Wednesday, October 30, 2013

"When All Around My Soul Gives 'Way..."

"Though the fig tree should not blossom And there be no fruit on the vines, Though  the yield of the olive should fail And the fields produce no food, Though the flock should be cut off from the fold And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
The Lord GOD is my strength, And He has made my feet like hinds' feet, And makes me walk on my high places," (Habakkuk 3:17--19).

The more extreme our circumstances, the more we need passages such as this.  For one whose livelihood and sustenance depended upon the land, verse 17 describes the direst of situations.  Crops and cattle were the mainstays, the non-negotiables, in much of Israel's life and culture.  If the supply of either, or both, failed to produce, the already-strapped farmer would be intolerably impoverished.
A similar situation in America was the dust bowl days of The Great Depression era... not only was the economy horrific, then the weather seemed to side with the financial onslaught to further decimate the country.  As in Habakkuk's day, small farms seemed hardest hit.  Thousands throughout Oklahoma and surrounding states gave it up, left land worked for a lifetime, and went West in hopes of starting over in a better place.
During such times, perspective is utterly crucial.  People can do without many things...but hope isn't one of them.  AND, hope is only as valid as the object upon which it is placed.  Habakkuk determined that his hope would be placed in the LORD God of heaven and earth.  Note how he declares it:  "I will exult..." and "I will rejoice..."  These are expressions of the will, regardless of feelings.  Emotions are not to be trusted in such times of adverse circumstances, for our hearts are fickle, to say the least (Jeremiah 17:9).  
So... overwhelmed by situations, tempted to give in to the urge to fear, what are we to do?  Like Habakkuk, we are to focus on the LORD God as our strength (v. 19).  Only His invigorating power can encourage our hearts, when all else fails.  May we prepare now for such times to come!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Daily Returning to Our First Love, Eagerly!

"In the morning, O LORD, You will hear my voice;  In the morning I will order my prayer to You and eagerly watch," (Psalm 5:3).

For David, prayer was not a ritual.  It was a breathed-out passion... a heart-driven delight.  He eagerly watched... from enjoyment, not drudgery.  His eagerness stemmed from confidence that God would meet with him, and would communicate with him.  Do we have the same eagerness...the same confidence..?  

Why the morning...?  To keep a schedule?  To check off requests in a notebook?  Because it was the earliest he could seek fellowship with his heart's Love. Because the night hours are often fraught with fears, unbidden dreams, and spiritual disturbances.  The morning meeting with the living God restored David's perspective, calmed his spirit, cleansed his conscience.  In the simple silence and solitude he became, indeed, a man after God's own heart.  
So for us, as well.  As we are meditating upon the memorized Word, the Holy Spirit takes our thoughts from ourselves, shifts them to where they belong-- upon the One Who deserves our every thought and eager focus.  Having our undivided attention, God reveals both Himself and His truth.  He speaks peace to our inner storms, assurance to our frettings, and courage to face the unseen day.  

"O Father, deepen our desire for You..., to meet with You, daily, and to become people after Your own heart.  In Your Son's Name...Amen."

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Challenge that is Prayer

"Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find;  knock, and it shall be opened to you.  For, everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks it shall be opened.  Or what man is there among you, when his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone?"  Or if he shall ask for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he?  If you, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!"    --- Matthew 7:7--11

"These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life.  And this is the confidence that we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.  And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him."   I John 5:13, 14

How gracious of the Father's Spirit to inspire the writers of Scripture in making such amazing prayer promises! And, in the light of such promises (and many more than these), is it not troubling that many believers consider their prayer life their most difficult challenge of the Christian walk...?

At least three aspects of prayer are worth pondering, in order to pinpoint possible pitfalls to an enriching prayer life.  Attention needs to be paid to: (1) Expectations; (2) Timing; and (3) Who God is.  

(1)  Expectations.  "Open your mouth wide and I will fill it."  "Ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done."  Some believers read such statements (out of context, without comparing them with passages such as I John 5:13, 14) and assume God is obligated to answer every request with a resounding "Yes."  Such assumptions lead to disappointment, disillusionment, and certainly dismay.  As a result, many question God's goodness, as well as His willingness to answer our requests... leading some to impugn His character, while others quietly give in to the assumption that God won't answer anyway, so why try?  Thus, their prayer lives become a drudge or non-existent.  This suits Satan's purposes perfectly, since he knows better than we the power that God wields in response to His people's prayer.  

