All the Questions of Life

Questions

Where do you go when you don’t know what to do?

Who do you call first when you receive devastating news?

When you need wisdom for a major decision, what is your first response?

When your world comes crashing down around your feet, where do you run to hide?

For all of the questions of life, who do you ask or whom do you seek?

Every day of our lives, we are faced with decisions and/or unanswered questions and/or needing a sign post to point us the way and/or a place of shelter from the storm.  For all situations of life, for all the questions of life, and for all the unknowns of life, will you meditate on the following?  I believe you will see the answer in these passages to the questions of life.

Therefore submit to God. . . . Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. (James 4:7-8, 10)

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. (James 1:5)

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matthew 11:28)

97Oh, how I love Your law!
It is my meditation all the day.
98 You, through Your commandments, make me wiser than my enemies;
For they are ever with me.
99 I have more understanding than all my teachers,
For Your testimonies are my meditation.
100 I understand more than the ancients,
Because I keep Your precepts.
101 I have restrained my feet from every evil way,
That I may keep Your word.
102 I have not departed from Your judgments,
For You Yourself have taught me.
103 How sweet are Your words to my taste,
Sweeter than honey to my mouth!
104 Through Your precepts I get understanding;
Therefore I hate every false way.
  (Psalm 119:97-104)

And he (Christ) is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:17)

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6-7)

After meditating on these passages, listen to I Run to Christ

Three Anchor Truths In the Middle of the Storm

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Lately I have found myself repeatedly singing,

In the eye of the storm, You remain in control
In the middle of the war, You guard my soul
You alone are the anchor, when my sails are torn
Your love surrounds me, in the eye of the storm.  (Ryan Stevenson)

The trials and hardships of life, others and mine, at times seem to be so burdensome, numerous, and troubling.

How do we press on in the eye of the storm?  How do we stay afloat?  As I pondered these things, three anchor truths came to mind that can be your stay in the middle of the storm.

#1 Christ suffered, bled and died for me and my sins.

The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28).

Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18).

When I consider the pain of my trial, I must look to Christ Who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself (Hebrews 12:3) to save me from my greatest crisis.  What is my greatest crisis?  The answer: How do I save myself from going to hell because I am a sinner?  Since Jesus Christ took care of my greatest crisis and the tomb is empty, He will enable me to make it through any other crisis.

#2 Christ’s resurrection gives me blazing hope

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:3-5).

Hope in the New Testament is a…

  • blessed hope (Titus 2:13)
  • joyful hope (1 Thess. 2:19; Rom. 12:12)
  • comforting hope (1Thess. 4:13-18)
  • hope of glory (Col. 1:27)
  • anchoring hope (Heb. 6:19)

“When a Christian truly understands the hope he has in Christ, it results in a steadfast sense of security and stability.” (Gene Getz) 

#3 Being in Christ promises me an awesome future!

For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:15-18)

Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 20:1-4)

Jesus, being God and having been in a boat in the eye of a storm (Mark 4:35-41), is the only true Anchor for life, trouble, sorrow, persecution, misunderstanding, questions, death, pain, sin, etc.

And What’s My Excuse?

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She has lovingly taken care of her husband since his dementia diagnosis in 2005.  Now he lies in a hospital bed at home in their beautifully decorated sun room with full-blown Alzheimer’s.  Demonstrating her marriage vows, she wipes his face, pats his head, speaks to him in terms of endearment, cleans up his bed, combs his hair, and listens for any signs of life.

Her home is beautifully attired with all the dressings for Christmas, but one stands out among all others.  Next to her beloved husband’s bed, she has prepared a second tree, “just for him, although he doesn’t even know it’s there.”

“His biological clock has not stopped working.  He wakes up nearly every morning at 5:00 a.m.”  She sleeps in the bedroom next to the sunroom so she can respond to his needs through the night.  “He will cough, but it’s not a real cough.  I think it’s just a ‘Hey, I’m awake cough,’ and I get up to go check on him.”

Sunday evening, my wife, another couple, and I stopped to sing Christmas carols to them.  She had the bar counter prepared with Christmas goodies and fourteen cups set out waiting to be filled with warm apple cider or hot chocolate.  In the midst of her trial, she had gone to great lengths to prepare for company.  I was saddened that she expected a “small crowd,” and it was only a very small crowd of four.

While visiting around the counter and enjoying the tasty treats, this dear lady said something that arrested my attention.  “Last week, I invited some of my friends here for a meal.  We had a house full.  These are folks from up on the mountain where I’m from.  I am concerned about one lady in particular.  I’m not sure she is saved.”

