Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Power of Grace

A brand new microwave sat on my counter for the past two weeks, wrapped in a box, while we waited to see if a better “Black Friday” deal would emerge before opening it.  Although the new microwave had the power to transform the way I did my morning coffee, I couldn’t use it, because I had never opened the box.

Yesterday, I took a scissors and cut off the tape from a box that enclosed a second microwave which had been delivered to our house—my husband had found a better bargain.  Needless to say, my coffee routine was performed in much less time this morning than it had been the past few weeks. While the microwave had been there all along, it wasn’t enough to know that the brand-new microwave would speed up the time I heated up my milk and creamer for the espresso on the stove.  To access the power, I had to actually open the box, plug in the microwave, and experience the rapid heating of the liquid.

In our Christian lives, a power source exists that radically altars the way we live—God’s grace. 

One gift at a time, grace is God’s strength provided for us. 

One day at a time, grace is the riches of Christ available to us.

Some have defined grace with the acronym “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense,” for without the shed blood of Christ on Calvary, believers would be powerless to live grace-filled lives in the reality of this evil world. As we acknowledge the propensity of our own sinful hearts and the depth of our own depravity, we are propelled to reach out for this amazing gift of God. Through Christ, grace gives us the answer for living, for responding, for “working out our own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12) in each of life’s circumstances and situations.

Grace illustrates Christ within us, the Hope of Glory.  His grace is the ticket out of every temptation (1 Cor. 10:13)—even if nothing changes externally!  Grace is the work of Christ in the heart through the power of God's Holy Spirit within.  It radically alters everything about us, even if nothing on the outside seems different. 

Grace is a powerful notion.  A life-changing concept.  A radical transformation of our hearts from the inside out.

It’s Spirit-empowered living because of the power of the Gospel.

How often did Paul begin his epistles, “Grace to you…” or “Grace…from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”?  It was wish, a prayer, a hope, a belief that the believers he cherished would experience the liberation of their spirits in a life of transformed, Spirit-empowered living.

Grace is the liberating reality that empowers believers to live life dominated by the Spirit of God, loving and forgiving others who fail.  Outlandishly.  Because that’s what Jesus did for us.  Believing the best about a situation when things look darkest.  Because that’s the character of the God of love.  And reaching into the lives of those in our surroundings to touch them with the same grace that we have received.  Because that is the example of Jesus.

I’m amazed at Paul’s words to the Philippians—“Ye all are partakers of my grace.”  And this is the heart of God for us—that we, who have freely received spiritual riches from His hand should also live, empowered by God’s strength, to affect all in our surroundings with His grace!

Galatians 5:13-6:10 powerfully illustrate the ramifications of the gifts of grace—the fruits of God’s Spirit.  Living in the freedom of grace kindles within us a desire to serve each other in love, for self-denying service is the normal outgrowth of such liberty.  Not license.  Not legalism.  But freedom to serve God and love others in ways we never knew were possible. 

Grace transforms our conversation, making our words gifts of grace that build up, ministering God’s strength to the hearers (Eph. 4:29).  The grace of God can’t be stopped.  It’s more powerful than any sin around us, any sin within us.

Often emerging from the pain of difficulty, God’s grace paints a picture of the beautified Christ reaching out to others.

Dear believer, may you allow God’s grace to touch your weakness today and transform your heart daily into the likeness of Christ. 

As was true in Paul’s life, God’s grace can extend from you to everyone you touch! 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Choose Your Own Adventure

The plot thickens.  The character must decide between any number of choices.  What will he do?  If you choose for him to (a) follow God’s will completely for his life, turn to page 67.  If you want him to (b) follow God’s will from his 30s on but make his own decisions in his 20s, turn to page 43.  If you (c) choose for him to wait till the end of his life to follow God’s plan for him, turn to page 88.  If you choose for him to (d) neglect God’s plan for his life altogether, turn to page 101. 

I never got into Choose Your Own Adventure books.  Personally, I liked stories that had already been written for me to enjoy with me as a reader taking less of an active part in making choices for the hero or heroine. 

And yet, I wonder . . . how often do we as believers live our lives as if we are in the midst of a Choose Your Own Adventure book?   

