In Our Right Minds – Transformed By Jesus

Grace For The Journey

GraceForTheJourneyThemeFor2017

17June  In Mark 5:1-20, we read what is the longest, most graphic exorcism in all the Bible.  Before we study this especially dramatic encounter with Christ, it is helpful to recall C. S. Lewis’ warning in the preface to his little book, The Screwtape Letters.  Here’s what he writes about the study of demons: “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils.  One is to disbelieve in their existence.  The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.  They themselves are equally pleased by both errors …

We may deny demons entirely on the one hand or be overly fascinated by them on the other.  The demons are pleased with both extremes.  They are happy if we do not believe in them and they are happy if we are utterly consumed with them.

It is absolutely essential that we appreciate the depth and complexity of evil as we read of it in the Bible.  Evil is systemic.  Evil is part of the fabric comprising this fallen world system.  Evil is all around us and the work of demons is ongoing.

While no Christian can be under the absolute control of a demon – as though by possession – Christians can, however, yield control of their lives to demonic influence and so allow themselves temporarily to fall under the power of the evil one.

So while we may be tempted to read this encounter as persons somewhat removed from the narrative, removed from the details and the events as though we were just standing on the outside looking in at something that seems so remotely fantastic, we must not separate ourselves from the very real possibility of falling under the influence of the enemy.

Let’s study the passage and let God teach us …

Verse one says, “Then they came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gadarenes.

Jesus is traveling by boat with His disciples.  They are in the boat with Him and He has just crossed over from the Western side to the Eastern side of the sea of Galilee.  They had just been through the storm.  The previous chapter concludes with Jesus’ calming the storm and the disciples asking incredulously: “Who in the world is this guy?!” (Mark 4:41)

As soon as they get through the storm on the sea,

There’s another storm awaiting on the shore.

It’s a different kind of storm.  It’s this demon-possessed man.  He is described in verse 2 as a man with “an unclean spirit.”

It’s at times like these I wonder whether the disciples may have second-guessed their decision to follow Jesus!  Did they ever wonder what they had gotten themselves into?  They’ve just come through the storm at sea and no sooner than they climb out of the boat this crazy man comes running toward them.  Mark describes him in verse 3 as a man: “who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no one could bind him, not even with chains.”  He lived there among the tombs, not a nice and neatly manicured cemetery as in our day, but tombs hewn out of the rock, a grotesque area of stench and uncleanness.

Notice The Isolation

Because he is dwelling among the tombs, he is isolated and alienated from everyone else.  The tombs are located in an area isolated from the townspeople, located on the outskirts of the city.

His condition was horrendous.  He had been bound, we are told, with chains.  Folks in the town had apparently tried to keep the man from hurting himself and others, but to no avail.  He would eventually break the chains.

Verses 4 and 5 tells us, “Because he had often been bound with shackles and chains. And the chains had been pulled apart by him, and the shackles broken in pieces; neither could anyone tame him. And always, night and day, he was in the mountains and in the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones.”

This is a sad picture, isn’t it?  This man is like an animal.  But we forget he was once a young mother’s child.  He was once a father’s little boy.  But the demons have gotten hold of him and he is reduced to a life of isolation among the mountains and the tombs.

The enemy, Satan; the evil one,

Will do everything he can to harm us.

Satan would love to see

This demoniac destroy himself.

This is why we read that

He is “cutting himself with stones.”

Man is created in the image of God and Satan will do his level best to destroy the image of God in us.  Satan wants us . . .

  • To harm our bodies,
  • To obsess over our bodies,
  • To abuse our bodies,
  • To destroy our bodies.

We may not harm our bodies by cutting, but we may destroy our bodies by drinking, by self-medicating, by overeating, and by otherwise abusing and defiling our bodies in any number of ways.

This man is isolated and alienated from God and others.  The truth is: Apart from Christ each of us is isolated and alienated from God and others.

Notice The Confrontation.

This demon-possessed man is confronted by the Lord Jesus Christ.  He encounters Christ and talks to Christ in a conversation that is hard to follow – it’s hard to know whether we are reading of the man and his actions or whether we are reading of the demons and their actions.  So closely tied together is evil with this man’s nature.

Verse 6 says, “When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped Him.”  The man literally falls before Jesus.  He falls before Him in an acknowledgment of the authority of Jesus.

By the way . . .

That’s the greater point Mark is making here in his Gospel.

 He has shown at the end of chapter 4

How Jesus is Lord over the storm and danger.

He will show here in the first part of chapter 5

How Jesus is Lord over Satan and demons.

Verses 7-9 state, “And he cried out with a loud voice and said, ‘What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God that You do not torment me.’  For He said to him, ‘Come out of the man, unclean spirit!’ Then He asked him, ‘What is your name?’  And he answered, saying, ‘My name is Legion; for we are many.’”

A “legion” was the largest force of the Roman army and, in Jesus’ day, a legion was comprised 6,000 men.  The point is that this man was plagued by many demons.  And again, note how closely tied to the man’s nature is the presence of evil.  It’s hard to tell exactly who is doing the talking in these verses – is it the man or is it the demons within him?

You see that especially in verse 9 where Jesus asked the man, “What is your name?”  And the Bible says that the man answered, “My name is Legion; for we are many.”  “My” – singular pronoun; “we” – plural pronoun.

Verse10 says, “Also he begged Him earnestly that He would not send them out of the country.”  That is, the demons do not wish to become disembodied spirits.  They wish to inhabit the body of someone else if they cannot inhabit this man’s body.

Verses 11-12 state, “Now a large herd of swine was feeding there near the mountains. So all the demons begged Him, saying, “Send us to the swine, that we may enter them.’”  This is an interesting point to me . . .

It seems if demons

Can’t have us,

They’ll have swine.

So pigs are choice

Number two for demons.

They’d really rather have humans,

But they’ll settle for swine.

Verse 13 says, “And at once Jesus gave them permission. Then the unclean spirits went out and entered the swine (there were about two thousand); and the herd ran violently down the steep place into the sea, and drowned in the sea.

This is a memorable picture.  We see Jesus’ authority at the beginning of verse 13.  “And at once Jesus gave them permission.”  Jesus gives permission.  He has authority over the spirit world.

So the unclean spirits enter some 2,000 pigs and the herd then ran violently down the steep place into the sea and drowned.  I’ve often wondered if this were to happen today, what PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) would think about Jesus’ actions.

But . . .

It is helpful to remember

That Jesus did not kill the swine;

The demons did.

Verse 14 says, “So those who fed the swine fled, and they told it in the city and in the country. And they went out to see what it was that had happened.”

That had to be quite a story to hear!  These folks whose job it was to feed the pigs saw all of this happen and they ran to tell the people in the city.  The townsfolk hear about it and then they leave their jobs and their homes to come out to the tombs to see what happened.  And what did they see?

Verse 15 tells us, “Then they came to Jesus, and saw the one who had been demon-possessed and had the legion, sitting and clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid.”  They saw a miracle!  The man was, “sitting and clothed and in his right mind.”

Notice The Transformation.

This demon-possessed man has been changed.  He is transformed.  He is in his right mind.  What a contrast!

To be saved is to be in our right minds.  We once were under the influence of Satan and not thinking correctly – but when God gets hold of us through the Lord Jesus Christ He changes us.  As the Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone  is in Christ he is a new creation.”

Verse 16 says, “And those who saw it told them how it happened to him who had been demon-possessed, and about the swine.”  The eyewitnesses had told the townsfolk what they had seen, “how it happened to him who had been demon-possessed,” how he had been delivered.  They also told the others “about the swine.”  Their response?

Verse 17 tells us, “Then they began to plead with Him to depart from their region.”  Years ago when I first studied this passage I had concluded that these folks didn’t care much for the economic impact the Lord’s actions had upon the swine industry – and that this was why they pled with Jesus to depart from their region.  I mean, 2,000 pigs had just died.  That’s a lot of ham and bacon!

But while the economic impact is likely a great concern for these folks, I really think there is more than that going on here in their pleading for Jesus to leave them.  I think it may have more to do with their inability to fully understand all that has just happened – after all . . .

With the inability to comprehend

Comes an inability to be in control.

I think fear exists anytime w e are in a situation where we feel we have no control.  If we are honest there is a fear in coming to Christ.  There is loss of control.  I’m talking about really coming to Christ, savingly, coming to Him as Lord of our lives.

Remember . . .

We don’t just add Jesus to our thinking

The way we add a side item to a combo meal.

Jesus has not come simply

To “complement” our life.

He is our life.

He is Lord when we bow before Him and yield control to Him.  That can be a frightening thing when one is unwilling to relinquish control.  There is trust involved.

If you have ever ridden a roller coaster you know what I’m talking about.  I mean, what control do you really have when you get into one of those little roller coaster cars?  They fold that bar down on you and it clicks a few times and they walk away.  And you’re like, “I think I’ll see if it clicks again.”  And you push it down even more securely.  Why?   Because that roller coaster is getting ready to take you on a ride and in the space of some 3 to 5 minutes you will have absolutely no control once it leaves the station.  And you would never get on that thing if you didn’t trust that someone was in control of it.  It’s a trust issue.

