Monday, May 25, 2020

Sympathy and Compassion

It’s Memorial Day. Does it seem like that to you?  Perhaps since you have been homebound, “what day it is” has lost its significance.  Holidays are just another day.  I know for Martie and me that has been the case since we went on the mission field.  Trouble and misery do not take holidays.  Just this last Christmas, I received a call from someone we are helping repair their home. The husband has a terminal illness – ALS. Their lives have been upended.  Priorities shifted. Dreams derailed.  The trouble was a gas leak in the kitchen. They needed help. On Christmas.  Why call me?

Because they knew or hoped that I would help – even if it was Christmas morning.  Understanding the danger and the immediacy of the situation, I called a plumber that I use for the homes we repair damaged by Hurricane Harvey. But on Christmas?

He did what was necessary to stop the leak – got the gas company involved – on Christmas.  I am not sharing this so you might be impressed with me.  I am sharing this to make a point. Trouble never comes at a convenient time. The question is, “Are you willing to be inconvenienced when it shows up on somebody else’s door step?”

The pastor at the church we attend has been preaching on the book of Job.  Job is one of those Old Testament books that you read, but you may not call your favorite – it might not even make your top 10 of the 66 books of the Bible. Honestly, the only verse from Job that I tucked away in my memory is “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” [Job 15:13]

But it was chapter 22 that got my attention. Job’s friend Eliphaz was accusing Job for the third time – trying to get him to repent convinced that Job must have sinned to have such terrible things happen to him. Eliphaz said

“For you have taken pledges from your brother for no reason, And stripped the naked of their clothing. You have not given the weary water to drink, And you have withheld bread from the hungry……. You have sent widows away empty, And the strength of the fatherless was crushed.” – Job 22:6-7

What struck me was that the charges Eliphaz made were the same that Jesus made when He was separating the sheep from the Goats in Matthew 25 and what James defined as pure religion in James chapter 1.

Jesus said -

 Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels:  for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’  And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” – Matthew 25:41-46

James wrote

Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble” – James 1:27

Do you see it? Eliphaz was bring the same charges against Job that Jesus brought against the “Goats”. And what James said was proof of right faith and living.  I love it when the Lord shows things like this to me.  But He never shows me without purpose.  So, back to the title of the devotion. Sympathy and Compassion.

As Christians we have been called to be more than merely sympathetic for other people.  The priest and the Levite that walked past the man in the ditch may have felt sorry for him (sympathy) but were not inclined to let their lives be interrupted for someone they did not even know.  No, they have much too important things to do. Compassion is sympathy with hands and feet.  It is not just feeling sorry for someone’s trouble, but doing what you can to help them in their time of trouble. Compassion always costs the one showing compassion. It is not a loss it is a sacrifice – an offering.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.” – 2 Corinthians 1:3-5

I have taught on these verses in the past and have thought of them in terms of bringing comfort to people who experience the same thing that I have experienced. That is empathy. But I have skipped over the words “who are in ANY trouble” meaning that it doesn’t matter what they are facing – to bring godly comfort to them does not require that I must have experienced the same life struggle that they are experiencing.  The focus is on God’s comfort, not mine.  The love of God – Agape – poured out through us. We know that God is able because He has comforted us. The comfort we can give is sweet – a balm – but oh so much more comforting if we have faced the same trouble.  We may not relate to the specific problem, but we can relate to a gracious God  in whom we found comfort in our affliction. The Good Samaritan didn’t help the man who had been robbed and beaten and left in the ditch because that had happened to him. He did it because of his love for others – a love that went beyond merely feeling sorry for this trouble. 

Oh – one other thing …… Eliphaz was wrong about Job!

Who has God placed in your path, your life, when it was not convenient, when it meant going beyond feeling sorry for them – knowing you could offer comfort – but it would cost you something – disrupt your plans – cost you time, emotion, maybe even a holiday or two.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Still Struggling With The Old Man?

Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin” – Romans 6:6

Is there some aspect of your life – your old life – that you still struggle with? The King James version refers to our old nature as the “old man” some of the newer translations use “old self”. We can’t relax spiritually. Just when you think your are safe, that the “old man” can’t find you – BOOM! – there he is showing himself and typically not in a nice way.  Ok – for the sake of clarification – God created man and woman – out of man – so my reference to the “old man” applies to both sexes. And there are only two – God made X and Y chromosomes and combined them in two and only two ways.  But I digress …..

Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” – 2 Corinthians 5:16-18

I have read and heard a lot of discussion over those highlighted words – “old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new”. That is a reference to our old and new natures. We have been made alive toward God when we were born again. Living that new life and not yielding to the influence of our old nature – well that is another thing altogether.  You might hear someone say that you are sanctified and are still being sanctified – conformed to the image of Jesus – which is to say yielded fully to the will of the Father and free from the influence of the flesh.  I might suggest that your sanctification, perfection if you will, will not be completed this side of heaven.

The issue at hand is not whether the old man will reveal himself in your life.  The issue is “what are you going to do when he does”?  Most often, I think, we try to pretend it didn’t happen.  Like the character on TV that would sheepishly say “Did I do that?” It is as if my sin is not as bad as someone else’s sin.  They may need to ask for forgiveness or say I am sorry, but not me. Can I get an Amen?  Or perhaps and “Oh me!” Our old man is offensive toward God and others.  Jesus went to the cross because of our old nature – why would it be OK to display it towards others when the second greatest commandment is to love others?  Let me paint a picture – if you are wondering what the old man looks like

 “The acts of the flesh [Old Man]are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.” – Galatians 5:19-21

Please don’t look that extremes in this list and think, “Oh that is not me!” Trust me – we are all in that list somewhere, maybe several somewhere.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” – Galatians 5:22-25

‘Nuf said!

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

What Has God Been Saying To You?

Now the Lord came and stood and called as at other times, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ And Samuel answered, ‘Speak, for Your servant hears.’” – 1 Samuel 3:10

We just finished our Experiencing God study via Zoom!  It is a study about how we can come to learn how God interacts with His children, really since the beginning.  Do you believe that God will and does speak to you by the Holy Spirit? It’s true.  Like Samuel, the Lord has something to say to each of us – even though we might not want to admit to ourselves or to others. Dr. Blackaby, the author of Experiencing God said that it is not a question about whether we hear God, the quest is “Will we obey God?”.

While preparing to teach the lesson I was reminded of something that happened to Martie and me, some years ago.  We were in Mississippi repairing homes and, at the time, running a volunteer camp in Waveland. (this was before Pathfinder Mission)  The Lord had connected us to the Missions Pastor, Bill, from Orlando First Baptist church.  He was sending volunteers to that camp. Bill called me one day and told me that there was someone that he wanted Martie and me to meet and could we have lunch with them. We agreed of course and me them at a Mexican restaurant in Waveland. One of the few that had reopened since the storm – Hurricane Katrina.  The man he wanted us to meet, Jim, had been the senior pastor at Bill’s church since 1977 and the president of the Southern Baptist Convention for a few years.  I really wasn’t sure why we were meeting him, but I make it a habit to ask the Lord why I meet anyone like that. I always assume it will be for God’s purpose in His time.

Martie and I had been struggling with obeying what we felt God has said plainly to us, which was to start a ministry, Pathfinder Mission – but at that time we didn’t have a name for it yet.  We had been praying but had not really shared what God was leading us to with others yet.  So, as we sat at the table with Bill and Jim, Jim looked at me and said – “So, Charley, what has God been saying to you?” I just looked at Martie and she at me. It was like God had allowed Jim a peak into our hearts and knew there was something up.

Dr. Blackaby said that God speaks by the Spirit though prayer, the Word, circumstances and other Believers. I thought for a few seconds, squeezed Martie’s hand and told Jim what we believed God was telling us to do.  He did not blink.  He said, “If there is anything I can do to help you, just let me know.  I will be happy to help.”  We never did go back to him for any assistance.  He had already helped us, probably more than he knew.  We were encouraged to decide to obey what God was saying to us.  And the rest is, well, history and history in the making.

We have learned that there are no coincidences in life of a Christian only “God-incidences”.  So tell me – “What has God been saying to you?”