While some things in life certainly are left to personal choice, much specific direction for life is found in God’s Word.  Christianity isn’t a “choose your own adventure” world.  Rather, it’s a “find God’s will in His Word and follow it” world.  God has given us the Holy Spirit, who uses the Word to guide us into all truth, so that we can discern His perfect will for our lives.

God's will never leads us to a place of less surrender.  His will never leads us to a place of less love for Him or less worship of Him.  If we are indulging in sins of the flesh today that have taken us from His path of life--where His presence remains (Ps. 16:11), where full joy exists--we should examine our choices.  His Spirit is one of truth that leads us into “all truth.”  Are there portions of the Bible that we pick and choose, deciding whether or not to obey them?  If so, we will reap many negative consequences—but they will come in a different season than the season in which we sow.  

Today we are faced with many choices.  Will we spend our time seeking God in His Word and interceding for others in prayer?  Will we choose to love people to Him by giving them the Gospel and seeking to open our mouths with Spirit-led boldness?  Or will we stagnate in our Christian walk?  Will we live our moments and minutes in God-dependent faith, letting the Spirit produce His fruit in our lives, or will we cope by running to our own way—busyness, entertainment, self-indulgence?  Are our minutes consumed with His way or our own?

Today’s choices are tomorrow’s realities.  What we think about today we will begin doing tomorrow, for how we think shows who we are and will eventually display itself in the actions we choose.   

Let us, then, examine our thoughts.  Are we thinking only about “whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report”?  

If not, we can expect negativity to emerge from our lips.  Unkindness to emanate from our spirits.  And disregard for God’s ways to color our world.  Further, we can expect our own adventures to be riddled with inner turmoil and unbelief. 

In Numbers 13, only two men reported what God saw when He viewed the Promised Land.  How do we report our reality to the people about us?  If we are people of praise, thanking God morning, noon, and night, worshiping Him in our spirits--then faith-filled and God-honoring reports will emerge from our lips.  If we are people of complaints, bitterness, and unresolved anger, we will report our world through a negative lens as being the result of someone else’s poor choices. 

If you’ve chosen your own adventure instead of God’s, I plead with you to return to His pathway today.  Let God color your world, shape your perspective, and give you the eyes to see His plan as perfect and good for you.

Return to our Lord, Who says, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end” (Jer. 29:11).


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Power of Listening

Have you ever been corrected and known that the person seeking to admonish you was a bit off in his perspective?  Have you ever heard words from another that hurt so deeply because you felt at your core that they didn’t really see the situation properly?  Did you ever feel misunderstood when being reproved?

A situation occurred recently in my life in which someone corrected me.  I have asked this person at various times to please let me know if they see something off in my life.  But when the individual said the words, it really seemed her perspective was not quite on.  I felt hurt.  Misunderstood.  Like I didn’t want to be as close to this person as I had in the past.

But God wouldn’t let me think that way.  He showed me that, as a Trinity, He is united in perfect fellowship.  As Father, Son, and Spirit, He is perfect Love.  His desire for believers is that we, too, have “fervent charity” among ourselves (I Peter 4:8), that we “endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:3).  So I knew that, even though relationships can become messy and sticky and uncomfortable, I couldn’t by any means treat this person with a casual relationship or diminish the significance of the person’s words.

We set up an appointment to talk, but I wanted to get God’s mind on the issue first.  I examined myself in light of the individual’s words but wasn’t getting clarity.  I looked into the Word and saw in my devotions a situation reflecting my own from the Psalms.  But I still didn’t arrive at conclusions.  However, when I looked into Proverbs the following day, God showed me exactly my own problem, brought clarity to my thinking, and helped me to correct a wrong pattern that had developed in my life.  I was so grateful that I hadn’t chosen to make null and void the words from this dear sibling in Christ. 
The tentacles of pride are a great source of opposition in believers’ lives.  God clarified in my spirit that, to respond by avoiding this person or annulling what she had said would be to respond in pride.  His Spirit works as we humble ourselves before Him. 

While my sister in Christ was not quite on in her evaluation, her words assisted a journey to ask the Lord the root of something in my heart, and He showed me in living color where I needed to turn to Him. 

“Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath,” James tells us (1:19).  God does not want us to become irritated inside when someone speaks a truth perspective into our ears.  Even if they haven’t exactly hit the nail on the head, God wants us to listen and examine our hearts to see “if there be any wicked way in us" (Ps. 139:24).  He wants His people to live in unity, fellowship, and harmony with one another.  Although relationships with people can become sticky, He longs for His own to “seek peace and pursue it" (Ps. 34:14; 1 Peter 3:11).

Believers have been designed to live in community.  In fact, Christian community and fellowship with each other is one incredible feature of God’s church.  That fallen creatures can live through the power of His Spirit in peaceful, harmonious, and beautiful relationships is none other than the product of Spirit-filled living.  But God’s working in us demands that each of us “be clothed with humility" (I Peter 5:5).  The gracious God of the universe has actually promised to resist us if we respond in pride!  But grace—His amazing grace, the kind that sent Christ to earth—will fill us and enable us as we humble ourselves before Him.

Oh, let us pursue such openness with our siblings in Christ that we will be propelled to the throne of grace, with hearts worked over by Christ’s own humbleness of mind!  Let each of us be quick to hear, slow to speak, and ready to let the Spirit shape us in yet one other area of life.



And each day until eternity!

Monday, September 25, 2017

Spiritual Blindness

"I can’t see out of this eye,” the elderly woman told me.  “And the other one has a cataract.”

She still takes the newspaper but must use a magnifying glass to read the words.

Night blindness for her is real.  And day blindness has become her new normal.

She tells me it’s not pleasant to look upon a grey, blurry world out of bleary eyes.

And I empathize with her. 

Yet as I consider the notion of blindness, I realize that for us as believers, spiritual blindness can overtake us in a subtle way.  It can cause us to see the world about us indistinctly.  It can make falling far easier and an understanding of God’s truth less likely.

For many with developing eye problems, cataract surgery brings hope of restored vision.  For the Christian, correct biblical thinking clarifies truth, bringing the world back into sharp perspective and correcting the blurriness of life.

Second Peter 1:9  tells us that we are blind if we fail to add to our faith any number of things.  ("But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.")  What are those things?  Faith.  Virtue.  Knowledge.  Temperance.  Patience.  Godliness.  Brotherly kindness.  Charity.  As I look at that list, I am reminded that each of these can be categorized as traits of the spirit. 

My spirit was purchased at salvation and belongs to God.  And yet, indwelling sin is my life-long partner.  While the Holy Spirit produces His fruits within our hearts, indwelling sin within us is the greatest evil we must deal with. (See Matthew 15:18-20.)

While the evils of the world, multiplied together, make up for a weight of sin that crushes the heart of Jesus, my own sin grieves God’s Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30) and breaks my fellowship with God (I John 1:6).

It is that sin for which Christ died—a cost I would have to pay had I not been redeemed.  It is that sin from which I have been set free! And while that sin at one time barred my entrance to Heaven, it is Christ’s grace that can keep me from falling every day.

When any of us for one moment lose perspective on sin, we fail to figure in the great cost of our own sin being the most impossible debt we would have had to pay, had we not embraced the free Gift of Christ.  We fail to wonder at the amazing sacrifice Christ paid in blood, on our behalf.  We fail to recognize that the evil within trumps the evil of any circumstance anywhere outside us. We forget we were purged from sins and that each sin stands contrary to the 2 Peter 1 qualities, the 1 Corinthians 13 qualities.  The Matthew 5 qualities.  Unbelief.  Embracing what's not the best.  Lack of spiritual understanding.  Indulgence.  Frustration in trials.  Ungodliness.  Unkindness.  Lack of biblical love.

And so we embrace blindness.  Having failed to diligently add those 2 Peter qualities, we embrace a counterfeit of our soul's enemy.  One lie argues, “If only my circumstances were different, I would be different.”  We think that it is really some difficult person or situation with which we are dealing that would need to change in order for us to change.

