RECOLLECTIONS AND REJOICING

We have seen many old buildings, most of which were in horrible disrepair due to their age, harsh weather and lack of maintenance, on our travels through the U.S.   Some are not falling down [yet], just boarded up, no longer relevant to the modern era. 

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House with a history known to some but not to the passers-by on the highway.

When I see an old barn, house, store, whatever, I think about the people who lived there many years ago.

Old barn along interstate (C)
Barn along interstate with the roof missing at one end of the building.

In South Dakota we stopped at Fort Hays, outside Rapid City, and visited some buildings that were used in the movie Dances with Wolves.

Fort Hayes, South Dakota
Fort Hays near Rapid City, South Dakota, the Tin Shop
Fort Hayes stockade
Fort Hays – Stockade

Although this was a movie set, not the “real” old buildings, it still is a reminder of that way people lived in years past.  No matter the actual age of the structure, structures from the past are fascinating to me.  The stories that they could tell about what happened there and how people lived and acted within the structure. The past holds good and bad memories, recollections of good times that are often countered by remembrances of times that were not so good, possibly even horrible!

There are times that Satan throws our sin back in our face and we can get mired in the muck of self-pity, self-doubt, loathing, etc.  In short, if we get stuck in the past by recollecting the depravity of our ways,  we cannot live the abundant life God wants us to have in the present.

God is all knowing and all powerful, eternal and loving, holy and good.  Reformed theology teaches that even before creation existed, God knew us, He saw all our actions and knew the words we would speak, both those that were intended and careless. The plan of salvation existed before creation, because God knew we would sin and need a Savior.  Because of His love, He sent His Son to be that Savior for His children. 

Paul told this truth to the Ephesians so long ago:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ, (by grace you have been saved;)”

Ephesians 2:4-5 

This certainly is not something that I can explain, it is a matter of faith.  I can, however, thank Him for the grace and mercy extended to me in the forgiveness of my sins.  The Psalmist says:

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”

Psalm 103:11-12 

Matthew Henry comments on these verses, in part, as follows:

As the heaven is high above the earth (so high that the earth is but a point to the vast expanse), so God’s mercy is above the merits of those that fear him most, so much above and beyond them that there is no proportion at all between them; the greatest performances of man’s duty cannot demand the least tokens of God’s favour as a debt, …  Observe, God’s mercy is thus great towards those that fear him, not towards those that trifle with him.  We must fear the Lord and his goodness.

As far as the east is from the west … so far has he removed our transgressions from us, so that they shall never be laid to our charge, nor rise up in judgment against us.  The sins of believers shall be remembered no more, shall not be mentioned unto them; they shall be sought for, and not found.  If we thoroughly forsake them, God will thoroughly forgive them. [Emphasis mine]

The difference between God and man is referenced by the prophet Isaiah where God is speaking and says:

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Isaiah 55:9

God’s ways and His thoughts are fundamentally different from ours.  When He forgives, He wipe the slate clean.  There is no remnant of the sin to remind Him that we deserve punishment.  Rather, He has cleaned our sin ledger with the blood of His Son and there is no longer any record of our sin before God. 

So, when you begin to focus on the sins of the past, surprise Satan and tell him to take a hike.  Turn your eyes to Jesus, the lover of your soul and the One who bought you with a price, His sinless blood.  Don’t let your past eliminate the present.  Look to Jesus and worship Him, then rejoice!

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”

Isaiah 61:10 

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.

Philippians 4:4

For the Christian, the antidote to living in the miserable part of your past is to rejoice for the glorious love of your Redeemer in the present and to think about the joy we will have when we see our Redeemer in the future and for all eternity to come.  For the one who does not believe in Jesus Christ as his/her personal Savior, there is no escape from your past until you call upon Him and claim Him as your Savior.  Do so today!

Father, Thank You for the truth of your Word and for the Holy Spirit who enables us to live a victorious life as a testimony of your marvelous, steadfast love and mercy.  Forgive us when we focus on the past, when You have already erased it from our account, when You have already credited us with Jesus righteousness because of His death and resurrection, as we have come to the cross in faith and believed on Him as our Savior.

EVERYONE BELIEVES IN SOMETHING!

An old joke told by my husband goes something like this:

After a long discussion about serious matters confronting our country and our businesses, one man asked another “What do you believe?”  The response was “I believe I’ll have another cup of coffee.”

While the humor is superficial, the real question hangs in the air like Spanish moss hangs from tree limbs – what do you believe?  Or, more pointedly, what do you believe about God?  This is the question, the only question, that is of eternal significance.  Do you believe that because you are a good person God will certainly accept you into His heaven?  Do you believe that your money and fame will be, on balance, more than your evil, selfish deeds on earth?  Do you even believe that there is a future or do you think that life on this earth is all there is?  What if you are wrong?  What then?

