Tuesday, December 31, 2013

We Happy Few

...and who are my brothers? -Matthew 12:48b

Leadership training classes start at GPC this Sunday. Looks like
seven guys are signed up to take part.

Our numbers here at Grace have never been impressive. And  that tempts us, at times, to become discouraged.

I look around me, however, and count myself blessed. The dedication of each of these happy few inspires me. Out of a Sunday morning attendance of perhaps sixty, we see twelve or fifteen or (once?) even twenty show up an hour before Sunday School to pray. For friends, neighbors, our church, the church universal, for our nation.

A disproportionate number of our members contribute to the writing ministry which has placed a weekly article in the local newspaper for over four years now.

Though our numbers have thinned from when we started, this church was founded  and still exists in answer to many fervent prayers that God place a Reformed witness in this county.

So here we are. At times the ignorance and indifference seem overwhelming. Ignorance of the history of the Christian faith and what the Church has taught through the centuries. Indifference to how the doctrine of salvation by grace alone (Ephesians 2:8-10; can it be stated any more plainly than this?) was lost, then recovered. Recovered at great cost to a great many believers.

Ignorance of and indifference to the sacrifices made so that we might be free of a works-based salvation are a shame upon the Body of Christ. How is it that one can profess a love for Christ, a love above all other loves, and not desire to know all there is to know about Him and all He has done to bring salvation to the nations?

You know it does seem like a few against the whole world at times, and I am reminded of the battle of Agincourt very nearly 600 years ago. Cut off and cornered in rural France, the bedraggled and hungry English army prepared for a battle in which it looked likely to be destroyed.

In one of the great speeches in English literature, Shakespeare has King Henry V address his troops. Henry speaks of the tiny size of his army, but does not desire one single man more to fill his ranks. The fewer the numbers, he states as he rouses his men, the greater the glory. The tiny English army inflicted a devastating defeat upon the French.

There are no super-Christians here at Grace. We simply stand upon God's assurance that He will use the weak and seemingly foolish to confound the strong and the wise of this world. Not that we might receive the greater glory because of the fewness of our numbers. But that God might receive all glory, honor and praise.

Because He alone is worthy.

And He has done it.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Have You Seen Her?

I can see her face everywhere I go....-The Chi-Lites

A guilty pleasure of mine is the film, sex, lies and videotape. In it, a young man is reduced to seeking pleasure in the viewing of videotaped conversations he has had with various young women.

Implied throughout, but never explicitly stated, is the premise that this is his penance for his misuse, ill-use, and objectification of the women with whom he has had relationships.

The fascination of the camera with their faces as they speak represents his own fascination (and the viewer's). The beauty of these women (and they are beautiful) lies especially in the movement of their faces as they speak.

There is truth in this. The glance flickers upward to meet mine  then is cast quickly downward, eyelids lowered demurely. The expression of the mouth is both endearing and enlightening.

When I think of people I have known, my mind's eye recalls their faces animated by conversation.

Here is a question then. What about the one God has given you? Though she is there, each and every day, can you close your eyes and see her face? Do you watch her as she talks? This face that should be so familiar to you, does it still attract your attention as expressions ripple across it?

Perhaps familiarity has not bred contempt, so much, as a lack of appreciation for the uniqueness of the individual seated across from you at the breakfast table.

I have found, since my hearing has declined, that I much prefer to look into someone's face when I converse with them. Look at it like this: God has blessed me by forcing me to focus once more on the face of the one speaking to me.

It seems that the cares and the pain of living can cause us to withdraw, if we are not careful, bit-by-bit to within ourselves.

So I must be deliberate to revel in the small (oftentimes overlooked) pleasures. I am not doing penance for the sins of my past, but enjoying what God hath wrought.

Have you seen her lately?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Breaking the Law

If you love me you will keep my commandments. -John 14:15

"Aren't you taking this too seriously?"

These are the words spoken by a friend when I shared my feeling that participating in a certain activity would be sinful on my part.

I admit I was taken aback by the question. My reply was weak. Another question: "Aren't we supposed to?"

This conversation has stewed in the back of my brain until this morning when I read a TableTalk article by Mark Jones addressing this issue.

If I am saved by grace alone, shall I sin more "that grace may abound?"

Paul's short answer: "God forbid (Romans 6:2a)!" As he continues: "How can we who died to sin still live in it (6:2b)?"

Not one of you, I would imagine, would propose to me that we would desire to go on living like the devil now that we have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.

How crass, how blatant, how ungrateful would such an attitude be in the heart of a Christian person.

Yet I find in my own heart a casualness (dare I say, "a comfortableness?") toward my sin. In Wayne Watson's words: "I took one step away and thought, 'Hey what's the harm? Still see the light from here, still feel the warmth.'"

To learn to hate my sin. What a mountainous task. It is one I will be engaged in for all the rest of my days.

Paul struggles with this in the 7th chapter of Romans: "For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin (v.14)," and "...I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing (v. 19)."

Am I as heart-broken over indwelling sin as Paul was? It's called sanctification and I am not that far along in my journey.

One thing I do know. When I consider honestly the darkness of my heart, it is not hard to see the distance that it places between my Heavenly Father and myself. Like Adam and Eve, I wish to run and hide from the consequences of my sin. And from the God who gave Himself to redeem me.

