Tuesday, February 28, 2017

What Cost Christ? Part 2

What might it cost a Pepsi truck driver to be caught drinking a Coke while on break?  Well, if he’s in the Pepsi uniform it may just cost him his job.  There is such a thing as brand loyalty.  A person might say, “Well, I will wear a Pepsi shirt just as long as I can still drink Coke.”  Maybe he would do it for a friend or maybe to impress someone or maybe because he needed a new shirt, but his brand loyalty is still Coke.  That is how a lot of people approach Christ.  I will take His name if I can still be the same old me. 
What cost Christ?  What does it cost to come to Christ?  Isn’t it free?  Yes, Christ paid the full price of our redemption.  It is paid in full and so it is free.  But it is not like a shirt we can put on just because we need a new shirt or want to impress someone with our new shirt.  When we put on Christ we are supposed to do so because we have been convicted of the true need for a change in brand loyalty.  Our original brand loyalty was to self.  We loved the world, the flesh and the devil.  We might not have thought about it in those terms, but those are the terms God uses so they will do.  When we have been moved by the Holy Spirit to see Christ we also are moved by the Holy Spirit to understand that who we are is wrong and we need a new brand.  Peter said to the people in Jerusalem, “Repent!”  That means to turn away from what has caused the curse on our life – sin and the love of it – and to turn to Christ.  Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “How you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” (1 Thess. 1:9) 
The Thessalonians had changed brands. They turned from the one (repented) and turned to the other.  What does it cost to come to Christ?  It costs us the conviction that we are wrong.  It costs us the conviction that our way is the wrong way.  I have heard people who have said, “Sure I will become a Christian if I don’t have to change.”  They don’t understand that coming to Christ is coming away from something else.  They don’t want to change brand loyalty.  They simple want to have the supposed benefit of having things both ways.  The need isn’t to change first.  Christ will change us. The need is to see that we need to be changed.  That is the cost.  It is the cost of conviction of sin and the Spirit’s moving us to repentance.  Even that is free and supplied by God’s grace, but we cannot pretend to come without it. 
William Sleeper wrote the hymn “Jesus, I Come” in which he makes clear the coming from something when coming to something – Christ.

Out of my bondage, sorrow and night, Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come.  Into Thy freedom, gladness and light, Jesus, I come to Thee.  Out of my sickness into Thy health, out of my want and into Thy wealth; out of my sin and into Thyself, Jesus, I come to Thee.

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Monday, February 27, 2017

What Cost Christ? Part 1

When I first framed the question for this blog I had one idea in mind.  Then as I thought about the question I realized how many different ways that the question could be asked using the exact same words.  I am not even sure that the punctuation needs to be changed.  Then I thought about what order the questions might come in and there was an order to them.  But the first thought I had with the question wasn’t the first in order.  So let’s begin at the beginning.
What cost Christ?  What cost Christ what?  First we will consider what cost Christ His life?  Why did He have to die?  A major truth of Scripture is that “The wages of sin is death.”  Jesus never sinned.  Therefore Jesus never had to die.  So what cost Christ His life?
Paul wrote the Corinthians and said, “For He (God) made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Cor. 5:21)  Jesus put on the cloak of our sin that we might be able to wear the cloak of His righteousness.  It was the great exchange and we came out ahead.  We turned from certain death to everlasting life and He, the Prince of Life, took on death for us.  But the Father declared Him righteous and He was raised from the dead so that all who believe in Him might also be raised from death to life.
So what cost Christ His life?  I did.  You did.  Everyone did.  But what would make someone make such a great sacrifice for us?  Love would.  “For God so loved the world,” Jesus said to Nicodemus.  “But God demonstrated His own love toward us that while we were in sin Christ died for us,” Paul said to the Romans. (5:8) Or as Jesus expressed it in John 15, “Greater love has no man than this that He would lay down His life for His friends.”  What cost Christ His life was the very essence of who He is – Love.  The love of the Triune God wrapped the Son of God in humanity so that He could pay the just cost for our sin, the cost of death.  Praise God He was willing to pay the cost.
It is great to pull out the hymnbook and look up the topic of God’s love.  One that really connects the ideas of His love and our sin together is “Love Lifted Me” by James Rowe.
I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore
Very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more
But the Master of the sea heard my despairing cry
From the waters lifted me, now safe am I
Love lifted me. Love lifted me.  When nothing else could help, love lifted me.

