My Top 3 Books in 2020

Confession #1: I love the smell of a new book! Every coffee shop should have the aroma of Barnes & Noble!

Confession #2: I wish we could read by osmosis because there are so many books I want to read!

So, having said that, here are my top 3 reads for 2020!

#1 The Bible

Now, don’t moan and groan on this one and say, “Well, I figured you’d say that!” Seriously, let me share with you a few reasons why it is number one.

  • The Author is transcendently holy (Exodus 15:11; Isaiah 6:3; 57:15), righteous, (Psalm 11:7), good (Psalm 34:8), eternal (Isaiah 40:28), immutable (Malachi 3:6; James 1:17), omniscient (Psalm 147:5; Proverbs 15:3; 1 John 3:20) and true (Revelation 19:11-16).
  • The Author is omnipresent with me and in me speaking directly to my heart and life. (Psalm 139:7-8; Acts 17:24-28;
  • The Author’s words are absolute truth and always relevant to all of my life al the time. (Psalm 19; Proverbs 30:5; John 8:32; 14:6; 17:17; 2 Timothy 3:16)
  • The Author is reveals Himself to me for His glory and my good. (Psalm 46:1; John 16:13-15; Romans 16:25-26)
  • If these few are not sufficient, then read and reread Psalm 119. Meditate on it. Read it out loud. The Word changes lives!

May I challenge you to choose a Bible reading plan for 2021? May I also challenge you to read it to know God, to listen to Him speak through His words, and to see your daily life affected by the Author of Life! The best moments of your life for all time on this earth will be spent in His Word and in prayer. If you do not have a personal relationship with God the Father through Christ alone, then lovingly I ask, would you read the Gospel of John (4th book of the New Testament) and then the Epistle of 1 John located near the book of Revelation. How sweet are Your words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth! (Psalm 119:103).

#2 The Saving Life of Christ, Major Ian Thomas

To be in Christ–that is redemption; but for Christ to be in you–that is sanctification! To be in Christ—that makes you fit for heaven; but for Christ to be in you—that makes you fit for earth! To be in Christ—that changes your destination; but for Christ to be in you—that changes your destiny! The one makes heaven your home—the other makes this world His workshop. (Thomas, p. 20)

The very essence of this book and the reason for reading it is wrapped up in the words of Evangelist Ron Lynch: In order for you to live the Christian life, you must understand that it is the Savior’s life. Christ gave Himself for you in order to give Himself to you that He by the Spirit of God might live His life through you. To live the Christian life is not for you to live but for you to die so Christ can live through you. You die to live. It’s Christ who manifests Himself through you that makes the difference. He does not do away with your individuality nor your personality, but when people meet you they need to meet Him. (Romans 6-8; Galatians 2:20; Colossians 1:27).

How often believers are tempted to think in these terms . . .”I just can’t live the Christian life.” Friend, we are not called to life the Christian life. The truth is, Jesus Christ did not live the Christian life. He is the Christian life. Understanding your position in Christ (Ephesians 1:3-14), coming to know Christ (Philippians 3:10) and abiding in Christ (John 15:1-11), is the life to live.

#3 Rejoicing in the Christ, Michael Reeves

With so much of our attention in 2020 upon COVID, these two reads have reminded me of the Greater Subject, the Theme of themes, the Person of Christ. Also, in the midst of such sorrow, grieve, pain, loss, misunderstanding, cynicism, and human viewpoint, this book is about much-needed joy in the Christian life, about rejoicing in the Person of Jesus Christ as we share in the life of Christ!

What a far cry this is from the exhausting idea that Christ has done his bit and now it’s time to do ours! We are not chained to the task of trying to pay back the huge debt we owe him. We are united to the Son so we can enter into his life. Our joy, our prayers, our mission, our holiness, our suffering, our hope: all are a participation in the life of the Son. We are not simply given some thing called “eternal life” and then sent out to get on with it. We are not forerunners with final responsibility. He is the firstborn; we live in His slipstream. (p. 93)

What a truth!! We all participate in the life of Christ!! It’s not my life, but His life (Galatians 2:20).

Most of my reading this year was spurred on by attending the Men’s Prayer Advance and hearing Ron Lynch preach about the Christ Life. I would highly recommend you attending this year! Three days of meeting with God in prayer, worship, singing, preaching, praise, and fellowship!!! You will be changed for His glory!! Check it out by visiting christlifemin.org.