What you believe in is of critical import – it is a matter of eternal consequence.

One thing that is certain  is that you can trust the Holy Bible to be true.  What it says is true because it contains the Word of God, the Creator and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.  And, regarding the need for a Savior, the Bible says this:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” 

John 3:16. 

Cross
Consider the cross, a reminder of the glorious gift provided to us by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

While there are many additional concepts involved in God’s salvation for His people, the Scripture of the Holy Bible encapsulates them concisely and definitively in the John 3:16.  Christians can argue about the finer points, the details and the doctrine, but ultimately, eternal life comes down to believing in Jesus Christ, God’s Son.

But salvation does not come just from believing that Jesus existed … even the devils believed that.  Rather, Paul expresses the belief required as:

“because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Romans 10:9

In our church, we recite The Apostles’ Creed each week.  

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried.  He descended into hell.  The third day He rose again from the dead.  He ascended into Heaven and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy catholic* church, the communion of the saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.  Amen.

*Catholic means “universal”.

It is appropriate for us to remind ourselves of that which we believe because what we believe about Jesus Christ determines our ultimate destiny.  Why do we need Jesus as a Savior?  See Romans 3:23.

“For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” 

Unfortunately, we cannot save ourselves from the consequences of our rebellious sin. 

“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,”

Colossians 2:13

Paul said that we are “dead” ro God because of our trespasses and sins,  and we know that a dead person cannot do anything to bring himself back to life.  Rather, God has to intervene to raise that person from death to life in Jesus Christ.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” 

Ephesians 2:8-9

If you receive Him as your Savior through grace alone, as you believe in His atoning death on the cross and His resurrection and ascension into heaven, if you confess your sins and repent, Scripture says that you will be saved.  Your position in Heaven for eternity is guaranteed and you will be a new creation in Christ.

Think about the Apostles’ Creed and each of its elements.  Do you believe this?  Does it make a difference in your life?  Pray that you will be more aware of how your beliefs determine your actions, because they do.

Here is a song entitled “I Believe” sung by the Bar J Wranglers from their album entitled For God and Country.  I pray that you would be encouraged by its beautiful message.

 

Father, I thank You for Your grace that was extended to me by Christ’s death for me on the cross of Calvary.  I thank You for the mercy and forgiveness you granted to me and I praise Your holy name for the gift of salvation.  I pray that these words would challenge those who may not know You, and I pray that Your Holy Spirit would touch their hearts and bring them to You.

 

 

Who are you and where do you live?

People are diverse, unique, different.  Take for example, where we live.

As we were driving on our vacation this summer, we went through the City of Chicago.  The traffic going down the highways going into the city were crowded with trucks, cars, vans, busses.  Not to mention the train that ran to various parts of the city with terminals in between the highway lanes.

Transit along highway going into Chicago cropped

Then, when the highway signs were somewhat out-of-the-way, the skyline came into view!

Chicago skyline cropped

Thousands upon thousands of people live within the scope of that picture.  They live in high-rise apartment buildings which have incredible views of the city beneath and Lake Michigan along the shoreline, some of the views going almost to the Wisconsin state line!  However, some live in much less splendor, along the railroad tracks and in dilapidated buildings in the center of town.  And of course, there are shops, businesses, banks and all sorts of eateries spread throughout the city.

This kind of congestion is not for everyone, however.  One of the places we visited was Bar Nunn, Wyoming.

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The campground was rustic and the people were super friendly.  The view of the community from the campground was beautiful with its backdrop of mountain terrain.

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The first night we were there, the clouds provided a beautiful ending to a glorious day.

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In contrast to the “majesty” of Chicago, the little post office next to the campground in Bar Nunn provided a different perspective as it gave the whole community postal services, and we, as sojourners, appreciated its presence since we could purchase stamps and use the handy mailbox to send post cards to the family back home.

We all don’t live in the same type dwellings, in the same area of the country or in the same climate.  But, almost all of us are often asked the same questions, no matter where we are:  “Who are you, and where do you live?” 

Our answer frequently is to respond with the name our parents provided to us and then to give our place of permanent residence.  And these are appropriate responses as they give some fundamental information about us to the person we have just met.  From there, we can continue the conversation and a friendship might result, or we can walk away after conducting the transaction with the individual without any further personal information being exchanged.

That is not the whole answer to those questions for the Christian.

Jesus said:

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 14:1-6

Jesus clearly said that the one who believes in Him, through faith alone, will spend eternity with Him in heaven.  Indeed, belief in the Lord Jesus Christ is the only way that we can enter heaven and come to God.  In fact, Jesus also tells us to put our treasure in heaven since there the treasure is secure for all eternity, rather than having it on earth where it can be easily destroyed.  Read Matthew 6:19-20.