Wow!  I mean, wow!  Here’s a lady whose life is consumed with the care of her husband, and she intentionally prepared a large meal, invited guests to her home, and all for the purpose of sharing the gospel.  In the midst of caring for her born-again husband suffering from the awfulness of the sin-curse and will one day know no more pain or memory loss, she reaches out in compassion to those who will suffer for an eternity in hell, if they do not receive Christ as their personal Savior (John 1:12; 3:16-17).

Enough said.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36).

And of some have compassion, making a difference (Jude 22).

Clippin’ Grace Coupons in Ministry

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Life is all about the grace of God.  We do not deserve anything except hell because of our sinful state.  But in His grace, God has provided salvation for all men (John 1:12; 3:16; Ephesians 2:1-4, 8-9; Titus 3:5).  Then, in and through His grace, He provides so many undeserving gifts everyday of our lives (John 1:16-17; Ephesians 2:4-7).  How easy it is to dwell on all the bad around us that we forget to focus on the grace of God which is transcendent over all (Romans 5:20).  So with that in mind, my goal for Friday’s blog is to share with you from a pastor’s heart some of the “grace coupons” in ministry that I’ve been able to “clip” over the past seven days. So here we go!

  1. Worshipping on Sunday at Boones Creek Bible Church! One of the many true blessings of a Sunday at BCBC is joining with our congregation as they sing.  With raised voices, uplifted hands and glowing countenances, praise is abundant!  Many Sunday mornings on my way to church I find myself saying, “I can hardly wait to sing with my brothers and sisters in Christ today!”   Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God (Colossians 3:16).
  2. Seeing ladies cry out in prayer, singing, and worship as they joined together for three hours in the presence of the Lord at BCBC. You can read a bit more about it on my wife’s blog post Friday Favorites.
  3. When I was an earlier teen, my dad pastored a church here in south Johnson City, TN. Words cannot describe what a grace blessing it is to be living and pastoring in the same area that has always been so special to me.  When we moved here from Bluefield, West Virginia, two men, Stacey Tester and Ralph Gouge, came from Johnson City to assist us.  They made a huge impression on me.  Stacey and Ralph have since gone on to Glory, but today, I have the privilege of participating in the funeral for Dixie Gouge, Ralph’s precious wife.  Furthermore, Ralph and Dixie’s daughter and three of their children are part of the BCBC family.  Also, I saw Ralph and Dixie’s son this week which was the first time since we moved away.  As we sat in the Gouge’s living room and reminisced about our time here and about my parents, I thought, “Lord, how good you are to me, and how good to be still connected to my dad’s ministry in such a blessed way!”
  4. Joy in ministry is often mixed with sadness and sorrow as even mentioned above. Yesterday I stood by the bedside of a dear man whose body is riddled with Alzheimer’s. His wife has faithfully stood by his side and cared for him with love and great compassion for several years.  With Bernice on one side and me on the other, we shared Psalm 23 and then sang several songs:  In the Sweet By and By, When the Roll is Called Up Yonder, Heaven Is a Wonderful Place, Until Then, I Have Found a Hiding Place, and others.  As a pastor, I am so grateful for the opportunity to minister the balm of God’s Word and the blessed encouragement of song that gives encouragement for today and expectation for the future.  It is all by His grace!
  5. Finally, there’s the blessing of preaching and teaching the Word of God!! Currently, I am preaching through Revelation . . . the revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ.  How timely; how sobering; how hope-filled!

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ . . . . To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.  (Ephesians 1:3, 6)

Running Uphill . . . to the Finish Line

My son-in-law and I have basically owned the Tweetsie Trail this summer for our morning run.  The beautiful scenery, friendly bikers, walkers and runners, beautiful wildlife, the nostalgia, pristine quiet, and the desire to stay healthy and prepare for periodic races calls us out three to four times a week.  Our routine is to run from Johnson City to Elizabethton at different distances as my training is currently maxed out for 10Ks while Andrew is preparing for a half-marathon.  Recently, I said, “Let’s change our routine and run from Elizabethton to Johnson City.  Well, I was greeted with a startling fact . . . the trail is predominately an uphill grade.

Our last run really took it out of me, and I was a bit defeated because running is such a challenge to me.  Upon sharing my thoughts via texting with Andrew, he said, “The second you feel defeated, you fail.  Sounds like the Christian life.”  He is right.

