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Jul 28, 2016

The Soul's Mirror

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:3


A mirror shows your physical characteristics, every wart, bump, and defect, especially just after stepping out of the shower or bath. But it cannot give any measurement of your soul, just as a camera cannot capture an exact likeness of your spirit. Jesus began his most famous sermon with what are called beatitudes, declarations of blessing, the keys of authentic human happiness. He sets forth a character of the soul which has been described as impossible to attain for any mere mortal.
If it is an impossible goal to achieve, why declare it at all? Why did Jesus define the genuine follower of Himself in this manner? If this is the case, can anyone be a true disciple of Christ? If Jesus is intent for your character to reflect the image of these Beatitudes, He would not have commanded later in this same chapter, “Therefore be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.” The Beatitudes set forth the character of Jesus Himself, a character he calls to be manifestly evident in any who would choose to be a Christian and make such a profession.
Most people use a mirror at least once a day, and many others much more frequently. The Christian should use the Beatitudes as a mirror of the soul at least as often. We quickly forget its instruction and guidance of what our character ought to be as life itself tests every aspect of who we are. The response of Christians to people, circumstances, and things reflects their character and whether or not Christ really dwells within them. The Beatitudes will search out everything about who you really are and put every thought and response through the microscope of the Spirit of God. Each Beatitude is a probing statement of truth concerning your nature, appetites, and reactions to your world and those in it.
In the application of The Sermon on the Mount in the final seventeen verses of Matthew 7, Jesus speaks of false prophets and false self-confessing disciples of Jesus. He says you will know them by the fruit in their life, by their true character. And how will you ascertain such fruit and character? By using the mirror of the Beatitudes! You can measure actual character by comparing their lives, reactions, responses, desires, goals to what Jesus says in these probing statements of who is blessed and, by consequence of failure to be and do, who is not blessed. Without fail the Beatitudes will find them out. They will examine their life and character, even as we use them to examine ourselves. Are you “in the faith” or not? Or, as Jesus points out to the many who call Him “Lord, Lord,” he does not even know them. And He says chillingly to their face, “Depart from me, I never knew you.”
The leading Beatitude which reflects powerfully on all the rest is the poverty of spirit of every true disciple of the Lord Jesus. Such a disciple sees himself as one who is totally bereft of any good thing. He is the most miserable of sinners, and like Paul, the chiefest sinner among all. He is so in need of Jesus and His atonement for sin, that he truly hungers and thirsts for righteousness. He must have it, or he will die. Nothing can take its place. He mourns for his sin, he mourns for the sin of the world, but his own is his chief weight.
Therefore, he is genuinely meek, for he has nothing in himself in which to take pride; nothing in which to boast. Jesus’ greatest praise of His servant Moses was that he was the meekest man on the face of the earth. The truly humble person has no idea he is humble or meek. In fact, he mourns because he is not.
A true Christian is full of mercy for others, because God has been merciful to him. How can he fail to have mercy, when mercy has been lavished on him? He is pure in heart because he hates even the suggestion of sin in his life. He may still sin, but he hates even the thought of it. His bones, like the Psalmist, ache within him as he contemplates his own sin.
He seeks peace, not at the expense of holiness, but for the sake of Christ, peace is always his chief desire. He is, therefore, a maker of peace rather than murmuring and complaining, and stirring up strife. He will remain quiet when persecuted and not defend his “rights.” He will bear persecution to enter into fellowship with his Savior’s suffering; to become a partner with his Lord in the persecution which he Himself bore.
These Beatitudes are your soul’s best mirror of a character which is truly Christ-like; a mirror to be utilized daily. It draws you nearer to Him who is your life, and your great reward.


“Jesus, my all in all thou art; my rest in toil, my ease in pain, the medicine of my broken heart, in war my peace, in loss my gain, my smile beneath the tyrant’s frown, in shame my glory and my crown.”
(3rd verse of Charles Wesley’s hymn, “Thou Hidden Source of Calm Repose,” 1749)


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Jul 21, 2016

No Little People

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them falls to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” – Matthew 10:29-31


Doing my “through the Bible in a year reading, Joshua 21 came across my radar. It is one of those passages of the Bible where there is much repetition. It concerns the allotting of cities and their pasturelands for the Levites who were not given a normal portion of the captured land of Canaan as the other tribes of Israel; for the Levites were the tribe which made up all the priests of Israel. Nevertheless, they had to be allotted many cities in which to live with their adjoining pasturelands for the raising of much livestock to support the sacrifices for worship. Reading this chapter, I was impressed with the thought of all the persons who lived and raised families in all these cities with very unfamiliar place names. But they each knew the name of their own city for it was their home.
Then I thought this is only 1/12th of Israel, or actually 1/13th, since Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh each were given an allotment of land in dividing the whole Promised Land. Then I thought, this is only one small nation, among the nations of the world. All this to say, in a convoluted way, there are many, many people in the world who have lived in every age, in all parts of the earth. You are just one of a very large number of total population on the earth at any given time. And especially when you consider the number who live today.
In light of this perspective of the myriads who have ever lived, how important are you? Are you just an obscure number making up the enormous whole of humanity. There are many who have some amount of fame, whose names appear in history books. But there are so many, many more who are never recorded in any history. Does this mean their lives are unimportant? That it does not matter if they had lived at all? And then consider all those who did not survive infancy? Or even all those who were conceived but never saw the light of day? I imagine you are important to you! Are you important to a mother or father, brother or sister, son or daughter? I would imagine so. But the crucial and most important thing is you are known to God, whoever you are, no matter how obscure you may be in the eyes of the world. You may be equated in the Bible to a tiny piece of sand on a seashore pointing out how numerous are the descendants of Abraham, but you are by no means as discardable as a tiny piece of sand.
Contemplating this is so infinitely beyond our capacity to even imagine. But then the greatness of God is so far above and beyond us. You cannot plumb his depths, or measure his width, or picture his enormity. He is all in all. But what is that to you? It is just this: He knows who you are. His knowledge of you as a person, as an important being, is your everything. It does not matter if anyone else even knows you exist. The fact He does is what counts. You must treasure the truth, God knows you; and do what is necessary on your part to draw near to Him. The practical book of James tells you: “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded…Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.” (James 4:8 & 10)
You really are obscure, just a tiny number among billions. But God knows you, and you can know Him. This is why you are important, and will not pass into oblivion. He cares for you, and you cannot get over the incredible knowledge of that.


“I am so glad that our Father in heaven tells of His love in the book He has given: wonderful things in the Bible I see; this is the dearest that Jesus loves me. I am so glad that Jesus loves me, Jesus loves me, Jesus loves me; I am so glad that Jesus loves me, Jesus loves even me.”
(1st verse of Philip Bliss’ hymn “I Am So Glad That Our Father in Heaven,” 1838-1876)


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Jul 14, 2016

Secret Sins

“But if you will not do so, behold, you have sinned against the Lord, and be sure your sin will find you out.” – Numbers 32:23


What you do in the dark, stays in the dark! So you are led to believe by your own sense of things as you experience them. If no one else can see or witness or hear, then only you know. Right? And this concept of reality seems to work for you. The shoe doesn’t fall, the hammer doesn’t come down, bells do not go off. So all is well. But is it?
It is very difficult to consistently picture an all-seeing God whose “eyes” are never blinded or looking away. Your faith may be more or less vigilant, but even the faithful are wont to let their guard down. Appetites can become overwhelming; desires, all-consuming. And they are not always righteous. Far from it.
God has brought real life examples to bear on this truth from His Word. The graphic story of Achan from the Book of Joshua comes to mind. When the Israelite army was victorious over the city of Jericho, Achan under the cloak of believing no one was observing, covetously kept some of the spoils including a magnificently embroidered garment, a sack of 200 silver coins, and a gold bar. He buried them under his tent. The Israelite’s had been previously directed by God not to take for themselves any of the “devoted” things of silver, gold, jewelry, fine garments etc…, but these all were to go into the treasury of the Lord. Because of the sin of one man, Achan, and very possibly his family may have known, the Israelite army suffered a routing defeat when they attempted to take the next city, Ai. God pointed out that because there was sin in the camp, they had suffered a terrible defeat costing nearly forty lives. Through a means in which God must have directed Joshua, Achan was found to be the man, the articles were found, and he and his entire family were stoned as a result of this sin.
In the New Testament a couple, Ananias and Sapphira, among others who were giving to the work of the young church, sold some of their property, and secretly holding back some of the proceeds of the sale for themselves, gave the rest as though this were the entire amount. They declared such to God, the apostles, and the assembly. Being found to be deceitful, they died on the spot as their lie was exposed by the Spirit of God. Though such happens continuously in the dealings and affairs of men and women, there is often no immediate discovery with the same devastating results as seen in these instances in the Bible; but God’s Word is clear that there will be an accounting one day for all such “secret” sin.
David in writing Psalm 139, an insightful, brilliant Psalm discovering God’s full acquaintance with your inmost being, your beginning in the womb, and a complete awareness of your thoughts and actions, discloses: “You have searched me, O Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit, and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out, and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely.” You cannot go anywhere to escape the presence of His Spirit. He is omnipresent and fully aware of you at all times. If this truth were practically believed and applied, with a reverent fear of God, what a different man or woman you would be in everything. But sin is powerful, Satan is cunning, and you are weak. Your ONLY hope is to cry out to Christ and call on His strength. Where you are weak, He is strong. You can do all things through Christ who gives you strength.
Perhaps the truth of God’s all-knowing is discouraging to you; truly defeating! Or, simply ignored. Knowing you are a sinner by nature or not caring that you are, you may still intend to do and get away with “secret” sins. There is an antidote for those who really want help. Jesus has been tempted in all ways as you, yet did not sin. He is able to walk with you in the hard places of life, in the pits of temptation, in the hard pressures of the desires of the flesh, in the weakest times, when you cannot hold your tongue, control your thoughts, or bridle your actions. He tests your faith so you might call on Him continually; seventy times seven, never too many. If you fall, get up again in His strength and do it over the right way. Do not despair! He says instead, overcome! He who overcomes, He promises in Revelation 2 and 3, I will give a crown of life.
But remember, there are no such things as “secret sins”!


“From depths of woe I raise to thee the voice of lamentation; Lord turn a gracious ear to me and hear my supplication; if thou iniquities dost mark, our secret sins and misdeeds dark, O who shall stand before thee?”
“Therefore my trust is in the Lord, and not on my own merit; on him my soul shall rest, his Word upholds my fainting spirit: his promised mercy is my fort, my comfort and my sweet support; I wait for it with patience.”
(1st and 3rd verse of Martin Luther’s hymn from Psalm 130, 1523)


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Jul 07, 2016

Your Essential Fellows

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul.” Acts 2:42


“Friendship is the greatest of worldly goods. Certainly to me it is the chief happiness of life. If I had to give a piece of advice to a young man about a place to live, I think I should say ‘sacrifice almost everything to live where you can be near your friends.’ I know I am very fortunate in that respect.” (C.S. Lewis) He also wrote in one of his letters, “Is any pleasure on earth as great as a circle of Christian friends by a fire.”
Fellowship is essential to the Christian’s soul. He was not made for alienation and isolation. His true created being was intended to be drawn out, refined and purified in the crucible of fellowship. Not that the crucible is a painful affair, though possibly for the terribly shy, but even in fellowship there are other shy fellows who find confidence among like personalities. C.S. Lewis also wrote in his “The Four Loves”: “In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to draw the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald’s reaction to a specifically Caroline joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him “to myself” now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald. Hence true friendship is the least jealous of loves. Two friends delight to be joined by a third, and three by a fourth, if only the newcomer is qualified to become a real friend. … In this, Friendship resembles a glorious “nearness by resemblance” to Heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition which each has of God. For every soul, seeing him in her own way.”
What we know of God from powerful inference from His Word is that He enjoyed fellowship in His very being, the fellowship of the three-person Trinity. And we are created in His image, not the image of specific trinity, for that is unique to God, but the actual factual image of the enjoyment and fruition of fellowship with like believers. We are beings created for the luxury of fellowship and not alien isolation, which rather resembles Hell. Our fellows, in our humanity, are essential. God never had any intention to create you to be isolated and alone. Created in His image you were created to enjoy and be made whole by Christ in relationship and friendship with your believing fellows.
Conveniences of the modern age present both blessings and curses to true fellowship. Facebook and such can certainly remind you of past friends, but social media conversation falls far short of full blown fellowship, in the true company of others, bodily and not merely digitally. Fellowship demands the involvement of the whole person with all the senses engaged. It is why John describes his fellowship with Jesus this way: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life–the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us–that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:1-3)
Fellowship is a necessary element to Christian growth. To grow within a body of fellow believers is the intent of the Lord for you. He chose 12 disciples/apostles not one. He spoke through His Word of each person in the body having a vital purpose of toe, finger, arm, hand, tongue that the whole body might be fit together to grow into its head, even up into Jesus Christ; an analogy of what fellowship is; growing and maturing together. As the writer of Hebrews says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25) Fellowship is a necessary ingredient of the Christian life, not to be avoided, but rather encouraged with all the urgency in eagerly awaiting His coming… together!


“How beautiful the sight of brethren who agree in friendship to unite, and bonds of charity; ‘Tis like the precious ointment, shed o’er all his robes, from Aaron’s head.”
(1st verse of James Montgomery’s versification of Psalm 133, 1771-1854)


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