Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Sanctification’ Category

Over a period of time I was talking to a friend about her need of Jesus. During this time I had a loved one who was sick, bills were piling up, responsibilities seemed endless and overwhelming. One day in the presence of my friend I opened up about my fears and difficulties. On the one hand I guess it made me seem like a more real person, but the next time the subject of Jesus came up I quite honestly said, “I am asking you to trust Jesus when I sometimes struggle to trust Him myself.” She was quite understanding about my struggles, but I had a moment of deep conviction. If we are going to point a skeptical and dying world to the Savior, we must learn ourselves to react in faith rather than fear.

Just as “courage”, according to a quote by Franklin D. Roosevelt, “is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear,” so faith is not the lack of fear, discouragement, loneliness, temptation, confusion, or any other difficulty, but the firm conviction that God is greater and able and willing to give us peace and patience in the midst of the difficulty and regardless of the physical outcome.

I had a moment of fear the other day as I crawled into a tight crawl space to jack up a floor supported by rotten floor joists, which I needed to replace. It was so tight that I could not turn on my side until later when I dug out a space for my hips and shoulders. The fear was momentarily paralyzing, but then I took a deep breath and prayed that God would give me calmness. A peace washed over me in seconds. I had to pray again later when it happened again. I ended up working in this situation for eight hours, only crawling the 20 feet to the tight exit when I needed to cut a board or get an additional tool.

Many fears and difficulties are not so obvious as these two examples I have given. Because of their subtlety, many fears and doubts can creep up on us almost unbeknownst to us. We are tied up in a web of fear we never saw being wrapped around us. We learned it as a child. We think it the natural reaction of any sane person. We hardly give it heed, but are nonetheless confined by its stifling cords.

And that thought directs my mind immediately to Hebrews 12:1-2: “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” The great antidote for fear encumbrance is “fixing our eyes on Jesus”. It was the same for us at salvation when the fiery serpent of sin had bitten us and we were destined for death. “And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.” (Numbers 21:9) Looking was equivalent to believing and had an immediate positive effect for John 3:14-15 says, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.” So, salvation was just a look, or glance, trusting God in Christ to overcome temptation, including fears; faith walk is a “fixing” of our gaze on Jesus. Every moment we are tempted to fear or go our own way, we must fix our gaze on Jesus. The result is that “no temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man, and God is willing, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will give you the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it.” (I Corinthians 10:13) And when you are tempted to have a worrying fear, “be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, let your request be made known unto God, and the peace of God will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

The Hebrews passage begins with “Therefore”, which points you back to the “chapter of faith”, Hebrews 11. This “great cloud of witnesses” fortifies our gaze on Jesus. We are not in this alone. Others have had worse difficulties and still fixed their eyes on Jesus. As the Holy Spirit enabled them to overcome Satan, temptation, and death by the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 12:11), so we are encouraged to do the same. Practicing this “fixing” brings endurance and the realization that Jesus suffered far more and had a victorious end.

I want to react in faith, not fear. It is a more peaceful way to live and a strong testimony for the truth of God being in my life. The realization that garden variety fear was stifling my walk and my witness has brought focus to my reaction in the last few weeks. I hope it is a focus that causes me to more frequently fix my eyes on Jesus in faith rather the circumstances in fear.

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

We need hope, but from whence does it come?

Certainly a sense of purpose or destiny or family and friends bring hope, but what about when these fail or seem distant? Hear what source of hope the Scriptures give us:

“For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 15:4-6

Given that this was written before any of the four Gospels and the book of Acts, it must refer to the Old Testament from which Jesus had “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”” Luke 24:45-47 Now, I am not excluding the great encouragement and instruction given by the New Testament, but I magnify the value of reading and studying the Old, especially for those many of you who don’t spend much time there or see much value in it, thinking I’m “not under law but under grace” Romans 6:14 (1) It was written for our instruction, so read the instruction manual before assembly.

Now we get to the meat of our source of hope. The passage reveals a two-fold instruction on hope from God with an ancillary instruction on hope from fellow believers.

