Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Sins of the Fathers

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. -Ephesians 4:31

"I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall."

Early in my Christian life, this lament of Jeremiah rose off the page to smite me on the cheek. I well understood that, in my life at least, the affliction and wandering proceeded from the bitterness.

I recalled that bitterness had poisoned my relationships, especially those with women. I recalled the bitterness of spirit with which I left behind the church family in which I had been raised.

As God began to grant me understanding, I often puzzled over the several passages in which the sins of the fathers are said to be visited upon the children. Each is responsible before God for every deed done in the flesh, whether good or evil (Ecclesiastes 12:14). How could these things be reconciled?

Then I began to read about spiritual warfare and the word "stronghold" came up. A place in my own heart from where the devil, entrenched among evil thoughts and attitudes, could sally forth to defeat me time and again.

I cannot say how the significance of this word  could have escaped a lifelong student of military history. Only one mention of it in the New Testament, but what a powerful statement!

Strongholds were something to be demolished, torn down without mercy and only through God the Spirit's power. 

Then I began to read about generational strongholds and the confusing passages about the sins of the fathers became clear.

How well I recognized those traits, both good and bad, I inherited from my parents. That they inherited from their parents.

How could we not absorb the atmosphere in which we have been raised? But the real question is this: Are we not to be struggling constantly to put off the old and clothe ourselves with the new? 

Having been convicted by the words of Jeremiah, I leapt at the opportunity to be rid of this affliction. For such it was, and I thank God daily for the Spirit by Whose power I am able to overcome this and my many other sins.

But especially bitterness, which I am taught wells up out of an unforgiving heart. What right have I, who have been forgiven much, to withhold forgiveness for any piddling and trivial offenses with which I have allowed myself to be wounded?

For, make no mistake, in light of our cosmic rebellion against the One who made us, even the most grievous of wounds we can inflict upon each other are indeed light and momentary.

To forgive, as Shakespeare noted, is divine. For how else but by God's power could I overcome my innate self-centeredness and overlook what is essentially carelessness on the part of others? Or to put it more directly: their failure to love me as much as I love myself.

The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Romans 8:16). A necessary part of this is conviction of sin. Our goal (our constant struggle) is to be rid of all those things in us that come between us and God. We will attain this goal in the life to come.

In the meantime, the battle continues. Odd, isn't it that we should experience joy in the midst of that battle?

I will not let an angry, unforgiving heart rob me of that joy. Will you?

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Way, In a Manger

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. -Isaiah 9:6

We have two new additions to our family at GPC. Welcome to Knox Gallimore and Elizabeth Preuett. And congratulations to proud parents Kyle and Kerri Gallimore and Justin and Martha Preuett.

As in the Harry Chapin song, they "came into the world in the usual way."

Which brings us to the reason for the season. A baby, born in the usual way a couple of thousand years ago. But this baby had many strange and wonderful things prophesied of him and made many unusual claims about himself. 

In fact, to many "religious" people of the day, these claims were simply too outlandish, blasphemous even, to bear. So they killed him.

And we look back today upon that time and those people and think, "How foolish."

But there are still those, some of them "Christians," who would deny either the miraculous birth (by a woman who had never known a man) or that this child (being born of woman) was God in the flesh.

Or both.

There have always been (and will be) those for whom the Word of God is not enough, but must be measured by human reason. Sight, not faith, is their criteria.

It all goes back, I suppose, past the original sin to the original temptation, "Did God really say...?"

But for we who have been blessed with the gift of faith, we celebrate the birth of Him who announced Himself as "the way" to the Father.

And it really doesn't matter that December 25 might not be the exact day of His arrival into the world, or that the early Church may have pre-empted some pagan holiday or other.

The thing is, He was born. The Word truly became flesh and dwelt among us. Even His name was truth, "God With Us."

This is what we celebrate. And if we do so in the midst of the gloom and chill of winter, all the better. For now is the winter of our discontent made bright in the Son of Heaven.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Strange Things

Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know. -Jeremiah 33:3

When Jesus pronounced forgiveness to the lame man set before him, the onlooking crowd thought it strange, not to say blasphemous.

Knowing the thoughts of their unbelieving hearts, he bade the man to rise up and walk. And the crowd was amazed and pronounced it strange even while praising God.

Isn't it so, in our own lives, that we often thank and praise God while being amazed at the sometime strangeness of His ways?

And to meditate how He has worked to accomplish His plan of redemption.

How a young man, who stole fruit, not because he was hungry, but for the pure deviltry of it, should become the greatest theologian of the early church and chief proponent of the doctrine of grace.

How an obscure German monk with strong doubts about his own salvation should embrace that same doctrine of grace and find the courage to face down the combined might of Church and Empire, thus sparking a mighty reformation.

How an English preacher should cross the Atlantic Ocean to proclaim those same doctrines of grace and awake an entire nation to God's grace and mercy.

Many are the strange personal accounts we could give of God's mysterious workings in our own lives to grant us faith and mercy. What an unlikely candidate for God's grace I find myself to be.

Strangest of all, and at the heart of the message of grace, is the account of how God took on flesh and became the Word, to live in perfect obedience, to die sacrificially, to rise miraculously, and to ascend in glorious power, from whence He will return in judgment and make all things new.

Strange indeed.

Happy birthday to me, and God bless us, everyone.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Dead Men's Bones

Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you and ye shall live.-Ezekiel 37:5b.

Being a film buff, there are iconic scenes burned into my memory. In Casablanca, for example, when Victor Laszlo launches the nightclub patrons into a stirring rendition of "La Marsellaise," drowning out the Nazi soldiers' singing of "Die Wacht Am Rhein."

