Monday, July 30, 2012

Looking to Jesus

 

2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

—The words of the writer of Hebrews from Hebrews 12:2

 :

Fixing our eyes on Jesus. It sounds like a very important concept in our walk of faith. But, how do we go about doing what the writer of Hebrews instructs us to do? I have two very concrete suggestions:

  1. Learn to make Christ your first thought and last thought of the day.

    Upon awakening, train your mind to go immediately to Jesus. This could be through a hymn, or gospel song, or praise song that talks about Jesus. When you wake up, center your thoughts on Jesus. You could also begin your day with prayer. Here’s a prayer that I’ve found helpful. I found this prayer in a book about fixed-hour prayers—or prayers as practiced by a religious community of monks:

    Lord God, Almighty and Everlasting Father, You have brought me in safety to this new day. Preserve me with Your mighty power, that I may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity, and in all I do direct me to the fulfilling of Your purpose, through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.
    So, whether you begin your day with a hymn or with prayer, start your day by focusing on Jesus. Do the same thing when you end your day. As you lay your head on your pillow, focus your thoughts on Jesus. Again, a hymn, gospel song, or praise song may help. Or, you could close your day with prayer. Whatever mental cue you choose to use, end your day by centering your thoughts on Jesus.

  2. Throughout the day, keep your focus on Jesus whenever you must make a decision by asking the question: “What would Jesus do?”

    As the 1800s came to a close, a minister named Charles Sheldon wrote a book,
    In His Steps, that has now sold multiple millions of copies. This novel tells the story of the Rev. Henry Maxwell, pastor of the First Church of Raymond—and the people in that church—where the lives of many were profoundly touched by an unusual incident. I don’t want to spoil the story for you, but the outcome of that incident was a commitment on the part of many in the congregation to ask that question—“What would Jesus do?”—whenever they faced a significant decision.

    I urge you to get a copy of this book and read it. Then, begin to apply this very same pattern in your own life. When you face a decision, ask the question. This will help keep you focused on the Lord Jesus throughout the day.

One hymn that has helped me keep my focus on Jesus is “My Faith Looks Up to Thee.” Once you read the words, I suspect you will recognize them:

Jesus with childrenMy faith looks up to Thee,
Thou Lamb of Calvary, Savior divine!
Now hear me while I pray, take all my
    guilt away,
O let me from this day be wholly Thine!

May Thy rich grace impart
Strength to my fainting heart, my zeal inspire!
As Thou hast died for me, O may my love to Thee,
Pure warm, and changeless be, a living fire!

While life’s dark maze I tread,
And griefs around me spread, be Thou my Guide;
Bid darkness turn to day, wipe sorrow’s tears away,
Nor let me ever stray from Thee aside.

When ends life’s transient dream,
When death’s cold sullen stream over me roll;
Blest Savior, then in love, fear and distrust remove;
O bear me safe above, a ransomed soul!

Concerning the origin of this hymn, Robert D. Kalis has written the following:

“Mr. Palmer, you may live many years and do many good things, but I think you will be best known to posterity as the author of ‘My Faith Looks Up to Thee.’” These words spoken by Dr. Lowell J. Mason (January 8, 1792 - August 11, 1872) —the great composer of hymn tunes and father of American public music education—proved to be remarkably accurate.

Several days earlier, Dr. Mason had met Ray Palmer on a Boston street. The musician asked young Palmer if perchance he had any hymns suitable for the new hymnal which he was compiling. Palmer drew out a pocket notebook and showed Mason a poem which he had written two or three years before. The musician was attracted by it and requested a copy. They stepped into a doorway, and there the copy was made.

So impressed was Dr. Mason with the poem that he himself at once composed an original tune for it. This tune, to which the hymn is almost always sung, is known as Olivet. The words and tune fit each other like a hand and glove.

The finished hymn first appeared in Spiritual Songs for Social Worship by
Dr. Thomas Hasting and Dr. Lowell Mason (1833). So this hymn, regarded by many as the best American hymn, found its way into public use.

The author, Ray Palmer (November 12, 1808 - March 29, 1887), had a very interesting background and history. He was a descendant of William Palmer—who came to Plymouth in the ship Fortune in 1621—and also of John and Priscilla Alden through their daughter, Elizabeth.

Shortly after his father, Judge Palmer of Rhode Island, sent him out on his own when he was only thirteen, Ray came under the ministry of Rev. Sereno Edwards Dwight. Rev. Dwight, a grandson and the biographer of Jonathan Edwards, so influenced young Ray that he was soundly converted. The pastor urged the bright young lad to go on with his education.

Accordingly he left his job in a dry goods store and enrolled at Phillips Andover Academy—where he was a classmate of Oliver Wendell Holmes—and later attended Yale University.

Just after graduating from Yale in 1830, he secured employment teaching in a fashionable school for young ladies in New York City. It was there in his room that “My Faith Looks Up to Thee” was written.

