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Archive for the ‘Grace’ Category

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also see “Response to Troubles and Trials

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thomas Kelly, Psalms and Hymns, 1802

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What resonates within your spirit?

Caution: The following content is an extended metaphor and not resonate with concrete, literal thinkers.

Have you ever tapped on various boards and felt their difference in resonance, ring, or bounce. Have you ever done it on rotten wood or a wood used for instruments like spruce? Have you ever tapped on a flake of rock that may be loose and heard it resound? Certain cave formations are good for this. (1) Upper Sheep Cave in Virgin Falls Pocket Wilderness is particularly good for resonance. If you walk back into it several hundred yards to where the ceiling lowers and the passage narrows to less than arms’ length, you can sing a very quiet low note and hit the resonant frequency and it booms.

It may seem odd upon consideration that the word sound, which we most frequently associate with vibrations in noise, song, or speech, also means “in good condition; not damaged, injured, or diseased.” (2) The connection, I believe, comes through the resonant sound (amplified “resounding”) made by various materials when they are vibrated. A doctor will tap on a person’s chest and listen for a certain quality of thug that indicates the lungs are sound, that is, healthy. “Soundness is “the state of being in good condition; robustness” and “the quality of being based on valid reason or good judgment.”

Concerning reason and judgment, particularly in science or a court of law, it is necessary for acceptance of an evidence or hypothesis. We say that it sounds reasonable. Sound here is not merely that we hear vibrations. Rather, we have sounded it by tapping on it to see that it is of a quality resonance, that is, we have compared the thought to what is considered to be correct and logical thinking and have concluded that it is.

So, with what does inward soundness resonate? It resounds with integrity, that quality of internal consistency where there are no voids or rotten, soft spots of dishonesty. ” “He who walks in integrity walks securely, but he who perverts his ways will be found out.” (Proverbs 10:9″ There is no human 100% sound all the way through, because we are sinners both by nature and by practice. (3) However, we may be and increase in soundness given and taught by the Holy Spirit through consistent deeds that match our proclaimed ideals.

As areas of sinful tendency and practice are revealed, the person of inward soundness, spiritual integrity, allows and participates in the Holy Spirit cleansing his/her inward parts and outward practice.

I want to resonate with the fruits of the Spirit, resound with the Gospel message, reverberate with compassion, proceed with sound thinking and good judgement. I am not there yet. My core still has pockets of rottenness that deaden the echo of God’s glory that should sound forth from my heart. God is gracious with those instruments He is shaping and polishing and tuning. I will one day resound with the melody He plays and conveys to my spirit. Until then and as I grow, may I “praise Him with loud cymbals; praise Him with resounding cymbals” (Psalm 150:5) of life and speech and thought.

  1. I don’t mean stalagtites and stalagmites because that is destructive to their ability to continue growing since it introduces skin oils that stop up the water channels.
  2. All of my definitions came from UK English | Lexico.
  3. “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.” I Corinthians 15:22 As federal head, we all receive a sin nature from our father, Adam. Then we choose as we will, which means sinning: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

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Listen closely! The heavenly messengers melodically announcing ‘High praise for the weightiness of the freshly arrived sovereign.’

You know that as “Hark the herald angels sing. Glory to the Newborn King!” My interpretation of the excellent poetry of Charles Wesley is pedantic but also calls attention to the meaning of the phrase. This hymn of the season is my favorite. I like it so much because of its dense theology. There is nothing trivial or lightly thought out about it and it demands thought to understand which raises high praise for God’s work in Christ on our behalf.