In that sense, I can understand John Owen's words: "You must be killing sin or it will be killing you."

Friday, December 6, 2013

Peace, Peace

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and respect. -1 Peter 3:15

I must apologize.

I do not apologize for the faith that I have in God's saving grace. How could I when it is grace alone, and not any good thing that I have done or possess, that has opened heaven's door to me.

Nonetheless I must apologize.

R.C. Sproul, in this TableTalk article, has smitten me in kindness and gently reproved me:


In my zeal for the doctrines of grace and the joyful freedom they impart, I have been overzealous.

Impatient as well. Not so much with those who don't "get it," as with those who apparently "don't want it."

Our selective memories let us forget our own shortcomings very quickly. Not too very many years ago, I was one of the ones I am impatient with now.

At that time, Billy McGarity's preaching and more than that, our conversations, had me searching for the scriptures I knew full well would refute the hateful doctrines of Calvinism.

Imagine my chagrin when I began to discover that my pet verses, when viewed in light of the whole scriptural counsel of God, proved the very things I wanted to disprove.

Human nature, it seems, resists the notion of human inability.

Yet how can we be truly free in Christ until we understand our utter inability to desire God unless he graciously intervenes to change our desires? I long for all my brothers and sisters to revel in this freedom.

And the truth is; drops of grief can ne'er repay, God's justice can never be satisfied, heaven can not be earned, by anything we could possibly ever do.

Any teaching that places any eternal value on my ability to appease God by praying a prayer, walking an aisle or making a public vow will lead to a false sense of security ( I did this when I was eight, so I'm OK). To teach that any of this gives one a right standing before the Righteous God is to cry, "Peace, peace (Jeremiah 6:14; 8:11) when there is no peace."

So I must continue to witness; to the lost, yes of course, but also to my brothers and sisters who spread the false impression that God requires anything less than our all, our everything. And to remind them that even our faith, and the good works that flow from it, is a gift (Ephesians 2:8-10).

The fault, you see, lies not in the message, but in the messenger's presentation.

For this I beg your pardon while inviting you to begin to consider these things, even as the Bereans did (Acts 17:10-11).

Monday, December 2, 2013

I Cannot (only) Imagine

Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. -1 Corinthians 2:9

I have a great imagination. I have imagined a gangster named Draco Vesuvius; the life of an Israelite warrior; a college girl who stalks her professor (not as sinister as it sounds).

File:St. Edwards Krone (Nachbildung auf den Bahamas).jpg

Here is a picture of St. Edward's crown, part of the crown jewels of England. If I were to describe it to you: the heavy gold setting, its ermine and satin lining, the precious stones of jasper, carnelian, ruby, emerald and diamond, could you picture it in your mind's eye? To be honest, even this picture does not do justice to what the reality must be like, does it?

In Revelation 21:10-27, the New Jerusalem, the Bride, the wife of Christ is shown coming down to earth out of heaven. The description of its jeweled foundations, the pure crystalline gold of its very streets, the pearl settings of its gates, and above all the brightness of the glory of the presence of God stagger the imagination.

Like Bunyan's Pilgrim, we long to see it, to be there in God's presence. Yet I am almost afraid to dishonor the scriptural image with my own pallid imaginings. But I feel just a little bit guilty that my desire for heaven does not include a desire to imagine (or speculate) on what it must be like.

R.C. Sproul Jr. made a comment that I find helpful: "We are indeed on a journey. But we are going to a Person more than a place."

I have fellowship with the Christ of God in the here and now. I cannot hope to conjure the beauty and glory of heaven in my feeble imagination. But I can desire in its richness and fullness the promised fulfillment of the present reality: God with us.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

To Be Thankful

Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.... -Psalm 103:2a

I have resolved to be thankful.

Odd, isn't it, that a person saved by God's grace alone should need to make such a resolution? I am saved through the merit of Christ alone, chosen by God from before the foundation of the world.

My very faith in Christ, Paul says, is a gift from God. It is dependent upon His mercy that my heart was renewed, not hardened, by the Gospel.

Thanksgiving should flow constantly from my regenerated heart.

 My favorite Old Testament personage is Jonah. Who, in the wake of the greatest revival recorded in Scripture, found something to complain about. That about sums it up, hmm?

I would rather have slept in a little bit instead of awakening at 3:30 a.m. I am thankful though, because cornbread (for the dressing) and pies have to be cooked before the turkey goes in the oven to cook at 250 degrees for six hours.

Though my electric stovetop takes forever (it seems) to bring chocolate pie filling to a boil, I am thankful because one thanksgiving not too long ago, our cookstove gave up the ghost in the midst of our preparations.

Virtually all my family (and Joyce's) lives over 200 miles away. I am thankful because my youngest daughter lives 15 minutes away and so can be part of our holiday celebrations.

The hymn reminds us to count our blessings to see what the Lord has done.

He has forgiven all my sins; redeemed my life from the pit; crowned me with love and compassion; satisfied my desires with good things; removed my transgressions from me as far as the east is removed from the west; promised his love to his covenant people from everlasting to everlasting.

Let me never forget to be thankful. And praise the LORD, O my soul.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Lost Art of Courtship

I have been blessed to behold a beautiful thing. Several of the young people in our congregation at GPC have begun courting.