Philip Fortenberry plays a very musical piano arrangement of this wonderful hymn:

 



(Note: Your browser must support Adobe Flash in order to view this video)

 

We can best navigate our walk of faith when we follow in the steps of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. To help us do that we need to begin and end our day with Him in the forefront of our thoughts. And, all through the day, we need to maintain that focus as we go about the many facets of our lives.

Will you pray with me?

Thank You, God, for loving us. Thank You for sending Jesus to be our Savior. Thank You for sending us Your Holy Spirit to dwell within us.

Precious Father, we recognize that our walk of faith requires significant focus on our part. We ask You to use the power of Your Holy Spirit within us to prompt us to begin and end our day thinking about Your Son, the Lord Jesus. Help us continue throughout the day to focus on Him. Prompt us to ask the question: “What would Jesus do?”

With a great desire in our hearts to experience the fullness of Your mercy, grace, and love, we thank You, Gracious Father, for hearing our prayer in and through the powerful Name of Your Son, our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Copyright © 2012 by Dean K. Wilson. All Rights Reserved.

 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

God Watches Over You!

 

1 I lift up my eyes to the hills—
        where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
        the Maker of heaven and earth.

3 He will not let your foot slip—
        he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel
        will neither slumber nor sleep.

5 The Lord watches over you—
        the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day,
        nor the moon by night.

7 The Lord will keep you from all harm —
        he will watch over your life;
8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going
        both now and forevermore.

—The words of the Psalmist from Psalm 121:1-8

 

During my years at Houghton College in the mid-1960s, I worked as a nightwatchman. Our principle duties were security and fire patrol. In other words, we focused on making certain the college buildings were secure and also kept watch for any possible condition that might start a fire.

We also kept watch on students out after “curfew.” This may seem incomprehensible to most of you reading this blog post, but in those days all women students had to be in their dorm rooms by 10:00 p.m. Music majors could stay out until 10:30 p.m. since they had so many practice hours to get in each day. As startling as that curfew may seem, the College had learned they could somewhat control the activities of the men by controlling the women.

As a nightwatchman, I kept tabs on any students out after curfew or inside any buildings that were supposed to be vacant and locked. I will spare you some of the interesting stories for now and save them for some future blog posts. But, in a very real sense, we nightwatchmen looked out for the safety and well-being of the students.

I usually split my shift with another student. I would work from 11:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. The other student would work from 2:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. In addition to the student nightwatchman, a regular college staff member served as chief nightwatchman. He would cover half the college buildings each night. We would cover the other half. So, two nightwatchman worked all through the night. Some other College staff members also worked as nightwatchmen when needed, such as when students weren’t available.

The actual watchman round took about 40 minutes of each hour. We carried a Detex watchclock into which we would put a key located at various stations throughout our tour. The watchclock would record the number of the key on a paper tape inside the watchclock. The next day, a secretary in the Business Manager’s office would open the clock and review the tape to see what time we “clocked in” at each key location. Even a quick glance at the paper tape would show whether or not we had completed our round on time and consistently throughout the night.

The worst offense: falling asleep and missing a round. Since we “rested” during the 20 minutes between rounds, falling asleep could certainly happen. Fortunately, I never fell asleep. But one watchman did fall asleep several times and eventually lost his job because of it.

After all, what good is a watchman who fails to do his job because he has fallen asleep?

In the Scripture passage at the beginning of this blog post, the Psalmist tells us that we serve a very dependable God. In fact, He is infinitely dependable. Just read through those verses again:

  • He will not let your foot slip

  • He will neither slumber nor sleep

  • He is the shade at your right hand so the sun and moon will not harm you

  • He will keep you from all harm

  • He will watch over your life

  • He will watch over your coming and going

We who believe in the life-transforming power of the Lord Jesus Christ—through his death and resurrection—should all take great comfort from knowing that the same God, who loves us with His everlasting love, watches over us. He never slumbers. He never sleeps. His eyes of watchful care remain steady in protecting us from all harm.

I love a capella singing. Back nearly 30 years ago, a group of six students from a Christian college blended their voices to sing some wonderful songs. That group became the internationally acclaimed vocal group, Take 6. Please read through the words of Psalm 121 again, as you listen to a partial clip of this song:1

 

 

Will you pray with me?

Thank You, God, for loving us. Thank You for sending Jesus to be our Savior. Thank You for sending us Your Holy Spirit to dwell within us.

Precious Father, we praise You and thank You that You watch over us with Your loving care. It gives us comfort and assurance that you neither slumber nor sleep. Because of Your consistent faithfulness, we humbly lay all our burdens and cares at Your feet.

Help us, Father, to learn to let go of everything that hinders us in our walk with You. Help us to fall back into Your loving arms. Help us to learn to rely on You to watch over us, care for us, and love us.

With expectation of victory in our hearts, we thank You, Loving Father, for hearing our prayer in and through the powerful Name of Your Son, our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1 If you enjoyed that song, I would urge you to click on this link to purchase this song or to purchase the entire album of absolutely great a capella singing.