Living for Jesus is a trust issue.

You are literally yielding yourself,

Trusting yourself, to His Lordship.

At least that’s what being a biblical Christian is all about.  I’m not talking about those who say they are Christians, but are not.  I’m talking about those who are genuinely born again, living under the authority and Lordship of Jesus Christ.  I’m talking about those who allow Jesus to have complete control over all decisions, following Him according to the Bible, His Word, living for Him, yielding to Him.

I think these townsfolk were frightened by Jesus.  They had not seen this kind of thing before.

Notice The Proclamation.

This newly transformed man; formerly demon-possessed, has a story to tell; He has something to proclaim:

Verse 18 tells us, “And when He got into the boat, he who had been demon-possessed begged Him that he might be with Him.”  He wants to go with Jesus!  A natural response to those who have been changed by the Gospel.

But notice what verse 19 says, “However, Jesus did not permit him, but said to him, ‘Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you.’”  Jesus points this man to a powerful truth – He has a story to tell, a truth to proclaim.  The people here want Jesus to leave so He is leaving him as a witness.  Jesus couldn’t stay, but he could.  He can tell everyone what happened to him!

By the way . . .

At its core,

This is what

Witnessing is all about,

about Telling others

“What great things

The Lord has done for us,”

And

“How He has had compassion on us.”

That’s at the very core of sharing the Gospel.

Verse 20 states, “And he departed and began to proclaim in Decapolis (the 10 cities) all that Jesus had done for him; and all marveled.”  Imagine this fellow going through all these towns.  He goes to the towns nearest the tombs first.  He is clothed and in his right mind.  They think he is the same person as before, but when He met Jesus he was changed, he “once was lost but now he is found, he was blind and bound but now he can see and is free!”

Does This Story Really Apply To Me?

You know, you may not identify exactly with this demon-possessed man.  After all, you were not once bound in chains and isolated in some graveyard.  You may, however, be experiencing a similar kind of isolation.  Your chains and shackles may take a different form.

Your separation and alienation may occur in an office with the door shut and the computer turned on.  Website after website glows in your face as you look at things you don’t want to see – and yet you do want to see – the influence of Satan is strong.  It seems both to empower you and enslave you.

And with every moment spent there, the influence grows stronger.  Like the demoniac, you could once break free from the power, but it’s growing stronger.

The demon possessed man could once be shackled but, now no one could shackle him anymore.  This was a gradual slide into evil.  And that’s just how it works in your life and mine.

We allow Satan to get a foothold.  We open the door to evil just a little ways and Satan sticks his foot in the door and then, little-by-little, we allow him more and more “room” until he is finally welcome to come in and move freely about.

No one suddenly falls into alcoholism.  No one suddenly falls into drug addiction or suddenly falls into adultery.  He slides.  He cracks the door by flirtation.  By an inappropriate smile or glance or embrace.  One slip leads to another and, before we know it, our careers are over, our families shamed, our influence lost.

It all starts by

Allowing just a little bit

Of uncleanness into our lives.

The reason this man,

And all men and women,

Can be healed is because

Jesus exchanges places with us.

He Himself becomes the outcast.

This man is naked, his body cut,

And he is crying out,

Experiencing alienation from God and others.

And Jesus, soon – on the cross –

Will Himself be naked, His body cut,

And He will be crying out,

Experiencing alienation from God and others.

He will be among the tombs for us – actually placed in a tomb.

Jesus exchanges places with us and takes upon Himself

All of our wrongs, all of our sins.  He bears them.

And He gives to us all that is His –

Righteousness, perfect goodness, perfect obedience

All of this is credited to our account

And God sees us as though we ourselves

Are righteous, perfectly good, perfectly obedient.

All of this because Jesus exchanges places with outcasts—outcasts like the demonized man—and outcasts like you and me.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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Our Gracious Shepherd Host: Pursuing And Keeping, Part 6

Grace For The Journey

9June  His close relationship with the Lord.  David has said “me” a total of six times, “I” four times, and “my” seven times.  In this beloved psalm, David writes a total of seventeen personal references in only six verses, making this song of trust intensely self-disclosing.

We expect this emphasis,

Because walking with

The LORD by faith involves,

First and foremost,

A close fellowship with Him.

At its essence, true spirituality

Is not about going through

The empty motions of bare religion.

Nor is it about the mere external

Activities of longstanding rituals.

Rather, a life with God

Is about knowing Him

And loving His Son, Jesus Christ,

In intimate, personal communion.

As we approach the last verse, Psalm 23 builds to this closing crescendo.  David writes, “Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (verse 6).  Here, he builds upon the vivid analogy that he used in the previous verse.  In this context, he sees himself as a special guest in a grand banquet hall, where he is being served a feast by the LORD Himself.  However . . .

