Friday, February 10, 2017

Ephesians 5:20

"giving thanks for all things"

A popular teaching related to gratitude is that Christians are to give thanks in all things, but not for all things.  This distinction seems to be an attempt to "get God off the hook," lest He get blamed for all that is terrible in the world.

In this verse, the Holy Spirit inspired the apostle Paul to move beyond in all things, to for all things.  In so doing He bids us also widen the scope of our gratitude to be all-inclusive.  Admittedly, the implications can be daunting, particularly when it comes to giving thanks for the horrific, the tragic, and the evil that permeates the world system. 

How are we to obey this biblical admonition?

First, we must completely embrace the truth that God is sovereign.  For some believers, this is almost painful to acknowledge.  Although it is affirmed and assumed throughout Scripture (Psalm 103:19; Dan. 4:35; Isaiah 43:13; Job 42:1, 6;  Acts 13:48; Rom. 9:15, 16;  Eph. 1:5; among many others), many struggle with this attribute of the living God.

Other Christians will acknowledge that His sovereignty is Scriptural, and thereby accept it as true, but do so reluctantly.  "I know He is sovereign, but..."  Then come qualifiers such as, "He has chosen to limit Himself," or "He is a Gentleman, and will not violate our free will."  Such sentiments reflect a distrust of His character, impugn His Name as infinite goodness, and imply an arrogance by which we the creature deign to judge the Creator. 

To move beyond these man-centered expressions of fear, doubt, and unbelief, and come to fully embrace the Bible's unashamed declaration that God is GOD, is to submissively rejoice that the supreme Sovereign of the universe controls all things, seen and unseen.  This is the foundation for gratitude without boundaries.

Secondly, as a corollary to the first, we must continually recall that God is omniscient.  Isaiah records God's words:  "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways," declares the LORD.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts,"  (55:8, 9). 

The writer of Hebrews put it this way:  "And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do,"  (4:13).   There is absolutely  nothing, then, that catches God by surprise.  Nothing could possibly happen, however seemingly trivial, that escapes His notice.  However forgotten we may feel, however abandoned we seem to be, the Lord's absolute awareness can fortify our prayer of gratitude.

A third attribute of the God we are to take seriously relates to His character:  He is good.  In the face of so much evil in the world, especially in situations of senseless tragedy and injustice, the world shakes its fist toward heaven and asserts that either there is no God, or He is certainly not a good one. 

The Christian is not immune to such feelings of doubting His goodness, but must take Scripture as the truth, rather than emotions.  David declares in Psalm 25:8, "Good and upright is the LORD;"  and in Psalm 100:5, the psalmist states, "For the LORD is good;  His lovingkindness is everlasting And His faithfulness to all generations."  Nahum 1:7 adds, "The LORD is good, A stronghold in the day of trouble, And He knows those who take refuge in Him."   

What then?  To live a life of ongoing gratitude, one that brings glory to the true and living God, we continually submit to His sovereign rule and reign, assured that He knows, confident that He cares. 

















Friday, April 1, 2016

II Corinthians 5:7

"We walk by faith, not by sight."

From the moment of salvation, when the believer's spirit is brought to life, there is immediately produced a transformation of perspective.  Simply put, the Christian has a different world view than the lost person.  A facet of the gift of salvation in Christ is the ability to apprehend the spiritual implications of  circumstance and situations of life. 

The god of this world has blinded the spiritual discernment of the unsaved, clouding them in spiritual darkness, producing lives lived in idolatry and demon worship.  Without spiritual comprehension provided by the Holy Spirit through His blessed Word, the unchanged individual assumes that his five senses are all that's available or needed to live life.  Paul affirms, "a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised."  (I Cor. 2:14) 

In stark contrast, the regenerated person has the omniscient Spirit of the living God residing within, speaking comfort, conviction, peace and guidance to his spirit.  His presence adds a dimension of discernment that the unsaved do not have.  The believer, then, is able to see "behind the scenes" of life's situations, detecting the ongoing schemes and strategies of the evil one and his minions.

The blessed Holy Spirit's tools for teaching this life of faith and discernment are the Bible and prayer.  That Christian is most faithful and discerning whose mind is saturated with Scripture, and whose prayerful fellowship with the Father is least interrupted. 

These truths are not new, nor unknown, yet how many believers take God seriously enough to hide His Word in their heart, who consistently put on the armor provided by our loving Lord (Ephesians 6:10 ff.), and pray without ceasing?  The state of the church in our day speaks volumes in answer.  May He grant grace to His remnant to walk by deeper and deeper faith in these trying times!



Thursday, March 24, 2016

Psalm 42:5

"Why are you in despair, O my soul? 
And why have you become disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence.

The psalmist is talking to himself, admonishing his own soul to change perspective.  For he had the same decision each of us has:  stare at circumstances, or gaze at God.  The one leads to ongoing disappoint, while the other produces promised peace (Isaiah 26:3). 

This peace leads to assured confidence of hope.  Unlike the "hope" of common conversations ("I hope the game won't be rained out"; "With so many people attending, I hope we can find a parking place"), biblical hope is grounded in the immutable character of the living God. 

Thus, Scriptural hope transcends disappointments, disturbances, and situational despair.  With our hearts fixed on the sovereign Lord of every aspect of our lives, we can choose to praise Him for the help of His presence!

NOTE:  May we follow the example of the psalmist, and encourage ourselves in the faith through admonitions and reminders of God's unchanging goodness.  Someone has well said, "The most important sermon you will ever hear is the one you preach to yourself." 

Friday, March 11, 2016

ELECTION

HOLY TRINITY,
All praise to Thee for electing me to salvation,
         by foreknowledge of God the Father,
         through sanctification of the Spirit,
         unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus;
I adore the wonders of Thy condescending love,
   marvel at the true believer's high privilege
                               within whom all heaven comes to dwell,
                                abiding in God and God in him;
I believe it, help me experience it to the full.
Continue to teach me that Christ's righteousness
      satisfies justice and evidences Thy love;
Help me to make use of it by faith as the ground of my peace
      and of Thy favor and acceptance,
      so that I may live always near the cross.
It is not feeling the Spirit that proves my saved state;
      but the truth of what Christ did perfectly for me;
All holiness in Him is by faith made mine,
      as if I had done it;
Therefore I see the use of His righteousness,
      for satisfaction to divine justice and making me righteous.
It is not inner sensation that makes Christ's death mine
      for that may be delusion, being without the Word,
      but His death apprehended by faith,
      and so testified by Word and Spirit.
I bless Thee for these live exercises of faith,
     for the righteousness that is mine in Jesus,
     for grace to resign my will to Thee;
I rejoice to think that all things are at Thy disposal,
     and I love to leave them there.
Then prayer turns wholly to praise,
     and all I can do is to adore and love Thee.
I want not the favor of man to lean upon,
     for I know that Thy electing grace is infinitely better.


             -- The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Praise His Name, He Never Changes

"I, the LORD, do not change."  (Malachi 3:6)

The faith by which we are to walk is grounded in the character of the One who changed us.  Our faith rests primarily in the truth that He never changes.  His immutability is the bedrock upon which our confidence and assurance of salvation are built. 
 
His constancy is the over-arching attribute which encompasses them all.  For, could we depend in faith upon a god whose character vacillates? What would become of all His promises, His declarations and determinations if He could change at any moment?  How could we live in joyful, confident expectation if the god we served might keep His word? 

Yet, there are multiplied millions of professing (and genuine, as well) believers who assert and teach that it is possible to lose one's salvation.  It is contended that the Christian can commit sin so heinous as to forfeit the salvation he once experienced and enjoyed. 
The implications of such a position are staggering:  (a) the character of the immutable God is impugned, casting doubt upon His precious and magnificent promises related to eternal security; (b) the atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ is maligned, considered insufficient to completely cover the believer's sins for eternity; (d) the ministry of the blessed Holy Spirit is demeaned, implying that His sealing, sanctifying, and securing work can, at the last, be overcome by sin. 
(e) Such a perspective also shifts the basis for salvation from grace to works(!)  The question immediately comes:  How many good works are necessary to keep one saved, if, indeed, salvation can be lost? 
No, salvation is from the LORD (Jonah 2:9), first to last, and He CANNOT be thwarted. 
The one whom the Father sets His heart upon from all eternity in election, whose sin is atoned for by the Son, and regenerated by the Holy Spirit will persevere in the faith to the end of his days. 






  

Friday, July 31, 2015

Pray On!

Charles Haddon Spurgeon wrote:
"Never give up praying, even when Satan suggests that prayer is in vain.  Pray in his teeth!  "Pray without ceasing," (I Thess. 5:17).  If the heavens are brass and your prayer only echoes above your head, pray on! 
If month after month your prayer appears to have miscarried, if you have had no answer, continue to draw close to the Lord. 
Do not abandon the mercy seat for any reason.  If it is a good thing that you have been asking for, and if you are sure it is according to the divine will, wait, tarry, pray, weep, plead, wrestle, and agonize until you get what you are praying for.

If your heart is cold, do not wait until your heart warms.  Pray your soul into heat with the help of the ever-blessed Holy Spirit, who helps our weakness, who intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words (Rom. 8:26).

Never cease prayer for any reason.  If the philosopher tells you that every event is fixed and that prayer cannot possibly change anything, go on praying. 
If you cannot reply to every difficulty that man suggests, resolve to be obedient to the divine will.
"Pray without ceasing."  Never, never, never renounce the habit of prayer or your confidence in its power."

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Psalm 116:15

"Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His godly ones."

Scotland in the late 1600's was a place of intense persecution for those who stayed true to the truth that the Lord Jesus is the Head of His church, regardless of the claims of an earthly king on his throne. 

Jock Purves, in his excellent work, "Fair Sunshine" chronicles the stories of 13 Covenanters, believers who overcame the enemy by "the blood of the Lamb, and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even to death," (Rev. 12:11).  The following is the account of one of the godly ones whose death was precious in the sight of the Lord.

"John Brown was the very close friend of both Richard Cameron, the Lion of the Covenant, and Alexander Peden, 'Puir Auld Sandy', the Prophet of the Covenant.  When Brown fell, Peden referred to him as 'a clear shining light, the greatest Christian I ever conversed with.'  In 1682, he had performed the marriage ceremony of Brown to Isabel Weir, and after the simple Puritan ceremony had said to Isabel, 'Ye have a good man to be your husband, but ye will not enjoy him long; prize his company, and keep linen by you to be his winding sheet, for ye will need it when ye are not looking for it, and it will be a bloody one.'  A Covenanting wedding!  The Covenanter's deepest joys ever carried the shadow of the Cross.

John Brown of Priesthill was poor.  Till the day he died he never owned much more than twenty sheep and a cow.  His small crofting cottage is now no more.  On every side stretch miles upon miles of melancholy moorlands with the heather creeping lovingly around his memorial stone. 

By all accounts he was rarely gifted, and carried a brilliant intellect yielded to Christ.  He had his own rustic school of theology, and his classes were attended by youths from miles around.  Three of these class members sealed their testimonies with their blood, and their leader had oftentimes to flee.  An impediment in his speech had made him give up the thought of being a Covenanting minister, but here was his own Bible School where he taught youth to resist unto blood, striving against sin.  In the summer time they held their classes in the sheepfold, and in the winter they sat around the peat fire in the kitchen.  We rightly look upon John Brown of Priesthill as being one of our first founders of Bible Classes and Sunday Schools.
 
The year 1685 was a terrible year in a terrible era.  The Killing Time reeked reddest then.  Long is the roll of the names of the martyrs - the lashed to the hooks, the burned by the match, the redhot iron branded, the starved to death, the bone mangled and crushed, the earclipped, the banished, the wounded and torn by bullet and knife. 

Claverhouse, chief tool of the king's plan to eradicate the Covenanters, led three troops of horse to Priesthill in May of that year, ransacking Brown's cottage and finding so-called treasonable papers.  Brown was questioned.  His stammering disappeared, and he answered every question so solidly and distinctly that Claverhouse asked his base guides if ever they had heard him preach.  'No, no,' they said, 'he was never a preacher.'
'Well,' said he, 'if he has never preached, much has he prayed in his time.  Go to your prayers,' he shouted, 'for you shall immediately die.'  The peasant went to his knees and began to pray, but three times Claverhouse interrupted him, and then completely stopped him as John Brown interceded, asking God to spare a remnant. 
'I gave you leave to pray,' he bawled, 'and you begin to preach!'  The Covenanter turned on his knees, 'Sir,' he said, 'you know neither the nature of preaching nor praying that calls this preaching,' and, looking to God, finished his last prayer. 

Isabel Brown was standing by with her child in her arms, and another child of John Brown's first wife by her side.  He came to her saying, 'Now, Isabel, the day is come that I told you would come when I spoke to you first of marrying me.'  She said, 'Indeed, John, I can willingly part with you.'  'That is all I desire,' he replied.  'I have no more to do but to die.  I have been in happy case to meet with death for many years.'  He kissed her and his children, saying that he wished Blood-bought and gospel-promised blessings to be multiplied upon them, and Claverhouse roughly broke in, ordering six dragoons to shoot him.

As he stood before them, their hearts were moved;  they lowered their muskets and refused to fire.  But the killer of many unbelted his pistol, and hastily walking up to John Brown, placed it to his head, and blew his brains out, scattering them upon the ground. 
Looking at his ghastly work with a sardonic smile, he turned to Isabel saying, 'What do you think of your fine husband now?', and through her sad tears she bravely answered, 'I ever thought much good of him, and more than ever now.'

'It were but justice to lay you beside him,' he returned.  Said she, 'If you were permitted, I doubt not but your cruelty would go to that length.  But then, how will ye answer to God for this morning's work?' 
Arrogantly, he blustered, 'To man I can be answerable.  And as for God, I shall take Him into my own hand!'  He then mounted his horse and haughtily rode off at the head of his troops.  He later confessed that if he gave himself liberty to think of it, he could never forget John Brown's prayer.

Isabel Brown set her child upon the ground, gathered up her husband's brains, tied up his head, straightened his body, and covering it with a plaid, sat down and wept.  Thus was she found by widow Jean Brown, whose own husband and two sons had been slain in the same great cause. 

Thus it was that Isabel offered up the priceless jewel of her life, John Brown her husband.  He went swiftly to company he had often longed for, where he would be much at home.  She lived on in brave, godly, covenanting widowhood, bringing up her children, succouring the godly, and comforting the mourner with the comfort with which she herself was comforted by God."