The evils about us can grieve us on the inside, pushing us to the throne of Grace to intercede on the behalf of others.  Wrong choices of others can burrow down deep as we ponder a life thrown away, living in selfish indulgence of sin.  We can wonder at others’ choices to walk a pathway that is far from God’s.  In fact, we can become so lost in the labyrinth of others’ needs that we fail to reckon that—no matter how hard we try to help others, if we for one moment fail to embrace the utter evil within and our own need to continually access God’s grace at all times with every person and in every situation—we have lost perspective.  The perspective of the overwhelming gift of grace and our utter need for it.  Clarity. 

Indeed, if we fail to recognize our complete helplessness without the grace of Jesus, if we fail to embrace our absolute dependency upon our All Sufficient Savior, if we in any way, for one moment, believe that the sin outside us is bigger, greater, and more hurtful than the sin within us—we’re blind.  We can’t see where we’re going.  And we can easily trip, fall, and lose our way.

For you, for me—God’s grace is sufficient.  In every situation.  At all times.

And as we embrace His grace, never losing sight of our utter need, we can be kept from spiritual blindness. 

And from falling.  

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Freedom of Forgiveness & the Rejuvenation of Kindness

Forgiveness is the sound of chains released.  It is the vision of an unbound prisoner, loosed from shackles, running at top speed.  It is the beauty and glory of Jesus in the life of His saints.  Forgiveness is freedom.

My friend, someone today will treat you rudely, fail to appreciate what you have done, or even speak of you in a way that could potentially hurt.  Someone yesterday may have caused you physical harm or bothered you in a way that they either knew or did not understand.  Someone tomorrow will not be sensitive to your needs nor appreciate your perspective.

When these moments occur, forgive. 

As these moments come to mind, forgive.

Let forgiveness be the breath you breathe, the air you inhale in this universe that stands as a reality of God’s own forgiveness.  The forgiving Son of God, Who hears His name spoken in vain millions of times each day, forgives the very people who fail to care for Him.  This beautiful Savior suffered at the hands of individuals who mocked Him and tore at His flesh in great physical abuse.  As He hung upon the cross, those who passed before Him hid their faces from Him.  He was “despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3).

In the Great Judgment Day, this wondrous Forgiver of sins will stand as the Substitute for those who have placed their trust in His Redemption.  He, the Advocate of Saints, will bear the message, “justified!” to His Father, the Righteous Judge. 

Oh, dear believer, forgive! 

Today, forgive that one, even if you must do so 490 times.

Tomorrow, forgive again.

And keep on forgiving.

Stop counting the numbers.  Stop rehearsing the offenses.  Forgive.

Great freedom comes from forgiveness—and such freedom can be experienced this day, tomorrow, and the rest of your life.

So if you feel the icy wall of irritation getting erected in your heart, ask the Lord to show if you might be failing to forgive. 

But don’t stop there.  Couple that principle of forgiveness with this amazing truth:  “And be ye kind, one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God, for Christ’s sake, hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32).

Kindness.  It’s the biblical antidote to bitterness, something that is to be coupled with forgiveness as the positive, “put on” action that we wear in the face of trying situations.

Kindness begins with an others-perspective that emanates from the kind and loving Savior.

Colossians 3:12 states, “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering.”  Kindness is something by which believers should be marked.  Classified.  Known.

Kind speech.  Kind thoughts.  Kind actions.

To everyone in the pathway of life—yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

In the spring of 2016, I began to pray that God’s love would be so real to me that I would see it everywhere.  That, like the air I breathe, I could experience it profoundly and pass that love on to others.

One way God is answering that prayer in my own life is by showing me that forgiveness is always coupled by kindness.

I didn’t feel that I was not forgiving anyone.  But, as God is answering my prayer to love others in a way that they can feel, I have begun to see several positive actions that are definitely to be part of the equation of tangible love. 

First, I learned that whenever a hurtful thought came to mind, I should inwardly bless the individual by whom I had been hurt—to pray for God’s blessing on that person’s life.  (Luke 6:28, “Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.”)  That began to work in me a feeling that their sin wasn’t all that big and my responsibility—to bless them—was far greater. 

Second, I became aware of James 3:9, “[With the tongue] bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.”  As I began in prayer to bless those who had hurt me, I realized that any negative thoughts against others can be destructive.  That my prayers need to be phrased in a way that focuses on God and His glory, not my own hurt or pain.  That it is hypocritical to bless God with the same lips that in any way excoriate man.