 

Copyright © 2012 by Dean K. Wilson. All Rights Reserved.

 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Shepherd of Love

 

10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power,
        and his arm rules for him.
    See, his reward is with him,
        and his recompense accompanies him.
11 He tends his flock like a shepherd:
        He gathers the lambs in his arms
        and carries them close to his heart;
        he gently leads those that have young.

—The words of the Prophet Isaiah from Isaiah 40:10-11

 :

“Nobody loves me!
Everybody hates me!
Guess I’ll go eat worms!”

Yes, it’s a children’s song. But, you would be surprised at the number of believers who feel that way today. Or, maybe you wouldn’t be surprised.

Perhaps you are one who “feels” all alone. Maybe you’ve removed yourself from fellowship with other believers. The reason you walked away—or ran away—seemed sound at the time. You were hurt by what someone said, or didn’t say. You were wounded by what someone did, or didn’t do. Whatever the reason, you now feel terribly, awfully, horribly, desperately alone.

In the Scripture passage at the beginning of this blog post, the Prophet Isaiah describes the Soverign Lord as one who “...tends his flock like a shepherd...”. The Lord Jesus Christ has often been described as “The Good Shepherd” based on His declaration from John 10:11:

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

Jesus also described the persistence of the shepherd in His parable found in Luke 15:3-7:

3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.“
So, whether you have walked away or run away from fellowship today, please understand that the Lord Jesus urgently seeks for you and longs to rescue you from whatever circumstances may surround you. Please do not hide from Him. Instead, I urge you to allow Him to take you up into His loving arms and tenderly care for you.

You are not alone! God lovingly waits to welcome you. Jesus seeks for you. The Holy
Spirit, who dwells within you, creates a longing within the deep recesses of your heart to be found.

A sweet song by Dutch vocalist, Ralph van Manen, perfectly expresses the kind of
ever-searching love that the Lord Jesus Christ holds for those who belong to Him:

 



(Note: Your browser must support Adobe Flash in order to view this video)

 

Will you pray with me?

Thank You, God, for loving us. Thank You for sending Jesus to be our Savior. Thank You for sending us Your Holy Spirit to dwell within us.

Precious Father, we feel deep gratitude in our hearts for the reality that the Lord Jesus seeks to pluck us from the midst of the circumstances that separate us from You. We long to have Your Son pick us up and hold us tenderly in His loving arms.

We lay the hurts that we have experienced at Your feet. We ask You to soothe our wounds with the Balm of Gilead. Make us whole again. Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts. Equip us again for Your service. By the power of Your Holy Spirit, open up a new, straight pathway that we may follow. Please restore our joy and lead us into a new day of fellowship with You and with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

With expectation of Your grace filling our hearts, we thank You, Gracious Father, for hearing our prayer in and through the powerful Name of Your Son, our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Copyright © 2012 by Dean K. Wilson. All Rights Reserved.

 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Just Hold On!

 

1 Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess. 2 He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house. 3 Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. 4 For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. 5 Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house, testifying to what would be said in the future. 6 But Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house. And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast.

—The words of the writer of Hebrews from Hebrews 3:1-6

 

One of the most dramatic moments in movies and on television occurs when someone hangs over the edge of a cliff or over the edge of a tall building. Often another actor grips the hand or arm of the person dangling over the great height. I’ve often wondered if the fate of the person in danger rests with the mood of the screenwriter. It seems in some instances the person gets pulled to safety. In other instances he or she plunges to his or her death.

During filming, of course, the camera operator shoots the entire scene with the camera tilted ninety degrees. The actor dangling over the edge actually lays flat on a horizontal surface. The computer-generated imagery (CGI) later adds the details to make the final spine-tingling shot.

Life does not imitate art—at least in this case. When the circumstances of our lives push us over the edge, we do not rest on a horizontal plane with the “camera” that’s viewing us tilted at a right angle. No, we truly hang over the precipice with only moments before our hand tires and cramps and we finally release our grasp and fall to our “death.” At least that’s what it feels like.

Maybe you’ve lost your job. Or, your spouse has left you. Or, your children have turned their backs on you. Or, your finances have taken a tumble. Or, your church—instead of supporting you in your time of trial—has turned its back on you. Maybe the ministry that you thought God had given you has dried up. You’ve tried to remain faithful, but no one seems to value your gifts or your determination to serve wholeheartedly. People you thought were your friends now sneer at you and call you names behind your back.

Whatever circumstances of your life have brought you to the point where you hang over the edge, the truth remains that God has His loving arms around you supporting you and waiting to catch you if you can’t stand the pain any longer.

In the Scripture passage at the beginning of this blog post, the writer of Hebrews celebrates the fact that we who follow the Lord Jesus Christ “share in the heavenly calling.” The writer urges us to “fix your thoughts on Jesus.” He then makes a comparison to Moses—remember that the writer has penned this letter to the Jewish believers. And, he concludes with these potent words:

But Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house. And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast.

Amazing! We are Christ’s house. We are the ones He has been “building!” We can remain—abide, dwell, continue, tarry, endure, stand—steadfast “if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast.”

If you hang over the precipice today, hold on! That’s right: hold on! Hold on to your faith. Hold on to your trust. Hold on to your determination to stay close. Hold on to a clear mind and an open heart. Hold on to the truth of God’s Word. Hold on to the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Hold on to the love that comes to you from God. Hold on to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Why? Because He is holding on to you. He has you covered. He has you protected. He has you in His strength. He has you on the pathway that He has laid out for you. He shines the Light of His Presence around you, so that you do not walk in darkness.

Hold on! Hold on! Hold on! Hold on!

Will you pray with me?

Thank You, God, for loving us. Thank You for sending Jesus to be our Savior. Thank You for sending us Your Holy Spirit to dwell within us.

Precious Father, we hold on to Your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. We hold on to the love that You pour out on us abundantly. No matter how dreary, dark, and lonely the circumstances of our lives may seem to be, we know that Jesus holds on to us. He has built us. We are His house. He dwells within us by the loving, caring presence of the Holy Spirit.

In our desperation, Father, please give us the Light of Christ’s Presence to illuminate our pathway. Please give us the courage that we do not have. Please give us the strength and determination to hold on to You. Please open up a clear, straight pathway that we may follow. Please return our joy to us. Please continue to guard us and guide us.

With anticipation in our hearts, we thank You, Gracious Father, for hearing our prayer in and through the powerful Name of Your Son, our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Copyright © 2012 by Dean K. Wilson. All Rights Reserved.

 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Pay Careful Attention!

 

1 We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. 2 For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment,
3 how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. 4 God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

—The words of the writer of the Book of Hebrews from Hebrews 2:1-4

 

“Pay attention, class!”

Everyone remembers a teacher somewhere along the pathway of early education calling the class to order with those words. When the teacher gave this admonition you knew that she would next say something important.

The writer of the Book of Hebrews uses this same technique to grab our attention in the Scripture passage at the beginning of this blog post.

“We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.”

The word picture describes someone who very slowly moves farther and farther away from some critical point. In my mind, I see a very calm body of water on which a single leaf from a nearby tree has fallen to rest. The water is so calm that not one single ripple appears on the surface. But, slowly over time, the leaf moves away from the point where it first came in contact with the water. It drifts away.

Sadly that sometimes happens to followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. When they first became aware of the great gift God has given them—through the miraculous, redeeming, and life-transforming power of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus—they felt great joy, peace, and more than a little excitment. Now, over time, their first ardor has cooled and they have begun to drift away.

Maybe they have become wounded by their involvement with church. That happens far more often than you might imagine. In a recent sermon, I spoke these words:

Pain and church involvement go together more than most believers ever care to admit. Volunteer a certain number of hours to sing in the choir, usher, keep the church books, be a youth sponsor, work in the nursery, run the church library—name a hundred such roles if you want—and soon you’re liable to feel very much unappreciated, or you’ll have to deal with complaints, or you’ll have your motives judged, or you’ll be taken advantage of, or you’ll be criticized.

The truth is, it doesn’t take too much negative treatment or too many negative words to hurt people’s feelings in the kind of work one does within a church. As a result, many people simply stop serving, or change congregations, or quit altogether. In church work, sticks and stones aren’t necessary to break people’s bones—gossip, nasty comments, even ill-timed remarks can often do it!

Maybe they have found that their struggle with besetting sins takes far more effort than they ever imagined. Yes, they’ve heard testimonies from others of miraculous changes brought about by the Holy Spirit that have delivered those testifying from besetting sins in what seemed like an instant of time. But that has not been what they’ve experienced. Every day they pray, asking God to remove the temptation to commit whatever “signature sin”—that sin that seems to have their name on it—but the temptations keep coming. More often than not they yield and fall back into the same old pattern of sin. Eventually, they decide it’s easier to just walk away from God and His church. At least they can remove the constant reminder of what a failure they have become in their spiritual lives.

Or, maybe...

We’ll you get the point. There can be a dozen or more reasons why someone who once seemed overflowing with the joy of the Lord has now drifted away from Him and from His body of believers, the church.

This is precisely the point the writer of the Book of Hebrews intends to make in this passage.

“We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.”

Okay. Pay attention to what? Pay attention to the message of salvation through the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In this one glorious act of attonement, Jesus bore the penalty of all of our sins. Every single sin has become covered by His precious blood. Once we accept the reality of what He has done for us, we begin a spiritual journey that continues the rest of our lives. Drifting away is a choice—a conscious choice that we make. We need not make that choice!

Instead we can devote ourselves to the study of Scripture through reading our Bible every day. We can devote ourselves to prayer. We can become aware of how God has His hand on our lives by looking for evidences of His presence. We can learn to rely on the leading of the Holy Spirit to keep us on the spiritual pathway that He has laid out for us. We can become more involved in fellowship with other believers, so we might encourage one another along our spiritual journeys.

