difficulty drear

Oh, my God, Your presence near!
Comforting when every tear
And discouragement appear
Sparks of joy amidst unclear

Oh, my Comforter, and dear
My cries for help so sincere
Do not fall on a deaf ear
Do not meet with scoff or jeer

Oh, my Jesus, grace so clear
Wipes away my every tear
Makes the voice express my cheer
Pushes worries to the rear

Oh, my Lord, in this new year
Me not from Your path to veer
Own ordained influence sphere
Trials that witness to each peer

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If desperate times call for desperate measures, then tremendous provision calls for tremendous thanksgiving. Our youngest grandchild was born just over a year ago with heart problems. He had major heart surgery about 9 months later. Though small, he is now growing and happy with good skin color. It is amazing that he is alive and progressing. His father decided that in the light of God’s gracious provision of his child’s safety and health and the many people who showed concern, helped out, and prayed that a birthday party might not be enough. Instead, he decided to invite anyone who had been even distantly involved to come for a half day celebration of his son’s life and God’s goodness. 50 people responded that they would come. In the time my wife were able to be there, from 1-5:30 PM, the people came and went at a steady but reasonable pace for meet and greet. Good conversations, good food, and many stories of God’s goodness abounded.

After a year of multiple hospital stays, procedures, tests, and surgery, it is good to see the little man at home, content, and growing. God is good even when things are hard, but we celebrate His goodness when He is gracious to care for us with such largesse. His all sufficient grace is good and praiseworthy and full of joy.

In retrospect, I wish that I had taken pictures of the many people who came, but my few good pictures are of my own family gathered to encourage and give thanks. Also, notice that the little guy is almost always serious. He will go to anyone, probably because he is used to being held by nurses, but he takes a serious look at whoever picks him up.

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First Arrival Greeting

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Mama Talk

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Very Involved Sister

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A Few Moments Together

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Close Siblings (He smiles more often with his sister than any other time.)

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A Story and An Inquiry

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Intense Little Video (Uncle Time)

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With Uncle and Aunt

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With Those Swingin’ Uncles

Gift from a Pilot

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Odd picture: It must be blurred because I was shaky. Her face must be in focus because her movement matched my shakiness. That gives it a cool sense of motion.

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Healthy and Happy

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Mamaw Loves Those Grandchildren

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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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On the drive to church this morning,
I wrote the first verse of the following poem.
Hands free communication (as with a cellphone) disallowed me
to write it down, so the beginning of the second verse was lost
to me before I could write it down. But the direction in which
I was thinking remained for the rest of the poem to come this afternoon. God’s grace and goodness are so great, especially in contrast to our inability to comply to His commands and wishes.

So much wickedness in my heart
Made in God’s image, tarnished art
Frequent failings, falling away
To often straying from the way

Desire to follow ever grows
Distracted by pleasures and woes
Many small failings of the heart
Who will give me a brand new start?

Jesus only, beginning, end
Power to enable, transcend
All my failings and weakness
Distracted thoughts and selfishness

All by grace He has given me
From Him any good that you see
This fragile glass His strengths reveal
Demonstrates His goodness is real

One day my faulty service gone
Perfect obedience will dawn
In good time I will be steadfast
Then I will see God at long last

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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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I was out of town last week, so I hadn’t gotten the new Sunday School curriculum. I decided to piggyback off of the lesson my pastor had taught the children last week about God choosing David as king. What else did he choose David for? Prophet, Warrior, Psalmist. All of these are true but His choice of David as progenitor of an eternal dynasty  is most important.

Here is how it played out. I had the students do a Bible drill and read passages about 4 covenants of God. God made other covenants not mentioned here, most notably the Adamic and Noahic, but these four represent much of the focus of the Old and New Testament (i.e. Covenant) passages. The table and preliminaries don’t copy over quite the same as they appear on the student’s worksheet, but you get the idea:

Four Great Covenants of God

God chose _______________ to be _________, in place of ____________.