Those who are blood bought, Holy Spirit sealed believers (2) increase in hope of their relationship to God and future rescue through persisting in faith in the midst of difficulty- perseverance. In fact, the teaching of perseverance of the saints is pointing out how believers persist in belief to the end while “the Spirit explicitly says” of those who do not truly belonging to God through belief in Jesus “that in later times some will fall away from the faith.” I Timothy 4:1

How does this strange occurrence of hardship increasing trust in God work? As the believer comes to understand that he or she does not deserve anything and yet God is carrying him or her through difficulty and revealing Himself in the process, the believer trusts more. The unbeliever begins to doubt that God cares and pulls further away. Many a believer will also struggle with doubts and be estranged, but it will not persist. In the end faith will persist. The believer perseveres.

The greatest help to perseverance is the Word of God. For this reason, Open Doors, a ministry to persecuted believers all over the world, frequently reports how believers ask for Scriptures over security, food, or shelter. The Bible brings hope and especially when we are paying attention during difficulty. The passage says “the encouragement of the Scriptures”. As we read of others who struggled but found God’s grace to persevere, we find strength. Promises of God impart strength. Ultimately, the excellency of the character of God imparts strength. Strength comes in the form of hope. When we are hopeless, then we are weak. When we are full of hope, then we are strong, strong in the Lord.

But God gives yet another avenue for increasing hope- fellowship. The passage speaks of “same mind”, that is, unity of belief and purpose. Then it says “with one voice glorify”, which is unified worship. When we worship together in unity and convey how God has increased our faith in difficulty and have comforted others in their difficulty with the hope of God and shared Scriptures of encouragement and instruction, then true fellowship and encouragement has occurred and hope is increased. For this reason “let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:24-25

The other disciplines of the faith like prayer, witness, fasting, service, and so forth, are all a part of this perseverance-Scripture-fellowship encouragement that strengthens faith leading to hope. What a good God we have who for His glory and our good by “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.” 2 Peter 1:3

And one day we will be removed from all difficulty and spend eternity in His presence. That will be glory!

  1. In context, this verse has nothing to do with the value or truth of the Old Testament. Rather, it refers to the source and power for overcoming sin, grace applied by the Holy Spirit and not striving to fulfill the requirement of the law. Why? Well it is because “a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 2:16
  2. These are not a special breed or dispensation of believers, just plain believers. I use these adjectives to exclude those who have mental assent to the things of God and are spectators in the church, but not saved.

Read Full Post »

We don’t enjoy harsh teachers, but we can learn from them nonetheless. “But it isn’t fair”, “such a teacher shouldn’t be allowed”, and “we must do everything in our power to rid the system of such teachers”. Unless of course the teacher has tenure with no intention of retiring any time soon.

Pain is just such a teacher. Now I’ve lost some of you. We want the fun, picture filled blog entries. But life has not been so fun lately, and that is not the goal of life anyway. So I decided to share a little of the less pleasant side of life, not for pity or running readers off, but because it is part of life and part of my life at present. And there are lessons to be learned from this less than favorite teacher.

I started having mild back pains about three weeks ago. I have had back problems all of my life and I think there is evidence of it being genetic since my three brothers have and father had back problems. I do exercises to keep my core strong and avoid extreme motions.* However, this time I didn’t do anything that I could have avoided to prevent the problem. I guess if I had been able to see the future and its ramifications, I could have worked around it, but I don’t have that ability. Sometimes it is just small things that trip us up.

Anyway, I have these down periods with back maintenance, but this was a perfect storm. The two most painful things were getting in and out of bed and putting shoes and socks on. Function and activity came to a standstill.

In the midst of this particular storm**, my attention was riveted by the frequent bolts of lightning running along my lower back. The teacher had my attention. When in pain, you pray more. Certainly a prime topic is relief, but I found myself praying for others I know who experience constant pain and wondering how they cope. And what of people who have reduced functionality because of pain? Couldn’t I be more compassionate and helpful? And the thought occurred to me several times that at my age, when a significant regression in health occurs, is this the downturn from which there will not be recovery or serious reduction in functionality? And if it is, what is my new focus? What would be my purpose? What new goals do I set? In short, I found this bout with pain highlighting (throwing a shadow on?) my mortality. Life is short and the end is coming, sooner perhaps rather than later. Don’t think so darkly you may say, but in the midst of the pain, lighter thoughts are hard to come by, and they may be no more than whistling in the wind anyway.