But, now, this part of the equation—purposeful kindness—is making me aware of the ways people might be hurt by an action that I didn’t intend to be harmful.

It’s making me more sensitive to others about me and their perspective—tenderhearted in a way they can feel and understand.

And it’s showing me that I wasn’t as kind as I thought I was. 

I thought people understood that I had nothing against them.  That they could read my work, words, and gifts to them as sacrifice and care for them.

But this positive aspect of Christ’s message—“be kind”—has shown me that the way I approached certain situations needed to be different.  And, while I felt I was loving God with all my “heart, soul, mind and strength,” I see I was missing something—something Christ values highly.

The law of kindness.

Toward everyone.

For He shed His blood for every person, and each is incredibly valuable to Him.  Only humankind is made in His image.  We alone can experience redemption—the highest price God ever paid for anything, the death of His own Son.

And so God desires that nothing said, spoken, or thought pass through our hearts without this beautiful and merciful truth—be kind.  In the way it’s said, reported, explained…In the way it’s thought of, prayed for, listened to.

Purposefully, always, every day, no matter the offense, the disappointment, or whatever—be kind. 

This liberating truth is breathing more life into every relationship.  It’s transforming me through God’s truth.  And it’s a change I like.

If forgiveness is freedom, then kindness is rejuvenation. 

If forgiveness is the sound of chains released, kindness is the transformation of those iron chains into a set of newly-fashioned wheels. If forgiveness is the vision of an unbound prisoner, loosed from shackles, running at top speed, kindness is what delivers to him the best shoes on the market to help him run his race. 

And, while forgiveness affects the heart, kindness touches the lives of people in a way that they can feel. 

That they can see. 

And that they can understand—you truly are forgiven and loved. 

Kindness is the spirit of Christ living through the believer.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Poor in Spirit, Rich in Christ

On a recent trip to the UK, I met an African man who exuded Christ.  The big smile Chris wore said a lot.  His gratefulness said even more.  But it was his love for the Scripture that warmed my heart.  After the church service, he introduced himself.

“How are you today?” I reached out and shook the hand extended to me in greeting.

“Very thankful,” was his response.

“I like that reply,” I told Chris.  The unsaved world, frequently grumbling about the lot they’ve been given, often takes note of such words and wonders that believers can be grateful for what they have.  

Gratitude is so often a lost art.  But it’s this spirit the believer is to evidence in the world.  Philippians 2 says plainly,  

“Do all things without murmurings and disputings:  That ye may be   blameless and  harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;  Holding forth the word of life . . . ” (verses 14-16).

I often marvel at the breadth of that promise—the far-reaching effect our thankfulness can have.  As we habitually live in joyful obedience without a complaint in our hearts, we evidence to an unbelieving world the light of Christ.  We live in the spirit of Christianity. It was this Christ-like spirit that blessed me so much as I spoke with Chris. 

The message I heard that evening was excellent; the prayer time, good; the singing, hearty.  But because of the edification I received from speaking with this saint, I left God’s house that night spiritually encouraged to walk closer to Jesus, to let His words penetrate my every thought, and to let God shape my priorities in light of the Great Commission.

My interaction with this brother likewise caused me to consider my typical interactions in God’s church.  Isn't His house to be the place where the saints are refreshed?  Where we heartily engage in sharpening the countenances of our spiritual brothers and sisters?  Where God’s Word is applied and discussed?  

Chris's simple obedience convicted me.  His honesty about his Christian walk encouraged me.  And his heartfelt commitment to the things of God sharpened me.

Having come to Christ four years ago, Chris takes time each day to witness for Him.  Daily, he offers people Gospel leaflets in very public places throughout London, home to many agnostics and atheists.  Chris doesn't have a Ph.D in theology.  He doesn't have all the answers to objections others might raise about the Gospel.  And, while he's learning more about answering others, he hasn't forgotten a signally important truth--as part of Christ's church, he has an obligation “unto the end of the world.” 

To every creature.  

To preach the Gospel.
Chris likewise believes in the incredible power of God's Word and understands his utter dependence on God for all things.

