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Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

Mundane and tedious blights the soul
Clips the wings and dulls life's sheen
Off to the digs, the life of a mole
Outwardly lulled, inwardly lean

Nothing big but challenges galore
Wanting to rise to the top
But daily life pins you to the floor
While pleading that troubles would stop

Why do difficulties continue?
Why do my troubles persist?
Where's a fresh start and a new venue?
Does purpose in problems exist?

If you would be faithful in little
Later entrusted with much
The trials will test your faith and mettle
Spirit's power revealed as such

Hold on and trust in the daily tasks
Find His help in every trial
Cling to Him, doing all that He asks
Don't doubt, turning to denial

Embracing your God ordained story
Bear up under every test
Then to God will go all the glory
And your soul will find joy and rest

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Lord, You give us all good things
To enjoy and praise Your Name
Thanks for Your benefits rings
Always gracious, always the same

Difficulty You allow
Confusion part of what's planned
Hardship brings sweat to the brow
Some gifts are hard to understand

Trusting Your goodness the plan
Resist confusion and pain
Cling to God, unbelief ban
Let His rule and direction reign

Halt all you're not called to do
Do well what He's given you
Make it first Him to pursue
God will work well to see you through

Then peace will reign in your heart
Problems will not overwhelm
Each new day a brand new start
Your joy when God is at the helm

 

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I was asked, as one of the guests requested by the Eagle Scout candidate, if I would like to speak during the ceremony. I asked if I would be allowed to share Scripture. The response was, “That would be good because the pastor had a conflict and can’t come.” Following is an approximation of what I said then:

Eagle Scout Candidate (ESC- I used his name where this appears), congratulations on your accomplishment. I am here to give you a challenge. Your Scout Oath speaks of duty to God, Family, Country, Others, and Self. Life is about relationships. I add family to the list because, even though it is not included directly in your oath, it is the most fundamental unit of society, even above government, and is surely included in “others”. The Scout Promise and Path is about fulfilling these duties within these relationships.

My challenge today, ESC, pertains to the question, What is our duty to God?

Micah 6:8 says, He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” In the context before and after this verse the prophet points out that this requirement is not being fulfilled. Is it an unreasonable requirement? Paul quotes King David, the prophet (Psalm 36) when he says,There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands,there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does goodthere is not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12) Paul summarizes the problem just a few verses later: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (v.23) Is God being unreasonable to require what we cannot do? What is the solution? The solution is relationship with God. Hear what Ephesians 2:8-9 says: For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” The first step in duty to God is to know God through His Son, Jesus.  The next step is to live for God. These two steps cannot be reversed. You cannot simply serve God and be a nice person. You must know God through Jesus first, then He gives power to those who know Him by providing everything they need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:2-3).

ESC, my challenge to you is this: Know God through Jesus, not know about God. Know God by receiving Jesus as your Savior. Secondly, know God regularly through His Word and through worship. Thirdly, serve family, country, and all people through the power God gives, giving Him the credit. This is your duty to God.

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Last week I was asked to film some running and interviews and be interviewed about exercising. After challenging students to come out for a set of couch to 5K training sessions to be sponsored by the track team, I gave them my challenge: “I have been exercising for over 40 years and here is what I’ve learned: Start now, start small, and start again.” Start now, because if you don’t you probably won’t. Start small and progress slowly or you will probably be overwhelmed and give up. Life is challenging. You get injured or sick or you have responsibilities that prevent you or old habits overtake you and you just sit. Don’t give up; start again. And the next time it happens start again and again until the habit makes it hard to quit.

When I walked away from being interviewed I realized that what I said could readily be applied to many areas of life. The spiritual application is one of perseverance and diligence in the pursuit of relationship with God. Our life with God begins and continues by grace through faith, but we are also urged to “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) God’s work in us results in us working. Our salvation is secure in Him but our sanctification is progressive. If it is reading the Bible regularly or studying it, or praying, or witnessing, or going to church for worship and fellowship: Start now, start small, start again. You’ve given in again to that sinful urge. Your old self wants it and that’s why you did it, but your new life in Christ wants to please Him and wants to break the slavery to sin. It is not just a matter of stop. You need to replace the sinful urge with a godly urge. Practice righteousness. Start now. Start small. Start again. You neglect the best for the alright and easy. Set your priorities in order which includes the best and down time to recuperate from intense activities. Start now. Start small. Start again. Getting in shape spiritually is not so different than getting in shape physically, though really it is because “…discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness;  for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” (I Timothy 4:7-8) And furthermore, though you should “work out your salvation with fear and trembling;” simultaneously “…it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13-14) And “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12) Other than that (haha!) they are the same, so start now, start small, and start again. Coupled with the many promises that we “can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13) and “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (I Corinthians 10:13) and “if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (I John 2:1) and “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 more, then the least we can do is start now, start small, and start again.

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Oh Father, my heart is heavy
My past failures and troubles, too
Exact from me a stiff levy
Brokenness, regrets not a few

There is now no condemnation
Help me believe that it is true
Act so without reservation
Participate in life anew

Communicate life to loved one 
Keep what is best for him in view
Remembering victories won
Repent, reconcile, and renew

May my life show to all others
That forgiveness makes all things new
Humble in success and failures
Belief in Christ is what is due

Make my heart light with joy and peace
Paint my life with a brighter hue
Christ's life in me a brand new lease
May be seen by all to be true

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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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He said, “Do your best and let God take care of the rest.” I had heard this and similar phrases many times, but I went off on a mental tangent of evaluating it in the light of Scripture. I think that I understand the intent of the saying, namely that we have an active part to play in growing righteousness in our life and God completes what is lacking in us. Thus far I have no problem, but I think we may do better in our understanding and representation of the interplay of our effort and God’s empowerment. Toward a theology of effort and empowerment consider the following diagrams with their perspectives on the topic:

effort-empowerment-arrows

The arrows are somewhat self-explanatory, but I want to clarify them for my own benefit and yours. Though, as I said, the #1 was stated with right intentions, I believe that at face value it is really saying that I exert effort to the extent of my ability and then God kicks in for the rest. But the Scripture says,“for in Him we live and move and exist” (Acts 17:28), and “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) We cannot even breathe apart from the grace He provides, but the “nothing” here seems to me to be ‘nothing of eternal significance’. As Paul teaches in I Corinthians 3:11-15, For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.  Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” 

I think that #2 is closer to the right perspective. God wants us to be involved and tells us through Paul to 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 2:12b-13) Our part is working with God by faith that He provides all we need to obey Him. He is actually the one willing and working and He receives all the glory as only He should. We receive no glory for effort, 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. For by these He has granted to us His 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.” (II Peter 1:3-4) The “magnificent promises” and “divine nature” afforded believers far exceed our efforts. For this reason I have the ‘me’ arrow inside the ‘God’ arrow. God is in, through, and around all that we do and amplifies it to a magnificent and divine level, “abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us” (Ephesians 3:20).The result is that “Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11) and “to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:21)

#3 is not only lazy but detracts from the glory of God by not proving His purpose and plan as revealed in such passages as Ephesians 2:10: For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” We are not to be idle. Our flesh will consume us the moment we stop clinging to God and moving forward in the strength He provides, for “the heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) Conversely, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

#4 may seem like a statement of working with God, but I have seen consistently that the people who use this phrase are just trying to be good in their own right and have little concern for godliness or God’s glory. He intends and expects of those whom He is saving and the whole world as well that they acknowledge Him in all things: ““Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters.” (Revelation 14:7) 

Our hearts tend to be lazy when it comes to spiritual disciplines, but I believe that God has ordained that His will is frequently accomplished and His kingdom built by enabling the efforts He orchestrates within us (#5), as we said above from Philippians 2:12-13. So we work hard and bring God glory as you see Paul and the Thessalonians did: For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.” (I Thessalonians 2:9-12) It is right and proper that we should work hard at spiritual progress in the strength God provides in order that others might be drawn to God and God be glorified.

And with all of this effort, remember that God needs nothing from us and can accomplish His will without us whenever and however He pleases (#6). “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?” (Jeremiah 32:27) But He has made us involved in so much of what He is doing, “for this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:14-19) For  “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

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