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Archive for the ‘Grace’ Category

“Happy Birthday to my first love, America,” the Facebook newsfeed read. Given the picture of the young man sitting in front of an American flag and it appearing on July 4th, there was context for the content. Still it sent a shiver up my spine.

Among countries, my first love. Among homelands, my first love. Sure. But just “my first love, America?” Where is the sense of priority? How about God and country, or even better, God, family, and country?

Politics and patriotism are not the solutions to our problems. Helping our fellowman and giving sacrificially are not the solutions to our problems. Raw moral courage and consistency are not the solutions to our problems. Environmental awareness and action are not the solutions to our problems. They are part of the solution, but America, in great pride and ungodliness, has cast God aside.

It is as in the time of Jeremiah: “For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, The fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” (2:13) Once this was a nation called to be a “city upon a hill” (Puritan John Winthrop, 1630), and declared to be “great because she is good.”, but the time has come for the rest of that quote to be fulfilled: “If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” (summation of Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America”) Now I know that the naysayers out there will say that she never was good, and there is some truth to that (broken treaties, persecutions, immoral cities, environment abusing, etc), but there was a seeking after God and a general acknowledgement of God and His moral code, and many good things that were done, and God’s blessing upon us.

But the gig is up! Repent, America, before the judgment comes. It is determined and it will not delay if we continue to go on heedlessly. Now is the time to turn and plead with God for mercy, before He says no more and your future is sealed. Some will say, but God is always forgiving, how can you say that He will not forgive. Yes, He is, and He is also just and He hardens those who continue to refuse Him. Perhaps the atheists, agnostics, and amoralists will ignore me, but what of the church goers and spiritual crowd who claim a knowledge of God, but refuse to submit to the clear call of the Gospel and the simple moral absolutes of His Law. Repent or we are doomed.

Do you want to show allegiance to America on this 4th of July. Order your allegiance to God, Our Creator and Savior. Quit making excuses that you will take care of it later (which you probably won’t have), or it’s none of my business (more than that, my responsibility to declare the truth), or you have my own beliefs about God (not according to His Holy Word), or I don’t hurt anybody (but you offend God by keeping Him at arm’s length and sleep with your girlfriend as if that is OK since it is consensual), or I see no evidence that God exists (though the heavens declare His glory and all Creation points to His power and wisdom), or I’ve always been a good person and help everyone that I can (but refuse to turn to God in Jesus to rescue you from your coveting what belongs to others and disrespecting your parents and elders and those in authority).

God have mercy on us, as Thomas Jefferson said, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that His justice cannot sleep forever.”

God is merciful, and because He has still given us freedom, albeit dwindling, we have opportunity to turn to Him. Jesus, “He Himself  bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” (I Peter 2:24)  Don’t think that you can make it in your own goodness or by another way for “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

And what does this have to do with the 4th of July? Our very survival as a country and a culture is dependent upon us turning back to God. Most of you likely to read this are my friends, many of whom agree with what I have said, though perhaps some of you think I should soften the delivery (to which I reply, “We are way too far down the road for tender pleading.”), but I plead with you to share this with others who may be in danger of ignoring the need to turn away from their wickedness to God.

I love my country; I love my family more, but my first love is and must be my God, my Savior, to whom all allegiance is due.

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

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

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

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

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I hugely enjoy fellowshipping in other churches on the rare occasions that I travel. This Memorial Day weekend was just one of those times. I am encouraged by God’s universal church worshipping God and the teaching of God’s Word, interpreted by the same Holy Spirit, sounding forth. God is at work in many and various places to accomplish His work, and God’s people are seeking Him.

Visiting a small church called “Grace…” [only part of the name I could remember, or needed to know] in New Port Richey, Florida, the pastor’s son-in-law, who is a policeman, preached on trials from James 1:1-12. Following are a few paraphrases of his words on purpose and perspective in the midst of trials:

“We don’t have it in us to have joy” [deep, light-hearted confidence]; it comes from the Holy Spirit within us enabling us to “delight in the

       1) person of God,    

       2) the purpose of God, and

       3) the people of God.”

“Our life purpose is to portray the superiority of God in our lives”, giving glory to God.

The purpose of our trials is to glorify God by our winning when it looks like we are losing [because of trials].

Trials test our faith: pop quiz:

1) “Do you believe God is in control?”

2) “Do you believe God is good?”

3 “Are you willing to wait on God’s perfect timing in every area of your

    life?”

The endurance or steadfastness referred to in verse three means to ‘remain under’. Trials are a stress, a pressure, an uncomfortable force in our lives. ‘Everything God wants to do in our lives and use to bless us comes through us remaining under God’s control’ in the midst of trials.

This spattering of my sermon notes does not convey the full weight of the sermon, but it does give you pieces of wisdom that I think are worth reading over several times. Trials are for believers to test and strengthen their faith and give glory to God. We are not spared trials because they are what are best for us and give the most glory to God. May His name be praised in all that I do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Following are but a few examples of each one:

     Promises

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

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

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

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

   Practices

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

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

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

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

   Presence

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

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

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

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

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

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Grace Enough

I was forced to stand in silence for an hour and a half today, so I occupied my mind with thoughts of God’s grace. I was trying to decide if I should use the pronoun me, you, or us in the poem I wrote. I began with a mixture of me and you. That didn’t seem right to me. Me would be more personal, but you would be more inclusive. I decided on us, even though I was concerned that it might imply to readers that everyone has access to this grace. Believers in Jesus have been gifted with faith by God’s grace and now have access to that grace. But I wanted to use us in order to group together the body of Christ as we struggle and celebrate together. Here is the result:

 

 

Grace for us in every trial
In every hurt, for every mile
Grace enough for each new day
Through the flood and the fray

When days are up or days are down
Skies are bright or grey and brown
Days of hope or dread and fire
Grace enough for the smooth and mire

Grace enough to rescue from hell
To raise us up when we fell
Joy where we would think there is none
Rest now and when life is done

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Pastor preached on Proverbs 27:17 this morning: “Iron sharpens iron,
so one man sharpens another.” He spoke about the need, purpose, and process of believers helping each other grow spiritually. I enjoy extending metaphors, which requires care not to come up with analogies not there or elsewhere delineated in Scripture or life. The usefulness of such an enterprise may be to help those who hear to further understand the importance of the concept portrayed by the metaphor.

Why does the Scripture say iron sharpens iron? That has long bothered me, because anyone who has sharpened a knife or tool knows that you use a whetstone, grinding stone, or ceramic sharpening tool which are harder than the tool.  And such tools existed. I Samuel 13:20 records the desperation for Israel when “all Israel went down to the Philistines, each to sharpen his plowshare, his mattock, his axe, and his hoe.” These events were more than 300 years before Solomon wrote the proverb. For that matter, why shouldn’t I use modern technology, the diamond sharpening stone?

The proverb is a metaphor for fellowship and discipleship within the congregation of believers. God doesn’t give us any other choice. We must sharpen each other. And we are not back at the castle. We are in the battle, so the grinding wheel is not an option. We go to our brother, cross swords in a mutually beneficial way and come away sharpened for more battle. Fellowship is the non-optional, God-ordained means for being honed to battle readiness.

Those who want to exclude themselves because of “hypocrites in the church” or “I can worship in nature” just fine or “all I need is Jesus” are dull or more likely twisted and unbalanced weapons. The problem is everybody wants to be sharp but nobody wants to be sharpened. When you are sharpening a blade, one swipe of the finger near the edge will reveal why so few want to be sharpened. Your finger will come up with a dark gray dust from the sharpening process. Sharpening removes material. Bad material and excess material must be removed from your life. It can be painful and humbling.

For some it’s rust from lack of use or exposure to corroding influences that needs to be removed and is hindering the cutting edge. For others, it is good material, all be it not according to faith or God’s direction, that needs to be removed to reduce the fat edge of dullness.

When two materials of equal hardness are used to do the sharpening, material is removed from both edges. Discipling and being discipled means involvement in another person’s life with all of the mutual messiness and need for honing away spiritual dullness.

And some of us are more of a mess than others. I own a double bladed axe. The way that I came into ownership of this axe goes back to the beginning of my wood heating days. I borrowed this axe (first mistake) to split some of the first wood I cut. While attempting to split some very twisted forks, I got several wedges stuck in a piece. I used the axe to attempt to get the wedges out (second mistake). I bought the axe, that is, I replaced the friend’s axe and kept the broken one. The strike took out a half-moon divot in the blade about the size of your thumbnail. In years since I have used the good blade to split and the broken blade when risking to remove wedges or cut roots near metal or concrete. No other sizable divots have been removed but the the edge has been bludgeoned a few times. I have tried for years to sharpen that divot out of the blade. For the longest time my efforts were to no avail, but now, years later, that blade is reasonably sharp while still having somewhat of a dent in the edge. It took years and that blade is possibly an inch shorter than the other one. That blade is me. The difference is that I have multiple divots. God has had to work for years to grind away the dullness of my spirit due to sinful habits and difficulties of life. I still show the scars and I’m not the sharpest tool in the box, but neither am I who I was. And much of that has been because God has used brothers and sisters in my life to remove rust here and dullness there. I doubt seriously that I will be admired as a shining blade of perfection, but I do pursue a cutting edge pursuit of God in the battle of life. And for that I give Him all of the praise.

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