Paul said it this way:

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,”

Ephesians 2:19-20

In other words, the Christian has dual citizenship – we are citizens on this planet, living in the country, province or state, city or hamlet in which we reside.  But we are also citizens of heaven where we will live eternally with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, along with all our brothers and sisters who have been adopted into the family of God through faith in Christ.

So, how do we answer the question propounded above … “where do you live?”  We might want to go into an explanation of our dual citizenship, or we might just want to give our address and let our Christian walk do the rest of the talking for us.  Either way, let the Lord guide you as you witness for Him in our world.

Father, forgive me when I have been too timid to express my conviction that Jesus Christ made it possible for me to be Your child.  I cannot express my gratitude and thankfulness for such gracious mercy extended to me, an undeserving sinner who was saved by grace!  May I always be ready to tell others of Your gift of salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  Help me, I pray.

ATTRIBUTES OF GOD – MERCY

Last week we considered Justice, one of the attributes of God which is difficult to discuss because, inevitably, we know that we have sinned and that when God metes out His justice, we will be found wanting, fully deserving His punishment.

This week we are considering the attribute of Mercy.  Mercy is the flip side of Justice.

Dr. R. C. Sproul contrasts God’s justice and mercy by reference to the land of Canaan when the children of Israel were going to overrun the people and claim the land as their Promised Land from God.

Of the multitudes of women and children living in Canaan, none was innocent.  The conquest of Canaan was an explicit expression of God’s righteous judgment on a wicked nation.  He made that point clear to Israel.  He also made it clear to the people of Israel that they also were not innocent.  It was not as if God destroyed a wicked people for the sake of a righteous people.  To the Canaanites God poured out justice.  To the Jews God poured out mercy.  He was quick to remind the Jews of that in Deuteronomy 9:4. 

R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, Tyndale House Publishers, © 1998, p. 119.

The verses referenced by Dr. Sproul are instructive here:

Do not say in your heart, after the LORD your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out before you.  Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. Know, therefore, that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people.”

Deuteronomy 9:4-6

To the Canaanites God poured out justice.  To the children of Israel God poured out mercy.

This is consistent with God’s character as He revealed Himself throughout scripture.  There is no deviation.

“And [God] said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.”

Exodus 33:19

“Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”

Proverbs 28:13

Salvation cannot be earned, we cannot work to avoid the consequences of our sin.      

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Ephesians 2:8-9

Paul puts the very granting of the faith to come to Jesus seeking salvation from our sin in the hands of the grace of God.  Our works cannot obtain this salvation, so no one can boast that anything that we did accomplished it.  The grace of God gave us this gift, and that my friend is mercy. 

Mercy results in the withholding of that which is deserved so that the object of mercy is unharmed.

As we saw last week, sin, which is disobedience to God’s law, must result in punishment because God’s justice mandates such a result.  However, when God grants mercy to an individual, that judgment is withdrawn, and His mercy eradicates the infraction which otherwise deserved judgment.

“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,”

Titus 3:4-5

The result of God’s mercy is that we can come to God as our Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, His Son and our Savior.  The writer of Hebrews says this about the result of God’s mercy:

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Hebrews 4:16

We can come to God, with confidence, because He has showered us with His mercy.  Indeed, we can rejoice with Peter:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,”

1 Peter 1:3

God’s mercy is amazing.  Each person on this planet enjoys God’s mercy when He allows us to live, when He grants rain and sunshine, even though we sin and worship other gods, such as money, family, fame, fortune!  God does not destroy us instantly when we have such idols in front of our eyes, rather than focusing our attention on Him.  Instead, He has chosen to bless all people with His mercy now.  For those in His Son, Christ Jesus, we will receive His mercy both now and forever more.

Father, we are humbled and once again left without words to express our thankfulness and wonder at the gift of mercy that You have given to us.  May we walk in Your mercy and may we express Your love to others so that, by our words and actions, we may point people to Your Son, the giver of life and the sacrifice that atoned for our sin.  We are blessed beyond compare, and we praise Your holy name.

IN CELEBRATION OF THE REFORMATION – part two

In the prior post, we noted that this is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, an event that began when Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the castle church door in Wittenberg, Germany.  The debate that arose out of this action culminated in what is now called the Protestant Reformation.

One of the primary teachings of the Reformation is that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.  Good works do not constitute any basis for our right standing before God; rather, our good works are the result of and the witness to our faith in Christ.  Ephesians 2:8-10.

Justification is a legal term referencing God’s declaration that we are not guilty, that we are forgiven of our sin, and that we have righteousness  provided through Christ’s sacrifice for our sin.  2 Corinthians 5:21.

In other words, the Reformation’s clarion call is that the just shall live by faith alone, and that faith must be in Christ alone.

Once we are justified, through faith in Christ, we are to live a Christ-centered life in thankfulness for all that He has done for us and for the Holy Spirit’s presence within us.  Paul says we are new creatures when we have yielded our lives to Christ.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

2 Corinthians 5:17.

Elaborating on this statement, Paul says in Ephesians 4:22-24 that we are to:

“put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

What would this look like?   Remember the butterfly? 

USED Butterfly close up (C)
At the Butterfly Farm, Cayman Islands

After the butterfly emerges from the cocoon, it not only can fly into the heavens, it must fly to live a healthy, fulfilled life. They must migrate to other locations, ultimately returning to their place of origin.  But we are not talking going around the block; oh no, we are talking long distances!

The flight of the butterflies is the longest known distance insect migration on Earth – and it’s been occurring for thousands of years. Monarchs sense certain topographical features, avoiding both large bodies of water and tall mountains. Instead, they choose cool valley passes between mountains. 

Several migration routes in central southern Canada lead down through the central U.S. Several others start in western North America and merge with central ones. The majority of Monarchs who survive obstacles and predators manage to thread a geographical needle, hitting a 50-mile wide gap of cool river valleys between Eagle Pass, Texas, and Del Rio, Texas, and then wind their way to a dozen specific high mountain peaks in central Mexico where they roost. After resting there for several months, the same generation returns north to Texas and other parts of the southern United States, where the females lay hundreds of eggs.  …  

Of course the question automatically pops into your head – How does the butterfly know where to go when they migrate such a long distance and end the trip on a mountain top to which they have never been.  Scientists believe that they now have an answer:

[Scientists] felt confident that they could prove that it was a combination of brain signals sent from the Monarch’s complex compound eyes and antennae that allowed them to track the position of the sun and the time of day (“like an internal GPS”) to navigate during their migration.

Monarchs have specialized body parts to help it navigate and migrate long distances. They orient themselves both in longitude and latitude, a unique ability, and can travel up to a mile high.

To conserve energy, Monarchs ride along prevailing winds and catch rising thermal waves, helping them travel great distances in a single day. They hide from the rain and will die if exposed to freezing temperatures and ice storms

[Information from http://www.flightofthebutterflies.com/epic-migrations]

Notice that? The butterfly has been given specialized body part to enable it to migrate such long distances.  And, the butterfly is so strong that it can travel hundreds of miles, even going a mile high, but rain or ice will kill it.

Likewise, once we emerge from the stranglehold of sin through faith in Christ, we too have been given equipment to enable us to walk the pilgrim passageway in strength and confidence.  Read Ephesians 6 to identify all the armor available to us.  We are strong in the Lord, but we are not impervious to peril.  Sin can attack and derail our efforts.  We must persevere and keep looking to our Lord as we live in this world. 

Putting off the old sinful self is hard – it takes struggle and dedication to Christ to accomplish it, even for a moment.  But God’s grace and mercy is always sufficient for our struggle because it is His plan to renew us in the likeness of His Son, our Lord.

Praise God that 500 years ago men were ready to stand up for the Gospel so we would learn that salvation comes through faith alone, in Christ alone.

Thank you, Father, for the provision and protection of your Word and for the work of Martin Luther and other saints of the church who suffered greatly for their proclamation that justification is a matter of faith in Christ alone.  And beautiful butterfly, a daily illustration that difficulties are for a time, and that the end result is worth the struggle as we are growing in the likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

I CAN DO IT!

When our grandson was an infant, he was fascinated by light.  He would stare at a lighted lamp, in fact, you could entertain him by turning the lights on and off!  That fascination continued through his toddler age when his goal, multiple times daily, was to push the button or flip the switch to turn on the lights BY HIMSELF.

What parent has not heard the words “I can do it!”  They usually are stated in rather loud tones, often with a toss of the head as they refuse assistance even though there is little time to accomplish the task. 

I can do it myself - climbing up on bench 1      I can do it myself - climbing up on bench 2   I can do it myself - climbing up on bench 3

 After significant effort, often the child can do the task  and there is the feeling of success!

                I can do it myself - climbing up on bench 4      I can do it myself - climbing up on bench 5

Children aren’t the only ones who say this.  Adults utter these words as well, for example, consider these words in the context of following the instructions in the set up guide for some electronic gadget.  “I can do it!” 

But there are some things that I cannot do on my own.  

How often has this scenario unfolded in your life?  We see something that we believe God would have us do and we run into it, arms open (sometimes mouths open as well) but we fail, it is not successful, and we are worn out with the effort.  The problem is that we have not bathed the project in prayer.  We have not asked Him for His guidance.  We have not requested His Holy Spirit to be in control of this project. 

In short, we have not recognized that we CANNOT do it ourselves

Jesus was quite firm in this regard.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.  Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.  Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

John 15:1-5 ESV

Did you see that?  How much of eternal consequence can we do on our own?  NOTHING!  To state the obvious, the word “nothing” is the combination of two words – “NO THING”.  We can do “no thing” for Him, no thing of eternal consequence, unless we abide in Him. 

He is the One who gives us the ability; He is the One who provides the power; He is the One who gives direction for His work. 

The words “I can do it” are the death knell for any effort on our part to be productive in the Kingdom of God, especially if you mean that you can do it by yourself.  Paul noted that God could use him when he was weak, because then the power of God is made manifest.  2 Corinthians 12:9-10.  God may well use us, but it is always at His direction, through His power, and in His providence, and for His glory

More spiritually fundamental is the fact that we cannot even save ourselves from our sin.  The very act of salvation is all God’s work, not ours. Indeed, Scripture is totally clear on this point – no one can do anything to accomplish his/her salvation because we are dead in our sins.  Colossians 2:13-14.  It is foolish to think that a corpse can take any action on its own – it is dead.  So too, we cannot resolve our sin issue on our own because our sin, our intentional disobedience to God’s commands, renders us spiritually dead.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved– … For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”  

Ephesians 2:4-5, 8-9 ESV 

“But God” – words that are music to the Christian’s ears.  But God … made us alive … by grace you have been saved through faith … it is the gift of God.

Beloved, the words “I can do it” simply do not apply to the resolution of our problem with sin.  We cannot save ourselves from our sin and we cannot approach a holy God while we are still in sin.  Absent God’s Grace and Mercy, we are doomed.  “But God”, salvation is all about Faith and Providence. Our salvation is a gift and we cannot do it absent God’s grace.

And, we must be abiding in the Vine before we can do anything of eternal consequence.  

Next time you are about to run off on your own … stop and seek His guidance and His power.  You can do all things as long as you are abiding in the Vine!

Father, thank You for Your great grace and mercy in providing salvation through Jesus Christ, Your Son.  May I give You honor and thanksgiving each day as I live through the power of the Holy Spirit, and may these words be glorifying to You, My God and my Savior.

FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT, GOODNESS part two

 

FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT, Series Post No. 18

 GOODNESS – A FUNDAMENTAL CHARACTERISTIC OF GOD

PART TWO

 God’s goodness is expressed in the very first reference to God in Scripture.  In Genesis 1 we read of the creation done by God simply at the power of His words. 

 

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.  An God saw that the light was good.

 

Genesis 1:3-4.   This continued through creation and then, in verses 26-27, 31 we read: 

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.  And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’   So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. … And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.  And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.”

 

Have you ever worked hard to create something and then looked at it and saw the imperfections, the mistakes, the “oops” that no one else would see, and then say to yourself, “it’s nice” or “it’s fairly good” or “not bad for a first attempt”. 

 

That’s not what happened in Genesis 1 – God created the world and all there is in it and when the Triune God was done on the sixth day, He looked at his completed creation and said not only that each of the component parts were good, He declared that “it was VERY GOOD” and it included mankind, created in His image, for fellowship and relationship with Him.  God is Good and we were created in His image. 

 

Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind!  In the cover of your presence you hide them from the plots of men; you store them in your shelter from the strife of tongues.

Psalm 31:19-20

 

For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him.

2 Chronicles 16:9

 

  • God’s goodness is shown in His long-suffering, forbearance and slowness to anger that continues toward persons who have persisted in sinning.

 

The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness

Exodus 34:6

 

Yet he, being compassionate, atoned for their iniquity and did not destroy them; he restrained his anger often and did not stir up all his wrath. 

Psalm 78:38

 

Theologian J. I. Packer says that the supreme expression of God’s goodness is His amazing grace and inexpressible love that is evidenced by His saving sinners, who deserve only condemnation, at the tremendous cost of Christ’s death on Calvary

 

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:6-8.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Ephesians 2:8-10

 

  • God’s goodness includes His glorious kindness and generosity that touches all His creatures.

 

In his book Knowing God, J. I. Packer calls Psalm 107 the classical exposition of God’s goodness.  The psalmist begins with the call to give thanks for God’s goodness. 

Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!  Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom he has redeemed from trouble.  Vs. 1-2

 

The psalmist then identifies four problems from which God has given aid to Israel. 

  1. God redeems those who are helpless from their enemies;
  2. God delivers from “darkness and the shadow of death” – Hallelujah –notably reference in the text is even made that this was brought about because of the people’s rebellion against God and yet he delivered anyway;
  3. God provided healing for diseases that He had brought upon the people to discipline the “fools” who disregarded him; and
  4. God protected those who traveled by sea when storms arose that would have sunk their ship but He intervened and stilled the storm.

 

Looking at the psalm, each of these situations and rescues concludes with the same refrain: 

“Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man!” 

 

Psalm 107 is not the only place where we are told to sing God’s praises for His goodness in creation and the history of His people. 

 

In Psalm 136 we find verses that sing of God’s goodness with each verse ending with the refrain “for His steadfast love endures forever.”   Verse 1 begins the psalm with “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever” and the last verse commands that we “Give thanks to the God of Heaven, for his steadfast love endures forever.”

 

So we know God is Good … and we know that we are not good apart from Jesus.  So, what are we to do?

 

Jesus said in Matthew 5:16: 

“Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” 

 

We are to do works that are good so that we give glory to God.  We reflect His glory and tell of His goodness when we magnify His great name before others.  That is our purpose in goodness before men. 

 

How does this apply to my daily life?

 

So, what good works do we do?  How do we let our light shine before men?  How do we give glory to God?

 

There are multitudes of ways that we can perform good works through the Holy Spirit provided through Jesus Christ to us.  Here, however, we will be looking at 1) generosity and 2) appreciation of excellence and beauty. 

 

  • Regarding Generosity —

 

Our doing good freely should be done liberally and bountifully.  We are not to be skimpy givers, but we are to be open-hearted and open-handed.  See 2 Corinthians 9:8, 11.   In verse 6, Paul reminds the Corinthians that if they sow sparingly, they will reap sparingly; and conversely, if they sow bountifully, they will reap bountifully. 

 

We will have a desire for the good will of others.   This is an imitation of the love and grace of God and of the love of Christ which desires the good of men.  See Luke 2:14.

 

We show our willingness to do good to other simply by doing it!  Where there is power to act, the act will always follow the will.  Scripture speaks of doing good as the evidence of love.    I John 3: 18-19.  

“My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.  Hereby we know that we are of the truth.” 

 

We will seek opportunity to do good to the soul and body of others.  Our benevolence should be universal, constant, free, habitual and according to our opportunities and ability, as we follow the commands of God.  To freely do good to others is to do to them as we would have them do to us, that is the enactment of “the Golden Rule.”  To freely do good to others encourages us to remember how kind God and Christ have been to us and how much we have received from them, every moment of every day. 2 Corinthians 8:9.

 

  • Regarding appreciation of what is good, true and beautiful:

 

Dr. R. C. Sproul says “One thing that comes with the fruit of goodness is a new appreciation for what is good, true and beautiful.”

 

We have already spoken of God’s beautiful creation. In Exodus 28:2 God tells the people how to make Aaron’s garments:

 

“And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty”.

 

Note that Aaron’s garments were to reflect God’s glory and beauty!  We know the tabernacle in the wilderness and the temple in Jerusalem were pinnacles of beauty and the directions for their building did not come from designers or architects but directly from God. 

 

Another example of the appreciation of beauty as coming from the Goodness of our Creator God is the work of the composer Johan Sebastian Bach. 

 

Bach composed his music as an apologetic for the existence of God.  Pointing to the order of creation and the beauty therein, Bach wanted his music to point to the existence of God when, during the period known as the Enlightenment, people were arguing that man was the be all and end all and there was no need for God anymore.  Although born in 1685 and living only until 1750, Bach’s witness for God is far from silent in our own day!

 

 Bach himself said:

 

“Music’s only purpose should be the glory of God and the recreation of the human spirit.” 

 

Music was given to glorify God in heaven and to edify men and women on earth.  It wasn’t to make lots of money or to feed the musician’s ego or to be famous.  Music was about blessing the Lord and blessing others.

Listen to “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” as composed by J. S. Bach and as performed by the Brentwood Jazz Quartet.

 

 

But Bach’s music goes far beyond merely reflecting God’s orderly creation – it contains the message of the Gospel when used by the Holy Spirit. 

C. S. Lewis opined that the world does not need more Christian literature – it needs more Christians writing good literature or more Christians composing good works of music or of art. When we produce art that is good; art that reflects a biblical world view, its richness will endure through the ages.

 

Does your experience with the Fruit of the Spirit of Goodness give you a new appreciation for the good, true and beautiful?

 

God is Good

 

  • His goodness underlies his love, his redemptive acts and his securing of our eternal blessings.
  • His goodness is evidenced in creation, and in truth and all things beautiful.
  • May we give our best to the Lord and may we do good for Him, whether it be in acts of benevolence for others or in writing or composing … whatever we do, may it be to the Glory of God for He alone is Good and his Goodness extends to all generations.

 

Take some time this week to listen to some beautiful music or look at some beautiful scenery and let your Spirit soar as you glorify your God in meditation.  Do some good act of benevolence for someone anonymously and let the Spirit work His will in both the recipient and you, the giver. Daily, praise the Lord, for He is Good.