These memories occur sometimes at odd moments. Whenever I begin to read Ezekiel 37, for example, I cannot help but recall the graveyard scene at the end of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. 

And I picture Ezekiel, who has perhaps been in prayer, transported in the Spirit and set in the middle of a valley. As he slowly raises his head, the camera of my mind pulls back gradually to reveal bones, everywhere bones, dry bones in a vast amphitheater of the dead.

"Can these bones live?"

In the film scene, the character Tuco crosses himself, obviously convinced of the finality represented by the sheer countlessness of the graves all around him.

Ezekiel, being a man of God, has an answer more fitting to the person of faith:

"O Sovereign LORD, you know."

How perfectly in tune this is with Jonah's declaration that "Salvation is of the LORD."

The question is one of regeneration, restoring and renewing of life. A resurrection of the dead, actually. This is accepted throughout Christianity.

 At the heart of the dispute between the doctrines of grace and any other view of Christian salvation is the question, "When does this rebirth occur?"

Many would say that faith must come before the heart can be renewed from a heart of stone to one of flesh, one able to love and desire God and seek after Him.

We have but to remain in Ezekiel (11:19; 36:26) to see that this new heart of faith is nothing other than a gift from God. Even the Arminian slanted notes and references of the NIV translation I possess refer the reader to 2 Corinthians 3:3, where Paul speaks of the heart as written upon by God the Holy Spirit.

The question is not whether we are dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1). But, rather:

"Can these bones live?"

Not just dead bones. Dry bones. Bleached in the sun, scorched by the scirrocco wind blowing in off the desert. Is there anything as devoid of life as a dead, dried-out bone?

Certainly we find no record of the bones crying out, "Give us life."

No account of Lazarus pleading to Jesus for life.

Jairus' daughter did not send to Jesus to come and raise her dead body.

The two witnesses of Revelation 11 are raised by the "breath of life from God (11:11)" and nothing else.

At the heart of the discussion lies the ultimate question (if we would but recognize it), "Is God sovereign in all things?'

What answer could be simpler than "Salvation belongs to the LORD (Psalm 3:8a)?"

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

In My Father's House

Stop and let me tell you what the Lord has done for me. -Bro. Herbert "Red" Johnson's "Little Red Ants."

Earlier this week, I made a new acquaintance. In Walmart, of all places.

I was speaking to a friend of long-standing when this fellow walked up and began talking.

One of the things that struck me about this area when I moved here many years ago was the friendliness of its people. Even in the Sunny South, where I have lived all my life and where the graciousness of its inhabitants is an object of pride and delight, the folks of NW TN set the standard (so it seems to me) for openness and friendliness.

I mention that because this gentleman was obviously a northerner (by his accent) brought here by Goodyear (he mentioned) sometime in the way back when.

And no doubt he was captivated by the warmth of the natives to such a degree that he, being unused to such behavior (and desiring no doubt to enter into the friendly spirit of the region), developed the habit (I suppose) of accosting total strangers in public and yakking away.

I say this, mind you, not in a spirit of criticism, but merely to point out that the incident was slightly unusual. And endearing, actually. He seemed such a sweet-spirited man with a wonderful smile which lit his countenance throughout our conversation.

My old friend excused himself on account of previous business. One of the marks of our graciousness is our tendency (indeed our desire) to stop whatever activity we are engaged in to simply stand and talk, at times for an extended period.

So my old friend left and my new friend remained and we talked. Or he talked, mostly. We exchanged names and handshakes and he continued to speak.

I noted that most of his conversation concerned his father, who must have been long dead, given my new friend's age. He spoke of his dad's business success, of his many interests and abilities (golfing, hunting, fishing, even bowling) and his larger than life physical presence.

Sprinkled throughout his conversation was also an intimation (barely detectable unless you listened carefully) of his own failure to measure up to this man he so obviously worshipped so many years after the fact.

We talked, I don't know how long, until I made my excuses, shook hands once more, and extended an invitation to come and worship at GPC.

As I said, a rather odd encounter even in a region famed for its many odd "characters."

I reflected later on (as I do, partly because in a world ruled by a Sovereign God, there are no coincidental occurrences) about the almost exclusive focus of the man's conversation upon his father.

And, honestly, I began to be convicted.

I was blessed with a wonderful dad. What joyful memories I have of the countless ways by which he expressed his love for me, my brother and my two sisters.

But I have a Heavenly Father whose love far surpasses anything any earthly father (though we are blessed to have them) could express.

What if this Father were the constant topic of my conversation? The Psalms, especially, are filled with remembrances of God and His mighty deeds, His gracious mercy.

My new friend couldn't stop sharing stories of his dad. Why should I not be overflowing with conversation of my God and Father?

Isn't it strange and wonderful, the unexpected and unlikely people and circumstances God uses to remind us of Himself?

And of how my witness could be as simple and basic as speaking of my Heavenly Father's love.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Heavy Artillery of the Saints

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. -Luke 18:1

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.-1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

So I've been thinking a lot about prayer.

Over the last several months actually. The question occurs to me, as it does to us all, how do I better serve my Lord?

No great altruistic impulse going on here. Just basic stuff of the Christian life. I have been redeemed, only God knows why, so how may I express my gratitude? As always He loved first and all I can do is respond.

Prayer. It is so simple and so obvious. Can it be that we have overlooked this most essential of Christian duties? I honestly wish I could say that it is just me, but the evidence around me seems to show otherwise.

Could this nation have fallen into the sad state in which she finds herself if we Christians were a people of prayer? Could the Church be a drooping, declining witness to the Gospel?

I am reading a book called, Principles of War. In it, the author Jim Wilson outlines ten historic principles of warfare and relates them to our evangelical task.

He likens prayer to artillery preparation before the assault on the battlefield and calls for the concentrated use of prayer by the Church.

At the recent Reformation Conference at GPC, Reverend John Sartelle, using Revelation 8:5 for his text, likened the prayers of the saints to nitroglycerin in the hands of God.

Charles Spurgeon spoke of the prayer room in the basement of Metropolitan Tabernacle in London as "the engine room of the church." There, every Sunday as Spurgeon preached, members of the church gathered and offered up prayers for God's blessing of the sermon.

Yet this man of God, this "Prince of Preachers" called for more when he mentioned the likelihood that the Church was "putting forth its preaching hand but not its praying hand."

"Let us agonize in prayer," was his plea. This plea is valid for God's people in all ages. Would you agree that we can never pray enough as long as the fields are white with the harvest, as long as our King tarries in His coming?

We have a prayer group at GPC at 8:45 on Sunday mornings. There is a dedicated group which turns out faithfully each Sunday to lift up friends, family, our community, our nation, our little congregation and the Church militant. Praise God for them .

How about your church? Is there a group dedicated to prayer and if not, could you be instrumental in starting one? In Thessalonians 5:11, Paul urges  us to "encourage one another and build one another up." How better to do this than through prayer, both individually and together?

What a blessing it would be to see the whole congregation arrive early one Sunday to pray. If the prayers of a few can bring visual results, what would the prayers of many do?

Ah, brothers and sisters, let us "carpet bomb" Satan all the way to the gates of hell.

Come and pray.

Friday, November 28, 2014

You Deserve Worse

He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. -Psalm 103:10

How hateful we should think someone (much less a friend) who came to us in time of pain or sorrow to declare that we deserved worse of God.

That God exacts of us less than our guilt actually deserves.

I would immediately "unfriend (to use the current vernacular)" such a person. Wouldn't you? 

Brother Billy, in preaching through this section of Job, stated that he found no translation for the name of Job's friend, Zophar, but was of the opinion that the name meant, "jerk."

And that might be the kindest response to one speaking such hateful and inappropriate words instead of words of comfort to a friend in need.

Yet that Word which we receive as authoritative and truthful in all its parts contains such words, as well as many words of comfort.

It is true that I deserve worse. That I am a daily recipient of God's mercy as well as His grace.

I sing of the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart.

I walk in the crisp, clear morning air and meditate on the beauties of what God has made.

I marvel at the love of a woman who must be modeling the love of Christ as she forgives and bears with and cherishes me in spite of my many faults.

I wonder, along with Scrooge, at the happiness welling up within my heart and mutter with him: "I don't deserve to be so happy...but I can't help it!"

I read Psalm 130:3 and ponder the question: if the LORD should keep an account of our iniquities, who indeed could stand?

Of all the Psalms, Psalm 103 is easily my favorite.

It calls me to remembrance of the things I have mentioned and reminds me of a God whose love is higher than the height of the measureless heavens above the earth.

Who has cast my sins as far from me as the east is from the west.

Wayne Watson has put it like this: "Grace keeps giving me things I don't deserve; mercy keeps withholding things I do."

Praise the LORD, o my soul, and all that is within me, praise His holy name.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Do Your Best

I had better start by saying how grateful I am for the two women in my life; my wife and daughter.

It is a failing of mine to not take as seriously as they do, matters which are of great interest to them. Not things of earth-shaking significance, mind you, but important to them nonetheless.

My only excuse might be that I am absorbed sometimes in my own musings upon matters of insignificance.

There are also times when the topics of conversation concern subjects over which, however relevant they might be, I have no control. It may be a core difference between the male and female races that, beyond a basic review of the facts of the case, I find no interest in the further beating (as it were) of the dead horse at hand.

I have a stock answer for all such occasions. It is this, "Do your best."

Of course, the women in my life hate to hear these words. Firstly, because, "Do your best," is sound advice in all situations. And we all know, if the ladies would but admit it, that sometimes (most times?), all they desire is not sound advice but an ear into which to voice their complaints/concerns/opinions.

I think that in the case of my two young lovelies, the reason they hate, "Do your best," the most is because it is a conversation stopper.

What reply could you give to "Do your best?"

"I most certainly will not do my best," hardly seems appropriate.

"Yes, but..." followed by anything you would care to insert would simply be unreasonable since what argument could you possibly present against doing your best?

Actually there are two replies one could give to, "Do your best."

They are, "I will," or "Thank you."

Your choice.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Young People in Love

Young people in loooove...are seldom ever hungry. -Alan Hale Sr., singing off-key in It Happened One Night.

I am fond of quoting the old saw that youth is wasted on the young. It's a lie, of course. You have to be young to be able to handle being young.

Have you ever been in love, for instance? Unable to think for a minute about anything but that special one? Basking in their presence like a lizard on a sun-baked rock? A Song of Solomon type love, of overwhelming desire for the beloved?

Remember that? It takes stamina, right? And the passion and idealism of youth.

Of course it won't (it can't) last and I am not being the least bit cynical when I make this assertion. It must grow and deepen into a love more mature, more able to withstand all our sins of commission and omission against one another. Or it must wither and grow stale and die.