Not dating. Courting.

While dating turns young people loose on their own (an utterly foolish notion, I can testify from sad personal experience) to entertain themselves (think about that for a moment), courting keeps them within the protection of the family circle.

I said protection. I can recall quite well the irresistible high as two sets of hormones come crashing together. Listen to the words of songwriter Jim Steinman in the song, "Paradise by the Dashboard Light (the title itself should be enlightening, so to speak)."

"Parking by the lake with not another car in sight."

"It never felt so good, it never felt so right."

"The feeling came upon me like a tidal wave."

"I started swearing to my God and on my mother's grave, I would love you til the end of time (sound familiar?)."

And the sad denouement:

"And now I'm praying for the end of time to hurry up and arrive."

Courtship can protect young people from all this. They meet in the homes of their two families. They can observe each other in the context of a gathering of friends. They sit together in God's house and worship.

Sounds more like a couple of friends than two young lovers? See, you're getting it.

Not many things more precious than the love of a dear friend. Why not start the most important relationship in our lives (other than the one with Jesus) with a friendship?

Ours is a culture where we are urged by Disney characters to "kiss the girl." The biblical ideal is reflected in Solomon's Song where the anticipation builds amidst the simple delight of each other's company.

Restraint. Tom Petty observed truly that "The Waiting is the Hardest Part."

I don't know how that worked for you, but I could have used some help in that department as a young man. A little protection. From myself.

Courtship. What a concept!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Of Dogs and Ponies

10,000 comedians out of work and you're trying to be funny.

One of my favorite segments on Dave Letterman's old show was "Stupid Pet Tricks." In spite of the title, this was the most entertaining part of the show some nights. Most of the time, Dave, being the nutty guy he is, could make us laugh by making fun of himself or whatever miserable bit failed to get a response from his audience.

Dave, after all, was an entertainer and a very good one at that. So we watched him, night after night, to see what inspired goofiness he might come up with.

Trouble is, that over the last number of years, churches have tried to horn their way into the entertainment biz. Pastors have cracked wise as they leaned casually on their pulpits.

Various members have contributed "special" music (more about that in a moment). Bands have played. One lady recently recommended her church with the words. "We have a band" (So does the local bar).

Guitarists have rocked out (guilty right here, and let me just say that the only thing special about that music was the way the applause at the end of it made me feel). Sermons have attempted to address whatever issues you may be experiencing at the moment. Can the dogs and ponies be far behind?

Okay, okay, so I'm just an old fuddy-duddy. The thing is Christ laid out the Church's charter in the Great Commission. Two things: 1.Make disciples
2.Teach them

We follow Paul and the other Apostles through the book of Acts and we see them preaching the Good News, and establishing churches wherever people respond (pretty much everywhere they went, which should give us a clue about the effectiveness of the Gospel message [Isaiah 55:11]. Then they appointed elders (shepherds) to teach the converts and grow them in the faith.

You might point out that the times, they are a-changing. That such simple means are no longer useful in the sophisticated world we live in.

Here's a question. Are people still sinners? Another question. Are they doomed to stand in judgment before a righteous angry God?
What do you think would be the best way to warn them of their perilous situation? What way out of this peril can we show them? Sing "I Can Only Imagine" another coupla dozen times?

Jesus preached, "Repent!" The Apostles preached "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved."

What message do we have for our world?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Better Than Wine

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine. -Song of Songs 1:2

Celebrating a quarter-century of marriage puts one in a meditative state. Makes me think of God's sovereign control over all things.

Do you think that odd? I admit I do, after a fashion. I mean I should be thinking of my beloved and what a joy and a blessing she's been to me for twenty-five years.

This is true. I'd hate to think of what those years would have been like without her. I know what my life was like before her.

All of which is , I suppose, what got me thinking along the lines of what a near-run thing it has been, at times.

Which in turn reminded me of (and made me grateful for) God's sovereign rule over all He has made. He turns the heart "wherever He wishes (Proverbs 21:1b)."

Do you know how many years I played the nightclubs and how many marriages I've seen end in ruins that began there? Yet this is where God in His mercy arranged for me to meet Ms. Joycie for the first time. Why would He do that? Because that's where I was.

So a heart that had hardened toward the female race in general and against the notion of marriage (again) in particular began to be changed. I never desired that change.

Many times over the years, I fought the change and it appeared as if the whole thing would end in tears. Only God saw the reality of the situation and the outcome of His plan.

I thought about that today also. Some pretty lean times around here lately make a person wonder what end God has in mind. We haven't reached the point of revealing just yet.

Anniversaries are good times to remember how this love for each other and the love of God has sustained us and what joy we have been blessed with much of the time.

Time to remember we're not in this alone.

And it's not over yet.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Walking In Prayer

My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up.-Psalm 5:3

We call them Reformation Conferences. I don't know why unless it is because we hold them near the anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation (October 31, 1517) every year.

This year's topic was "Revival." But it was really about prayer.

How I wish you could have been there (if you weren't). Been there to hear a thirty-something Scottish pastor (who now ministers in the US) so eloquently call his listeners to examine their lives of prayer and re-dedicate themselves to pray for a reawakening of Christ's Church.

I have been in the habit, for some time now, of praying as I "do" my morning walk. The setting for these walks, Graham Park, is such a scene of beauty and tranquility, that it seems naturally a place of prayer.

The Bible instructs us to pray "in our closets," which I suppose means we are to seek out some private place to be alone with God. The quietness of the living room before sunrise is such a place. A place to read and meditate on God's Word and be drawn into prayer.

Perhaps it is a mark of the weakness of my faith that I desire visual aids; reminders you might say of God's creative power and splendor. How He can make places of peace and beauty in the midst of human busy-ness.

Most of all, I guess, I am reminded of the Garden of Eden, where our first parents walked and talked with their God.

It will be that way again one day, you know.

Til then, I hope you have a place like this, where God blesses you and reminds you of Himself.


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

In My Father's House

I go to prepare a place for you. -John 14:2b

Wednesday evenings, we have worship services at GPC.

Most churches devote Wednesdays to Bible study. When I attended a church where this was the case, we once studied a popular book on heaven.

The author pointed out that Christians do not think as much about heaven as they ought. That when we do, we have vague notions of harps and clouds.

Though he indulged in some pretty wild speculations himself (tornadoes in heaven?!), I am still grateful that the book prompted me to meditate more often on this promised land, this house of many mansions (I prefer the KJV here).

The word "heaven" occurs some 500 times in the Bible (according to which translation you use). It's mostly in the New Testament that the word refers to the final destination of God's elect ("elect" occurs 17 times in the KJV; referring both to Israel AND the Church). Revelation contains the most descriptive passages. Not the streets of gold so much, but the worship of God and the Lamb described particularly in chapters 5, 7, 14, 15, 16, and 19.

Mark Twain once noted that Christians, in describing heaven, speak of a place, that in this life, many of them shun and seek excuses to avoid.

I'm afraid he was right, at least to some extent. I have been guilty of contemplating joyful reunions. Of idle speculation as to whether Abraham Lincoln (or some other admired personage) might be there. Of hearing answers to the many "whys" of life.

Forgive me, Father, that I have not desired you to the extent that I would meditate on meeting you face-to-face at last.

Let me contemplate heaven as David did: "...in thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore."

Friday, November 1, 2013

By Thy Mercy

In the solemn hour of dying, in the awful judgment day.... -James John Cummins

Bro. Billy preached from Romans 9:13-18 this past Sunday morning. Whenever I reflect that the root and cause of my salvation is God's mercy alone, the question always arises: "Why me, O LORD?"

Human nature wants to ask, "Why does God only save certain people?" But salvation viewed from God's perspective must always ask the question, "Why does God save anybody?"

Honestly. Think about it. What have you (or I, or anybody) done that a Holy God should allow us into His presence? There is a short answer to the question: nothing. Long answer: nothing at all (Romans 3: 10-18, 23).

Ah, but the grace and mercy of our Savior God. Clint Eastwood once said, "Deserve's got nothing to do with it." Wayne Watson sang, "Grace keeps giving me things I don't deserve."

Get it?

In the 15th verse of the 9th chapter of Romans, Paul quotes from Exodus 33:19; "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion."

And Paul draws this conclusion: "It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort (Remember chapter 3?), but on God, who has mercy."

As I said, God's choosing to have mercy on me, though a great mystery to me (and perhaps to others) is nonetheless a cause for deepest gratitude. How could it be otherwise?

And would I be as grateful had I been the one doing the choosing? Hardly seems likely, does it?

Thursday, October 31, 2013

496 Years is a Really Long Time

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.... -Isaiah 9:2a

The greatest thing about studying history is the sense of awe I get as I detect the hand of God directing the affairs of men.

October 31, 1517. Reformation Day. Through the actions of one German monk, God began the work of reclaiming His Church from the darkness of superstition and ignorance.

How many Bibles do you have in your house? Before Reformation Day, the Church taught that ordinary people should not have access to the Word of God.

How many times a day do you run to God in prayer? Before Reformation Day, it was taught that believers have access to God only through a priest.

Do you sit in worship every Sunday morning to hear God's word taught in a clear and understandable manner? Before Reformation Day, all services were conducted in Latin (which very few understood, including some of the priests who recited the rituals).

To see God's hand in all this is to recognize all the seemingly insignificant events that led up to this one moment in time when Martin Luther nailed his protest to the door of Wittenberg chapel.

Sadly, the significance of the Reformation has been lost to many Christians today. I was speaking with one person about Martin Luther and his work and teaching. It gradually dawned on me that he thought I was speaking of Martin Luther King!

Many do not know that what is taught in their churches is the product of the minds of men, invented within the last two hundred years.

Do you think that history is but a dry recitation of names and dates? Do you know that God has written every page of history before any of it ever happened (Isaiah 46:10)? History truly is His story.

I invite you to enjoy the fascinating story of Christ's Church. Of the men and women who died trying to preserve her Truth. Of her survival against all odds.

I think you will come to praise God for His work in history.

I think you will long to see His moving again among the sons of men.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

An Excellent Wife Who Can Find?

She is far more precious than jewels. -Proverbs 31:10

"Count your blessings," goes the old hymn from my childhood, "name them one by one." A remedy for my forgetful heart.