Love lifted me. Love lifted me.  When nothing else could help, love lifted me.  

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Friday, February 24, 2017

What to Do?

I picture in my mind a cartoon character pacing in circles around his room.  In total abstraction he keeps asking himself over and over, “What to do?  What to do?  What to do?”  In a cartoon it is funny, but in life it isn’t always so.  This week we have been looking at the manifold dangers that Christ and the Apostles warned the church were to come.  False teachers, wolves from their own midst, greedy men who would seek to fleece the flock for personal gain, unrighteous leaders who would fall into the pit of open and unrepentant sin, others who would turn the grace of God into law; these were the sad road ahead that would plague Christ’s Church.  As we saw yesterday, these problems are not new, but they do need to be dealt with.  But we ask, “What to do, what to do?” 
God’s word gives us the answer.  God’s word always gives us the answer in every area of faith and the practice of faith.  Therefore, God’s word is the first answer.  Paul says that we are to study the word and learn to rightly use it.  The word is our first defense.  If we don’t know it then we can more easily be led astray by those who would deceive.  Acts 17:11 says that the people of Berea were more noble minded because they searched the Scripture to see if what was being said was true.  Since the entire Scriptures reveal the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, we can be aware of false doctrines that deny the Trinity or the equality of the members of it.  Since from Genesis to Revelation the Scriptures show that the just shall live by faith and that God’s grace, not man’s work saves, then any teaching that requires man’s work for salvation is wrong.  Since the entire Scriptures teach that God is holy and that those who serve him are to be holy as well, then we can identify those who are not his by their works.  And since the entire Scriptures verify that they are true and since Christ Himself verified their truth, then anyone who comes denying the absolute truth of God’s word is known to be a charlatan and a fraud.  The Scriptures will guide us to know and see the truth.
But what then?  From those who deny these truths we are to turn away.  (II Timothy 3:5)  This means we separate our worship from them.  We find a place that teaches the truth of the Scriptures that God is holy, salvation is by grace alone, the absolute truth of the Word and the grandeur of the Trinity.  In such a place we get refreshed and renewed in soul and spirit.  We find a grand work to do for the glory of Christ.  We stand together and sing the praise of His glorious Name and grace. 
Great God, eternal Trinity, Eternal One in three,
We thus adore Your holy Name and holy too would be.
The blood of Jesus Christ alone, sufficient for our sin

Your Word of Truth, fore’er affirmed, by grace we enter in.  

  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, February 23, 2017

Not a New Problem

If you have lived in the same home for many years it has probably developed some small idiosyncrasies that you have adapted to.  They are just part of the normal functioning life of your house.  But, if you decided to sell your house and the realtor gave it the check-up we talked about yesterday, what would they say about those idiosyncrasies?  They would say that you had problems that needed to be fixed.  They were not new problems.  They were not problems in your own mind.  The realtor, however, saw them differently.  They were old problems that needed fixing.
Putting up with error in the church is not a new problem.  People have been content to just focus on their own worship and let problems slide by if they don’t stop them from personal worship.  It is an attitude that worship is really just about me and God and not anyone or anything else.  That is a nice idea, but it is false.  We are part of a body and not the body by ourselves.  Corporate worship is part of the whole body functioning in unison and not each member functioning alone.  God has called us to corporate worship; therefore problems in the body, especially leadership, are not an issue that can be ignored.  Their error will trickle down into the very nature of our own obedience to God.  Input that is wrong will ultimately create output that is wrong.
Jeremiah and Ezekiel were constantly at odds with the false prophets of their day.  Those false prophets did not declare themselves to be prophets of Baal or some other foreign god.  They declared themselves to be prophets of the One True God.  But God said of them, I did not send them nor speak to them.  This is a repeated refrain.  The problem was that the false prophets spoke lies about God.  They said that what He was saying through His current prophets and what He had said through His past prophets was false.  Jeremiah and Ezekiel were saying the same things that had been said by prophets before.  That was the clue to God’s people about who was right and wrong among the prophets.  A new message that changed an old message was not acceptable to the God who changes not.  The people, however, were more inclined to listen to the soft words of the new prophets and reject the harsher words of the old.  They had itching ears, as Paul said, and chose the path of sweetest sounds. 
God’s message is eternal.  The declaration of what sin is has not changed.  The declaration of how God will deal with it has not changed.  His promise to all who will repent and believe has not changed.  In our world today there are many new voices that actually say, “The Bible doesn’t really mean that.”  Those are the voices of false prophets.  Friends, hold fast to the true Word of God.  Sing these old words penned by Haldor Lillenas from “The Bible Stands”.

