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.

Don’t Miss It!

Could the rapture be occurring today?

Are we in the beginning of the tribulation period?

Is God judging the world; our country?

Was this virus a part of a conspiracy?

These and many more questions have been asked, and we grope for answers. Of those questions stated above, I know that the rapture of the church has not occurred and therefore the subsequent tribulation (1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:9). Since there are no signs for the rapture, only promises, we know that it could occur right now. As my wife has said, “It will happen in somebody’s lifetime. It might as well be mine!”

Also, in reference to this virus being the judgment of God, I agree with Thomas Schreiner’s statement, “All temporal judgments are meant to direct our attention to final judgment.” (Revelation 20:7-15)

Nevertheless, from the very beginning of the gradual shut-down, “safer at home” mandates, and face masks, I have had one definite fear. It is not a sinful fear, but one that has driven me to prayer and the Word. It is that when the “pandemic” is over, we will miss what God intended for us personally, nationally, and corporately as in our local churches.

This very desire led me to roll out of bed Tuesday morning at 3:30 and get on my knees in prayer. “Lord, You are under no obligation to reveal to me your purposes in permitting this virus, but if You would be so gracious, would you share enough with me so I don’t miss what You want to teach me?”

After prayer, I began to read the Word. Currently, I am reading through 1 Chronicles, Luke, Psalms and Colossians. Normally, there is one psalm to read each day in my Bible reading plan, and having read Psalm 129 on Monday, I read Psalm 130. Having completed my reading and writing in my journal the things God has spoken to me about, I picked up my phone to record my daily reading in the YouVersion app.

My reading was not complete. Psalm 131 was scheduled for Tuesday as well. God speaking to me was not complete either because Psalm 131 was the answer to my prayer. As I read, I believe the Lord revealed to me one of the reasons for this trial. “Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with his mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me” (Psalm 131:2). God has seen fit at this time to wean us off of much of what we thought was so important for life to be fulfilled.

This is good. Many said before the virus, “I sure wish I could slow down.” Or, “Life is crazy busy!” Or, “There is so much going on that I can’t keep up!” Well, we got our wish. What will we do with It? What have we been doing with it?

Folks, God is trying to get our attention! We had better be awake (Romans 13:11-14). During this shut-down . . .

  • How are the current circumstances giving you an opportunity to seek the Lord?
  • What has the Lord said specifically to you? Could you write it down; could you articulate it?
  • What changes have been made spiritually that will affect all other areas of your life going forward? What has been “weaned away” from you? (Romans 6:1-14; 8:1-39; Ephesians 4:17-32)
  • Have you given more time to prayer? (Psalm 130; Romans 8:26-27; 1 Timothy 2:1-8)
  • Have you read the Word with a greater passion and hunger for Truth? (Psalm 119)
  • Have you sensed a greater conviction of the Holy Spirit that has led to repentance and transformation into Christlikeness? (Acts 17:30; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Hebrews 4:12)
  • Have you been crying out to the Lord for a spiritual awakening and revival in our land? (Psalms 3:4; 80; 61:2; 85:6 119:126; Joel 2:12-13)
  • Have you found yourself thinking more about prophecy, the end times? (Titus 2:13)
  • Have you come to realize your need of eternal hope; the need of a personal relationship with Christ? If so, listen to the following link: https://vimeo.com/41496372

This Sunday will mark the fifth Sunday in-a-row that we will not be gathering within the walls of brick and mortal as a church to worship our great God and to fellowship together. How grateful I am for the online connection that has helped us to continue to grow and “meet.” No matter, for our congregation and myself, I don’t want us to miss it! I don’t want any of us to miss what God has to say to us; what He has planned for us going forward!

O God, You are my God;
Early will I seek You;
My soul thirsts for You;
My flesh longs for You
In a dry and thirsty land
Where there is no water.
2 So I have looked for You in the sanctuary,
To see Your power and Your glory.

3 Because Your lovingkindness is better than life,
My lips shall praise You.
4 Thus I will bless You while I live;
I will lift up my hands in Your name.
5 My soul shall be satisfied as with [a]marrow and [b]fatness,
And my mouth shall praise You with joyful lips.

6 When I remember You on my bed,
I meditate on You in the night watches.
7 Because You have been my help,
Therefore in the shadow of Your wings I will rejoice.
8 My soul follows close behind You;
Your right hand upholds me.
(Psalm 63:1-8)

This Transcends Coronavirus Fears

Your testimonies also are my delight and my counselors (Psalm 119:24).