 

Blessings to you and I pray that you will continue to walk with me as we learn about the fruit of the Holy Spirit and as we mature in our transformation into Christian believers who speak and act as Jesus did and who share in the passions that Jesus had for the lost sheep and for the worship of His Father, the Almighty God.  

PERCEPTION/ILLUSION VS. REALITY

When we were in Oregon, there were so many beautiful places to take pictures, it was hardly possible to do the scenery justice through pictures.  There were the stark, seemingly dead places where volcanic eruptions had erased the vegetation, but even in the places where the trees had sustained incredible damage, there was beauty.

 

One such place was Lava Butte just outside Bend, Oregon where we came across this tree.

 

Bird in the Tree -- Oregon 2009 049 (C)
Tree outside Bend, Oregon at the Lava Butte.

 

The contrast between its barren limbs and the flourishing evergreens nearby made me think about the incredible strength of nature.  And then I saw a yellow bird on the tree’s limb.  I didn’t have any idea what kind of bird it was, but it appeared to be resting before going off to further exploits of this land.

 

When we got home, I looked at the pictures, again thanking the Lord for the beauty of His creation.  Trying to identify the yellow bird, I enlarged the picture above, and this is what I saw:

Bird in the Tree - 2 -- Oregon 2009 049 (C)
Was it a bird? No!

Apparently this “bird” is of the genus “Lady Taking a Picture”.

 

Perception/Illusion  versus Reality.

 

There are times when we think something is one way, when the reality is that it is quite another.   I perceived that a brightly colored bird was sitting on that branch, when the reality was that a lady in a bright shirt was standing beyond the tree taking a picture at the same time I was taking a picture of her.  My perception was certainly not reality, but it was harmless and funny.

 

But the difference between perception or illusion and reality is not always harmless or humorous.

 

We see people harming innocents and calling it justified because of their hatred.  We see people abusing others in the name of ambition.  We see the slaughter of babies that somehow becomes less offensive by calling it a “woman’s choice.”  This is our perception – but the reality is vastly different.

 O LORD, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exult?  They pour out their arrogant words; all the evildoers boast.  They crush your people, O LORD, and afflict your heritage.  They kill the widow and the sojourner, and murder the fatherless; and they say, “The LORD does not see; the God of Jacob does not perceive.”  Understand, O dullest of the people! Fools, when will you be wise?  He who planted the ear, does he not hear? He who formed the eye, does he not see?  He who disciplines the nations, does he not rebuke? He who teaches man knowledge– the LORD–knows the thoughts of man, that they are but a breath.

Psalm 94:3-11.

 

God sees –God hears – God is fully aware of what mankind is doing.  He is sovereign and in control, even when it appears that things are out of control.  He knows the thoughts of man because He created man.  The fool is the one who dismisses God as irrelevant or of no concern.

 

There are times we feel powerless against the foes that confront us.  This too is a perception that we are led to believe – but it is not the reality for the Christian.  Elisha and his servant confronted the army of the enemy and we read the following about this encounter in the book of Second Kings where it says:

When the servant of the man of God [Elisha] rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

2 Kings 6:15-17.

 

Elisha was not worried about the forces against them.  The problem was that the servant believed the perception that they were defenseless.

 

In the book of Romans, Paul talks about perception and reality when he tells the Romans that God has revealed Himself through creation but man chooses to believe the lie Satan promotes.

 

For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”   For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.  For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.   For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

Romans 1:17-25.

 

  • Don’t believe the lie that if your good outweighs your bad, you will get to heaven.   In Romans 10:3-18 Paul states that “”None is righteous, no, not one”.
  • Don’t believe the lie that all you need is to get along, love everyone and do your best.
  • Don’t believe the lie that this world is all there is, so get all you can because God wants you to be wealthy and to have all that you desire.
  • Don’t believe the lie that since God is love there will be no judgment.
  • Don’t believe the lie that hell is not real and the concept of eternal damnation is ridiculous.

 

Both the Old and New Testaments describe God’s response to sin and disobedience, and it is powerful, fierce and just!   God’s wrath is upon sinful mankind … only His mercy is stopping His hand from executing judgment on sinful man this very moment!

 

While you are not righteous, and while you cannot wash your sin away, Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection has paid the sinner’s debt and that freedom from sin is available through God’s grace.  Paul says:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Ephesians 2:8-9.

 

Perception/illusion versus Reality.  In that battle, reality wins every time and Reality has a name – the omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent triune God!

 

Father, forgive me when I have believed Satan’s lies that You do not care, or that You have no plan for me,  or that You do not love me.  Enable me to see the protection that You place around me, and grant me the grace to reach outside my comfort zone so I can extend your love and compassion to others, through your Spirit and in the power of the name of Jesus Christ.

How firm a foundation …!

