Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Gracious "I AM"

Moses needed an answer.  How about you?  Do you need an answer from God?  God wanted Moses to do something.  Moses response was basically, “Who says so?”  God’s answer to Moses was, “I AM”.  That is the basic answer we all need from God.  The answer isn’t “God is”.  That we understand by faith or else we cannot come to God.  Moses was talking to the God who is and Moses already believed in Him.  God’s answer was, “I AM”.  That is His great Name.  That is His all sufficient answer. 
I AM what?  That is our natural human response.  That was not Moses’ response, however.  Moses understood.  Moses understood that with those two simple words God had expressed about Himself all that He needed in order to make demands.  He had expressed all He needed to make promises.  He had expressed all He needed to deserve worship. 
So what did those two words mean to Moses? What did that Name that we now translate Jehovah imply?  I AM all powerful.  I AM able to do all. I AM worthy. I AM and there is no one else.  I AM the maker of you all, the keeper of your world and the judge who all of you will face in the future.  Yes, that is what those two words meant to Moses.  In short, God said I AM all sufficient in all ways, at all times, for all things and by all means. 
That should be a sufficient answer for us.  God is sufficient for our needs.  He knows all, can do all, has all, and has declared His all sufficient and unfailing love for all those who believe in His dear Son Jesus Christ.  Dear God, Jehovah, Great I AM, hear the prayer of my heart, my hurts, my needs, my confession, my insufficiency and in Your greatness have mercy upon me.  I AM is the answer to everything we ask humbly before His throne. 

Thomas Olivers, paraphrasing a Hebrew hymn of praise, gave us the wonderful hymn “The God of Abram Praise”.  Let us praise the Great I Am together with two verses of Oliver’s majestic words, “The God of Abraham praise, who reigns enthroned above; Ancient of everlasting days, and God of Love; Jehovah, great I AM! By earth and Heav’n confessed; I bow and bless the sacred Name forever blessed.  The God of Abraham praise, whose all sufficient grace shall guide me all my happy days, in all my ways. He calls a worm His friend, He calls Himself my God! And He shall save me to the end, thro’ Jesus’ blood.”  He can do all things for us because He is the Great I AM.  Praise that glorious Name today.  Worship Him in the certain Hope of I AM.   

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Monday, August 29, 2016

The Gracious Lamb

We like to take our grandchildren to the petting zoo.  They reach out timid hands to feed the donkeys and horses.  They are hesitant with the baby pigs and calves.  But when we come to the pen for the lambs and kids they are ready to walk right in.  There is something so welcoming and safe about a little lamb. 
Jesus has a blessed name: Lamb of God.  Lambs don’t roar.  I have never seen a lamb charge at a single child at the petting zoo.  Lambs eat peacefully from the hands of the little children who go into their pen to feed and pet them.  The children are comfortable with the lambs.  They find them to be good friends.
Jesus is that blessed Lamb of God who is kind to little children.  He is that blessed Lamb of God who is safe for them to be around.  He is that blessed Lamb of God who welcomes their attentions and love.  He is that blessed Lamb of God who is happy to be their friend. 
But Jesus, the blessed Lamb of God, is more than that.  I don’t take my grandchildren to the slaughter house to see those lambs processed for our meal.  That little lamb will give its life to feed my family.  Jesus the blessed Lamb of God is that lamb as well.  He laid down His life for the sins of mankind.  He is the one announced by John the Baptist, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” 
My little grandchildren cannot make any connection between the leg of lamb we have for supper and the little lamb they played with at the petting zoo.  That is OK.  He has still been their friend and he has still nourished them.  This is the twofold reality of Christ, the Lamb of God.  He is both Friend and Savior.  He is both gentle and meek while being both Mighty and Victorious Lord.  We are blessed when we grasp this total picture of Christ.  We need Him both as the little Lamb and the Lamb of God.

Charles Wesley wrote a simple hymn titled “Lamb of God, I Look to Thee” which sees Jesus mostly as the Lamb that is our earthly example, the Lamb of the field, gentle and mild.  “Lamb of God, I look to Thee; Thou shalt my Example be; Thou art gentle, meek, and mild; Thou wast once a little child.”  Henry Jackson, the American hymnist, put the emphasis on the Lamb of God, the sin bearer, in his hymn, “Look to the Lamb of God”.  If you from sin are longing to be free, look to the Lamb of God. He to redeem you died on Calvary, look to the Lamb of God.”  Look to the twofold gracious Lamb of God today.  