(2)  Timing.  Persevering is not one of our favorite indoor sports.  "Keeping-on-keeping-on" doesn't please our flesh (as do quick and obvious answers we often see on televised church services)... much of our tendency to give up in praying stems from:  (a) misunderstanding prayer's purposes; (b) underestimating our enemies' opposition; (c) forgetting the faithfulness of God.  

First, the primary purpose of prayer is to know and glorify God.  Learning Him, loving Him, longing for His will and way... these are at the heart of theocentric (God-centered) prayer.  Our asking, seeking, knocking are commanded out-workings of the basic love relationship that is already established in yearning for Him, simply for Who He is.  If the roots of knowing Him are sunk deeply into our soul's soil, then trusting Him, regardless, will produce lasting fruit of making Him known to others (Psalm 9:10).    
Secondly, we tend to think that prayer should be easy.  Prayer promises are presented in many pulpits as spiritual MasterCards, by which we get what we want, how we want it, delivered promptly to our doorstep.  What is often overlooked are the three implacable foes who oppose all godly endeavors: the devil, the world system, and our flesh.  The two "outer" enemies have an "inside" man, through whom they wield much persuasive power.  Only as we walk by the Spirit have we hope to defeat these ever-present enemies who hate our soul.  And they especially hate prayer, knowing better than we the spiritual forces moved by it (Daniel 10).  In our own strength we fail continually (John 15:5c)... tending to give out, give in, and give up.  
Thirdly, when we stop praying, we've lost sight of the faithfulness of the living God.  This is why self-sermons are so critical... to rehearse the truth to ourselves, recalling the times He has unmistakably answered in the past, meditating on the truth that He never changes, and so encourage ourselves that He will answer yet.  

(3)  Who God is.  His character is at the absolute heart of prayer.  Musing upon His attributes, slowly, praising deliberately, lovingly, adoringly the sovereign LORD of the universe... this is what He loves, and what He blesses.  In so doing, our spirit is softened (countering the hardening effect of sin's deceitfulness [Hebrews 13:3c]), our sensitivity to His Spirit is heightened, and our willingness to obey His instructions is deepened.  And obedience bears the fruit of Christ-likeness. Being usable, He uses us.  He is glorified, and we develop ever-increasing yieldedness.  Best of all?  He is pleased (II Corinthians 5:9)... our life's purpose fulfilled.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Dying a Glorifying Death

"Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His godly ones," (Psalm 116:15).

"For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's," (Romans 14:7,8).

"For, to me to live is Christ and to die is gain," (Philippians 1:21)

"We may glorify God in death by being ready for it when it comes... by patiently enduring its pains... by testifying to others of the comfort and support which we find in the grace of Christ" (Bishop Ryle)

For one who has been authentically changed by the Lord Jesus, genuinely regenerated by the Holy Spirit of God, living for Christ for the rest of his days is an ongoing determination.  And to consistently live as light and salt for the time on this earth that the Lord shall ordain, is to walk in a manner worthy of His calling.  

Still, there is not only living well... there is also dying well.  Taking God seriously involves not only yearning for a life well-lived, but a death in which He is glorified, too.  J.C. Ryle's points are well taken:

(a) "being ready for it when it comes..." 

Peter admonished believers, " all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you..." (II Peter 1:10).  Readiness for death is strongly connected with assurance of salvation.  A settled conviction of one's eternal security, evidenced by the Holy Spirit's witness (Romans 8:16), the accepting & appraising the things of the Spirit (I Corinthians 2:14), manifesting His fruit (Galatians 5:22, 23), [particularly self-control (v. 24)], as well as ongoing vitality from the Word (Luke 8:15), are crucial for dealing with death's dread.  

Also foundational is unshakable submission to God's supreme sovereignty. The longer we linger in meditating upon our Father as omnipotent Monarch of the universe, deepening our submission to His reign and will, the less death will cause dismay.  Recently, a Dad whose family is well-taught in the doctrine of God's sovereignty, told me that when his son's truck hit a slick spot earlier that same day, causing it to overturn 2 1/2 times, his son said to him later, "I just thought, 'This is it.  This is it.'," with a calm that came from having already submitted to whatever the Lord would bring into his life...even death. His life was give testimony to the Lord's sustaining grace.  

(b) "patiently enduring its pains"  

The world is given to complaining, stemming from pride.  "How could this happen to me?" "What'd I do to deserve this?"  The assumption is: I'm too good a person for this to happen! 
For the Christian, however, submission to the Lord Jesus' sovereignty produces needed humility for not only accepting adversity, but actually thanking Him for allowing it in his/her life.  Pained by a messenger of Satan to torment him, the apostle Paul implored the Lord three times for its removal. Protracted pain is an especially difficult burden to bear. Instead, he was told, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness," (II Corinthians 12:9). Upon receiving this refusal, Paul said, "...I am well content.." (v.10). Contentment characterizes a heart at rest with the Lord's providential provision.  For such a one it matters not what He gives or withholds... He is enough.  
Such patient enduring of pain prior to death shows forth from a life previously lived in like manner.  May we practice the commands of I Thessalonians 5:16-18: "Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks..." in preparation for daily strengthening as well as for death's approaching hour.

(c) "testifying to others of the comfort and support which we find in the grace of Christ" 

"Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, For His lovingkindness is everlasting.  Let the redeemed of the LORD say so," (Psalm 107:1,2a).  

The goodness of God is a constant source of consternation for this world of cynicism and unbelief.  It is seen as naive nonsense to refuse to question, (and complain against) the character of God, if He even exists.  Thus, the dread of death is the ultimate fear, causing lost folk to hope against hope that all will be well on the other side of the grave.  To die distinctively, then, is to not only endure well, but to verbally attribute the comfort and support we experience to our gracious Savior and Lord.  In that monumentally-important hour, may we be like "the good man, (who) out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good," (Luke 6:45)...breathing out our last in tribute to the One who breathed out His last for us.  

"Oh Father, be pleased to prepare our hearts now for that time when we come into Your eternal presence forever.  Counter the spirit of fear that permeates this world with contemplations of the next.  Cause us to dwell often in our hearts upon the Lord Jesus' precious promise: "In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you, for I go to prepare a place for you.  If I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also."  To Your glory, Father, to Your glory may our deaths be, as well as our lives.  In the Lord Jesus' Name, Amen."


Monday, October 14, 2013

John 6:38--40

"For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.  This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.  For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day."

v. 38  For the Lord Jesus, the will of His Father was supreme.  He said that He "must be about His Father's business" when only a lad, an expressed awareness of His Sonship and mission.   During in His ministry He said, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work."  Uppermost in His priority system was the desiring, delighting in, and doing of the will of the One who sent Him.  Everything He thought, said, left unsaid, and did were in perfect submission to the Father's will.  In the last days of His time on the earth, He prayed, "I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do," (John 17:4).  Only God personified could have done such a thing.

v.39  A second aspect of His being sent by the Father related to those whom the Father had given Him for salvation.  Such salvation was "according to His own purpose and grace...granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity," (II Timothy 1:9).  Therefore, this transaction did not occur in time (as some have taught), but before there was time, in the triune counsel of the Godhead.  The Father marked out (the essence of the term "elect") and set His heart upon ("predestined") those whom He sovereignly determined to save.  These He gave to the Son, Who would come to earth for the purpose of giving eternal life to this multitude (John 17:3).  How?  By taking their place on the cross, enduring the Father's judgment against sin, shedding His atoning blood (Lev. 17:11) that they would then receive no condemnation (Romans 8:1).  

v. 40  In so doing, the Lord Jesus utterly insured the salvation (eternal life) of all whom the Father had given Him in eternity past.  The proof of His deity, the assurance that His promises are all true, and the validation of all His claims were epitomized in His rising from the dead.  And, as Paul asserts clearly in the 15th chapter of I Corinthians, the Lord Jesus' resurrection is the guarantee of the raising of the ones given Him by the Father.  Comforting, too, that this raising of the elect is not to be assigned to an angel, or accomplished by some other celestial being, but the Lord Jesus Himself will raise His own on the last day!  And thus, we shall always be with the Lord, praise to His gracious Name!  

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Salvation is God's sovereign work.  As J.B. Moody put it, "God does not save a man because he is a sinner, for if so He must save all men, for all are sinners.  Nor because he comes to Christ, for no man can come except the Father draw him; nor because he repents, for God gives repentance unto life; nor because he believes, for no one can believe except it were given him from above;  nor yet because he holds out faithful to the end, for we are kept by the power of God.  It is not because of baptism, for many are saved without it, and many are lost with it.  It is not because of regeneration, for that would make the new birth a practical duty.  It is not because of morality, for the moralist is the hardest to reach, and many of the most immoral are saved-- the ground of distinguishing grace is the Sovereignty of God:  Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight."