Friday, May 30, 2014

Light and Momentary?

For this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. -2 Corinthians 4:17

How can one of the Bible's longest books, an extensive look at suffering, be a comforting, reassuring and (dare I say it?) joyous read?

Having read the book of Job perhaps four or five times, I can honestly say that I look forward to re-reading it each time it comes up in the rotation (to use baseball vernacular).

How blessed are we at Grace Pres that Brother Billy has begun to preach through this book of Old Testament wisdom literature.

In my personal reading I have been impressed more deeply each time with the desperation of Job's struggle to maintain his faith in the midst of unbelievable and inexplicable suffering.

"You don't know what it's like," is a phrase I have heard uttered more than once at various times by various people.

Still we attempt to offer comfort and like Job's friends, somrtimes the best thing to do is to sit silently with the sufferer. As one of the recent Wednesday night sermons has highlighted, it is when we open our mouths to speak, that we get into trouble.

To paraphrase Mark Twain; it is better to be thought a pompous unsympathetic ass than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

So, following Job's lead, I put my hand over my mouth (40:4) and hope for forgiveness.

This has been the blessing of Brother Billy's preaching. He has delved into the deeper things. Using John Calvin's sermons on Job as a reference, he has helped us focus on the other issues related to suffering. Things which I certainly might not have noticed, studying on my own.

Certainly Calvin himself was no stranger to personal tragedy which makes one of his insights on the subject all the more striking. Could it be, he asks, that in the midst of pain we should remember that these things are fleeting?

We might also remember, suggests Calvin, that what for us is light and momentary is the unbeliever's eternal fate.

What a thought to take me out of myself no matter what degree of suffering I might undergo.

It calls me to gratitude toward a Heavenly Father who has only my good at heart.

It reminds me that there are those who suffer much more than I and I am to help them bear their burden humbly and lovingly.

Most of all it compels me to pray without ceasing for those who are bound to an eternity of suffering if God does not turn and have mercy upon them.

Thursday, May 29, 2014


It (forgiveness) can ease sadness in the forgiven and eliminate bitterness in the one who does the forgiving.- TableTalk devotional on 1 John 1:8-9

A while back, I spoke with someone whom I had wronged deeply. I felt the need to address this long-standing offense even though the relationship was amicable, even loving on the surface of it.

Confession is good for the soul they say, but my guilt consisted not just in the immediate harm I had caused, but in the lingering effects, though hidden, of my sin upon the other.

Much more than forgiveness, I desired rest for my loved one from whatever underlying hurt remained as the result of my unconfessed offense.

Bitterness cherished in the heart is a corrosive thing. That it can  exist undetected (unless we are careful to look into our hearts) makes it all the more destructive.

It is a heart-achingly sad thing to know that we might have been the cause of pain, anger and bitterness in the heart of another. This was the reason for the conversation I mentioned. That I felt I was not alone in my responsibility made no difference. The need was for me to address the offense, to offer relief and release.

My sin is my responsibility. I confess it. I apologize sincerely.

"I forgive you," was the simple response to my apology. May God grant a truly forgiving and peaceful heart to you.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Ode to Billie Joe

Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against you. -Psalm 119:11

Sitting beside me at our monthly meal Sunday, a young friend began to speak about his plan to memorize the entire 119th Psalm.

"That's a pretty tall order," I remarked. He smiled and went on to remind me that though it was indeed 176 verses long, the 119th was handily divided according to the Hebrew alphabet into 22 bite-size chunks.

"It has been rhymed in the Psalter," he noted, "and so what you have is 22 separate songs. I can learn the words to 22 songs."

I think he nailed it.

Stop and think about how many songs you know the words to. And how you bellow them out to the radio as you drive down the road.

"Hmm," I thought. "It's do-able."

To reinforce the idea, I awoke at three this morning with "Ode to Billie Joe" playing on my mental jukebox. I'll admit I don't remember all 11 verses but I got most of the radio version down.

This was 1968, people! And I'm fairly certain I haven't thought about the song at all in the last 20 or so years.

The point to all that is this: Why shouldn't I be able to memorize the 119th Psalm? Or Isaiah 55 or Psalm 103 (my two favorite passages)?

I am doubly convicted by the fact that I can recall the lyrics to most tunes played on the classic rock station.

It all comes down to what's important to you (or me).

So here is the very helpful and cool Scottish Psalter website:

I may start with a much shorter Psalm. What do you think?

And oh yeh, there's this, since I brought it up:

Friday, May 23, 2014

All Apologies

It's American to make fun of those less fortunate than you. -Tolar's First Law of Making Fun

It is not Christian to make fun of those less fortunate than you. -Corollary to Tolar's First Law of Making Fun

Well I'm feeling really guilty right now. Yesterday, I made fun of someone's name. I realize that can be hurtful.

The fact that God went to the trouble of mentioning this young lady in the midst of a long list of males lets me know that she was special to someone. In fact, I'm sure her mom and dad both loved her a lot and that her name was chosen with care and had a great deal of significance to them.

If she wanted to, she could say, "Oh yeah? Well you don't even HAVE a name. All you have is stupid initials!"

But you know what? She would never say anything like that. I know because the fact that God remembered her name means she was probably a Christian. And I'm sure she took that very seriously.

So, Hazalelponi, I want to apologize to you.

And the lil pony you rode in on.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Laughing Through the Bible

...and a time to laugh....-Ecclesiastes 3:4b

OK, so I probably shouldn't admit this but I laugh every time I think of the 4th chapter of Jonah.

Jonah has run from God, been swallowed by a large sea creature, rescued, and preached the mother of all revivals. All that's left is the reporter to ask him, "What's next. Jonah?" and his reply, "I'm going to Disneyworld (or the ancient Assyrian equivalent)."

But no. Jonah is sulking. Seems he didn't want God to spare the Ninevites, but to smite them instead (they were a pretty rotten bunch).

Maybe I'm pretty rotten myself, but I swear what happens next looks for all the world like God making fun of his pouty prophet. First He sends a scorching desert breeze. Which makes Jonah hot in more places than under the collar.

Then He provides a shade. Then He provides a worm to kill the shade. And then the punch line (I paraphrase a little): "Umm, so what are you mad about, Jonah?"

It breaks me up every time.

Then there's the seven sons of Sceva (you can read about them in Acts 19:13-16). Here, undoubtedly, is the origin of the threat: "I'm gonna slap ya nekkid and hide yer clothes," I can't help laughing.

You know, I should experience some other impulse than the desire to laugh from these passages.

OK, just one more. This one comes from a very serious part of Scripture; the genealogies in the first 9 or 10 chapters of I Chronicles. I've tried any number of ways to approach this section as I read my Bible through.

But I'm tellin' ya, when I see the name, "Hazalelponi (chapter 4, verse 3)," I have to at least smile but mostly laugh out loud.

I'm just picturing this small girl (Jezreel, Ishma and Idbash's sister) with her "lil pony," combing its mane, braiding its tail and dyeing it different colors. Any girl would, wouldn't she, who has a lil pony?

No doubt there will be laughter in heaven.

But you should still probably pray for me.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Thankless Child

How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child. -King Lear

So I have been meditating on my prayer life. Actually since Paul reminds us to pray "without ceasing" and "for all the saints," I have been meditating more on my failure to pray as I ought.

There are so many aspects to our prayer lives that I am hard pressed to begin to understand where I fall short.

Gratitude I think. I don't need the Bible to tell me that I should be constantly grateful to the source of all my blessing.

Are we simply by nature ungrateful demanding children? Is that a foolish question? How do I overcome my natural ingratitude?

Prayer. Not that I merely pray for a grateful spirit but that I merely pray. This is what I think anyhow. It seems that if I were more diligent, more faithful to (a) pray for my brothers and sisters in Christ, (b) pray for those lost souls of my acquaintance, (c) pray for the growth of the kingdom and the spread of the Gospel and those who carry it forth, (d) pray for this benighted nation and its seemingly godless leaders, and the list goes on and on and on; if I were faithful to this Christian duty, would my heart not be filled with gratitude in that I have a Heavenly Father who hears all my prayers and petitions and answers them according to His mercy and wisdom and perfect will?

I believe that is right.

So I covet your prayers that I might do a better job in that most basic of Christian duties: to pray.

P.S. Here is an interesting (and helpful) resource from one of the greatest revivalists to ever preach the Gospel, George Whitefield:

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Love, Actually?

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. -2 Corinthians 5:10

Boundaries everywhere. Jesus said the truth will set you free, but are we tempted to think that the truth just fences us in?

That's the way the world thinks. You've heard it, "Christianity is nothing but a bunch of rules and regulations." Sounds awful, right?

Till I get to thinking, rules and regulations (call them laws if you like) are part of every human society. Can you imagine driving down the highway without rules telling us all which side of the road to drive on? Demolition derby might look like fun, but I've been in a wreck and have no desire to repeat the experience.

All this came up in our men's leadership training class this Sunday. We live in an age of "come as you are, worship as you will," Christianity. The result tends to be a lot like what Paul described in 1 Corinthians 14.

So there are boundaries to what worship should look like. These are laid out in Scripture. More rules to follow, right?

In the course of our discussion, it was pointed out that calling each other to account before God is the most loving thing we can do, if we are careful to do it in a loving manner.

Great example somebody gave: You have a youngster, say four years old playing in your front yard. Suddenly he makes a beeline for the street. You are not in a position to block your child's path and a car is speeding down the street.

What kind of discipline did you give this young'un when he was two? One? Even when he was a baby learning to pull up and walk?

Is your baby "a special little snowflake" whose self esteem might be wounded by your firm but loving correction? "It's just a stage," you may have said when he was "acting out." "He'll grow out of it."

Perhaps you were a bit more traditional and required respect and obedience.

So back to the scenario in your front yard. What do you do? I imagine you would scream, "Stop!" at the very top of your lungs. What happens next?

My Heavenly Father loves me. He heals all my diseases (the spiritual one most especially). He has redeemed my life from the pit. He covers me  with mercy and grace and his love is from everlasting to everlasting.

In His love, He has given me instruction for living and named it "Wisdom" when I seek to follow those instructions instead of my own will. My Heavenly Father has set boundaries. Those fences we talked about are really hedges to protect me from Satan and the world and, yes, even myself.

God has adopted us and we had no more choice in the matter than the infant has a choice in which parents will take her home with them. Having set his affections on me, He will never stop loving me.

But He has set conditions; rules of expected behavior. However imperfectly we enforce discipline on our children, The Heavenly Father's discipline is perfect.

"For the moment," writes the author of Hebrews, "all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant...." How true that is, both on the surface, but also on a deeper level. Do you imagine that God feels pain rather than pleasure when He disciplines His wayward children?

How well I recall the grief and pain expressed by my own father on those few occasions when he had to administer discipline among us kids. But here's the kicker (if there is one to all this):

The writer of Hebrews continues, "...but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it."

And that's love, isn't it?

Saturday, May 3, 2014

All I Need is a Miracle?

In hell, the rich man cried across the great gulf for Abraham to send Lazarus back from the dead to witness to his unbelieving brothers of their certain doom.

"They have Moses and the prophets," he was reminded.

We live in a time when not only the unconverted world, but much of the Church, refuses to receive the teaching of Christ and the apostles concerning God's sovereign action in saving sinners. We can and must decide for ourselves they say. 

Reading the Old Testament account of Elijah and the prophets of Baal, I think: "We need a miracle like that."

But I am brought up short by the words of Abraham: "They have Moses and the prophets."

The miracle of God's creating everything out of nothing, of choosing and preserving a people for Himself, of entering the world in human flesh to dwell in perfection among us, of dying and rising from the dead and ascending into heaven, of preserving His Ancient and Holy Word, of calling out His Church and protecting and keeping it through the centuries: are these things not enough?

There will be no miracles for those who refuse the gospel of God's sovereign grace. Every Sunday the pastor reads from the Word and pronounces, "Those who have ears to hear...," and we respond, "Let them hear."

We have the complete counsel of the inspired and inerrant Word of the Living God.

It is enough.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Trying to Be Something I'm Not

Justified. Just-as-if-I'd never sinned.

It's part and parcel of our salvation; God's grace bestows faith which begets repentance and this marvelous thing happens: I have been declared "just" in God's eyes as He reckons Christ's perfect righteousness to my account.

This is a miracle no less than the regeneration of my dead and stony heart. That the record book of my life, stained with the red ink of my sin, is declared not just balanced but "Paid in Full."

Isaac Watts rightly notes that "drops of grief can ne'er repay this debt of love I owe." Nor can any service I am able to render obligate God to me in any way.

Jesus paid it all and all I can do is be grateful. What can I say? Say "Thank you." And act like it. Am I grateful? You bet. Am I acting like it? Some days are better than others. Even in this, God the Spirit works alongside me, helping me to express my gratitude.

Which brings me to a conversation I once had with a friend of mine. I was trying to explain the struggle to overcome inclinations to behave badly and selfishly.

"So," she pounced, "then you're trying to be something you're not?"

"That's right." I exclaimed, "I'm trying to be like Jesus!"

Isn't that right?