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Archive for the ‘Sustaining’ Category

Many the comment that comes from students the last few days for school. Many are gracious, wanting to end on a friendly note. It shows a measure of decency on the part of the majority of students. Others are harshly truthful and others contrived, far from truthful, out of some need to right a never done wrong. “I can’t wait until this class is over. Friends told me that I wouldn’t be able to wait to get out of here, but that I would miss you afterward. I don’t see that happening.” It seemed like a complement to me, if not from the student in front of me, then certainly from the ‘friends’. Dealing constantly with people is not easy business. It wears on the emotions, particularly if you care even a little bit. It doesn’t help that you always know that you have failed in some small way with every person you interact with, even though you know you did your best overall and intended the best for your students. It is for all of this difficulty in the midst of trying that the occasional word of genuine encouragement lifts the weary soul. At the end of the last assignment to be graded for one class there was the following statement: “Mr. __, I’m so glad you were my teacher! I learned alot from you! Science and life choices.” That is the way that I want to be remembered as a teacher- passionate about teaching Science and life. Many of my years of teaching have been stressful for reasons inside the class and out. This past year was not the worst for stress, but it did rank. At the same time it was a year of spiritual benefit in my own life and in opportunity to talk to students about eternal things. It sometimes amazes me how often students will bring up the subject of where we came from, or do I believe in God, or how do you solve life’s difficult problems, or what is the meaning of life. Some of the questions relate directly to the subject at hand and others seem random, though I am sure that the underlying thought process that brought them forward was not. I hope that I taught many students science and life this past year and that God will take what I offered for His glory and their good.

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The time of year to attend graduations, send cards and well wishes for the future, and give advice to the bright-faced graduates is upon us. I have no better advice for the graduate entering the workforce than that which I heard from the commencement speaker at my son’s graduation just over a year ago at LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas. The commencement speaker was former Secretary of the U.S. Mint, Edmund C. Moy. The seven points of advice that he gave are appropriate for the graduate or any Christian in the workplace who desires to live for God. Following is my interpretation of what he said.

Seek a mentor. Find someone who has been there and done that. The emphasis is on a spiritual mentor who can help you to navigate and balance the demands of working and stresses of interacting with people with your desire and need to grow spiritually and demonstrate God’s love to those around you. This mentoring relationship requires time and scheduling. Start right away seeking such a person you may trust in this role. At my stage in life I have offered and mentored younger employees and students.

Find or form a like-minded group with whom to pray and fellowship and witness. Certainly a church may fulfill this need but a sub-group within the organization of your employment is an added help to you and your colleagues. Seek out other Christians; there is strength in numbers. These groups change over time and my present one is outside my workplace.

Be trustworthy with the small things. As Jesus said, “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you? And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? (Luke 16:10-12) Integrity matters. Certainly this is good workplace ethic, but even more to the point, how can you expect people to entrust to you to talk to them about eternal things, the Gospel, if you are not trustworthy with material things? Don’t shame Christ’s name for trivial pursuits.

Do good work; it praises God. Are you a team player? On time for work? Meet deadlines? Do quality work so that someone else does not have to come behind you and fix it? Stay positive and refrain from complaining? “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved.” (I Corinthians 10:31-33). If you would live openly as a believer, then let your words be kind and truthful and your actions sound and pure. I will add that you should not pursue the easy way out by hiding your faith. It may show you don’t have any.

Make a “to be list” to become spiritually mature. “To do lists” are everyday business that we must do to complete each day’s tasks. God is most concerned with us coming to understand who we are in Christ, which will most profoundly affect what we do. Set goals for becoming more of who you are. This is not works religion. This is spiritual discipline.

Consider public service. The private sector is good, but we need honest, hardworking, honorable, high-order thinking individuals in the public sphere as well. Your skill set is needed to set things right.

Many resumes have a zig-zag path. That’s OK: God is behind it. God is sovereign in His providential care and direction. Rather than get frustrated and ask why, pray harder instead, and enjoy the ride. My personal route has certainly been circuitous. God is good.

May the truth and application of this advice assist you as you enter the workforce, college, or the military.

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Few things that I really need
Many that I want
Separating them indeed
Seems to be a taunt

This exercise brings freedom
I don't have to grasp
Holding both these in tandem
Frays nerves like a rasp

Now I am not a Buddhist
Wants I don't deny
More likely increases the list
Better not to try

But wants don't have to control me
I can walk away
He has met my needs, I'm free
In peace each new day

Out of breath and lost my way
Cling for my supply
Gratification delay
He will soon reply

(Luke 10:40-42; Matthew 6:25-34)

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The book of Daniel and the character Daniel have been my favorite since seriously reading the Bible as a pre-teen. By God’s grace he, along with his three friends, overcame the temptations of this world and exhibited God’s character to amazed, pagan, hostile, and adoring onlookers. As I was studying the first chapter recently to teach it, the scene struck me a different and modern way. What I write below will sound ‘tongue in cheek’ but my intent is to convey how relevant this story is.

