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: " 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?