God's written Word describes some of these in great detail. Proverbs 31:10-31 is one of my favorite reminders of how I have been blessed.

"Who can find" such a wife? I wasn't even looking for her. Were you?

What I have desired and what I truly needed have quite often been two different things.

Did I desire a wife with a heart to serve others? Yet I see this heart at work constantly, not only in my own wife but all the beautiful ladies of GPC, as they labor behind the scenes at the 1001 mundane tasks that smooth the way for the more noticeable work of the Kingdom of Christ.

Did I desire a heart of mercy? Yet I have seen her nurturing, praying for and with her sisters in Christ and all the saints. I have felt this mercy in the forgiveness extended to me for my many careless words and deeds.

Did I desire a wife of deep faith and spirituality? The diligence and attendance toward the Word of God I have seen has at times shamed me. What service I have rendered to my Savior would have been more difficult (if not impossible) to accomplish without her loving encouragement and support.

I have been given much and much is required (Luke 12:48). In Ephesians 5:25-33, is a clear and succinct outline of the requirements. "Love" is the key word in this passage and Christ is the model set forth.

I have been blessed much, I will love much.

Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. -Proverbs 31:30

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Woman You Gave Me

She had been born with a face that would let her get her way. He saw that face and he lost all control. -Bob Seger

I love my wife.

The ancient Greeks, perhaps in a corruption of the story of Adam and Eve, viewed woman as a curse from the gods for forbidden knowledge (the theft of fire). Pandora was so enticingly beautiful that, though warned not to accept this gift, men could not resist.

 Solomon, seeking not only wisdom but also madness and folly,  desired more than one wife. And a number of concubines. He ended up with a sour view of the female of the species (Ecclesiastes 7:28).

I'll keep the one I've been given, thanks.

Previously, God gave me over to my wicked desires. Wickedness, I found, brings tears and heartache, not joy.

I love my wife. The beauty of her love for me is unfathomable at times. Unlike the Greeks (except Euripedes) and Adam I cannot  blame my woman for my own depravity.

Truth is, we marrieds tempt each other to sin. The enemy uses us like a club against one another. He seeks to destroy this most precious of human relationships and we have nothing but our own weakness to blame as we believe his lies.

This person does not really care for you or have your good at heart.
This person is selfish and seeks his/her own good only. You have to stand up for yourself and insist on your rights. You deserve better.

Hmmm. If this sounds at all familiar, we have only to turn to the third chapter of Genesis to find the origin of these statements and their originator.

To kill. To steal. To destroy. Doesn't sound like a mission statement I would want to embrace.

How about you?

An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. -Proverbs 31:10

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

When You Pray

Not "if" but "when."

Isn't prayer one of God's greatest blessings to His children?

In Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Marley's ghost laments his inability to intervene for the good in the affairs of men.

We have that ability, we believers, because Jesus lives to make intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25).

We have that duty, especially toward our brothers and sisters in Christ (Ephesians 6:18).

More that this, we have the desire, our hearts being broken for the lost (Romans 9:1-3).

This burden to witness is part of Christ's commission to His Church (Matthew 28:19-20), each of us as individuals as well as the corporate community of believers.

We are called to the harvest, not only as workers, but to pray God to send more workers (Luke 10:2).

Spurgeon referred to the faithful prayer warriors of his congregation as the steam engine that powered his flock. They prayed every Sunday as he preached, calling down the power of the Holy Spirit and many were saved.

Do you have such a group in your church? Will you work to start one, no matter when it meets?

When you pray, pray for the saints of God, as they struggle to walk in holiness.

When you pray, lift up your pastor and the other leaders in your church that they may stand in the strength of God's Word.

When you pray, remember the sick, the afflicted and the spiritually burdened among you.

When you pray, thank the God of our salvation, for He hears and answers prayers.

Sunday, October 13, 2013


Cause inside you're ugly, you're ugly like me. -Staind

A root of bitterness. A generational stronghold. I perceive it in myself. These are the sins of the fathers (and mothers) and my teeth are set on edge. Have I passed it on to my own children? I pray not.

This outpost of evil attitudes in my heart prompts me to return evil for evil. Coupled with a competitive nature (in itself a temptation to sin), it drives me to claim the last word in an argument.

But this is not who I am in Christ. Strengthened by the Spirit, I assault the works of the enemy and brick-by-brick demolish them.

May I turn my cheek to real slights and more importantly, refuse to project my feelings onto the words of another, turning them into imagined slights.

I have both known and seen the corrosive effects of anger and its afterbirth of bitterness. Soul destroying and life stealing are these twins.

I am blessed with a woman of the sweetest and most forgiving nature. I try both these attributes to the limit. Since I noted these qualities in both her parents, I think that goodness and mercy can be passed from generation to generation as well.

I pray for my girls that goodness and mercy flow from them as well as to them.

And I fight the good fight, falling back bloody some days, victorious on others.

God grant me strength to destroy the ugliness within me and forgive that of others, my own having been forgiven.

Be it so.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Come and Die

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. -Romans 12:1

I once heard a preacher say that instead of "Standing on the Promises," we Christians are many times found "sitting on the premises!"

In other words, our faith is not a "Get Out of Hell Free" card. Paul states this in a positive manner in Romans 12:1.

When I was saved, I joined the church where I attended. The pastor asked me several questions in which I promised faithfulness in all aspects of the faith and ended by instructing me to "make God a good hand."

A worthy sentiment, but as Jesus reminds us in Luke 17:1, we should not get cocky but regard ourselves as unworthy servants.

All of which is to say this: I owe Jesus; bigtime. To paraphrase several hymns: "drops of grief can ne'er repay the debt of love I owe" and I must "pour contempt on all my pride" as "I surrender all" to my Lord and master.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer stated it as clearly as I've seen outside scripture: "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die."

Die daily to my innate laziness, rebelliousness, and self-centeredness. If I can do this, physical death may be the easy part?

Friday, September 27, 2013

Take Up and Read

What are you reading?

It always amazes me when I meet someone who doesn't enjoy reading.

For the Christian person, of course, one book is required reading. Even if I am not inclined to sit and open its pages on any given day, I am assured by my Savior that I must feed on "every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God."

Yet it is not knowledge of Jesus' statement that prompts me to take up and read my Bible. The quickening power of the Holy Spirit convicts me of my need for God's Word. He imparts a desire for Scripture and enables me to set aside worldly distractions, if only briefly, to meditate thereon.  

Time is not a hindrance for me as it might be for others. No, my failure is in not attending to the words I read. I fail, many days, to seek meaning from my reading, to hide God's Word in my heart.

Still, I am concerned to meet one who professes faith in the Living Word without any desire whatever for the written Word of God.

Prayer for others does not proceed from the assumption that I am better than they are. Far from it!

But how can one witness to unbelievers who are better acquainted with Scripture and use it as a club against the witness? 

It comes down to two questions (or so I believe):

"Is it possible for the one who professes love for God to not love His Word?"


"What are you reading?"

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

What Are You Doing?

No wonder, then, that we constantly misconceive and misjudge what God is and is not doing in us, and for us.... "Rediscovering Holiness," J.I. Packer

"Constantly," the man says. Is that a fair and accurate description? Since he includes himself in the "we," I suppose that this was his observation from his long years as a minister.

I can only speak for myself. Sadly, I admit that I seem always to misconstrue God's purposes in the events of my life.

True, there are biblical truths that He has given us. Stating, for instance, that we should struggle against sin and seek God's holiness. That we should witness to the lost, minister to the sick, and help the needy. We hold these truths to be self-evident.

What about my participation in my church's music ministry, given my past inclination (as a performer) to seek my own glory and satisfaction? Elements of that remain in my heart, I confess.

What about a calling to and in the workplace? Is it God's will that I seek out such? In the past, I had thought he was removing me from this area of ministry.

And my desire to see a reformed witness established in my hometown? I don't feel any particular call there. But what if because of my own self-interest (a heartfelt desire to live the rest of my days in NW TN), I am actually ignoring such a call?

Someone once said, "You don't have to go to China to be a missionary." Jesus said, "the fields are white with the harvest," That strikes home, especially to the heart of one raised on a cotton farm!

Nebuchadnezzar came to the knowledge, concerning God, that "none can stay His hand or say to him, 'What have you done?'"

Nonetheless, I hope that I do not sin in inquiring of God, "What are you doing?" Like Job, I understand the futility and arrogance of questioning the wisdom or love of my heavenly Father.

What I do long for is to be on the same page as His plan.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Comfort and Joy, Comfort and Joy (for Buddy)

Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!
                                 -Philippians 4:4

Before I begin, I'd like to ask a question: what emotion does the color blue conjure for you?

I find it soothing, like a cool washcloth on a fevered brow. Also it looks really neat against the black background of my blogpage.

Being from somewhere other than here, I keep up with people from my past lives by swapping messages on FaceBook. I know, it is a pitiful substitute for face-to-face conversation.

But talking on the phone seems to me even more inadequate. Lacking the visual input of facial expressions and body language, I find myself compelled to fill the empty silence with banal pleasantries. Is it even possible to have a meaningful discussion while talking on the telephone?

I recently exchanged messages with a friend who is one of the most joyful people I know. His openness and upbeat personality attracted me from the first time we met. We shared many a large time in the several years that I lived in his hometown.

He is still there. I am pleased to say that God has blessed him with a strong, enduring faith. You know what I mean. Faith that is our only anchor when life devastates us.

I admire that kind of faith and I strive to emulate it. The faith to smile in the midst of sorrow. Faith that does not shy away from expression of that sorrow, but at the same time remains hopeful. Faith that does not allow us to withdraw to within ourselves but inspires us to reach out and engage those around us.
Faith that allows us to be a blessing to others. Faith in the hope of that which is to come.

As I sought to be a blessing and comfort to my friend (through the strange medium of FB messaging), I found myself comforted by his open and honest faith.

God has promised to never leave or forsake us. Sometimes I detect his presence in the blessed fellowship of dear friends.

Thank you, my Lord and my God.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

All That I Know is I Am On My Way

When will I get there, I don't know
When am I going, I ain't certain
What will I get, I ain't equipped to say

Bound for glory and the life eternal.

That's the promise. The peg on which I hang my hat and my immortal soul. The concept is mind-boggling. The to-be-fulfilled reality is beyond my ability to imagine.