When Dan arrived on campus with his three buds Hank, Mish, and Azar they were tied in knots with anticipation. As Freshmen they thought themselves royalty but they were just another set of pretty faces with some brains thrown in, pretty much like all the other neophytes with persuasive scholarship from the Founder of BU. This same Founder and President was also the  biggest donor to the university and had influence at every level and insisted that the Dean of Men put these new recruits through their paces in liberal arts coursework with a major in Chaldean Studies. The President had deep pockets and provided the Dean with everything to make the college experience compelling. It was a real party school with all the best food and wine provided by the school. But Deep Pockets expected a payback in studies and potential service in the future, so everybody had to hit the books hard in the accelerated 3-year course. To complete the whole college experience, the Dean of Men even assigned each of the freshman in the fraternity and floor name, kinda Baby. U’s version of Greek life. So the guys became Belt, Shad, Messy, and Abed. There were certain things in the frat house where guys  were expected to go all in. One was eating the party food. But these boys had been cut from a different cloth, raised by fathers and mothers who taught them to be respectful and honor God in all that they did (I Corinthians 10:31). Dan petitioned the Dean to forego the party food for what the fraternity brothers called ‘rabbit food’ and water. The Dean was not so sure about this scheme, fearing that Sugar Daddy might give him the axe. But Dan kept his wits about him and requested a little use of the scientific method to test how the new eateries would fare. The Dean agreed, and after a 10-day free trial he was sold and kept bringing on the veggies and spring water. The boys were relieved and set about studying hard. In fact when the Dean presented them to the President on Founder’s Day, they were top of their class with exponential growth ahead of the other frat bro.’s. They had studied the deeper meaning of life itself and were rewarded with careers serving in the President’s office, Dan even seeing many changes in administration through the subsequent years.

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I have always struggled to get a handle on the essential essence of integrity. It is far more than honesty and deeper than mere examples. While studying Daniel 6 I was struck with new force by Daniel’s faithfulness, trustworthiness, moral uprightness, whole and undivided spirit that resulted in him being the same in public as he was in private. That is to say, Daniel exhibited godly integrity. What is the source of integrity and what does it produce? As I searched for answers in the passage and on the internet I came across an interesting statement by  Larry Sternberg that says,

“In common conversation the word “integrity” is most often associated with honesty. But that’s a very narrow understanding of the concept. In addition to honesty, integrity is about being whole and unimpaired. We can speak about the integrity of a roof or a ship’s hull. When a structure can remain unimpaired in the face of pressure, assaults or stressors, that structure has strong integrity.

When it comes to a person, integrity involves the ability to remain true to one’s values in the face of pressure, assaults or stressors. We know little about the strength of a person’s integrity when life is easy. What if it will cost you your job? What if you’ll lose some friends? What if you’ll go to jail? What if you’ll get beat up — or worse? We only learn about the strength of a person’s integrity when things get tough, when adhering to those values involves a high cost.” (reference

Though not stated directly, the take away I gained from this short article was ‘Integrity produces courage and courage reveals integrity.’

And even though the wicked can be ‘true to himself’ (a phrase I’ve heard a number of times), it is godly integrity that is admirable. It is unselfish and gives glory to God, its source. It frustrates the wicked as with the satraps (provincial governors) and counselors who envied Daniel, but impresses those who see its purity and simplicity as with Darius the king. Daniel is not called upon to state his refusal to obey the edict as his friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were in chapter 3: “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18) He does state his innocence after the fact: “My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, Your Majesty.” (Daniel 6:22) Daniel’s unstated trust in God points to God’s trustworthiness. So Darius gives glory to God because he recognizes the miracle that God did for Daniel:

“I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel.

“For he is the living God
    and he endures forever;
his kingdom will not be destroyed,
    his dominion will never end.
27 He rescues and he saves;
    he performs signs and wonders
    in the heavens and on the earth.
He has rescued Daniel
    from the power of the lions.” (Daniel 6:26-27)

Darius also recognizes that Daniel’s integrity points to God: “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?…The king was overjoyed.” (Daniel 6:20,23)

And this has long been my desire, that I would have the integrity of Daniel and that my life would point to God. I have not been so faithful as Daniel but God has been faithful to work wondrously in my life so that I pursue the goal of integrity each day so that I might give glory to Him and hear one day, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21)

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Yeah, man, my life motto, “Life is Good”, “livin’ the dream!” Good vibes, positive outlook, need plenty of that, right? Not so fast. What about when you are sick and you just lost your job and the dog got run over and taxes went up and there is another war and…you get the idea. So, does that mean life is bad then? Is that what I’m saying? Let’s take a closer look. If the phrase, “Life is Good” was the end of the thought, it has limited utility to help us along in life perhaps, but as used in our society at this time it has modifying thought that follows. This implied extension of the thought is also explicitly stated in places like the “Life is Good” Facebook page. It goes something like this: Life is good because I’m doing what I like and liking what I do. The implication is a totally self focused or humanist view of life and it doesn’t work on several levels. First of all, you can’t always do what you want to. Secondly, in a more narrow sense, if doing what you want to do refers to your vocation, it is an economic impossibility for everyone to have the job of their dreams. And as just pointed out, many times life is hard. The idea may well turn into life is good for some subset of the population for whom everything is falling into place, but that must surely imply that I don’t care what happens to the other half or I think they just need to get their life together, think positive, and make it happen. Or maybe we are being urged to follow blind optimism: Let’s pretend life is good and that will somehow make it better. All of these possibilities seem a bit depressing unless you happen to be riding the wave, and even then it probably won’t last.