"There are many devices in a man's heart; nevertheless, the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand” Chris quoted, mentioning that this text had been his meditation of late.  It had helped him in knowing which information would endure in his own life as he encounters multiple decisions.  It had directed him toward the Bible as the everlasting foundation for daily life.  

Chris opened his pocket Bible to show me the words of Psalm 86:11, which he often prays: "Teach me thy way, O Lord; I will walk in Thy truth; unite my heart to fear thy name.”

“If our hearts are united with His,” Chris explained, “we will do His will.  He continued, "I've begun to see that every sinful thing I do is really from my heart.  If I find a wrong attitude in my spirit, I know its source; therefore, I must keep my heart diligently!" 

Placing himself daily into situations that are far from culturally cool, Chris is continually confronted with the realization that His strength is found in Christ alone.  Purposing to habitually obey Matthew 28:19-20 has forced him to realize his poverty of spirit and the richness of the person of Christ.  Knowing that in himself he could never redeem a soul, Chris begs the Lord to fill him, to empty him of self.  He spoke of the reality of spiritual conflict in his daily experience. 

“It’s easy,” he said, “to allow worry about some other thing to dominate my mind; but that’s not what God wants.”  Instead, the simplicity of Christ demands that he focus his mind on a verse of Scripture, letting that be what strengthens his heart as he daily gives the Gospel.

Similarly, George Mueller would read the Word until he discovered in his Bible reading an attribute of God upon which to meditate.  Throughout the day, that particular characteristic would shape his thinking.  Mueller, known as a great prayer warrior, read through the Bible about 200 times after his conversion.  I’ve often wondered how much of a role the promises and character of God played in shaping Mueller’s thoughts, which in turn drove him to pray in faith, believing in God, who does the impossible.

In our day, discussion of spiritual realities is too frequently missing in our conversations with God’s people.  Why?  Is it that we spend far too little time in God's harvest field and thus fail to feel our own need?  Is it that we neglect to acknowledge the reality of spiritual conflict in which we are engaged?  Is it that we too little acknowledge our utter dependence upon Christ because we rarely participate in uncomfortable situations where we must bear His reproach? 

Just what will drive us to our Master?  What will give us insight into our poverty of spirit?  What situations can we choose in accordance with God’s Word that will corral our hearts into the path of life, where we are illuminated by His light and are thus able to perceive His reality?

Perhaps it will take a daily commitment to witnessing in God’s harvest field, willingly bearing Christ’s reproach before men, as Chris has chosen.  If every believer were thus engaged in spreading the Gospel to the “end of the world,” just what might be the result?  How Spirit-filled might believers be throughout the day?  How Word-filled might their conversations be in God’s house?  How thankful might they be?

Oh, may we obey our Lord's commands, convinced of the power of His Word, fully trusting in the simplicity of Christ to draw all men to Himself!

Our Lord is able to take weak, incapable vessels, “poor in Spirit” but filled with Himself.  May we, like Chris, take God at His Word and let Him shape our daily priorities!   

Monday, July 31, 2017

Reflections from Rome, the "Eternal" City

Rome—the eternal city.  And after a few short hours spent here, one can see why.  Traversing urban blocks, the traveler views ancient ruins which, like piles of hidden treasure, remind passersby of the ephemeral nature of life.  Gargantuan columns toppled in heaps or fused together by bands of metal shout out to today’s world to remember the past.  Consider history.  And live for something beyond the here and now.

Millennia-old fragments scatter memories everywhere in this city, where the ancient past daily intermixes with the ever-passing present. 

A pigeon holds its perch atop a marble Caesar.  Perhaps it descended from the very birds who, hundreds of generations past, participated in Roman army fortifications, where pigeons were raised and used by the imperial army.

Trajan's Column by Night
I sit in the light of the grand column chronicling Trajan’s victories of war, beholding a sight first seen in a history book years ago.  I’m really here—really in Rome.  One of millions throughout the centuries who has visited this “eternal” city.

Here, in the light of the grand etch work of a brilliant military historian, I note an emperor’s accomplishments displayed in stone.  This ancient volume speaks even more loudly than the Egyptian obelisk by Constantine’s baptismal site.  That testifies of Egyptian presence, of antiquity’s great borrowing and melding of cultures.  But this reaches every language group, for its historian uses pictures to portray one emperor’s conquests in exquisite detail, pointing out his grand accomplishments not only to literate but also to uneducated and barbarian alike.