What will God look like? Not a clue.
Will I be able to fly in my resurrected, glorified body? I have no idea.
What will we do forever and ever and ever?

The Bible gives passing glimpses of these wonders, probably as much as my finite mind is able to process.

Glorification. Have you thought about it? Not just our disembodied souls, but our flesh made new and perfect. Along with creation.

How much more astounding that Paul speaks of it in the past tense (Romans 8:30). As a thing already accomplished! In God's eye I am already fully restored.

Oh yes, in the words of Robert Frost, there are miles to go before I sleep, Only God knows how many.

But He's saving me a place.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Lost in Arminia

You did not choose me, but I chose you.... -John 15:16a

Have you chosen Jesus to be your Lord and Savior? Actually, no you haven't. Nor has anyone else in the history of the human race.

Is that offensive to you? Are you offended (I admit I was) to hear that the choosing rests in God alone (Romans 8:29) and not at all in sinful old us (Romans 8:7-8; 9:14-23)?

That's not fair, you say. Not fair that the Sovereign LORD of all creation does as He chooses among His creation (Daniel 4:35; Isaiah 43:13)? Are you sure you want to accuse God of unfairness?

To believe or not believe. It is said that the gospel is presented and sinners must choose. Entirely up to you. God is a gentleman. Hmm. Try selling that one to Saul (Paul) as he lay flat on his back on the road to Damascus.

The lie of fallen man's ability to desire God is an ancient one. It has been declared heresy at least twice (Pelagius at the Council of Carthage, 416 A.D.; Arminius at the Synod of Dordt, 1619 A.D.).

Here are the links:


Like a successful football coach, Satan runs the same old tried and true plays from the same dusty old playbook. Hey, if it works, why change it? Here in America, Charles Finney propagated the lie in spades and pastors across the land blindly follow his lead.

I'm nitpicking you say. A minor point of theology. Tell me, then, who should receive the glory for your salvation? The God who chose you, loved you, sent His Son to die for you and save you? Or yourself?

Here's the danger in believing the lie. If I believe I possess eternal salvation because of something I did; I walked the aisle and shook the preacher's hand; I raised my hand while every head was bowed and every eye closed; I was ducked in Phillips Bayou on the St. Francis River back in 1959, then I really don't owe God my all, do I?

In fact, if God ceased to be God while I made up my mind to choose Him, that doesn't make Him much of a God does it? I wonder if a god who can, even for a moment, be not God can be God at all.

That "gentleman" God who would bow to my choosing is not the same as the God who says, "I will not give my glory to another(Isaiah 42:8)." He is a figment of the fallen imagination; a false god.

Where is that god's salvation?

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. -John 6:44

Monday, August 19, 2013

You Get What You Need

You can't always get what you want. -Mick Jagger, Keith Richards

"You need a haircut."

How many times did I hear these words as a young hippie in Arkansas in the 60's?  I can only guess if I had a dollar every time I heard them, I would be writing this on a 24k gold-plated laptop.

My reply?

Ever the wordsmith (and the smart-aleck), I would point out that "to need" something indicated that it was required for one's continued existence. Haircuts did not (and do not) fit that definition.

Samson certainly never needed a haircut. In fact, haircuts were quite harmful to him. I couldn't take that chance could I?

I should have been kinder to my critics. For over fifty years I myself confused the meaning of "desire" with "need."

I won't give the devil any glory by going down that list. It is enough to say that Jesus introduced Himself to me and suddenly all my needs were met.

Is that to imply that I've never desired anything but Christ since I met him? We know better than that, right?

I am learning, bit-by-bit, to rely on Him only. Even the basics, like air to breathe, food and drink to sustain this body are provided by the One who made all that. How much more does He satisfy the longings of a heart He has re-made?

I've got to remember that.

What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled and strivings cease!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Treasures of the Heart

But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. -Luke 2:19
And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. -Luke 2:51b

What treasures do you keep in your heart? What do you cherish? What do you cling to?

Some things, I know, remain in our hearts always. When did I first meet my beloved? When did I come to know Jesus? Life-shaping events.

Some of us have the ability to recall the minutest details. And to recall and relive them. When Jesus said that that our hearts will be where our treasures are, was he hinting that the condition of my heart might be discerned by that to which I cling?

Jesus also said that our mouths speak out of the overflow of our hearts. What sort of things do you suppose Mary spoke? Did she view life as a contest with score to be kept? Surely Joseph must have wounded her feelings at some point in their marriage. Did she cherish those wounds and drag them forth to flail him with them?

This is not the treasure Scripture indicates, is it?

Can the Holy Spirit co-exist side-by-side in my heart with its treasury of pain, bitterness, anger and resentment? This cannot be the source of love, joy and peace.

What treasures do you keep in your heart?

"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed," Luke 10:41-42a

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Am I in the Place of God?

She said to Jacob, "Give me children or I shall die!" -Genesis 30:1b

So do you think Rachel was being overly dramatic?

We all know Jonah wanted to die from anger. Kind of childish, really. Been there, done that.

But Rachel. Was she planning on dying from shame? From frustration? From unfulfilled desire (hope deferred...Proverbs 13:12)? From envy of her rival(s)? All of the above?

Jacob's answer was dead on: "Am I in the place of God?"