Reverend Franklin Graham stated, in an article for the National Day of Prayer,

“I believe our nation is in trouble today, probably more than I’ve seen in my lifetime. We are contending with issues that are causing the very foundation of our country to crumble. Our moral and spiritual roots are eroding, the economy is misleading, family life is disintegrating, and political forces are at unprecedented odds. There seem to be very few leaders who will take a stand for God and for His Word.”  http://www.nationaldayofprayer.org/how_to_pray_for_america

 

Foundations are important. Without a firm foundation, the whole structure falls, whether it is a building, home, career, church or country.

 

Most of us have experienced the lack of a foundation. The easiest to recall may be the first time you went to the beach and have stood, ankle deep, in the ocean. As wave upon wave rolled through your legs and over your feet and ankles, you can feel the sand shift under you. Soon, if you stood there long enough, you will be knee deep in sand because the water has “rearranged” the “ground” upon which you based your stance, and there was nothing secure underneath you.

 

Ocean - standing
Boy standing in ocean as waves move the sand under his feet.

 

In what is known as the “Sermon on the Mount”, Jesus Christ talks about the need for a foundation as he spoke to his disciples and the people gathered around him. In Matthew 7:24-27 [NIV] he provided the following parable where He particularly was speaking about those who hear his words but do not intend to follow His teaching:

 

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.

 

Clearly, Jesus’ parable has a multitude of lessons encapsulated in these four verses. But the focus here is on “foundation”. What is the foundation that the wise man used for his house? What foundation is secure so that the house did not collapse even during difficult times?

 

Scripture states that this Rock is Jesus Christ Himself. In Isaiah 28:16, the writer states that there is a rock provided for us to build this house upon, and that rock is Christ. He is laid for a foundation, and other foundation can no man lay. The church is built upon this Rock, and every believer is secure on this Foundation.  I Corinthians 3:11; Ephesians 2:20.

 

foundation
Rocks forming the foundation of the porch at cabin in Cades Cove, Tennessee.

 

The foolish builders in Jesus’ parable based their hope upon anything but Christ, and you can rest assured that such unsecured foundation will certainly fail them on a stormy day. This picture of rocks as a foundation for the front porch was taken at the Oliver Cabin in Cades Cove, Tennessee.  While the porch has been sturdy with this “rocky” foundation for a very long time, such foundation for your life will yield no true comfort and satisfaction for times of trouble in this life or at the time of death and future judgment. (There is more information about Cades Cove in the Smoky Mountains National Park that can be found at the Parks’ website, at http://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/cadescove.htm.)

 

This dilemma was described eloquently in Job 27:8 [KJV]:

For what is the hope of the hypocrite, though he may gain [much], if God takes away his life?

 

Job continues to compare the foolish builder’s hope with the spider’s web.

Such is the destiny of all who forget God; so perishes the hope of the godless. What they trust in is fragile; what they rely on is a spider’s web. They lean on the web, but it gives way; they cling to it but it does not hold.

Job 8:14-15. [NIV]

 

Clearly, having the right foundation is of paramount import. Indeed, it has eternal consequences.

 

The Psalmist says:

Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!

Psalm 33:12 [ESV]

 

The writer of Psalms 11 then asks this question:

When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?”

Psalms 11:3 [ESV]

 

The answer, Beloved, is to pray … to look to the Lord who is the only foundation that will stand, no matter what happens. When things look bleak, Scripture tells us that God is not hindered by the leaders of men, see Proverbs 21:1 [ESV]:

 

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.

 

Even the king, who is the most powerful person in the kingdom, is subject to the sovereign will of Almighty God, whether he recognizes it or not! The Lord turns the king’s heart however He desires.

 

Are you going through difficulties now? Have you in the past? In the unlikely event that the answers to these two questions are “no”, in all likelihood you will have difficulties in the future. But you do not have to be terrified or dismayed.

 

Are you concerned about our country and the course it seems to be traveling?  Pray.

 

Read the Word and pray that the country will return to the foundation upon which it was founded. Pray that God will be allowed to return to the school, the governmental body, the court. Pray that God will shower His grace upon our country and that we would repent of our arrogance and insistence that we would ignore His Word and His Son.

 

God rescued Israel when they prayed to him and repented of their sin … let us do so now and pray that He will not depart from our land.

 

Beloved, pray and then trust Him and praise His Name even when things are hard … the Lord will be blessed and you will be glorifying Him in all things.

 

                                                

Father, I know that You are sovereign and that no leader rises to power but for You allowing him/her to do so. I know Scripture says that You can turn the leaders’ hearts because they are like a stream of water in your Hand. Lord I pray for our country, for our leaders and for our people. Prick our hearts that we would turn to You and not trust in our own power. You gave us this land; may we be stewards of it as we rely on You to guide our course.