I marvel at the chronicles recorded in stone throughout the city, at the immense proportions of the giant Forum, dwarfing the mass of humanity, which once crowded under its dominance and even now gaze upwards, imagining that incredible splendor of ages past.

Not far away sits the Mamertine Prison, where the Apostle Paul penned two epistles to Timothy and one to Titus.  Surrounded by concrete, without proper waste facilities, Paul would have depended upon the charitable gifts of others to sustain his life.  Descending into the heart of the Mamertine, I consider the precise geographical context of these books and decide to read through them during my first days in Rome.

Before being bound in this prison, Paul would have beheld the powerful Roman dominance that Caesar Augustus’s massive forum offered.  Bleating sheep and lowing cattle—destined for sacrifice, whose own entrails would have been read to predict omens –-no doubt reminded him of the pagan city where he had come to appeal to Caesar but now awaited death.  His heart, filled with compassion for the mass of humanity surrounding him, would have considered the populace who worshiped at Jupiter’s, Minerva’s, and Apollo’s temples, as the prison hovered in the shadows of these idolatrous centers.

And in this context Paul wrote words that bear noteworthy significance:  “Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

While emperors constructed larger-than-life statues of themselves, this great Ruler remains invisible.  Unlike the emperors’ faded palaces and images, the I AM is eternal.  Other emperors’ grand dwellings—at first, luxurious and soon, fading away—would grace the hillside overlooking the Mamertine for years to come, but this King remains immortal—the same in 2017 as he was in Paul’s day, just decades after Christ’s resurrection.

As I walk back to my hotel room after viewing the old city at night, with the orange flame lit at Piazza Venezia, the Forum illuminated, and Trajan’s Column glowing, I consider.  While the “eternal city” boasts faded columns of marble and stone, I have a “building of God, an house eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor. 5:1)—I have heavenly body promised me that will last forever.  While the millennia-old marble makes for interesting history, it is far from eternal.

In fact, in a city where travelers marvel at antiquity while beholding the intricate detail of colossal beauty, few realize that God—the invisible one—outshines any monument of the past.  And they, unlike the ephemeral statues about them, have been fashioned in the image of this immortal Being.  Created in His likeness, their eternal souls are by far the most important features of this city. 

Unlike the broken columns at our feet, the glory of our God lasts not from one earthly kingdom to the next or from one ruler to another.  His is an everlasting glory. 

“Only one life, ‘twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.”   

A focus on His reality--the eternal—can bring everlasting reward.   
And if we remain focused on such a perspective, we may forever joy that our present was spent reflecting the immortal, invisible, and only wise God, who alone lasts forever!

Friday, July 7, 2017

My High Tower

Tucked away in the tousle of multi-colored, Spanish-style homes near the ocean sits my friend’s house.  I’d visited her for years but, with the hustle and bustle of city traffic, I’d missed something—perspective.  The first time we met, I had arrived in an airport shuttle.  The driver’s way took him through the grand downtown district, so that when I arrived at my friend’s home, the drizzling rain and noisy cars distanced me from the beauty of her home’s location.

Retired and set in her ways, my friend is a creature of habit, frequenting the same grocery stores, the same exercise route, and the same approach to each day in a familiar, mimeograph sort of way.

And so I’d missed proximity to beauty.  Sure, I knew a lovely park sprawled, blocks away from her city home.  We’d walked there multiple times, inhaling the fresh scent of eucalyptus, crunching needles beneath our feet, strolling through a luxuriant rose garden.  But always we took the same route—or a variation of it.  And yet, how long this park stretches eluded me until I recently explored its acres of territory, which extend far across the heavily populated city where she lives.

Beyond trash-strewn city sidewalks and foul-smelling subway stations, a haven of beauty beckons.  Here, flowers of multiple varieties and shrubs of various hues accentuate the fingerprint of God’s handiwork.  Breath-taking displays of manicured flora and fauna highlight man’s work upon God’s planet, as individuals exercise dominion and stewardship over this corner of earth.