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.” – Jeremiah 29:11-13

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

God Will Always Ask The Impossible

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, 21 to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” – Ephesians 3:20-21

God never asks you to do something that you can do without Him. You will always need God to accomplish what He sends you to do. Remember Gideon. God used Gideon to defeat an army of thousands using only three hundred men, torches and clay pots. When Moses sent the twelve spies across the Jordan to spy out the land, all but two (Joshua and Caleb) came back with bad news. In the minds of the ten, it was impossible for Israel to defeat the giants that lived there. It was too hard a task. Forty years later, Joshua was once again standing at the banks of the Jordan. The task was the same. Joshua was to take the land for Israel. And the Lord said:

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” ― Joshua 1:9

God chooses to use ordinary people to do what is impossible in the minds of men. If you are going to do something for God, you cannot do it apart from God. What any of us do that has eternal benefit for God is by the power of God through His Spirit.

This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ Says the Lord of hosts” ― Zechariah 4:6

I would be at great fault if I did not make it clear that anything that was accomplished during Martie and my journeys must be credited to the dedication and commitment of the hundreds of volunteers that helped us. Volunteers that God provided. Time and again, the right people with the right skills, heart for service, and financial resources came to Mississippi, and later to Haiti and now to Texas. When we faced the trials and challenges that we encountered, we most often had no idea how to overcome them. “But God” is perhaps one of the strongest phrases in the Bible. It appears no less than 47 times. But God met the challenges and trials using the volunteers who would come to our aid. I could not possibly acknowledge each one, each group, each church that set their lives aside to help the “man in the ditch.” I would have to devote an entire book to each one of them. Not only did they minister to the people in the communities, but they ministered to Martie and me.

What we did and are doing, where we served and are serving, was and is very difficult and, at times, dark and dangerous places to be. Those God sent to help us were like the balm of Gilead. They encouraged us. They blessed us. They stood in the gap for us. To this day we count many as dear friends and partners in the fields in which the Lord has set our plow.  God uses ordinary people to extra-ordinary things as a witness or testimony to Him. Has God asked you to lay something down to follow His leading? Were you, are you, willing to do it? 

“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.” ― Luke 14:26

Does that sound harsh to you? Do you question whether God would really ask you to put Him before your family? Are there limits to what you would be willing to do? That verse doesn’t mean you can’t love your family if you love God it means that you must love God more?  If you read Matthew 22:36-39 you see that God requires all of your devotion and that devotion then gives birth to a love for others. Saying yes to God requires faith ― trust ― obedience. Where we get into trouble is when try to do something for God without God.

“‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’  Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” – Matthew 22:36-39

Have you faced faith challenges in your life? Are you facing one now?  

Most people I know put a limit on their devotion to God.  We all struggle with that problem.  We struggle with the tension between natural devotion and spiritual devotion.  Anything can become a god if we let it have preeminence over our devotion to God.  The second greatest commandment is to love others, but that is the second greatest, not the first.  God really asks very few to physically abandon their families to serve him.  But He commands every one of us to abandon any and all devotions that would push Him aside. 

Even loving Him more requires Him to do it.  We can’t do it on our own.  We must do it in faith by the power of the Spirit.  There are many admonitions in the New Testament to love others – above ourselves – but never above God.  The temptation is strong, but God is stronger.  God never asks us to do anything that we can do on our own except this one thing; to lay our lives down at the foot of the cross, to trust in God and not ourselves.

Let me close with Paul’s prayer for the church at Ephesus.

For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man,  that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, ac-cording to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen” – Ephesians 3:14-21

Monday, May 18, 2020

When I Just Don’t Know What To Say

Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” – Romans 8:26-27

Have you ever been at a loss for words? Ever said or thought, “I just don’t know what to say.”? I know I have.  I feel like I ought to say something but the words will just not come to mind.  That is what it is like sometimes when I pray to God.  I want my prayer life to be more than “Thank you for this food.” or “Help me!” But the words just won’t come to mind. I was just thinking that sometimes I feel like I “have to” pray when, in fact, the truth is, I “get to” pray.

Have you heard someone pray – not in King James English – but it seemed that they were praying from their heart bringing peace to your soul?.  Their words blessed you. Or maybe you watched someone at church pray for the congregation and they were reading something they had written beforehand. Often it is more like a mini-sermon than an outpouring of the heart. My point is not to be critical but that we all struggle with praying spontaneously, revealing our vulnerability and our need to be heard by the Father.

