A Prisoner Set Free Though Bonds Remain

“So that your trust may be in the LORD, I have taught you today, even you.” (Proverbs 22)

One of my inmate “parishioners” from #CCC came to me last night in a fret after my fledging “Advent Message” on the “Consequences of the Incarnation” Today, he goes before a federal judge, and faces possible sentencing from 10 years to Life for the “consequences” of Fed Drug charges. He has ever been the model student and believer for months, and states that about 10 months ago God changed him. “Something happened.”

In my numerous years of prison ministry I have seen brokenness and I have seen the con of the con man. Jailhouse religion really abounds. It takes wise discernment to sense the heart and I do so imperfectly. I have had my share of disappointments and affirmations. But in this case this man has sat faithfully under the sound of the preached word for several months or years, and on multiple occasions I have witnessed his honest non-verbal wrenching and wrestling and grimacing with the hard gospel truth of repentance and faith, of dying to self and of cross-bearing; of discipleship and following the Christ of Scripture regardless the cost. We pull no punches but lay out the full-orbed Gospel truth of man’s guilt and God’s just wrath satisfied in the substitutionary work of Christ and Christ alone. We don’t peddle the word of God as many, nor do we offer a soft-sell faith of easy believism, but rather we preach the blood-stained, old rugged cross. We teach, “ Why do you call me Lord, Lord, but do not do what I say?”

My pupil is a voracious reader and has a cell full of quality Christian literature we have given him. Screwtape and Pilgrims Progress are some of his favorites. Greg Steele and I have taught him for months. Week by week as I have observed him, I believe he believes. I believe he understands. And I wonder what God has for him? We prayed. I counseled. His fears of today are real. He was troubled about the “why” of his fear (he perceived this as a lack of faith and not a mere attack of faith), and anxiety wondering why faith seemed to have fled him in this near hour of darkness. (Doesn’t faith always stress us in trial?) He then remembered the Garden and how Christ struggled. My inmate parishioner ultimately prayed in like manner, “Thy will be done.” I encouraged him to boast of his weakness that Christ might be manifest and perfect His power within him. I reminded him that Lewis states in Screwtape that having courage is not the same as feeling courageous. A man of courage acknowledges his fears and chooses to do the right thing regardless of fear. The Word instructs us in the right thing. Courage is a plan of action implemented, it is not a feeling; it is a directed course of action. The right thing is to not be anxious but to pray the Lord in acknowledgment of fears, with thanksgiving, and with the expectation of peace. Courage finally trusts God with the results though they may not be as desired or prayed. He believed that.

I think we as free men and believers do well in application of the following. My experience says there are many repentant brethren incarcerated for past transgressions who yet suffer consequences for their wrongdoing of another past life. They love the Lord and serve Him with painful gladness today. They miss family and friends yet their faith flourishes. They need your encouragement by prayer. These men want to be as a Joshua. They want to be as Joseph. They need your prayers.

I also steered him to Psalm 27 and 139 in further counsel. I told him the Psalms are for comfort and instruction in trial. Pray for him. He is a good man who erred. The Father knows his name. The Son too. My desire is for leniency but more so for His continued usefulness as we really don’t know what God has in store for him.

“Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body.”Hebrews 13:3

The Flesh and the Spirit

“For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.” Galatians 5

I could be discouraged by the raging of my flesh, or affirm its reality by daily celebration of the grace awareness of the struggle… the fight. To do so is not an indifferent nor complacent response, but rather a regard by realization of my need for more grace and the required, tangible help of the Holy Spirit to conquer remaining sin. We should never be content nor conquered. And I should always find it true that even on the best day of my greatest naivety that “there is no good thing that dwells in me, that is in my flesh, nor even the wishing of good…” How foolishly naive it is to think I might improve that which is marred by transgressions. I must see the old man crucified with Christ that the new man recreated in righteousness and holiness of truth might flourish to the celebration of a new life with new appetites.

I think of the Christian life as that old car commercial that advertised the “Push, Pull, or Drag Sale” that offers to make good on any trade-in you get to the car lot. God is determined by decree to complete His story of redemptive grace in my life regardless where I am today. We have a deal with the Almighty of His design and choosing.

God, who stretches back into eternity past, (bear with the oxymoron term), is in covenant with His elect, before the world was. I suspect He has what appears to us from the earthy perspective as contingency plans to get us to heaven in regal adornment as we experience grace perfected in Christ Jesus. In reality these apparent “contingency plans” are the 1st Grace Story revelation of His glory in His children as He has always intended to reveal.

I think I ought bow down and worship and praise and adore such a holy and wise and good Father who bought me with blood unblemished of infinite worth. Glory!

A Faithful Mom… Who Walked with God and Changed History

“…and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb.” Luke 1:15

How intriguing! How fascinating! What an inexcusable testimony that validates the life of the unborn, who yet LIVE and can BELIEVE by Sovereign Grace expressed in obedient parents who are diligent to speak the Word. In this case we see mom as the standard bearer of truth. Remember her spiritually sensitive response when Mary showed up at her door? “How can it be that the mother of my Lord is here!” (Remember Elizabeth was old and Mary but a child bride.)

Never. Please never underestimate the power of the Word which runs and accomplishes its end and design. God calls us to life! His gifts and callings are irrevocable.

The point…

This is part Gabriel’s announcement to Zacharius in the promised restoration of God’s order. Remember Zach was struck dumb, unable to speak, because of his unbelief of this angelic word predicting the birth of his desired and prayed for son, John the Baptist. So whom might we credit for effectively teaching John the way of truth as he was in utero but Mom herself? Zach was silent, unable to utter a peep for nine months. So Elizabeth was such an awesome teacher of the Word, no doubt including Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs too, that John even in infancy within her womb was filled with the Spirit as believed in the word of his mother, the very Word of life!

What a mom! What a God of purpose! Who can stand against Him? Who can stay His hand?

“In Christ Alone”

What is God up to When Pastors Leave the Church Local?

Confident Considerations of our Faithful, Covenant-Keeping God

  • The Eternal Church Entity was born of God apart from man and is built up by the Lord Jesus Christ through His entrusted stewardships and gifts given to men. No one person in particular sustains the pillar and support of Truth, which is the Church, but our Chief Shepherd, High Priest, Prophet, and King alone. This principle within the Church universal is also true of the true church local.
  • The Church is the Body of Christ and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it, for He is the Sovereign Head over all affairs of men, as He acts daily as Lord and Savior of the Body by intercession as our Great High Priest who has bought us by blood unblemished, and sustains us by continued efficacy.
  • Jesus Christ has prayed for the unity of His people to be expressed through love and joy one to another even when confronted by difficult, potentially divisive, and unanticipated circumstances.
  • Man can never fully rationalize nor understand the infinite mind of God nor fully discern the hidden purpose of God from the limitations of our finite frame of reference. His ways are not our ways, and neither are His thoughts our thoughts. The secret things belong to God only.

  • God is always able to bring glory to His name through the most dire or painful circumstances. Difficult days are designed to show God strong through human weakness, failure, and fear. Trials ultimately refine Christian character, and when rightly received offer cause to rejoice in hope of glory and joy.
  • Pain and difficulty, challenge and suffering are all often associated with the perfect will of God. Our perseverance by divine preservation through our use of the ordinary, but primary means of prayer and the Word of God are foundational to validate the calling of God by the comfort and aid of the Spirit of God through use of these means.
  • We are members of one another and as such we are called to serve one another in love through the mutual ministry and exercise of spiritual gifts to the building up of one other in full maturity of Christlike behavior for the advancement of the kingdom of God.
  • It is through many tribulations that we enter the kingdom of God, but Jesus said take courage, that He has overcome the world. Should we never suffer tribulations we would have reason to question the legitimacy of the faith once delivered. Historically we know that God’s choice servants have always experienced challenges and hardships for purpose of glory and sanctification, that no man may boast but in the Lord.
  • The loss of a pastor is not the loss of the presence of God, nor does it diminish the purpose of God, nor does it indicate the displeasure of God, but rather it advances aspects of our journey of faith which were heretofore easily neglected, but now affirmed by a fresh sight of Christ alone who will “never leave you or forsake you.” Where all men fail, God comes in assurance of comfort and hope.
  • God is faithful in His universal call to all men, and we shall reap the reward of the inheritance if we do not grow weary in well doing by our responsiveness through faithful implementation of His particular call today to seek God in secret. Those who know the Father’s pleasure in secret are inclined to the place of public and corporate prayer. Few pray today and this accounts for the erratic and weak pulse beat of the Church corporate. “This kind only comes out by prayer.”
  • The Christian is never called to walk by sight but by faith alone, looking unto God with assurance of the covenant promises that He has made to preserve us even unto the end of time. God actively enforces His Covenant as He removes any potential idols which would hinder personal or corporate first-love obedience, which must be experienced primarily through personal and corporate communion with the living God.
  • Sorrow and pain are always calculated to drive us to a nearer dependence upon the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Rock of ages, the Cornerstone. He learned obedience through the things which He suffered. The servant must be like his Master.
  • Loss is gain when accompanied by contentment of the knowledge that all God takes away in wisdom is restored in His gracious timing over and above our expectations for our growth in grace and faith.
  • The best of men are mere dust at their best and prone to err in discernment of God’s prompted or anticipated will. Despite the inherent weakness of the flesh and the clouded judgments of a heart that is Biblically described as deceitful above all else, the Church may rejoice in the sovereign, secret will of God that does continually prevail in the people of God. He brings good of our errors and wanderings through the weaknesses of our flesh and humanity. His Kingdom continually comes as it methodically advances without pause or fail. (Consider the Joseph narrative in Genesis.)
  • We should have every reason to believe that times of refreshing are upon SGBC as we expectantly wait upon the Lord to see His goodness in the land of the living. Light shines especially bright and with greater assurance of direction where darkness has previously prevailed.
  • As we by faith anticipate the good hand of the Lord to lead us in His triumph in Christ Jesus, so must the application of diligence to heed the voice of the Spirit be discerned by disciplined devotion to the totality of the Word of God in all of life and practice. Man’s wisdom is from below and earthy; God’s wisdom must be sought in faith from above and is pure, peaceable, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruit, unwavering without hypocrisy.
  • The life of the Church is hidden with Christ in God. We must seek Him and not man, nor search for Him or God’s man by the methodology of man.
  • Should all fall away and none go with you, would you still follow… no turning back? No turning back! Keep yourselves in the love of God, praying in the Holy Spirit! Grace can be received in vain; labor more than all the rest. Continue doing that which results in graces cultivated.
  • The unique manifest glory of God to a lost and dying world is the supreme desire and purpose of the Church of God through the calling out of the elect in all ages. Our Father neither slumbers nor sleeps, but is always vigilant for that people whose heart is stayed on Him. Grace prevails where faith remains vigilant.
  • When circumstances change, God and His purpose in Christ Jesus remain the same.

