Saturday, December 31

Why Resolve NOW?

I wonder what would happen to many who make New Year's Resolutions if such were not allowed? I don't mean anything political or something like that. I am posing the question for the sake of determining why it is we make them at all, and why we make them on the last day of the year? A couple of brief thoughts:

Failed Resolutions Can Prevent Future Commitment?
First, it would seem that the humor so often associated with our proverbial failure to keep our NYRs might actually work against our making any at all. You know what I mean don't you? How often have we heard it said (or said it ourselves), "Well, if I make a resolution, I know I'll just break it, so why bother?" Perhaps, we should recognize that, humor aside, resolutions are not so bad to make per se. It was Socrates who first said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." I think he was partially right. Mankind by nature is cognitive, and therefore must exercise some judgment in their choices. It will happen. He is partially wrong (if I rightly understand him), in that one may live a very organized and thoroughly self-examined existence and still live outside of God. I would suggest many do. In such cases, then, we might add, "the examined life does not necessarily result in a worthy life, unless it yields to truth as it is revealed in Jesus Christ." So, let us make resolutions, but be careful that they conform to the dictates of Scripture. Remember, it was Jesus who asked most poignantly, "What shall it profit a man if he were to gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Or, what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matthew 16:26). Examine your life. Yes. Make resolutions? Yes, if they meet the Jesus criteria.

Why Resolve Now?
Second, why make resolutions only at year's end? This admittedly is less serious than the first concern. But I was thinking . . . maybe this fits into that class of things that make you scratch your head and go "hm-m-m." I mean consider, if something were truly worthy of our making a resolution, then why would we wait until New Year's Day in order to commit to it? Just a thought. That's all. If something is worth doing, isn't it worth doing now?

Now, what will you do? 

I'm resolving to get this posted before year's end! Whew, I think I'll make it. 

Friday, December 23

"Cookie-Cutter" Christianity

In Mushrooms on the Moor, Frank Boreham (1871-1959) of Kent, England and best known in New Zealand, writes of Henry Drummond's disdain for "ready made clothes." This may seem anachronistic to those of us who know rarely anything else these days! Now, many of us have heard of Drummond as an evangelist during the days of Dwight Moody. But his predilection toward well-fitted clothing is just one other aspect of this man of God. Boreham, in his manner, utilizes this very real issue in Drummond's life as an appropriate allegory for the way in which we Christians proclaim or live out the Gospel. In our day, one way to describe this tendency would be with the term "pigeon-holing," or "forcing one into a box," or "cookie-cutter Christians." No two born-again believers will be just alike in the manner in which they absorb or display the truth of the Gospel. Assuredly, the Gospel itself is not, as they say, "up for grabs." Oh, no. Truth remains unchanging. However, there are as many ways in which we may "grow up into Christ in all things" as there are believers. At least that is how I take Boreham's thesis.

What is the point? The "ready-made" mentality affects us in various ways. For example, it prevents mission agencies from falling prey to the tendency of colonialization, the practice of forcing upon a native population the moors of the sending country. As Drummond would aver, no two men are built the same, thus neither should their clothing be the same. Tailors must have loved this man! But another more common example of this problem is found in the philosophy called legalism. We may not perceive it a philosophy, but it certainly projects itself in such a manner. Legalistic people in legalistic churches often hold to good doctrine, but they lead the way in the selling of "ready made clothes." They expect everyone to sort of look the same, and talk and act the same. One's orthodoxy is judged by the individual's adherence to a commonly held set of standards, standards mind you that are not delineated in Scripture. 

For the individual such a mind-set is important too. It is not necessarily that they will set out to be different, per se. To pursue such may tend toward "ready-made" rebellion, a sort of "gang" mentality. There is a certain freedom in Christ that allows each to seek his own knowledge of God. No one can do that for me. In helping others find peace with Christ, or power through the Holy Spirit, it is most certainly the case that it cannot be sold in a can. The hart yearns for the water brook (Ps. 42), but each hart must drink for itself. When my daughter and her husband sat with me through premarital counseling, I felt compelled to help Rachel seek out her own faith. It's not that she tended to be a blind follower. Of course, I don't mean seek out a separate OBJECT of faith. No, that's Jesus Christ. But to seek it on her own and not because her Dad was a Pastor. During the week before our discussion, a term came to me. I don't know that it's been used before but I called what she needed, "original grace." Original grace simply put is God's reaching out to (in this case) Rachel in way separate from myself or my wife or her fiance. Granted, we are not alone in this world, nor unaffected by those with whom we consort all of our lives. We very much affect others. At some point, however, each must be convinced in his own right of the verities of Scripture. We as parents should so raise our children that that is their heritage. We, as Pastors, need to do as much for the people in our flock. No two are alike. Treat each as he deserves. Some are saved very young, and others out of a grossly sinful lifestyle. Only God really knows why it occurs this way. To each we proclaim, "Seek the Lord while He may be found."

That's enough for now. You get the point. God bless you richly throughout the days ahead!

Friday, December 16

Putting Weight Behind Waiting

Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.” (Isaiah 30:18)

The setting is Israel turning to Egypt for help against her enemies. God is rebuking them for not seeking Him. This has been their pattern; it is the pattern of all of us when we faithlessly turn elsewhere for help.

Verse 18 is loaded. "The LORD waits to be gracious to you." Endemic to God is his desire to reveal his grace. God wants to manifest it. But isn't it the very nature of grace to do this? Isn't grace by definition God showing love and care and kindness toward the rebellious,  the recalcitrant? God gives when we do not deserve his gifts. That's grace. Of course, the pinnacle of God's rich grace is the cross. But he shows it in innumerable ways for all of us and always. As Paul puts it so well, "The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It [viz., the same grace] teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age" (Titus 2:11-12 NIV). In other words, the same exalted grace that provided the amazing atonement for mankind continues affecting change in the believer, causing him to achieve Spirit-filled fruits, "self-control, uprightness," etc. Indeed, Jehovah waits to be gracious.