But until recently, I never realized my friend’s precise proximity to recognizable landmarks like the Bay Bridge.  I didn’t see just how her home fit into the giant jigsaw puzzle of her huge metropolis.  Because I hadn’t climbed high enough on a clear enough day, I didn’t know just how far one could view the grand ocean that diminished to ever-graying blue and stretched for unseen thousands of miles into the distance.

But when I trekked up several flights of stairs and even higher, I saw.  That vantage point provided a view of an overwhelming patchwork of beauty that surpassed my ground-level perspective, that put all into its proper view.

And as I sat atop the mountain, taking in the now miniscule townscape before me, Psalm 18:2 came floating to my brain—“The LORD is my . . . high tower.”

The Lord, my High Tower, provides a vantage point that stands distant from the mundane existence of life.  My High Tower uses His true and living Word, which is “forever settled in Heaven” to shape my perspective as I enter into His presence, away from the secular realm of this universe. By His every word we are to live, and when we get up into Him, through His eternal Book, we understand His heartthrob.  We realize what’s actually significant.  And He provides perspective—that our tiny, individual lives are only part of a bigger picture.

A picture that reflects all that He is. 

His sovereignty. 

His perfection. 

His goodness. 

In fact, our lives exist as particular parts of His perfect plan.

It doesn’t always appear that way to us.  In fact, it often seems that something’s off.  Something’s wrong.  Something’s gone awry.

But that’s not because of Him.

Too often, we bypass His perspective for our own.  We might choose to do a Google search on a topic before we complete a topical study on that same issue in God’s Word. Instead of praying about problems, we might rather just talk about them, making God's Source Book a last resort.  Instead of getting to the heart of an issue, we might rather avoid the discomfort of confrontation or people who point us to Scripture truth.  In these ways and more, we can choose to walk by what we see (our own feelings) rather than believe what we can’t see (faith in God’s perspective).

It’s tragic, actually--this lack of perspective that makes us trust our own vision instead of God's perfect Word.  It seems to me that the discrepancy between faith and feelings lies at the heart of most battles. 

Paul lamented to the Galatians, “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel” (Gal. 1:6). In Ephesians, he explains that the believers need not be, like children, so easily tossed from one “wind of doctrine” to another (Eph. 4:14).  In both passages, Paul illustrates a common human tendency—to easily remove ourselves from God’s way to our own way.

It’s a childish thing.  But it’s a dangerous thing.  Another Gospel means another Jesus, which means no salvation (Acts 4:12).  Another doctrine means a lack of truth, which means no actual worship, since God must be worshiped in both spirit and truth (John 4:24).

The question at the end of the day remains, Will we trust God’s Word implicitly or will we rely—even just a tiny bit—upon our feelings, our own way, our own understanding?

Let us ascend into our High Tower this day.  Multiple times, we can acquire His perspective and view the world with His wisdom!

Monday I finished reading Broad is the Way by Dr. David Sorenson.  This preacher commends the habit of reading through the Scripture seven times a year.  His method is nine chapters in the morning, nine chapters after noon, and nine chapters in the evening.  In reading about 27 chapters each day for several decades of his ministry, he has been able to see life from God’s perspective.  Understanding it is only God’s grace that has caused him not to move from his doctrinal and practical positions for decades, he also realizes that this habit of Bible reading has greatly shaped his view of life.

Another book I recently started is called For Instruction in Righteousness.  In her introduction, Author Pam Forster refers to herself as “just a mother," saying, “I am not a Bible scholar; I am just a believer, studying the Bible as the guidebook for my life.”  And yet, as a seeking believer, she has compiled a book of topically arranged Bible verses specifically geared toward child rearing from a biblical perspective.  She says, “We must turn back to the Bible, the source of all wisdom.  In it we will find all that we need to know to be godly fathers and mothers.”  Pam and her husband realize that God’s perspective must control their actions if they are to raise their family God’s way.  They have put together this resource that others, too, might have a help in seeking to make “God’s Word ... the center of”  

Fellow believer, let us likewise make God’s Word our Portion multiple times throughout the day, using it as our sole authority for faith and practice.  In so doing, we can live by the perspective our High Tower offers us.

From His eternal Word.