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A Gift We Can Use

Do you like gifts?  Do you like gifts that you can use?  Do you prefer gifts that sit and collect dust or get put away in out of the way places?  Are you a hoarder of gifts that have been given but never used, and likely never will be?  God has given us gifts.  The gifts that He has given to us fall somewhere in the answer to the above questions.
Jesus promised a great gift to His disciples before He ascended into heaven.  He promised them the gift of the Holy Spirit.  He promised them many gifts that would come from the one gift.  One of the gifts that He promised us through the Holy Spirit is the gift of power.  Jesus said, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Ghost is come upon you.”  In fact, one of the names for the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Power. 
Do you ever sit in church and hear the pastor request volunteers to do a certain task in the church?  When he asks for a Sunday school teacher do you ever think to yourself, “I wish I could do that” but then answer yourself quickly, “But I just couldn’t”?   But wait! Yes, you can!  The Holy Spirit within you has given you power.  Do you hear the call for volunteers to go to the nursing home to sing and visit for a half an hour?  Do you ever say to yourself, “I wish I could do that” but then quickly answer yourself, “But I just couldn’t”? But wait! Yes, you can.  The Holy Spirit within you has given you power!   
God has given us a gift we can use.  He has given to us the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit has given us a gift we can use.  He has given us power.  That is power to work for God, to testify of God, to minister for God to do good works for God to serve God in every way.  It is not a gift He wants us to lay aside and not use.  It is not a gift He wants us to hoard or hide.  He has given us power!  We have the power of omnipotent God within us. Isn’t that a wonderful and useful gift? 

Paul Rader, American evangelist, pastor, hymnist and pioneer Christian radio broadcaster has given us a wonderful hymn about power from the Holy Spirit simply titled, “Old Time Power”.  The second stanza reads, “We will glory in Thy power, we will sing of wondrous grace; in our midst, as Thou has promised, come, O come, and take Thy place.” Then the chorus resounds, “Spirit, now melt and move all of our hearts with love, breathe on us from above with old time power.”  Let us take God’s promises as true.  Let us claim His name as real.  The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Power.  Let us let Him use His great gift in us. 

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Grace in a Name

Great and mighty God of all, Present every time we call
Ever near at our right hand, Ever near to help us stand
Where we are, Lord, You are there, Every single burden bear
Ne’er alone You leave Your child, Lost alone out in the wild
God who’s there is Thy great Name, God is There let saints proclaim.
(Sung to “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing)
Ezekiel 48:35 gives us a wonderful gracious Name of God: The LORD is There!  How comforting is that name to every believer!  In Psalm 139 David explores the meaning of this name.  He asks rhetorical questions about where we might escape from God.  Can we go higher than Him and escape above the heavens?  Can we hide from Him in the depth of the sea?  Can we find a place dark enough where He can’t find us?  No. 
Jesus said to His disciples when He ascended into heaven, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  Quoting from the Old Testament the writer of Hebrews passes along the simple message from God to His children, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” 
God knows us when He is forming us in our mother’s womb.  He watches over the process of our bones being knit together.  David praised God for such wonderful care.  God watches over us when we are at work or play or resting.  His presence at night was a great comfort to the psalmist who knew that He could then sleep soundly.  Indeed we teach our children a simple prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep.  I pray the Lord my soul to keep.  Watch me safe throughout the night, and wake me with the morning light. Amen.”  Are we lying to our children? 

God is there.  He is there in the sickroom.  He is there at the graveside.  He is there in pain, loneliness, sorrow, confusion, doubt and in hurts beyond words.  He hasn’t left us alone in those times.  He is there.  That is His name.  In each moment of joy or sorrow, of victory or loss, of sickness or health, of abundance or want He is there!  He is there to hold us in His comforting arms.  He is there to undergird us in our deepest despairs.  He is there.  O Christian rejoice in this gracious Name of God: The LORD is There!  

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Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Author

I may not have yet sold as many books as Stephen King, but I am an author.  In addition to this daily devotion I have eight books currently in print.  More are coming and each day I find more things to write about.  God’s world and God’s word are fathomless resources.  As an author I am blessed to know that Jesus is also an author.  Hebrews 12:2 says that He is the Author and Finisher of our faith.  I am His book as is everyone who has come to Him in faith believing for His salvation. 
Written on my heart is the message of His grace. When others look at me, they need to see His face. 
Written on my life is the inscription of His love.  The world should stand amazed, as it points to Him above. 
Let my holy book, gently authored by Your hand, proclaim your grace to all, point them to the Promised Land.
Paul told the Corinthians that they were his epistle.  How much more are all of us God’s epistle?  What kind of reading material are we?  If we were in a bookstore, what section would we be in?  Would we be in the How To section with a title, “An Illustrated Guide to Living for God”?   Would we be in the mystery section with a title “The Case of the Man without a Cause”?  Would we be in the outdoor section with a title “Escape from God to Feign Worship at the Fishing Hole”?  Would we be in the mature audience section with the warning: Not for the eyes or ears of those under 18? 
Christ is the Author of our faith.  He called us to faith.  He saved us through faith.  He wants to conform us to Him by faith.  He wants to author a beautiful faith life story in us.  He wants His author’s name to be fully visible on the cover of our book.  He wants the perfect editing of His divine hand to be evident on every page.  He wants the story line to bring Him glory.

