May 2019


Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior.

Titus 1:1-3

Paul was very certain about what he was about and why he was doing it. He knew that he was a servant and that he was such a person because God, Himself, had called him out of his former life and had commissioned him to speak forth, to preach, the truth about redemption through Christ, salvation granted by grace alone, and the promise of eternity that was given by God to humanity during the earliest days of creation. This is that good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ, that transforms death into life and that brings people into the center of God’s will, which is the outworking of the Lord’s desire to see all of creation returned to relationship with its Creator. Through acceptance of Christ, we, ourselves, become holy and acceptable in God’s presence, and we also are filled with the Spirit of Christ so that we can consider and respond to all aspects of life from God’s righteous and true perspective.

This same certainty is something that any of us that know Christ can obtain and can grow to understand as we travel through life with Him. For the Spirit implores us to seek after the same sort of wisdom and truth that Paul was driven to grasp and to comprehend. We have the additional aid of the full scope of God’s Word to study as we participate with the Spirit in developing into mature followers of Christ. Paul certainly did listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit as he continually developed and grew into ever greater maturity as an apostle of Jesus Christ. The man that was prepared and ready to instruct the church in the handling of complex and deeply troubling issues and situations in his later years was a different person than the more impulsive and hard-edged new convert that he had once been. This later Paul was a man that was focused on the long process of building up the church of Jesus Christ so that it could withstand the turmoil, trouble, and challenges that were to come its way over the years ahead.

So, as we operate out of the certainty of the gospel of Christ, yield our hearts and our minds to the counsel and instruction of the Spirit, and diligently seek after the Lord’s will for the ways that we can serve God’s Kingdom, we are living out the pattern that Paul set forth for us for dwelling on earth as a committed follower of Christ in our world. There will always be more for us to know about God’s love, grace, and truth, and we are going to continually be a work in progress when it comes to our responses to serving God’s will with the totality of our lives. With certainty I say that neither I nor you will write additional words of eternal truth such as these that Paul set forth for us to read, ponder, and be instructed by their content. It is with the same certainty that I hold that each of us, in Christ, will be called out of the life that we have lived previously and into service to the Lord in ways that are wonderful, powerful, and valuable in the growth of God’s holy and eternal body, His church.      

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5: 12

There exists a sort of mindless philosophy of life that says that people should ignore everything that is going on in their lives and in the world around them and so, “Just be happy.” This is not at all what Jesus had in mind here. He has just delivered the sobering thought that people who serve God by living out His righteousness to its fullest extent will be spoken of in harshly derogatory ways and will, in fact, be persecuted for their active faith. If this is the result of what comes our way because we choose to follow Christ and live out His direction for how we are to love others, care for them, and enter into redemptive peacemaking in our world, then it seems to be something very different from a state of being that could be viewed as mindless happiness. In fact, the pain that Jesus promises will be ours if we do seek after His path through life in this world is great as we might actually be choosing to walk in Christ’s footsteps all the way to the excruciating agony of the cross.

Yet, there is more to that prospect, for the Lord also gives us a a brief view of what comes beyond the sacrifices that He is leading us into in this life. Christ tells us that there is a reward to follow. The idea that we are to endure all that life throws at us in anticipation of some form of benefit in an afterlife may be hard to grasp during those hours of tears, fear induced sweat, and grief that we may be experiencing today. Still, the place that we occupy in this world is temporary and the days that we have to dwell here are short, and the other end of existence is infinite in its duration and in its wealth of blessing. However, there is more to what Jesus sets out as the promised heavenly response to our faithfulness to God’s holy will and righteous way of living it out. For the reward that we receive during the course of dwelling in the center of God’s will is also real and tangible. There is perhaps no experience in this world that is greater and more fulfilling than that of the sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit with you as you think, do, and say what is right in God’s eyes, even when this is done in the face of strong and persistent opposition from those around you.

This is the sort of thing that those prophets of old experienced. They spoke out and their words were frequently rejected by the world around them. They were also subjected to physical threats and harm and they often had to watch as the dire things that they foretold became reality. Still, the Lord walked through it all with them, and His Spirit was their companion and their guide for every step of that arduous journey. We may not be called upon by God to deliver words of prophecy to our world in the same manner as those people were, but each of us who knows Christ is called into unceasing service to our Lord and into a life dedicated to living out Christ’s grace, love, mercy, and truth in every aspect of life. Doing this to the best of our ability is cause for rejoicing, and the Spirit of Christ is present during these long hours of service to carry the weight of the burden and to encourage our failing hearts and confounded minds to continue the journey. Jesus knew that we were frail beings and that we would likely falter under the pressure and the strain of following Him; so, He also gave us His Spirit to travel this path with us, and He grants to us a form of joy that flows directly from the throne of heaven to wash our weary hearts in the knowledge of Christ’s delight in our faithful service.      