Thus, Jehovah "exalts himself to show mercy." God, by all rights, should let the ax fall on all of mankind who have turned radically against him. Israel should not become the whipping boy of sin. We all fit the same pattern. Point? When by all rights God should bring down justice on our pate, and he refuses to do so, then that magnifies his grace, and his mercy. He cannot but be just. Such is God's very nature. So, for the everlasting Judge of all the earth to stay our execution is one thing. Marvelous indeed! But to go well beyond that and effect such a genetic change in us rebels that we then exhibit the DNA of God . . . well, . . . that is a mercy beyond the pale of human expression. 

Upon whom does such grace and mercy land? The answer is found in the bookend statements in this verse. "Jehovah WAITS to be gracious to you." That's the first. Then the second is, "blessed are all those who WAIT for him." Waiting is the key. It is wait of kindness and patience on God's end; it is a waiting of faith and dependence on ours. 

Let us learn to wait for God's grace and mercy and kindness and love. He delights to show it. He is exalted to offer it. We are thrice-blessed to receive it! 

Wednesday, December 14

Acquiring Peace & Zeal at Christmas

The Christmas season has a way of driving us perpetually to distraction. This entry from Thomas 'a Kempis hits the nail on the head. Read it, pursue what he says, and find rest to your souls (Mt. 11:28). But please read this slowly, thoughtfully. It will pay great dividends.

WE SHOULD enjoy much peace if we did not concern ourselves with what others say and do, for these are no concern of ours. How can a man who meddles in affairs not his own, who seeks strange distractions, and who is little or seldom inwardly recollected, live long in peace?
Blessed are the simple of heart for they shall enjoy peace in abundance.

Why were some of the saints so perfect and so given to contemplation? Because they tried to mortify entirely in themselves all earthly desires, and thus they were able to attach themselves to God with all their heart and freely to concentrate their innermost thoughts.
We are too occupied with our own whims and fancies, too taken up with passing things. Rarely do we completely conquer even one vice, and we are not inflamed with the desire to improve ourselves day by day; hence, we remain cold and indifferent. If we mortified our bodies perfectly and allowed no distractions to enter our minds, we could appreciate divine things and experience something of heavenly contemplation.

The greatest obstacle, indeed, the only obstacle, is that we are not free from passions and lusts, that we do not try to follow the perfect way of the saints. Thus when we encounter some slight difficulty, we are too easily dejected and turn to human consolations. If we tried, however, to stand as brave men in battle, the help of the Lord from heaven would surely sustain us. For He Who gives us the opportunity of fighting for victory, is ready to help those who carry on and trust in His grace.

If we let our progress in religious life depend on the observance of its externals alone, our devotion will quickly come to an end. Let us, then, lay the ax to the root that we may be freed from our passions and thus have peace of mind.

If we were to uproot only one vice each year, we should soon become perfect. The contrary, however, is often the case—we feel that we were better and purer in the first fervor of our conversion than we are after many years in the practice of our faith. Our fervor and progress ought to increase day by day; yet it is now considered noteworthy if a man can retain even a part of his first fervor.

If we did a little violence to ourselves at the start, we should afterwards be able to do all things with ease and joy. It is hard to break old habits, but harder still to go against our will.

If you do not overcome small, trifling things, how will you overcome the more difficult? Resist temptations in the beginning, and unlearn the evil habit lest perhaps, little by little, it lead to a more evil one.
If you but consider what peace a good life will bring to yourself and what joy it will give to others, I think you will be more concerned about your spiritual progress.
Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 1996), 17-18.

Monday, December 12

What Motivates You to Get Out of Bed?