Holiness does not have to stand as some far away dream that one longs for but can never obtain. Holiness can become a beautiful, self-sustaining, fulfilling, joyful pursuit that leads to a life full of God’s richest blessings—blessings that can overshadow any trials, disappointments, or cares of this life.

I encourage you to heed the admonition of the writer of the Book of Hebrews. Let’s make a conscious decision to “pay more careful attention” and draw strength from the very God who loves us and wants the very best for us in this life and in the life to come.

Will you pray with me?

Thank You, God, for loving us. Thank You for sending Jesus to be our Savior. Thank You for sending us Your Holy Spirit to dwell within us.

Precious Father, we ask you to help us pay more careful attention to the truth of such a great salvation. By the power of Your Holy Spirit, make the reality of Christ’s presence in our lives so apparent that we will draw strength and encouragement from that reality. Keep us on the pathway You have laid out for us. Lead us, guide us, protect us, care for us, and love us. We feel overwhelmed with gratitude when we recognize that, before the foundation of the earth, You called us to belong to You.

We thank You, Gracious Father, for hearing our prayer in and through the powerful Name of Your Son, our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Copyright © 2012 by Dean K. Wilson. All Rights Reserved.

 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Being David

 

1 David sang to the Lord the words of this song when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. 2 He said:

“The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
3 my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
       my shield and the horn of my salvation.
    He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior—
       from violent people you save me.
4 “I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise,
       and have been saved from my enemies.

5 The waves of death swirled about me;
       the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.
6 The cords of the grave coiled around me;
       the snares of death confronted me.
7 “In my distress I called to the Lord;
       I called out to my God.
    From his temple he heard my voice;
       my cry came to his ears.

8 The earth trembled and quaked,
       the foundations of the heavens[c] shook;
       they trembled because he was angry.
9 Smoke rose from his nostrils;
       consuming fire came from his mouth,
       burning coals blazed out of it.
10 He parted the heavens and came down;
       dark clouds were under his feet.
11 He mounted the cherubim and flew;
       he soared on the wings of the wind.
12 He made darkness his canopy around him—
       the dark rain clouds of the sky.
13 Out of the brightness of his presence
       bolts of lightning blazed forth.
14 The Lord thundered from heaven;
       the voice of the Most High resounded.
15 He shot his arrows and scattered the enemy,
       with great bolts of lightning he routed them.
16 The valleys of the sea were exposed
       and the foundations of the earth laid bare
       at the rebuke of the Lord,
       at the blast of breath from his nostrils.

17 “He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
       he drew me out of deep waters.
18 He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
       from my foes, who were too strong for me.
19 They confronted me in the day of my disaster,
       but the Lord was my support.
20 He brought me out into a spacious place;
       he rescued me because he delighted in me.

21 “The Lord has dealt with me according to my righteousness;
       according to the cleanness of my hands he has rewarded me.
22 For I have kept the ways of the Lord;
       I am not guilty of turning from my God.
23 All his laws are before me;
       I have not turned away from his decrees.
24 I have been blameless before him
       and have kept myself from sin.
25 The Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness,
       according to my cleanness in his sight.

26 “To the faithful you show yourself faithful,
       to the blameless you show yourself blameless,
27 to the pure you show yourself pure,
       but to the devious you show yourself shrewd.
28 You save the humble,
       but your eyes are on the haughty to bring them low.
29 You, Lord, are my lamp;
       the Lord turns my darkness into light.
30 With your help I can advance against a troop;
       with my God I can scale a wall.

31 “As for God, his way is perfect:
       The Lord’s word is flawless;
       he shields all who take refuge in him.
32 For who is God besides the Lord?
       And who is the Rock except our God?
33 It is God who arms me with strength
       and keeps my way secure.
34 He makes my feet like the feet of a deer;
       he causes me to stand on the heights.
35 He trains my hands for battle;
       my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
36 You make your saving help my shield;
       your help has made[i] me great.
37 You provide a broad path for my feet,
       so that my ankles do not give way.

38 “I pursued my enemies and crushed them;
       I did not turn back till they were destroyed.
39 I crushed them completely, and they could not rise;
       they fell beneath my feet.
40 You armed me with strength for battle;
       you humbled my adversaries before me.
41 You made my enemies turn their backs in flight,
       and I destroyed my foes.
42 They cried for help, but there was no one to save them—
       to the Lord, but he did not answer.
43 I beat them as fine as the dust of the earth;
       I pounded and trampled them like mud in the streets.

44 “You have delivered me from the attacks of the peoples;
       you have preserved me as the head of nations.
    People I did not know now serve me,
45 foreigners cower before me;
       as soon as they hear of me, they obey me.
46 They all lose heart;
       they come trembling from their strongholds.

47 “The Lord lives! Praise be to my Rock!
       Exalted be my God, the Rock, my Savior!
48 He is the God who avenges me,
       who puts the nations under me,
49 who sets me free from my enemies.
       You exalted me above my foes;
       from a violent man you rescued me.
50 Therefore I will praise you, Lord, among the nations;
       I will sing the praises of your name.
51 “He gives his king great victories;
       he shows unfailing kindness to his anointed,
       to David and his descendants forever.”

—The words of King David from 2 Samuel 22:1-51

 

Sometimes when we find ourselves in a place where our hearts ache and our souls fill with a gnawing weariness, King David is the best person we can be. David’s words in the Scripture passage at the beginning of this blog post say it more eloquently than I ever could say it in my own words.

Yes, I realize this is a song of victory. Perhaps, in our heartache and sorrow and depression, we would do well to anticipate the victory that God intends to bring our way. I have no doubt that God has a powerful plan for each of us. He will not leave us comfortless. He will meet every need we have. He will give us the desires of our hearts. He will care for us because He loves us.

So, let’s raise our voices in song. Let us be David.

Will you pray with me?

Thank You, God, for loving us. Thank You for sending Jesus to be our Savior. Thank You for sending us Your Holy Spirit to dwell within us.

Precious Father, we sing King David’s song as a prayer in anticipation of Your victory overtaking our lives. We plead with You to minister to us at our point of need. Hold us in the hollow of Your mighty hand. Comfort us by the sweet breath of Your Holy Spirit. Open up a way before us that we may follow the pathway You provide for us.

We thank You, Gracious Father, for hearing our prayer in and through the powerful Name of Your Son, our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Copyright © 2012 by Dean K. Wilson. All Rights Reserved.

 

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Shepherd’s Shame

 

1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? 3 You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. 4 You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. 5 So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. 6 My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.

7 “‘Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 8 As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock, 9 therefore, O shepherds, hear the word of the Lord:
10 This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.

11 “‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness.
13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.

17 “‘As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats. 18 Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? 19 Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet?’”

—The words of God through the Prophet Ezekiel from Ezekiel 34:1-19

 

Very commonly today, parishoners from almost any particular church hold their pastor in high esteem. They may also hold in high esteem those fellow members of the congregation who serve in leadership positions. In many cases the pastors and church leaders deserve the trust and esteem given them by the members of their congregations.

But not every pastor or leader is worthy of trust or esteem. Some such individuals have forsaken the duty of their calling and have turned, instead, to selfish decisions that do not protect the pathway of faith for the members of their congregation. More’s the pity.

Conscientious pastors and church leaders wince at the thought of their colleagues in leadership who have led their congregations away from the truth of the Gospel and, instead, follow a pathway that leads to heartache and spiritual decline. This becomes particularly true when the infection of self-centeredness affects more than one congregation and speards throughout part of, or an entire, denomination.

The Apostle Paul made it very clear in 1 Timothy 5:17-20:

17 The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.” 19 Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. 20 Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning.

I hope you took the time to read the rather lengthy Scripture passage at the beginning of this blog post. I know that it takes a special effort in our hustle-bustle world to read such a long passage. But the message of this passage is an important one. It’s also one that you will seldom, if ever, hear a pastor preach about today.

You see, God has given His prophet very specific words to speak. These words condemn the shepherds. They describe a condition that is not foreign to us today when we look across the wide span of congregations within the borders of the United States.

Obviously the words could apply to real shepherds. However, if you read carefully, you will discover that God uses Ezekiel to give a message that more directly applies to those in leadership during Ezekiel’s time in history. I have no doubt that the leaders of Ezekiel’s day realized this message from God applied to them, as well.

Sadly, many pastors, in their roles as shepherds of the flock, have become every bit as corrupt as the shepherds in Ezekiel’s time. And the corruption of the pastors has carried over onto the leaders who labor under them. Those leaders sometimes blindly follow the path the pastor chooses to follow. When the pastor becomes corrupt, the leaders become corrupt, too.

That word “corrupt” is very interesting. Anthony F. Gregorc, Ph.D., points out that the word “corrupt” indicates “a rupture of the core.” When we see corruption overtake the pastor or leaders of a church, we truly do see a “rupture of the core.” Once the core has become ruptured, it takes a mighty work of God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to put the church back together again. In fact, many once-glorious churches—where Christ was honored and His name proclaimed—have fallen prey to a rupture of the core. The corruption has literally ruined countless lives, especially the lives of young people.

When we observe this phenomenon at work around us, we should redouble our efforts to pray earnestly and fervently. We should ask God to stop the rupture of the core and bring healing and restoration to His people.

Some may suggest that to even talk about such things is despicable. They will accuse the person speaking the truth of “airing dirty linen,” or “emphasizing the negative,” or “failing to forgive,” or “holding too tightly to the past,” or any other variety of defensive words that they will try to use to sidestep the very kind of issue I’m describing: corruption of the core.

Yet God always moves someone to speak His truth in the midst of Satanic chaos. Perhaps you are the person through whom God wants to speak His truth in your specific situation. If so, arm yourself with the whole armor of God from Ephesians 6:10-18 and, with a spirit of humility seasoned by God’s grace, speak the truth with gentle boldness.

Will you pray with me?

Thank You, God, for loving us. Thank You for sending Jesus to be our Savior. Thank You for sending us Your Holy Spirit to dwell within us.

Precious Father, we pray for every congregation in our land where the pastor or the leaders of the church have fallen into sin. Where these servants have turned their backs on Your perfect will, we ask You to bring healing and restoration to their congregations. Where sinful men and women must be removed from office in order to bring restoration, we ask You to do this.

If You intend to use our voices to speak Your truth against those who have brought a rupture of the core to a church, please give us humility and strength that we may speak with gentle boldness seasoned with Your great grace.

We thank You, Gracious Father, for hearing our prayer in and through the powerful Name of Your Son, our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Copyright © 2012 by Dean K. Wilson. All Rights Reserved.

 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Occasional Modulation

 

17 So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. 18 I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. 19 And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the work into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. 20 So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. 21 For a man may do his work with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then he must leave all he owns to someone who has not worked for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. 22 What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun? 23 All his days his work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is meaningless.

24 A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, 25 for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? 26 To the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

—The words of King Solomon from Ecclesiastes 2:17-25

 

When I first joined the fire department back in 1965, ordinary fire fighters still rode on the tailstep of the fire engine1 or fire truck2 on the way to a fire. We did not have safety belts. We just had to hang on for dear life as the apparatus sped through the village streets and rural roads on the way to the scene of the fire. Such an unsafe practice has long ago faded away.

Clinging to the grab bar above the tailstep, I could see through the rear window into the cab of the fire engine. The driver and the officer beside him rode in relative comfort and safety as we negotiated the turns, hills, and valleys. I longed to ride inside.

One day, a call came in during a time when the company officer had suddenly become sick and had left the fire house. His replacement officer had not yet arrived. As the bell hit for a box alarm, the chief officer yelled over his shoulder, “Wilson! Ride shotgun!”

I needed no further encouragement. As I entered the cab of the engine, the driver said tersely, “See that button on the floor by your right foot? That operates the siren. When we pull out of the fire house, stomp on that button!”

With a roar the engine came to life. As the fire fighters on the rear step pressed a button that operated a buzzer in the cab to let the driver know they were on board and ready to roll, the driver shifted the five-speed manual transmission into low gear, released the clutch, and we bounded out the door.

My booted foot slammed down on the floor button and the siren motor began to turn. I don’t imagine you civilians reading this will have any concept of the sense of power I had as the mighty Federal Q siren began to wail. We used to joke that, if vehicles did not get out of our way, the sheer power of the Q would push them aside.

When we arrived at the scene of the fire and brought the flames under control, the chief officer approached me and asked, “Well, Wilson, are you ready to sign up for officer training?”

“Yes, Chief,” I replied with a smile.

“Good! The first thing you’ll learn is that you don’t have to keep your foot on the siren button all the way to the scene of the fire.”

Aha! Occasional modulation can prove worthwhile. This applies to a lot of things in life that require significant effort. You don’t have to approach every task full tilt. Sometimes the best progress you can make comes from a period of intense effort followed by a period of more modest effort—occasional modulation, if you will.

In the Scripture passage at the beginning of this blog post, King Solomon addresses the issue of “toil” and concludes that toil by itself gains nothing that will last. It takes toil and an outpouring of God’s grace. A man or woman may invest toil into any project. But God gives the wisdom, knowledge, and happiness.

That sentiment dovetails nicely with instruction that King Solomon has given us in Proverbs 3:5-6:

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart
      and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways acknowledge him,
      and he will make your paths straight.
      (or, “and He will direct your paths.”)

The only way we can possibly approach our Christian lives—with a determination to successfully stay on the pathway that God has laid out for us—becomes available to us when we rely on the Holy Spirit to bring occasional modulation into our lives. We need to trust Him to know when to put the foot on the siren switch and when to let up. If we do not heed His direction, we will toil in vain.

A worship support service company, Sharefaith, has posted a video that helps illustrate what it means to trust.

 

 

The concepts contained in this video, as well as the wise words of King Solomon, also remind me of a classic hymn with special significance for this Independence Day:

 

God of Our Fathers

Words written by Daniel C. Roberts in 1876
on the occasion of the Centennial of the United States


Music written by George W. Warren in 1888—National Hymn
on the occasion of the Centennial of the Constitution of the United States


God of our fathers, whose almighty hand
Leads forth in beauty all the starry band
Of shining worlds in splendor through the skies:
Our grateful songs before your throne arise.

Your love divine has led us in the past;
In this free land by you our lot is cast;
Oh, be our ruler, guardian, guide, and stay;
Your Word our law, your paths our chosen way.

From war’s alarms, from deadly pestilence
Make your strong arm our ever sure defense.
Your true religion in our hearts increase;
Your bounteous goodness nourish us in peace.

Refresh your people on their toilsome way;
Lead us from night to never ending day;
Fill all our lives with heaven born love and grace
Until at last we meet before your face.

 

May God, indeed, “refresh us on our toilsome way,” as the Holy Spirit gives us occasional modulation in our lives.

Will you pray with me?

Thank You, God, for loving us. Thank You for sending Jesus to be our Savior. Thank You for sending us Your Holy Spirit to dwell within us.

Precious Father, we fill our lives full to overflowing with striving to execute Your will by toiling along the pathway You have laid out for us. Help us to learn that we need to rely on Your Holy Spirit to give us some occasional modulation in our efforts to serve You. While we choose daily to immerse ourselves in Your Word, to discern Your will, and to move in the direction You show us, we also need to learn to trust in You. Please show us when to stop and wait, as well as when to move forward full-steam-ahead.

With joy in our hearts, we thank You, Gracious Father, for hearing our prayer in and through the powerful Name of Your Son, our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1 A fire engine carries water and hoses to direct water onto a fire.
2 A fire truck carries ladders and tools to gain entrance into a burning building.

 

Copyright © 2012 by Dean K. Wilson. All Rights Reserved.

 

Monday, July 2, 2012

Investing in Holiness

 

8 So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God,
9 who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

—The words of the Apostle Paul from 2 Timothy 1:8-10

 

You will not hear many pastors preach sermons about “holiness” today. In place of an exhortation to holiness, most pastors weave a carefully-plotted, very gentle “urging” for people to “try harder in your striving to reach a goal of ‘good enough.’” Pastors seen to have forgotten the instruction God gave to Moses in Leviticus 19:2:

2 “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy
because I, the Lord your God, am holy...’”

I can’t blame the pastors from shying away for exhorting their people to live holy lives. Why? Well, for one reason, it takes time. Sadly, most of us have wrapped ourselves in the tightly woven cloak of “too many things to do today.” We barely have enough time to get every task on our list completed before the sun rises on tomorrow and another day begins. We have strangled ourselves in activity. Time does not exist for us to invest in becoming holy.

Of course, by ourselves, we cannot truly become holy. Only through the power and direction of the Holy Spirit can we move toward holy living. But it takes time to listen to the Spirit as we read God’s Word, the Bible. It takes time to follow the leading of the Spirit. It takes time to reflect on where we began our spiritual quest. It takes time to contemplate where we stand in our spiritual journey. It takes time to consider the goal we must move toward as we follow the pathway God has laid out before us.

It seems as if William D. Longstaff understood the problem—astoundingly similar to our problem—that his contemporaries in the last half of the nineteenth century faced when, in 1882, he penned the words to the poem “Take Time to be Holy.” Eight years later, in 1890, George C. Stebbins would write a hymntune, Holiness, that would express the slow. contemplative mood set by the words in Longstaff’s poem.

Some consider this hymn too dirge-like for the sensibilities of the modern ear. But the pace of the song expresses the kind of quiet, deliberate yearning that a person must evoke within himself or herself in order to set aside the cares of the world—including the constant pressure of too-much-to-do—and invest whatever time it takes to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn how to live a life pleasing to Him.

Please carefully take note of Longstaff’s words:

Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord;
Abide in Him always, and feed on His Word.
Make friends of God’s children, help those who are weak,
Forgetting in nothing His blessing to seek.

Take time to be holy, the world rushes on;
Spend much time in secret, with Jesus alone.
By looking to Jesus, like Him thou shalt be;
Thy friends in thy conduct His likeness shall see.

Take time to be holy, let Him be thy Guide;
And run not before Him, whatever betide.
In joy or in sorrow, still follow the Lord,
And, looking to Jesus, still trust in His Word.

Take time to be holy, be calm in thy soul,
Each thought and each motive beneath His control.
Thus led by His Spirit to fountains of love,
Thou soon shalt be fitted for service above.

 

I hope you will enjoy a video with a soundtrack of The Dallas Christian Adult Choir singing this classic hymn:

 

 

The question for you and for me this day: Will we take time to be holy?

Will you pray with me?

Thank You, God, for loving us. Thank You for sending Jesus to be our Savior. Thank You for sending us Your Holy Spirit to dwell within us.

Precious Father, we confess our failure to set aside the time we need to read Your Word, listen to Your Holy Spirit, examine our lives, cast aside those sins that seek to drive holiness from our lives, and faithfully follow the pathway You have laid out for us. Forgive us for the foolishness of thinking that the activities that fill our lives full to overflowing will offer an adequate excuse for the poor choices we make regarding the use of our time. Help us to make a conscious choice to immerse ourselves in Your Word, so we may invest the time we need to strive for holiness in every aspect of our lives.

Yet again, we thank You, Gracious Father, for hearing our prayer in and through the powerful Name of Your Son, our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Copyright © 2012 by Dean K. Wilson. All Rights Reserved.