Tuesday's slice of bread

A weekly post premised on this: Whoever gives thought to the word will discover good, and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord (Prov. 16:20)

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Location: Florence, Kentucky, United States

married to my best friend, writer, teacher, avid reader, occasional poet, volunteer

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Sanctification and Kindness

First John 1:5-10: "This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is no in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanses us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us."

What do you walk in? What do you count on as regards being cleansed from sin, or do you claim to have no sin?

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

Confession is the beginning, but not the end, of our salvation; for the confession of sin and cleansing need to be part of the sanctification process. And there is so much to learn.

Last week I posted the first five verses of Psalm 32; here are the rest of the psalm's verses:

"I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you. Do not be as the horse or as the mule which have no understanding, whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check, otherwise they will not come near to you.
Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but he who trusts in the LORD, lovingkindness shall surround him. Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you righteous ones; and shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart" (Psalm 32:6-11).

In this psalm, then, God promises to instruct us and teach us in the way we ought to go, and He will. But that's not all.

We need, also, the certainty promised in 1 John 5:13: "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life."

We recognize, as Paul wrote to the Ephesians, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing. It is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9).

We receive comfort. Jeremiah wrote, "The LORD appeared to him from far away, 'I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you'" (Jeremiah 31:3).

We receive more comfort. John wrote, "In  the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:1, 14).

We grow. Paul wrote, "Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving" (Colossians 2:6-7).

We grow. Peter wrote, "So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up into salvation--if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good" (1 Peter 2:1-3). A hunger and thirst for righteousness should drive us all to on-going intake of the Word.

We do good works, not to become saved, but in response to the saving work of Christ.

Paul wrote about this in several of his letters.

"And God is able to make all grace abound to you so that having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed" (2 Corinthians 9:8).

"For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10).

"Looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds" (Titus 2:13-14).

"This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds" (Titus 3:8).

"Our people must also learn to engage in good deeds to meet pressing needs, so that they will not be unfruitful" (Titus 3:14).

How do we display fruitfulness?

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law" (Galatians 5:22-23).

What do Christians have to look forward to?

"You will make known to me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forevermore" (Psalm 16:11).

"Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever" (Psalm 23:6).

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Justice and Kindness

Micah 6 has a startling passage: "With what shall I come to the LORD and bow myself before the God on high? Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, with yearling calves? Does the LORD take delight in thousands of rams, in ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, the fruit of my body for the sins of my soul? He has told you, O man, what is good, and what does the  LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:6-8; italics added).

We think perhaps to buy off God with offerings contemporaneous to these days. We may not bring burnt offerings, animals, oil, children, but what do we offer for our rebellious acts and for the sins of our souls?

When we are told what we are to do is justice, what we are to love is kindness, and what we are to do is walk humbly with out God, we are asked to do what is not in our nature to do.

We want justice leveled on our enemies, not kindness. And walking humbly? Please. This is not in our human DNA.

Sin being in our spiritual DNA means we have to have a changed nature, not merely a changed external wardrobe; a new heart, not merely a new behavior. And we can change neither because we are spiritually dead; read Ephesians 2.

Those who chafe at God's decision that salvation should be gained through only one way ought to remember also that He is not obligated to save anyone. It is only because He chooses to save any that salvation is even available.

For  those who chafe at the idea that we are not free choosers, remember that unless His grace frees us in that one way He has made, we will spend both this life and the life to come enslaved to Satan, under whose bonds we were born. He is the present prince of the power of the air, who often presents himself as an angel of light when he is no such thing, and he can do only what God permits and approves (see Job chapters 1 and 2).

Oh that you who chafe at the way of salvation would see the cost of it borne by the Holy Lord of all that it might be accomplished according to the Father's good pleasure. Chafe not but plead to know such grace, such saving grace, such costly grace.

To do justice as God defines it, to love kindness, to walk humbly with our God requires a totally new nature. And this God gives us, along with a new heart, when we are redeemed.

Acts 4:12--"And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."

Romans 10:13--"For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."

2 Corinthians 5:17--"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come."

2 Corinthians 6:1-2--"Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says, 'In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.' Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation."

Psalm 32:1-5--"How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit! When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer. Selah. I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the LORD'; and You forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah."

After that initial forgiveness, comes sanctification, the subject of next week's post.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Reflecting on Our First 28 Years

Elizabeth:  When we married, we were both working and I moved in to the apartment where Garry lived. We went to the same church already.

We expected to always work for the same companies, live in the same area, attend the same church--at least until we retired.

But God had other plans.

Garry:  At that time I had just returned to commuting on the train from the western suburbs where we lived to downtown Chicago to my relocated office.  Elizabeth caught a ride with co-workers to her office in the suburbs.