So here are the deeper and brighter, not lighter, thoughts that resulted from what I am going through. Life is good, because God is good. I have purpose and meaning because He has assigned those to me. Even if my body wears out or continues in pain, I can pray for others, for my family, the infirm, this sick nation, my lost friends, and my church. I have peace with God even in the midst of turmoil within and without. I am more content when I am thankful, even in the midst of difficulty. Even though I knew all of this beforehand, I know it at a deeper level now. I suspect the lessons are not done since the holidays (the second advent) have not come, but I will have to focus on these and like thoughts as soon as the next lesson starts rather than days into it.

That should make the teacher and lesson seem less harsh, even though still uninvited and unwanted.

.

I should report that my back has shown some improvement in the last few days, though I don’t know what that means for work and play just now. I am privileged to be able to start again, but wary of the fact that physically that is not sustainable in the long-term. Life is full of ups and downs, but I don’t have to pin my hopes on the ups nor dread the downs. I belong to God.

*I hear some of you snickering (LD and BF, for instance).

**See “Midst the Storm”.

Read Full Post »

I have a desire to write my blog to give glory to God by relating everyday events, intermittent musings, scriptural insights, and special privileges/opportunities in my life. There are, of course, some things too private to share, but there are others that I am not sure if I should share. Consider pictures of a worship service, for instance. Video, if done discreetly, for the purpose of conveying a sermon or song to encourage or instruct someone not in attendance seems appropriate to me. But I simply took pictures during church which could have distracted others and certainly my own worship. Actually, only three of the following images were taken during the service, at the very beginning of the speakers’ comments. The rest were captured before or after church.

And I did know what the sermon was about. Our pastor finished a series on Second Peter with the last five verses of the third chapter. He reiterated that the theme of Peter’s second epistle is godly living in an ungodly world. No more apropos subject could be addressed in these times. In these closing verses, Peter gives four closing commands to his Christian readers. Firstly, be diligent to be found in peace and live godly. Secondly, account or regard the patience of God for salvation for the lost. Thirdly, beware of false teachers. Fourthly, grow in grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. I take Peter’s words to mean that sanctification is a work of God but not a passive pursuit on our part. We cannot work apart from God but God most usually does not work apart from our participation. He is not restrained by us but He does frequently choose to work through us. He receives all of the glory; we receive the benefit.

I especially find the third chapter of Second Peter challenging and satisfying. It delivers much fodder for thought about godly living and about apologetics of the faith. Verses about the true history of the world and the canon of Scripture are very instructive.*

Congregants arriving
Fellowshipping before service in the seating area
Front row seating
Soundman, Music Leader, and Pianist

You can see several people visiting around to various cars. Church is not just about hearing a sermon. It involves fellowship, which is the sharing of Christ’s life lived out in the individual’s life with others of like mind and belief. That includes but is not limited to songs, sermons, prayer, sharing, giving, and serving others. You can’t do that in front of a screen.

The podium is a tad bit scary to mount. Take note of the tall green tree over the rooftop.

Behind the podium
One pastor welcomes with Scripture
The director of the local Preganancy Care Center encourages the church because of God’s work there and the church’s generosity.
The pastor concludes Second Peter.

All during the service, a tree removal service was taking down a tall tree just beyond the first house from the church property. The tree at the far left is the one pictured earlier. Once upon a time in our culture, such loud work on Sunday would not have been dreamt of, especially on Sunday morning, and during a church service. The whole of the culture is responsible to acknowledge God. I couldn’t help thinking that the enemy of mankind did not want someone in the neighborhood to hear the service. Thankfully, apart from momentary cut-outs of the microphone, the communication came through loud an clear.

We were also thankful that the chipper did not begin until the benediction. It was truly loud.

It was quite a tall tree, probably a yellow poplar, before the service.

