Specks and Logs & Dogs and Hogs

“And why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?”
Matthew 7:3
(Read Matthew 7:1-6)

How about a collective {{{OUCH!}}} to either speck or log removal operations? It’s never, no not ever, easy. They are both painful in degree to the extent of the infectious aggravation they have stirred up; and this is akin to the length and depth of the embedment. A speck in the eye may be perceived as, and irritates about as much as… a tree branch in the eye. Or as a grappling hook. Functionally, there is NO DIFFERENCE in the necessity and difficulty of removal of either. I have never experienced a small or insignificant eye irritant. It never stops its relentless pursuit of demanding the right to be noticed and its need to be dealt with. The price of removal always necessitates some probing of the eye. Right. A good eye probing. Where does that line start?

So let us be clear… so we can see clearly and know fully… as we are fully known. (How remarkably Biblical sounding.) “Speck removal” and “logging operations” are needed ministries. They are commanded duties. You ARE a righteous judge commissioned by the Almighty as a child of light to reestablish sight to the impaired and light to the grossly blind.  The required precursor is a self-logging operation of sorts. That’s ok and expected; we all have those cursed blind spots. Deal with eye-log issues, and then give your brother relief. Don’t pretend you can see until you have peered into the mirror of the perfect Law of Liberty and then you find help to see by His Light, and then you can safely perform the surgical intervention required. Furthermore, our sins ought to always be greater in our eyes, (the “log” so to speak), than any other sin anywhere else in all of the inhabited world, because they are MY SINS.

“Physician, first heal thyself.”

Maybe my point is that a log in the eye does not disqualify you from being a healer of others. “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…” Personal logging operations can actually increase experiential qualifications and assist us to identify with others in a more understanding, loving, and comforting manner. We all need a “Nathan” now and again. And no, you nor I are ever exempt from righteous self and “other” examination. The Lord Jesus is here instructing us to first be a Nathan unto ourselves, then proceed cautiously and wisely to the needy ensnared brother we encounter.

My Skoal Story as an example.

I fought to quit tobacco products for years, NOT because I was convinced “a pinch between the gum and cheek” was wrong, but rather I was struggling with issues such as addictions, bondages, the stewardship matter ($5/can), and my pursuit of being a good example to my boys and others. And then for whatever reason, one day God showed up after I had tried and failed to quit at least 5653 times in the past. And I walked away from it. God did that. I didn’t. He did something, but I am not sure what it was. So the “log” of tobacco I removed and escaped helps me to encourage and not badger my patients and prisoners who struggle with addictions that are consuming the precious gift of life God gave them. Meth is the worst. What kind of hell-drug is that? …stirred up and cooked in your own kitchen. SMH to any who invite this Devil indoors, because he will steal, kill, and ravage you. But I understand. The enemy is crafty and he knows our propensity of weakness and sin. And no, I don’t think tobacco or alcohol products are intrinsically wrong. We are not legalists in the Vining household. There is liberty in all things declared clean by the redemptive  work of God in Christ. That’s not what we are talking about here. We are targeting real sins that keep you from the blessing and presence of the King. Now, I do think there are better and best choices in the exercise of liberties… Read it as you will.

Now. Back to Logging.

The guy you meet with no hand or with missing digits… he didn’t get that by picking his teeth.

I am country enough to know that real logging operations can be costly and very very unforgiving. The guy you meet with no hand or with missing digits… he didn’t get that by picking his teeth. He likely made a mistake or was the victim of a terrible accident. Most accidents equal somebody did something really stupid. Most. My point is, when we judge others in our world today, even after judging ourselves rightly, we will find a high percentage who will respond as the fool set upon his own path of destruction. He will not applaud you, and will likely misrepresent you and your intent. The next thing Jesus discusses in this section is to not cast pearls before swine, or give what is holy to dogs. Rutrow. Deal with that as you will. He said it and we must wisely act upon it. There is inherent danger here. “They will tear you to pieces.” The goal of being holy is to be like and to please our Heavenly Father. It will never receive man’s approval or accolades. They sell that somewhere else, but not in the Gospel of Grace store where all is free.

And finally.

Just remember who told us about logs and specks, of dogs and swine. What did we do to Him? What did He do for us “for the joy set before Him”?

Galatians 6:1-3
“Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.”

Frankly, I always hate these types of talks. It makes me feel grossly less than I ought to be, and more like I really know myself to be. Horrors! I think I struggle with “survivor’s guilt” of a sort because of my wicked past, and now God’s abundant mercy. Who do I think I am? You know, that sort of accusation. And then I remember we all have feet of clay. May God help us to remain pliable so that He may form us as He will, and unto vessels of glory. After all is said and done, “God has chosen the foolish things to shame the wise.” Ain’t it the truth?

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.”