What books will you visit in 2021? Will you live in the Bible?

COVID Counsel #3

Keep Your Eyes on the One Who Walked on Water

When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,

Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.


Refrain:
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God has done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,

Count your many blessings, see what God has done.


So, amid the conflict whether great or small,
Do not be discouraged, God is over all;

Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

These lyrics written in 1897 by Johnson Oatman, Jr., came to my mind Monday morning as I sang along with the instrumental version playing through Alexa. The bold lines struck a chord in my heart.

Indeed, COVID has been one of “life’s billows” (a great wave or surge of water) that has tossed us in so many directions that we have been or are today tempted to be “discouraged, thinking all is lost.” How interesting our minds and deceitful hearts (Jeremiah 17:9) work at moments like these.

The battle is not with COVID but with our thinking.

Is all really lost? Note the phrase, “thinking all is lost.” Is that true? What does God’s Word say about COVID or any circumstance of life?

The songwriter got it right when he said, “So amid the conflict whether great or small, do not be discouraged, God is over all.” That is absolute, eternal truth!

Colossians 1:16–17 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Job 42:2 I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

Ephesians 4:4-6 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Psalm 97:9 For you, O Lord, are most high over all the earth; You are exalted far above all gods.

Deuteronomy 33:27 The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.

So, today, do not listen to your thoughts but think His thoughts. Do not listen to yourself; preach the Truth to yourself.

Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God has done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,

Count your many blessings, see what God has done.

Count Your Blessings: https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=FZECFq4BvRQ

COVID COUNSEL #2

We are all effected by COVID-19 in one way or another.

This past week while preparing for Sunday’s message from 2 Timothy 2:11-19, a key word in the last verse stood out as a source of needed counsel for my own heart and mind. It is a word that is greatly needed for all of us in the midst of COVID. It is a word that Asaph used so poignantly as recorded in Psalm 7323. The word . . . nevertheless.

Paul reminds Timothy that in the midst of dealing with false teachers in the church at Ephesus as well as their error and leading some astray, Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.”

Asaph, dealing with the doubts and struggles within his own heart, comes to preach the truth to himself and says, Thus my heart was grieved, and I was vexed in my mind. I was so foolish and ignorant; I was like a beast before You. Nevertheless I am continually with You; You hold me by my right hand. You will guide me with Your counsel, and afterward receive me to glory (Psalm 73:21-24).

In Sunday’s message from 2 Timothy 2, I shared a quote that I hope will encourage and help you in the midst of how you are being effected by COVID.

The Lord says to us, “Nevertheless.”
Do false teachers seem to abound? The Lord says, “Nevertheless.”
Are perilous times upon us? The Lord says, “Nevertheless.”
Do we fear for the future? The Lord says, “Nevertheless.”
Are we worried for our children’s safety? The Lord says, “Nevertheless.”
Do we wonder how the church will survive? The Lord says, “Nevertheless.”
Do we see some falling away from the faith? The Lord says, “Nevertheless.”
Are we tempted to despair? The Lord says, “Nevertheless.”
Could persecution come to us? The Lord says, “Nevertheless.”
Do evildoers rise to power? The Lord says, “Nevertheless.”

Ray Pritchard; The Life God Blesses

Today, would you let the Lord’s “nevertheless” counsel your heart?

Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: “The Lord knows those who are His” (2 Timothy 2:19).

Listen to Him

Last night’s presidential debate, . . . well, what a fiasco! What an eye-opening view once again into the heart of man (Jeremiah 17:9).

How difficult it is to listen to three men argue, interrupt, accuse, disparage, and fuss! Proverbs 18:13 reminds us, If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.

This past Sunday, I had the joy of listening to Carl Butler, the new pastor of Thompson Baptist Church, Thompson, PA, preach from Hebrews. The major portion of his message was seven reasons why we should listen to the Lord Jesus Christ.

As God’s final Spokesman, Jesus Christ deserves to be heard because . . .