Pastor standing with Pregnancy Care Center Director

Be aware that the culture in subtle and not so subtle ways is trying to discourage and prevent worship of God. The difficulties so far are mild, but God may well be preparing us for much more difficult times. We belong to God. We must worship Him corporately because He commands it, because we need it, and because our culture needs it. As our church motto says, “”Loving God, loving one another, serving the world”. It is a tall order and our aspiration in knowing and serving God.

*2 Peter 3:5-7,10,15-16

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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”

Read Full Post »

Knowing You better would be such joy
Deep in my heart You would peace deploy
Hope springing forth in the darkest hours
Purity grow as the brightest flow’rs

But sinful passions too often rule
Perverse* actions make of me a fool
The Spirit is quenched by my poor choice
I groan within and give grief a voice

I may God pursue with heart tender
By His Spirit complete surrender
Daily repent, always move toward Him
Extra pursuits and wayward paths trim

Worship the Father with praise and praying
Hear His Word through reading and preaching
Devoted to the truth where’er it leads
Truth more than life that for the lost pleads

By diligence know Him and find rest
Even when I am put to the test
Communing with my Father and Lord
By His grace growing deeper and toward

 

When I arose last Sunday morning and was reading the Scripture and praying, I thought to myself, I have not had a poem come in quite sometime. So, I ask my Father if He would give me one that would focus on Him. A few minutes later the first stanza came rapidly. On my drive to church the first two lines of the second stanza came. I kept having to repeat them so that I would not forget. When I arrived at the parking lot, I quickly wrote them down. The rest of the verse came soon after I had greeted fellow believers and sat down in the pew. During the sermon I was executing some major multitasking by writing the third stanza and listening and taking notes on the sermon. I recognize my pastor for the fourth verse, because it is my distillation of the statements he made that most grabbed my attention. The last verse came during the afternoon down time. 

*The idea of perverse is a “turning away from what is right and good”, not just what we consider to be sickening evil. All sin is abhorrent to God.

Read Full Post »

Paisley and Plaid
Complimentarily clad
Two who became one
Someone’s daughter and son

Opposites attract
Differently act
Conflicts not abstract
Proceed with much tact

Love is a commitment
A selfless deployment
Not for the faint of heart
Pray from the start

It is not all pain
Nor expect constant strain
There are many a joy
Each other to enjoy

Loneliness at bay
In your heart night and day
Find the other’s delight
In darkness be a light

Not good to be alone
God made from Adam’s bone
A helper and a friend
Each other love, attend

A lifelong partnership
On a common trip
Where paisley and plaid
A reason to be glad

Almost always I either write a poem based on a rhyming couplet that pops into my head or an idea that I want to explore. The preceding poem is an example of both. Hopefully the reader can visualize the metaphor that I intend by envisioning a couple, whose female is wearing a dress with paisley that color matches the plaid the male is wearing. We males and females, as God has created us, are far more different than our physical differences suggest. We have different needs and desires and abilities. In this fallen world of sinful people that can and does increase conflict in relationship, it is because we don’t understand each other and probably don’t want to at some level.* But marriage is not meant for pleasure and pro-creation alone. It is meant to refine and remake us. I am thankful that God has given me a godly wife who has been faithful and diligent for more than 38 years now. At times throughout that journey, neither one of us has been easy to get along with, but by God’s grace we still love each other and are nicer to each other than we have been sometimes in the past. That is God’s work in our life together. And as time goes along, you come to realize that the differences are a good, complementary things that have built you both up.

*The world, the flesh, and the devil are all against marriage with a vengeance. I highlight the part played by flesh here.

Read Full Post »

My pastor preached an informative, challenging, and encouraging sermon this morning on John 14:1-3. I am always trying to organize information so that I may digest it. If it is not organized in my brain, I have trouble living it, because I don’t know what the next step is or even where to look for it. He gave four reasons from the passage that Jesus gave for why their hearts should not be troubled: 1) Jesus is trustworthy (v.1), 2) We have a sure promise of a home with God (v.2), 3) Christ began preparing a place for us immediately afterwards through the cross, the resurrection, and the ascension (v.2)*, and 4) Jesus is coming again to take us to be with Him (v.3).

We will outlast troubles, while troubles will burn away like the morning fog, he said. He ended the sermon with the most encouraging book ends of the eighth chapter of Romans. From verse 1, we know that there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”, and from verses 38 and 39, “[nothing] will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus.”

Which of following two responses will you have to troubles and trials, brother and sister? Friend, will you consider the hope and peace you may have by trusting Christ, who saves** all those who trust Him?

Responses to Trouble

*Pastor agreed with me that those past preparations do not exclude the present and future preparations in us and the world and in heaven.

**He saves not only through troubles and trials but more importantly from sin and eternity under God’s wrath in hell.

Read Full Post »

The following blog entry was written several months ago, but the mental state of the time, the ambivalence about publishing it, the time constraints to finishing it, and the arrival of better emotions and thoughts prevented me from publishing it until now. Now it is time and it will add some balance and veracity to my blog by telling more about who I am. People enjoy a good story, but how about a melancholy tome? It may be instructive to those who don’t struggle with this problem and encouraging to those who do.

I have been struggling with a touch of depression lately. I purposefully state it that way because it is nothing compared to times past. It will be passing, which I can say with confidence because I know how to get help and from Whom. But is it depression or could it be, particularly since I say passing, discouragement? Or might it be desperation? Now I could refer to the dictionary and sort these out, but I am going to give a personal, experience based definition, which may not ring true for you, or better yet, may ring all too true and give you encouragement and tools for dealing with them or it, as the case may be.* These definitions will by no means be totally devoid of knowledge gained from study.

In my experience, depression is an emotional background noise or foreground roar that is hard to define in terms of its source, and harder still to get rid of. Many people excuse it as a chemical imbalance that is not of the person’s doing. I believe that chemical imbalance is a problem for some people, but even then there are ways out, most of which don’t involve drugs in the long-term.** It is not helpful to dwell on the depression itself, but it is profitable to study your own modus operandi during depression for the purpose of recognizing when there is an onset. You are experiencing one of my quirks of depression by reading this passage. When I am depressed, I get very wordy, verbose, articulate, long-winded, redundant. That is most likely the source at present of my long sentences. Another way I deal with depression is to become very silent, but because I have learned to attack it, I now do the opposite and become verbal. Oh, that is the reason for quirk #1. And here is a help for you, dear friend, if you suffer with depression. Talk yourself out of it, not by any random droning of your voice, but by declaring out loud truth. The form it takes in me most often is singing hymns. So, I knew that I was dealing with mild depression this morning because I felt compelled to sing. The odd thing about my singing is that I can be loud and enthusiastic and crying, either inside or literally, all at the same time. I don’t know if the crying is repentance, thankfulness, remorse, release, or sadness, but I do know that if I sing long enough the cloud dissipates. That occasionally is too much for my wife because she is a stroke victim and the continual sound and language overloads her aphasic processing. If it is a hymn that I know well, whistling works so that I can think about other things or tasks simultaneously, but whistling is particularly problematic for my wife.

Desperation is more easily recognized and pinpointed. I was desperate yesterday because I had so much paperwork to do and a sense that it would never end. Perhaps that was part of what brought on today. Planning ways to lessen the load, spread it out, or see light at the end of the tunnel are ways I usually deal with that short-term irritant. Finding the purpose in the mundane and repetitive and distasteful makes it more palatable. Procrastinating is something we have all done to avoid what we don’t like to do, but it is counterproductive because it just prolongs the mental desperation. Desperation, then, usually comes from a fear, be it fear of purposelessness or fear of harm by whatever traumatic or long-term means (e.g. old age for example).

Discouragement can be short-term or long-term and its source obvious or not. Unfulfilled goals and dreams are the source of most of my discouragement. Inability to do something at a higher level of my own making or meeting someone else’s expectations can weigh heavily on me at times but do not usually cause discouragement. I guess that I understand that despite my attempts to be exceptional in various areas of my life, I am just a “common Joe” with perhaps a little better than average ability. I am profoundly limited in some areas. Failure or rejection are high on the list of what brings discouragement to many people.