In the midst of such uncertainty, distress, fear, anxiety, and sometimes minute-by-minute decision making, where are you finding your enjoyment? From whom are you receiving counsel?

The psalmist gives us the direct answer. Awesome delight as well as omniscient counsel is found in the testimonies of God’s Word.

During these days, you must counsel your own heart as well as the hearts of those around you from the life-giving, eternal, unchanging Word. How prone we are to listen to ourselves, to allow social media and the news to keep us on edge, and to rehearse the doubting lies of the devil.

The Lord Jesus Christ, the Living Word (John 1:1) is the Wonderful Counselor (Isaiah 9:6). Since He is the Righteous One (1 John 2:1), He will always give you righteous counsel that will be a delight to your soul (Psalm 19:8; 119:162).

Read the Word, meditate on the Word, memorize the Word, share the Word with your spouse, pray the Word, engage your family with the Word, and delight and counsel your heart in the Word! With so much of what normally fills our daily hours being removed from us, we have time to sit at Jesus’ feet and learn of Him and from Him (Matthew 11:28-30). Take advantage of it!

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)

They Are Growing Up!

One of the cool features of being a grandparent is watching your twin grandsons grow and change every day! Given that our two bundles of energy have had to overcome great obstacles, those points of development are magnified.

Yesterday, I listened to them sing more words to the choruses that accompany our wagon rides on the farm road. I saw one of the boys take more steps in his struggle to walk. I heard their vocabulary increase as we walked to the back of our property. And, I watched with a full heart their zest for life as they proved again and again, they are “all boys”!!

Indeed, it is fascinating to watch our children and grandchildren grow and learn; to attempt new things; to make progress; to act like little adults; to fall down, get back up, and try again. How often we look at the kids and then the parents and say, “That apple doesn’t fall far from that tree!”

As a follower of Jesus Christ, one commanded to mature in Christ, what would others say about my growth in Christ? Could they give specific points of development? Have I grown from the times when I “fell down” each day?

2 Peter 3:18 says, But grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 4:15-16 exhorts us, Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. And 1 Peter 2:2, Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up.

Can you imagine Sunday morning as we gather to worship, an older believer walks up to you and says, “I have seen great growth in your life this week! I saw you from a distance be confronted with a situation that normally would elicit anger from your heart, but you responded in kindness and wisdom as Christ would. To God be the glory! Stay in the Word, walk on your knees, and be faithful!! Let’s pray together and ask the Lord to help both of us take the next step in wisdom.”

Instead of looking for the faults in others, let’s look for growth points and be encouragers. Let’s rejoice as we mature together in Christlikeness. Let’s help each other when we “fall down.” Let’s walk together to Glory. After all, we are the family of God.

I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2 Timothy 1:5-7).

His GPS

My wife gets a laugh at my expense when I argue with my GPS. Many times I’ve said, “There’s a better way.” Or, “I’m not following those directions. That will take me the long way around.”

When it comes to discerning the will of God and/or needing direction for your day, those are arrogant statements to make.

Yesterday morning, I opened my Bible to the YouVersion daily reading plan with a hungry heart seeking a word from the Lord. My longing was, “Lord, I am reading every word, every phrase with my eye on You and my ear open to Your voice.”

How cool to see and hear the Lord reveal Himself and His Word to me as I read and jotted each piece of direction in my journal. In the midst of doing so, He directed someone to send the first passage as a text message of encouragement. Wow! How great is our God!

Here’s His GPS for my heart and life in response to my longing:

Unto You I lift up my eyes,
O You who dwell in the heavens.
Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters,
As the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,
So our eyes look to the Lord our God.
(Ps. 123:1-2a)

For every house is built by someone, but He who built all things is God. (Hebrews 3:4)

Plans are established by counsel. (Proverbs 20:18)

A man’s steps are of the Lord. (Proverbs 20:24)

Behold, God is my salvation;
    I will trust, and will not be afraid;
for the Lord God is my strength and my song,
    and he has become my salvation.”
(Isaiah 12:2)

Throughout the day, these truths were set before me. I did not argue with His GPS. They have given me peace and assurance.

Looking forward to His direction today. I’m watching and listening. His way/GPS is perfect (Psalm 18:30).