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Posts Tagged ‘God Thoughts’

My pastor asked me if I would share about my writing and how it has benefited me spiritually. I have been writing for many years by many means. I have journaled with pen to paper and fingers to keyboard in order capture my thoughts. I have written newspaper articles and research papers supporting God’s view of Creation and salvation. I have written poetry and songs and short stories about struggles and joys of everyday life. I have written about family, friends, and colleagues. I have designed diagrams to explain ideas. Writing has been a long-term blessing in my life.

But why writing? Speaking to friends is easy. It’s real time, interactive, and engaging. You clarify and correct as you go. Facial expressions and voice intonations make understanding easier. Writing is harder. It has to make sense without the opportunity to correct misunderstandings. Writing speaks long after you are gone, for posterity or ridicule. Therefore, writing forces the writer to be more careful with words.

Why do I write? I write to focus, organize, and deepen my thoughts. I write in order to understand better and to make myself better understood to others. I write to hone arguments for truth and simplify complex ideas. I write to remember what I thought when God imparted understanding and wisdom to me. I write to quiet fretful, fearful, and frantic thoughts, to put my mind at rest by musing on truth. I write to plead with God, praise God, and thank God.

Psalm 139: 17-18a says, “How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand.” His thoughts are indeed precious and numerous. The more I consider His thoughts, His works, His beauty, and His person as seen in Scripture, in Creation, and in my experience of Him, the more I realize the truth of Johannes Kepler words: “I was merely thinking God’s thoughts after Him. Since we astronomers are priests of the highest God in regard to the book of nature, it benefits us to be thoughtful, not of the glory of our minds, but rather, above all else, of the glory of God.” So, I write to record and mull over observations I have made of God and His work in His Word, the world, and my life.

Writing may help you to think more biblically, more deeply, and more clearly. I would urge you to give it a try. If writing seems distasteful to you, it may be because it is difficult for you to do. I don’t claim to be a very good writer, but I have considered what has caused me to improve. Following are my tips for writing. (“P” is such a handy letter for the the tautograms and alliterations of poets and preachers. I went a little wild.)

1) Practice. Focused attempts to write will bring improvement.

2) Write with a purpose. Writing simply to record information is useful, but there are better reasons to write. Tell a story. Organize thinking. Simplify complex concepts with new analogies. Pursue your interests.

3) Pretend you have an audience. This procedure forces you to make yourself understood and tends to induce you to put more effort into delivery.

4) Be precise. Choose words and turns of phrase that convey what you intend. It takes effort.

5) Prune your writing. Concise thought is more organized, better understood, and better remembered.

6) Proof-read your writing several times and have others proof-read it. Make at least one pass for grammar and spelling, one pass for clarity, and one pass for readability.

7) Make your writing personal. Even if you are explaining difficult theological or scientific concepts, tell how it matters to you, why you want to know, what prompted your search, and how it will effect you.

8) Give praise to God for His providence in pleasant and problematic circumstances so that His goodness and power will be seen as active in the present as it was in the past.

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The sky was so blue you would have thought we were out West. The day was just barely long sleeves cool in the shade and balmy in the sun. With the low humidity rock friction was good. The wall pictured has very obvious ripple marks which were probably laid down during the Flood in loose sand, lithified then tipped. It is the type of climb that is challenging because of the small holds rather than the need for significant strength. It is not really that hard since it is on a positive slope, but you never quite feel like you are secure because the holds are small. I would not attempt to lead it for that reason. For me this has been a year of recovering from injury, so climbing at all is amazing and climbing decently is even better. I picked my way up this climb and completed it in one try. By contrast, on a later climb I struggled with strength moves up half way and then the holds became so small I didn’t even know what to reach for next. I was totally shut down. I find climbing to be both exhilarating and humbling. I always enjoy the conversation with my climbing partner, who is a growing, young believer in Christ, an avid outdoor enthusiast, and an intelligent engineer.

Noel Rap BF

Rappelling after a climb. Deep blue skies!

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In the moss of my backyard

The trees in my backyard usually sustain moss green until the heat and shade of June, but this year it has remained green even until late October. As I write it is raining hard yet again. The miniature scene above shows a recent mushroom popping up through the moss into a spot of sunlight even as leaves begin to fall off of the willow oak. I don’t remember seeing this type of mushroom before with the yellow rim. It was bright yellow when the fruiting body first began to open. I readily understand the attraction of bonsai scenes. The small detail of lush greenery is fascinating and beautiful. 

I am so thankful for eyes to see dark blue skies, ripple marks on rock, moss and mushrooms and all. The Creation is only a dim shadow of the beauty of our God and one day we who belong to Him will see Him.