The Bible stands like a rock undaunted mid the raging storms of time.
Its pages burn with the truth eternal and they glow with the light sublime. 
The Bible stands though the hills may tumble,
It will firmly stand though the earth may crumble;

I will plant my feet on the sure foundation for the Bible stands. 

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Time for a Check Up

Every year the doctor expects to see me.  For insurance purposes it is a year and a week after the last time he saw me.  It is time for my annual check-up.  What I expect him to tell me is that I am wonderfully fit and have the mind, body and reflexes of a man half my age. I expect him to tell me that I have no conditions that need watching and that I have no need of prescription medications.  That is what I expect, but it isn’t what I get.  He is the doctor and he sees me differently than I see myself.  Bummer!
This has a spiritual application in two ways.  First, Paul told the Corinthians to examine themselves to see if they were in the faith.  That was a pretty clear call for a check-up.  They had problems that they consistently denied but that were readily apparent to others.  It is important to note that Paul always called them Christian brethren, but a check-up would help them treat the problem make them more evidently so.  Dr. Paul had spoken and given them multiple prescriptions for healing.
The second application is for the people in the church to examine those teaching in the church.  Paul used this in Titus chapter one where he spoke of the leaders of the Cretan church as being ones who professed to know God but by their works denied Him.  What sounds like truth from the pulpit should look like truth in the lives of those who preach it.  (However, before a charge is brought against an elder or pastor, the one who levels the charge must be free from the same sin or any other known or open sin.  They should especially be free from the sin of contentiousness which leads many to accuse others and fail to examine themselves.)  When a leader regularly practices open sin his preaching will begin to stray from the truth.  Soon whole congregations will be led astray from sound doctrine and fall into error. 
Thus we see the rise of many false cults from the Gnostics who opposed the Apostles to ones we see today. We also see the corruption of many denominations that have openly embraced sexual sin.  The Gnostic teaching was particularly debauched in the practice of open immorality by its leaders.  Jude used the phrase to define them, “Ungodly men who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.”  We need to heed God’s call for examination of both ourselves and our leaders to see if there is proper reflection of God’s truth. Edwin Orr wrote the words to a very special hymn that calls for examination. 
Search me, O God, and know my heart today. Try me my Savior, know my thoughts I pray.
See if there be some wicked way in me; cleanse me from every sin and set me free.
O Holy Ghost, revival comes from Thee.  Send a revival, start the work in me.
Thy Word declares, Thou wilt supply our need; for blessings now, O Lord, I humbly plead.  

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Not All That Glitters Is Gold

This week we are looking at the warnings that the Bible gives us concerning the dangers we face in our Christian walk.  Paul wrote to Timothy that there would be those who held to a form of godliness, but they did not believe the power of God.  From such, Paul warned Timothy, turn away. 
The problem in our human thinking is that’s since God’s name is glorious, when we hear it we attach the glory of His name to the one using it.  We assume that by the use of His name they are presenting a safe and glorious message.  But what should be true is not necessarily true.  Not all that glitters is gold.  God gave 10 Commandments at Mt. Sinai.  One of them is “Thou shalt not take the Lord’s Name in vain.”  In other words, God is giving a warning that people will do just exactly that. 
We often assume that this commandment relates most to those who profane His name by using it as a swear word.  That would be an application, but only one, and such a simple one to identify that we overlook many other blasphemies.  God said that His word is true and righteous altogether.  There are many pulpits today that declare God’s word is subject to debate or not His word at all.  In my book Deceived I cover that topic in depth.   This is not just a problem in an isolated instance or two; it is a very real problem confronting the Church today.  Paul had warned the Ephesians that after his departure some from among that very strong church would turn away from truth and devour the true saints with their falsehood.  He called them wolves just as Jesus had done.
And so Paul cautioned the people to beware.  They will look like you, they will use the same book you use, they will use words you understand, but they will deny Christ’s authority by denying the very essence of the book they preach from.  That was his warning.  A messenger can use God’s name, but if they deny the power thereof, they are using it in vain and we need to stand apart from the certain judgment that God has for them.  This commandment of God came with a specific declaration of punishment: “For the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His Name in vain.” 
Let us make sure that we are standing on the sure foundation of God’s Word and not on the corrupted doctrines of men who use it vainly.  Let us trust the full integrity of God’s Word.  Here is a new song by Joshua Drake, “The Holy Word of God”.
The Holy Word of God: it is the Christian’s rule to teach, correct, rebuke and train— The Church’s priceless jewel.
Let others rule by whim their lives from day to day. God’s children have His Holy Word,
which gladly they obey.

God-breathed, yet penned by man, preserved by arms and art, the Church has born it in her breast— she dare not from it part!

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Monday, February 20, 2017

It’s Dangerous Out There

Children are a lot of fun to be around.  They are so eager to learn from those around them.  They want to soak up all that they can and are eager to believe what they are told.  From a purely cynical point of view they are gullible.  Lots of people prey on their gullibility.  Advertisers are quick to take note of their inherent belief in whatever they are told.  Predators are quick to take advantage of that fact as well.  Fantasy, fact and fiction all blend in their minds without critical distinction. 
Of the thirteen times the phrase “little children” is used in the New Testament, eight are found in I John where John uses the term to apply to the church.  Nine times in the New Testament believers are called “the children of God”.  This isn’t trivia.  This is important because it reflects two truths.  The first and most important is that God is the Father of all who believe in His Son.  He loves and cares for them, watches over and protects them, feeds and clothes them and picks them up and carries them as babes in His arms.  Secondly it gives us pause to consider the danger in which we often find children.  We are to be innocent children and wise Christians. 
Satan is worse than any child predator.  He is the author of all child predators.  They lie and deceive in order to get their sinful desires.  He is the father of lies.  They often kill their victims and he is a murderer from the beginning.  They destroy lives and he is the thief that comes to steal, to kill and to destroy.  We, the children of God, are his prey.  He stalks us and lays snares for us.  He offers us candy laced with cyanide and kittens that will claw out our eyes.  There is nothing good in him.  But he does not appear to be that way.  He comes as an angel of light professing all things noble.  He comes as a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
In light of this great enemy God wants His children to be protected.  He gives His Word as a protection.  He gives His true servants, ministers of the Gospel, to be a protection.  But how can we know if they are His true servants?  God gives us some litmus tests.  Do they declare the whole Word of God to be true?  Do they declare that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God, very God of very God?  Do they declare that we are by nature lost sinners and can only be saved by faith in His Son through the grace of God?  If not, they are wolves.  Little children, beware of wolves.
Martin Luther in his hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” calls us to know we have such a foe and to use the power of God’s word and faith in Christ against him.

And though this world with devils filled should threaten to undo us, we will not fear for God has willed His truth to triumph through us.  The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure, for Lo! His doom is sure; God’s gracious word shall fell him.  

