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

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).

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Trials, Part Three

Trials come from many sources and last for various periods of time. Sometimes our trials are physical, sometimes chronic, even leading eventually to death,  and other times remediable with different kinds of treatment. Sometimes the trials are experienced by those we love, and we share their pain however long it lasts. Sometimes the trials come at the hands of others. These are especially hard when they come from those we care for. David knew something of this, as the Psalms show. The Lord Jesus Christ knew this first hand also, as the Gospels reveal.

God's Word is our source of comfort in all these instances: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our afflictions 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," as Paul states in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4.

However much I may suffer
From trials of various kinds,
Temptations from various directions,
However dire a day may seem,
When I think of what my Savior
Lived through and
Died for,
Nothing is so hard to bear if
Being borne by One
Whose burden is easy,
Whose yoke is light.
Suffering brings for us perspective
Seen in the light of Scripture,
At least for me.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Trials, Part Two

The tests and trials of our lives are not accidental, but designed for each of us.

Tested by God

We children of His are tested by God
To see if our faith is real or fraud,
And that is the first of many tests we'll take,
But never at any time will He ever forsake us.
Whatever length and depth and difficulty we face,
He'll be there with His sufficient grace.
He tailors the test to the student
And remedial work may assign,
But every step on our way with Him
He knows the work for our mind,
The strength our spirits need to increase,
The time we can stand before we give way.
He knows and will give strength for the day.
What comfort it is to be so known
By the One on heaven's throne!

One of the most encouraging verses in Scripture is Hebrews 4:15: "For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin."

How is this possible? Go back to Hebrews 2:9-10: "But we see Him who was for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting for Him though whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings."

Philippians 2:5-11 gives us a glimpse into what Jesus willingly experienced on our behalf: "who, although He was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

Every knee, every tongue, without exception--did you see that? How I look forward to that Day--every knee, every tongue, as Christ's glory is sung, as the Father is blessed, by the called and the rest.

Paul would later writer: "If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness" (2 Corinthians 11:30). The apostle explains: "And He has said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.' Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Paul saw contentedness in multiples of weakness, insult, distress, persecution, difficulty, because he recognized that in these, if he experienced them on behalf of Christ, he would have the indwelling power of Christ through them.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Trials, Part One

After Job learned that his possessions and his children had all been taken from him, this is how he responded: "Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and worshipped. And he said, 'Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.' In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong" (Job 1:20-22; ESV).

After Job's health was taken, this is how he and his wife responded: "Then his wife said to him, 'Do you still hold fast to your integrity? [Remember, she had lost her children, too.] Curse God and die.' But he said to her, 'You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?' In all this Job did not sin with his lips" (Job 2:9-10; ESV).

Many chapters later, face to face with God, Job said this: "Then Job answered the LORD and said, '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 uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. 'Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you will make it known to me.' I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:1-6; ESV).

Years ago, the women's Bible study I attended studied the book of Job. Job did not know why he underwent the trials he did. The same is sometimes true of us. Like Job, we have to humble ourselves and trust God at such times.

At the end of that Bible study series, I wrote the following; how do we identify and recognize and respond to trials?

Terms and Trials

Terms and trials:
When is the thing just annoying?
When is it really adversity?
When is it a loss of sleep?
When sovereignty gives way
And tranquility is absent,
Doom and gloom on the ascent,
Sighing is strangling,
When sovereignty is absent
And tranquility gives way,
When God is too appearance-distracted
And I can only sway,
Wondering what to grasp
Of terms and trials,
Arrogance and denials,
Sleepless in my sleep,
Loneliness increasing deep;
Spiral this way and that,
Cry like an almost four on her mat.
Terms and trials--
Neither is for naught--
Victory for each
Already Christ-blood-bought.
Rest, O heart and restless mind--
In His holding comfort find!
Already Christ-blood-bought,
Rest, O heart and restless mind--
In His holding comfort find!

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