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Posts Tagged ‘faithfulness’

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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The Pharisees and scribes were at it again, hackling and questioning Jesus. In their minds they were the gatekeepers to the understanding and practice of righteousness. And Jesus once again showed them otherwise:

“Then some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.”  And He answered and said to them, “Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?  For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother is to be put to death.’  But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever I have that would help you has been given to God,” he is not to honor his father or his mother.’ And by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you:

This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’””          Matthew 15:1-9

By trying to create their own laws that in their minds super-fulfilled the requirements of the law they missed the simple truth of God’s requirement and actually transgressed the law. Thus ends all manmade attempts to be righteous by our own schemes and effort. The best we can do apart from the Spirit of God is fail. So I could continue with a survey of all the different ways the Pharisees missed it and perhaps act pharisaically in the process by condemning them to justify myself. But our pastor, Sunday School lessons, and the sharing at church of late has seemed to center around repentance. One day this past week after having read the above passage and while watching my students quietly work on an assignment a thought bore down on me with noticeable weight: Do I honor God only with my lips? Is my heart captured by other things apart from Him and His glory? Before I could get myself off of the hook I began musing on what I am most passionate and excited about. What do I spend the most time on, particularly during leisure time? What do my thoughts go to when there are no responsibilities to fulfill, for the Word says, “one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.” (James 1:25)? How do I help people without using them since “pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (James 1:27)? How much of the truth that I know do I practice since “to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4:17)? A brother in Sunday School this past Sunday prayed, “To defect from carrying out of the mundane is to defect from the grand scheme of God’s plan. It is a denial of Him.” Do I scheme grandiose plans while neglecting the daily tasks before me? The Bible says, make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you,  so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.” (I Thessalonians 4:17)? Do I say I am faithful to my wife but not carry it out, for the Word says, abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God.” (I Thessalonians 4:3-5)? Do I covet, wanting all manner of things and recognition and abilities more than I want God when it says, You shall not covet, so that “sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind” (Romans 7:7-8)? Do I wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers.” (II Timothy 2:14) or dabble in “filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting,” and fail at “giving of thanks. (Ephesians 5:4)?  Have my intentions been good but my carry-through poor, “being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:8), so that I do not “Make vows to the Lord your God and fulfill them” (Psalm 76:11) as I ought?

My intention is not to wallow in guilt and self-pity because of struggles and failures in these and other areas. That would just produce more tendency to neglect the good and pursue the bad, like a defeated dieter who gives in to all manner of poor food choices over the guilt of one slip-up. Instead, I desire to repent of foolish indulgences, thank God for His enabling progress to overcome these temptations more than in the past, and resolve by the power over sin He provides to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:5).  I want to honor God with my lips, my heart, my actions, worshipping Him in a God-honoring, eternally valuable way, “accurately handling the word of truth.” (II Timothy 2:15), rather than be classed with lip serving, pharisaical hypocrites.

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:1-2

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(First Draft, since starting with the completed version might not happen in time)

I am prepared and even enthusiast about living for however much longer God has in mind for me, be that 50 minutes or 50 years. However, the longer I live the less likely I am to live substantially longer. I do participate in some risky behaviors, albeit, thoughtfully, cautiously, and frequently with prayer. And additionally I most fervently hope that me writing this blog just now is not an indication that God is getting ready to take me soon, though I will not object in the least if He does. Rather, I see this blog entry as a bullet on my to do list that has had a few red flags inserted by recent personal events. I want to mention my wishes for my funeral.

The most expensive item first: Bury me wherever is cost effective and convenient for those dealing with my loss. God can resurrect whatever parts and pieces He has ordained to be transformed into my new body from anywhere in this old world from mountain top to ocean depth and a whole lot of less glorious places than that. We respectfully plant bodies (good terminology given what I Corinthians 15 says about perishable seed) because they contained spirits made in the image of God and because those of believers will be resurrected to be in His presence, which is comforting to the mourning loved-ones. An inexpensive casket and what not is sufficient; I’ll assure you it won’t impress me.

I would like to influence several aspects of the service, however.

Primarily, focus on the Savior; I certainly will be. I have too few earthly accomplishments of merit with which to praise the Holy One. I do have this: grace. God has imparted grace to me in salvation, in living, in family, in provision of every talent, possession, happiness, pursuit, safety, knowledge, or any other thing you can think of He provided me with. Speak of His grace, sing of His grace, pray about His grace, urge hearers to partake of His grace.

One area of grace in my life was a love and desire to know and live by God’s Word (you can argue later about how I didn’t do either; the point is God gave this poor sinner so much). So please sing “How Firm A Foundation”. I have sung all 7 verses with a congregation before. They are very appropriate for this situation. Why are you in such a hurry, I’m not going anywhere? At least sing the first two, please.

If you think you are leaving this place (Earth, I mean) without the help of Jesus, you are headed the wrong way; reconsider now. I know where I’m headed and why, and I want you to hear about it at my funeral. Please sing all four verses of “My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less”. If you cry, let it be because you understand just how deep His grace is reaching to secure your eternity. It is not your effort, not your rock solid faith or piety; it is the rock solid faithfulness and power of Jesus on your behalf, enabling you to believe, continue to believe, and improve in your living.

If you will tolerate singing yet a third hymn, let it be “My Hope Is In The Lord”, or a fourth hymn, sing “Praise The Savior”. These complete my list of most favorite hymns, though my children should know that I had many “favorite” hymns.

Read from I Corinthians 15. If someone is available who can or will, preach on it, especially the depth of witness to the event of the resurrection (verses 3-11), the reason it matters (verses 12-18), and Christ’s resurrection (verses 20-28). If time allows speak about the first and second Adam (verses 40-49) where you cannot neglect to bring in Romans 5 about justification by faith. If you see nodding off or rolling eyes, just tell them that I was dying to hear one more time about all that Jesus has done for me and them. No, actually, don’t mention half of what I’ve said in this blog. It may be a solemn occasion even if a celebratory one, owing to my home going.

If you want to read other Scriptures, some suggestions include Genesis 1 since by God’s grace I have always believed that God created the heavens and earth in six literal days, all the more as the scientific evidence pours in. Read from Revelation 21 and/or 22. The last chapter fortifies the weakest of faith. He is coming again; we can persevere by His enabling power and faithful Word through the Spirit we are given. Hold on.

A good call to worship to God, for that is what I hope my funeral will be, one of my favorite passages is Hebrews 1:1-4, though you don’t have to stop at verse 4.

I know this is getting a bit long and will have to be cut down, but I so love Hebrews 4:9-16. Please don’t be afraid to give a bit of commentary on each of the verses I have suggested so that God might powerfully move in the hearts of the faint-hearted and the lost. I am at my rest because Jesus didn’t rest until He had finished His work on my behalf (II Corinthians 5:21). How could you neglect to read a few verses from II Corinthians 5 at a funeral? Maybe I should just write the sermon and put it in a blog entry for you to print off and read. Perhaps, but probably not, because it would be better if the Spirit spoke to that crowd on that day. At some point I may well organize this rambling list of desires for my funeral into a more coherent service. I hope that you (the organizer) will not neglect this list out of hand. Blessings to you in the name of Jesus, my Savior and Lord.

If you want to read something I wrote, perhaps one of my better poems about God and our life in Him would be in order. Pick as you may, but here are some suggestions based on appropriateness or value: “Trust Is Your Rest”, “The Why”, “But a Few of His Benefits”, “Our Demise”, **”Ichthus Rhyme”, “First Cause”, “A Servant’s Ambition”, “Just Sayings”, **”Eyes on Things Above”, **”A Need To Create”, “Advent Colors”, or

God’s grace is my comfort and rest

My strong tower in the midst of test

While I trust Him I shall prevail

Raised from the dead without fail

Man, did that list get carried away. Pick one or none, but read Scripture and sing hymns.

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The context of the following poem is a story that I have frequently told my students over the years about how my fifth-born child came into the world. It is a story that is as close to a miracle as I personally have ever experienced. Now I encountered a new difficulty, my wife’s stroke, and drug my feet because I both feared and did not understand; I hesitated, but in God’s goodness I do not think it made any difference, though I will always be accused of neglect.

It doesn’t always work the same

This walk of faith we’re called to tread

No miracle this time did He

No sure answer to my prayer came

 

Provision came another way

To human interventions trust

Wisdom and prudence are the must

In all of this I had no sway

 

Now I am counted as the fool

I could not see just how He led

In fear from the solution fled

For my faith was a training tool

 

What are others to learn from this?

Do they trust God or their own schemes?

Surely for others there are themes

Their faith lessons they will not miss

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He knows everything- the position and momentum of every particle (Heisenberg Principle doesn’t apply), where they have been and where they are going? He knows all thoughts and possibilities? If the idea doesn’t blow your little mind it’s just because you haven’t understood it yet.

That’s OK; David didn’t either:

“O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
 You understand my thought from afar.
 You scrutinize my path and my lying down,
 And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.
 Even before there is a word on my tongue,
 Behold, O Lord, You know it all.
 You have enclosed me behind and before,
 And laid Your hand upon me.
 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
 It is too high, I cannot attain to it.”      Psalm 103:1-6

David points out that God knows his location, position, thoughts, intentions; direction before, during, and after moving; the words coming to his tongue. The result is entrapment, control, of which David realizes he has no comprehension beyond the fact that God does know, which was also revealed to David as a prophet in this Psalm. To state the case simply, God has intimate knowledge of us.

Do you find God’s thoughts of you, as expressed here, threatening or comforting? David was awed, acknowledging that he could not understand, but how did that make him feel? Jesus tells us the proper response to such a knowledge and power:

 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household! Therefore do not fear them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.” Matthew 10:25b-31

Do not fear; fear; do not fear. Which is it, Lord? Well, it depends on who you should fear and in what way. People can harm and even kill the body, but do not fear that because the worst it can result in is pain and the best is ushering you into the presence of God (not an excuse for humanly speaking “untimely” death by one’s own hand or someone else’s). Do fear, reverence, hold in awe God who can eternally separate you from His presence into an eternal world of hurt. But for those who know Him (not merely about Him), do not fear for His knowledge of you is intimate down to the counting of each hair and He values you.

Not only does He know us intimately, but He also knows us and all things completely:

1) in the present

“Listen to this, O Job,
 Stand and consider the wonders of God.
 “Do you know how God establishes them,
 And makes the lightning of His cloud to shine?
 Do you know about the layers of the thick clouds,
 The wonders of one perfect in knowledge…?”  Job 37:14-16 

“Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.  We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things.  I John 3:18-20

His knowledge is our security!

2) in the past and the future 

“Remember the former things long past,
For I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is no one like Me,
Declaring the end from the beginning,
And from ancient times things which have not been done,
Saying, ‘My purpose will be established,
And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’”  Isaiah 46:9-10

One outside of time can see “the end from the beginning”, but I can’t fathom lack of time, existing in the eternal present, or foreknowledge. I can praise Him as the one of a kind God He is and be secure in His plan, established and accomplished as it is by a His good pleasure which is good (James 1:17). Not only does He know everything actual- past, present, future- but He also knows all potential as seen by the call to repentance of Jesus:

“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” Matthew 11:21

The application for our lives is powerful. Since God knows my good, bad, and ugly sides and still loves me and chose me apart from any good or bad, then my relationship with Him is totally secure. But did He really choose me apart from foreknowledge of me?  

“…there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.”  Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.””  Romans 9:10-13

What are we to say about those who do not know Jesus? Are they simply doomed to hell because they have not been chosen? We can’t know who is and who isn’t, because we are limited in knowledge. But we do have the opportunity to plead for our salvation and we know that He hears, for “it shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Acts 2:21

Additionally, our security in Him is greatly increased because His plan is based on perfect knowledge so that nothing takes Him by surprise. His plan will be accomplished, period: “…You have worked wonders, plans formed long ago, with perfect faithfulness.” Isaiah 25:1

The result of these assurances of security should be to help us interpret situations that come up in our lives in a more patient, confident, purposeful, thankful, and eternal manner. Circumstances may be hard but they are not without purpose. We can add to the glory given to God by working with His plan instead of against it. He is worthy and there is great reward. 

The thoughts expressed herein are a mixture of mine and those of Kendell Easley in the Summer 2013 Gospel Project lesson “The Omni God”.

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