Frederick Faber says it well in his hymn “My God How Wonderful Thou Art”:

“How beautiful, how beautiful,
The sight of Thee must be,
Thine endless wisdom, boundless power,
And awful purity!…

Only to sit and think of God—
Oh, what a joy it is!
To think the thought, to breathe the name—
Earth has no higher bliss!.

Father of Jesus, love’s reward!
What rapture it will be
Prostrate before Thy throne to lie,
And gaze and gaze on Thee!”

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I like the beach. I like the mountains better. I like change of pace, newness, different, interesting. It is the beach this summer since I have to go there four times this summer for training. I don’t really get to spend large amounts of time at the beach (which is OK (See sentences 1 and 2.)), but it has been enough mostly because it has been varied and beautiful.

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Sunset at Sand Key Park, Clearwater, FL

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Almost looks like smoke coming out of chimneys

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Small craft upon the main

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The sunset years?

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A moment of quiet contentment

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Real crusin’

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Practicing or Protecting or Both

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The warm glow and cool breeze

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This scene reminds me of a William Cowper hymn (see below)

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Taking it all in

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Glow

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Afterglow

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The Airbnb where we stayed

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Eyeing each other

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Florida Softshell Turtle (A. ferox)

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Shade is good

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House of William Horton

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Ready to make a stand

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Hiding out in the shade

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It’s alive

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Driftwood Beach, Jekyll Island, GA

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Old Plantation Live Oak

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Sidney Lanier Bridge

Following is the hymn by William Cowper that I referred to in the picture caption above. When all you see is the rain pelting down, remember both that it waters the soul and bespeaks of God’s kind and bright mercy:

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs,
And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan his work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

The glow of the sunset high up in the clouds is exhilarating. You most usually can’t see thunderstorms from a distance and entirely in the wooded mountains where I live. The beach affords a wide view. You can watch the rain and lightning and billowing heights and still get to your car before it hits. Frequently in the woods a thunderstorm is on top of you before you know it. Reflection upon God is similar; it requires distance from all that obscures reflection on Him. We need to find perspectives from Scripture, in meditation, surrounded by quiet, reflecting on God’s providence in our circumstances in order to again absorb His beauty and peace in our hearts.

William Horton came to Jekyll Island in 1736 with a land grant of 500 acres, 50 of which was supposed to be in cultivation within 10 years for him to retain the deed. This ‘big house’ was, no doubt, built years after first arriving. There are many more big houses of the rich who owned most of the island in the late 1800’s until WWII when it was evacuated. In 1947, Georgia acquired the whole island and administers it as a state park with natural, historic, and commercial areas. It seems to have a good balance. We may have much to learn by this experiment about how to administer other parts of the planet sustainably. We are, afterall, stewards on God’s behalf, and not owners of this Earth.

There was an old plaque under the ‘Old Plantation’ Live Oak that must have been at least 50 years old. It said the tree was estimated to be 350 years old. That means it was a fair-sized tree when William Horton arrived, very possibly a young tree when the settlers came to Jamestown, and definitely a maturing tree when the Declaration was signed. It helps to withstand the hurricanes that must have hit over time that the branches grow back to the ground to support the whole tree and that the tree grows on the inland side of the island. I want to be an oak firmly planted by the waters of His grace (Psalm 1).

The Sidney Lanier Bridge that spans the Brunswick River was named after the former bridge, which was named after the Georgian musician and poet of the Civil War era. The bridge is cable-stayed where all deck supporting cables come straight from the towers as opposed to a suspension bridge where the cables hang vertically from larger cables hanging in a catenary between towers. More frequently the cable-stayed design is used now because it is lowered cost initially and maintenance than a suspension bridge and now possible for long spans with new, large equipment to set it up. Man loves to design and order things, a characteristic that points to God’s image in him.

All of creation from thundercloud to beach to ancient tree to crab to the designs of mankind give glory to the Great Designer-Beautifier God, Our Creator. We may take great joy in enjoying and working in His grand terrarium/aquarium (Earth). He has put us here to acknowledge Him in doing so.

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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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On October 31, 1517, the Protestant Reformation began when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on to the Wittenburg Castle Church door. The Protestant Reformation was a movement in the 16th and 17th centuries in Europe, which tried to reform the Roman Catholic Church, because of perceived doctrinal and moral corruption that undermined the Christian gospel. The result was excommunication and the Protestant movement. These Latin phrases; sola scriptura (Scripture Alone), sola gratia (Grace Alone), sola fide (Faith Alone), sola Christus (Christ Alone), Soli Deo Gloria (for the glory of God Alone), were the fundamental principles of the protestant reformers. They were developed over time, to summarize the theological conviction of the reformers and are central to the doctrine of salvation. -John Piper