It had been my intention to discuss the “dense theology” of this beloved hymn, which I will do at another time. This morning as I contemplated its meaning other praise came to my mind. It is not so dense in content but it is of some value I hope:

Oh, that more praise were lifted up
That more souls of salvation’s cup
Would drink and raise their voice in song
Harmonize with heavenly throng

For God is worthy of all praise
Loud shouts and quiet voice we raise
That more may know His holiness
And live for Him in righteousness

A God transcendent above all
Yet stoops to save us from the Fall
His Son in flesh to recue man
Christ’s death brought life, a gracious plan

Creating all was just a start
Sustaining it in every part
Reversing corruption of sin
Those who trust Him, He now calls kin

We see His goodness in this life
Not despite but in midst of strife
We by His Spirit overcome
Submit to His rule and kingdom

All things His power and beauty show
The heavens and all things that grow
Design complex and delicate
Ever studied, how intricate

His Word reveals all we must know
To serve Him well and in Him grow
His peace and joy will through us flow
The world His praise and glory show

All our worship to God should be
From a heart that has been set free
In spirit and truth ever praise
His name and works forever raise

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Happy is fun. Happy is cheery. Happy makes friends. Happy is temporary. Happy is situational. Happy is temporal. I want to pursue joy, the kind given by the Spirit of God. Joy draws from things unseen. Joy exists in times of stress. Joy exists in confidence and repose of spirit. Joy heals the spirit and encourages others. Joy gives testimony to the presence and work of God.

But I experience joy in fits and starts at best. How do I get from here to there?

Peace with God, no condemnation in Christ Jesus, and sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise am I. If ever a person had reason for joy in the midst of the added relative safety and security, then it would be me. But the nagging struggles and regrets with strained relationships, slipping health, tenuous finances, and undesired direction draw my attention.

I must plead for the grace of discipline to focus on those truths of excellence and good repute (Philippians 4:8).

“The joy of the Lord is my strength” Nehemiah 8:10) is a command which begins “Do not be grieved,…”. I need to take up this weapon of strength. It seems to me that joy, a fruit of the Spirit, is an ancillary accessory to the girding belt of truth in the armor of God (Ephesians 6:14). To state the case more plainly, focus on truth brings joy despite circumstances. And though commanded, joy cannot be manufactured as happiness may occasional be.

This command to be joyous must be placed in the context of the other commands like it. The command was given during a feast to God in which God commanded rejoicing (Deuteronomy 16:14-15). There were other required assemblies (e.g. Deuteronomy 16:8) in which God called the people to solemn assemblies and holy convocations in which they were commanded to humble themselves (Leviticus 23:26-32). Sorrow and grieving over sin are necessary emotions and attitudes as a part of repentance.

But joy springs up from doing what is right after repentance (e.g. Nehemiah 8:17-18) or in gratitude for blessings (Deuteronomy 16:15). Paul, in a passage about upholding his ministry, lists many hardships contrasted with blessings. Among them is “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” (II Corinthians 6:10). And in the next chapter he says that he is “overflowing with joy in all our affliction.” (7:4) And Paul commands, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4) There is no contradiction in hardship and repentance for sin being mixed in with joy.

Why then do I still have fits and starts of joy? I think that a verse of the hymn, “Trust and Obey”, helps me here:

“But we never can prove
The delights of His love
Until all on the altar we lay
For the favor He shows
For the joy He bestows
Are for them who will trust and obey”*

When I seek my own way for whatever reason- fear, neglect, pride- I grieve the Holy Spirit who indwells me. He does not leave me, but He does allow me to feel the pain of distance from Him. And certainly His fruits are not being manifest in me going about my own way. I, we, are so self-oriented, that I fear we don’t even realize how much we proceed apart from Him.

So, joy is the fruit of the Spirit, a gift, a perspective on circumstances, a discipline, a strong weapon against temptation, a reaction to truth, and a strong testimony to God’s work in the midst of difficulty. May you and I pursue it by choosing God’s way over our own.**

*Written by John Henry Sammis, 1887.

**I have mulled over the subject of this blog entry for nearly a month. I feel that it is woefully incomplete and that I fall far short of what it says, but I feel a real need to encourage the pursuit of joy in God for the furtherance of my own spiritual life and yours, dear reader.

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

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

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

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

Evidence for Assurance

Or click here to see a clearer Word document version.

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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)

Screen Shot 2018-12-02 at 3.59.24 PM

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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