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Friday, February 17, 2017

A Beautiful Garden

We live in a crowded older neighborhood in a city.  Our total lot is only 60 feet by 80 feet.  On that lot we have a house, a two stall garage and a large driveway that can accommodate four cars.  That doesn’t leave a lot of yard space.  But in our yard I have planted hundreds of flowers.  I have also planted four trees, three large decorative shrubs, two strawberry patches, two raspberry patches, two grape vines and various other flowering items for beauty and food. 
There is an old saying in Iowa, “You can take the boy out of the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the boy.”  I started working full time at age twelve managing my own truck farm. My love for digging in the dirt has never faded. 
Of all the things growing in my yard, I am fondest of the flowers.  They were planted to bring cheer from the first warm sun of spring to the last cold sun of fall.  The hyacinths, daffodils and tulips of early spring give way to iris, lilacs and peonies of late spring.  They are followed by a wide variety of lilies, roses and hostas in early summer, flox and late blooming hostas in late summer and asters and mums in the fall. Multiple other varieties of flowers are in bloom either all the time or in intervals between those mentioned.   From the time the snow is starting to separate itself from the edge of the house in the spring until the first snow lies on the ground in the fall, there is color in my yard and cut flowers for my beloved bride. 
My yard always makes me think of a hymn from the revivalist era. All week we have been considering the blessings that belong to the children of God and are found in and through His Word. Those blessings are as varied as the many thousands of different kinds of flowers and the many variations of each type of flower.  A flower catalog that listed each variety of each type of flower would be volumes in length.  That is the nature of the blessings of God to His children in and through His Word.  This hymn reflects the deep truth about the blessings that we find in our Bibles. They are as rich and rare as a beautiful garden and they exist in abundance.  “Thy Word is Like a Garden Lord” is the only recorded hymn by an Englishman named Edwin Hodder.  
Thy Word is like a garden, Lord, with flowers rich and fair;
And everyone who seeks may pluck a lovely cluster there.
Thy Word is like a deep, deep mine and jewels rich and rare
Are hidden in its mighty depths for every searcher there.  

  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, February 16, 2017

A Secure Fortress

 Because we live on this earth we will find times and days and seasons when even the strongest hearted may tremble. Political leaders have learned to use the name of Christ to their advantage over the spiritually ignorant. Luther’s Large Catechism has much to say about the fate of those who thus profane the holy name of God.  He further declares that whole nations suffer disaster upon disaster while such blasphemy reigns in the land.  God said that He will not let go unpunished those who take His Name in vain.  That would apply to those who applaud its abuse as well. 
Such trying times are not new.  The Apostles experienced them in their day.  Luther and the Reformers experienced them in their day and until Jesus comes back mankind will continue to experience them again and again.  Satan has found an effective methodology to discourage mankind and bring vilification on those who speak the truth about the condition of the age. 
So what is the secure refuge?  It is Christ.  It is also His word.  His word conveys to us the greatness of His care and promises in troubling times.  It assures us that God has not forgotten His own.  It promises us eternal victory when temporal turmoil is rampant.  This is so sure that all the Scripture testifies to it.  In his great hymn, “A Might Fortress”, Martin Luther speaks of it in the final stanza.  (There are over 80 different translations of the original German for this hymn.  This is one of them.)  The Word is true, and it is our fortress. 
God’s Word forever shall abide, no thanks to foes who fear it.
For God Himself fights at our side, with weapons of the Spirit.
Were they to take our home, goods, honor, child or spouse, though life be wrenched away

They cannot win the day; the kingdom’s ours forever.  

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Blessed by the Word

How many ways can we find blessings in the Word of God?  The psalmist said that the word was sweeter than honey and richer than silver or gold.  Was he just writing poetic thoughts or was he serious?  When he said that the word was a teacher, a guard, a guide and a light was he just filling up space, or is it true?  The answer to those questions will not depend on us, but on God.  What God said is not alterable by us or our opinions.  The psalmist said, “The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”  Paul said that “All Scripture is given by inspiration from God and is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness.”  Paul also said that “God cannot lie.”  In other words, all the blessings of God are true and certain.  As Paul said, “All the promises of God in Him (Christ) are yea and amen.” 
So, where do you want to start picking flowers for your glorious holy bouquet?  There are some beautiful songs early in the story of Christ that may make a nice nosegay to carry around.  After meeting Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, Mary sang the Magnificat in Luke 1. She quoted many scriptural promises of God’s blessings.  It is a blessing that God pays attention to us (vs. 48).   It is a blessing that he has good plans for our future (vs. 48).  It is a blessing that He is in the business of doing great things for us (vs. 49).  It is a great blessing that He displays for us His mercy and strength (vs.50-51).  It is a great blessing that He fills us with good things, remembers us and keeps His promises (vs. 53-55)  Those are just the easy flowers to pick from this garden and we can carry them with us at all times.
Every day we depend on God’s gracious blessings to see us through the struggles of life. Sometimes we find ourselves looking at the cloudy sky instead of golden sun behind it.  We need to pick up His word and let it refresh us (a blessing) and encourage us (a blessing) and strengthen us (a blessing) so that we can live in the joy of His glory. 
Sarah Hale put the Lord’s Prayer into a simple song.  In this prayer we find the promises of blessings and hope for each day.  This prayer has been sung in various forms throughout the history of the church.  Remember, God is true and when we come to Him we can count on Him to fulfill His word.  The Lord’s Prayer is His own words.
Our Father in heaven we hallow Thy Name. May Thy kingdom holy on earth be the same.   O give to us daily our portion of bread; it is from Thy bounty that all must be fed.