Expressed in anger at her unreasonable expectations, maybe. Or sarcasm (the default setting, I'm afraid, for some of us). But you know, the more I ponder the situation, I wonder if a rebuke was intended. A theologically correct rebuke.

Who gives life anyway?

Could it be that Rachel was guilty of idolatry? Isn't that what happens when we pin our expectations, our hopes, our dreams on the creature and not the Creator?

Remember Hannah? In almost the exact same situation, did she rag on her poor, bewildered husband who was doing his best to comfort her? Or did she take her request to the One who could do something about it? 

Sisters in Christ, what are you dying from? Is there a lesson in the conclusions to these two stories. God was glorified, oh yes, and His purpose accomplished.

But in one family, there was disrespect, envy, hatred and heartache. In the other, there was a Christian mom's fondest hope fulfilled: a godly son, dedicated to the Lord.

Brothers, we don't get off the hook so easily. There's more to being a man than tromping through the house in muddy boots, scratching ourselves and spitting on the floor.

Sometimes you gotta be a man and say what needs saying. I admit that Jacob's reply might have gone down easier spoken in a gentle tone and a tender expression than with a growl and a scowl.

Still some things need to be said.

 Choose your words wisely.

Friday, August 9, 2013

By The Rivers of Babylon

...we sat and we wept.... Psalm 137:1

Have you ever wondered, could there ever be such a thing as a "Babylonian Captivity" of the American church?

Or has she already been captured? Does worship on Sunday rise upward to God, glorifying Him and Him alone? Or do his creatures take center-stage, seeking to share His glory? I have found in my own heart a desire for men's praise as I performed in front of the Sunday crowd.

One of the marks of the true church is the preaching of the Word.

As the prophecy of Jeremiah is read to him, in Jeremiah 36, the wicked king cuts up the scroll into pieces and tosses them into the fire.

Is this happening every Sabbath? Are verses are lifted from their context and "Peace, peace," proclaimed when there is no peace (Jeremiah 6:14; 8:11)?

There is one TV "preacher" who delivers his "messages" with a smile but nary a passage from the Word, while the camera pans across the congregation, Bibles open in their laps.

What page are they turned to, all these open Bibles? Perhaps the Intertestamental Period when God's silence was deafening and the people perished for lack of knowledge.

The doors of the American church may never be closed by governmental fiat. It may be that, as the congregations slip away, one-by-one, the last one out turns the lock.

Yet God has promised that the gates of hell will not prevail against His Church and that He will preserve a remnant of the faithful.

God, preserve me from seeking your glory. Instead may Christ's kingdom grow until it fills the earth and all the kingdoms of the world are laid in the dust.

Be it so.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Suffer the Little Children

You shall teach them to your children,.... -Deuteronomy 11:19

I have long admired those who spend hours a day in classrooms with children, whose minds seem to be everywhere all at once, but rarely on the subject at hand. This can be the occasion for both frustration and hilarity. It calls for the application of all nine of the fruit of the Spirit. And a blend of coercion and personal charm?

I have been given the rare privilege and duty of teaching the catechism to three young people, ages 7-9.

I read somewhere that, at this age, the child's mind does not grasp the concept of morality for the sake of morality, but only the notion of consequences suffered for laws transgressed.

Is this sort of like our progress as Christians?

At any rate, we teach our children to love God, and out of love to obey His commandments. I have no doubt that loving instruction given me by my parents and others in the family of God have had great impact on my life as a Christian.

But only God can give us a heart to love Himself. This is a precious truth. Especially for one like myself who failed in his duty to teach his own children. I apologize, Kim, Nik, Kris and Sandy.

But God works through and around our failures. He overrules my sin. He accomplishes His purposes in the hearts and lives of those whom He has called.

This is not to excuse failure and sin. But to renew and strengthen dedication and determination.

Once again, I have been given a rare privilege and duty.

O LORD, fail me not, that I fail not.

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Heart of the Matter

We all need a little tenderness, how can love survive in such a graceless age? -Don Henley

We dropped "Eureka" from our instant queue.

We love our Roku box. Netflix is our favorite channel. It is well worth the $7.99 a month to know that we will never watch a commercial about male or female personal products. Or see a semi-naked woman making love to her hamburger.

"Eureka" didn't have any of that stuff. Language was very mild. Just a quirky little show about quirky little people in a quirky little town.

But over the course of watching 17 episodes, a disturbing pattern emerged. More and more, the humor seemed based on what I would consider "hateful" behavior if I encountered it personally.

That is not to say that my friends don't rag on me pretty hard sometimes (and I on them). I can take it.

I'm sure you can distinguish between good-natured teasing and mean-spirited snarkiness.

The snarky (I'm pretty sure that's a word) thing began to predominate on "Eureka;" interspersed with generous helpings of selfish whining. Yuk.

Isn't humor supposed to be based on the observation of the absurd (ludicrous, ridiculous, eccentric, bizarre and yes, I'm balancing the thesaurus on one knee as I type, which is all the things mentioned above and hopefully therefore humorous)?

Maybe the there is a direct connection between the gracelessness Don Henley noticed and what passes for humor these days.

Not in my circle, however. All my friends are falling-down funny and possess offbeat, if not outright bizarre, senses of humor.

How could they put up with ME otherwise?