Let the favor of the LORD our God be upon us,

   and establish the work of our hands upon us,

   yes, establish the work of our hands!

Psalm 90: 17

This is a song that is credited to Moses and that seems to reflect aspects of the story of the Egyptian exodus, for its background is one of trials and hard times. Still, it is a song about hope, filled with the prospect of the Lord’s provision, and one in which God’s people look to Him as their source of wisdom and truth. When these people seek God’s favor, they are trusting that He has good things in mind for them; so, they also desire to have the Lord guide them into the types and the forms of the work that they will do in service to God. It is through this relationship with God that they are defined as a group of people and as individuals within that greater whole. Then, the work that the Lord guides them into doing and equips them to accomplish provides the means to apply their sense of self to redemptive and restorative acts in the world around them.

When they were held captive in Egypt, they did what their masters demanded, and they lived in a manner that was controlled by the oppressive force that was exerted by others. After they turned to God and were set free by His hand, the Israelites were given a form of freedom that should have granted to them the opportunity to establish a nation that worshiped the one true God openly and continuously and that was a beacon of light and a source of redemptive hope to all other people in the world. This was not to be so, for sin is tenacious, and the people would not release their past comforts and fears sufficiently to trust God fully in all matters. Yet, when they did reach the point of breaking under the burden of attempting to live with one foot set upon God’s will and the other planted in the sandy soil of self-determination, they were able to seek the Lord’s guidance and provision in all matters. So, the words of this song are sung with sincerity and in real expectation of God’s answer.

This ancient story is really not so much about Moses and the people that he led out of captivity twenty five or so centuries ago. For it does not seem to me that our world is all that different from theirs. We can be people who know God and that speak Christ and even sing songs of praise to His name on a regular basis; yet, there is something holding us back from living out the freedom that the Lord has granted to us by the cross and through the cleansing of His precious blood. It is as if we are fearful of letting go of that captive past in its entirety; thus, we cling to the prospect of returning to aspects of life as it was before we knew Christ or that are governed by the rules of life that have been developed out of worldly thinking and a self-centered form of relating to others. In these times, we can repent of our stubborn clinging to the past while singing Moses’ song as we seek that the Lord’s favor, that is, His grace, love, mercy, justice, and righteousness, would pour out over us and that His nature and character would inform and guide all that we are and do. Then the works of our hands, the thoughts of our minds, and the orientation of our hearts can be set along that same God-ordained path of bringing redemption, peace, and salvation to the troubled people and places in our world today.  

But from there you will seek the LORD your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.

Deuteronomy 4: 29

The object of this message is Israel, but it could be any one of thousands upon thousands of people who have lived throughout history and who are with us today. So, that begs the question, where are those people? Like Israel was when it was taken into captivity in Egypt, they are far away from God, and the distance has been the result of their own thoughts, words, and actions. Any relational walls that exist have been constructed by those far off people, and all of the instances where the wandering people have felt estrangement from God or lack of connection with Him have come about because the people have turned their hearts and the reason of their minds toward other objects for the expression of their love and worship. But God is defined by grace, and His heart is attuned to the needs and to the desires of all people, even these lost ones that have rejected Him. God is open and receptive to their desire to find Him and to enter once again into a relationship with Him.

In the days of Moses, the Lord was willing to reach out into the dark corners of the world and to commission and send a great leader to the enslaved Israelites. So, Moses was there with them in order to do God’s will among the Egyptians so that their power and control over the destiny of the Israelites was defeated. In more recent times, God sent Jesus to join with us in our struggles with sin as it attempts to exert the same sort of power and control over us. Jesus performed the redemptive work that the Father directed Him to do, and He set us free from enslavement to all that is anti-love, spiritually broken, and dedicated to a death that is preferred to living fully in the presence of God. As God used Moses to lead His people back into relationship with Him, so too has He sent Jesus to show us the way into that eternal relationship that has its beginning in this life and that continues unabated for all time, even through the infinite years that exist beyond an earthly grave.

It is never too late to seek the Lord, and no one has traveled beyond the boundary of Christ’s redemptive reach. We may have known God at one point in our lives; yet, we have walked away from Him and gone off on a journey of our own choosing. Still, the Lord is not far removed from where we are dwelling. Christ does not ask us to change all of the aspects of life in order to be suitable for His presence. He takes who we are as being sufficient, and He accepts what we are doing as being satisfactory for His grace to enter in to even the darkest places in our hearts and our minds. Christ brings the light of truth into the world’s oppressive darkness as He casts the hopeful light of the dawn of a new day before us. This is a day when the oppressive weight of slavery is to be removed from our backs and the harsh demands of the world’s idols will be set aside and cast down in favor of the lightness and joy that flows out of the gospel of Jesus Christ. So, for any who are far away, this is a good day to turn to the Lord and to seek after His presence with an open and a receptive heart.      

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom; preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

2 Timothy 4: 1, 2

This is Paul’s direction for Timothy as a pastor and a teacher of God’s Word. It is also a set of directions that anyone who serves the church in a similar capacity today should take to heart. Yet, those are not the only people who Paul is speaking to across all of this time. The Apostle’s words ring out clearly and with great authority to all of us who know Christ and for all of the Lord’s church today. We may not stand before a large audience in a formal setting and speak words of truth and life that come directly out of God’s Word, but we will have many opportunities to share that holy word’s love, grace, and truth with others. The life that we live may be oriented around earning a living by doing work that seems far afield from that of the church; however, the Lord is certainly present in the places where we do go. This day of the week, part of the calendar, or season of life could be one wherein spiritual things seem remote and secondary to the rest of life; yet, today might just be the one wherein a soul in need of a Savior is standing before us awaiting those life-saving words and the touch of Christ’s love.

None of us are Timothy, and no one that we will meet is Paul. They were great men that lived long ago and who gave us a model and a pattern to follow as we walk through life with Christ. Paul, under the guidance and the direction of the Holy Spirit, also wrote out explanations and instructions that are useful to us in understanding our relationship with God and the way that this relationship is lived out in the world. Paul was faced daily with a world that was more hostile to the gospel of Christ than it was open and receptive. He knew that his life on this earth was nearing its end. He was also aware of the glory that was to be his in the presence of Christ when those last few days here were completed. Still, Paul remained focused upon the task at hand. Hostility did not stop him. Human failures and frailty were troubling but even the abandonment of friends could not cause him to experience defeat. Paul’s example is one for us to follow. In fact, we should be prepared for the eventuality of a loss of friends and associates as we stand for the truth of God’s Word in the face of a world that discounts its validity.

That does not mean that we should be angry or harsh in the way that we engage with others. Even in his very trying circumstances, Paul was more inclined to pour out grace, forgiveness, and encouragement than he was to cast blame and reproach. We too can be voices of reconciliation and restoration in our corner of the universe. As we recognize the fact that Christ is the only true and authorized judge of the human soul, we can extend the hand of friendship to people who have been hostile toward us and about Christ. Reaching out in friendship can be done as we also share the truth of the gospel that is the source of the grace, love, and confidence that we require in order to enter into such counter-intuitive acts as these. A life that is lived as a follower of Christ is one that is carried out as a preacher of God’s Word. This is done through the way that we conduct ourselves in private and in public, and the word is demonstrated by the attitudes that we hold toward others and about the issues of life. Christ is with us in all places, over the entire course of life, in all situations and circumstances, and He is Lord of each and every season that we experience in our journey.   

Honor the LORD with your wealth

   and with the firstfruits of all your produce.

Proverbs 3: 9

These thoughts of reflection on this proverb need to come with a warning attached. So, to be open and honest, the reader should bear in mind the fact that I am a pastor and specifically that I am responsible for the area of finance for a church. Thus, the things that I say about what God’s people should do with their wealth could be thought to hold an inherent bias toward giving it all to the church. Well, you have been warned. It seems that a good starting point for these thoughts is to be found in a definition of wealth. Merriam-Webster defines it as, “abundance of valuable material possessions or resources.” I agree with this with the possible exception of the use of the word abundance, for I think that each of us has something that can be referenced as wealth, but not all of us possess this in equal or in great amounts. Our wealth is the sum total of our financial resources in combination with our intellectual, spiritual, and emotional ones. These are then combined with skills, knowledge, and wisdom to form up the wealth that an individual has to use and to share with the world.

So, when Solomon says that we are to honor the Lord with our wealth, he is speaking of something much greater than just the money that we may have or obtain over time. When he says that we are to honor the Lord with it he is also advancing the concept far beyond the act of giving or donating funds to the church or even to the work of serving in the various ministries of God’s global kingdom. To me, honor suggests worship; it is an expression of praise, respect, and participation in God’s calling to proclaim the gospel of Christ to all peoples in every corner of the world. Thus, we honor the Lord when we seek out His will for the use and the distribution of the money that we have, of our time, with the skills and the understanding that we have acquired, and with all other assets that are under our control. God’s underlying desire is for each of us to be so committed to Him out of our deep love and respect for Him that we are truly seeking to follow the Lord’s lead and to take His direction in giving away the totality of our lives, that is our very being, to His use in service to God’s kingdom.

That defines the firstfruits of our produce in a more complete manner than does Solomon’s contextually appropriate agricultural example. The idea of giving the first harvest of our crops to the Lord involves trust and reliance, for there is no surety to the grower that the rest of the crop will be successfully harvested, and the first picking is generally the sweetest and the richest of them all. These are the premium grapes, the fattest heads of grain, and the most robust of the lambs and calves. The same elements of trust and reliance apply to the broader concept of wealth that has been set out here. The Lord desires for us to dedicate our best thinking, our strength and wisdom, the first of our time, and our pre-tax earnings to His purposes and use. This service of worship may be carried out in a formal ministry setting, but it may also be done in our homes or at our place of employment. The point is that the Lord wants His people to worship Him with each and every breath that we breathe and with all of the thoughts, words, and actions that we produce during the course of our lives. This sort of deep worship is carried out with prayer, under the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit, and with the counsel of God’s Word. This expression of total commitment is the form and the type of honor that the Lord desires to receive from each of us as we dedicate all of our wealth to bringing glory to His name.  

For the LORD gives wisdom;

   from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;

he stores up sound wisdom for the upright;

   he is a shield to those who walk in integrity.

Proverbs 2: 6, 7

There are words all around us. They are shouted out in the morning, and they are whispered into the dreams of the night. Many people attempt to influence others into thinking in a certain manner by using skill with expression or through the pouring out of an overwhelming volume of sound and its accompanying fury. Yet, in all of this flood of thoughts, opinions, and concepts, there are only a few words that are spoken from a reliable source, and there is only one ultimate author that should be given complete acceptance and listened to with undivided attention. For in all of the aggregate information and influence that is out and around us in our world, only the words that God has set forth and ordained as His are absolutely thrust worthy, and come to us with the certainty to inform our journey through life in a manner that is both good for us and that brings healing to the hurt places in our world.

People who realize this eternal truth and who therefor seek after God’s Word with consistency and with diligence are to be sought after. They are aware of the sorts of wise things that are good and useful in living out each day as people who desire to love others well, to care about justice, and to hold up righteousness as the standard to follow through all of life. So, these are people to follow, and these are people to draw near to when we need understanding and guidance regarding the challenges and the struggles that we are facing. All of this sounds so serious and heavy; yet, there is great humor to be found in traveling in the presence of the Lord. He sees the irony and the curious silliness of life in a manner that only one who is very close to the subjects at hand could view them. So too does the person who dwells in the presence of the Creator hold a special place in his heart and mind for all that is light and humorous that comes about during these long and too often arduous days.

God’s wisdom is to be sought after. It is found in His Word and illuminated by His Spirit. These are the words that cut through the distractions and the untruths that are so prevalent in the air that we breath in our world. The Word of God provides the foundation from which all other thoughts, ideas, and concepts can be judged and evaluated as to their validity and usefulness in providing guidance for us. Thus, people who hold God’s Word as sacred and who search its depths as their source of wisdom and encouragement are to be valued and sought after. These are women and men who do dwell in the presence of the holy, and they are people who understand that strength of character is a gift that comes from the Lord and that love is the Godly characteristic that prevails in the face of all other forces and factors that might come at us during the day. People who so value the word of life that comes straight from the mouth of the Creator are to be prized, and their wisdom, grace, love, and humor are valuable beyond all measuring. 

Dedicated to Mark M. upon entering the next phase in service to our Lord.  

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