Christ is also the Finisher of our faith.  The end of the story will be great.  He who has begun a good work in us will finish it.  Our end is heaven.  The end of the story is His glory.  As He has promised us a great ending, we need to be co-authoring with Him a great book.  Jesus is a great author.  We need to let His pen hand write the details of our life.  We need to rejoice in being His work.  

  The Saturday Benediction
Until Monday, my friends, may the good God envelop you with His grace; may you prove the common confession of faith, “I believe in the holy Christian church and in the fellowship of the saints”, and may you be enriched with joy and hope as you exercise that confession this weekend.  Amen

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Friday, August 19, 2016

Loving Father

There is a very sad statistic about the nature of our day.  In America today nearly 40% of all births are to single mothers.  There is a host of social ills that grow from this figure but there is also a great spiritual void that is seen in these numbers.  How many children today do not know a father?  How many do not even know what having a father means?  How many then have no concept of how great it is to have a heavenly Father? 
Jesus taught His disciples to pray, “Our Father . . .” What did they conjure up when they said those words?  Did they see someone they knew who had built them a home?  Did they see someone who had cared and provided for their needs?  Did they see someone who had guided them with love and with a firm hand?  In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus likened praying as asking one’s father for a loaf of bread or small fish.  The concept of Father was a known commodity.  That was then.  Today many children will be raised without that loving parent.
Father is a name rich in grace.  It is a name that believers are to hold dear.  It is a name that should still convey to us the strength and love and guidance and purpose and provision that a father has for his children.  When we think of “Father” we should think of all the riches of grace that God, our Father, has given to us.  We should think of all the ongoing care that God, our Father, offers to us each day.  We should think of the loving hand and the guiding purpose that God, our Father, has for His children.  There are many names for God that extol His power and His majesty, but there is the one name that is rich in His nearness, His approachability, His kind smile and caring hug.  There is the name of Abba Father. 
Jean Gower, who is credited with writing two hymn texts in her life, has given us a hymn titled “Father, Loving Father”.  It is a simple text that reflects the simplicity of a child calling upon their Abba Father for care and love and guidance and peace.  As we sing its words we find ourselves in the place of the small child looking expectantly to the great Father of our lives.  Let us rejoice in having a Father.  Let us praise Him for adopting us as His children.  Here is Jean Gower’s hymn. 

Father, loving Father, hear Thy children’s call; with Thy love enfold us, and protect us all. From the dawn’s first glimmer to the close of day, may we feel Thee near us, on our earthly way. And from evening prayer time through the dark of night, let us rest in quietness until morn brings light. Teach our tongues to praise Thee in the hymns we sing; teach our hearts to love Thee as our voices ring.”  Father, loving Father, hear this prayer of ours.  

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Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Comforter Has Come

Another great name that we are blessed to know is that of Comforter.  As Jesus is our Advocate, the Holy Spirit is our Comforter.  Jesus did not want His followers to be left alone.  He told them before His crucifixion that He would ask of the Father that He would send them another Comforter.  Jesus knew all that His Church would confront in the centuries between His ascension and His second coming.  He knew that they would face trials of faith that would test them to the core of their being.  He knew that in a world that was hurting they would need to be effective witnesses of His grace though they were hurting as well.  Jesus knew that we would need a Comforter. 
What would this Comforter do for the Church?  Jesus said that He would abide with the believers forever.  We would not be alone. God would be present in us every day.  That is indeed a great comfort.  When things go wrong in life, from little calamities of the ordinary every day variety to the greater trials that confront saved and lost alike in financial distress, job loss, tragedy and more, God is there!  He is there to give us patience to endure, hope to go on, faith to overcome.  When we do these things we can then bring comfort to the world that confronts the same situations without hope.  Paul told the Corinthians that we are comforted that we might be comforters.  The Holy Spirit will work in His Church to strengthen them to minister to a lost world that still lives as sheep without a shepherd.
The Comforter does more.  He teaches us about our dear Savior Jesus Christ.  He takes the word of God and explains it to us so that we might know God the Father and God the Son better.  Then He takes that word and speaks it through the Church so that the world may know God as well.  He goes with each word of witness that we share to convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment.  We are not alone when we tell others of Christ’s sacrifice and God’s grace.  The Comforter is undergirding us and working through us all the time.

It is no wonder that Frank Bottome could write such an uplifting song of promise as “The Comforter Has Come.”  Just consider the words that should encourage and energize the Church.  “O spread the tidings ’round, wherever man is found, wherever human hearts and human woes abound; let ev’ry Christian tongue proclaim the joyful sound: the Comforter has come!”  He has come indeed!  Rejoice in His presence!  Rejoice in the great gift of God’s grace that has not left us comfortless.  Spread the tidings to all believers.  There is hope!  Spread the tidings to all the lost.  Spread the glad tidings to all who believe.  There is hope!  The Comforter has come!  

