Perhaps it may turn out a sang,
Perhaps turn out a sermon.

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Whole Way

And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. -- Deuteronomy 8:2

It is something that I come back to time and again, that I won’t understand all the twists and turns and seeming detours of my journey until I reach a point where I can look back upon it with perspective.  We are as inexperienced mountaineers.  From the summit, we will be able to better see the reasons for the peculiar route over which the Lord chose to guide us. 

As we are climbing it may appear to us that He is deliberately – we might even be tempted to think maliciously – leading us over particularly difficult and dangerous sections.  Perhaps we see a path that looks easier and less strenuous.  He knows and we do not that the pleasant path ends at a sheer precipice or that it leads to a slide zone or some other peril that we cannot imagine or overcome. 

Sometimes the difficult way is the safe way.  And we should remember, too, that we are yoked and secured to our Guide.  He is not going to fall, and we who are with Him cannot perish.  He goes ahead and anchors us steadfast and unshakeable, no matter what may come.    

I do not know how far it may be to the end of this climb.  I may be near the mountaintop, or it may yet be a while.  The summit, for most of us, most of the time, is shrouded, cloud-hidden.  There are times, as well, when the clouds descend upon us, and we can see no more than the hand before our face.   Then we can but follow the gentle tug of the line of faith that is held by our Guide.   

Some days, perhaps early in the morning or in the evening before the light fades, the clouds cling to the slope further up, but the path we have ascended thus far lays open and clear to our spiritual sight.  We see how each encounter and test along the way led us to where we are now.  We recall the struggles and perchance the fears that assailed us as we faced various challenges.  We are reminded again of the One who does not leave us or forsake us no matter how terrified we may be, how dark the night, or how thick the fog around us.  He knows where He is, and He always knows where we are and just how to get us to the bright heights beyond. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Further Up and Further In

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God -- Hebrews 6:1

Those of us in American Protestant Christianity, in particular, like to be egalitarian in our thinking.  We often call one another brother or sister and consider church services as the “assembling of the saints”.  Romans 12:3 advises us thusly:  For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.  Meanwhile Galatians 6:3 also warns us, … if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 

Humility within the Body of Christ is essential, as is a loving regard for the gifts unique to those around us.  The rule is to humble oneself while exalting and encouraging our fellow believer, whatever his or her state and position.  A person does not have to be a great intellect to be a great saint.  The love of Christ is not dependent on our cerebral capacity or how much we know or can know.  Wisdom transcends intelligence.  The wisest among us are not always the most glib or articulate or knowledgeable. 

There is a place in the Body of Christ for all.  Some of us are not going to reach great heights, but we are still in Christ.  We are accepted in the Beloved.  There is a basic level that anyone can reach.  Have faith in God.  It’s not hard.  It is John 3:16, whoever believes in the Son.  For some of us, that’s about as far as we can go.

However, there are those whom God is going to challenge and call to higher understanding and greater insight into the truth.  The truth goes beyond those elementary doctrines to which we all can and must adhere.  If we have the capacity, we can go on.  In The Last Battle, the call comes to go “Further up, and further in.” 

We can go to a place where we are “safe”, and we can stop.  The Lord, though, has a place for us where we are not just safe but fulfilled.  Like I was saying yesterday, that may mean we are called to let some things fall by the wayside because there isn’t room for them where we have to go.  They are OK where we are now, but they are not going to be right when we reach that new level.  So, by faith, we lay them down and leave them behind.  It may be habits or thought-patterns, sometimes a relationship.  It’s not necessarily bad in and of itself; it just can’t go where we are being called to go.

Going on to maturity means that we follow on to find our ultimate satisfaction, contentment, and joy.  As Hosea 6:3 says (KJV), Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord. 

Those elementary doctrines – they are the foundation on which we build, the Rock on which we stand.  You have to have a foundation, but you only have to lay it once.  You don’t have to go back and rebuild it every day.  You’ll never get to the roof that way. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Got To Go Through the Door

And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.  1 John 2:17

I woke early this morning, and I was praying.  That’s what I called it.  What I was really doing was worrying over balances in various monetary accounts while bringing to the Lord’s attention that I had been pretty faithful and generous lately in giving to His work.  It was as though my words were written on a screen in my head.  The word ‘I’ stood out and, though I didn’t see it, I knew there was a question mark by it. 

I’ve heard time and again that I am merely a steward.  Everything I have, the Lord has given me.  I am giving back only that which is His.  What do you give the God who has everything?  That was part of God’s response, but it went beyond that.  Who is this ‘I’?  Is it not written that ‘I’ have been crucified with Christ, that ‘I’ no longer live but it is Christ who lives in me? 

It’s not just, What have I got to give?  But WHO is doing the giving?  I’m not giving to God; God wants to give through me.  And money or whatever is the least of it.  It is being available and yielded to do His will. 

Mostly, in my case, I think it is getting my arguments, reasonings, rationalizations, and desires out of the way to clear the channel for God’s blessings to flow.  Why should I worry and stress about things when it is clear that God is the One moving and working and doing all this?  I know already from experience, some of which I know I have related, that the Lord has never put me in hole He didn’t already have a plan to get me out of.  He has put me in some tight spots.  They seemed that way to me going in.  In reality they were simply narrow doorways opening into new broader vistas. 

There is a narrow way we have to pass through.  The will of God can be an extremely strait, restrictive passage, but it is a passage to something.  It’s not a place where we will have to live.  We are going to live where this tight, constraining corridor takes us.  We’ll have plenty of room there -- until we come to the next doorway, and there will be another.  

What we learn in passing through the strait gates of God’s will is how worldly accretions have built up on us, like barnacles on a ship’s hull.  It all has to be scraped off now and then.  There are some things we have to leave behind when passing through the narrow way, and we are better for it. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Wait

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

I am waiting this morning, and I expect that, soon, I will be somewhat busy.  Meanwhile, I continue on with what has become my theme for the week.  I am sure I have read this verse dozens of times -- as many times as I have read through Isaiah 30 and pulled verses from it.  Stopping to look at it and consider it, it is, as my old friend Herb might say, a powerful verse. 

God waits.  For what?  To be gracious to us.  In an overarching sense, in light of God’s work in human history, we can understand that the prophet is looking forward to the Cross where grace it brought to all in Christ.  While God’s goodness, love, and mercy fall like rain upon all of humanity, everywhere and at all times, He waits, as well, to be gracious to each of us individually.

Why does He wait?  There is seed time, and there is harvest time.  There are seasons in our lives that are appropriate for divine intervention.  There are other times, winter seasons, when God draws away, goes out of sight and underground.  As a tree is not dead because it has lost its leaves and stands waiting for spring, so, even in our seasons of dormancy, the Lord, though silent and unseen, sustains us. 

At other times, however, the Lord waits for us.  Yesterday’s post referenced Isaiah 30:15 calling us to rest and to quietness.  So long as we are trying by our own human, fleshly efforts to achieve success, to create our own security, and initialize our own versions of happiness, God waits.  He waits for us to see the futility and the vanity in our fruitless exertions and to turn to Him in hope and faith. 

I want to say that it should always be us waiting patiently, being long-suffering as we remain in a state of serene anticipation looking for the justice and judgment, the mercy and favor and blessings of the Lord.  He should not have to wait on us to wear the old self out in toil and turmoil.  But maybe that’s one way we put the old man down – work him to death.  After all, the Lord told Adam how it was going to be:  By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground (Genesis 3:19).  It could be that the old man isn’t a bad field hand, so long as you beat him like a rented mule, keep him in his place, and don’t let him think he can run anything.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

When Popeye Met Jesus

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.  -- 1 Corinthians 15:10

This will brief, a kind of continuation or riff on yesterday’s post.  If what Paul says is true – and it is, then the error of self and the world system in general is trying to be something other than what we are by the grace of God.  We fall when we resist God’s grace.  It is as the drowning man who is so panicked that he fights his rescuer.  We can get on the train and ride, or, we can stand in front of it and try to stop it. 

We can trust God and believe that He is actively involved in and with us, or we can become bitter and resentful.  There’s a difference that the world often misses – I’ve missed it as a Christian – between resistance and resentment.  I can resist evil without becoming resentful. 

I recall a line in True Grit where Tom Chaney laments, “Everything happens to me, and now I'm shot by a child!  It is a powerful insight into the weakness in Chaney’s character.  There are many times when I have not done much better.  If we allow ourselves to always be aggrieved and offended by the troubles that come our way, we are never going to become the people God wants us to be.  We overcome not by umbrage and anger, or even excess spinach consumption,  but by faith and trust, by resting in Him.  As Isaiah 30:15 says:  For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.