In April of 1518, the head of the Augustinian Order called for a formal disputation of the ideas that Martin Luther had put forth. This gave Luther an opportunity to expand upon his concerns. At the meeting, Luther put forward a “theology of the cross” as opposed to a “theology of glory.” -Editors Introduction to the Book of Concord

A theology of glory expects total success, finding all the answers, winning all the battles, and living happily ever after. The theology of glory is all about my strength, my power, and my works. A theologian of glory expects his church to be perfect and always to grow. If a theologian of glory gets sick, he expects God to heal him. And if he experiences failure and weakness, if his church has problems and if he is not healed, then he is often utterly confused, questioning the sufficiency of his faith and sometimes questioning the very existence of God. -Gene Edward Veith

To better understand the theology of glory, one need only look at the adjective included in the five Latin phrases. Alone. The use of this simple term suggests that the theology of glory, understood God’s work of Scripture, Grace, Faith and Christ were insufficient.

The Catholic Church adhered to what Martin Luther called the “theology of glory” (in opposition to the “theology of the cross”), in which the glory for a sinner’s salvation could be attributed partly to Christ, partly to Mary and the saints, and partly to the sinner himself. The reformers responded, “No, the only true gospel is that which gives all glory to God alone, as is taught in the scriptures.” -Monergism.com

This true and Biblical gospel, proclaimed by the reformers, was about how man can be justified before a holy God. Not by any merited favor, but by grace alone. Not any works a man can do such as the confession, penance or indulgences, but by faith alone. Not by any other sacrifice, such as mass, but only in Christ alone. Not found in the church, papacy or tradition, but in Scripture alone. And not for the veneration, worship or glory of Mary, Saints or Angels, but to the Glory of God Alone.

For Luther, the bottom line was the bondage of the will, or the deadness of the human soul. The Bible tells us that we are totally helpless. Ephesians 2:1-3, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.” We were dead in our trespasses and sin and by nature children of wrath. Only grace can raise us from the dead and only Christ could be our punishment. Those two miracles, life from death and wrath removed, can only be received as a gift. Thus, it is to the glory of God alone. -John Piper

When reflecting on today’s subject of God receiving all glory, you may have thought, “I am a Baptist. I know that we do not glorify Mary, Saints or Angels.” This, I’m sure, is true for many of us here. However, these two verses may shed some light on our weakness and who we do glorify instead of God alone.

Proverbs 14:12, “There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.”     2 Timothy 3:2, “For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy…”                            

The Bible tells us:

  • Scripture is from God. 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is inspired by God…”
  • Grace is from God. Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves…”
  • Faith comes from God. Hebrews 12:2, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith”
  • Christ was sent by God. John 3:17, “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”
  • Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
  • Proverbs 16:9, “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps”
  • Psalm 103: 19, “The Lord has established His throne in the heavens, And His sovereignty rules over all.”
  • Psalm 19:1, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.”
  • Romans 13:1, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.”
  • Ephesians 1:11-12, “also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.”
  • Colossians 1:16-17, “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”
  • Hebrews 1:3, “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…”
  • Hebrews 11:10, “for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”
  • John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He sent His one and only son, that everyone believing in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
  • 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
  • Philippians 1:6, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”
  • Revelation 4:11, “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”

Soli Deo Gloria

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Our pastor has encouraged us to look at the 5 solas of the Protestant Reformation. The first Sunday was Scripture alone. The second Sunday was Grace alone. Today we look at faith alone.

When Paul explains the gospel in Romans, he says that in that gospel “is the righteousness of God revealed…as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:17)

I want to begin by looking at how the Catholic church obscured the gospel, then move to how the Reformation recovered the gospel, and finally give an implication of this gospel for us today.

The Catholic church obscured the gospel of faith alone by tangling up regeneration with justification like a really bad game of twister. Biblically, Regeneration is being born again—having eternal life infused into our souls. Justification is God the judge declaring us to be legally righteous in his sight (instead of guilty). The mixing up of regeneration and justification resulted in the Catholic church teaching that in baptism a man receives an infusion of righteousness into his soul. And this infusion of righteousness is what makes a man inherently righteous before God. Consequently, the Catholic church went on to teach that the fruit of righteousness flows from divine life experienced in baptism so that a man may merit by his gracious works justification. So, the foundation of a right standing before God is what a man becomes at his baptism and what a man does after his baptism. That baptism often being an infant baptism.

This was the thinking that Martin Luther was plagued by. If there was ever a monk who could have been saved by his monkery, it would have been Martin Luther. Vigils, prayers, reading, spending much time confessing, and fasting were performed by Luther. But all of this work failed to give him the peace with God that he was desperate for. And that’s because Galatians 2:16 says “a man is not justified by the works of the law.” So, the Catholic church obscured the gospel of faith alone by tangling up regeneration and justification and in this way tortured Martin Luther.

But what the Reformation did was untangle regeneration and justification. And this resulted in clarifying what justification means: Justification is not progressive, but the instantaneous declaration of God that a sinner is righteous instead of guilty. And the instrument by which a man is justified is not man’s work, but faith alone in Christ and his work at Calvary.

Romans 4:5 says “ But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” Worketh “not”. Justifieth the “ungodly”.

But how can God declare an ungodly man righteous? He does not do this by infusing righteousness into a man’s soul (as the Catholic church taught), but by imputing the righteousness of Christ to a believing sinner. In other words, when a man believes on Christ, God considers the righteousness of Christ as belonging to the sinner.

Think of it this way—when a poor woman marries a rich man, that woman enters into a union with him so that she shares in his wealth. The poor woman becomes rich. Similarly, when a sinful man believes in Christ, that man enters into a union with Him so that he shares in His righteousness. And in this manner God considers Christ’s righteousness as belonging to the sinner and thus declares the sinner to be righteous. This is the only way that a sinful man may have peace with God.

We have seen how the Catholic church obscured the gospel of faith alone and how the Reformation recovered that gospel. Now, an implication for the church today is this: we had better get justification by faith alone right before we do any work. Another way to say it would be to say, the church had better get the gospel right before she gets to work.

When Paul reveals what the gospel means in Romans, he talks about justification by faith alone.

When the Catholic church obscured that gospel, it gave rise to an unhealthy religiosity. Germany was not being taken over by secularism—it was very religious, but it was an unhealthy religiosity that arose from the burial of justification by faith alone. Contrastingly, we here in America do see secularism taking over. And what a temptation it would be for us in our day to say “We need to get back to being religious!” But if that religiosity does not arise from justification by faith alone, then we are not standing on the gospel.

What revolutionized Europe was not increasing religious activity. It was the recovery of justification by faith alone. May it be so in our day.

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In this third installation of the 5 solae, we come to what another brother had to say about grace alone:

I want to begin with a personal testimony from January of this year…

After a brief explanation from the Lutheran pastor, I followed the funeral procession into the church—deeply moved. Why? For sure I was going to miss my wife’s aunt, who had been a dear family member to us.

But more importantly, what impacted me was the symbol on her casket that illustrated a truth most dear to me. You see, the casket was covered in a white cloth, symbolizing righteousness, which would be the only thing God would accept from her as she would be presented to Him for judgment. But…whose righteousness?

The symbolism goes further—on the cover was the shape of a cross, and the Greek symbols for Christ. Whose righteous works is God accepting?   Would He see ANY of my aunt’s works?

No, for He would not accept them!

She was being presented to God, covered by the righteousness of our blessed Christ! And THIS was our family’s comfort in our loss.

Eph 2:8-10: “For by grace are you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not of works, lest anyone may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

In this short statement is the sum of the Biblical teaching of the work of grace. It begins with God-working in us faith which justifies us (giving us Christ’s righteousness), which results in good works which please Him—according to His working in us.

Over time, as the Church of the Middle Ages abandoned the supreme authority of Scripture—“Sola Scriptura” in favor of traditions, other doctrines began to emerge—not only those absent from the Bible, but also changes to the understanding of grace itself.

The Medieval Church’s teaching gradually drifted to the assertion that God’s grace would help us produce the works that He would accept for justification, rather than the grace of Christ’s finished work of cross and resurrection for us.

It is in this world that Martin Luther sought to be right with a Holy God.

In keeping with church traditions, he followed the rules of the monastery, and did penance–all to a radical extreme (and even the annoyance of his fellow clergy)—all the time being under condemnation in his heart because of the majesty of God’s holiness and perfection overwhelming him.

At this point, as he studied the Bible, he discovered that it is not his righteousness that God will accept, but Christ’s, and that he should by faith abide in Him! Luther received God’s gracious gift of eternal life.

Luther and the other reformers returned to the Biblical, apostolic understanding that good works and a changed life flow from Christ’s righteousness given to us, instead of leading to it. God will not have his glorious gospel assisted by human works.

Our Christ, as God in human flesh, takes on Himself ALL of our sin and sinfulness on the cross, and gives us ALL of the righteous obedience of His perfect life.   We call this teaching Sola Gratia, or “grace alone.”

In short, God’s grace justifies us completely in Christ’s work, and gives us a heart of repentance, rather than demanding we “do penance.”

Church Historian Stephen Nichols tells us that Ulrich Zwingli, the Swiss reformer, is portrayed in a portrait with an open Bible.

In an illustration of this grace to us, the Bible was opened to Matt 11:27-30:

“All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

This is Christ’s gracious invitation to us—then, and now.

On this 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we celebrate our salvation in Christ, Sola Gratia, by grace alone—in the words of the Apostle Paul: “…to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved…”

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