  • He was appointed heir of all things (1:2).
  • He was God’s Active Agent in creation (1:2).
  • He revealed the Divine Glory (1:3).
  • He represented God’s character in the flesh (1:3)
  • He upholds all things right now by the word of His power (1:3).
  • He has totally purged our sins (1:3)
  • He finished the job and is seated at God the Father’s right hand (1:3)

Against the backdrop of last night’s disappointment and debacle, may I say to you today, because of Who Christ is, listen to Him. Men will fail you. Men are not omniscient. Men are fallible. Men are self-serving. Men need Jesus.

Open your Bible. Sit at Jesus’ feet (Luke 10:38-42). Listen to Him (Romans 10:17; James 1:19-21; Revelation 2:7).

My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. (Proverbs 2:1-5)

(Debate pic from thinkadvisor.com)

What an Evening!!

It happened again last night. Three couples gathered on our back porch and had a special evening of fellowship, exhortation, encouragement, edification, laughter, tears, and sharing.

What made it such an awesome evening? Was it the back porch setting? How about the beautiful sunset? Perhaps the delicious cake and coffee? Could it have been the stories that were told? Indeed, all of these things played an important role.

So, what was the ingredient that made the evening so rich? Simply this . . . three couples gathered around the Word of God.

It happens every week. We open our Bibles, read through a passage of Scripture, and then work our way through the verses letting the Holy Spirit teach us in context, observation, interpretation and application. Never do we share “what we think the passage says,” but as the Author intended for us to understand. As the leader, I simply ask questions, explain some words, and guide the discussion, but it is the Word does the work.

Our lives have been so enriched by the Word! We have come to relish our familial relationship as brothers and sisters in Christ through the Word! The honesty and transparency has risen each week because of the Word! Then our time of prayer is one of precious communion prepared by the Word!

Whether you are involved in a small group or it’s just you and your spouse or your family or with your co-worker at lunch or in the church building on Sunday, the best gathering is always around the Word of God!

7 The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
8 The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;
9 The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
Yea, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
11 Moreover by them Your servant is warned,
And in keeping them there is great reward.
(Psalm 19:7-11)

Already looking forward to the next time we gather . . . around the Word!

The Views Are Magnificent!

COVID, masks, social distancing, 6 feet, signs to tell me where to stand, restrictions, regulations, no football, protests, riots, fake news, lies, cynicism, murders, hatred, fear, loneliness, seclusion, death, etc. That’s the world we are living in right now. We read about it everyday, see it in town, hear about it from others, and are constantly notified via social media.

In the midst of it all, my greatest need each day is time in the presence of my Lord reading His Word, sharing my heart in prayer and listening to His response. For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope (Romans 15:4).

Recently, my heart needed one of my favorite spots to meet with the Lord. It is aptly named, Beauty Spot. Located in Unicoi County, TN, on the AT, the views are 360 degrees, the quiet is so calming, and the distractions of life below are removed.

As I opened my camping chair and my Bible, Psalm 121 became food for my weary soul.

I will lift up my eyes to the hills—
From whence comes my help.
2 My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.

3 He will not allow your foot to be moved;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
4 Behold, He who keeps Israel
Shall neither slumber nor sleep.

5 The Lord is your keeper;
The Lord is your shade at your right hand.
6 The sun shall not strike you by day,
Nor the moon by night.

7 The Lord shall preserve you from all evil;
He shall preserve your soul.
8 The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in
From this time forth, and even forevermore.

My journal is a dear companion to me, and I began to write as the Word spoke to my heart.

I will – An action from the heart based upon who Jehovah is and my need.

Lift up my eyes – I must look above my troubles and see the Lord, high and lifted up and not on earthly things, people, etc.

To the hills from which comes my help. My help comes from the Lord Who made heaven and earth – The hills have no power to help me, but they resoundingly speak of the character and greatness of their Creator, Jehovah Elohim!

Sitting there enjoying the breeze and the stillness, I pondered the beauty and majesty of Unaka Mt., Rich Mt., Buffalo Mt. and others and the following thought came to my mind. When I lift my eyes to the hills for help, I can gaze at Mt. Mercy, Mt. Love, Mt. Power, Mt. Joy, Mt. Presence, Mt. Omnipotence, Mt. Omniscience, Mt. Faithfulness, Mt. Refuge, Mt. Grace, Mt. Righteousness and these transcendent peaks go on-and-on!!! Also, in Christ, I am always at the summit!! Positionally, I am at God the Father’s right hand!!