Have you ever been in a room with someone, wanting to say something but the words that came to mind did not just seem to be the right words, so you are silent? Have you ever had someone say to you  - “Why don’t you just say something?” It is a struggle when what you have to say – what you must say is difficult to say. It might be “Forgive me.” Or “I am sorry” or perhaps “I need help.” Or “I am hurting physically or emotionally.” Or …..

We have a hard enough time when the conversation is with a person – how much more when it is with the Creator God. Have you ever been with a group of people and they were talking about things that you just did not understand? Perhaps thinking, “It is better to remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt of it.” (People cannot agree who said it first) I have been there – fearful that I might be shown not a fool so much as ignorant.” It can make you feel uncomfortable.

And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever” ― John 14:16

Because that very same Helper is in each and every Believer – sealing us for the day of redemption – we are never at a loss for words when it comes to talking with – praying to God.  Praying is a spiritual activity. A conversation from our hearts to God’s heart. There are deep spiritual truths that we are just not capable of understanding this side of Heaven. Things that we are not able to express to God. Not because we have not been to seminary. Not because we have not memorized enough scripture. It is because we are like children and there are things that, as spiritual children, we just don’t understand.  But God knows that and He has made a way for us by His Spirit.  The helper that Jesus talked about. 

So does that mean that I don’t have to pray? Of course not! God craves for time with each of us.  The Bible is replete with admonitions for us to pray – above and beyond meal time. 

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7

But we don’t have to “wax eloquent” in that conversation.  What we must do is speak from the heart that which we do know to say, and when we are at a loss for words, the Spirit will help us with the rest.  It is really that simple and that wonderful.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

God Calls, Prepares, And Then Sends

"Then He said to them, 'Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.' They immediately left their nets and followed Him."  - Matthew 4:19-20

God never sends without preparation. He never prepares apart from His calling. Each sending builds upon the previous. Sometimes Christians get ahead of themselves. They don’t wait for the call or they don’t wait for the preparation ― they just go. It is a mistake to try to do something for God without God. Acting solely in the power of your flesh is a mistake. If you do, you have underestimated the reality of the powers of the air and principalities at work around you.

My last job in the Army required that I review all the messages that came to our unit. On one particular day I read a message that announced a new early separation program. The Army was downsizing after the Gulf War. It was then that I heard a voice. It was not an audible voice, more like an impression, but not. What I heard was, “You are sacrificing your family for success in the Army. Choose your family and leave the Army.” I had 17 ½ years in the Army. 2 ½ years away from retirement. Who would do that? Yet, I knew it was God and I knew what I must do. I spoke to Martie and shared with her what I believed God was saying to me. She replied “I agree. I believe we should leave the Army, too.” To bring this into context, I was up for a promotion to Lt. Colonel and was already identified to go to U.S. Space Command to serve in a Lt. Colonel position, a Joint assignment. I was on my way, succeeding, as far as the Army and the world were concerned. But I was failing as far as God was concerned. Both Martie and I have learned how important it is that in whatever we did as husband and wife we must be in spiritual agreement.

Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” ― Amos 3:3

We have committed to be willing to leave our old life behind and follow Him wherever He leads. I used to be an Army Officer. I used to be a helicopter pilot. I used to be an Operations Research and Systems Engineer. I used to be a lot of things. Now I am something of greater worth, a dedicated servant of Jesus Christ. We don't know where the Lord will lead us in the days ahead. We never expected to be where we are now or where He has sent us in the past, but we do know that we are where God wants us to be today, doing what He wants us to do …… now.

Following God’s call will always require you to abandon something. What are some aspects of your life that God’s call might require you to lay aside? Our old nature wants to protect itself and to indulge itself.  Sacrifice requires denial of self and abandoning worldly desires. (Matthew 16:24) Even a cursory reading of the Bible exposes the nature of the heart of people, which does not change, and reveals the will of God. 

I was succeeding in the world. I was the envy of many who loved the same things. But what I valued changed.  What would had to change in my life to make a radical decision to leave the Army 2 years be-fore retirement? I had to see that there was something of greater value to give up what I loved and had been pursuing. Discontentment happens when there is a spiritual stirring and what once brought you joy becomes drudgery.  Think about how God might use that as part of your preparation to go? Perhaps you have experienced holy discontentment.  Routine and habits bring comfort. If you are settled, you might not want to change things. How do you know it is God? It requires spiritual discernment to know when it is God and when it is just life.

Preparation to follow God’s call is not always pleasant and the reason something is happening is not always clear when it happens. If you live your new life depending upon pleasant circumstances to be the proof that you are in the center of God’ will, you are in for a disappointment and are sure to be disillusioned.   

Consider how God prepared Joseph for His purpose. On the face of it, Joseph traveled a strange and difficult journey for someone for whom God had a purpose. God gifted Joseph with discernment and wisdom. Recall that Joseph was sold by his brothers into slavery because they were jealous of him. He rose to prominence as a slave only to be falsely accused and thrown into prison. He again rose into prominence as a prisoner and was called to Pharaoh’s court. He rose into prominence once again and at that point, fulfilled his purpose. When he did finally face his brothers, this is what he said to them.

Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.” ― Genesis 50:19-20

While serving in in the midst of the devastation brought on by Hurricane Katrina, a volunteer asked me, “Do you like being in Mississippi?”  I thought for a moment and answered, “There is nothing better than being in the center of God’s will. Geography has nothing to do with it. I love being in Mississippi!” Difficult circumstances are not the test for God wanting you to do something else.  Don’t use circumstances as the only measure for God wanting you to change.  You might be in the difficult circumstances to be a light in the midst of a dark situation.  The darker the night – the brighter the light.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Loving Each Other Like God Loves Us

“If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” – John 15:10-13

I was talking to a friend the other day and he commented that I was spoiling my wife.  I responded by saying, “My wife is the most important person on this planet, as far as I am concerned, why wouldn’t I shower her with blessings and attention?” Husbands – wives – is that that how you see your spouse? Are you willing to lay your life down for them – if Jesus said we should for our friends – how much more for the person that we have committed our lives to in marriage? The thing is – for a marriage to be what God intended – it doesn't take two, it takes five. Where both the husband and wife are submitted, by faith in Jesus, to God the Father by the indwelling and submission to the Spirit and to each other.

To love others the way Jesus said we are to love others requires that we be “right” spiritually. It all begins there – with our relationship with God. I am not suggesting that people apart from God cannot love. What I am saying is that for our “joy to be full”, for us to experience what it is that God intended in the marriage relationship, it must be lived out as each of us walks in obedience to the Lord. Loving my wife is a natural manifestation of my love for God. How much I love my wife and the way I love my wife is a reflection of how much and the way I love God. I am not making this up – although as I type, I did not think this was the direction I was going this morning.

That guy that suggested that perhaps I was doing more for my wife than was necessary? He is a Christian so I could speak to him “spiritually’. I say this because the natural man cannot understand spiritual truth – it is foolishness to them (1 Corinthians 2:14). So I pointed him to the Book of Ephesians.

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself.” – Ephesians 5:25-27

What did Jesus do for the church? He laid his life down.  The way husbands and wives love each other should be a bright light in a dark culture.  Do you remember the words you spoke at your wedding?

“…. to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereto I pledge myself to you."

There is an assumption in those words, that you each are submitted to God and obedience to Him by the power of the Spirit and not the strength of your will. Enter Satan with the words, “Did God really mean that?” What if you decide it just isn’t working? I would suggest that it is a love problem – not between the husband and wife only, but between one or both of them and God. I can’t love my wife the way God says to love her if I don’t first love Him.  Pretty simple – but often overlooked or just ignored. Two cannot become one apart from the “glue” that sticks and holds them together – their faith and the Spirit of God. God is the root – Jesus is the vine and we are the branches – the fruit – our love and the quality of our marriage is a result of that. That is why we are warned to not be unevenly yoked.

Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God.” – 2 Corinthians 6:14-16

Many marriages start out with God no where to be found. Even though the ceremony may be in a church and the vows before God said. That is just part of the ritual. When the couple leaves the church building, they leave God behind. They may both not even be Christians. I know that I was not when I married Martie. It is by God’s grace that we both were born again some years later.  So today, the words I shared with my friend would not have come out of the mouth of the man who made the vows that he might not have been willing to keep – what's more, would not have been able to keep on his own. But because I abide in Christ – there is fruit.  Husbands – wives – I am not suggesting you decide to love each other more – but that you decide to love God more – and loving each other will be the fruit from your staying connected to the root.

Monday, May 11, 2020

We Hear But Do We See

“I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You. – Job 42:5

The Pastor at the church we attend is preaching on Job.  At our Sunday Bible study, the lesson was on suffering, and you guessed it, the Bible references came from the Book of Job.  It was during that lesson that the Word was suddenly illuminated to me. Has that ever happened to you?  You read the Bible but sometimes without your spirit connected to it. You could as well be reading a magazine. You are reading because you are supposed to read – not because you have a hunger. I can remember a time, just after I was born again, when I had a voracious appetite for the Word.  I could not seem to get enough of it.  Like a new born wanting to be fed. It was no longer in the womb, but in a new place and it was experiencing hunger – for the first time. I was experiencing spiritual hunger.  Has that ever happened to you? I digress.

As I heard verse 5 being read, I suddenly “saw”. If there is one thing that we Christians in the United States have it is an abundance of spiritual food. Plenty for the taking.  I probably have 15 Bibles within reach right now – that is not considering the Bibles available on-line through my computer and phone.  When Job said that he had heard, but then he saw, I thought about me.  How often I had heard but not as often had I seen.  Seeing in the sense that there was a deep spiritual understanding that was not filtered through my old nature.  A moment when the Spirit of God revealed a heavenly truth that refreshed me like a long drink of cold water on a hot day – refreshing to my soul. It is an intimate encounter with God. In retrospect I have not experienced enough of those. Not for the lack of God’s wanting, but for my lack of seeing. Perhaps with being satisfied with merely hearing.

For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, And their eyes they have closed, Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear;  for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” – Matthew 13:15-17

Jesus was referring to His coming as the prophets had longed to see – just like we long to see His return.  But in the meantime, the Spirit of God is waiting to reveal deep truths to us, if we will but open our spiritual eyes.

“[I, Paul] do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him,  the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.”  – Ephesians 1:16-21

It is that same understanding that came to Job, that Paul prayed for the saints in Ephesus and that God desires for us all. To know the hope of His calling for us. The exceeding greatness of His power toward us. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead. It is that revelation that comes when we no longer merely hear, but see.  What a gift. What a blessing. How refreshing. How encouraging.

Open my eyes, that I may see Glimpses of truth Thou hast for me;

Place in my hands the wonderful key That shall unclasp and set me free.

Silently now I wait for Thee, Ready my God, Thy will to see,

Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine!”  – Open My Eyes, That I May See | Clara H. Scott, 1895, Public Domain

By Faith Alone By His Grace Alone And For His Glory Alone

Friday, May 8, 2020

If Rejecting God Is Wrong, They Don’t Want To Be Right

And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.”  - Romans 1:28-32

Who is Paul describing? People you meet every day.  People who believe that what they believe is right – that the way they behave and others behave is OK.  That is what happens when we wander from the framework that God intended for how His Creation was to live and act and think.  Imagine a fish swimming in the ocean and deciding they weren’t meant to swim in the water – they didn’t like swimming in the water – so one day they leapt out of the water onto the shore – flopped around for a while – surrounded by air but unable to breath it. And so they died right there on the bank within inches of what would give them life – but refusing to do what they were created to do – swim in the water.  They would rather die in misery than submit to their creator. And what’s more they encourage others to do the same.  Nobody like to sin alone. The more the easier it is to justify the behavior.

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work..” – 2 Timothy 3:16-17

God has provided the guide to right living and right relationships – with Him and with others. Then He provided a way to live that way – His Spirit. All that is required is a person with a heart yielded by faith, devoted to God and not themselves.  Even a blind bird can catch a bug now and again. Meaning that people who live apart from God might do good things but that does not make them right before God.  There are some people who are evil and some people that are not so bad.  Apart from God – their destiny is the same.  They are just fish flopping on the shore – gasping for air even while they are surrounded by it – refusing to believe that they might be wrong – their last breath on the bank is the proof of their folly.

Imagine living your entire life thinking that you are right in your rejection of God and His Son – only to discover that you were wrong. The thought of that brings a deep sorrow to my heart. The culture we live in is pretty much described in Romans chapter 1.  I know that not all will be saved, but some will be. And my responsibility? My responsibility –  your responsibility is to be a light – a peculiar people – pointing others to the Truth. A seed planter. A garden waterer.  Paul says it in Romans 12.