There are two points: 1) He was a man ___________________________ (Acts 13:22)

2) God desires from us ______________ and _______________ and _______________

(I Sam 15:22; I Cor. 1:27)

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From last week’s lesson, God chose David to be king, in place of Saul.

The two points of the previous lesson were 1) He [David] was a man after God’s own heart.  2) God desires from us obedience and humility and integrity.

Following is a picture of how I outlined the Covenants as the students read through them:

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I Need You

My Lord, I need you in so many ways
In this moment and all of my days
For You give me purpose and hope that stays
Help and direction when I pray

There is no other God besides You
All that You are, do and say is true
Why do we make idols and them pursue
When our glorious God is in view?

How so, you may ask, can we see Him?
With eyes of faith that are not dim
From what He’s made His unseen attributes
Through His Word and salvation He imputes

So I will ever serve this kind and mighty Lord
And seek to make Him known and His grace afford
Cling to Him when by difficulties floored
Follow after Him to blessings and reward

 

You need Him, too. You just may not know it at this time. I pray that you will come to serve Him. We all serve a master; there is no true autonomy. We either serve the devil and his world system resulting in death or we serve the God of heaven through His Son Jesus resulting in life. Plead with God to save you; He will. He is a kind and gentle Master.

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I wanted to write a song of praise to God about
how His character secures our hope of salvation.
Given the meter of 8.8.8.8 in each verse, which is long meter,
there should be a several good hymn tunes that would fit.
Following is a tune I have written for it.

To God Who Salvation Brings

To God who does create all things
His Chosen ones salvation brings
Be praise from all He made and reigns
From all He blesses and sustains

What God determines and intends
What He ordains and He begins
Cannot be altered, none condemns
Orders all things by His commands

And yet within God’s sovereign plan
Alters outcomes by prayers of man
Enlightens, directs, and protects
Encourages, instructs, corrects

All knowing and almighty He
As blessed saints secure are we
Goodness and grace toward us are pure
That prove to us His love is sure

When paths are steep and days are dim
Recall His Word and cling to Him
God’s promises will hold you fast
As they have helped saints in the past

In heaven when before the throne
We worship God, His goodness known
His power, wisdom, and His might
Have brought us to this wondrous sight

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A little confession time meant to show God’s goodness. I could have acquired my Sunday School lesson book in the five days since being home but other things, including a distracted mind, prevented me from making the one hour drive. So I desperately reached out to two of the pastors to tell me what the main passages were for the lesson. Both replied, one with the answer. So, I pray, study, go to bed a bit late. This morning as I am traveling to church, two other applicable Scriptures come to mind but I can’t remember where they are found. I charge into the church, asking the pastor for a concordance, look them up, and rush off to prayer. Even though I don’t advise this type of study and most usually don’t practice it, God was gracious to give me a very productive class in the logic of my presentation for young minds and the attentiveness of my class- they are such a joy.

The lesson was the Ten Commandments. We read Exodus 20:1-21, taking breaks along the way to to explain the commandments and God’s commentary on them. First of all was verse two. God gives the reason why we should heed these commandments: He is God, and He is the one who rescues. In fact, this is the reason for all law. Rule by law is ultimately based on fear (proper reverence) for the Law Giver, and there is only One. The breakdown of law comes when we reject the Law Giver, making all our laws relative, that is, non-absolute.

Next I pointed out that the first four laws are focussed toward God, and later that the next six laws are focussed toward your fellow humans. God’s person, name, and worship are to be reverenced. The day He set aside as the remembrance of His creation is to be observed (no excuses- notice the list to prevent loopholes). This passage, as my son points out, is the best one to refute Old-Earth Creationists. There is nothing symbolic or allegorized about the Ten Commandments, the Sabbath, or six literal days in this passage. To say otherwise makes a mockery of all of Scripture.

Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise)” (Ephesians 6:2) It is not simply obeying when young, but esteeming in speech and practice when grown. God blesses this attitude and action with long life.

Murder is not the same as killing since God requires killing when murder has been committed: “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man.” (Genesis 9:6)

Adultery is acting like married people do with each other. Since that is a protected relationship, God says, “No.”