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Best of Friends

(Tune of “Jesus Shall Reign”)
My Advocate resides above, a gift of my dear Father’s love.
He pleads His precious blood for me; presents me clean for God to see.
 As Advocate He guides me, too; directs me all my long life through.
His counsel is for me what’s best; obeying it I will be blest.
Years ago we moved to a new town.  On my visit to the community I met with a realtor and purchased a house.  It was a nice house and I was assured that everything was in working order. The day we moved in it was learned that the realtor had simply lied.  Nothing was in working order.  Nothing was as agreed in the contract.  The house was literally uninhabitable and we moved out the next day.  The day after that the realtor called and both he and the seller were planning to sue us for breach of contract.  I was rather upset.  At work I mentioned the situation to a co-worker and went home quite worried and more upset.  Right after supper that night I got a call.  My co-worker had passed the news of our trouble on to a lawyer.  The lawyer called and told me that he knew both the realtor and the seller and that he would make everything alright the next day and that there would be no suit and we could get on with our lives. Not only that, but his service was free.  I was no longer upset. 
A lawyer is an advocate.  He pleads the case and takes care of his client’s needs.  In I John 2 Jesus is called our Advocate.  He is our Advocate with the Father.  We make a mess of things in our haste and then we find ourselves in trouble with our guilt.  But we have an Advocate with our Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous One.  He pleads His precious blood that was shed on Calvary for our sins and presents us spotless before the throne of God.  We cannot buy this service; it’s free.  The blood of Jesus Christ cannot be paid for.  It must be believed in.  Faith in our Advocate is the key.  Not by any work can we pay Him.  He saves us and keeps us by faith in Him.  Our response is gratitude. 

That gratitude should display itself in obedience to the guidance then given to us by our Advocate.  While His blood will never fail to cover our sins, His will for us is that we stop living in the practice of sin.  As Paul wrote to the Romans, “Should we then sin that grace may abound?  God forbid!”  Our Advocate will lead us in paths of righteousness for His Name sake.  He will not abandon us in our need, but He wants us to follow closely to His lead.  He knows best and we can rest most peacefully as we follow the guidance and live in the care of our great Advocate. 

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Blessed Name

Shakespeare said, “What’s in a name?”  The Bible answers, “A lot!”  The third commandment states that, “You shall not take the Name of the LORD your God in vain.”  Psalm 96:8 says, “Give to the LORD the glory due His name.”  Philippians 2:10-11 says, “At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, of those in heaven, and those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”  Acts 4:12 says, “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”  There is a lot in a name.
Take a look in the index of any hymnal at the section: “Jesus, Names of”, and find how many hymns have been written on this one topic.  Lydia Baxter wrote the hymn, “Take the Name of Jesus with You”.  In this hymn she extols His name as the one that gives comfort, protection, strength, joy, welcome, and hope.  She declares that His name is precious, powerful and eternal. Lela Long wrote the hymn, “Jesus is the Sweetest Name I Know”.  In her hymn she praises His name as precious, blessed, wondrous, dear, sweet, honorable, and praise worthy.  The list goes on and on from ancient hymns to contemporary Christian music.  There is a lot to be said about the Name of Jesus. 
In this Name there is salvation, the wonderful grace of God in Christ.  In this Name there is victory over Satan, the wonderful power of God in Christ.  In this Name there is comfort, hope and peace, the wonderful care of God in Christ.  What do you need from God today? Its provision is there in the Name of Jesus Christ our eternal Lord and Savior.  What burden do you bear?  Its release is in the Name of Jesus Christ our loving Shepherd.  What work do you want to accomplish for God?  Its power is there in the Name of Jesus Christ the King of kings and Lord of lords. 

The words of W.C. Martin will sum it up for us today.  “The Name of Jesus is so sweet; I love its music to repeat; it makes my joy full and complete, the precious Name of Jesus!  Jesus, O how sweet the Name; Jesus, every day the same; Jesus, let all saints proclaim, it worthy praise forever!  The word of man can never tell how sweet the Name I love so well, O let its praises ever swell, O praise the Name of Jesus!  Jesus, O how sweet the Name; Jesus, every day the same; Jesus, let all saints proclaim its worthy praise forever!”  

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Friday, August 12, 2016

Accepted Faith

Who is important?  Why are they important?  Are they more important than they should be?  Why should someone be important?  Do many people think they are more important than they really are?  Luke 18:15 through 19:10 considers four different people or groups of people that Jesus uses to ask and answer these questions. (Tune: Take My Life and Let it Be)
Little children come to Me, Like Zacchaeus in the tree,
Like the blind men by the way, Come and worship Me today. (repeat phrase)
Come not like the rich young man, Who came to Me with his own plan,
Come in simple faith today, I’ll not turn your faith away. (repeat phrase) 
Who was important?  Jesus!  Who is important?  Jesus!  The children knew it.  The disciples thought they weren’t important enough for Him.  The rich young ruler said Jesus was important, but didn’t believe it.  The blind men knew He was important and pressed their way to Him against much opposition.  Zacchaeus knew that He was important and let that truth change His life.
The only One who rightly deserves full recognition for importance is the King of kings.  If He is over all, then He must be the most important of all.  If He is all wise then He is more important than all sages and teachers on earth.  If He is all powerful then He is more important than the men who have atomic bombs.  If He is all truth then every philosophy and teaching that doesn’t point clearly to Him is unimportant and a fraud. 

His importance in our lives is exemplified by how important we show Him to be.  Is He all important in our decision making?  Is He all important in our finances?  Is He all important in our educational plans?  Is He all important in our family?  The children just wanted to worship Him in simplicity.  Jesus thought that was great.  The rich young ruler wanted to worship Him in word but not deed.  Jesus thought that was sorrowful.  The blind men wanted to worship His power and then found themselves enraptured with His grace.  Jesus thought that was right.  Zacchaeus wanted to just to see Him, to see if He was for real.  Then He wanted to obey Him because He found that He was.  To each person or group Jesus offered His grace.   Those who believed did not go away disappointed.  Neither will we.  We need to let His grace shine forth with His true importance in our lives each day. 

   The Friday Benediction
Until Monday, my friends, may the good God envelop you with His grace; may you prove the common confession of faith, “I believe in the holy Christian church and in the fellowship of the saints”, and may you be enriched with joy and hope as you exercise that confession this weekend.  Amen

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Thursday, August 11, 2016

Gracious Forgiveness

Who knows the truth of our sinful nature more than each of us personally?  We don’t shout it from the mountain top.  We don’t brag about it during Sunday school class.  We try to hide it from our neighbors, our children and our spouses.  But we know it.  We live with it.  We know our mind and we know that what the Scripture says about us is true, “The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” (Gen. 8:21)  When we think that no one else knows about this condition we are wrong.  Someone else does.  Solomon prayed at the dedication of the temple and said, “For You alone know the hearts of all the sons of men.”  (1 Kings 8:39) God knows.  Yet in knowing He still loves us and forgives us in Christ.  That is grace in Christ. 
In Luke 18 two men went into the temple to pray.  One told God how good he was.  The other beat his breast and said, “God, be merciful to me a sinner”.  Jesus said that that man went down to his house justified or made right with God.  That is grace in Christ.
Basil Manly, Jr. wrote a hymn that is no longer well known.  It touches us all at a sore point in our being.  It is titled, “Lord, I Deserve Thy Deepest Wrath”.  That is a catchy phrase you won’t find in too much contemporary Christian music!  But it is a doctrinal truth that should grip our heart with the majesty of the grace of God.  We do indeed deserve His deepest wrath, but He poured it out on Christ instead.  That is grace in Christ. 

Manly’s first verse reads, “Lord, I deserve thy deepest wrath, ungrateful, faithless I have been; no terrors have my soul deterred, nor goodness wooed me from my sin.”  What an honest self indictment.  His second verse doesn’t make us feel any better, “My heart is vile, my mind depraved, my flesh rebels against Thy will; I am polluted in Thy sight
yet, Lord have mercy on me still!” At the end of this verse, however, he gets to the point.  We need mercy and it can come only from God.  He wraps up this thought in his final verse, “Speak peace to me, my sins forgive, dwell Thou within my heart, O God, The guilt and pow’r of sin remove, and fit me for Thy blest abode.”  To this cry God has responded with the cross of His dear Son.  Through Christ alone we can find cleansing for eternity and for each day.  Praise God for grace in Christ for our daily need.  

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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Grace in Jesus' Tears

John 11 captures for us one of the most moving stories of Jesus’ ministry.  While Jesus often did not have a place to lay His head, when He was in the regions of Bethany He had a dear friend Lazarus who welcomed Him.  Lazarus had two sisters, Mary and Martha.  This home was the scene of great friendship, great teaching and in John 11 a great miracle. 
Lazarus died.  Jesus had been informed of his illness but had not gone to heal him.  He had another plan that would be the perfect picture of His teaching that He was true Life.  After the death of Lazarus, Jesus went up to Bethany.  Martha ran to meet Him and chastised Him for His delay.  He assured her of the certainty of Lazarus’ future resurrection. Martha was not appeased.  Jesus then told her that He was the resurrection and the life.  To this she confessed her full faith in Him.  Then her sister Mary came and fell crying at Jesus’ feet.  Jesus asked her to take Him to the tomb.  Then Jesus wept. 
Oh what grace and pity for the sorrowing family that brought Jesus to tears!  That is the wonderful grace of Jesus to us.  He sincerely cares about us.  Our hurts are felt by Him.  He is not disinterested or disengaged from us. We are His bride.  We are His body.  He rejoices in our rejoicing and He bears our sorrows. 
 Marguerite St. Leon Barstow Loud wrote only one hymn.  It is taken from John 11:35 and is simply titled “Jesus Wept”.  Her first stanza calls upon all those who are broken hearted to come to Jesus.  He will understand their sorrow and comfort them in their need.  She concludes the verse, “Sacred are sorrow’s tears since Jesus wept.”  He does not despise our sorrow.  He cares for it as He cares for us. 
Her third stanza is taken straight from John 11. “But with the friends He loved, whose hopes had perished, the Savior stood, while thro’ His bosom rushed a tide of sympathy for those He cherished, and from His eyes the burning dewdrops gushed:
and bending o’er the tomb where Lazarus slept, in agony of soul, then Jesus wept.”