Elizabeth:  The day before our fourth wedding anniversary (March 24, 1993) Garry came home and asked me to sit down.  So I did.

Garry:  That day my boss told me that a major project I had been involved in had been cancelled and that I would be laid off before the end of the year.

Elizabeth:  That turn of events was a real surprise.  I had assumptions regarding Garry's job which had just proved false.  And we could not make it for long on just my income.  The second shock that year was the unexpected death of my dad less than a month after Garry cleared out his desk at his office.

Garry:  Providentially my company paid me four months of severance money, beginning in September 1993.  And they also had me do several free-lance projects for them.  All that helped bridge the income gap for us.

Elizabeth:  The day before our fifth wedding anniversary (March 24, 1994) we moved in with a family from the church we were attending.  They had recently finished renovating their home and had enough room for us and our remaining belongings.  There was even room for Garry to set up an office.

Garry:  We stayed with our friends and their young children for four months until I secured a job with the Grace to You media ministries in Southern California (just north of Los Angeles).

Elizabeth:  I had never been one of those who craved to live in California.  It held no appeal.  And I had never heard a Grace to You broadcast, so I didn't know John MacArthur, the pastor who is its main teacher.  Garry had brought a new book by him home, which I read to see what kind of theology he held--I quickly saw that his views were very solid.  My parents had done their best to teach my sister and me to be Bereans.

Garry:  I worked as a publications editor with Grace to You from 1994-2013, at which time they gave me the opportunity to  retire and join in with a church plant a good friend from Grace to You had been invited to lead in the Cincinnati area (we actually moved to a suburb of Cincinnati--Florence, Kentucky, right across the Ohio River).

Elizabeth:  And so, after close to 19 years in California, we ended up moving back to the greater Midwest (July 2013) and being closer to family and some friends.  It was a blessing that we did.  Garry's dad had passed away while we lived in California, and it was a challenge to get to Iowa before he died, and to spend some time with Garry's mom and other family members before returning to California.  Not much more than a year after we moved to Kentucky Garry's mom became ill and passed away in just months.  We are glad for the time we got to spend with her and that we could be closer by to help in her final weeks.  (It has also been a blessing to be able to visit Elizabeth's mom and sister more often in South Dakota and assist them in some important matters.)

After thinking Illinois would be our "forever" home, and then California, I no longer think of Kentucky as our "forever" home, either.  Home is wherever it pleases God to put us.

Pertinent Scripture passages for us are the following:

James 4:13-15:  Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there and make a profit"--yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.  What is your life?  For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.  Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live, and also do this or that."  (ESV)

Psalm 46:1-3:  God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear though the earth give way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling,  Selah. (ESV)

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

No One Can Make Any Forward Progress by Looking Back All the Time

If you walk or attempt to walk forward while your attention is toward where you were, rather than where you are headed, you will encounter more obstacles by not noticing them. You would have been able to notice them had your attention been forward rather than backward.

Second-guessing and dwelling on yesterday is something not advised by Scripture.

Yes, we can learn from our mistakes; we have to learn from them, not ignore them.

But Paul wrote, "Forgetting what lies behind, I press toward the mark of the prize for the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."

We are to forget the good and the bad and the ugly, not to make our home among them.

We can't go forward unless we are facing in a forward direction.

Yes, sometimes--perhaps often--we have to face up to the bad choices we made--choices we did not foresee the consequences of--but once we have repented and received forgiveness, we must go on from there.

In a class on organization, one point clearly made was that we need to plan ahead, set goals. No one can plan ahead if they insist on looking back, wallowing in regrets, etc. God calls us to learn from our mistakes--even from our sins--and move on from them--forward.

Sometimes "forward" will mean drawing up a variety of plans, depending on how God has things worked out for us.

Sometimes choices in the past will cancel out an option, at least for a while. So? God is still and always sovereign in that also. His will for His children will never be thwarted.

"Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet, but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:13-14; NASB).

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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Anger

The first place anger seems to rear its ugly head is in Genesis 4. Most know the story of Cain and Abel, the first sons born to Adam and Eve. Abel's offering was accepted by God and Cain's wasn't. God warned Cain, but Cain didn't respond well. He couldn't get revenge on God, but Abel was another matter. Abel joined Cain in a field, and Cain murdered him. That's what anger can lead to.

God is characterized many times as slow to anger, as well as gracious and compassionate, abounding in lovingkindness and truth. Slow to anger does not mean He will not judge. As Nahum 1:3 makes clear: "The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, and the LORD will by no means leave the guilty unpunished."

Those who respond in anger will find these passages directed to them:

Psalm 37:8: "Cease from anger and forsake wrath; do not fret; it leads only to evildoing."

Proverbs 14:29: "He who is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who is quick-tempered exalts folly."

Proverbs 15:18: "A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but the slow to anger calms a dispute."

Proverbs 16:32: "He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city."

Proverbs 19:11: "A man's discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook a transgression."

James 1:19-20: "This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God."

In Matthew 5:21-22, Jesus tells His listeners, "You have heard that the ancients were told, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER,' and 'Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.' But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell."

How can we respond when we are the subject of someone else's anger? Here are some passages to use in those times:

Romans 12:14-21: "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of  the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, as far as depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, 'VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,' says the Lord, 'BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

Ephesians 4:31: "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice."

How can we? Hebrews 12 includes these instructions: "For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.... Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled." (verses 3, 14-15).

Jesus is both our example and our source of strength in this, as in all other difficulties we face in this life.

We need to plead with the Holy Spirit to enable us to be like Christ when we suffer for doing what is right.

"For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth. When He was reviled, He did not revile in  return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly" (1 Peter 2:21-23).


Tuesday, March 07, 2017

The Place of Good Works in the Life of a Christian

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul makes it clear that our salvation is altogether of God's mercy, love, and grace: "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--and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not as 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" (2:4-10; ESV).

Our pastor taught through Paul's letter to Titus several years ago. One expression which got my attention is that of good works. These are not saving works; that has been accomplished once for all by the perfect life and sacrificial death of Jesus Christ.

Good works: Titus 2:13-14--"waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession, who are zealous for good deeds" (ESV).

Good works: Titus 3:8--"The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people" (ESV).

Good works: Titus 3:14--"And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful" (ESV).

What might these good works include? It depends on how the Lord has gifted each one of us, but they are all important to the full functioning of the body to the glory of God.

See Paul's letter to the Romans, chapter 12:

"For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to thing more highly of himself than he ought to thing, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them" (vv. 3-6a; ESV).

But there are commands to all, whatever gifts we might have:

"Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own estimation. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.' To the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by doing so you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:9-21; ESV).

And of course these positives and negatives from 1 Corinthians 13:4-7:

"Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things" (ESV).

Lord, grant me the gracious power by your Holy Spirit to so love and to so serve that those who see my good works might glorify the Father who is in heaven, as the Lord says in Matthew 5:16. Amen.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

What Value are Trials?

As we experience trials, we usually question their benefit and say, at least within ourselves, "How long, O LORD?"

As I reflect on this month and the trials I know many have been undergoing, let me try to provide one person's perspective on the value of trials.

Near the end of the book of Genesis, when Joseph has been reunited with his family, speaking to the brothers who had wished him dead, Joseph said, "Do not be afraid, for am I in God's place? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive" (Genesis 50:19b-20; NASB). God had refined Joseph through the trials he experienced in Egypt so that he could come to this conclusion. He was no longer the sallow, shallow youth of 17 or so who bragged of his dreams.

At the beginning of the book of Job, we hear this statement by God regarding Job: "For there is no one like him on the earth; a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil" (Job 1:8b; NASB). Yet God had a purpose in what we refer to as Job's sufferings. At the end of the book, Job says to God, "I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. 'Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?' Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.... I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You; therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes" (Job 4:2-3, 5-6; NASB). Although Job may never have been privy to the interactions between God and Satan early in the book, God brought him to a place of greater humility through his trials. There is always room for sanctification until heaven.

Sometimes we undergo trials because God is disciplining us. I can vouch for this. Read Hebrews 12:7-11: "It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained  by it, afterward it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness." Going through the experience of discipline, we see nothing joyful or useful. Only afterwards can we agree that it does yield "the peaceful fruit of righteousness."

What about suffering for doing what is right?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said this: "Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matthew 5:10-11). Those who are persecuted do not perceive any blessing in their persecution. What is called for is trusting God and His Word.

Peter wrote more regarding the matter of suffering: "Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, that for doing evil" (1 Peter 3:13-17).

Hebrews 12:3: "Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.

What about trials which seem to have no reason to them?

Let me share with you some Scripture passages which help me when I ask this question,

In his second letter to the church at Corinth, Paul wrote: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is in abundance through Christ" (1:3-5; NASB).

And in his first letter, Peter wrote, "Therefore humble yourselves under the might hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.... After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen" (5:6-7, 10-11; NASB).

And one of my favorite verses is James 1:12: "Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him" (NASB).

Trials refine us, make us more useful, bless us, and cause us to experience what God promised: greater Christ-likeness (1John 2:28=-3:3).