Stealing, lying, and wanting things that are not yours are wrong.

God said all this with “thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking” (Exodus 20:18) to scare the people into reverencing Him and obeying Him.

(It didn’t work, as the golden calf demonstrated (Genesis 32), and as God knew it would not. Why, because that was not the purpose of the Law as evidenced by what Moses and Joshua said: “The Lord said to Moses, “Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers; and this people will arise and play the harlot with the strange gods of the land, into the midst of which they are going, and will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them.” (Deuteronomy 31:16) and “Joshua said to the people, “You will not be able to serve the Lord, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgression or your sins.” (Joshua 24:19))

The purpose of the Law is stated in Galatians 3:23-26, “But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” So, believers don’t neglect to include the Law in your Gospel presentations. The sinner must know that he has transgressed the Law before he will understand that he needs a Savior. But what a blessed thought, as the hymn says, “Free from the Law, oh, happy condition, Jesus hath bled and there is remission…” The Law no longer condemns me, for I am under the blood of Christ. I am freed from the penalty of sin.

Does that mean that the Ten Commandments no longer apply to me. No, ridiculous! As Jesus says in Matthew 5:17-18, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”

But how does He fulfill the Law, enabling us to obey it so that it is accomplished? “For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:3-4) Because of the sinfulness of our flesh, we could not keep the Law, meaning the Law was weak to bring about its own accomplishment. But God the Father sent Jesus whose death on the cross and sending of the Spirit enables us to overcome the power of sin. The Law showed us our inability; Christ on the cross provided ability; the Spirit applies the ability.

In  conclusion, John 1:17-18 says, “For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” We were given this valuable tutor, the Law, to point us to Christ through whom we may receive grace and truth to know and obey God. If you have come to Christ and are seeking to live by the Spirit, you are fulfilling the Law and it is no longer your tutor. It has accomplished its purpose; God is accomplishing His purpose, praise God!

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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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The Lie that was promulgated in the garden is persistent and pernicious. The enemy knows it is the most subtle way to destroy us, and it is persistent because it is part of our nature. “You will be like God” (Genesis 3:5) is a Lie with many iterations. It is the basis of all works salvation whether it be the religions of the world, the self-assured atheist, or the nominal, legalist Christian. Such an ominous enemy to our soul must be regularly and rigorously opposed. The remedy for me is focusing on the grace of God brought to us in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

To that end, I asked my pastor recently if he had a book that would refresh my focus on grace. He loaned me the little book, “All of Grace” by C. H. Spurgeon. He leaves no stone unturned in his pursuit of convincing the reader that God “justifieth the ungodly” (Romans 4:5).

The persistence of the Lie most frequently resides here: “We stubbornly believe that there must be something in us in order to win the notice of God” (p.14) But “God, who sees through all deceptions, knows that there is no goodness whatsoever in us.” (p.14) Our pride rises up against this thought, but salvation is for those who realize “He makes those just who are unjust. He forgives those who deserve no favor.” (p.14) Those who are closest by training to what is right and good can sometimes be the fartherest from salvation because they have become self-deceived into thinking that the rightness and goodness resides, even if only partially, in them. On the other hand, some who reject the very existence of God are equally self-deceived about their own goodness. For this reason, what Spurgeon says is profoundly true: “The law is for the self-righteous, to humble their pride. The Gospel is for the lost, to remove their despair.” (p.21) To those already broken by their sin, we preach the good news of God’s grace. To those self-assured of their own goodness, we convey the law so that they will come to a point of despair over their sin and grow in desire for a solution only found in the Gospel. Though the witness is a messenger of these things, the Holy Spirit through the Word of God is the means of this grace. “When He [the Holy Spirit] comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8) and ” the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith” (Galations 3:24).

So why must I, who have long been in the grace of God, refocus on that grace? As I have already said, the Lie is persistent and pernicious. My old nature would have me believe that afterall there is some measure of works I must provide to be satisfactory to God. No, I must continue in “simple reliance upon Jesus” (p.89), cling to Him, turn constantly for a view of His goodness, love, and power, all given to me by His grace. Herein is joy and peace; hence is purpose and hope. The quicker and more deeply I can become totally convinced of the grace of God, the more readily I can love others and point them to that all sufficient grace.

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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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I live in the present for a number of reasons. I like adventure, even if ever so small, so I seek out new experiences. I have never been able to attach times with events; I have a friend who can name the year, month, and frequently which day an event happened. I have discovered, save a few rare jewels, that few people want to hear about what happened long ago. But today at lunch a definite opening to the past came about and I related a story and asked my colleague to relate a similar experience, “What was the most interesting night you have ever spent backpacking?” She related that it was the first and last time she ever saw a porcupine. Part of her adventure was a lack of understanding at the time of how quills work, that is, how porcupines use them for defense.

I told of a night when it was snowing hard, large wet flakes at dusk and we were looking for an opening with a flat spot for our tent. We came down to a road where a man was checking his mailbox. My friends got into a conversation with him about the weather and camping sites. He offered his barn loft and we jumped at it. The loft smelled of hay but there was none other than a dusting on the floor. We swept the loft so we could start our cook stoves without burning the barn down. Svea stoves sound like small jet engines, so it drown out the windy storm for awhile. Candlelight caste eerie shapes and shadows on the rafters and slats. I took several time exposures with my film SLR. We told stories, read abit and lay down to a long winter’s slumber. It was a pleasant place to sleep not having the tent flapping in the breeze. The next morning it was in the upper teens. My wet boots had frozen overnight and were painful to put on and to walk. I am sure that  up on Whitetop Mtn. there were significant drifts, but there was dry snow here, too. I feel like I have experienced a small taste of what life used to be like when I have done things like sleeping in a barn. Of course, our forebearers didn’t have nylon sleeping bags and packs, or pre-packaged food or white gas stoves or SLR cameras, but they did live simply and sleep hard on occasions.

Telling this memory reminded me of other memorable nights in the woods. Once with another friend we spent the night in a forest of young, straight trees. It was hard to hang our packs with no branches within throwing distance of our cord, so we hung our packs between two small, understory trees with the bottoms of our packs hanging barely above our reach. It had been a very wet day and now set in for a foggy night. We may have napped an hour in our tent when we heard pack rattling noises. Our flashlights revealed three large cubs, perhaps even yearlings, taking turns climbing one of the small trees and jumping out to swipe at the packs. We had left the pockets unzipped so that any mice that managed the climb would simply enter rather than chew holes in our packs. This detail meant that the cubs’ swipes were effective at knocking out our granola and snack bars and meat packets, and so forth. Before they had done much damage to our food supplies or torn open any stuff sacks we were out of our tent yelling and banging tree trunks with sticks, to which they scurried into the rhododendron out of sight. After several exchanges of this kind we could see that they thought it was a wonderful game, but we were becoming more leery at the thought of mother bear being just out of sight ready to attack if our admonitions were not to her liking. Wearily and warily we decided that there was no help for it other than to start a fire under the packs to keep the cubs away and mother hidden from sight. It was the hardest fire I have ever started. My friend collected every potentially dry twig and leaf possible, from under rocks and under logs and in tree hollows. There was only relatively less wet; dry did not exist. With a little of our toilet paper, some white gas from our stove, many minute twigs and needles we somehow got a fire going, but keeping it going and drying wood in the smokey fire was just as hard. Walking most of the day with a pack on requires two things: lots of food and good sleep. We were not getting much of the latter. We took two hour shifts of keeping the fire going and sleeping in the tent. Some time during the wee hours the fog lifted to reveal a moonless, starlit, branch filled sky. It was perhaps the first time that I realized that the sky begins to lighten as early as 3 AM in the summer. What is not perceivable to the eye around light pollution is a wondrous sight to the dark adjusted pupil. We didn’t see the cubs again and can’t say with any assurance that mom was anywhere around, but our packs smelled of smoke for a long time after that.  

Another memorable night I spent on Camp Town Bald, which I think was renamed Viking Mountain. There are few fire towers left in the mountains and probably none used for their original purpose, but one of the larger ones stood on top of the Bald in the late ’70’s- I estimate 80+ feet tall. My most frequent backpacking partner and I camped at the base of it in the tall grass. After dark I mounted the tower to the deck above. The glassed in portion was locked so a sat down, curled up in my sleeping bag, leaning against the wall of the enclosed space. I had a wonderful time of prayer and singing hymns as I gazed over the lights in the valley and the stars above. I began to see flashes of lightning in the far distance, so I moved around to the other side of the cat-walk in order to watch the fireworks. Above the trees and over 5000′ elevation, I could see the storm many miles away. Now that I reflect on it, it was odd that the storm was coming from the East over the mountains moving toward me. Thunderstorms rarely come from that direction. The storm kept building in my direction until I figured that perching atop a metal tower in a thunderstorm was probably not the safest vantage point. Having such a grand view of it I feel sure that I abandoned my post in plenty of safe time, but my friend down below had been getting worried. This story doesn’t make for quite as interesting telling or hearing, but if you can envision the scene with its three kinds of lights and the opportunity to worship the Creator of all that is light and life and beauty, you may imagine the depth of peace and joy the situation brought to me.

For it is this same Creator who has saved me and given me purpose and a future with Him. He commands the thunderstorm and the snowstorm, sets the stars in their places, gives man shelter and provides all that he needs, grows the trees and provides for the bear cubs, and will extend to you grace also if you will acknowledge your sin and His Son’s work to put it away. Glory to God for His goodness and His benefits to those upon whom His grace abounds.

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“When my anxious thoughts multiply within me,
Your consolations delight my soul.” Psalm 94:19

There is peace and rest and joy for the anxious soul here. But how do you or I access it?

I don’t know if I have ever had what would be clinically considered to be a panic attack, but I have had significant feedback loops where disturbing, worrying, debilitating, anxious thoughts accelerated in my mind, even giving me the shakes or rendering me sleepless. These are rare events for me, as I usually keep very busy and my family can attest to how fast and how soundly I sleep. But I do have garden variety worries and feelings of inadequacies for tasks at hand. Some people genuinely don’t have trouble with anxiety. I say honestly, good for them. I am told that I come across as a confident person. I am not intending to fake confidence. I know what I believe and “I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day” (2 Timothy 2:12) But even so, I have anxious thoughts, and particularly thoughts of inadequacy. I think that it is a residual of my upbringing that will never go away.

Does that mean I can never have victory over it? Not in the least. And that is where this verse comes in. If there was reason for worry the psalmist had reason. Evil people were being arrogant in every way and harming God’s people and the destitute and there was no visible evidence that God was paying attention. The psalmist goes on to declare that he does believe that God hears and will act in judgement and will support the righteous, but that doesn’t negate the present difficulties nor the “anxious thoughts” that “multiply” (v.19)

For any activity or thought pattern that needs to cease, there needs to be a replacement. To just say to someone or to yourself, “Stop that,” and not give an alternate path for thought or deed is useless. But what is the replacement? “Consolations”? What are those? I understand that God provides them in at least three forms (that are significantly overlapping): promises, practices, and presence.

Following are but a few examples of each one:

     Promises

“Your lovingkindness, O Lord, will hold me up.” Psalm 94:18  

“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” Psalm 34:18      

” Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10                

If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” John 15:7-11                                                                                                                     

   Practices

“Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:33

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

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is ]lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:8-9

But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith,love, perseverance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” I Timothy 6:11-12

   Presence

“I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20

” But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all the I have said to you.” John 14:26

“He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,” so that we confidently say, The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraidWhat will man do to me?”” Hebrews 13:5-6

” then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.”                   I Thessalonians 4:17

God’s consolations are many and ever present to those who by His grace belong to Him. When you and I get caught in moments of worry or waylaid by anxiety, replace it with the promises of God, the life giving practices He has provided for us to live before Him, and the knowledge of His continual and intimate presence as we call upon Him.

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