Running is such a mind game.  Correct thinking is so crucial.  In most instances, you can run farther than your mind tells you.  There you are, your legs are burning a bit, your lungs grasping for air, and your mind saying, “Just go ahead and quit.  You know it’s too hard to finish. You just don’t have it.”  That’s when you have to think the truth, remind yourself about things you have learned from running, and take another drink as well as another step.  You really don’t want to listen to yourself.

The Christian life is often uphill as well.  Every day presents you with battles that begin with putting your feet on the floor first thing in the morning.   Once that happens, you are “off to the races.”  How needful it is to think biblically from the first thought of the morning.  So often when we start the Tweetsie Trail, one of us will say, “What a beautiful day to run.  Praise the Lord!”  Starting your day thinking the Word and then throughout the day reminding yourself of the Word will help you climb the next hill.  It is so important that we do not listen to ourselves but rather preach the Word to ourselves.

I for one will tell you that one of the best parts of running is the finish.  There is such an exhilarated rush when you are done.  So here’s some truths to begin your day that will get you to the finish line… even if its uphill.

This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him. The Lord is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him. It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.  (Lamentations 3:21-26)

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete. (2 Corinthians 10:3-6).

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:37-39).

This-N-That

“Throwback Thursdays” come with an array of pictures and memories.  Yesterday while preparing for our study in Matthew 6 for Prayer Meeting and for this Sunday’s message, I played a Youtube mix of one of my favorite singing groups from the early 80’s, the Cathedral’s and Legacy Five.  To say that “I had  church” here at my desk would be an understatement!  As the truths of God’s Word worked in my heart coupled with the lyrics and memories from the songs, various emotions came out.  I was reminded of how God’s Word and these songs were precious to me in various trials and times of rejoicing.  Also, what some of these men have meant to me and my family in years gone by and continue to do so today.

Two songs that are linked below reminds us of the cry of our heart and the blessing of God’s nearness when we are faced with cancer, death, hardships, questions, heartache and tears. They were written by Roger Bennett who sings them. He battled leukemia from 1995 until the Lord took him Home to Glory on March 17, 2007.  You will notice in the second video the toll that cancer had taken on Roger’s body.

I trust that today’s simple blog post will be a blessing to you as you realize that in the midst of life’s storms, God will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5-6), and He does speak to us in the night seasons (Job 35:10; Psalm 42:80).

What God Whispers in the Night

Stay Close to Me

Lessons From a Hernia: Day 4

This past weekend we had something weather wise that is not often seen in East Tennessee.  The Lord saw fit to cover the beautiful fall foliage and the ground with a pristine blanket of white.   The colors stood out and the ground was quieted.  Two seasons came together in one.  Our lives are made up of seasons, too.  Sometimes it’s a season of joy and sorrow all mixed together in one.  Today, I am sharing the last lesson of this weekly series of what the Lord has been doing in my life through hernia surgery, through this season of my life.

Lesson #4:  Seasons of pain prepare us for the days ahead.

As I look back over my life, and I have more earthly years in my “rearview mirror” than I do out the front window, I am able to point out painful, growth markers.  These are times that God chose to send pain into my life to set me aside to teach me about Himself and me.  Some of those markers were . . .

  • The stillbirth of our daughter, Ashley Marie
  • Hernia surgery on the right side
  • Cancer and subsequent death of my parents
  • A detached retina in my left eye requiring surgery
  • Hernia surgery on the left side

I could mention other trials because life is full of them, but the aforementioned are definite times in my life when God did some deep plowing in my heart.  These were seasons of pain . . .

  • to teach me some wonderful truths from His Word
  • to correct some things in my life
  • to show me something of Himself
  • to set a course of action in my personal life, home and/or ministry
  • to turn my longings from earth to Heaven

None of us like pain, but I can truthfully say that God has used it to do some blessed things in my life.  Psalm 119:71 says, It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I may learn thy statues.  I have written in my Bible beside that verse, “2-16-03 Preached this passage as a result of what God taught me through Dad’s death.”  Even as I type this, the pain of my hernia is biting me.  Life is hard, but God is good.  “Thank You, Lord, for this pain.  Looking forward to how You are going to work in the days ahead.”