Rather than just burst your bubble and leave you hanging, I would like to suggest a more meaningful and purposeful phrase and explain why it is not just wishful thinking: “Life is good because God is good.” Stated this way the fact that life is also at times hard is not ignored or denied. God is working blessings deeper and more lasting. In the midst of hardship God is training us to trust Him (Proverbs 3:5-6,12) and look for what is honorable, pure, and good (Philippians 4:8). He is building, reserving, and guaranteeing future blessings (1 Corinthians 2:9) that outweigh these present difficulties (Romans 8:18). Through His gifts of goodness to us and as we praise Him we are given value, comfort, and provision (Psalm 34). Our lives are filled with meaning (Romans 8:28) and purpose (Psalm 67:7); He is given glory (John 15:8). These reasons that life is good will seem foolish to those who do not know Him (1 Corinthians 1:18), but I invite you to find the peace, joy, and purpose in serving God through the knowledge of His Son, Jesus (Psalm 34:8; Colossians 1:9-13), for He is the way to God (John 14:6). “Life is good because God is good”, which means that all of life is life gained from God and lived unto God (2 Peter 1:2-4), to His glory and for our benefit.

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Hebrews 1:3 is a deeply insightful verse about our God: “And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” I have long been fascinated by the phrase “radiance of His glory” and have written about it once upon a time here (Radiance Check out the poem, too.). “Radiance” is translated “brightness” in several versions but seems to fall short of conveying what Jesus accomplishes by revelation to us of His Father. He shines forth His glory, that is, we could not know of God without seeing His glory in Jesus’ representation of Him. You only see the sun because of the light radiating from it. Analogies can be taken too far, in this case to make Jesus out to be something or someone separate from the Father. That is heresy and not at all my intention in explaining radiance. Rather, hear what Jesus said, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9) That verse, of course, bears on the phrase “exact representation” also. In the ESV it reads, “exact imprint”. As an illustration I pressed my truck key into Play-Doh. I pointed out that plastic could be poured into the imprint, harden and used to open my truck door. Again, you could get into positive/negative imprint or representation being a facsimile rather than the original but that is not what the Scripture is saying. These analogies fall short because of the mystery of the Trinity, meaning our inability to understand the essential nature of God, but He gives us insight to extend our understanding even though we fall short of full understanding.

The next phrase is the one that has caught my attention most recently. I am now going to indulge in some manifest musing (or “thinking out loud” as we usually say if I were talking to you). Heupholds all things by the word of His power.” “Word of His power” is an odd construction in English. NASB, KJV, NKJV, and ESV use this phrase. NIV, HCSB, and NRSV say, “His powerful word”, and the RSV says, “his word of power”, both phrases which seem to me to have a different meaning from “word of His power”.  I suspect the three newer translations (NIV, HCSB, and NRSV) made interpretative decisions for the purpose of clarity. Is this change justified? The Greek Interlinear Bible (http://www.scripture4all.org/OnlineInterlinear/NTpdf/heb1.pdf) has the literal English word order as “declaration [word] of the ability (power) of Him” (“[]” being my addition and “()” being theirs). Not claiming to know more than the slightest inkling of Greek grammar, I can at least say that the majority translations are going with the more literal wording. The interlinear translation and Strong’s help us with what the particular words mean. “Word” here is not logos, the expression of God, but rhema, a declaration. And “power” is dynamis, which means ability or potential for power or action.

The “of” is important. It denotes possession. If I say, “son of mine” I mean the same thing as “my son”. The shade of difference is the emphasis on son in the first phrase. So the reason I don’t think “word of His power” and “His powerful word” mean the same thing is that “powerful” is not possessive, but a descriptive modifier. It says His word is powerful. “Word of His power” says His power’s word. The power is expressed in a declaration (word). Rather than saying His word has power, it seems to be saying that His power has word. His power proceeds forth as that which communicates what will be (be that static (“upholds”) or dynamic (“created” Isaiah 40:26)). Word modifies power rather than power modifying word. If we had the word it could read, ‘His wordful power’. The emphasis is on declaration (word) that upholds all things but the source of that word is His power. From His power proceeds forth a word which upholds. The way his power is being exhibited is through efficacious declaration.

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My pastor taught on Jesus’s warning in the Sermon on the Mount concerning false prophets found in Matthew 7:15-20. He asked, given the teaching of 7:1, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged“, and theme of how to live in the Sermon, why is this passage about false prophets (and teachers) here? He concluded that there is a balance to not being condemningly judgmental in 7:1 that emphasized being discerning and discriminating. False Prophets destroy the church from within frequently before their presence is detected. They must be recognized and ousted. The pastor showed from the passage that they have three characteristics: 1) Inwardly Corrupt (outward appearance with no inward experience), 2) Bad Fruit (coming from deeds of the flesh), and 3) Destined for Destruction (true belief includes growth in righteousness). On the second point the pastor describe a bad tree with bad fruit. As happens on occasions my mind drifted off into a parallel illustration.

Eastern Black Walnut (Juglans nigra (I actually remembered that without looking it up, but I can’t remember people’s names. I have poor skills at people name association.)) is an easy tree to identify in the woods. As you approach it you know what it is before you can discern leaves or bark. Very little grows under a walnut tree. The fruit (really the hull of the fruit surrounding the nut) has a poison that prevents other trees and many herbaceous varieties from growing under it. A tree given wide berth by other trees in the eastern forest is rare. More frequently trunks are quite close and roots intertwine each other if sunlight is sufficient for both. When I arrived home I found that the leaves and twigs, but especially the roots, also have the poison,“juglone” (5 hydroxy-1,4­ napthoquinone) (https://hort.purdue.edu/ext/HO-193.pdf). The information I read says that many trees and plants are tolerant to juglone, but my observation in the woods tells me that though tolerant in the sense that their leaves don’t turn yellow or the plant die, the plants do not evidently sprout well under walnut trees since the ground most usually looks almost as if it is mowed.

 The spiritual metaphor here is the same as that of a fruit tree but more caustic perhaps? Green, developing walnuts look nice enough and are certainly abundant. The False Teacher may have the appearances of fruitfulness in quality and quantity, but they inhibit life and growth. And the source is the roots which one source said can poison the ground for several years after the tree is removed. Wow! This happens in churches so that they are still reeling years after the false teachers has been run off. “You have seen their abominations and their idols… so that there will not be among you a man or woman, or family or tribe, whose heart turns away today from the Lord our God, to go and serve the gods of those nations; that there will not be among you a root bearing poisonous fruit and wormwood. (Deuteronomy 29:17-18) And Jesus said, Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.” (Matthew 12:33-34) May God multiply to His Church the grace of discernment to recognize and biblically deal with false teachers in their midst so that the sheep are not led astray and poisoned. May He strengthen and refresh those churches who have fallen prey to the poison root and fruit of false prophets that have inhibited growth among its members. May God purify us and build us up in the knowledge of Him so that we may worship Him in spirit and truth and share His glory accurately in the world.

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Rocking Chair

To and fro, there and back
I love a rocking chair
Floor and chair creak and crack
As back and forth I tear

Back and forth hard I go
I like to rock with flare
Recurved tips stem the flow
Making mishaps so rare

I can rock fast enough
To stir surrounding air
Long enough, plenty rough
To make a carpet bare

Mom rocked me on her knee
And yet she would declare
Mark my word, wait and see
His rocking all will wear

I rocked babes fast asleep
Secure in arms that bear
No crying, not a peep
Disturb babe, don’t you dare

Rocking is relaxing
Relieves the mind of care
Time for intense praying
Turns darkness into fair

Some prefer a TV
Recliner in man lair
Me, a rocker you see
Where I can grunt and stare

Write a poem rocking
Eat a bowl of soup there
Some essay concocting
Or read the Word and prayer

Worries come a-knocking
Decisions like sun’s glare
Before considering
To rocker I repair

When red flags go flying
As false ideas blare
Search for truth while rocking
And find where it does err

Slow, easy, day is done
Sort thoughts as combing hair
Hard, easy, sorrow, fun
Like runners are a pair

I decided that I wanted to write a poem that was on a different subject than my usual several favorites. I had come across Robert Louis Stevenson’s
“The Swing”, which I quite like. And I like swings very much, too, but most of
my motion while sitting pivots about a rocking chair. Here is how I write a poem.
Firstly, an idea for a poem comes to me, as reading “The Swing” had provided in this case,
or the first line or two of a poem rolls off my mind as I am considering an
idea. This first line or two or the first verse form the basis for the challenge
(perhaps game is a better word) that I begin. I constrain myself to writing
the rest of the poem with same rhyme scheme (number of syllables per line) at the very least. Frequently I use the same sound ending for the same lines in each verse, as in this poem. Sometimes I even constrain myself to the same tenor of the lines in each verse. For example, the following verse illustrates this idea:

Each new day God provides our need
He our bodies and spirits feed
Sometimes it feels like we are starved
It is then we are apt to plead

Lines 1 and 2 in this poem either communicate a blessing or command of God or a demand placed on our lives. Line 3 in each verse of the poem conveys a doubt or other faith struggle followed in line 4 by the solution or provision God gives. I know that my self-placed constraints are not necessary but it is part of the challenge that keeps wanting to write poetry, that plus a real strong feel that poetry should rhyme. A humorous side note to this poem is that I had written seven verses minus one line without much difficulty, but the last line would just not yield itself. So I did an exercise I generally like to avoid, partly because it seems like cheating in the game. I wrote out all of the words ending in the “-are” sound that I could think of. At this point I thought, “Wow, all of those expressive terms and I’m not using them.” That’s when the poem ballooned into eleven verses. Oh, there is one other constraining “rule” I place upon myself that is a higher priority than the rest. The lines must tell the truth. Certainly I mean philosophically, but also I mean personally. For example, my mom did rock me on her knee, and though I am not quoting what she said about my rocking wearing on people, she did comment many times about how I wore her out watching me and I how could wear out a rocking chair. So the crazy thing about you reading this poem, if you understood all that it says, is that you know more about me than many people that I have spent years around.

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How could I not be thinking about testing with the situation I was in. But my thoughts went to a different, more significant and substantial type of test- the test of faith. Some days I am trusting fairly well but others I am failing miserably. The thoroughly up side of this type of test though is the guaranteed perfect grade at the end of the term for those enrolled in the class.

Mark it well, this is only a test
Heaven comes after, eternal rest
Now prove the metal of who you are
It's faith in God will carry you far

It's not by works you enter the rest
Nor by your goodness you pass the test
Your goodness comes by God's work in you
Obtained by faith in the Savior true

Not one temptation can overwhelm
When you cling to God who's at the helm
Storms, wind, and hail will batter your boat
The trusted Master keeps you afloat

Saved by grace through faith in Christ alone
Scripture instructs, by this you are grown
God receives praise as only He should          (Solae Quinque)
For God passed your test, He only could

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I listened to a youtube video as I often do, and this one was titled “Self-Efficacy”. The intent of the video was kind but the result was mistaken and really sad. It explained that “self-esteem is this idea about how you see yourself, how capable you think you are, how happy you are with yourself, but self-efficacy is something kind of different, and its rather important. It’s how you perceive your ability to accomplish something.” The video went on to explain how one must develop self-efficacy to accomplish anything and that no one else can really show you how but only inspire you to try. It went on to say that there are people that use self-efficacy for evil to gain confidence to hurt people. A sad part to me was the realization that all self actualization is bad because it emphasizes and exalts self and ignores or even rejects God. We should have Christ-esteem which then provides us with value because He created us and died for us and enables us. And we should bless His efficacy that enables each one of us to “do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13) The most sad part of the video, however, was the inadvertent admission later in the video that the speaker did not know how to bring about world peace even though he thought that it must be emphasized. I can’t bring about world peace either but I know from whence peace comes and whence world peace shall come. We may have peace with God and within ourselves now by trusting in what Jesus did on the cross. That enables us to pursue growing peace with those around us and will one day result in world peace when Jesus returns and sets the world right.

As I mulled over some difficulties within my family recently I concluded that even though life may be difficult at times, it is right and good and beneficial for us to trust God. The following poem came to me as I thought on these things:

Each new day God provides our need
He our bodies and spirits feed
Sometimes it feels like we are starved
It is then we are apt to plead

To call on Him for our supply
Is His command, He will reply
Of delay that seems not answered
Glorifies Him when we rely

Emotions raw so often we cry
Relationships have gone awry
All hope of healing seems removed
Then must we trust Him though we sigh

Good health eludes us though pursued
Accidents happen though we cared
For these struggles so unprepared
Faith does not mean we will be spared

It is then we trust God so wise
Know Him more as each moment flies
Submit, expectations altered
Temporal and eternal prize

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In the fourth generation and 60 years after King David died there arose a king over Judah whose name was Asa. His father and grandfather had no heart for God, worshipping idols and allowing the people to run wild in their pursuit of idolatry. And his great-grandfather, Solomon, turned away from God in His old age because of the enticement and idolatry of his many wives. So it is a surprise the high praise Asa is given in I Kings 15: “Asa did what was right in the sight of the Lord, like David his father. He also put away the male cult prostitutes from the land and removed all the idols which his father had made. He also removed Maacah his mother from being queen mother, because she had made a horrid image as an Asherah; and Asa cut down her horrid image and burned it at the brook Kidron… the heart of Asa was wholly devoted to the Lord all his days.” (v.11-13, 14b) Much of Asa’s story is repeated in II Chronicles 14-16, but as is frequently the case the story includes more spiritually commentary on details given in Kings. Besides removing idols and their worshippers, II Chronicles 14 also says that he “commanded Judah to seek the Lord God of their fathers and to observe the law and the commandment” (v. 4) and God rewarded him in that “the land was undisturbed, and there was no one at war with him during those years, because the Lord had given him rest.” (v. 6) Asa took advantage of these benefits of time and security by fortifying cities and strengthening the number and equipment of his army. And yet he did not put his trust in these but called on God to defeat a million man Ethiopian army that came against him. In response God indeed defeated the army and sent Azariah the prophet to strengthen and encourage Asa and Judah to continue seeking God because there is reward in it (II Chronicles 15:1-7). Asa indeed took courage and increased his reforms in Israel by more idol worship removal, restoring the altar of the temple and sacrificing on it, and promoting a covenant among the people to serve God only. There was peace for 20 more years.

     In all of this glowing report about Asa there are two blindspots of his that arise in the story. One is obvious and the other is not. “In the thirty-sixth year of Asa’s reign Baasha king of Israel came up against Judah and fortified Ramah in order to prevent anyone from going out or coming in to Asa king of Judah. Then Asa brought out silver and gold from the treasuries of the house of the Lord and the king’s house, and sent them to Ben-hadad king of Aram, who lived in Damascus, saying, ‘Let there be a treaty between you and me, as between my father and your father. Behold, I have sent you silver and gold; go, break your treaty with Baasha king of Israel so that he will withdraw from me.’” (II Chronicles 16:1-3) Baasha does withdraw and Asa has all of his people carry away the materials of fortification to build other fortifications. Well played, right? No, poorly played because as the prophet Hanani points out, “you have relied on the king of Aram and have not relied on the Lord your God.” (v. 7) Asa’s blindspot, indeed his sin, is pride in the form of self-reliance. This had not been a problem 20 years before when he had called on God to defeat the enemy. Three indicators that it is indeed pride and not a simple oversight follow. Asa throws the prophet into prison and oppresses some of the people, maybe because they agreed with Hanani. The third indicator of his old age pride appears three years later when God further tests him with disease in his feet. “Yet even in his disease he did not seek the Lord, but the physicians.” (v. 12) The word “yet” indicates that this activity was a continuation of the self-reliance with the scheming that trusted a king rather than God. Such self-reliance is a danger for us all. For youth it may generally fall more in the realm of strength and supposed invincibility, but for the wizened king it may have been more the bane of years of experience without continued growth in reliance upon God due to comfort. We cannot let our guard down, “For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.” (v. 9) The biter was the prophet’s next words: “You have acted foolishly in this.” If Asa had repented right then and there God may not have strapped him with so much war thereafter, or not tested him with foot disease. God is more concerned with purifying us than making us comfortable.

     The less obvious blindspot of Asa appears in one short phrase basically repeated in the other passage. “But the high places were not taken away,” and “…not removed from Israel.” (I Kings 15:14a; II Chronicles 15:17a) These detractors from Asa’s reputation are almost dismissed by their follow-up phrases: “nevertheless the heart of Asa was wholly devoted to the Lord all his days,” (I Kings 15:14) and “nevertheless Asa’s heart was blameless all his days.” (II Chronicles 15:17) It seems that even though the high places were an oversight in Asa’s reforms and worship, his intentions toward God in worship were always pure. But this is not quite the end of the discussion because the Chronicles passage adds some facts that seem to confuse this whole problem. One of the first things that II Chronicles 14 indicates that Asa did was “he removed the foreign altars and high places, tore down the sacred pillars, cut down the Asherim…” (v. 3). Did he remove the high places or did he not? I think that the answer is both yes and no. This latter mention of high places is surrounded by mention of “foreign altars” with specific examples. The other high places may have been of the type mentioned when God spoke to Solomon in I Kings 3: “The people were still sacrificing on the high places, because there was no house built for the name of the Lord until those days. Now Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David, except he sacrificed and burned incense on the high places. The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the great high place; Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. In Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream at night; and God said, “Ask what you wish Me to give you.” (v. 2-5) Solomon along with the people and subsequent kings all had this blindspot. They were worshipping God but not how and where He told them to worship. In fact it was not until Hezekiah, 9 generations and over 210 years later, that “he removed the high places…” (II Kings 18:4) The Assyrian general scoffing at Judah’s confidence confirms that these are the high places of worship to God when he says, “is it not He whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah has taken away, and has said to Judah and to Jerusalem, ‘You shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem’?” (II Kings 18:22) What then is my point by all of this “high places” discussion? What may I learn? As I grow older I certainly want to avoid the glaring sin of self-reliance, and repent where it rears its ugly head. But I also want to ferret out the more subtle blindspots, sins of my culture that are dragging us down and we don’t even see it. God is gracious with us overlooking so much. When our heart is right before Him, He extends more grace, guiding us through many difficulties with help and rest on all sides. But our blindspots are not overlooked; He knows them every one. O Lord, reveal them to us so that we may go deeper with You, gain Your blessing on ourselves and our culture, and glorify Your name in every crack and cranny of life, so that “we are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (II Corinthians 10:5).

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Humility should always be donned by a Christian. We were sinners; we are sinners saved by grace; we will one day not be sinners by the grace of God. Oh, that I could communicate by words and deeds a life of repentance and trust, repentance and trust.
Ups and downs and all arounds
The days go rolling by
No matter all the times we fail
We must again retry

Thank your God or take the rod
A smile or else a cry
Repent, forgiveness will prevail
Joy replaces a sigh

Trust Him now and so learn how
To overcome the lie
That Spirit's power has no avail
To cause the flesh to die

When upside down makes you frown
Recall God is on high
No matter what may you assail
He is all your supply

Jesus died to sin applied
Believe, do not deny
His power over death and hell
One day to heaven fly

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About this time of year I hear well worn comments like these: “High school is the best time of your life; better make the most of it.” I’m glad that for many of us that is not true or we’d just end it right now. “Now you have to go out into the real world.” High school is real enough with its own set of challenges. “Now you can spread your wings and feel your freedom.” Yes and no. Some have far more license in high school than they should and little will change when they get out. All will continue to have constraints even if only by the law and many will have more responsibility and constraints than they ever have. So where is some wisdom that applies to all. That, of course, comes from the Scripture. For example, as I considered one relative’s graduation recently the following came to mind: “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34) The combination of the ideas of today and trouble set me to thinking on how to give wisdom to this graduate. Following is my mean attempt:

Don't wish your life away
Looking for a better way

Don't fear difficulty
Vexing ambiguity

Don't shun caring embrace
To keep up with the rat race

Don't give up or give in
On false hopes your future pin

Hope instead in God's way
And through today's troubles pray

In His serenity
Find all your security

Care for others with grace
Taking time, slowing your pace

Fight temptation and sin
By God's power you will win

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A pastor friend of mine put this quote on Facebook that he had read from Tim Keller: “For most of us, God hasn’t become our happiness. We, therefore, pray to procure things for our happiness, and not to know him better.” Sometimes quotes are black and white, absolute, and I want to say, no, only sometimes and partially. So I started to respond to this entry but as I tried to think how to respond the depth of my own culpability increased in my eyes. Things procured may not always be material objects, and most frequently are not things I most desire or pursue. They may be accomplishments, comforts, accolades, encouragements, skills, health, entertainments, work, love, a sense of purpose, and so on. They are not knowledge of God. Neither are the bad in themselves, used as tools for knowing Him and making Him known, but I don’t frequently acquire them for that reason. So I retreated from responding to the entry, but the impact of the statement would not fade. I have resolved by the Spirit to confront such idols in the past.

As these thoughts mulled over in my mind I was reminded of the verse in the hymn that goes, “Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by Thy help I’m come, and I hope, by Thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home.” The Ebenezer comes from a text in I Samuel 7:8-13: “Then the sons of Israel said to Samuel, “Do not cease to cry to the Lord our God for us, that He may save us from the hand of the Philistines.” Samuel took a suckling lamb and offered it for a whole burnt offering to the Lord; and Samuel cried to the Lord for Israel and the Lord answered him. Now Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, and the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel. But the Lord thundered with a great thunder on that day against the Philistines and confused them, so that they were routed before Israel. The men of Israel went out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, and struck them down as far as below Beth-car. Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” So the Philistines were subdued and they did not come anymore within the border of Israel.”  The translation of Ebenezer is a “stone of help”. It is a monument raised by someone to remind them of help that God has given them. It is very easy to emphasize the act of raising the stone or the resolve that went into the help afforded but that is a totally man-centered dead end. God thundered and confused the enemy and routed and weakened to be struck down. Israel was active: pursuing, striking; Samuel set up the stone, but God did all of the heavy lifting and enabled all of the victory. So too in our victories over the temptation “we are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,” (II Corinthians 10:5) by the enabling power of the Spirit.