My friend, today, will you lift up eyes to the hills? Will you fix your gaze on the One Who made heaven and earth? The view is always thrilling, always praise-worthy, always magnificent!!!

The Best Gathering Place

Is it a local restaurant?

Is it a concert venue?

Is it a college campus?

Is it a coffee shop?

Is it a sports stadium?

Is it the break room at work?

Without a doubt, the very best gathering place is anywhere the Word of God is opened, read, taught, explained, discussed, applied, and revered!

Last evening, our small group gathered around 1 Timothy 3:1-7. We prayed, read the passage, and then went through a verse-by-verse, almost word-for-word study of God’s precious Book. Never did we ask, “What do you think it means?” We looked at the passage in its context through observation (What does it say?), interpretation (What does it mean?) and application (How do I respond?).

After one hour, we could say that we had met with the Lord; He had spoken to our hearts; the Holy Spirit had guided us into truth! Our hearts were knitted closer to God and to one another. That then made our prayer time to close out the evening a true gathering around the Throne of Grace!

The dynamic of a Sunday morning service is the gathering around the reading and preaching of the Word of God whether it is inside or outside the building. This gathering is of utmost importance (Hebrews 10:25).

The best part of meeting at a coffee shop is the reading of God’s Word. I highly recommend this resource: https://matthiasmedia.com/products/one-to-one-bible-reading

The most edifying conversation and instruction in the home is when husband and wife gather around the Word to read and pray. (The same for the family.)

The entirety of Your word is truth, And every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever. (Psalm 119:160)

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

How can a young man cleanse his way?
By taking heed according to Your word.
10 With my whole heart I have sought You;
Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments!
11 Your word I have hidden in my heart,
That I might not sin against You.
12 Blessed are You, O Lord!
Teach me Your statutes.
13 With my lips I have declared
All the judgments of Your mouth.
14 I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies,
As much as in all riches.
15 I will meditate on Your precepts,
And contemplate Your ways.
16 I will delight myself in Your statutes;
I will not forget Your word.
(Psalm 119:9-16)

The gathering around the Word should cause us to anticipate the great gathering in the sky at the rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) and then the gatherings around the Throne in Glory (Revelation 4, 7)!!

The best gathering place is around the Word of God!!

COVID-19 DISTRACTIONS

(Wall Street Journal)

In the past few weeks, I have often heard the following statement: “I will be glad when this mess is over!” Of course, they are speaking of the coronavirus pandemic.

No doubt COVID-19 has affected you as it has me, and quite frankly, from a selfish standpoint, I am done with it as well. I am weary of the constant discussions about it, the masks, the social distancing, care facilities and hospitals being closed to visitors, stares from others when I forget to wear my mask, the political bantering about it, trying to following the direction signs in the floor, the affect upon the sports worlds, the inconsistencies of businesses in following the local authorities’ mandates, etc. Have I covered them all? Probably not. Sigh.

Now, at the beginning of every thought, every circumstance, every question, every doubt, every frustration, every illness, every misunderstanding, everything in life, I must begin with God (Genesis 1:1), with Who He is; His attributes, character and essence. He is always, and for all time, the correct starting point, the perfect plumb line, the no-fail GPS for our lives.

Since that is true, I know that Satan wants to use his ability (2 Corinthians 11:3) along with our old sin nature (Romans 6-7) to keep us from dwelling in the land of absolute truth, Who God is; from abiding in Christ (John 15). So, he uses distraction and deception along with your human viewpoint. As harmful as COVID-19 can be, lets’s face it, the coronavirus has caused us to live distracted lives.

Can I help you? Are you distracted? Have your thoughts been more earthward than heaven-bound? If so, will you meditate on Psalm 94:19? In the multitude of my anxieties within me, Your comforts delight my soul (NKJV). When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Your consolations delight my soul (NASB)

Stop right now in the midst of all your disquieting thoughts and list the comforts, the consolations of God. Recall them to mind. Sing them to your heart and to any around you who will listen. Pray them back to God. Talk of them with your spouse, your children, your co-worker, your neighbor, your friends.

Spurgeon says it well, When I am tossed to and fro with various reasonings, distractions, questions, and forebodings, I will fly to my true rest, for thy comforts delight my soul. From my sinful thoughts, my vain thoughts, my sorrowful thoughts, my griefs, my cares, my conflicts, I will hasten to the Lord; he has divine comforts, and these will not only console but actually delight me. How sweet are the comforts of the Spirit! Who can muse upon eternal love, immutable purposes, covenant promises, finished redemption, the risen Saviour, his union with his people, the coming glory, and such like themes, without feeling his heart leaping with joy? The little world within is, like the great world without full of confusion and strife; but when Jesus enters it, and whispers “Peace be unto you,” there is a calm, yea, a rapture of bliss. Let us turn away from the mournful contemplation of the oppression of man and the present predominance of the wicked, to that sanctuary of pure rest which is found in the God of all comfort. Good will to us, and to give us some evidence and assurance of his love and favour towards us; these are his comforts. (Treasury of David, C.H. Spurgeon)

Indeed, this “mess will be over” in time, but the comforts and consolations of God will last forever. They are a delight, not a distraction!!

Living In a Word-Filled World

Recently I walked into a local hospital room to find the lady whom I had come to visit soundly sleeping. Her daughter, faithfully at her side, filled me in on her current condition.

After awhile, the daughter said, “Go ahead and wake her. She will not want to miss seeing you.” As soon as her name was called, her eyes opened and she said, “Hi, Pastor. It is so good to see you, and we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

That was just the beginning. As our conversation moved forward, she interspersed scripture from a heart that was settled on its promises and appropriate for praise and trust in our great God. This kind of response was not a surprise because this is what I have heard from her for over twenty years. Her bank of memorized scripture has been her life for over sixty years.

If you were awakened out of sleep, would scripture be on the forefront of your mind? Would a word of truth be ever present on your lips?

Psalm 119 describes the heart of one whose passion, whose world is the Word of God. The following portion, verses 11-18, could be spoken of this dear lady.

11 Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.

12 Blessed art thou, O Lord: teach me thy statutes.

13 With my lips have I declared all the judgments of thy mouth.

14 I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in all riches.

15 I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways.

16 I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word.

17 Deal bountifully with thy servant, that I may live, and keep thy word.

18 Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.

In a day of unashamed lying, fake news, “who’s telling the truth,” and “what will happen next,” we need to know the Truth, rest in the Truth, speak the Truth, and live the Truth. God’s Word should be the world we live in.

Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day. (Ps. 119:97)

Treating COVID-19 Marriage Conflicts

I heard someone say years ago when asked how long he had been married, “38 years, . . . and 36 of ‘um have been good ones.”

So, has COVID-19 stretched your marriage like a rubber band? Has it created additional conflict due to being together too much? Has the stress of the quarantine created some tough times?

Well, let me encourage you about something. The issue is not the quarantine or the coronavirus. The issue is that two sinners are living under the same roof.

Recently I heard about a book that intrigues me in regards to pre-marital and marital counseling. (I have not read it yet.) Authored by Dave Harvey, the title is When Sinners Say “I Do”: Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage. Harvey says, “Marriage is the union of two people who arrive toting the luggage of life. And that luggage always contains sin.”

The coronavirus cannot cause strife in your marriage. The cause was there before COVID-19. The cause is your old sin nature which is full of pride, selfishness, criticism, harsh words, envy, jealousy, anger, fear, and much more. It stands in constant opposition to God and has a downward gravitational pull.

Let me give you a challenge. I could offer suggestions, but only the Word of God has the power to transform you, your situation, and your marriage in tough times. Therefore, here’s the encouragement, and men, take the lead. As a couple read Romans 5:1 – 6:23; 8:1-39; and Ephesians 4:17 – 5:33. Pray before you read the Word, then read it together. Read it slow. Read it out loud. Ask the Spirit to reveal Christ to you through the Word. Ask each other after reading a verse or two or more, “What does this passage say to us about our marriage? What do we need surrender? How do I need to change?” Take off the face masks and be transparent before the Lord and each other. Soak your soul in the Word of God and lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2).

There are still many unknowns about the coronavirus, but that is not the case with marriage. God created marriage and has given us the manual for marriage if we will just read it, obey it and trust God for His way in it.

Be as willing and proactive to protect the gift of marriage from the sin virus as you are the coronavirus.