 Forgive our transgressions and teach us to know that humble compassion which pardons each foe.  Keep us from temptation, from evil and sin, and Thine be the glory forever!  Amen.  

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

“Just an Old Fashioned Love Song” Abundant Grace Valentine

Don’t you just love love songs? How many of them can you sing, at least part of, right off the top of your head? Love has been a key theme of music for millennia. Everyone likes to be in love, to hear it, sing it, hold it in our arms. Love gives us a connection that enhances our life and takes us outside ourselves. After all, “All You Need is Love”. Right?
That is true. We all need love and the most significant love that we all need is the love of God. As the hymnist says, “The love of God is greater far than tongue or pen can ever tell, it goes beyond the highest star and reaches to the lowest hell.” It is love that transcends time, space, circumstances, and all obstacles. It is the love that made God send His Only Son, Jesus Christ, to die for all the sinners in the world so that all who believe in Him might have their sins forgiven and come into everlasting life.
The love of God, then, is far beyond the love of an old fashioned love song. Earthly love sometimes fades and sometimes fails. Earthly love can be corrupted by our own selfish desires and destroyed by our own sinful nature. But God’s love cannot be corrupted because it is pure and comes from the One who changes not and whose love is called “the everlasting love”.

As we enter the month of hearts, flowers, and expressions of earthly love, let us not forget the love that is far greater than this. In this love the expense is not ours. We need not, indeed cannot, buy anything or give anything that will gain God’s love. It has been freely given to all who will come to Christ as the Son of God, their Savior from Sin. As we expect the one who receives our Valentine tokens of love to swoon in our arms and respond with pledges of mutual love, let us take the same road with God. Let us fall into His arms of grace and both proclaim and live out our love for Him, not just for this month, but for always.  

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Monday, February 13, 2017

Blessed Is the Man

God has poured out so many blessings upon us it would be literally impossible to count them all.  There are many blessings that are visible.  We could take the short cut on some of those and just be thankful for creation.  That, however, would really be a cop out.  What is it about creation that makes us feel really blest?  Do we include our family in creation?  Do we include or pets?  Some seem so indifferent to the multiple ways that we are blessed with creation that they just flippantly say, “Well, I’m thankful for creation”?   
What about other things we are thankful for?  How about the things that are intangible, are we thankful for them?  Can they be simply summed up as being thankful for intangibles?  Which intangible are we most thankful for? 
We can move to another category for things by which we are blessed.  How about spiritual blessings?  Do we find ourselves thinking of them at the top of our list of blessings?  Paul said, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.” (Eph. 1:3)  How many spiritual blessings can we name and our thankful for? 
One that we need to not only be thankful for, but to actively participate in, is found in Psalm 1.  “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scorners; but his delight is in the law of the Lord and in His law he meditates day and night.”  The psalms begin a paean of praise to God for His abundant blessings and will continue to do so for the next 150 psalms.  Those blessings include the visible, the intangible and the spiritual.  The psalmist reminds us right up front that those blessings begin with seeing and knowing God in His word and in following His leading and obeying that same word. 
A paraphrase of Psalm 1 is a good way to start our week on the blessings of the Word.
1.      Blessed is the man who puts his trust in Thee
The paths of sin he will not take, the scoffer’s seat will flee              Refrain
Refrain:   Yes, blessed is the man who puts his trust in God
                 He makes his way secure below, the streets of gold will trod                  
2.      He shall be a tree beside the rivers deep

His leaves will be forever green, his fruit eternal keep                      Refrain   

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Friday, February 10, 2017

Old and New

Many things are old and new again.  Styles come and go and come around again.  Great athletes who have supposedly become “has beens” return on a new team and astound everyone.  A senior citizen becomes a media darling and a cult hero to the young with a simple one liner, “Where’s the beef?”  Solomon said that there is nothing new under the sun.  It is just a new set of eyes that see it and embrace it before it resurrects in the next generation.  There is a famous hymn that has had this life experience of its own.
Originally written during the revival era, traveling worldwide and translated into many languages and then passing into relative obscurity, it was resurrected by an evangelist in what is considered the post revivalist era.  The hymn is “How Great Thou Art”.  It began as a poem written in Swedish and had no music.  Several years later it was set to the tune of a Swedish folk song.  From there it traveled down to Germany and was translated into German then on to Russia where it was translated into Russian.  An English missionary heard it there, rephrased and added new words and altered the music.  From England it moved to India, part of the vast English Empire where it was heard by an American evangelist and taken to the United States in the early 1950’s.  Used at a Bible training seminar in America and then made its way back to London where it was shown to the Billy Graham Crusade staff. The Graham Crusades made it popular again all over the world beginning in the 1950’s, which happens to be just after the end of the revivalist era.  The old was new.
Billy Graham said, “The reason I like “How Great Thou Art” is because it glorifies God. It turns Christian’s eyes toward God, rather than upon themselves.”  Lawrence Welk said it was the most requested song ever on his television show.  By the mid 1970’s it had been performed over one million times!  As we wrap up our devotions on creation this week, let us sing a much beloved song and worship the Great Creator who inspired it. 
O Lord my God! When I in awesome wonder consider all the works Thy hand hath made. I see the stars I hear the rolling thunder, Thy power throughout the universe displayed.
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee; How great Thou art, how great Thou art! Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee: How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

  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, February 9, 2017

Artists and Sparrows

My favorite American song writer was Stephen F. Foster.  His musical scores and lyrics changed and molded American music.  He was the most widely sung secular American song writer of the 19th century.  His music was more widely sung and known than are the contemporary writings of John Grisham, Danielle Steele and Steven King combined.  With that in mind it may surprise people to know that Stephen Foster died in abject poverty.  It is not that he squandered his money; it is simply that the art inside of him had to escape and he gave almost all of it away for pennies a song. 
Artists such as writers, painters and musicians are far more often in the bottom ten percent of income than the top.  What they produce has to be produced.  It is their contribution to society.  Holding it in is like trying to cork a volcano.  So, as a writer I understand being in the bottom ten percent of earners. 
That is why I like sparrows.  Yes, that does make sense.  There are a lot more sparrows than there are cardinals or finches or bluebirds.  People seldom ooh and aah at a sparrow.  But while they are not highly regarded by men, they are highly regarded by God.  I like to feed the birds.  Watching them eat outside the window is enjoyable for my Bride and me.  Because of income limits I can’t afford fancy bird seed that attracts all the more beautiful species.  But, friends of ours give us stale bread each week, bags of stale bread each week.  We put that out and guess who comes to eat it?  It is not the cardinals or the finches.  It is not even the nuthatches or chickadees.  It is the sparrows and starlings.  Through me, via my friends, God provides daily bread for them.  God cares for sparrows and God cares for me.  (Matt. 10:29)
The hymns of the evangelistic era took on a new component in their themes.  They became much more personal expressions of praise.  This is what God has done for me, they said.  They still exalted His glory, His power, His truth and His grace, but they framed it in a new context.  This is true and it happened to me.  One such song from that era is “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” by Civilla Martin.

