Teach Me Your Way, O LORD

“Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name” (Psalm 86:11)

I love the stories of God’s grace in the lives of the people in the Bible. I especially love the lessons that Scripture has to teach us about King David, a man after God’s own heart, yet a man who sinned greatly. David sinned on the biggest of stages and suffered heart wrenching consequences for those sins. 1&2 Samuel tells the story of David’s life, and his writings in the Psalms tell of his emotions at those various stages. Psalm 86 is a prime example of such a psalm. David was in trouble. There were people seeking to take his life, “O God, insolent men have risen up against me; a band of ruthless men seek my life.” (v.14). There’s no doubt that David brought some of his problems on himself. He found himself calling on God for mercy often. And though he sometimes stumbled, David’s heart was faithful to seek instruction from the Lord on how to better walk in truth.

I believe one of the reasons David’s stories are so loved is that they bear a resemblance to our own lives as Christians. Just as David did, we slip, slide and stumble through this life. David’s wide ranging emotions are much like ours. And you can see them clearly as they flow freely from his pen in the psalms. In his devotional Morning and Evening, Charles Spurgeon writes that the reason David’s psalms are so universally loved is that “no matter our frame of mind, whether ecstasy or depression, David has exactly described our emotions”. He goes on to say that David “was an able master of the human heart because he had been tutored in the best of all schools—the school of heartfelt personal experience”.

The Christian life will always have its ups and downs. Our emotions will sometimes run wild and there will always be choices for us to make along the way—a choice to obey God’s way, or a choice to seek our own way. Which way will we choose? “Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name”. That was David’s cry and God was merciful to hear that cry. Let that be our cry as well.

One Row Down and To My Right

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isaiah 43:1-3) 

One of the blessings of being in choir is the opportunity to watch from the choir loft as people worship the Lord through song. Music has a special way of stirring hearts and engaging emotions. This is especially the case when the lyrics espouse the great truths of God’s Word. I’ve heard it said that sometimes worship is like a dance, but at other times it’s more like a fight. I suppose the point is that when things are going well, it’s easy to praise the Lord. However, in difficult and uncertain times, giving God praise may not be so easy. I think that’s true.

A few weeks ago, our choir anthem was a song entitled, I Am Not Alone. It is a beautiful song. Some of its lyrics are borrowed from Exodus 14:14, Psalm 23 and Isaiah 43 and emphasize God’s presence with His people in times of trouble. As we sang, I looked out and saw people begin to stand and raise their hands as they praised the Lord. This doesn’t happen all the time, nor does giving praise to the Lord require standing or hand raising. But when it does happen, it’s moving. Sometimes it makes me wonder what that person may be going through in that particular moment. In most cases, I have no idea. This day, however, was different. I saw several people in the congregation standing whose stories I did know. Then I noticed that one row down and to my right stood Mike Bratton. Mike was diagnosed with cancer about two years ago. He has already undergone two rounds of treatment for two cancer diagnoses and has just been diagnosed for a third time. He is again undergoing more treatment. During this song, I couldn’t help but glance over at him a couple of times, wondering what he might be thinking as he sang the words of this song. I also wondered if I could sing the truth of these words if I were in the same situation. I would hope that I could.

Recently, Mike shared his perspective on his battle with cancer by writing the following, “While doctors and clinicians have been killing cancer cells, God has been slowly growing my faith. I cannot do a quarter of what I could two years ago, but God is doing more in my life, and for that, I am unutterably grateful.” He then asked for prayer, prayer for himself and for his family, but also that we would pray for God to do more in our own lives, and that we would follow Christ more nearly. I don’t know Mike Bratton very well. Outside of choir, I can’t really say that I know him at all. But I know this, for me, he has been a wonderful testimony of God’s presence and unfailing grace and faithfulness in the midst of trials. Not for the cancer, but for that, I’m grateful. God’s grace is always sufficient. He promised to never leave us nor forsake us and He never will. He is always at work, even in the midst of great struggles, drawing us to a greater reliance on Him. I believe Mike Bratton trusts in that truth. And along the way, the Lord is using him to teach me that no matter what, I can trust it too.

Battle Ready

“Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:13)

In the last chapter of Ephesians, Paul writes “Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). He uses the image of a fully armed Roman soldier to paint the picture of what it takes to fight against the devils tactics. Paul was under no illusion as to the significance of spiritual warfare. Our battle, he said, is not against flesh and blood, but against the cosmic powers over the present darkness and against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12). In spite of all that, Paul knew these forces were no match for the living God, but he also knew there were many who were ill-prepared for the battle and left vulnerable to evil influences.