This dining hall is located in a very special place.

It is found in a royal palace –

But not merely a worldly ruler’s palace.

It is found in the dwelling place

Of the highest of nobility –

In “the house of the LORD.”

“Surely Goodness and Lovingkindness”

David begins with this emphatic word, “Surely.”  This word could be translated as “indeed,” “absolutely,” “beyond any doubt,” or even “only.”  There is no place for any equivocation in David’s mind about what he says next.  He is deeply persuaded of what he is about to affirm.  This steadfast conviction should mark every believer.

David says that “goodness” will follow him.  This word speaks “of the abundant blessings and lavish benefits” God has bestowed upon him.  In this word is evidenced the spiritual prosperity that he has experienced in following the Lord.  All that he has needed, God has always provided.

David also confesses that the “mercy” of the LORD has followed him.  This is the Lord’s “unconditional, loyal love” for David – and for all who put their trust in Him.  This word comes from the Hebrew root (hasad) that means ‘to bend down, to bow down.’ This describes God’s “condescending love as He reaches all the way down to where David is.”

Could there be anything greater given to David’s life than the “goodness and mercy” of the LORD?  God has given him the very best portion in His great love.  His steadfast, covenantal love for His own people never wavers, even in the furnace of affliction.

“Will Follow Me”

David adds that the Lord’s goodness and mercy “will follow me.”  “Follow” means “to pursue after, to chase after, to run after.”

He knows that

God’s mercy and grace

Are in close pursuit of his life.

No matter wherever he goes, he cannot get away from these ever-following assurances. Regardless of whatever he does, he cannot escape them.  They will never let him go, even when circumstances seem to deny their reality.

These two attributes of God – “goodness and mercy” – actually represent God Himself, who is continually pursuing David.  It is the figure of speech known as personification, which assigns humanlike qualities to inanimate objects.  To be sure, these two attributes represent God, who is personally following David and caring for his every need.

By this testimony . . .

David states that God is relentless

In His love toward him.

David is assured that

Though he will falter and fail,

God will never give up on him.

Regardless of how he may

Disappoint the LORD,

He is persuaded that

God will never stop

Pursuing and caring for him.

Even if he trips and falls, he knows that God will never distance Himself from him.  Instead, God will pick up His servant and continue to walk with him.  David will testify later in Psalm 37:23-24, “The steps of a man or established by the LORD, and He delights in his way. When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong, because the LORD is the One who holds his hand.”  This is an irrevocable promise that is firmly established in God’s own faithfulness.

“All the Days of My Life”

God’s grace and love for David will follow him “all the days of my life.”

This tender affection and

Unchanging allegiance of God

Will be a never-ending pursuit

Of David to the end of his days.

His devotion toward God will surely fluctuate.  There will be times when it will strengthen or subside.  But . . .

God’s love for him is ever strong and steadfast.

God’s loyal love for David

Does not depend upon his love in return.

God’s love for David depends upon God Himself,

Who never weakens or wavers.

This is why God’s goodness and mercy are always chasing after David.  Likewise, this same grace and love of God is always in hot pursuit of every believer.  This divine love never takes a day off.  It never rests, never sleeps, never stops (Psalm 121:4).  Even in the midst of trying times, the love of God never goes on sabbatical, never takes a vacation.  It is ever strong toward us, ever sure.

“And I Will Dwell in the House of the Lord”

The last line begins with the word “and,” which indicates . . .

That what follows

Is inseparably connected

With all that preceded it.

With great certainty, David knows that he will “dwell in the house of the Lord.”  “Dwell” means “to sit down and stay.”  It conveys the idea of making one’s own dwelling or home.  This simply says, “David will always be at home in the Lord’s presence, always in personal relationship with Him, no matter where he goes.”

David pictures this meal in which God serves him as taking place “in the house of the Lord.”  Of course, the temple in Jerusalem has not yet been built.  Instead, this “house” represents the intimate fellowship that David enjoys with the Lord as he lives in the very presence of God each day.  David is pointing to the close communion and interaction that he has with the Lord.

“Forever”

The relationship between David and the Lord will last “forever.”  What starts in this lifetime will never come to an end. The word “forever” means literally “for the length of days, for prolonged, never-ending days.”  Once David began this relationship with the Lord, he knew it would never be severed.

Simply put, David is saying, “Once I move into the house of the Lord, I will never move out, or be put out.”  This is the eternal security of every believer.  The Lord Himself is his dwelling place.   Once he dwells in the house of the Lord, he will always be living in the fullness of God’s grace and love.

David wants us to know that . . .

The Lord who pursues us

With goodness and mercy

Is He who keeps us forever.

The Lord who is ever

Chasing us is ever keeping us.

Once God begins His pursuit of us,

He will never let us go.

No believer can be separated from the presence, love, and care of God, our great Shepherd, Host, and King!

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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Our Great Shepherd Host: Serving And Satisfying, Part 5

Grace For The Journey

GraceForTheJourneyThemeFor2017

9June  God is so vast and infinite that He presents Himself to us in many different ways.  No one word or phrase can convey the whole of who He is and what He does.  The Bible presents God as our powerful Creator, reigning King, and redeeming Savior.  Moreover, He is also our loving Father, strong Rock, and safe Refuge, and a myriad of other images.  Each of these word pictures communicates a unique and important aspect of our awesome God and our relationship to Him.

To this point in Psalm 23, David has represented God as his Shepherd.  This image conveys that the LORD is supremely devoted to caring and providing for him – guiding his steps, feeding his soul, and restoring his spirit.  As we come to verse 5, though, the picture suddenly shifts.  David portrays God in a yet different light:

As a gracious host

Who serves David

In His grand banquet hall

With a lavish meal.

David writes, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.  You have anointed my head with oil; my cup overflows.”  Here, the scene shifts from the outdoor field to the indoor meal.  David transitions from a sprawling countryside to a grand royal hall, from green pastures to a dining table, from still waters to an overflowing cup.

Despite the shift in these vivid images,

These verses maintain the one dominant theme

That runs throughout the psalm.

David is portraying God’s care for His own people.

Whether God is pictured as

The good Shepherd or a gracious Host,

Whether David sees himself as a sheep or an invited guest,

The message is the same.

God is attending to the needs of David––and us.

Let’s see what this verse teaches . . .

“You Prepare a Table Before Me”

David writes, “You prepare a table before me.”  We would normally think of David rendering service to God.  But here, he states the total opposite – God is attending to his needs.  The setting is a large banquet hall, and God is preparing a lavish table in order to serve David a meal fit for a king.

The word “prepare” means “to arrange, to set in order, to set in place; to ordain.”  Here . . .

God is understood to be

Setting the table before David

And putting everything

Into its right place.

The dishes are perfectly positioned, the drink is poured, and the meal is cooked and served.

Every detail has been given the strictest attention.

Nothing David could possibly want

Has been overlooked or omitted.

This is how David sees the LORD caring for him.  God is feeding him the meat of His Word. He is pouring His truth into David’s soul to bring him much joy and peace.  Never has David been so satisfied.

The same service is available to all believers.  We are all given a place in the royal banquet hall and treated like a guest of the King.

Throughout this feast,

The LORD’s eye is upon us,

Anticipating our every need.

In His perfect timing,

He is bringing to our table exactly

What we need, precisely when we need it.

Here is His incomparable love in action.

“In the Presence of My Enemies”

Remarkably, David adds that God’s exquisite meal is served “in the presence of my enemies.”  He pictures himself as seated at a large banquet table with many people seated around him.  Among these other attendees are David’s “enemies” – notice David uses the plural form of the word.  These many adversaries are seated close to him, while the LORD is serving him.

Later, in Psalm 41:9, David speaks of his closest friends seated near him at a meal, but turning on him and becoming his enemies: “Even my close friend, in whom I trusted, who ate my bread has lifted up his heel against me.”  To “lift up the heel” pictures a foe turning against him in order to harm him or subdue him.  Surprisingly, these enemies are seated at the table next to him as his supposed friends.

David recognizes that the Lord ordains the dinner and sets the table.  He is in charge of the other invited guests and sets the seating arrangements.  These traitors who are betraying David are sometimes within his own family and royal cabinet.

In my ministry, the greatest hurts I have endured have been from those who were the closest to me.  Nevertheless, the Lord is the one who sets the table and ordains where they were seated around me.  God used it all for my greater good, to humble me and cause me to trust His grace even more.  You can surely give a similar testimony.

Some of you have family members or in-laws who have positioned themselves against you because of your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  In this case, you can relate to what David is writing here.  Let me remind you that the Lord’s grace and encouragement are more than sufficient to sustain you to live in a way that will glorify Him, no matter the opposition.

“You Have Anointed My Head With Oil”

David continues, “You have anointed my head with oil.”  This may refer to the practice of the host receiving a weary guest who has walked some distance under the hot sun by pouring sweet-smelling oil on the head.  If so . . .

This pictures the refreshing graces of God

That revive his parched soul

In the midst of life’s heated trials.

This practice of anointing with oil could also allude to when David was anointed with oil in preparation for his coronation.  The oil poured upon the head of the king-to-be . . .

Represented the fullness

Of the Holy Spirit upon him,

Granting the wisdom needed

To fulfill his kingly duties.

In this case, this anointing pictures the empowering of the Spirit David needed to fulfill what God called him to do.

Such an anointing with the Holy Spirit is presently active in the life of every believer (1 John 2:20, 27).  It was even necessary for Jesus Himself to be anointed with the Spirit as He began His public ministry (Luke 3:22;  4:18; cf. Isaiah 61:1).  Likewise, the LORD has anointed you with power to live the Christian life in His presence.

“My Cup Overflows”

Finally, David adds, “My cup overflows,” referring to the continual outpouring of God’s fullness into David’s life.  He learned that God’s supply far exceeds His need.  He was not given mere mercy drops from heaven, but a deluge of grace – far more than he could ever comprehend.

God was so lavish in pouring out His goodness into David’s life that his cup could not contain it.  His heart was overflowing with divine provisions.  This speaks of the fullness of blessing that God has for him – and for all believers.  I want to remind you that God is not miserly towards you, but has opened His vast storehouse and is pouring out grace upon grace on your life.

This was David’s testimony, and may it be our experience as well.  May we know what it is to have a seat at the table in the Father’s house and be served by Him.  May we open our hearts and take in the fullness of what He has for us.  This is how great it is to know the Lord.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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Our Great Shepherd: Calming And Comforting, Part 4

Grace For The Journey

9June  Some people think that when you become a Christian, all your troubles go away.  They naively assume that once you are saved, everything in your life will fall neatly into place.  In fact, they think if you have any problems, there must be something wrong with your faith.

But nothing could be farther from the truth.  It is not only foolish to think we will never face difficulties in the Christian life, it is downright dangerous.  If we think we will never encounter any trials, we will set ourselves up for a great fall and to be sadly disappointed.

The reality is, we all need a shepherd . . .

Someone to guide us through our many adversities,

Someone to protect us from encroaching evil,

And someone to calm our troubled souls.

That someone is the LORD Himself.

The author of this psalm, David, was a man after God’s own heart.  And despite his great devotion to Him, he often found himself walking through the dark trials of life.  He pictured these tough times as “the valley of the shadow of death.”  These were not imaginary dangers, but painfully real ones.

We can all relate to David.  None of us are exempt from encountering and going  through the storms of life.  We live in a fallen world with many threatening perils.  In these difficult times . . .

We must recognize

The Lord’s calming presence

And

Receive His comforting peace.

That is what we see brought out in this psalm.  Let’s see what God says . . .

1) “The Valley of the Shadow of Death.”

David begins this verse, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” This imagery depicts a shepherd leading his flock from one grazing place to another.  In order to guide them to the next grassy field, the sheep would often have to squeeze through a narrow pass that was surrounded by high canyon walls and jagged cliffs.

The tall mountains blocked out the bright sunlight so it could not shine into the valley. The dark shadows made it a dangerous place for the flock.  Lurking in the shade were threatening animals and ruthless thieves who would hide and attack the vulnerable sheep.

David envisions himself as one of these defenseless sheep, going through many life-threatening circumstances.  He is not spared from walking through these perilous places – and neither are we.  This is why we need a shepherd throughout our life’s journey.

2) “I Will Fear No Evil.”

In the midst of his most difficult trials, David says, “I fear will no evil.”  The word “fear” means “to suffer dread or terror.”  What would otherwise cause him panic does not trouble him in this hour of trial. Though surrounded by evil, David experiences a supernatural peace from God that grips his heart.  An inexplicable calm fills his soul.

The same is true for each one who knows the Lord.  We do not suffer dread in our difficulties, not as the world that has no loving shepherd.  We do not panic in our extenuating difficulties as those who have no hope.  We know that the Lord is in control of our lives.  He has already numbered our days.  Nothing will take our lives until the appointed time.

3) “For You Are With Me.”

This overruling peace comes because David can say, “For You are with me.”  He knew that God was with him every step of the way.  As he passed through “the valley of the shadow of death,” David believed God was with him, protecting and preserving him.

This calming peace distinguished David from the fearful unbelievers in the surrounding nations.  Even in his adversity, David did not act like the Lord had abandoned him.  Such a mindset would be practical atheism.

David believed that nothing

Could come into his life

Except either God

Sends it or He allows it.

But either way,

God soveriegnly rules over it.

When Satan spoke to God about Job, the evil one challenged Him to remove the hedge of protection around Job.  But God set the boundaries by which the devil could bring devastation into Job’s life.  Though Satan carried out his ruthless attack, it was within the boundaries that God established.  Even this hellish attack remained under the control of His sovereign will.

Jesus promised us in Matthew 28:20, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  His constant presence gives supernatural encouragement when we find ourselves in the dark valleys of life.  Even on our deathbed, the Lord is with us to give us dying grace.  He gives us the assurance that on the other side of death is the outstretched arms of the Lord Jesus Christ to receive us.

While awaiting trial in Rome, Paul knew this peace when he said in Philippians 1:21, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”  He knew that while he lived the Lord was with him, and to die would be the entrance into His immediate presence.

Only God can give us this composure in the midst of difficult circumstances.   This does not mean that we are never troubled.  But it means in the midst of the storm, we can know His calm.

“Your Rod and Staff.”

David adds another aspect of the Lord’s care, “Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”  He was well-familiar with a shepherd’s “rod” through his earlier work with his father’s flock.  It was an oak club about two feet long that was used to defend the flock against vicious wild animals. Any beast would have had to come through David to harm any one of his sheep.

The “staff” is the shepherd’s crook that is hooked on one end and used to prod the sheep in the right direction.  It was also used to untangle and lift to safety a sheep that had become caught in a bush or had fallen into a hole.

These two instruments – a shepherd’s rod and staff – are emblematic of the Lord’s sovereign and protective care over David’s life.  These instruments brought him “comfort” as he walked through the dark valleys of life.

“They Comfort Me.”

This word “comfort” comes from the same Hebrew word (naim), from which the prophet Nahum and Nehemiah derive their names.  It indicates the inexplicable comfort they knew and ministered with during difficult times.  This is the same soothing reassurance that God alone could have given to David when dangers surrounded him on all sides.

This does not mean that David never experienced emotional trauma or sinking spells of depression.  The many lament psalms he wrote reveal the fear he often felt.  But in the midst of these turbulent times, David found steady comfort in his ever-present Shepherd.

The word “comfort” can also be translated: “to change the mind.”  The idea is that . . .

The presence of our Shepherd

Changes the state of our heart

In dangerous times.

He gives us the peace

That He alone can give

In the storms of life.

The best of us are still but sheep.  In our weakness, His strength is made perfect.  We must stay close to our great Shepherd as we walk through dark valleys.  We may not be able to see all the threatening dangers around us, but He can.  All we need to do is follow Him, and He will lead us home.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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Our Great Shepherd: Restoring And Guiding, Part 3

Grace For The Journey

GraceForTheJourneyThemeFor2017

9June  Before he was king of Israel, David had been a young shepherd boy, caring for his father’s sheep.  Through his experiences, he gained firsthand knowledge about the characteristics of sheep and shepherds.  This picture became an apt metaphor for who he was – one of the LORD’s sheep.

Possessing all the weaknesses of a sheep, David knew he needed a shepherd to restore and guide him.  He too easily could lose sight of the path and wander away.  He could be drawn in the wrong direction where he found himself exposed to many threatening dangers.  In those times, the LORD had to go after him, like a shepherd, and bring him back into the safety of the fold – just like David had done with his father’s sheep.

In the 23rd Psalm, David draws upon this shepherd-sheep relationship as He describes his personal walk with the LORD. He writes in verse 3, “He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.”  What David reflects about himself applies to each one of us as believers.

In the first verse . . .

We already noted that the LORD

Graciously cares for us and is

Unconditionally committed to

Meeting all our needs.

In the second verse . . .

We saw that He is lovingly

Feeding us in green pastures

And

Wisely leading us beside still waters.

Now, in verse three . . .

We see that He patiently restores our soul

And

Guides us in His chosen paths of righteousness.

Let’s break this verse down and see what God is teaching us . . .

1) “He Restores My Soul.”

David says in verse 3 that the LORD “restores my soul.”  The word “restore” means “to turn back, to return.”  The idea is for something or someone to go back to where it previously was.  For example, Noah released a dove from the ark and waited for it to return back to him (Genesis 8:8-11).  In like manner, the LORD “restores” David’s “soul,” meaning He brings him back to where he once was before he drifted away and suffered spiritual decline.

This restoration of David’s soul came through various means of grace.

  • It came by the Holy Spirit, who convicted him of sin.
  • It came by the LORD’s painful, yet loving discipline.
  • It came by the ministry of “the law of the LORD” which is “is perfect, restoring the soul” (Psalm 19:7).

In each of our lives, God works in similar ways.  He brings us back to where we need to be by reviving our hearts when we become spiritually sluggish or lukewarm.  Left to ourselves, we would wander away from the LORD and be slow to return.  But by His restoring grace, He brings us back to our first love (Revelation 2: 4-7).

