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Ravished

Ravished

So your God will rejoice over you. Isaiah 62:5

This Thanksgiving I am most thankful for Cheryl, so last week I posted a picture on Facebook of Cheryl and me, updating the opening page for all to see us together.

Isn’t technology wonderful? It gave me the opportunity to show off my bride, to receive a lot of “likes,” and to bask in flattering but largely untrue comments. Jon, a great friend who lives out west, said, “You are both looking great! Time has done little to either of you!!!!” Four explanation marks? I appreciated his grace but wonder how his eyesight is these days—I am wrinkled around the edges and missing topside insulation. Mark wrote from North Carolina, “same two people I knew in college.” I told him he lied, but I do appreciate the intent of his words. Sherry, a local sister in Christ, caught Cheryl’s beauty and affection (she has her arm around me) and commented, “[I] see why John is always smiling. The beautiful lady beside him.” She is spot on. A trainload of folks “liked” the picture. Thanks everyone.

Pull up your Bible app on your monitor or phone to Isaiah. I so relished Isaiah 61-62 this week. In context, these chapters are a promising portrayal of God’s love and plan for Israel after the pronouncement of judgment upon her and the nations (gentiles) for their unbelief and idolatry. We participate in this feast of promises because the Apostle Paul said, “For as many as are the promises of God, in Him [Jesus Christ] they are yes; therefore also through Him is our Amen…” (2 Corinthians 1:20). Great!

Isaiah wraps the promised future in terms of marriage. It is a familiar metaphor to New Testament readers (Ephesians 5) and so rich in application for marriage and all who follow Christ, including His unmarried followers. God is the bridegroom rejoicing over His bride—us. The Father assures us of everlasting joy, garments of salvation and garland, a crown of beauty and a royal diadem, the security of never being forsaken, and His delight in us. Go ahead and try to resist cross referencing Zephaniah 3:17…

Sometimes I forget how God’s past love through Christ to bring us salvation is active now and will find its ultimate display and consummation in the future He is preparing for us.

This brings me back to Cheryl and marriage. How thrilled is my heart to peek at the glory and love and promises of God in her. How privileged we all are to put the gospel and the glory of God on display before a needy and watching culture through our marriages and individual lives.

I can’t fully explain how rich my life is because of Cheryl—and richer nearly every day. But even greater still is the biblical picture of how the Father feels about us and how He will ravish us with His love when we are in His actual presence forever.

I can’t wait! Can you?

-john

The Rhea Herald News, November 22, 2017

 

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What Does Salvation Look Like?

Because we love the brothers 1 John 3:14

Hate is all around us. How do you feel or act toward: republicans, democrats, other races or nationalities, bosses, someone who has hurt you, the well-to-do, the poor, northerners, the opposite gender, the other football team? From the other side of hate, do you care if you don’t love them? Jesus, the ultimate lover, told us to “[even] love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

We aren’t perfect and the apostle John knows it. I suggest that you read 1 John three times: one time for the assurances, one time for the tests of/the practices of true saving faith, one time for the joy and perspective of what salvation in Christ brings. John acknowledges we will struggle with sin and gives us relief when we do (1:8-10). He does speak plainly and strongly without apology. Do you justify your sinful behavior or habits? John fires a rifle shot to your heart: “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God” (3:9). Yikes!

I’ve heard it said there are three kinds of people: professors (in terms of faith in Christ), non-professors, and would-be professors. Throughout the epistle, John links real differences between professors and would-be professors through a series of tests. Listen in to the one in 1 John 3:14, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers.” This only sounds easy considering Jesus instructed us to love our enemies, too. Though it is not true universally, it’s sad to hear some churches are known for what or who they hate and for their heated business meetings. I am grateful my church is not that way.

1 John 3:14 begs two questions. One, do I know I have “passed out of death into life”? And two, do I love my fellow believers? Question one (3:14a) brings great joy. John uses the same phrase in John 5:24 to take us behind the scenes of our eternal life already begun. Death is no longer the end but a transition into the life we already have. Isn’t that just remarkable, astonishing, astounding, and marvelous?! Add your favorite word.

Question two (3:14b) shows one of the evidences/assurances we have salvation: We love other believers. Indwelt by the Holy Spirit, we relate to others—especially followers of Christ—in sacrificial not self-serving or loathing ways. Aren’t you glad for the Spirit’s help to become like Christ in this way?

Drink deeply of our motivation in 1 John 4:19, “We love because he first loved us.”

Love isn’t the only test but it’s a big one. How I wish our national—and yes, sometimes “Christian”—fires of hate groups and words would be smothered by the rushing waters of the love of God’s people toward their enemies and each other.

Salvation looks like love.

A Gift For This Season

“God is at work in you to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Philippians 2:13

This column is dedicated to Jerry Bridges and Dave Hobbs. I have never actually met Jerry, but he touched a nerve and it made a difference. Dave arranged a meeting with Jerry I won’t soon forget.

Dave led the Men’s Group at my church last Friday night, where we observed an interview with Jerry Bridges by John Piper. It was on one of those big screens and I felt like we were right there. Eighty-three years old at the interview, his book The Pursuit of Holiness is a classic and he was recently welcomed into the presence of the Lord. It is a gift for this season of my life to hear from Godly men and women toward the end of their lives as they tell what matters most.

The interview centered on the influencing beliefs he had discovered along the way—biblical beliefs that figure heavily in the joy Jesus brings and how he lives for Jesus. What would be your favorites? Here is Bridges’ list: The application of Scripture to daily life; union with Christ; the doctrine of our salvation; our dependent responsibility; our union with Christ; living by the Gospel daily; I am consciously dependent on the Holy Spirit. Chew slowly.

Though many don’t like the term, we are all theologians. We have and are developing a system of guiding, controlling beliefs that influence how we live our daily lives and what encourages us in the losses and crosses of life. May I share a few of mine?

One, God is working in us, around us, and for us all the time (see Philippians 2:13 above). This very column is an example of something God has brought to my life recently in thought or circumstance. Nothing happens by accident; every minute and person matters.

Two, Scripture is God-breathed. What a thrill to have, read, study, and pray God’s living love letter to me.

Three, prayer is hard work and joy. This continuing conversation with God that He started is a holy privilege and delight, but it takes intentionality and persistence.

Four, God’s steadfast love (lovingkindness) has captured my heart. I underline it in red in my Bible(s). Lovingkindness is the composite of God’s mercy, grace, faithfulness, love, and goodness all rolled into one word. Knowing the guy in the mirror every morning, I am especially touched by mercy—God’s unmerited favor to those who deserve just the opposite.

Next, worship. Can you believe our Maker-God let’s us—wants us—urges us—to meet, adore, and know Him both personally? Maybe, this would be first if I prioritized my list. Number six is worship’s companion: The church Christ died for. We were made for it and are incomplete without it.

Last, our future. The New Heavens and Earth fascinate me and motivate me to get ready. No mere escape (usually), I can’t wait to see Christ face to face.

What do you really—really—believe?

In the Refrigerator

Moonset and Sunrise, February 3, 2015

“…who commands the sun, and it does not rise; who seals up the stars; who alone stretched out the heavens…who made the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades and the chambers of the south…?” Job 9:7-9

This morning, before a hint of sunrise, there was a stunning moonset in the western sky. The twenty-two degree outdoor refrigerator was quickly forgotten as a nearly full moon hung above the horizon on top of a thin layer of clouds. Constellations gazed quietly.

The phrase, “the chambers of the south” reminded me of watching sunrises from Brazil several years ago. The constellations in the southern hemisphere, unknown to Job, looked different or were misplaced by me (grin) and I could not identify them. Where was Orion? My coffee ran out too soon as I stood outside and wondered: Does the dawn come more slowly and linger in central Brazil or was my heart too enthralled?

Today’s moonset didn’t last long and when I turned to the east, there was another—another—pastel sunrise, quietly paving the way for the sun’s arrival.

My heart is thankful for God’s faithful sovereignty to command the sun to rise up today. No one else could or would for me—for you.

Alphabet Sunrise

Today, January 19, 2015

“By the word of Yahweh the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their array.” Psalm 33:6

Was it the Spirit of God or caffeine kicking in—or just my silliness? Or all three?

Being the simpleton I am, I was—at first—speechless while I saturated myself in the predawn cold. Watching as the sun stretched and yawned, the first words that came to mind were Psalm 19:1, “The heavens are declaring the glory of the Lord” (a daily friend for decades).

“What word would You have for me, Father,” I asked. “S” words came to mind and they became my prayer:

The subtlety of fading night stars all named by the Son

The starry host of observers

The invigorating shivers

The snappy air

The stark, silhouetted trees in the foreground

The sensation of God’s presence.

How extravagant to begin the day with an aliveness in the presence of Glory. And, isn’t it curious God spoke and everything was made?

Writers, creative types, or creation lovers that we all are: Tomorrow, stand outside in your warm robe in the middle of sunrise and pray all the descriptive words you can using one letter. Slippers required; hot coffee or tea optional.

“Z” will be hard, but praising God can be fun!

A Winter’s Respite

Today, January 16, 2015

“Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; they will wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end.” Hebrews 1:25-27 (Cf. Psalm 102)

The sun! Ours is blue sky and the promise of a winter’s respite all the way to fifty degrees today. The sun easily calls attention to The Son of God, who is Creator and Lord and made the sun and its companions—“the heavens are the work of your hands.”

Since early this morning I have been reading about addressing the Son in worship (Psalm 45; Revelation 4-5; Hebrews 1). There must have been a huge party in heaven when the Father and angels watched the Son make the celestial congregation. For us, A.P. Gibbs, in Worship: The Christian’s Highest Occupation, ends his book by saying: “How good…to hear spiritually intelligent ascriptions of worship and praise addressed to the Father through His beloved Son; and also to hear the Son of God directly addressed in worship and praise by those who know, love, and adore Him!”(p. 219)

“Oh, how I love Jesus,” shouts the song of old this day of winter’s pardon and joy.

Nothing on Earth

Today, January 14, 2014

 “Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:23-26

Lately, creation’s gray canopy closes me in and leaves me with earthbound thoughts. But God invites me to think beyond the clouds to heaven. From there, he sends His presence and  “holds” me, gives me “counsel,” and soon will “receive” me into His glorious presence. His strength enlivens me for each day. He is my “portion”—my life and joy (“The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want”).

My daily reality, then, is both on earth and in heaven where Father and Son coordinate my day and future!

Getting Wet

Creation Today, January 12, 2015

“Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the Lord, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.” Hosea 10:12

With many benefits and messages, rain is my opportunity this morning.

Hosea points to a healthy walk for today. In the prophet’s time of self and rebellion—and applied to me today—God’s rain beckons me to the rich garden of Christ-life: sowing His holiness; rejoicing in the fruit of His indescribable riches of  steadfastlove (“hesed”); pursuing the essential task of weeding out my sin.

“Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet.” Father and Son, teach me to walk in your garden today.

The Painter

I hope you’ve seen Bob Ross on television. Now gone but still on television, he was the painter who dazzled the world with his lush landscapes painted with knife-like tools and large brushes. Drink in this: trees in the foreground created by scraping the canvas, with a moonscape coming to life center stage with a three inch brush.

I love watching his sessions on public television and even took a class to learn his technique. In three hours we all did a painting and brought it home! Once, in her constant joy to do nice things for me, Cheryl secretly bought a ticket to a public demonstration by him. And then he unexpectedly died before the class!

I thought of Bob Ross, the lesser painter, last night as I stood outside and took in the sunset. Cold but with a sharply focused sky, with sweeping, broad strokes the Master Painter swept one-half of the sky with long, thin pink clouds. The sky, with puffs of white smoke-like clouds around the longer pink ones–and with a not-to-be-forgotten blue background–was cause for praise to God for His works.

It takes run-on sentences to begin to describe God and what He does.

The delight of God in His sunset must have been great in heaven. It sure was for me on earth.

Dogwoods and Wednesdays

Rhea Herald News

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” John 12:24

Were you the one driving down my street last Wednesday, staring at me while I sat in the front yard watching my dogwood tree? It was a superb fall afternoon and though I probably looked silly sitting by myself I enjoyed the fall afternoon and my dogwood tree.

Fall has brought its usual offerings. Mary Weston Fordham wrote: “Ah! The year is slowly dying, and the wind in tree-tops sighing…Thick and fast the leaves are falling, high in air wild birds calling…” And, there have been special gifts from autumn this year, e.g., thunderstorms and serious lightning. Dogwoods are special each fall.

I wish Jesus had used a dogwood tree for an illustration. Ever masterful in His use of ordinary things as illustrations of eternal truths, Jesus would surely have said some key things for His followers with the dogwoods. He used wheat in John 12 and vines in John 15. I don’t believe there are lost books of the bible—what God wanted for us is in our hands. But if He wrote another chapter or two…surely He would mention dogwoods.

For my part, I think a healthy fall dogwood tree brings enormous good to the eyes and heart, and points me to some important realities.

Fall leaves sing quite a song. Green from summer sun and moisture—and now “thick and fast they are falling,” during fall they mutate into many-colored, spotted ornaments adorning their trees and surroundings. Of all the tree’s components they are most like us, portraying our individual uniqueness, changes as we grow into Christlikeness, and things in me that need to die. Wednesday, I saw the leaves as never before.

Dogwood berries intrigue me this fall. They come and go during the seasons, some lingering to adorn the tree and surroundings. They stand out like my friend’s perfectly restored bright red muscle car. They also can stand up to tests of faith. On Wednesday, I noticed several clusters of red and brown berries still intact from last year. Maybe we can work on endurance together.

Dogwoods don’t have flowers in the fall but they always have the trunk and branches, and they look more and more barren in autumn. Jesus taught us life flows through the vine—Himself—and we are the fruit-bearing branches. Though we cannot always see Christ’s work in and through us He “is at work to will and to work His good pleasure” (Philippians 1:6). This lesson was vivid to me Wednesday.

The most stunning fall dogwood reminder is the eternal lesson from John 12:24. The death of leaves and berries now brings life next spring; the death of Jesus on the cross was necessary and resulted in the salvation of many—like me!

Jesus and dogwoods seem to really go together on Wednesdays.



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