“I [beg] you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”  – Romans 12:1-2

I want to encourage you to see the world as it is. That sin is sin and not just an alternative choice that is OK so long as you don’t hurt someone else.  Like abortion, if it does hurt someone else you just redefine what  “someone else” is.  If it is not human then you are not hurting someone else, so it is OK.  Lower the bar until you can jump over it – call it good and a victory for what is right. 826,000 abortions in the US in 2017 (Guttmacher Institute).  That is what happens when people abandon what God says it right. 

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”  – Proverbs 14:12

God wants your heart totally devoted to Him.  A heart turned toward God and away from the world. And the result will be that we love others the same way that God loves us. With mercy and grace.  Pretty simple really. So why then isn’t it easy? Simply stated – it is our old nature – what we want to do naturally.  Jesus was telling us to do what man cannot do apart from God. Certainly is starts with a decision when we are born again – but continues with really that same decision every day – with every breath we take – choosing God and not the world.  So what will you choose today?

By Faith Alone By His Grace Alone And For His Glory Alone

Thursday, May 7, 2020

What God Really, Really Wants From Me

With what shall I come before the Lord, And bow myself before the High God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, With calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, Ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?”  - Micah 6:6-8

I often quote Micah 6:8. In fact it is one of my favorite verses – along with Joshua 1:8-9, Galatians 6:2, James 1:27, Philippians 4:13 – I guess I have quite a few. Anyway, as I was contemplating what this devotion would be about today, my thoughts went to Micah 6:8 but then I read the verses before it and they gave context to the text. Did you ever consider the word “context”? In Spanish “con” means with – so I guess we could say the other text that goes “with” the text.

Micah was asking what he could give to atone for his transgressions.  What could he do to undo what can’t be undone so he might be in the presence of the holy creator God? The answer – he needed a heart transplant – to love God and love others.  Don’t you think it interesting how often that idea comes up in the scripture.

Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 22:37-40

The whole Law hinges on those two commandment. Do justly – love mercy (loving others) Walk Humbly (love God) It is not enough to think good thoughts.  By the way, telling someone to “think good thoughts”  is today’s euphemism to avoid saying, “Please pray for someone.” “Think good thoughts” It makes me sad, really. 

So what does God want from me – from you? To actually love others not just in thought but in deed and to love God sacrificially, not just in thought but in deed. That means less of me and more of God.  We can’t love other people, the way that God intends, unless we first love God the way God demands. 

“I [beg] you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”  – Romans 12:1-2

God wants your heart totally devoted to Him.  A heart turned toward God and away from the world. And the result will be that we love others the same way that God loves us. With mercy and grace.  Pretty simple really. So why then isn’t it easy? Simply stated – it is our old nature – what we want to do naturally.  Jesus was telling us to do what man cannot do apart from God. Certainly is starts with a decision when we are born again – but continues with really that same decision every day – with every breath we take – choosing God and not the world.  So what will you choose today?

If anyone comes after Me (Jesus), let them deny themselves, pick up their cross (every day) and follow Me.” – Matthew 16:24

And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” – Joshua 24:15

By Faith Alone By His Grace Alone And For His Glory Alone

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Like Sin – Obedience Starts In The Heart

For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart— These, O God, You will not despise.”  - Psalm 51:16-17

Like the rich young ruler who thought that it was what he did that would get him into heaven, Jesus showed him that it was the condition of his heart that made the difference between heaven and hell. It is easy to do something for God – a lot easier than yielding our hearts and lives to God. Martin Luther struggled with the Book of James because Martin Luther was all about justification  - being right before a holy God – by faith and not works. Yet James seemed to say that it was works that proved our faith.

Actually they were both right. Think about what I just wrote. Of course they were both right – the Word of God is truth and the Word of God says both. So why the confusion? Works is a natural result of faith – but faith is not a natural result of works.  Like the rich young ruler's thinking – “If I do the right things – the religious things – what the scripture says to do, then I will be justified before God.” WRONG!!! Honk! Honk! Buzzzzz! That is putting the proverbial works-cart before the faith-horse.

Why do we do that? Because it is easy to do.  It is something that we can do and we don’t really need God to do it. We can make a sacrifice and present it to God with a sinful heart and convince ourselves because we did something “good” that God is pleased and is welcoming us with open arms. WRONG!!! Honk! Honk! Buzzzzz!