His Wonder-filled Invitation to Worship

“O come, let us sing for joy to the LORD,
Let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation.
Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving,
Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.
For the LORD is a great God
And a great King above all gods…”
Psalm 95:1-3

Regardless the hundreds of times I have read these words of worshipful invitation, my heart still leaps with fresh joy at the thought of the wonder of His call, and the creature’s highest privilege of worship in the very presence of our Creator God-King-Redeemer! If we might ever ascend but to this height we behold glory in the totality of life and being.

My heart is warm and filled with light though the world is cold, calloused, and dark. I am thankful that He is near.

Holy Men Worthy of Imitation

Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.”
Hebrews 13

It’s rare. But it can and does happen. On occasion we encounter those of pure heart and clear conscience who demonstrate a faith worthy of imitation. Their agenda is to know God and walk in light. Glory unspeakable characterizes the frailty of their humanity as they struggle with life challenges as all men, but with a quality of the Divine presence. Eternity marks them. Holiness befits them. A sober vigilance to be watchmen for the King governs them. I think it right we know and esteem godly men. I think it right we too be consumed for “the weight of glory.” They complete the task. They are drink offerings while they live. No price is too much for the King’s name or His fame. May some of us aspire “to know Him and the power of His resurrection.”

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Considering it all joy…in doing what can be done: Discerning the Difference Between the Difficult vs the Impossible (Easter Thoughts ) A WorkPlace Devotional at Christus Highland on 4.13.17

It’s the Easter Season again. Easter is essentially about all things being made new. New Life, New hope. Joy being born of sorrow. A resurrection has occurred. We celebrate Easter with bunnies and baskets, with chocolate eggs and tasty treats. Family and friends adorn our memories and warm our thoughts as our hearts are stirred with recollection of Egg hunts and Reunions of our childhood from yesteryear. I treasure those times. I treasure the spiritual moments and awakenings too.

So here we are on the Eve of the Day we celebrate as “Good Friday”. We work the week long, so after a manner, every Friday is good in a relative sense… unless we are pulling the weekend call duty. But tomorrow is not a reference to relative good but to the ABSOLUTE GOOD of the very Son of God entering into that process of His Labor for His glory before the world was, as His hour had now come, and our good is at hand. (John 17)

His glory was submission to the Father’s wise and perfect, yet painful and costly will… “Let this cup pass… yet not My will be done, but Thine be done” was His prayer in Gethsemane. He did not complain, He did not disdain… the very purpose of His entry into this world as Emmanuel (God with us) was to please His Father and accomplish the task at hand. He came to willingly embrace whatever the Father set before Him, and that labor involved a cruel cross. Without the cross, there is no crown. To enter back into His glory, He learned obedience through the things which He suffered as a Son. Hebrews says, “it was for the joy set before Him that He endured the cross, despising the shame…” yet now, He has accomplished all and “has sat down at the right hand of the Father.” We were His joy. We were in His heart.