And let me tell you, if you don't already know, that the dregs of a dead love are bitter indeed. I remember that one, too. How quickly we forget the good, in the midst of our prideful anger.

I cannot say, as I look around at the many young people of my acquaintance, how thrilled I am to see some of them venturing into life with that special someone. That someone they've waited for and saved themselves for. I recall the excitement of young love and am glad for them.

But I fear for them as well, because I know that time, familiarity and our fallen natures can drain the passion and excitement right out of that young love and leave a cold empty husk.

That first argument won't be long in coming and, before you know it, it gets personal, you feel your self bring threatened and you take counter- measures and the thing gets ugly.

Offenses must come, as Jesus said in another context. The thing is, will there be a harboring of grudges, a keeping of scores, a cherishing of past wrongs, to magnify the offenses over time?

In two of his letters (Colossians 3; Ephesians 5), Paul instructs wives to submit to their husbands and husbands to love their wives.

There are two things in view here: servanthood and self-sacrifice. On the part of both parties. Counter-intuitive for most of us, I think.

But necessary, wouldn't you agree, for young love to become more than a bitter memory.

Prayers for the young people then. And also for us, who should be old enough (and wise enough) to know better.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Vampires (But Not the Ones in Lexa)

...for the blood is the life...-Deuteronomy 12:23b

There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel's veins...-William Cowper

For much of my young life, the only movies I saw were horror movies. Every Saturday night, my sisters and I gathered in my darkened room in front of a black and white TV set to watch "Fantastic Features."

Our "monster of ceremonies," Sivad, would open the crypts of horror moviedom and present the classics: Frankenstein, Wolfman and of course Dracula.

Scary stuff for youngsters in a dark room. But in spite of the thrills and chills, I never really believed in any of it.

But, as I noted in a previous post, there must be an underlying basis in  fact for this stuff to be halfway scary, to strike a chord of fear within our hearts.

My two favorite authors of vampire lore are Bram Stoker (of course) and Anne Rice, who agree that the way in which one partakes of the vampire's eternal undeadness (which is different from immortality, right?) is to drink of his blood. Anne Rice calls it the "Dark Gift."

So have these two come up with some sort of documentation of vampirism, a basis in reality?

Well of course not, but it reminds me of something I have been looking into lately: the sacrament of the Lord's Supper (please, dear reader, read on before you accuse me of blasphemy).

Examining the legend of Vlad Tepes, one wonders if the vampiric drinking  of blood may be a perversion of the sacrament. Francis Coppola suggested as much in the opening of his filmic depiction of  the Dracula legend.

Vampire legends apparently have been around for quite a long time and it may be that the medieval Church turned these superstitions to its own purposes. In fact there are practices in today's Protestant Church which have their beginnings in pagan rites and rituals, adapted in earliest times for use in Christian worship.

I am not suggesting that the sacrament of the Lord's Supper is such a practice. Its institution by Christ at the Last Supper is clearly stated in all four gospels and reiterated by Paul in 1 Corinthians 11.

I am positing that as the church spread through the wildernesses of Europe, it played upon these fears (as it was wont to do) for the avowed purpose of drawing pagan unbelievers to Christ.

Another subject for another time and I will only say here that the Gospel is effective unto salvation and man-made devices, however well-intended, are superfluous to the regenerating work of God the Holy Spirit and generally cause more harm than good.

But I digress.

Vampires, right?

There are reasons why I say that these myths might be viewed as perversions of biblical reality.

Note the reversal of roles, for example. The biblical doctrine of Christ's sacrificial atonement depict the shedding of the blood of the all-powerful Anthropos, the man-god, to give life to the weak and helpless. Those dead in sin, as Paul states the fact.

The powerful undead prey upon the weak in all vampire lore, no matter how sexy a spin the authors of such tales might put on the matter. Indeed, they draw their very sustenance from those weaker than themselves. A perversion of Christian teaching.

Christ rose from His tomb to give life to his elect. Dracula rises from his tomb to inflict death, horror and misery.

I will say that the Church clearly identified vampires as satanic in nature. This is a thing which is sadly lacking in the recent culture of unbelief. An unbelief, I might add, which goes back further in time than just the past decade or so. 

Vampires for giggles and the occasional chill up the spine? I'm not opposed to it. But as vampires become sexier and somehow the notion of romantic love is twisted into the story, I believe we might do well to consider the possible sources of our fascination.

And to reflect upon the very real, only true alternative to eternal undeadness.There is a fountain, as William Cowper notes in that beloved hymn, and in that fountain alone is the source of life everlasting.

And as for dressing up to frighten one's children? All I can say is that I have been redeemed and forgiven for my sins of which I have heartily repented.

And may you, my daughters, follow the example of your Saviour and forgive a foolish old man.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

If You Pull Out a Drawer From the Chest-of-Drawers It Makes a Handy Bassinet

I lived most of the first half of my life in "The Old House."

My friend Camille Kendall has written a book about an old house, Bethel Road, which I highly recommend. Here is the link:


The Old House was not that house.

The Old House became the Old House when we moved across the road into the new house during my senior year in high school.

The Old House was your basic shotgun house (3 rooms straight in a row) with additions made by my dad for a growing family. You used to see a lot of these houses in the rural delta, usually situated on the front edge of a cotton field.

Ours, like all the others, stood about a foot and a half off the ground, the height of the cement blocks on which its frame rested. The plank outer walls were covered with the "fancy" tarpaper siding with the brick pattern imprinted on it. This served as the only insulation in a day when most Southerners thought "insulation" was a word which described U.S. foreign policy.

By the winter of 1985, the Old House was showing the effects of a half century of wear and tear, the ceilings sagging in several of the rooms and the rusted tin roof flapping and banging whenever a southerly breeze would arise.

There is a certain restfulness about a flapping tin roof, by the way. I slept through a tornado in '83 which took out the tractor shed several dozen yards away from the Old House.

I lived in the south bedroom at this time, a space heater fueled by a 30 gallon propane drum being the source of warmth. A blanket nailed over the door warded off the chill air from the rest of the house. Pretty much.

Hardly the place for a woman and infant child.

Free beers and pass-the-hat were usually adequate compensation for hard-working musicians, so on the weekends, when we would play the nightclubs, I would have cash and would rent a motel room for the three of us.

Pretty cozy, actually. The double bed served as combination banquet table and TV viewing area for the family unit. And we discovered that the room's two chairs, pushed together, make a just-the-right-height stand for one of the drawers out of the chest-of-drawers, which made a handy bassinet, just the right size for a month-old baby.

And this was our arrangement for the next six months, until warmer weather enabled me to move my girlfriend and our baby out to the Old House.

The rest is history.


Friday, October 31, 2014

To Die For

On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. -Revelation 22:2b

So we have with a fair amount of certainty identified one of the fruits (with its healing leaves) as chocolate.

What the Aztecs viewed as fit only for kings and gods, we acknowledge to be God's greatest blessing to the taste buds of man.

And since we know that creation is cursed by the Fall of humankind, how could we begin to imagine how delicious that heavenly chocolate will be?

I asked a German young person of my acquaintance to compare the chocolate made in her homeland to that made here in the U.S.

"There is no comparison," she replied.

So yeah, like that, only more so.

This morning, Ms. Joycie roes from her sickbed with a hankering for the taste of a biscuit. Those of you who have been privileged to eat this woman's biscuits know what I'm talking about.

Tender, moist, light, flaky. fluffy, melt in your mouth (and I mean that literally) biscuits. Every adjective you could ever in all your lifetime think of to describe how marvelous. how delicious, how soul-satisfying a biscuit could be. Add it to this list.

In other words, the second of the fruits (with leaves for the healing of the nations)could just possibly be (drumroll please):  TA-DA---Ms. Joycie's biscuits!

Just like the joke in which the fine Christian lady asked to be buried with her fork, we understand that the best is yet to come.

Scenes of heavenly joy and beauty described in Scripture beggar the imagination and we can only dimly perceive them when we think on those things which delight us in this life.

You've heard it said, "I feel so bad I'd have to die to get better?"

Well, that's kinda the plan, isn't it?

We enjoy so many of God's blessings as we serve Him here on earth. We strive and pray to see the kingdom go forward and all the while look forward to that day "when in my flesh I shall see God."

Meanwhile, the search continues.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The New Know-Nothings

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: -Hosea 4:6a

You may know nothing of the "Know-Nothing" movement. It was  blessedly short-lived and militated basically against German and Irish Roman Catholic immigrants. One sermon by a Know-Nothing minister described the pope as "an enemy of the railroads(!)," among other things. Need I say more?

There is, unfortunately, a new Know-Nothingism abroad in the land which asserts that theology is the province of ivory tower intellectuals and has nothing to do with the average every-day Christian.

I have linked to a display of charts showing the results of a survey among adult Americans concerning the content of the Christian faith:


The level of ignorance displayed in this survey is perhaps not surprising but certainly saddening; and alarming when you wonder just how effective might be the Gospel witness of someone so lacking in Gospel knowledge and understanding.

In is instructive to read the whole of the 4th chapter of Hosea, which starts with a blanket condemnation of God's people and a listing of sins which might sound all too familiar in the context of our culture.

After the warning of destruction in verse six, Hosea proceeds to condemn the faithlessness of the nation's teachers and leaders.

We are responsible, we believers in Christ, before God, to embrace Him fully, with all that we are and have. To desire him, to long to know him.

In Acts 17:11, the Bereans are commended for their examination of Scripture for their guidance and inspiration. Even Paul, that man of God, was held accountable and his preaching examined in the light of God's Word.

How much more so are we to examine our Bibles to see if what we are hearing from our preachers and teachers is indeed in line with God's revelation of Himself and the nature of the faith we have been given?

To know nothing of my faith is inexcusable. To follow blindly after a blind guide is folly.

There have been many great teachers in the God-directed history of His Church. We are thankful for them and by the Spirit's enlightening power, we prayerfully examine their teachings in light of Scripture. We examine ourselves and those who would lead us in that same light.

To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn. -Isaiah 8:20

Amen. Let it be so.

Monday, October 27, 2014

My Death Verse

For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; and the mountains and hills shall burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. -Isaiah 55:12

What is your life verse? This is a question that you may have been asked; the idea being that the Christian's life and walk of faith can be summed up in a single verse of Scripture.

Or perhaps the notion is that, out of all God's word, there are certain verses or passages that truly (more than the others) move me or inspire you.

I can understand how this could be, for who does not have a favorite portion of the Bible which we read over and over again?

"...weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning. -Psalm 30:5b" is a verse I have heard cited often.

The thing is, I am inspired each day, as I read my Bible, to meditate on God's greatness, His mercy, His holiness, all His attributes. So it is hard to choose among the vast riches of His Word, a passage that really, truly fills my heart above all the others.

It is customary, I have read, in many Native American cultures for a warrior to compose a death chant, to be sung at the time of his dying.

As pilgrims and sojourners in this world, we too, we children of God, are to be heavenly minded and to long to be with our Lord (Philippians 1:23).

So, though I know that I am called to live my life in the light of "all Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16), there is a passage that has special meaning to me; what I consider my "death verse," the above-quoted Isaiah 55:12.

Coming at the end of a passage celebrating the Gospel call and the sureness of God's choosing, this promise of our eternal security is so precious to me.

I call upon you to rejoice with me, in God's mercy and incomprehensible love. Only in the crystal purity of His truth can we find adequate expression.

This, then, "be the verse you 'grave for me:"

For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Other

I am God, and there is none like me. -Isaiah 46:9b

You don't have to read much of Karl Barth to understand that he places a lot of emphasis on the "otherness" of God. Our understanding of God, he claims, is weak and feeble. The finite trying to grasp the Infinite.

We lose sight of God's otherness, maybe, in this day and age of the exaltation of humanity. Our sins have become "mistakes." Our rejection of His law have become "choices." Truly His ways are not our ways, nor His thoughts our thoughts.

But the Creator has revealed Himself to His creatures. The "heavens declare His glory (Psalm 19:1)," sings the Psalmist. Paul proclaims that "what can be known about God is plain (Romans 1:19)."

Still this is a being who can create something out of nothing, hold all creation in existence by the power of His will and is so vast his creation can't contain Him.

So how can my mind begin to grasp the reality of a being who is so "other" from me?

In Ephesians 5:32, Paul speaks of the mystery of marriage as pointing the way to understanding of the mystery of Christ's love for his bride, the Church.

In His creation of humankind into two sexes, it seems that God has given us a clue to the puzzle of the other.

Who has not meditated with wonder (and at times, despair) upon the differences between men and women?

To men, women may seem creatures of pure emotion, with no rhyme or reason, no logic whatever to their thinking.

As I understand it, men have seemed to women as cold, unfeeling brutes ruled by their base desires.

It seems like total war, at times, with no compromise possible and utter destruction the aim of the enemy. It is useful, at such times, to remember that there is an enemy and this is indeed his aim.

But where does that leave us, men and women, in this necessary struggle to understand and resolve our differences, our otherness?

God, in His mercy and wisdom, has given us these relationships. But it is a mistake (and a sin) to enjoy only that physical difference while despising those things that set us apart emotionally and mentally. 

What a struggle it has been to (begin to) learn to embrace the other that is my beloved. To understand that without her, I am incomplete. To see how our differences complement each other and at the same time, teach us forbearance and kindness.

Just as those physical differences are the cause for so much joy, so also am I fulfilled in embracing this strange, this other being. To love her, to cherish her with all my heart, soul and mind.

It is indeed a great mystery, just as Paul has said. One which will be revealed on that day when I stand before the ultimate Other.

And I will glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Evil For Good

So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. -Genesis 45:8a

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. -Romans 8:28

One of the unbeliever's favorite questions is: "If God is good, why is there evil in the world?"

Wrong answer: any variation on the theme that God merely "allows" evil to exist, implying that He is not in control, ultimately of all that exists.

Writing under the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16), James reminds us that God is not tempted by evil nor does He tempt anyone (1:13-15).

It is a difficult concept to grasp that God, without being the author of evil, controls it and uses it for his own purposes. The Bible is clear, however, that this is so.

Honestly, it is quite comforting to know that even men's most wicked actions are being used by God to accomplish His perfect, pleasing and acceptable will.

It's what enabled Joseph to forgive his brothers. Or Paul to persevere  in his missionary calling in spite of severe persecution. Or for you and I to pray for the forgiveness of those who wrong us.

Our lives are seldom like those of the characters in nighttime TV dramas who are beset by wicked, malevolent people, bent on inflicting misery and destruction.

No, we are afflicted(?) by the banality of the humdrum everyday neighbor lost in the mediocrity of selfishness. People much like ourselves, in fact.

For most of us, the evil we suffer comes at the hands of those who have not much thought for us or our well-being; who actually care only about achieving their own gratification.

Lust of the eye, lust of the flesh and pride of life. Adam and Eve were perfect yet yielded to these temptations. How much more so are we, God's imperfect children, prone to fall into the same snares.

The smallest thing; an offhand word, an unintended slight can cause us grief. Are we as careful as we ought to be, not to cause offense ourselves?

Jesus instructed us to pray for forgiveness, even as we forgave others. How rich in meaning is this simple command. It covers the entire range of hurt, unintended or not, that we tend to inflict upon each other.

So let the evil I suffer be used by my Father for good and may I return good for that evil, as best I can.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Penny For Your Thoughts

"LeFou, you know I've been thinking."
"A dangerous pastime!"
"I know."

Way back in the long ago, a friend shared that she had tried smoking pot but didn't care for the experience, since it made her "think too much."

Upon further reflection (years after the fact), I suppose I could relate to that. Getting high sometimes opened the door to uninvited thoughts.

Paranoia and uninvited thoughts aside, "the life of the mind" is fascinating, something I enjoyed pondering even as a youngster.

My favorite people, people whose company I most enjoy are thoughtful people. In fact I am always surprised when I encounter someone who doesn't enjoy thinking.

I am actually puzzled that anyone would desire to cruise through life without meditating on the nature of things. I don't believe that it is because I am a child of the sixties that I "question everything."

What I am truly unable to comprehend, however, is the Christian who doesn't exhibit much (if any) desire to meditate on the nature of this faith of ours. How could this be, I wonder?

I am well aware of the pitfalls of making judgments about someone else's salvation (Romans 14:4 is an apt warning). And I understand  that each of us is gifted in various ways to build up the body of Christ.

However it is a subject of which I never tire of thinking about or talking about: how this infinite Being, this Holy God could look upon this creature (me) flopping about in the mud and mire of his own sin and have pity. How He could desire me even.

How He could pursue me even though I ran as far and fast as I could to escape Him. And how, having been saved, to meditate on His sheer beauty fills me with joy.

What regenerated heart could not long for that same joy?

So before you say that you don't find the Old Testament all that interesting. Before you say that thinking about how God's sovereign will and human ability to choose could work together is "too confusing to think about." And, please, before you say that you don't need to go to church to be saved.

Before you say any of this (or worse). Think about it.

Think about what it means to love your God "with all your mind."

And having meditated on the beauty that is God, you will no doubt feel the need to talk about it.

Let's talk.

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. -Deuteronomy 6:6-7

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Name Your Poison

Give what Thou commandest and command what Thou wilt. -Augustine

Addictions. The word conjures visions of the junkie and the agony of longing as she seeks the next fix. Or the alcoholic trapped in the endless cycle of drunken stupor and hungover bitterness of the morning after.

Would it accurate to suggest that we all have been enslaved (in some degree or other) by addiction to some thing or other?

But we are Christians, aren't we, and we know what delivers us from this body of death. This body with its weaknesses, afflictions and tendency to sin.

The world has its 12-Step programs and its positive thinking and its daily affirmation. God, in his mercy, has seen my frailty and proneness to wandering.

He has commanded me to be holy even as he is holy and then graciously provided a Helper. For I know that it is only by the sanctifying power of God the Spirit that I am anything like able to obey. Do you not find it to be so?

We have victory over sin increasingly as we understand and embrace our position in Christ. God has granted the means for obedience to His commands. Even as I struggle (and often fail) to put to death whatever sinful thoughts, words or deeds which hold me in bondage.

But as I rejoice in victory, I am reminded of my responsibility toward those still struggling (1 Corinthians 8:8-13).
My freedom (in those things that are not really sinful) becomes a snare to them. 

As we love the brethren, we minister to them in their weakness. Somehow there must be a balance between my freedom in Christ and their as yet incomplete understanding of who they are and whose they are.

It is an awesome thing to see God's deliverance of someone trapped in addiction. It is an inspiring thing to see Christians ministering to such a one, aiding them to overcome, speaking victory and peace into the embattled heart.

I thank God for the freedom He has given me through the sanctifying Spirit. May I never so rejoice that I forget the babe in Christ who so desperately struggles to overcome temptation and sin. May I always be diligent to never offer an occasion for stumbling.

But even more, may I be faithful to remind them of the blessings that are promised to us all.

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. -1 Thessalonians 5:23-24.

Brothers, pray for us.

Friday, September 12, 2014

And How Are They to Hear?

...preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
 -2 Timothy 4:2

It is impressive to sit in Pastor Billy McGarity's study and observe the books lining walls from top to bottom. Many Bible translations, as well as commentaries, collections of sermons, and systematic theologies are contained in these shelves. 

Brother Billy would be quick to assert that in no way has he absorbed all the learning contained in these many volumes. What is impressive is the dedication, the devotion to the Word of God.

It is this dedication for which I so love my pastor, though he is also dear to me as a Christian friend and brother. When I read and hear the statements made by ministers in this community, words which so often betray not merely a lack of understanding, but an utter ignorance of Scripture, I am shocked and saddened.

Shocked because it seems such a small thing, a basic thing really, for a Christian person (and how much more so a minister of the Gospel) to desire and seek the deep things of God's Word.

Instead we see a casual, almost flippant attitude toward the Bible: a few key texts pulled out of context and hammered to death, willful (or so it would seem) rejection of the basic doctrines of God's grace, and a blasphemous elevation of fallen man's will above the sovereign rule of the Lord of the universe.

But  am saddened even more by the thought of those who sit in darkness, under the shadow of those pulpits where Scripture is so incompletely presented. Saddened by the thought of those lulled into a false sense of comfort and security as their ears are tickled by lies and their bellies filled by that which is not food.

Saddened that they hear the words, "Peace, Peace," where there is no peace, only impending judgment.

Ministers are called to preach faithfully, diligently and carefully. Souls hang in the balance, and while God alone gives the increase, it is through the faithful sowing of the Gospel that he works to draw sinners to Himself and create a bountiful harvest.

I praise the God of heaven for Billy McGarity and pastors like him who present the complete counsel of the Word of God. I have included a link to one of his sermons. I pray you will be blessed by listening to it:


I pray, as well, that you are hearing such preaching regularly.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Blind Eye and the Deaf Ear

Honi soit qui mal y pense (evil be to him who evil thinks). -anon.

Also take no heed unto all words that are spoken; lest thou hear thy servant curse thee. -Ecclesiastes 7:21

Projecting. It's what psychologists say we do when we ascribe evil intent to the words or deeds of others. Simply put, we project our own hostile thoughts onto their motives. Sort of an emotional cut-and-paste, you might say.

But you know, sometimes folks are just careless or negligent. No harm intended, but the hurt is real nonetheless.

Twice, recently, I was involved in misunderstandings, one involving careless behavior, the other a missed communication. Both instances led to real (or imagined) slights.

Was I tempted to take offense? You know I was.

Did I indeed become irritated (if not angry)? Sad to say, this was my initial reaction in each case. But the story of the mote and the beam came to mind.

Prayer may be the last refuge of the scoundrel, but it is the only refuge of the sinner. In fact have you ever noticed that if you spend much time in prayer each day, how much of it is taken up in asking forgiveness?

Charles Spurgeon, my favorite dead preacher, once gave this sound advice to his ministerial students:

We in the church are fallen people, saved by grace and called to love one another. The best way to do that, as Spurgeon has noted, is to extend the benefit of the doubt, to refuse to take these things to heart.

You know, let it slide.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

What Kind of Love?

And this is love, that we walk after his commandments. 2 John 1:6a

"Love is the morning and the evening star..." 

Robert Ingersoll's paean to a generic "love" is satirically misquoted throughout Sinclair Lewis' Elmer Gantry. Has a certain ring to it, reckoned revival preacher Gantry and he was banking that his audience had never heard of Ingersoll. You can check out the actual quote here:   

 evening">http://en.ThinkExist.com/quotes/with/keyword/evening_star/">evening starquotes

Ingersoll was a well-known American agnostic in the late 19th century. Back to that in a moment.

I am thinking of a line from a film I recently watched called Pavilion of Women. The movie is based on Pearl S. Buck's 1946 novel of the same name. 

The main character, Madame Wu, is speaking of her twenty-something son's love for a woman who is married to another man. "Can love be  a sin?" she asks Andre, an American priest who (unbeknownst to her, or maybe not) holds similar feelings for Madame Wu.

"Love can never be a sin," he replies earnestly.

What do you think?

Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God with all our being. He also said, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments."

So did Buck or Ingersoll have any notion of a truly biblical definition of love?

I'm not writing this to hate on either of these two people, one a professing Christian, the other not.

"God is love (1 John 4:8;16)." You hear that tossed around a lot, don't you? It's been used as the rationale for all sorts of things.

Universalism (everybody goes to heaven). A casual approach to worship. A famous pastor's wife recently said in effect that God loves us so much, he just wants us to be happy ("worship is not about God, it's about YOU!"). It's even used as justification for all kinds of previously forbidden love (including the afore-mentioned adultery).

Well, of course, love is one of God's characteristics. There are others, as well. How about this one?

Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory (Isaiah 6:3b).

Here's another: God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day (Psalm 7:11).

God's love, then, is a holy love, a righteous love, a just love. In other words, God (being God) is the standard by which we measure all things. Including love.

I suppose a useful rule of thumb would be that any love that we place before our love of God is indeed a sinful love. An idol, in fact.


Thursday, August 28, 2014

She Said, He Said

...male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27b

Life, as a dear friend of mine often reminds me, is messy. We are fallen people in a fallen world and, even as Christians, are tempted to worship at the idol of ME.

But God is merciful and one of my many blessings is a wife who loves me, tolerates me (which in many instances is the next best thing to love) and constantly looks to my well-being.

Proverbs 31:10-31 lays out the model for the "excellent wife," the woman who "fears the LORD."

I have been blessed to observe women who attain to this ideal. I have noted, as well, that as difficult as this mark is to achieve, it must be nearly impossible (but Matthew 19:26) without the love and diligent support of a dedicated husband.

As I discussed these thoughts with the afore-mentioned friend, he objected, "But that doesn't guarantee it will happen (to reach the Proverbs 31 goal)."

I disagree.

It's a marathon, of course. But God in His wisdom ordained it to be one man and one woman, for life. And in Ephesians 5:22-33, Paul lays out some fairly detailed instructions for wives and husbands. You may notice that the guys' instructions are twice as long as the gals'.

God in His wisdom has given us another indispensable tool (as I read it). A regular re-reading of the Song of Solomon is essential, it seems to me.

To meditate on the depth of love expressed here between the Bride and the Beloved calls us back to the foundation.

It is the love of Christ for his Bride, his elect, his redeemed. This is the mystery Paul invites us to ponder while holding it up as the ideal for husbands.

We all want a Proverbs 31 woman.

That means we're going to have to be Ephesians 5 men.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

And Make Disciples

...teaching them to do all things whatsoever I have commanded you. -Matthew 28:20a

Twice in the past week I have been engaged in conversation with one of my church family at GPC and they have made the  comment, "Ours is a teaching church."

The deliberate and considered effort at Grace to instruct believers in the faith is the reason why I am rarely tempted to be discouraged by our relatively small numbers.

What does this "teaching church" look like, you may ask.

We have had studies in everything from the biblical view of worship to how to evangelize to church history. We teach our little children simplified versions of the catechism (click here for an idea of what that looks like:   
http://www.opc.org/cce/FirstCatechism.html  )

Both Sunday School and Sunday evenings are given to learning about the content of the faith. This is important stuff after all, right? How else would we defend the faith (1 Peter 3:15-16) if we were not aware of the biblical foundation for it?

How could we understand our denominational teachings (and some of yours, too) if we had no knowledge of the Church's history: its growth, its persecutions, its struggles against false teaching (which we see beginning with the letters of the Apostles)?

Do not think that this is some bragfest on behalf of our church or denomination. I wish that every Christian church everywhere took such pains to instruct their members in our precious faith; faith in the Only Name wherein salvation must be found.

I am aware that most do not. Does yours?

It may be that having the Bible's promise that Christ's kingdom will grow until it fills the "entire earth (Daniel 2:35b)" makes us forgetful. Forgetful of the fact that God uses "ordinary means (preaching and the sacraments)" and "secondary causes (that's us)" to grow His kingdom. Forgetful to pray that His kingdom come.

Does it make sense that a teaching church will help us to remember?