Paul’s description of the Roman soldier’s armor consists mainly of defensive weapons to fend off attacks. The one offensive weapon for the battle was the sword of the Spirit−the word of God. When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, he cited Scripture to withstand that temptation. If it proved useful for Him to withstand temptation, why would we think it wouldn’t be for us? It’s through the Scriptures that the Holy Spirit prepares us for the fight.

I was having a conversation with a friend the other day. She was sharing with me her vision for a ministry to help every day Christians live out their walk with Christ in order to stand against those things that would hinder their ability to glorify God and live out the salvation God intends for His children. Our greatest source to know what these things are is God’s Word. It’s through the disciplines of encountering God in His Word and through prayer that we put on the armor of God. It’s how the Holy Spirit prepares us for the fight. There’s no doubt the battle Satan wages in this life is a serious one that we must be prepared for. So, are you prepared? Is your armor on? Are you battle ready?

I Guess the Kitchen Got a Little Too Hot

“For Demas, in love with the present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica…” (2 Timothy 4:10)

We don’t hear much about Demas in Scripture except to know that he ministered with the Apostle Paul for some period of time. He must have been a close associate of the apostle’s because Paul refers to him as a “fellow worker” in his letter to Philemon, and in his letter to the Colossians, he is included as one who sends greetings (Philemon 24, Colossians 4:14). But at the end of his life, as Paul sat in prison in Rome penning what he knew would be his last letter, he mentioned Demas again.

The Apostle Paul’s last letter was written to Timothy. Timothy was most likely Paul’s closest partner in ministry. He wrote to Timothy for several reasons. First, Paul wanted Timothy to bring him some of his personal items. Secondly, he wanted to encourage Timothy to carry on faithfully in his ministry ahead. Lastly, but in fact the primary attention of Paul’s letter was the gospel. Paul’s greatest concern was the glory of Christ and the preservation of the gospel as Jesus had revealed to him. In this letter, Paul also took the opportunity to update Timothy about those in which they had ministered together. One of those he spoke of was Demas.

At the time of this letter, everyone with the exception of Luke had pretty much deserted Paul. Specifically, Paul said Demas had deserted him because he was “in love with the present world.” The “present world” that Paul spoke about was the world apart from Christ, the world dominated by Satan. In Paul’s mind, Demas had proven, at least for the time being that he was unwilling to count the cost of a genuine commitment to Christ. Persecution of Christians had intensified. Ministry was tough, and evidently, Demas had had enough. Scripture doesn’t tell us how Demas’ story ends and we shouldn’t suppose his denial of Christ was permanent, only that in this particular moment, his own safety, convenience and love for the world overtook his commitment, not only to Paul, but also to Christ.

It’s easy for us to be so in love with the world that we become ashamed of the gospel of Christ, particularly when there’s a risk we might suffer for it. The truth is, comfort, convenience and acceptance appeals to us all. If we are to minister in difficult times to an unbelieving and often hostile world, we must be willing to count the cost. The kitchen can get pretty hot. Therefore, we need to pray for the Lord’s presence and power each day, always remembering the promise of His Word as we go, confident in that promise because we know that God keeps all His promises. “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).

As Iron Sharpens Iron

“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17)

I first met Chuck Solomon about ten years ago. He was this guy that would always greet me during the welcome time at church on Wednesday nights. Like me, when the season was right, he would wear shorts and sandals to this service. We joked about it sometimes. Not too long after I met Chuck, I took a class he taught through the book of Job. One night after class, he asked me about discipleship and our meeting together each week to study. I took him up on it. I’ll admit, Chuck’s commitment and his boldness about his faith and his call to discipleship sometimes made me a little uncomfortable. When we would meet at Panera Bread, I can remember sometimes wanting to talk a little softer and not have it be so obvious we were praying. I did, however, enjoy this time and it clearly was a period of growth for me as a believer. As believers, we are all walking the same path in our lives of faith; it’s just that we’re often at different places on that path as it relates to the outward expression of it. I wasn’t where Chuck was at that time and I’m not sure I am now. We met one on one for time before joining with some other guys he had been leading in discipleship. In these nine years, I’ve taken time away from our Wednesday morning group to do other things, but my contact and communication with Chuck has always been constant.

The primary purpose of the book of Proverbs is to instill wisdom in God’s people that will serve them in their day to day lives. This wisdom is rooted in the “fear of the LORD” (Proverbs 1:1-7). Proverbs 27:17 deals specifically with the issue of influence and the need for, and benefit of, interaction among believers. Just as two iron blades rubbed together become sharper and more efficient at cutting and slicing, constant fellowship among believers has a positive influence on one’s character, sharpening them to live out their faith.

There have been many people who have poured themselves into my life. I am thankful for all of them. I know their investment of time in me is a deep well that I will draw upon forever. I know Chuck Solomon came along in God’s timing, and for the last nine years he has always been there for me. He has taught me, challenged me, encouraged me and prayed for me. In other words, he has loved me. I appreciate his heart and his commitment to doing what God has called him to do. Although our salvation is individual, it is never meant to be lived out in isolation, but in fellowship with others. This is the means in which, by God’s grace, the Holy Spirit builds up the body of Christ. I am personally grateful that Chuck Solomon takes this biblical truth to heart. Thank you brother, I love you!

Not Your Typical 4th of July Post

“Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep (die), but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead with be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. ” (1 Corinthians 15:52)

As I scrolled through Facebook on July 4th, I saw many acknowledgments of our nation’s independence. People posted all sorts of pictures and relevant sayings. The American flag became a popular profile picture for the day. Some people celebrated our nation’s current state, while others expressed a longing for a return to God. Eventually, I came across a post from an old friend of mine, Austin Maxwell. Austin and I used to work for the same company. I haven’t spoken to him in a long time, but for the last week, I haven’t been able to get him or his post off my mind. It read as follows, “Today is Independence Day for our country and it is Independence Day for our son who left us 2 years ago today. While we miss him every day, we know he is in a better place and is with our Lord and Savior. We miss his hugs, his smile, his jokes, and ever present sense of mischief. He had so much ahead of him but God had other plans for him. His death while tragic I know has impacted his peers, siblings and others to take different courses and actions in life. We love you son and we will see you again soon for in a twinkling of an eye we will all be transformed. Love you Mitchell Maxwell. See you soon bud! Love Dad, Mom, Matthew, Michael and Manning.”

At the end of Austin’s post, he quoted 1 Corinthians 15:52. 1 Corinthians 15 is the most comprehensive chapter in the Bible on the resurrection. Verse 52 specifically expresses the hope we have in Christ’s return and of how, in a moment, we will be suited for heaven (from perishable bodies to imperishable bodies) and reunited with others who have gone before us. Though the hurt never ends, this hope makes our pain and suffering more bearable. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55)

Mitchell Maxwell died on July 4, 2013. As I read Austin’s post last Saturday morning, I read it through the tears. In fact, over the past couple of years, I have read most of Austin’s posts about Mitchell through tears. I have also shared his posts with my family. This is our ministry to one another. We can never know what God is preparing and carrying out in our lives that He will use to minister to others. I sense Austin’s embrace of this truth. And I am thankful for his and his family’s testimony of God’s grace and faithfulness through their pain. I can only hope my response to such pain would be the same. Though we  sometimes don’t understand them, God’s purposes are always good, and although this life brings hurt, His grace is greater. So Austin, thank you for sharing. Though we haven’t talked in a long time, you have certainly spoken to me this week.

Eternally Secure

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39)

The lyrics go, “No power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from His hand; Till He returns or calls me home, here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.” I love the song In Christ Alone. Not just these words, but the whole song is so rich with the truth of the gospel. It was Christ alone who paid the full penalty for our sin in order to make us right with God. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross atoned for the sin that separated us from God. As a result, there’s nothing that can ever separate us from the love of Christ. No passage in Scripture makes this truth more clear than does Romans 8:38-39.

There will always be aspects of God and His work in salvation that we’ll never be able to wrap our minds around. “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and inscrutable (beyond finding out) His ways” (Romans 11:33). When people think of salvation, sometimes they have in their mind that God does His part and we do ours, but that’s not the testimony of Scripture. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” It’s good for us that salvation is God’s gift and that it doesn’t depend on us, because if it did, we would surely lose it. Think about it, if we could earn salvation what would make us think we couldn’t lose it.

There’s another reason it’s beneficial that salvation comes by faith alone. Let’s face it; no matter our level of spiritual maturity, there are times in all of our lives when we don’t feel saved, times when we don’t feel like God is present. But just as feelings aren’t the basis of God’s truth, they aren’t the basis of our salvation either. Salvation is based solely on the objective reality of what God has done for us in Christ. To believe Jesus paid less than the fully penalty for sin for all time is to deny the truth of the gospel. There is no joy in that, there is no security in that, and lastly, there’s no God in that!

No Hope, Without God…But Now

“But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13)                                                                                                                                                  

In April, I began reading Ephesians. My plan has been to read the whole book every day for the month. The idea came from a friend who told me about an article written by John MacArthur on the topic of how to read the Bible for a deeper level of understanding. As I’ve been reading, Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 2:12-13 has been particularly meaningful. What the apostle is teaching in these verses is the unity and peace that exists in Christ. In context, he is teaching that the Jews and Gentiles are no longer two distinct groups, but are one “new man” in Christ. This is a pretty amazing considering the social and spiritual disadvantages the Gentiles had relative to the Jews. You see, the Gentiles weren’t part of the covenant community. They weren’t given a divine promise. They didn’t even recognize the true God. So, in fact, they were without hope and without God. But you know what, so were we.

Sometimes it’s easy to fall into a casual approach to reading God’s Word. It’s like we treat it as if it’s part of our “to do” list as opposed to an opportunity to meet with our heavenly Father. I believe this is particularly the case if we’ve studied the book or passage before. We assume there’s nothing more to be gained from it. It is true that a verse says and means only one thing, and it’s true that it says and means the same thing every time we read it. But it is equally true that the Holy Spirit is capable of taking God’s Word and impressing it upon our hearts in different ways at different times. That’s what’s happened as I’ve been reading through Ephesians this month. I’ve read Ephesians many times, but what has really struck me this time is that the Gentiles story is my story. And it’s also your story. All of us were without hope and without God. The Bible says we were dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1). But then God intervened, and because of His mercy and grace, even when we were dead in our trespasses, He made us alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:4-5). Christ’s substitutionary death was not only for the Jew, but also for the Gentiles. It was for us as well. Christ’s death for us is the greatest expression of love ever known. It brought near those who were once far off. I believe the “But now” in each of our lives means even more when we realize our desperate condition apart from Christ. How can we truly appreciate grace if we’re oblivious to the degree with which we need it? God doesn’t love us because we’re lovable. He chooses to love us simply out of His own free will. The cross is the proof. Let us respond by loving Him in return.

Renewing Your Mind

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2)

In his letters, Paul always combined theological teaching with application for life. As he concluded what are the first eleven chapters of Romans, he began chapter twelve with a call for those in the church to respond in thankfulness to God’s redeeming work. He said this would be their “spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1). He then exhorted them to have a mind-set shaped by the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit rather than the world. It was a call to discern the will of God. That call is the same for us today.

Paul is not the only one who emphasized the need to be cautious of the world’s influence. James wrote that “friendship with the world is enmity with God” (James 4:4). The apostle John warns us not to love the world or the things in the world, and that if we do the love of the Father is not in us (1 John 2:15). As Christians, we must have a proper perspective when it comes to our relationship with the world.

It’s no surprise that in large part, the world in which we live operates in opposition to God. Our culture desires to shape our thinking, and it will unless we allow God’s Word to. Spiritual nourishment, feeding on God’s Word daily cannot be an option if we are to stand strong against the world’s influence. However, its value to us is much greater than that. Consistent fellowship with our Lord helps us to live out the joy God intends for us, the joy that a relationship with Christ brings. As much as we were saved from an eternal hell, we were also saved to an abundant life in Christ. God desires intimate fellowship with us. Paul knew that to be true in his day. And it’s just as true today. Don’t let the anxiety of the world and its influence rob you of what God has promised. Seek God and His truth each day, be transformed by the renewal of your mind so you may live out that truth in a world that largely stands in opposition to His will. After all, this world is not really your home.

Creator God

“Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting, you are God” (Psalm 90:2)

IMG_0207One of my most favorite places to visit is the mountains of North Carolina. My wife’s sister and her family live there. It is such a beautiful drive from Birmingham, Alabama up through Chattanooga and Knoxville, Tennessee into Clyde, North Carolina. When I make the drive, particularly when I cross into North Carolina and look at the mountains, I think to myself, who else could have made these? From Tom and Sandra’s house, there is little one can see except the surrounding mountains. For me, our visits there are always so calming that it makes me wonder if God’s peace and presence can be found easier in the more remote places of His Creation, the places where man has had his least influence. God’s creation is so beautiful and He is transcendent above all of it. God’s world doesn’t hide the Creator’s majesty, power and glory. Creation’s purpose is to point us to it. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).

As you think about all the beautiful parts of creation you’ve seen—the mountains, the oceans and everything that is in between, remember that God made it all. Let the beauty of His creation help you to reflect on the beauty and greatness of its Creator, who, of all that He has made, loves you the most.