OK, the real question should be, "What motivates us to do anything?" James Emery White posted this on his blog, Church & Culture. Please read my comments at the end of White's article, because I believe even his conclusion can become misconstrued.
“What gets you up in the morning, and powers you through the day?” It’s an interesting question someone recently asked me, and for some reason, it made me reflect.  It’s not that I hadn’t heard the question before, or answered it…it had just been a while. Or maybe it was the way it was phrased. What really does get me up in the morning? What really does power me through a busy day of work, responsibility and challenges?
What drives anyone?
As I reflected on my own life, and the lives of other leaders I’ve encountered, it struck me that most of us are motivated by one of four things:
1.      Adrenaline
There are people who, if they weren’t building a church, closing a deal or beating a deadline would be racing cars and  jumping out of planes.  They are adrenaline junkies, and live for the rush and the thrill of adventure.
There is certainly a need for a bias for action, but neither a church nor a business should be merely a facilitator for a personal rush.  Further, adrenaline alone will often cause a leader to drive an organization into the ground, not to mention themselves. 
2.      Ego
I know an older, seasoned leader who had a new church planter in his city tell him that he wanted to pastor a big church.  That was what he was in the game for – a big church.  It was rather shocking to hear it put so baldly.  But there are many who, whether conveyed in subtle tones or not, seem driven to gain a platform for their life.  They want to be a Christian celebrity, to write and speak, and to be famous.
We all have pride and enormous egos. 
All of us. 
Many times our ego is what allows us to have confidence (such as an athlete who, in the fourth quarter, says “Give me the ball.”).  But unchecked, ego is among the most deadly and destructive of pitfalls.  And when our egos run amuck - leading us to create cults of personality, minimal accountability, and the church or organization all about you and your name/fame - then it ceases to be a God-thing.  You’ve moved from Spirit to flesh, regardless of the “success” you might be achieving in the eyes of the world.
3.      Personal Fulfillment
In recent years I’ve sensed a new motivating force, particularly among church planters.  They don’t feel called to plant a church as much as they have in mind a particular life and ministry, and planting seems the quickest and most direct way to achieve it.  They know where they would most like to live, the position they want to fill, and the kind of church they want to lead…so they start it.
So they pick their chosen city, place themselves in their desired position, and design the structure and style according to their sensibilities; often with very little sense of calling, much less of willing sacrifice.
If you’re going to be a church planter, some of this is unavoidable.  But if your motivation for starting a church is simply to create a dream life, dream job, in a dream location, in a dream context, then it’s simply a means to an end. 
And the end is all about you.
4.      Cause
Then there is being motivated by the cause. Meaning, the cause of Christ. And yes, this is what I believe all of us should aspire to.
Many of you will be familiar with the writings of Jim Collins, and specifically his description of a “Level 5 Leader.”  This is someone who “blends extreme personal humility with intense professional will.”  They are often very strong leaders – Collins highlights Abraham Lincoln as a classic Level 5 leader – but “their ambition is first and foremost for the institution, not themselves…for the company and concern for its success rather than for one’s own riches and personal renown.”
This is why I hold the pastor of a church that has been built family-by-family, in rented facilities and then land and then construction, sticking with it over a long period of time, in the highest regard. 
They have been tested and found faithful.   
If it had all been about adrenaline, those early months and years of modest growth would have led them to pursue something that would give a more immediate rush.
If it had all been about ego, the lack of fame and renown while they labored – often for years – in obscurity would have led them away to whatever would promise them their fifteen minutes of fame.
If it had been about their own personal fulfillment, the enormous price necessary to build a church over time would have led them to laziness, short-cuts, or simple abandonment after a season or two.
Their life and ministry tells me they are driven by something deeper.
The cause of Christ.
And that’s the kind of power that will get you through any day.
Now, this may seem picky, but for the sake of truth, I would suggest that even the "cause of Christ" could be misunderstood. It seems that an ego-driven person could claim such, as well as the adrenaline junky. Perhaps a better way to phrase it would be as Paul did, for the love of Christ constrains or controls me (2 Cor. 5:14). Causes, though good, can easily devolve into an objective pursuit, where love cannot. Again, perhaps picky, and perhaps this is what White had in mind. But I just wanted to state it plainly.


Sunday, December 11

Soft, Effeminate Christianity (Re-Post from Challies)

This is too good to pass up, a word of advice from a seasoned believer. I re-post this thanks to Tim Challies. Tim writes:
I came across this quote by Horatius Bonar and thought it was worth sharing. Bonar is warning against a kind of soft and, in his word, effeminate Christianity, that may come about when Christians are too afraid to fight for what is right and to protest against what is wrong.
And now, Bonar's words:
For there is some danger of falling into a soft and effeminate Christianity, under the plea of a lofty and ethereal theology. Christianity was born for endurance…It walks with firm step and erect frame; it is kindly, but firm; it is gentle, but honest; it is calm, but not facile; obliging, but not imbecile; decided, but not churlish. It does not fear to speak the stern word of condemnation against error, nor to raise its voice against surrounding evils, under the pretext that it is not of this world.

It does not shrink from giving honest reproof lest it come under the charge of displaying an unchristian spirit. It calls sin ‘sin,’ on whomsoever it is found, and would rather risk the accusation of being actuated by a bad spirit than not discharge an explicit duty. Let us not misjudge strong words used in honest controversy. Out of the heat a viper may come forth; but we shake it off and feel no harm.

The religion of both Old and New Testaments is marked by fervent outspoken testimonies against evil. To speak smooth things in such a case may be sentimentalism, but it is not Christianity. It is a betrayal of the cause of truth and righteousness. If anyone should be frank, manly, honest, cheerful (I do not say blunt or rude, for a Christian must be courteous and polite), it is he who has tasted that the Lord is gracious, and is looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God.

I know that charity covereth a multitude of sins; but it does not call evil good, because a good man has done it; it does not excuse inconsistencies, because the inconsistent brother has a high name and a fervent spirit. Crookedness and worldliness are still crookedness and worldliness, though exhibited in one who seems to have reached no common height of attainment.

Friday, December 9

It Is Not Said in Heaven, "Moral, Moral, Moral Art Thou, O God!"

How many true Christians fall prey to the temptation to settle for morality, when God demands holiness? The Church for all her blessings, must not allow this to be her purpose, to make their country a moral place in which to live. Christians indeed should be the most moral of people, but one may be moral and still go to hell. Thanks to DGM for emphasizing this in the following article.

Hear these words from C. H. Spurgeon:

"Holiness excludes immorality, but morality does not amount to holiness, for morality may be but the cleaning of the outside of the cup and the platter, while the heart may be full of wickedness. Holiness deals with the thoughts and intents, the purposes, the aims, the objectives, the motives of men. Morality does but skim the surface, holiness goes into the very caverns of the great deep—holiness requires that the heart shall be set on God and that it shall beat with love to Him. The moral man may be complete in his morality without that.

I think I might draw such a parallel as this. Morality is a sweet, fair corpse—well washed, robed and even embalmed with spices—but holiness is the living man, as fair and as lovely as the other, but having life! Morality lies there, of the earth, earthy, soon to be food for corruption and worms—holiness waits and pants with heavenly aspirations, prepared to mount and dwell in immortality beyond the stars! These two are of opposite natures—the one belongs to this world, the other belongs to that world beyond the skies.

It is not said in Heaven, “Moral, moral, moral are You, O God!” But, “Holy, holy, holy are You, O Lord!” You note the difference between the two words at once. The one, icy cold. The other, oh, how animated! Such is mere morality and such is holiness! Moralist—I know I speak to many such—remember that your best morality will not save you! You must have more than this, for without holiness—and that not of yourself, it must be given you of the Spirit of God—without holiness, no one shall see the Lord."


Wednesday, December 7

My Mother's Faith: Strength Out of Depression

Most of my readers already know that my mother went to be with the Lord last Friday at 8:30 AM. She was 90 and her health had been failing. Yesterday was the funeral. My brother Carl videoed everything per my Dad's request since he is hard of hearing and would miss so much of the service. Two grandsons gave their take on Mom's affect on them. My sisters (Kathi & Christine) each gave reminiscences of our mother that were both humorous and lovingly indicative of the kind of mother she was.  People seem to enjoy those memories even though they do not apply but to the family. They really did do a good job. I had the privilege of speaking about Mom's faith. Below is what I said. Each of us felt compelled to write everything out, for composure's sake as well as trying to keep to the time-frame allotted. I believe that while the following pertains to my mother, the truths about which I speak apply well beyond her to all, especially to those who suffer from depression like my Mom.

A Meditation on Our Mother's Faith 
 Maria Bowers Nelson
February 21, 1921-December 2, 2011

It is true that Mom could be quite humorous. She also appreciated the arts: classical music and even opera. I remember as a 5-year old sitting in a wing chair listening to a record of Beethoven's Fifth and Haydn's 104th and being enamored. I don't remember being as excited about opera though I have listened to them as well because of her influence. But, it is equally true that Mom had to deal with depression. And this made her hold her faith more firmly than someone who does not feel this trial. One thing you cannot say about her is that she was a cookie-cutter woman. But neither was she a cookie-cutter Christian. Mom could be somewhat private about her spirituality. But it was there. It came out in different ways. I have found that people who live out their Christianity through the heaviness of depression tend to cast off superficiality and exhibit a rather no-nonsense faith. There isn’t room for pious platitudes. It’s useless if it doesn’t meet me in my pain. One of the verses that Mom came to love years ago and that is emblazoned on my memory is this one from Joel 2:25:

I will restore to you the years that the locust has eaten, . . .”

If famine and locust swarms represented the times of drought and depression, then to Mom this verse was a promise of restoration. She would say, “Oh, I LOVE that verse!" And then she would repeat it like someone doing a reading of a poem before an adoring audience. She saw the value of such healing words. And who loves healing more than those who experience pain so very deeply? In the face of such a promise, crying would be exchanged for laughter; nightmares give way to visions of joy, and laments would be replaced by praise to God. A couple of days ago, I had a chance to read what she had written in her Bible from years ago. She recorded this from Pastor Seume on March 24, 1963, “The mystery above must be lived out in the misery below. The misery below is where most people are living.” And therein lies the battle. But you fight it. And you fight it by God’s unceasing grace.

In the spirit of others who suffered deep depressions like the hymn-writer, William Cowper and the beloved prince of preachers, C. H. Spurgeon, Mom grabbed for comfort wherever she could find it. Is it any wonder that one of her favorite hymns (and mine), which Phyllis heard her affirm, is “Oh, Love That Will Not Let Me Go”? Perhaps without knowing it, Momma identified with this hymn because she identified with its author, George Matheson. Engaged to be married, Matheson knew he was growing blind. Upon relaying this fact to his fiancé, she called off the marriage saying that she did not believe she could marry a blind man. In spite of this heartbreak, he found great help in his sister as blindness overtook him. Some time later, however, his sister fell in love and was to be married. Now he would lose her too. On the afternoon of the day she was to be married in the evening, and while alone in a room, he writes: 
Some­thing hap­pened to me, which was known only to my­self, and which caused me the most se­vere men­tal suf­fer­ing. The hymn was the fruit of that suf­fer­ing. It was the quick­est bit of work I ever did in my life. I had the im­press­ion of hav­ing it dic­tat­ed to me by some in­ward voice ra­ther than of work­ing it out my­self. I am quite sure that the whole work was com­plet­ed in five min­utes, and equal­ly sure that it ne­ver re­ceived at my hands any re­touch­ing or cor­rect­ion.
I believe the last two stanzas bespeak Mom’s faith and hopefully ours as well!
O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.
O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.
I don’t think Mom would’ve understood that attitude so popular these days, that God never meant us to suffer or to have to endure trials, or even depression. She, like all of us did not particularly relish such depression, but I suspect neither she nor we could be what we are in Christ without those times. But that is not the end of the matter. Mom loved to read of consolation in Scripture or to hear it in a hymn. It's verses like these from Paul that help us understand why:
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.  –2 Corinthians 4:7-9
Mom used to say to us children, “You can’t always have what you want.” Simple advice, but profound. In the end, however, we who love Christ will get far more than we could ever want. The eternal joy of heaven vastly outweighs all the suffering any of us faces. One thing is certain, no one knows that so well as Mom, who has now had restored to her all the years the locusts had eaten.

Tuesday, November 29

Should We Argue with the Devil?

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.  --Romans 8:1

Today, the Church of the truly redeemed waffles in her assessment of sin. On the one hand, accommodation to the culture and infection from the numerous media outlets have desensitized much of the church to her true need for confession and repentance. She has grown lax, numb to her own sinfulness. On the other hand, without a proper doctrinal base, she has grown ignorant of the great victory wrought for her by the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. And for this cause she limps along without victory over sin, lost in the haze of truths loosely caught and even more loosely held. Therefore, she cannot truly enjoy Jesus Christ, properly worship Him, or experience the abundant joy he died to secure. 

If we are to grab the life offered us in Jesus, we'll need to deal with our sin biblically. One way we can do this is to take sin as seriously as God and confront Satan when we feel the temptations mounting. A. W. Tozer taught this: 
As for myself, I have learned to talk back to [the Devil] on this score. I say, "Yes, Devil, sin is terrible-but I remind you that I got it from you! And I remind you, Devil, that everything good-- forgiveness and cleansing and blessing-everything that is good I have freely received from Jesus Christ!"
Everything that is bad and that is against me I got from the devil--so why should he have the effrontery and the brass to argue with me about it? Yet he will do it because he is the devil, and he is committed to keeping God's children shut up in a little cage, their wings clipped so that they can never fly! (I Talk Back to the Devil, p. 6). 
Others do not believe that this is a solidly supported method from the Bible. I suppose it does have its merit in that it keeps the reality of Satan's nefarious labors ever before us. But we do not find such a confrontation taught in the letters of the New Testament. We are taught that we fight a spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6), and that Michael the archangel, when fighting over the body of Moses, cried out to the devil, "The Lord rebuke you" (Jude 9). While Scripture's main thrust is to make us aware of Satan's methods, we are not really taught to confront him face to face. Still, Tozer makes a good point. We need not be afraid of the evil one, though we should respect his power and wits. Certainly we can assert something without qualification, declare that you now are not under condemnation (not because we are so holy in ourselves), but most assuredly because we are made perfectly holy in Jesus Christ. There IS power in the blood. Be wary of Satan. Do not treat sin lightly. But make much of the grace of God which has turned our darkness into light through the finished work of Jesus. And be happy in Him!

Thursday, November 24

The Best Way to Thank God Is to Ask for More!

On this Thanksgiving Day, we who know the Lord Jesus as Savior are in the best of all spots to lift up praise to God from our hearts. Indeed, many outside of God's saving grace can be thankful, but I say none like the believer. One of Phyllis' and my favorite and poignant passages in Scripture that summarizes the essence of thanksgiving is found in Psalm 116:12-13: 
“What shall I render to the LORD for all his benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD.”
If you're reading this today, you're probably suffering from post-turkey sluggishness, so I'll keep this brief!

Most of us upon having received something wonderful from God's hands want to "return the favor." At least that is our knee-jerk reaction. But it's not appropriate before God! That's right. God needs nothing from us, right? So, how do we rightly show our appreciation for all the benefits He has showered upon us? NOT by trying to pay him back, but rather by ASKING FOR MORE! "What shall I render to the LORD for all his benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation" [which is God's doings, right?], "and call on the name of the LORD." I'll hold up the cup that He already filled and what? Yes, ask God to fill it again.  

So, for those of us who have received richly from God's gracious bounty, the best way  to show our gratitude to God is by holding up the treasured cup of salvation and asking God to do it again. FILL IT AGAIN, LORD. What does this reveal? It reveals that we know who it is who has provided for us all along. It reveals also our dependency upon the glorious Provider. And it also unveils the glorious ways in which God opens the windows of heaven and pours out his blessings upon the earth, upon mankind in general, and upon his children by faith especially.

The happiest of Thanksgivings to all of you. FILL IT AGAIN GRACIOUS FATHER! 

AND AGAIN . . .  

Tuesday, November 22

Praising God Before Christian Students

Today, I had the privilege of bringing a devotional to the Christian Student's Union (CSU) at Genesee Community College (GCC) at the invitation of Jessica Parfitt, one of our young people. It was a true blessing to my heart to meet with these some 20 young folks and their leader. Per the norm, it was left up to the Spirit and me to speak on anything I wished. Never knowing if I'll ever "walk this way again," I was impressed to speak on the one subject which is above all other subjects, viz., God himself. It had to be brief, which for those who know me is quite a task especially given the gargantuan weight of the One with whom we have to do. Here is in brief what I said without any attempt to quote with exactness, just to relay in general my thoughts here in this post:

Quoting A. W. Tozer's The Knowledge of the Holy
The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man's spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of god. Worship is pure of base as the worshiper entertain high or low thoughts of God.

It is my opinion that the Christian conception of God current in these middle years of the twentieth century is so decadent as to be utterly beneath the dignity of the Most High God and actually to constitute for professed believers something amounting to a moral calamity.
Just a cursory consideration and one would have to agree with Tozer in the sense that if God is God, then what we believe about Him must rank highest of all things. We looked then, as a starting place, at Psalm 113, which is a "Hallelujah" Psalm, one of praise to God, for that is what hallelujah means. If God is over all things - earth, heaven, hell, all peoples and this throughout all time - then the most important subject we can study is God, and the most important Person we ought to know rightly is God. Now, in every sense of the term this is a truism (something which is most evidently true without need of proof). Here is a little of Psalm 113 unpacked:

God is to be praised.

By whom? 
   By his servants (v. 1).

When and Where is He to be praised? 
   Eternally, lit. "from this time forth and forevermore."
   Everywhere, "from the rising of the sun to its setting."

Why is God to be praised?
   He is without peer. "He is above all nations."
   He is without limits. "He is glorious above the heavens." (v. 4)
   God is Superior, without equal. He looks down on the heavens and the earth (vv. 5-6). 
   He is merciful, and tender toward those in the "dust," and "ash heap" of life (v. 7). He demonstrates such mercy for those in the greatest of misery. They are in extreme misery and God shows extreme mercy.
   God shows rich grace by making those in such low position to be exalted like princes, and gives the barren woman a home (v. 8).

In short, God is great beyond explanation, yet not remote. He is near to all who call upon Him. He is concerned with every detail, and concerned inexhaustibly with the faithful. 