In all of these areas, particularly depression, I have several coping mechanisms that are my go to’s. I have already listed 1) identifying when I am depressed by things I do and think when depressed and 2) singing my way out of that mode. For me, and these must be specific for you individually, I 3) rock in a rocking chair and think, 4) write to organize my thoughts and identify how I am feeling, 5) talk it out to others***, 6) walk, 7) do anything active, particularly climb, run, bike, or hike, 8) experience nature, contemplating God’s goodness, and 9) organize and propound truth on any subject, though theological and scientific areas are my most common subjects. What is your coping mechanism? Don’t know? Try one of mine. Experiment with things that are true and good (Philippians 4:8). Make them edifying pursuits, not destructive ones like drugs, alcohol, binge eating, binge videos or computer time, or pornography or illicit sex. Look for a way out, not a way further in.

I have purposely separated my last help for depression, desperation, and discouragement: 10) Spend time in prayer specifically about the source of your feelings, or about the emotion itself in the absence of knowledge of the source. To not just be talking to yourself, several things must be true: 1) You must be a believer in Jesus as your Savior, 2) You should be seeking to be repentant of sin, and 3) You should seek to discover what expectation you have that has not been given you by God and give it up to Him. Frequently either #2 or #3 is the source of the depression. If #1 is true, then you have power given to you by God to repent of sin (I John 1:9) and overcome temptation (I Corinthians 10:13). 4) Persist in prayer until you get past distraction, temptation, doubt, and waiting. Your circumstances may not change, as God sees fit, but your peace and joy can return in the midst of the sorrow.

Life is a journey with a destination rather than a destination only. Therefore, be patient with yourself. Conversely, don’t let yourself off the hook in the sense of ‘oh, everybody does it’. Instead, seek to make progress. Growing requires effort, but in the same way as you can not pull yourself up by your boot straps, you need an outside force, the power of God, to make real and lasting progress. May God enable you with His power to grow and may you find those coping mechanisms that work for you to ease your pain by pointing you to truth.

*Long sentences are so fun to attempt, because they are so easy to get wrong, particularly concerning commas, and therefore challenging. I think mine are right.

**How could I be so unfeeling and arrogant as to suppose I can make declarations about others people’s difficulties? Well, not only because I have studied this issue, but because I have personal experience with serious, dare I say, clinical depression, I am speaking up. You may need drugs to steady the boat, but they are a poor way to propel it forward.

***Thank you for your patience, friends.

Read Full Post »

Paul and Jeremiah were compelled to preach the Word that God gave to them. Paul said, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel.” Jeremiah said, “But if I say, ‘I will not remember Him or speak anymore in His name,’ then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot endure it.” From whence came these obligations? Is some obligation common with all believers? If so, how do we fulfill these compulsions?

Preaching from Romans 1:12-15, my pastor communicated obligations that Paul had before God. My pastor made such conclusive statements as* ‘When duty is delight we please God and find joy,’ and ‘When love empowers our duty, it becomes delight’ glorifying God. From his explanation I took the clear point that our obligations before God must turn into love which will then result in eagerness.

obligation —> love —> eagerness

I wish it was easier to draw that here, because I would keep the arrow** between obligation and love dashed while making the one between love and eagerness solid. Eagerness will follow what you love, but love is not a necessary or normal result of obligation. And I said to my pastor after the sermon that I was challenged to muse on how to get from obligation to love. This is that musing.

How might I make the transition from obligation to love? I began to peer further back behind obligation, and further ahead of eagerness to find motivation for loving my obligations. Obligations before God come from His command. His command may come in the form of inner compulsions or providentially guided circumstances, but all must proceed out of and agree with God’s Word. God’s commands come from His purpose, which in turn come from His character. At the other end, delight will result in diligence in the form of prayer, pursuit, and practice. Diligence will bring about God’s purpose through the power He supplies, revealing the glory of His character and works. It would look something like the following:

God’s attributes —> God’s purpose —> God’s command —> my obligation —> my love —> my eagerness —> my diligence —> God’s purpose in me accomplished —> praise to the glory of God’s attributes and works***

If instead of focussing on my obligation before God or even His command, I focus on the beauty of His attributes and the praise of His glory, my love for Him will be increased along with a love of the obligations that bring that praise to Him. I must know my obligations before God. I must obey His commands. But I must focus on Him, His attributes and grace toward me, so that I love Him more along with all of my responsibilities before Him.

After I communicated these ideas to a friend, she said so concisely, “I don’t have to. I get to.” She went on to say, “I get to be a teacher. I get to be a mother. I get to wash the clothes.” Her attitude and simplicity are refreshing and true. I still needed to consider the why behind them so that when “I’m not feelin’ it”, I can focus on the One who is beautiful and merciful and worthy. Everything else will follow, if not immediately, then progressively and surely.

 

*When I use a ‘ instead a “, I mean it to communicate approximate quote rather than court evidence quote.

**As I tell my students, arrows mean for me cause and effect (cause—>effect). Sometimes that is just sequence or correlation, but with a desire to find and communicate cause and effect.

*** Notice that this cause and effect chain goes full circle: “so that God will be all in all.” (I Corinthians 15:28)

Read Full Post »

Preachers love “p’s”, because there are such a variety of meaningful words, and particularly theological words, that begin with p’s for those three point sermons. One of those very memorable “triple p’s” concerns the progress of salvation in a person’s life that is summarized in Romans 8:28-30. Salvation has sequential nature to it.* My experience of salvation is past, present, and future. At the moment of my believing in Jesus, God justified me. Now He is sanctifying me. In the future He will glorify me. In the Romans passage, Paul speaks of all three of these in the past tense. I think there are two possible reasons for the past tense. For one thing, these events are so certain that they are completed even though not presently carried out. Secondly, it seems like to me, that since God is eternal and timeless, He sees the whole progress of the salvation He is bringing about in us as one event. He has accomplished it, it is complete, and it stands fast. Frequently this sequence of salvation is taught as God saving us from the penalty of sin in the past, the power of sin in the present, and the presence of sin in the future.

As I was reading in the Scripture yesterday, this triplet of penalty, power, and presence came afresh to my mind. Then I paused for a moment and reflected on the fact that this view of the work of God centers on His process to remove sin from us and us from sin. That is a good emphasis and right. But with what was it replaced, I mused? The answer is not hard; it is righteousness. And how might we think of His imputation of righteousness to us in terms of the progress of salvation?

In the past, we were saved for (by) the provision of righteousness. “ He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) This verse most clearly communicates the great transaction, the glorious transfer. Jesus provided me with His righteousness, therefore, I am justified in His sight.

In the present, we are saved for (by) practice of righteousness. “…work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13) As God is at work, he calls us to work along side Him in the power that He provides. He gets all the glory and we get the benefit of being changed and participating. As one of my pastor’s favorite** verses says, “…seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.” (2 Peter 1:3) Perseverance of the saints is not merely hanging on by fingertips, but the ability to fully succeed as a believer.*** God and we are active in our sanctification.

In the future, we are saved for (by) perfection of righteousness. “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.” (1 John 3:2) If you want to understand better what glory and glorification will be like, dwell on Jesus. (John 1:16-18) This realization is a great motivation to live a more godly life, as the next verse in 1 John 3 confirms: “And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” (v.3) God will one day glorify us so that we may see Him (Matthew 5:8).

In summary, and more concisely,

     I am saved from the

            penalty of sin (past),

            power of sin (present),

            presence of sin (future),

                         and

     I am saved for (by)

            provision of righteousness (past),

            practice of righteousness (present),

            perfection of righteousness (future).

*I do not say a “time element” because God’s predestination before time and our life in Him for eternity are timeless. However, there is both an order (sequence) and a time element to the moment of salvation, the process of sanctification, and the inception of glorification.

**And it is quickly becoming one of mine, given the great encouragement it gives that God cares and has already cared enough to provide all that we need to please Him and succeed.

***Those few who would shame Him by consistently only surviving are disciplined. (1 Corinthians 11:27-32)

Read Full Post »

Overflows from the Heart

"But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart…" Matthew 15:18

CreatorWorship

Pointing to the One who made, saved, and sustains