Lessons From a Hernia: Day 2

As noted in yesterday’s blog post, Lesson #1, I have recently undergone hernia surgery.  As I told my surgeon yesterday during my post-op visit, “Doc, I really don’t like to be around you when you start cuttin’ up!”  There have been times in my past that got in trouble for that!  Well, as the Lord would have it, this time was for my good.  These are the times when God does some work of heart and draws us to Himself for personal discipleship (Matthew 11:28-30).

Lesson #2 – He must increase; I must decrease.

The past year in ministry has been the most demanding that I’ve gone through in years.  When ministry takes the turns that it has, my automatic reaction is to work harder; to increase.  All I want to say today is, the hardest work of increase should come on our knees.  There, Christ is increased, and I am decreased.  That’s way it’s supposed to work (John 3:30).  “Thank You, Lord, for leading me beside the still waters of that passage on the day after surgery.  Sure is hard to do my work of increase while medicated and grounded.”  And . . . Christ’s ministry just kept right on going.

Lessons From a Hernia

All my life I have lived in full speed, all-out, never-sit-still motion. Every day is an adventure. I believe in being loyal to the end and give it all you got. This can be a positive in many ways, but life lived like this can also have some disadvantages. My independency, impatience and let’s go attitude does not bode well at times with following the Lord, my Shepherd. So, when He needs to get my undivided attention to do some whittling and training, He chooses something to really slow me down. As a matter of fact, to literally stop me. Two years ago it was eye surgery. This time it is hernia surgery. So, what have I been learning in slow motion from my patient, merciful, loving, sovereign God?

Lesson #1 – You must slowdown in this busy world of good things and make time for the best thing.

When you are laid aside for a number of days, you have the opportunity to read more, pray more, listen more, worship more, think more, and prioritize more. What delight to spend a whole morning (after you come off of pain meds) in the Word, in communion with the Lord, reading books, blogs, and articles, in prayer, writing in your journal, listening to sermons, etc. All of that to say, a time like this makes you hunger for more. Because our lives are so busy with good things, we fail or are slack in the area of the best things. Therefore, such is the need to plan your week and your month to really spend time with the Lord. I don’t know what that will look like for you and your schedule, but if Christ is to be sought first (Matthew 6:33) because to live is Christ (Philippians 1:21), then what will you plan for this week, this month?

Hint: When you come to the end of this month of November, will your heart be filled to overflowing with gratitude for your God?

  • Spend a “Thanksgiving morning” reading the psalms, singing songs of gratitude, and writing in your journal what God reveals to you during this time.
  • Keep a gratitude list through the month, not of what God has done, but for Who He is.
  • Read articles, blogs, or books about giving thanks.
  • Have your family share points of gratitude at your daily meal times as well as what God has revealed to them during each day of their time in the Word.
  • As you study your SS lesson, ladies Bible study, or your regular Bible reading during the week, make a conscious effort to praise the Lord for what He teaches you. For instance, you have just answered a question that causes you to think about the greatness of God or His works, so you stop right there and have a session of praise before the Lord.

Psalm 100

Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all you lands! Serve the Lord with gladness; Come before His presence with singing. Know that the Lord, He is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.

Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, And into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting, And His truth endures to all generations.

Oh, Those Precious, Pious Statements – Part 2

Illustration by Rachel Ternes

What would the following men have said if a dear, well-meaning individual said to them, “Well, you know, the Lord won’t put on you more than you can bear”?

Elijah

And the angel of the Lord came back the second time, and touched him, and said, “Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you.” So he arose, and ate and drank; and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights as far as Horeb, the mountain of God. (1 Kings 19:7-8)

Job

Why did I not die at birth? Why did I not perish when I came from the womb? Why did the knees receive me? Or why the breasts, that I should nurse? For now I would have lain still and been quiet, I would have been asleep; Then I would have been at rest.  (Job 3:11-13)

Paul

And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me.  (2 Corinthians 12:7-8)

If I read these passages correctly and there are many others, it sounds like to me that the Lord did put on these men more than they could bear!  Truth is, God does give you more than you can handle because He wants you to depend totally on Him.  Think about this lame, spiritually sounding phrase against the backdrop of these passages of Scripture:

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.  (Matthew 11:28-30)

For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us, you also helping together in prayer for us, that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the gift granted to us through many.  (2 Corinthians 1:8-11)

Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)

These passages address this erroneous statement of  the Christianese language.  God does put upon us hardships and trials that are too hard for us to handle.  He does so to develop Christlikeness in us (Romans 8:28-29) and a dependence upon God alone.

Psalm 18:1-3 — I will love You, O Lord, my strength.The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised.