I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;
From where shall my help come?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
3 He will not allow your foot to slip;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
Later today I will participate in the funeral of my friend’s mother. Today is also my own Mom’s birthday. She died four years ago. She would be 85 today–her birthday (though she would object due to the fact that she was actually a leap year baby, born on the 29th of February).
Sadly, as far as I can assess, my Mom died outside of the Lord. It was also saddening that we did not have a funeral or memorial service. My Dad had passed several years earlier. In reality, none of us children knew exactly what to do. Three of Mom’s siblings had passed and she had not communicated to any of us any particulars regarding a type of ceremony or service. Consequently, we did nothing. Perhaps something could have been planned but we’re spread out now, living in North Carolina, Nevada, Wisconsin, Texas and Tennessee. And since Mom wasn’t religious, no pastor or church was involved. She was quietly cremated and we all went on with life.
It was odd.
Today, my friend celebrates the blessed death of his mom. That concept is found in Revelation 14:13.
13 And I heard a voice from heaven, saying, “Write, ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!’” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “so that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them.”
Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.
The reason for which the are blessed is provided. They may rest from their labors. Why? Their deeds follow with them. In other words, if we know Christ and strive to live for His glory, blessing others around us even though we remain remarkably imperfect in this life, a glorious rest awaits us throughout eternity.
Have you ever considered what that rest is like? Contemplate these thoughts from James Durham’s (1622-1658) collection of sermons on the verse quoted above (The Blessed Death of Those Who Die in the Lord, Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2003, Don Kistler, ed.).
“Then we confidently and comfortably conclude that death–whenever, wherever, and however it should overtake us–would be gain to us, by putting a final and eternal period to all the remainders of indwelling sin, to all temptations to sin, to all desertion, and to all complaints and fears of desertion and hidings of God’s face; to all doubtings about our gracious estate and about our interest in God; to all fears of backsliding, and of offending or of giving offence; to all trouble, sorrow, sadness, and sighing on whatsoever account; to all indisposition to serve, worship, and glorify God; to all interruptions of fellowship with Him, and to all fellowship that is but mediate and in part; to all sinful ignorance and imperfect knowledge, or that which is but in part. In heaven, great theologians read all their divinity without books, and without the least difficulty in the beatifical immediate vision of God’s face. Death ushers us in to that blessed state wherein we call be satisfied with His likeness, and that both objectively and subjectively, being then admitted to see Him in Himself as he is, face to face, even to full, immediate, and never-to-be-interrupted fellowship with Him” (p.xi).
Said as only a Puritan preacher can!
Our glimpses of heaven provided to us by the Scriptures enables us to grasp Paul’s declaration that dying is gain (Philippians 1:21)!
Charles Spurgeon wrote,
“They rest from their labors in the sense that they are no longer subject to the toil of labor. Whatever they do in heaven will yield, then, refreshment and never cause them weariness. As some birds are said to rest upon the wing, so do the saints find, in holy activity, their serenest repose. They serve Him day and night in His temple and therein they rest. Even as on earth, by wearing our Lord’s yoke, we find rest unto our souls, so in the perfect obedience of heaven, complete repose is found” (A Voice From Heaven, Sermon 1219, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, http://www.spurgeongems.org).
My friend’s Mom did not live an easy life. She suffered greatly from Rheumatoid Arthritis. Today, however, she finds herself not simply in the Lord, but with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8)! Her laboring to live with an awful disease has ceased. She now rests in perfect health.
How thankful we all are that she was “in the Lord.” She trusted in Christ and in Him alone for her salvation. She was depending upon His grace and trusting in His promises. She was blessed. She is blessed. She will always be blessed.
I pray the same will be said of us!
James Durham concluded his treatise with these words:
“Now may the Lord Himself, who alone can do it, powerfully persuade and prevail with you so to live that you may have the well-grounded hope of dying in Christ, since blessed and only blessed are they who die in the Lord, who rest from their labors and whose works follow them” (p.129).
Although the application is self-evident, I am impressed to draw it to your attention. Where are you with Christ? Are you outside of Him or are you inside of Him? Believe me when I state that no more important question will be asked of you today, this month or this year. Death is only blessed if you are “in the Lord.” If we have received Christ, believing upon Him (John 1:12), how are we living today? Are we laboring? Are we striving to say on mission? Every Christian has the same purpose, even if we word it a bit differently. My mission statement reads as follows: Glorify God, Bless People & Prepare for Eternity. Does that resonate with you? If so, it will determine what you do today and this month and this year. It is what motivates you to serve others and find ways in which to utilize your gifts and talents in the body of Christ–a local congregation. The bottom line is this: What we believe today and how live today matters.
Thank you for stopping by the blog and for considering these important issues!
Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.
The pictures above were taken in Bardia National Park located in western Nepal. The area made the news in late December of last year when a herd of elephants that live in the park attacked a small nearby village, killing one person and injuring two. The story peaked my interest (I love geography) and quick glance at Google images helped me to see that Bardia is teeming with wildlife, some quite dangerous.
The second photo illustrates what can happen when a deer allows herself to become too comfortable with her surroundings. The shot above shows three other deer very much on the alert.
The concept of alertness is on my mind. I need to be alert. There is an enemy seeking my defeat from within (my flesh, the sin which remains)and from without (the evil one and his minions). One particular verse caught my attention several years ago. 1 Corinthians 16:14-15 reads,
13 Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. 14 Do everything in love.
Eugene Peterson renders these verses as follows:
13-14 Keep your eyes open, hold tight to your convictions, give it all you’ve got, be resolute, and love without stopping.
When I served in the Army, I was trained on how to perform guard duty. I vividly remember guarding a building (with an empty M-16). Thinking a drill instructor might try to sneak up on me, you know I kept my eyes open! I wasn’t just on guard duty. I was on my guard! Like the deer in the top picture above, I was ready for anything! If that was how seriously I took that responsibility when I wasn’t in any real danger, how much more seriously should I be now that I find myself in the crosshairs?!
A good word for me today! I hope you were encouraged as well!
“What makes a man a man? A friend of mine once asked. It’s the choices he makes. Not how he starts things, but how he finishes them.”
That’s the last line from the movie Hellboy. Lest you become too concerned, please know that I did not actually watch the movie. I happened to turn on a particular channel the other day as the movie was concluding. As a father of two boys, you can see why the quote grabbed my attention.
I would love for my sons to become men who are known for making wise decisions and for finishing what they start. I suppose that is the hope of every father.
This afternoon I hit the Dayton (TN) walk track for lunch. As I often do, I pray as I exercise. One of the things I prayed for today were my children. I prayed for their salvation and for their maturation. I prayed for me as their Dad. I prayed for their Mom. I also prayed that I would finish well at my particular callings (Christian, Husband, Father, Friend, Worker). I very much do not want to fizzle out as more and more of my hairs turn grey. That concept has been on my mind as I will be mentioning the latter years of both David and Solomon tomorrow night when I teach a class on the Old Testament. Both kings started well, but did not finish strong. David (Solomon, too) proved to be a poor
father (a bit hard to excel at fatherhood when you have over 20 children). Solomon worshiped idols. Without a doubt, they did not finish
well. May that never be said of me. May it never be said of my sons. May we do the right things–even when they are hard.
May God help us to these noble ends!
I recently watched an interview of Neil deGrasse Tyson by Larry King (see link below).
I personally find Dr. Tyson to be delightful and interesting. His personality is winsome. His answers to Larry’s questions were fascinating, but I particularly took interest at what took place at the end of the interview. King brought of the concept of fearing non-existence (both men are atheists). Tyson replied:
“It is the knowledge that I am going to die that creates the focus that I bring to being alive. The urgency of accomplishment, the need to express love now, not later. If we live forever, why ever even get out of bed in the morning? Because you always have tomorrow. That’s not the kind of life I want to lead.”
After Larry King asked him if he feared “not being around,” Tyson answered:
“I fear living a life where I could have accomplished something and didn’t. That’s what I fear. I don’t fear death.”
Don’t you appreciate his vulnerability?! I sure do! I also find his comments insightful. As a Christian, however, my perspective on both living and dying is in conflict with that described by Dr. Tyson. The facts that I will indeed live forever and that I will face God upon my death serve as important impetuses for my accomplishments as well as my expression of love to those around me.
My mission statement is short, but has profound implications for my present.
Prepare for Eternity
Tomorrow is important. The future awaits. But that unrealized and certain hope does not negate my calling today. Why did I get out of bed this morning? Because I have a mission to complete over the next twenty-four hours! The primary purpose for my existence is to glorify God. To a point, that happens without any effort on my part. Yet, it is also something I consciously do (and I wish I did more consistently). Jesus told me to let my light so shine before men that they might see my good works and glorify my Father who is in heaven (Mt. 5:16). He was also very specific (as were the authors of the entire New Testament) that I seek to bless others (Matthew 5:43-48; Romans 12:14). Whatever the context in which I find myself, I am to prove to be a good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). Finally, I need to live each day with the knowledge that I will “be around” forever. What I do today matters. And that makes this day as important as tomorrow.
I recently completed reading a small book entitled The Management Methods of Jesus (Bob Briner, Nelson Business, 1996). The subtitle appears above. In several places, the book stretched the application of Jesus’ actions and example a bit too far, but I particularly appreciated the following lines:
“Inadequate preparation produces inadequate results” (p.3).
“Whether you’re laying the foundation for a career, launching a product, or making a presentation, there is no substitute for preparation” (p.4).
“A lack of absolutes can lead to all kinds of corporate problems, from petty thievery to major crime. It leads to shoddy products and shoddy practices in the marketplace. ‘I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong’ is a common defense of everything from manipulating stock to adding extra nicotine to already lethal cigarettes to building cars with dangerous fuel tanks. As a company and as a manager, teach the right way, insist on the right way, be an example of the right way to do business. Follow Jesus’ example” (p.18).
“Don’t fall into the trap of arrogance. Not only is it unseemly, it is bad business. One way to combat it is to keep a picture in your mind of Jesus Christ, God’s perfect son, kneeling before ordinary men, his own disciples, and washing their feet. With this picture in mind, it is pretty hard to be arrogant” (p.36).
“To succeed, use the Jesus model. Take good care of your employees and your customers. When Jesus said in Matthew 23:11, ‘He who is greatest among you shall be your servant,’ He made a statement by which any business can live and thrive” (p.58).
“Both through His actions and His teachings, Jesus demonstrated that He expected His followers to be fruitful and productive. He was equivocating on this” (p.83)
Happy New Year! Thanks for walking with me over the past twelve interesting months yet again!
Here’s a quick fly-over from our year together:
One year of serving at Grace on worship team, AWANA, nursery, teaching adult SOD!
10th Anniversary of teaching on the collegiate level!
25 Years of Marriage!
Teaching Romans at Church!
Cubs win! Cubs win!
Trump won! Trump won?!
Thanksgiving & Christmas Day!
God’s provision through our jobs!
Plus Celena, TJ, Dayton, Cascade & Cadence!
What a year! Did I miss anything big? It has been a rather eventful year for me personally (25th wedding anniversary and the anniversary of my 10th year teaching college students). It has also been a full year for us as a family (puppies, school, vacation). Without a doubt, we have experienced the grace and mercy of God. No, the year has not been without its challenges (I think of TJ’s health issues, raising a toddler, and the sins of seven people living together under one roof). But we would be sinful to complain as day #365 rapidly approaches its conclusion. The Lord has not treated us as our many, many sins deserve. We have been greatly blessed and we are looking forward to living 2017 together. But first…
“The true meaning of Christmas is to cheer people up during a cold and depressing time of year. That means lots of food, getting together with family and friends, giving each other gifts, being kind to others, and helping those in need.”
Those are the thoughts of blogger, atheist and humanist Staks Rosch in a 2013 article on The Huffington Post blog (see link below). He continued:
“Whatever excuse you want to use to celebrate the winter season is great. Jews celebrate a day’s worth of oil that lasted eight nights. As excuses go, that’s pretty weak, but if it makes people happy, great. Celebrate long-lasting oil, the tilt of the Earth’s axis, the birth of a mythical figure, a funny episode from a sitcom, the Flying Spaghetti Monster (sauce be upon him), Human Light, or even Star Wars Life Day. Whatever you celebrate, have a happy holiday season.” He concluded with a tribute to the famous and now deceased Christopher Hitchens (a hero to all those who hate religion).
As you might imagine, I do not appreciate Mr. Rosch’s comments. In particular, I think he is a bit naive to state that Jesus was a mythical figure. Even the Jewish historian Josephus acknowledged that Jesus actually lived when we believe that He did.
Jesus truly was a Jewish man, born in Israel over two thousand years ago. The real question is whether or not He was who He claimed to be. One of the men that walked with Him for three years was from the fishing village of Bethesda located on the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee. His name was Peter. As Peter sensed the end of his life approaching, he wrote two letters. We know them as 1 & 2 Peter. In his second epistle, he wrote the following:
16 For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty (chapter one, New American Standard Bible [NASB]).
Another eye-witness stated it this way:
14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth (John, chapter one, NASB).
Several years later, the same author would write the following to one of the early congregations:
What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life (1 John 1:1; NASB).
If the New Testament is clear about anything, it is that Jesus of Nazareth walked among us!
However, in order to believe what He claimed about Himself and what others (Peter, John, Paul, etc.) taught, you must be given a gift–the gift of faith. Knowledge takes us to a point. Faith completes the journey. But faith, according to the Scripture, is not something we can create ourselves. It is a gift, given by God (Ephesians 2:8). And, I contend, it is the greatest gift one could receive!
Have you received it?
Have you asked God for it?
You may be content to be–like the atheist author quoted above–an unbeliever. Please know, I am not more intelligent than Mr. Rosch. In fact, he could probably run circles around me intellectually and defeat me in an argument with one arm tied behind his back. But I have received something he has not–the gift of faith. It really is that simple. I was given a gift and I opened it. I believed. That’s why Christmas is more to me than “lots of food, getting together with family and friends, giving each other gifts, being kind to others, and helping those in need.” Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate all those activities mentioned! BUT I APPRECIATE JESUS CHRIST EVEN MORE!
And that is what makes my Christmas worth celebrating.
For another perspective than the one offered by The Huffington Post, consider:
Chattanooga recently witnessed a horrific event. A bus carrying grade school students crashed, killing six and injuring many others. Words cannot express the grief experienced by so many in the community following the accident. On the next day, I was listening to a talk radio station out of Chattanooga. The host of the show that morning encouraged everyone of every faith to find a place to get alone and pray. He went on the state that individuals who were not religious should think positive thoughts because, like prayers, they make a difference. He even mentioned that it was a proven phenomenon.
I would question the validity of whatever study was performed.
My positive thoughts will not improve your negative day.
Without a doubt, I can bless you if I communicate to you (face-to-face, email, Facebook, text, etc.). If you know that I’m in your corner, that can make a world of difference. But my simply thinking kind thoughts about you or for you isn’t going to assist one bit.
I know what you’re thinking: “The force isn’t strong with this one.” Exactly! I reject the new age spiritualism adopted by the talk show personality who described himself as a Christian–Druid–Universalist (I’m serious).
Thankfully, we do not need to resort to an Americanized form of eastern mysticism when we, our loved ones, or strangers are suffering. The triune God listens to His people when they pray! He condescends to hear the requests of those to receive His Son. And, hallelujah, He answers in the affirmative far more than in the negative. In other words, His children hear “Yes” much more than they hear “No”!
Knowing this, how often should we pray? Paul commanded us to “pray continually” and be devoted to prayer (1 Thess. 5:17; Col. 4:2). Jesus instructed us to pray specifically and repeatedly (Luke 11:1-13). And we should especially pray when we learn of tragedies such as the bus accident in Chattanooga. God is everywhere and He is all-powerful. He can assist and comfort those in great sorrow and, most importantly, He can draw people to Himself through very dire circumstances.
The fact that we do not pray more reveals a very inadequate theology if not a very small faith.
This is a remarkable story. It is entitled, Dollywood Employee Finds Burning Bible Page After Wildfires (Travis Dorman, author).
“As soon as I got down on the ground, I noticed it was a Bible verse, and I was like holy crap,” McCord said in a phone interview on Tuesday night. “It was in a puddle of water. I said, ‘I want to take care of this the best way I can,’ so I gently scooped it up and carried it out the best I could.”
McCord, 24, sat on the bench where he found the paper, and called Carver over. Their work partners, Dollywood wardrobe manager Angela Davis and employee Kimberly Moore, had left to go to the restroom, McCord said.
In silence, the pair pored over the page, the edges of which were burned black, rendering many words illegible. But parts of the right side of the page were preserved enough to get the message across: it perfectly reflected, McCord said, the tragic natural disaster that had thrust Gatlinburg and Sevier County into the national spotlight the night before.
“O Lord, to thee will I cry: For the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and the flame hath burned all the trees of the field,” the page reads, according to a picture of the page posted on McCord’s Facebook.
“At first, we didn’t know what part of the book it was from,” McCord said on Tuesday night, “but we saw bits and pieces about fire and scorching the land, and how the beast groaned and roared for help.”
The page appears to be from the first chapter of Joel from the King James version of the Bible.
“We were like this is unreal, this is unbelievable,” McCord said. “When we had both fully read it, we looked at each other — and I will never forget this moment — we both burst into tears. I was ghost white, and we just prayed. There was nothing else to do.
“Still to this moment, almost four hours after the fact, I don’t have words for it.”
McCord posted a photo of the charred Bible page on Facebook, and four hours later, he was contacted by Dollywood public relations workers who told him the post had been shared more than 50,000 times. McCord had no idea, he said: His Facebook showed less than 1,000 shares.
McCord wasn’t a highly religious man prior to his discovery — he didn’t go to church every Sunday or read the Bible often — but he said he has a relationship with God that shapes his morals and how he treats other people. He was impacted by the discovery because he said he knows several co-workers who lost their homes in the chaotic blaze. He intends to frame the Bible page, and now, he said he may re-examine the role religion plays in his life.
Angela Davis, reached by phone on Tuesday night, corroborated McCord’s story, saying when she returned from the restroom, she saw him with the Bible page. It was burned, brittle, wet and in two pieces, she said. Kimberly Moore also corroborated the story, recalling the same details as Davis and McCord. Misty Carver did not immediately return requests for comment.
McCord said he knows people may doubt the truthfulness of his story. He emphasized he is not an official spokesman for Dollywood, and he does not speak on behalf of the park or its employees. He just wanted to share the story to give people hope.
“I wanted to share this message because it brought me to tears. I wanted to share this message because I think that faith and hope is very powerful in a situation like this. There are hundreds of people that are displaced and that have lost their homes. Most of these people will cling to faith. By no means was I trying to get social recognition. … I would say to anyone who wants to call it fake, call me. Please call me. It is something that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
The article above, quoted in its entirety, is from The Knoxville News Sentinel website on November 30th. Here’s the link:
You can probably guess what stood out to me. “He said he may re-examine the role religion plays in his life.” Wouldn’t we all?! We should especially do so after considering the context of Joel, chapter one. God had come in judgement and, as the prophesy continues, the Lord will do so again in the future.
When was the last time you read this short Old Testament book? If it has been a while, you might think of this as a nudge to do so! As you read it, pay particular attention to the warnings (like “awake…weep…wail” [1:5]). There is indeed an appropriate way in which to respond to God’s judgement and/or discipline. There is also a way in which to live in light of the coming “day of the Lord” mentioned by Joel. Like the young man who found the burned Bible page, we should re-examine the role religion plays in our own lives. More specifically, we should live today in such a manner that we are prepared when God’s wrath is truly realized. And, there is no safer place to be than in His Son–Jesus Christ!
I was heartened to hear of God providentially working in such a way that Mr. McCord found part of the Scriptures. It is understandable that he and his co-worker burst into tears when they made the connection from what they were experiencing to what they just read. But I very much hope that this is just a beginning, a re-birthing time for their relationships with God. May the story also be used in our lives to help us examine our own spiritual health (or lack thereof). Remember–not everyone survived the fires in the area.
PS-Please be praying for those who have lost loved ones and for those grieving from losing important and sentimental possessions (homes, pets, photos, etc.).
If you have studied the history of the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States, you most assuredly have seen the name of William Bradford. He was one of the leaders of the group that sailed the treacherous waters of the Atlantic on the Mayflower.
Bradford was a member of the separatist movement in England and part of the segment which decided to head to the New World. His wife, Dorothy joined him. Their young son remained behind due to safety reasons. Sadly, Dorothy would fall from the ship and drown just prior to the landing in Cape Cod in 1620. Bradford would be elected governor of Plymouth after the death of John Carver and was re-elected every year thereafter. He remarried in 1623 to a widow named Alice Southworth. They would have three children.
In 1630, he began writing Of Plymouth Plantation. It’s a bit of a tough read if you are not well-verse in original King James-ish English (not the cleaned-up, modernized English in the King James Bible you may read at home). Honestly, it’s both boring and fascinating at the same time. What really stands out the me, however, is Bradford’s vibrant faith in Almighty God. Consider the following:
I may not here omit how, notwithstand[ing] all their great pains and industry, and the great hopes of a large crop, the Lord seemed to blast, and take away the same, and to threaten further and more sore famine unto them. By a great drought which continued from the third week in May, till about the middle of July, without any rain and with great heat for the most part, insomuch as the corn began to wither away though it was set with fish, the moisture whereof helped it much. Yet at length it began to languish sore, and some of the drier grounds were parched like withered hay, part whereof was never recovered. Upon which they set apart a solemn day of humiliation, to seek the Lord by humble and fervent prayer, in this great distress. And He was pleased to give them a gracious and speedy answer, both to their own and the Indians’ admiration that lived amongst them. For all the morning, and greatest part of the day, it was clear weather and very hot, and not a cloud or any sign of rain to be seen; yet toward evening it began to overcast, and shortly after to rain with such sweet and gentle showers as gave them cause of rejoicing and blessing God. It came without either wind or thunder or any violence, and by degrees in that abundance as that the earth was thoroughly wet and soaked and therewith. Which did so apparently revive and quicken the decayed corn and other fruits, as was wonderful to see, and made the Indians astonished to behold. And afterwards the Lord sent them such seasonable showers, with interchange of fair warm weather as, through His blessing, caused a fruitful and liberal harvest, to their no small comfort and rejoicing. For which mercy, in time convenient, they also set apart a day of thanksgiving. . . .(See reference below).
Those of us living in the Southeast, USA can relate to the need of rain! Many of us are praying regularly for it. Thankfully, like the Puritans, we believe that while God is completely sovereign, He does indeed both hear and answer prayer!
I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;
Those are the comforting words from Psalm 121. God bids us to pray. We pray. He answers.
“Behold, now, another providence of God. A ship comes into the harbor,” wrote Bradford. I trust that we, too, can say that we have seen and experienced “another providence of God” after “another providence of God” during the first eleven months of this year. God has not treated us as our many, many sins deserve.
And we give thanks.