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.  Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”  – Matthew 23:24-28

It is easy to do good things and God have no part in it.  An easy trap to fall in to. You can go on a mission trip and be praised by men for your “sacrifice”, yet it was all you.  You left God at home.  If you want to get this faith life right – and I believe you do else you would not be reading this – you must understand that it begins and ends with a broken and contrite heart. Contrite means repentant.  A heart turned toward God and away from the world.

If anyone comes after Me (Jesus), let them deny themselves, pick up their cross (every day) and follow Me.” – Matthew 16:24

Don’t’ you see – obedience is born out of a repentant heart not human will and determination. Before you act on what God has directed you to do, there was a moment in the heart when you yielded to God and then you acted for the glory of God and His purposes – not yours. You see, it does not really matter what God asks you to do – no matter how big or how small – what matters is the condition of your heart toward God. When that is right – works will follow and will demonstrate your faith and glorify God. 

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit (good works); apart from me you can do nothing (for the kingdom of God).” – John 15:5

It starts with the heart.

By Faith Alone By His Grace Alone And For His Glory Alone

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

A Sadness That Is Greater Than Death

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” – James 4:13-14

There is nothing that reminds us of our mortality than the death of someone close to us.  We can watch the news or read about 60,000 plus deaths from COVID 19 complications, perhaps feel sad that it happened, but when death happens close to us – without warning – like a slap in the face – we are reminded of just how fragile and brief life on this planet is.

I received a call from my sister yesterday.  Like it or not, my siblings and I are in the generation that is passing.  It has been happening for, well since man was created, dust to dust.  It is not a surprise.  When I watch old movies, I realize that most if not all of the people in the movie are dead.  That is the nature of things. So I know that my season is nearly done – maybe 20 more years – maybe not – so when any of my siblings call, I am expecting to hear that one of us has passed.  Not morbid thinking, just being realistic. I don’t dwell on this season of my life but am resolved to it. So my sister called me and I wondered, “Who is it?” To my surprise, it was my nephew. That I was not expecting.

I won’t share the details, but I will share, what I think is, an important point.  When a person dies and you don’t know if they were a Christian, then you find yourself hoping they were.  Why? Because the consequence of their not being a Christian is eternity in hell.  We all know that don’t we? But we don’t like to think about it, especially when it has to do with someone we care about. The truth is, we won’t know this side of heaven. The temptation is to give those closest to the one who passed a false hope.  Maybe suggesting that the person might have been a Christian – even though their life did not reflect it.  Really a dilemma considering the grief that person is already dealing with. But the truth is, when there is doubt, there should be silence on our part. Only God knows the truth. Only God knows the condition of each heart.

So I don’t know where my nephew was spiritually.  I do know what I hope. Death is certain and our physical death is final – dust to dust. But there is an eternal – spiritual aspect to our existence which must be and will be accounted for. The lost choose to ignore it – deny it even.  That does not change the truth. The fact that we have been saved on the eternal side of things – we will all die a physical death – only God knows when, how and where – but the question is – how will we live this mortal life we have been given.

Jesus answered and said to her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.’”  – John 4:10

If they only knew…… Let you light shine bright my friends.  For as long as our lamps can – let them shine in a world that faces death and its uncertainty every day.  Pray for those who have no hope that they would turn to the One who is the source of hope and life.

He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” – John 7:38

As I was typing this, a song came to mind as it often does, Almost Persuaded, Philip P. Bliss, pub.1871, Public Domain.

“‘Almost persuaded’ now to believe; ‘Almost persuaded’ Christ to receive;
Seems now some soul to say, ‘Go, Spirit, go Thy way,
Some more convenient day On Thee I’ll call.’

‘Almost persuaded,’ come, come today;
‘Almost persuaded,’ turn not away;
Jesus invites you here, Angels are ling’ring near,
Prayers rise from hearts so dear; O wand’rer, come!

‘Almost persuaded,’ harvest is past! ‘Almost persuaded,’ doom comes at last!
‘Almost’ cannot avail; ‘Almost’ is but to fail!
Sad, sad, that bitter wail— ‘Almost,’ but lost!”

By Faith Alone By His Grace Alone And For His Glory Alone