Indeed, God is to be praised.

I hope to see these young God-fearers again. 

Saturday, November 19

Fighting Sexual Sin

I have always loved the way Tozer phrases things. But it is his careful scrutiny and boldness that makes him stand out, especially in these days of wimpy "toleration." In the name of such toleration, those who should sound the battle cry have been badgered into leaving the front lines of the battle and slinking away to the rear eschelons in the name of love! What kind of love is that which leaves the world to duke it out with an evil devil without a godly witness empowered by the Holy Spirit? The following is certainly a subject that is no longer relegated to quiet little rooms. It must be broadcast from pulpits. We fight a serious fight, and a spiritual one. Well, let me quote Tozer one more time in an effort at least to bring to light the hidden secrets of darkness, and in exposing them to plea for hope in Jesus Christ. There's always hope through Jesus Christ, who is the Savior of all those who put their trust in him. 

Spiritual Warfare and Sin: The Erotic Age
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles-that a man has his father's wife! (1 Cor. 5:1)
The period in which we now live may well go down in history as the Erotic Age. Sex love has been elevated into a cult. Eros has more worshipers among civilized men today than any other god. For millions the erotic has completely displaced the spiritual....

Now if this god would let us Christians alone I for one would let his cult alone. The whole spongy, fetid mess will sink some day under its own weight and become excellent fuel for the fires of hell, a just recompense which is meet, and it becomes us to feel compassion for those who have been caught in its tragic collapse. Tears and silence might be better than words if things were slightly otherwise than they are. But the cult of Eros is seriously affecting the Church. The pure religion of Christ that flows like a crystal river from the heart of God is being polluted by the unclean waters that trickle from behind the altars of abomination that appear on every high hill and under every green tree from New York to Los Angeles.  

Born After Midnight, 36-37.

Thursday, November 17

Anxiety v. Thankfulness . . .

Familiar verses can often become the most astonishing verses. That's true for me of Philippians 4:6,

 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Anxiety Gets Our Attention
True enough. Just mention worry or anxiety in a church meeting and you'll get people to sit up and listen. Why? Well, I think it's one of those subjects which most feel all too well. Some imagine it's inherited looking at their family history. Others just accept it as a part of life with no real deliverance on the horizon. In the light of this, what's so amazing (in part) about this verse is that it tells--yes, commands--us not to be anxious about ANYTHING! Say what you will, that is the short of it. No worries, period! 

Skipping the prayer and supplication for now, it's the "with thanksgiving" that jumps out at me. Note that it's not listed as an optional offer, if we think about it or feel like it. As a student of the Word of God, it is always a good idea to note the emphasis of a word or phrase first even before delving into its meaning. So, before knowing why "with thanksgiving" is listed, we can see from the sentence that it is included in the solution. Remove it and you change the verse.  

I would suggest that thanksgiving represents a certain kind of faith without which we cannot expect to find (in this case) release from our worries. In other words, it's possible to pray in such a way that we should not expect an answer simply because, well . . . we do not expect an answer! We may come to God in selfishness, or faithlessness, or even willfulness, each of which will prevent our prayers from getting past the ceiling. 

Positively, there are good reasons why thanksgiving must accompany our cries. 

First, we know that when we appeal to God, we are calling out to our loving Father who has so much to give us. We do not come as paupers, but to One who will “open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need” (Malachi 3:10).  

Second, we come with thanksgiving because we are permitted to pray. I know, we ofttimes wrestle within ourselves because we do not pray as we ought. But at least we know that we CAN pray. We CAN call upon God. We HAVE been commanded to do so. Thanksgiving unites our prayers to this free invitation to come to God in prayer.  

Third, we come with thanksgiving because we know our own prayer history, that we have often come to Him before and our God has answered us. “I sought the LORD, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears” (Psalm 34:4).

Fourth, we come in thanksgiving because we know that even if we are suffering in a trial or an affliction, that it is our God who controls all such issues. “I know, O LORD, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me” (Psalm 119:75).

So, you see the point of thanksgiving? It suggests HOW we come to God in our anxious moments, how we approach him in faith, a faith that trusts God's goodness, wisdom, power, and love. Prayer that does not believe these truths about the God from whom we seek help is really no prayer at all, but griping and complaining! Let us take care that we pray in faith WITH THANKSGIVING!


Saturday, November 12

Want Power? Wait Expectantly for It.

While it is certainly true that God has demonstrated his love for us in that WHILE WE WERE YET SINNERS he died for us, it is not necessarily the case for Spirit-filling AFTER our redemption. God may come upon a believer when he is not prepared for it, but Scripture does show examples of when God blesses those who have been in a period of waiting. Saul waiting in Damascus, the apostles in the upper room before Pentecost, the church in Acts 13:1-4 when they sent out Paul and Barnabas are all examples of those who wait upon the Lord receiving special grace. Read this from Octavius Winslow for a further explanation. It makes sense does it not that the church is as weak as she is IF we are not praying and fasting for the Spirit's presence? 

“If you then, being evil, know how to give good unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” Luke 11:13
God has ordained that prayer should be the great channel through which His covenant blessings should flow into the soul. If it is your anxious desire to attain this sealing influence of the Spirit, I would quote for your direction a remark of that eminent servant of Christ, Dr. Goodwin, “Be sure of this,” says he, “that before God ever communicates any good to a soul, He puts that soul in a state of holiness to receive it.”

To confirm and illustrate this thought, let me ask—what was the state of the apostles, when the Holy Spirit descended upon them in His witnessing, anointing, and sealing influences? It is described in these words—”These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren,” Acts 1:14. What is the important lesson thus taught us? That God would have His child in a waiting, seeking, supplicating posture; and in this holy state, prepared to receive the high attainment He is ready to bestow.

Do you earnestly desire the sealing of the Spirit? “Ask, and you shall receive; seek, and you shall find.” As sure as you petition for it—sincerely, humbly, believingly—seeking it in the name of Jesus, through the cross of Christ, you shall have it. The Lord the Spirit is ready to impart it to you. It is the free gift of His love, without respect to any worth or worthiness on the part of the soul that receives it. It is a gift of grace—for the poor, the dependent, the unworthy—those that are little in their own eyes, and little in the eyes of others; and if this is your conscious state, then is it for you. And oh, the blessed results!—who can describe them? Sealed!

How will all your legal fears and unbelieving doubts in a moment vanish away! your soul, so long fettered and imprisoned, shall now go free; the cross you have so long looked at, not daring to bow your shoulder to it, shall now be taken up with a cheerful mind; Christ’s yoke, so long resisted, will now be easy, and His burden, so long refused, will now be light; and, with a heart enlarged with the love of Jesus, you will “run the way of His commandments,” esteeming His precepts better than life.

Prayer, importunate prayer, will bring the blessing we plead for into your soul. Seek it with your whole heart—seek it diligently, perseveringly. Seek it by day and by night—seek it in all the means of grace—in every way of God’s appointment—especially seek it in the name of Jesus, as the purchased blessing of His atoning blood. “Ask what you will in my name,” are His own encouraging words, “and it shall he granted unto you.” Then ask for the sealing of the Spirit. Ask nothing less: more you do not want. Feel that you have not “attained,” until you possess it—that you have not “apprehended that for which also you are apprehended of Christ Jesus,” until you have “received the Holy Spirit” as a sealer.

Thursday, November 10

Our Insidious Old Man

Spiritual Warfare and Sin: Our Old Nature

This is from A. W. Tozer's daily readings I have been following again this year. I mean "again" since I've used them before. Something about his words gets under my skin. But it's a sinful skin that I can do without. Unfortunately, neither you nor I can get rid of our "skin" quite yet. So, we must face up to our weaknesses and fight like mad to resist its tendencies. But fight we must and win we can through Jesus Christ. Read this for it gets all of us including myself as a pastor. One further word about prophets like Tozer, listen to them. God gives the church prophets who see more clearly than most the current situation and lay it out before the eyes of the rest of us in such a manner that it cannot be avoided. We ought to give thanks for that instead of rejecting it. Pray that God will raise up more prophets who see clearly and speak frankly and lovingly to the real needs of the church. The glory of God is at stake. It is always the most important thing at stake isn't it?

Here is Tozer's article: 

Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.   --Colossians 3:5

There are a lot of people trying to get away with the old man. What do I mean by the old man? I mean your pride, your bossiness, your nastiness, your temper, your mean disposition, your lustfulness and your quarrelsomeness. What do I mean, Reverend? I mean your study, your hunting for a bigger church, being dissatisfied with the offering and blaming the superintendent because you cannot get called. The reason you cannot get called is nobody wants you. That is what I mean, Reverend.

Deacons, what do I mean? I mean sitting around in board meetings wearing your poor pastor out, because you are too stubborn to humble yourself and admit you are wrong.       

What do I mean, musicians? I mean that demeanor that makes you hate somebody that can sing a little better than you can. I mean that jealousy that makes you want to play the violin when everybody knows you can't, especially the choir director. You hate him, wish he were dead, and secretly pray that he would get called to Punxsutawney.

That is what I mean. All of this may be under the guise of spirituality and we may have learned to put our head over on one side, fold our hands gently and put on a beatific smile like St. Francis of Assisi, and still be just as carnal as they come. 

Success and the Christian, 42-44.

Friday, November 4

Mystery in Gethsemane

Prayer is a mystery. Sometimes.

The incarnation of Jesus is a mystery. Always.

Put together I have a couple of thoughts, one on praying, the other on the imponderable person of Jesus Christ.

A Promise We Hardly Believe About Prayer
I've been reading Paul Miller's "A Praying Life" where he is dealing with Jesus' blanket promise in John 14:13-14, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” Wow! Anything? Really? OK, so there are two extremes to avoid, 1) don't explain it away, and 2) don't turn such a promise into a genies lamp, rub and get anything you wish. But I tantalize, because today, I don't plan to delve into this precious and broad-ranging promise, but rather to focus on one aspect, balancing between NOT ASKING or ASKING SELFISHLY. Miller points out that James deals with this in chapter 4 and Jesus exemplifies it in Gethsemane. Simply, Jesus passed the first test by crying out to His Father, "Take this cup from me." Then he passed the other test by acquiescing, "Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done" (Mark 14). So, Jesus DOES ask, but in the next breath he relinquishes his own desire, planting it firmly in his Father's hands. This leads to a meditation . . . 

Fix on the Imponderable Jesus
The above cry from the Incarnate One raises a question which to my mind can only be categorized as fathomless. Here are my thoughts "on paper." Jesus cries out in true angst. We cannot draw any other conclusion. He wouldn't fake it, even to teach us a lesson. Right? Of course not. His suffering was quite real. What he felt internally was simply incomprehensible. Why? He was/is the only one of his kind. Unique in the universe. What he was enduring at that moment no man could know much less understand. Jesus knew why he had come, "to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). Even Simeon and Anna at his dedication gave credence to this deep truth. Still, after having lived approximately 33 years on the evening of his betrayal Jesus is in great anguish of heart. So distraught was he that Mark says he was "very distressed and troubled." Then Marks says Jesus went a little farther and fell on the ground. The word "fell" is in the imperfect thus inferring repeated action. So, it could read, "he kept falling," which would indicate a sort of exhaustion that rendered him so beside himself that he could not even stay on his feet, but kept falling first on one knee and then the other as he made his way to the place of prayer.

I bring this out so that we might realize how very distraught Jesus really was. Incarnation means that Jesus took on human form with its restrictions. He could've reversed it at any time. Was he ever tempted to do so? I don't know any reason to doubt it. Understand, Jesus emptied himself in his humiliation (Phil. 2:7), and so had to learn (Luke 2:52; Heb. 5:8). So, limited of his own volition to operate with lessened divine qualities, he could take them back at any time. Here's eternity bound in human flesh, about to be tortured in a typically unbearable fashion. But greater than that is this separation from his Father. God divided! Frankly, that is total mystery, the depths of which defy human imagination. The struggle was of cosmic proportions.

What does this mean to you and to me? I stand amazed just at what I think I know of Christ, my Savior.

Tuesday, November 1

Being "Male" Is To REMEMBER

Male & female. 

Seems it's considered in bad taste these days to mention that there's actually a difference. Frankly, I don't like those taste buds! Listen to how the Creator summarized it:   
"God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (Gen. 1:27). 
But it's not the difference so much that interests me here as the uniqueness of man. In "The Silence of Adam," Larry Crabb brings out that the Hebrew word used for "male" in this verse is zakar, which carries the meaning, "the remembering one." Not the typical word for male, at least from our viewpoint. You may ask, "Remember what?" Perhaps it would be better to ask, not "what," but "why?" Why put this term in the foundational verses of God's creating act?

Stories Stir Our Memories of Past Joys

Without looking any deeper into this word, we could surmise that man must have something worth remembering, or, at least that he has the capability of doing so. Crabb surfaced something with which I am familiar, reminiscing with old college buddies and greatly enjoying the repartee. What marks these times is not that we bring up new stories (necessarily), but that we resurface the old but familiar times we enjoyed way back when. Most of us know such fun, even silly times with family and friends, right? But what's the point of telling such stories? Referring to such sharing among former ministry colleagues, Crabb writes, "They remind us of another day, another time, year ago when we worked together in a student ministry." Those stories reminded them of days when God had worked through them. "Significant things happened, sorrowful things happened, miraculous things happened. God did a work in our midst, and we tell our stories to remind us of those days."

Remembering God's Acts in Salvation History

Ever notice how many passages in the Bible have to do with remembering or reminding either Israel or an individual of what God had promised? It usually pointed to a need to trust God again. Actually, the whole of Deuteronomy is a sort of narration of Israel's history with a focus on their theological bearings before they ventured into the Promised Land. It's a glorious recounting of God's works and a great boon to the soul of everyone who believes in Jesus Christ. Habbakkuk, the prophet who grew quite incensed at God for his apparent injustice in using a more evil people to rebuke Israel found hope when he remembers, Lord, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O Lord, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy (3:2). When Samuel wanted to encourage Israel's faith, he pointed to the works of God and built an altar naming it Ebenezer, which means "hitherto the LORD has helped us."

What were they doing, and what therefore are we as males supposed to be doing in our day? We are supposed to pass along to the next generation not just history, but what God has done in that history. It is in age that man can see across his years and see things a younger person should not be able to see. We call this perspective. I would suggest that this is much of what is involved in the biblical term "wisdom." Memory is involved in both.

Memory of God Prevents Sin

When we are drawn away by our lusts and enticed (James 1:14), we will find that we must push God out of our minds if we to succeed in sinning. Know what I am talking about? If a man wants to focus on pornography, he must push the warnings of the Holy Spirit aside. If someone wants to gossip, they must do the same. Any sin we begin to entertain requires that we eject God from our thoughts. It's no surprise is it that Paul urges us "to take every thought captive to obey Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5 ESV). 

It should not be amazing to us to learn that salvation is not built around our escape from judgment or our gaining heaven as wonderful as are these things. No, Jesus says quite plainly that "this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (John 17:3). Such knowledge, as many may realize, is more along the lines of intimacy. Hence, we see a deeper reason back of our communion services which are to done "in remembrance of me" says Jesus. Keep intimate love for Jesus front and center and you will gain far more than just escape from sin. You'll cultivate a God-entranced heart.


Turning from God to sin is nothing less than idolatry. "Such is the nature of idolatry--the seeking of something other than God to satisfy one's desires. Sinful choices require that God be forgotten. In this sense, forgetting is about more than just misplacing car keys. It is an active and willful choice--a refusal to remember" (Crabb, p. 84). And why do we turn away from God to our choice sins? It is because, in essence, we do not believe that God is enough. Crabb voices man's cop-outs:  "This life I am living is not working. God is not treating me the way I deserve. Life just doesn't feel good. I want something or someone that either makes me feel good or places me in control. Trusting God is not producing the results I want. Therefore I must put him aside. I must choose to forget God for a time and to replace him with something more pleasurable."

What To Do?

So, are we men supposed to sit down and have story time with our children at night to off-set this tendency? Would our memorizing Scripture do it? They may. They certainly are important and have their place. But if we stop there it will never be enough. In fact, it could do positive harm if all we end up with is an exterior, legalistic set of rules that leads to either pride or frustration (or both). No. As Crabb states, "Something more is called for: a change of heart. Unless men honestly face their stubborn delight in forgetting and their commitment to passions stronger their desire for God, lasting change will never occur."

God created them male so that they would remember what is most vital and cleave unto Him. It's at the very heart of the creative act. Designed to ponder God, man is at his best when he lives in wonderment of the divine beauty. Give us more freedom from this world's constrictive, chocking false loves and free us to see and to grasp tightly all that is glorious in God.