But Jesus didn’t just weep.  He called Lazarus forth from the grave and gave proof to His victory over death.  Mrs. Loud concludes her hymn with the all the hope and comfort that Jesus’ power over death can give to all who believe, “Look up, ye mourners, hear what He has spoken, he that believes on Me shall never die. Thro’ faith and love your spirit shall be kept; hope brighter grew on earth when Jesus wept.”  Herein is grace in Christ.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Gracious Hug

Do you ever feel the need to just be held?  Do you sense the need of heart and soul to have someone just take you in their arms and give you a hug that you hope will never end?  Isaiah 40:11 is the pronouncement made by the one who comes to prepare the way for the Lord.  That one says, “He will gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom.”  700 years after the prophecy of Isaiah Jesus came to Jerusalem and announced, “I Am the Good Shepherd”.  What will the Good Shepherd do?  He will lay down His life for the sheep.  He will take up His life again.  Then He will lead His sheep and carry them gently in His arms.  This is the grace of God in Christ.
Jane Leeson was a hymnist in the 19th century who is little remembered today.  Of the 15 hymn texts she was known to write only three are still even vaguely in use and two of those are about Jesus the Good Shepherd.  One is titled “Loving Shepherd of Thy Sheep” and the other is “Gracious Savior, Gentle Shepherd”.  The latter, co-authored by the hymnist John Keble, is a truly beautiful hymn that should still be in regular use at the dedication or baptism of a child.  Its first stanza is clearly from Isaiah 40 and the second from John 10.  “Gracious Savior, gentle Shepherd, our little ones are dear to Thee; gathered with Thine arms and carried, in Thy bosom may they be, sweetly, gently, safely tended, from all want and danger free. Tender Shepherd, never leave them, from Thy fold to go astray; by Thy look of love directed, may they walk the narrow way; thus direct them, and protect them, lest they fall an easy prey.”  It is a gracious prayer for the tender keeping care of His little lambs. 

While clearly referring to children, we all have that same need within us.  We need a gracious and gentle shepherd.  We need a tender shepherd.  We need to be gathered into His arms and carried and safely tended.  Each phrase of this hymn resonates with the tenderest emotions of anticipation of love from the Good Shepherd.  They are not emotions and needs that will go unfulfilled.  Christ is the grace of God.  Grace as expressed in this beautiful hymn is just what He provides for us each day.  Rest in His arms of grace.  Melt into the bosom of the Savior and lie down in peace hearing only the beating of His caring heart.  Let Him take you fully into His arms today.  

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Monday, August 8, 2016

Gracious Promise of Abundant Life

What do you have that you don’t want to lose?  There is one who would like to take it away from you.  Jesus tells us that the thief, Satan, comes not but “to steal and to kill and to destroy.” (John 10:10)  You see, in contrast to the grace of God in Christ there is nothing but hatred in the heart and soul of Satan.  He offers us pleasure, but he would rob us of the joy we find in it.  He offers us riches, but he would rob us of any satisfaction we might find in it.  He would give us false hope, but he would rob us of gaining the realization of it.  He hates us.  He also wants to kill us.  Think back to the Garden of Eden.  God had said to Adam and Eve that in the day they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they would die.  What did Satan get them to do?  Eat of that tree!  He wanted to kill them.  The Bible says that he is a murderer from the beginning.  But wait! There’s more!  He not only wants to kill us, he also wants us to spend eternity in hell.  He wants to destroy us.  That is the game plan of the great thief. 
On the other hand there is Jesus Christ.  He wants us to have life and have it abundantly.  One of Godfrey Thring’s less known hymns is “Jesus Came, the Heavens Adoring”.  Christ wants to give us life, real life, forgiven life, eternal life.  That is the life He spoke of John 10.  But He also wants us to have that life to be abundant life.  That is the point of Thring’s hymn.  What does abundant life mean?  Is it a new car, a four bedroom house, a secure retirement income?  What is it?  Here are some of the things that Thring listed as abundant life: peace, redemption, mercy, answered prayer, saved from despair, joy, hope, gladness, cheer, help in sorrow, victory over death and a home in heaven.  That is a pretty good list.  Satan can take away the things we often put on our list.  He cannot take away the things that Thring put on his.  Here is the 4th stanza of his hymn, “Jesus comes in joy and sorrow, shares alike our hopes and fears; Jesus comes, whate’er befalls us, glads our hearts, and dries our tears; Alleluia! Alleluia! Cheering e’en our failing years.”  Praise God for abundant life through Grace in Christ. 

While this hymn is written to the traditional tune of Henry Lyte’s “Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven” (John Goss composer) it can also be sung to the Christmas carol tune of “Angels from the Realms of Glory”. 

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Friday, August 5, 2016

Responding to Grace

What is our response to the wonderful grace of God?  Do we take it for granted?  Do we relish in the gifts but forget the giver?  Do we get so preoccupied with life that we forget to worship the giver of life?  In Luke 17 there is an account of just such questions and answers. 
In Luke 17 ten lepers came to Jesus crying out to Him to have mercy on them.  In His mercy and grace He sent them away healed of their dreadful disease.  Upon seeing their healing, though, only one turned back to give thanks to the healer.  This one was a despised Samaritan.  Philip Bliss wrote a hymn titled “Where Are the Nine?” 
Ten men rejoiced to be healed. One man rejoiced in the healer.  Bliss’s second verse captures the moment for us.  “Loudly the stranger sang praise to the Lord, knowing the cure had been wrought by His word, gratefully owning the Healer divine; Jesus says tenderly, where are the nine?”  Are we the one’s singing His praises or are we the nine who rejoice only in the gift given? 
The world is looking for a savior.  They just don’t know where to look.  There are too many saviors being offered.  The One who is truly able to make whole, Jesus Christ the Son of God, has cleansed many but is acknowledged by few of them as the source of their healing.  Bliss’s chorus is a simple question that Jesus asked, “Where are the nine, where are the nine, were there not ten cleansed, where are the nine?” 

In his final stanza Bliss sets forth the situation we find in our world.  Christ is doubted, derided and considered irrelevant.  Into this courtroom of accusation against the Savior, where is the witness of the nine?  “Jesus on trial today we can see, thousands deridingly ask, Who is He? How they’re rejecting Him, your Lord and mine! Bring in the witnesses—where are the nine?”  Let us gladly lift our voices with the Samaritan and declare to all that Jesus Christ is the healer of men’s souls and witness to that truth each day. 

  The Friday Benediction
Until Monday, my friends, may the good God envelop you with His grace; may you prove the common confession of faith, “I believe in the holy Christian church and in the fellowship of the saints”, and may you be enriched with joy and hope as you exercise that confession this weekend.  Amen

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Thursday, August 4, 2016

Faith Alone

Man looks upon the world to see the proof of his divinity; He calls God’s miracles a fraud and thinks not of His debt to God.
But when in hell he finds his place, and sees that he’s abandoned grace, he calls upon Great God to send a miracle to save his friends. 
God’s strong retort to him shall be, “They have My word to lead to Me.  My grace through Christ is offered free; they need no miracle to see.”  (From Luke 16:19-31)
Too often today we wish that God would just display some miracle to prove to the world that He is.  But let us consider the history of miracles and their response.  Moses, by God’s hand, performed miracles in Egypt that did not convince the Egyptians of God.  He performed miracles by God’s hand in the wilderness to demonstrate the power of God, but the children of Israel built themselves a golden calf.  Elijah called down the fire of God upon Mount Carmel and defeated the prophets of Baal, but the children of Israel soon returned to Baal worship and never abandoned the golden calves made by Jeroboam.  Jesus performed many miracles and what the people wanted was more bread and what the Pharisees said was that He had done so by the power of Satan. 
Miracles were never sent for the disbelieving so that they would believe.  They were sent to confirm God’s hand upon those who performed them to verify their ministry.  The lost have a long history of ignoring miracles.  The saved have an appetite for more than they need. 

We have the miracle of God in our hands each time we open the Bible.  God, by the power of His Spirit, spoke through over 30 authors over a period of 1600 years His truth that has not changed.  It declares from beginning to end the glory of God, the grace of Christ, the need of man and the forgiveness of sins to all who will accept God’s gift through the Lamb (Jesus Christ) slain for our transgressions and resurrected from the dead.  By these things the “Just shall live by faith”.  Rejoice today in the miracles of the living word and the empty tomb.  Share those miracles with the lost so they can be saved.  

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Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Welcome Wanderer

Luke 15 contains three beautiful stories that picture the love of God and His grace in Jesus Christ.  The night I was saved the sermon was from Luke 15 – The Prodigal Son.  Oh what grace in that story!  Oh what love in the Father!  O what welcome and forgiveness!  It is a story that resounds to the hearts of all those who have wandered in the pig sties of life and found it wanting.  But Gods grace is greater than all our sins and He has run to greet the lost child. 
This story has led to the writing of more hymns than just about any other text except the birth, death and resurrection of Christ. It encompasses all the topics of love, forgiveness, grace and acceptance in the Beloved.  Such great writers as Thomas Chisholm and Fanny Crosby have penned wonderful accounts from this text.  So has the great Scottish preacher and hymnist Horatio Bonar.  Ira Sankey, the gifted song leader who accompanied Dwight Moody on his crusades, wrote the musical score for Bonar’s hymn.  “Welcome! Wanderer, Welcome!” became a very popular hymn and much used by God to invite those lost in sin to find a place of comfort, love and forgiveness at the Father’s table.
Each of the seven verses of this hymn is a short and direct appeal to a particular need of those whose lives are stuck outside the kingdom of God.  Each of these short verses ends with the beckoning words, “My son! My son!”  God the Father loved us so much that He sent His own Son as the Good Shepherd into the treacherous mountain crags to retrieve His lost sheep from peril and destruction.  He is the Father who ran to meet the prodigal as he neared his Father’s house.  His great grace in Jesus Christ bids mankind to leave the filth of the pig sty and find cleansing and home in the Father’s house.

Here are some verses and the chorus of “Welcome! Wanderer, Welcome!” (1) “In the land of strangers, whither thou art gone; hear a far voice calling, My son! My son!” (4) “See the door still open! Thou art still my own; eyes of love are on thee, My son! My son!” (5) “Far off thou hast wandered, wilt thou farther roam? Come, and all is pardoned, My son! My son!” Chorus: “Welcome, wand’rer, welcome! Welcome back to home! Thou hast wandered far away: come home! Come home!”  Remember the grace of God that called you and rejoice in the welcome home that He offered.  Share it with someone today.  

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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

At Jesus' Feet

Where do we find the grace of God most richly felt?  Do we find it in our greatest successes?  Do we find it in our busiest activities?  Do we find it in our quiet sitting at the feet of Jesus?  Consider the mad man of the Gadarenes.  When he had been healed of his demon possession, he was found at Jesus’ feet.  Consider Mary in the account of Mary and Martha.  Martha was busy and Mary was found at Jesus’ feet.  In Luke 14 Jesus told a parable in which he told His hearers to take the lowest seat at the table.  Then, if the host should elevate you it will be an honor to be elevated.  Taking the seat of self elevation, however, could lead to great disappointment. 
Using this parable as a backdrop for a hymn, Johnson Oatman – who wrote the lyrics for nearly 5,000 hymns and gospel songs, wrote the words for the hymn “At My Redeemer’s Feet”.  Oatman’s first stanza reads, “I ask not for the highest place, but find a spot more sweet, where God bestows on me His grace, at my Redeemer’s feet.”  From this place of simple humility we can be elevated to whatever heights that God in His grace might have for us. 
But wait!  Our mind reels at that one word “might”.  We are not alone.  The disciples seemed to be in a constant dispute about which of them was the most important.  Jesus reminded them that the most insignificant child was the most important and that He had come to be a servant and not an overlord.  Oatman covered this contingency of our human expectations with his chorus.  “Come joy or pain, come weal or woe, in Christ I am complete; my highest place is lying low, at my Redeemer’s feet.” 

How much higher can we get than to be seated in the heavenlies with Christ?  That is our position both now and forever as children of God.  Our eternity will be right where we need to be seeing ourselves each day in this life, at Jesus’ feet.  Oatman finished his hymn with this verse, “And when I reach the mystic sea, where earth and Heaven meet,
I’ll spend a blest eternity, at my Redeemer’s feet.”  Let us rejoice in the grace of God that has brought us already to this lofty position of sitting at the feet of Jesus.  

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Monday, August 1, 2016

Grace for Every Day

The lilies bloom, the flowers sing.  They raise their psalms of praise to Him.  They toil not for daily bread, yet by His gracious hand are fed.
Ye children of the Holy God, who daily on this earth do trod, His grace to you is greater still, and He will all your needs fulfill.
The grace of God shows us a greater way to live than the hectic pace that we choose for ourselves.  We often consume more time and energy on the things that will not last than investing in the things that will.  Jesus used the illustration of the lilies of the field and the birds of the air to show to us a better way.
My dad labored for years for a pension that didn’t produce and a lifetime insurance policy that paid little in the long run.  His story is repeated throughout the world.  God said that the wealth of this world would perish, and He warned about being consumed with gaining it.  Solomon said that “wealth maketh itself wings”.   The wings that God wants us to focus on are the wings of the sparrow that does not fall to the ground without the Father’s notice. 
God wants us to reprioritize our investments of time, energy and money.  Once when I was teaching I had a mother come to me and complain about the homework load I had given to her daughter.  I didn’t think it was a load.  My son was in that class and he was in bed each night by nine.  It turned out that her daughter was never even home at night by nine.  She was only 13 and was already committed to the frantic pace of worldly pursuits.  A little thing like a math assignment was not to get into the way of her goals. 

But we, too, are like that in too many ways.  God says, “Look to me”.  When we look up to Him the things of this world disappear in the glory of His brightness.  The new car, the big promotion, the bigger house, the greater earthly responsibility all fade in the beauty of the image of His dear Son.  They fade if we look up to Him.  When He becomes our all there is time for worship each day.  There is time for rest each day.  There is time for family each day.  These are His gifts to us.  Gaze at some lilies today and see that God is taking care of them.  Listen to some birds singing.  They know God is taking care of them.  His grace is greater toward us, His holy children.  Seek the joy of His greater way today.  

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