The joy set before Him was His desire to please His Father by the chosen path of Life via His death. He was Life, in Him was Light and no darkness. His life and light were the light of this world of darkness in which we live. The life He pursued was for each of us who receive His gift of Love and work of Redemption. He took our place and He tasted death for each one of us so we might enter into true life, joy and true love by His perfect obedience.

Jesus endured an impossible task assigned to each of us, so we might escape the consequence of our failure by our habitual breech of Moral Law and duty. We today might know joy and freedom because of His life, and His love of even us unto His death. Yet the grave could not hold Him, for “Up from the grave He arose, with a mighty triumph over His foes… He arose a victor from the dark domain, and He lives forever with His saints to reign!” (He Arose) That’s us. We Live! We are recipients of great joy and life because of His labor of love and resurrection over the grave.

None of us have ever worked as hard nor endured such hostility of opposition as did the Lord Jesus. He stormed the very gates of Hell by His life and death. Yet, He never open His mouth in complaint or in rejection of the assigned task. Sure He cried, “My God, My God! Why has Thou forsaken me?” in that darkest, cruel hour of divine abandonment by His Father as He hung upon the tree. But my point is that in His endurance and perseverance, He never complained, murmured nor blamed another for His misfortunes. He is our example of excellence.

We are called to live a Christo-centric ethic of life with the Lord of glory as our example or illustration of how to live life and endure hardship. The Scripture is replete with other examples of enduring hardship and of those who ultimately find joy in the process of obedience to the assigned task. Moses was given an apparently impossible assignment to lead approximately 2 million Hebrews to freedom from slavery from the rule of the most powerful dynasty of the time: The Egyptian Pharaoh world. He felt very inadequate and understaffed as He approached Pharaoh with the demands that Pharaoh let His (God’s) people go, and His life became miserable before it became better and successful. Things went from bad to worse as the Hebrew slaves were charged with the task to make bricks without straw in consequence to Moses’ meddling. This was a near impossibility and yet God provided. He always provides. Perhaps we need patience and endurance to continue doing the right thing and minimize our complaints? We need to recall the principle “what’s impossible with man is possible with God.”

In John 11, Jesus stood before the sealed tomb of a dear friend, Lazarus of Bethany. Lazarus had died 5 days earlier and now Jesus had arrived, apparently late, to the sound of weeping and the flow of tears as the sisters Mary and Martha sought consolation for their loss of their brother. Jesus wept with them. He reminds the crowd that He was the Resurrection and the Life, and that all who believe in Him would be raised again to never die. He then commences upon a path that shocks the crowd as He requests those present to remove that stone that covers the tomb of Lazarus. Despite the outcry and the fear of a stench that will surely break up the funeral proceeds, the stone is removed as the participants do the bidding of the Lord of Life.

Those present do what they can do in this assigned task. This is a difficult but assigned task in the process of glory. The impossibility portion of the process is a God work; it is not ours. The local peoples and family cannot do what now must be done. Only God can do that. Jesus commands Lazarus to come forth, and he does so, bound hand and foot. He is loosed and let go. There is life-altering authority in that One who cried, “Lazarus, Come forth!”

We cannot do the impossible; that is the business of God. However, the difficult is often confused with the impossible. God is the one to handle the impossible tasks which confront us daily. The difficult tasks are in our realm and within our reach. Sometimes the stretch to reach the assigned task hurts as we weary of the process. Remember we shall reap in due time though, if we do not lose heart in well doing.

A perspective of encouragement that I seek to locate and live by every day as I come to work is from Colossians 3. It was a word given to those who had trusted God as Savior and Lord but now continued in a life of slavery in a culture that utilized slaves. Here is what Paul said:

Colossians 3:22-24

[22] Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. [23] Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, [24] knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.

This is our calling today at Christus Highland. This is our assigned task. This is our glory and labor of love. We are to do what we can, even enduring hardship through circumstances, that maybe we wish we could change. But may we never lose the true vision that we are to seek to help others and please God in daily life and practice. (And we get a paycheck to boot!) We can’t do what must be done, but we must do what can be done. We each play a critical role in the assigned task of our duty to care for self, staff and our patients. We know ours can become a problem of repetition and familiarity though. We do the same things over and over without much variation nor relief. With repetition of assigned duty, we discover the drudgery of the mundane, and tend to develop attitudes of complaint rather than see the wonder in the ordinary experience of life itself. Glory is all about us. God opened the way for us to experience excellence in this thing called Life. God also grants capacity to consider any current circumstances of difficulty as the means to establish character and joy as we learn the secret of being content with where God has assigned us today.

Bricks can be made without straw. It is difficult but not impossible. God provides. We can’t raise the dead, but we can remove the stone so Lazarus might come forth upon His authoritative command. Remember whom you serve and how He first served and loved you. Ours is to discover what we can do and ought do as we trust God to intervene in the impossible.