“Let not your heart be troubled,” His tender word I hear, and resting on His goodness, I lose my doubts and fears; though by the path He leadeth, but one step I may see; His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me; His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.  I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free, for His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

“Fairest Lord Jesus”

God in creation has long been a source of music for the church.  The psalms are full of praise to God for His creation and numerous calls for creation to give praise to God.  The prophets speak of restored creation praising God and the Book of Revelation sings His praise for creating all things.  God’s power and glory in creation continued to inspire hymn writers through the early church years and beyond.  One of the great hymns of praise that centers on this theme has a history which is not fully known. Its first written record is during the Reformation era.  Sometimes called the Crusader’s Hymn, because legend had it that German crusaders had sung it on their way to the Holy Land, “Fairest Lord Jesus”, resounds with the theme that the glories of Christ surpass all the glories we see in the things that He made.
Pagans center their worship on creation.  Mother Earth and Mother Nature are two of their goddesses.  The focus of nature worship is that we find such sublime perfection in it.  Of course, there is no such sublime perfection in nature if we look more deeply.  When Adam sinned God cursed the ground.  There went perfection right out the window.  Nature is actually quite grisly.  We speak of a dog eat dog environment in the workplace, well, where did such an idea come from?  Did it come from the sublime perfection of nature?  I love the fragrance of the hyacinths in my yard.  Just a few of them fill the entire yard with their wonderful scent.  But they are short lived and are pretty ugly when dead.  Where is the sublime perfection of nature in that? 
The beauty of nature is often here and gone in a matter of days.  A babbling brook can become a rushing torrent of death.  A glorious mountain vista can become a major landslide or avalanche.  A beautiful forest, with just one stroke of lightning, can become a raging inferno that produces mass death and destruction.  Nature is certainly beautiful, but don’t blink.  But there is something that is always glorious, beautiful, fragrant and sublimely perfect.  That something is Someone.  He is “Fairest Lord Jesus”.
Fair are the meadows, fairer still the woodlands, robed in the blooming garb of spring;
Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer, Who makes the woeful heart to sing.
Fair is the sunshine, fairer still the moonlight, and all the twinkling starry host;
Jesus shines brighter, Jesus shines purer than all the angels Heav’n can boast. 
Beautiful Savior, King of creation, Son of God and Son of Man!

Truly I’d love Thee, truly I’d serve Thee, Light of my soul, my joy, my crown.

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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

To Worship and not Be Worshipped

When God created the beasts of the earth, air and water, He spoke and they were made.  Teeming thousands of animal species sprung into existence with a simple word of God.  When God made man He did it differently.  He formed man and then breathed the breath of life into man.  Man became, the Scripture says, a living soul.  Man was created with a unique ability to worship God, not just with the voice of praise, but with the whole being, body, soul and spirit. 
But fallen man was not content to worship God.  Man had fallen because he wanted to be like God.  He was not content with the inferior position of worshipping another.  As time progressed this became the pattern for man’s theology.  Man wanted to be like God, so man should receive worship like a god.  From tribal chiefs to emperors man claimed a direct descent from the gods.  (There were now many gods and not just One.)  Such descent meant that man was also a god and as a god was deserving of worship.
Contemporary man would scoff at such a primitive idea, but it would be a false scoffing.  We have elevated the product of our minds into being god.  Education for many is now god.  Politics and politicians for many are now god.  Economics and its solutions for man’s problems is now god.  Science with its perceived limitless possibilities is now god.  Anything that offers the hope of salvation for mankind is a god.  Since all these things come from man, then it is only logical that the dictum in modern thinking is that god is in us all. 
Our purpose was to worship and bring glory to God the Creator, the Redeemer, the Giver of life, the One True and Triune God.  We have corrupted that purpose into worshipping the strength and vitality that God has given us.  God’s gift to us of reason has evolved into the greatest god of our age.  Certainly we are not the only age of mankind to live in this error, but with time we are perfecting the doctrine to new heights of human glory. 
We can’t force all humanity to worship the true God, but we can willingly bring ourselves to sing His true praises.  With the ancient church in the grand hymn of Theodulph of Orleans we can worshipfully sing, “All Glory, Laud and Honor”.  (c. 800AD)
The company of angels are praising Thee on High
And mortal men and all things created make reply
The people of the Hebrews with palms before Thee went;

Our praise and prayer and anthems before Thee we present.  

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