At my age and stage of life I have set up more than a few Ebenezers in field of battle. “God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1 I know His help, and I know how to call on Him, but in many smaller skirmishes and encampment quarrels and disease I am in great need of revisiting an Ebenezer set up where God enabled victory over evil thoughts, or the other one where victory was won over sluggish spiritual discipline, or yet another one where pride of accomplishment and tendency to show off was overcome. And on it goes. I need to take every thought captive by the power He provides, set up monuments to remind me of His victory and what was won, know Him more, and revisit those “stones of help” before or during great or prolonged battles.

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It is poem writing season again. I had trouble starting. When I tried the only thing that came was the first line. The more I thought about it the more I realized that I was vaguely sad. As that settled on my soul I began to think why that would be so given the blessing and lack of obvious stress in my life just now. Rather than try to figure it out I set to pursuing the solution which is found in Scripture. I Peter 5:3-4 says, “humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” Colossians 3:2-4 says, “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.” Romans 6:11 says, “consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Nehemiah 8:10, “this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Given the context, the last verse is not saying that we should never be grieved, but that there is a time not to be. A perpetual state of sadness means a consistent looking away from God toward the circumstances. May God rescue us from that.

Dear Lord help me when I’m sad

To learn Your joy by faith known

Dwell on Your grace and be glad

More my Savior’s beauty shown

 

In trials and temptations be

Focused on heaven’s riches

That in hardships we may see

Purpose and service niches

 

Find passion for mundane chores

In praise it brings to our Lord

Through crises open the doors

To know God and Him adored

 

When loved ones die or withdraw

Find solace in Father’s eyes

From His Word and prayer we draw

Comfort to resist lonely lies

 

As stress births desperation

Then retreat to His strong side

Flee your worry creation

Rest when in Him you confide

 

When overwhelmed totally

Seek out saints to hold you up

Build vulnerability

God will through them fill your cup

 

Not as though struggle will stop

Short of heaven it will not

World, flesh, devil will not drop

The constant barrage of rot

 

But Christ has overcome them

For those who trust God can know

Victory and joy in Him

And witness to others flow

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I have not blogged since August, the longest time off since I started blogging in 2007. The pace of life always seems on the uptick and where are the moments for musing? God is at work and life is still a challenge. I want to relate His goodness, provision, direction, and discipline in my life, but it is more important to live out what He has set before me than always write it down.

I had a dream the middle of this last week. I probably dream frequently as do most people but I infrequently remember that I have dreamed at all and even when I do the dream is vague and fades quickly when I awake. When I have a vivid dream I pay attention.

In the dream I was sitting in a chair at a white, plastic round table surrounded by chairs perhaps large enough to seat 6. The table sat near the inside to an entrance to a business, perhaps a department store or the entrance to a mall, but I could not tell which one because I was faced toward the multiple sets of double doors through which many people were passing. It was a hectic scene but I was focused on a piece of paper on the table before me. With a pencil I kept trying to organize how to pay the doctor bills, complete all of the tasks required of me by home and work, and fulfill all of the commitments I had made to people. As I struggled over the list occasionally I would glance up to see one or three or two people sitting at the table across from me. Every one of the people that would come and sit for a moment was someone I know and can name. Some would be saying encouraging words to me and others would just smile. These were all people who have and are helping my wife and me since her stroke. I could not understand their actual words but I understood the content of their words and smiles to mean that God was working it out and that they were there to see us through. I continued to fret and pour over the list. One couple who has helped us in various ways came separately to the table, first the woman and then the man. She smiled at me with an ever growing smile as if to say, “God has this under control, trust Him.” After she left the man came and lounged, legs crossed, telling a story as he is apt to do, interjecting my name with “It will work out.” Others came who have blessed us with their presence and concern and prayers and help and financial assistance and encouraging words.

When I awoke I had several immediate conclusions that seemed abundantly evident from the dream:

   1) God was saying to me that He had sent all of these people to help us.

   2) My fretting was useless, distracting me from blessing, lacking in faith, and sin, and I need to repent of it. (I didn’t even think that I was fretting or scheming but it is so easy to to fall prey to that lie. I knew God was in control and providing but I still was adding my “two cents worth” of figuring it out.)

   3) I need to thank some people who I have not really thanked for all of the help they have given us.

We need the church. You can’t fellowship by yourself. You can’t glorify God to the full extent and in the way He has ordained without believers’ input. The people of God help us in so many ways through prayer, encouragement, admonition, teaching, and material help. We miss out by not growing relationships with fellow believers in a local body of believers, worshipping, praying, working, witnessing, crying, and laughing together.

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It is a common response among some Christians these days to say that their faith is not a religion as the other belief systems have it but a relationship with the Creator and Savior. I heartily agree with this distinction  because God has initiated relationship with us through the saving blood of His Son, Jesus. Other faith systems are religions whereby the adherent attempts to acquire some semblance of relationship with a deity by acts of ritual. Therefore, religion is marked by ritual, most notably rituals of appeasement. Any casual observer as well as the skeptic will be quick to point out that Christianity also has ritual. A little reflection will quickly reveal that most of that ritual is human generated. But even apart from that there is the prescribed ritual of the Lord’s Supper and  Baptism. So how is it that I am claiming that  Christianity is different? 

In many respects related to the topic at hand I must confess that it is no different though it is supposed to be. What I ambitiously desire to do in a few words is describe how it should be different, how it is not, and how it may regularly be transformed into different when it falters into same ‘ole, same ‘ole. My thesis is that unbelievers among the skeptic, disinterested, and nominal Christian, as well as the carnal Christian and devoted believer are constantly in danger of practicing religion through ritual because they are deceived (some as a persistent condition and others as a periodic pitfall) into believing that we must appease the gods or God in order to gain their or His favor.

True relationship must have forms and norms, which may be seen as ritual, but the point is not the ritual or any attempt at controlling or appeasing the one with whom you are interacting (for if it is the relationship has problems which will appear now or later). For instance, we say hello and good-bye, shake hands or hug, address our elders as Mister or Missis, and any number of things to be polite and show respect as demonstrations of love in order to build up the relationship.  Formalities keep relationships appropriate and prevent misunderstanding and hurt.

As regards relationship with God, we must approach Him in reverence and in appropriate ways both because He is worthy and because He is not to be trifled with at peril to ourselves. But He has initiated the relationship and provides all that is needed to maintain and grow it. We can do neither and should cease trying both because we never can and because it is an affront to His provision of grace, an act of unbelief.

So as it should look, the Lord’s Supper or Baptism are relationship building activities that draw us and onlookers closer to God, not through appeasement but by focus on Him, listening to what He communicates to us through prayer, and His word and what we communicate to Him through worship and obedience. Other forms of worship like listening to the Word preached, singing or hearing singing, musing on His Word or His beauty as revealed in Creation, confessing sin, interacting with others about the things of God in fellowship are forms for getting to know God better, telling others about Jesus, and serving others.

Here is where the ritual may creep in or always be present. At any point we believe the lie that we must appease or control God or get lazy (complacency!), we counterfeit relationship by doing ritual. The activities we are involved in may be the very ones God commands and may be the very ones that brought blessing by growing our relationship with God last week or yesterday, but we have fallen back on the way that is easier for the flesh, that old sinful nature within, going through the motions- ritual! The unbeliever knows no other way; the carnal believer knows too little of the blessing of relationship with God; the devoted follower is blind-sided by inattention to the things he knows to do and avoid that build or destroy intimacy with God, respectively.

The solution for all comers is the same. Repent! Your sin is unbelief. No amount of ritual will ever draw you closer to God. If you do not know Him, then meet Him through the introduction of faith in what Jesus did on the cross to forgive you for your sin. Getting to know Him is wonderful. If you know Him already quit trying to manipulate the relationship by performing ritual; repent and again seek to know Him. It will bring peace to your beleaguered soul.

Then be alert for the Lie that you can make a go of it on your own, a lie nearly as old as the Garden of Eden where Satan proposed it. Better to pause from spiritual activity rather than continue in ritualistic persistence. Don’t use this as an excuse to continue in an undisciplined way, not pursuing relationship with God. Pause instead to regain passion for the pursuit through the prayer of repentance. Then seek the ancient paths that Jeremiah speaks of  to follow after your God.

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“I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me.” (Phillipians 2:18) and Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you.” (Phillipians 3:1) Okay, Paul, I hear you but what is the big deal here? You said it twice, pleading, commanding, and “safeguard”, really?

When I looked at the context of the two verses I realized why he is so adamant. So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, 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.Do all things without grumbling or disputing;  so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world,  holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain. But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you.” (2:12-17) and Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision;  for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (3:2-3). Paul is alerting the believers to get serious and rejoice. You take part in God’s work to sanctify you and here are some major hindrances to progress: voicing a bad attitude, contrary generation, trials, false teachers, legalists, and the flesh. Rejoicing is a safeguard because the listed hindrances to sanctification are beaten back by the rejoicing in the things of God based on an act of faith. Bad attitudes and the flesh, and every person contrary to the truth cannot defeat the act of worship of rejoicing. Begin to rejoice even if you don’t feel like it; even if you are struggling to see it; even if the circumstances say otherwise. Your faith will expand, others will be drawn in, and God will be glorified.

“Feasting on the riches of His grace, resting ‘neath His shelt’ring wing; always looking on His smiling face- that is why I shout and sing!” goes the old hymn. Dwell on Him; trust in Him; cling to Him; rejoice in Him.

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During the sermon this morning the pastor referenced two metaphors used by John MacArthur concerning unity in the church. Never quite willing to let a good analogy go unanalyzed and extended I began musing.

According to his reporting of MacArthur, we frequently see unity as a bag of marbles. Marbles (people in the church) are held in (unity) by a bag (programs). If the bag wears thin or tears the church loses all its marbles via the loss of the external binding force of the bag.   It occurred to me that the congregants scatter because they have potential energy (sin nature) that gives them momentum (movement) away from one another once the constraining force of the bag is reduced. The reason this occurred to me is that I have seen dead churches that still have a semblance of unity even when there are no programs to hold them together simply because there is also no life or movement in the church. Dead objects don’t move (or stop their present straight line motion (tradition)) unless acted upon.

MacArthur thought that a better analogy for unity was that of a magnet (God) acting as a central attractive force upon iron filings (the people). But the science teacher in me rebuffed that there are no mono-poles. For every north pole there is a south pole, always. So what we are being attracted to as our north pole-God- causes us to be oriented away from what is then our south pole-the world, the flesh, and the devil. Iron filings alone will be attracted to either pole but once magnetized by an attraction to one pole will orient with their “backs” to the other pole since they become mini-magnets with north and south poles. We still have sin natures which pull us the wrong way, but we now have a new pole oriented toward God and others in our church, unless we pull away.

What attracts you? What are you being oriented toward? What have you turned your back on or is this outside force deciding for you? Orient yourself toward God by His grace along with a body of believers (iron filings) and you will turn your back on evil. Try to stay neutral and you will be pulled in by the next passing attraction.

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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