Reviving and Replenishing.

  • When we are down, the Lord lifts us up.
  • When we are discouraged, the Lord encourages us.
  • When we are depleted, the Lord replenishes us.
  • When we are dry, the Lord revives us.
  • When we leave our first love, He brings us back to Him.

This is God’s continual work of sanctification in our lives.

Maybe you are feeling distant from the LORD.  Be encouraged to know that God is always at work within you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13).  When we go astray, He is constantly pursuing us in order to bring us back to Himself.

2) God Guides Our Steps.

Further, David says in verse 3, “He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.”  This is to say, the LORD is directing David’s steps along His chosen path.  So personal is this divine guidance, it is as if David is the only sheep in His care.  God is that intimately involved in ordering his way.  In the same way, God is closely guiding us in our unique circumstances.

These “paths” are represented in the plural, indicating their comprehensive nature.  They include every area of David’s life, including his personal, family, social, and work life.

No part of his life is to be lived

Excluded from these “paths.”

Every choice he makes and

Every act he performs

Is to be conducted

On this clearly marked route.

The same is true for your Christian life.  Every step of life’s journey is to be taken on this divinely-prepared course.  There can be no sidetrack that you pursue; no shortcut that you take; no alternate route that you travel.  Whether you are at home, at work, or with your family, your Shepherd is guiding you on His chosen paths.

3) “In Paths of Righteousness.”

This guidance of the LORD is always onto paths of “righteousness.”  This represents practical righteousness or personal holiness.  David knows that the LORD will never lead him into sin.  Instead, he will be directed away from iniquity.  David could never lay blame on God for any moral failure in his life.  Such responsibility – and accountability – always lay at his own feet.  When David fell into sin with Bathsheba, his decision was certainly not the result of the Lord’s leadership.  That act of willful sin was David choosing to go his own way, departing from “paths of righteousness” that had been clearly designated by God.

4)  “For His Name’s Sake.”

David states that the Lord guides His sheep “for His name’s sake.”  In the Bible, a person’s “name” represents all that they are.  It is a summary of their character and reputation.  This says that all God does is for the magnification of His own “name.”  This self-exaltation of His own greatness is the highest of His motives.  Ultimately, everything that God does is to bring honor to Himself.

Specifically, the LORD is glorified when we follow His leadership on “paths of righteousness.”  

His “name” is elevated

When His character

Is manifested in our lives.

Seeing God’s holy character

Reflected in His people

Puts His glory on display.

At the same time, whatever most glorifies God results in our greatest good.  These two realities – God’s glory and our good – are never at odds or in competition with each other.  They work in perfect harmony with each other.  That which most glorifies Him is what works for our greatest good.

Our Shepherd Leads Us

What David says in this verse becomes a perfect guide for our prayers.  We should pray these words back to God: “Lord, make my way straight.  Do not let me wander from your path.  Do not allow me to be led astray by my own impulses.  Mark my path in the way that I should go. God, I want to do what most honors You.” 

This path is clearly marked out by Scripture.  Specifically, the way is shown by the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, and the Lord’s Prayer.  It is marked by every godly example in the Bible, most of all by the manner in which Jesus walked.  It is revealed by every imperative in the Scripture, especially in the New Testament.

We should pray what David is praying here, “Lord, lead me in your righteousness.  Make your way straight before me.” 

Are You Following?

God is constantly guiding you in paths of righteousness.

The searching question is:

Are you following His path?

Are you obeying His word?

Are you pursuing His will?

Are you submitting to His leadership?

If you are one of His sheep, be assured that He will always restore and guide you, now and into eternity with Him.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

 Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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Our Great Shepherd: Feeding and Leading, Part 2

Grace For The Journey

GraceForTheJourneyThemeFor2017

9June  All sheep need a shepherd – a sheep without a shepherd is lost and exposed to constant dangers.  Sheep have no sense of direction. They have no ability to care for themselves. They are easily frightened by the slightest disturbance. They are constantly dependent upon a shepherd to meet their every need.

Similarly, we are like sheep in need of a shepherd, the LORD Himself.  We need Him to make us lie down in green pastures.  Otherwise, we will be restless and empty.  We need Him to lead us beside still waters.  If not, we will be stressed and weary.

In this psalm, David explains what God is doing in his life.  He writes in verse 2, “He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters.”  This psalm is written in Hebrew poetry and uses a literary device known as parallelism.

This is where the two lines of a verse

Are to be understood as

Containing one unit of thought.

The second line builds on the first line.

Each of these two lines reveals a key aspect of what God is presently doing in David’s life – and in ours.

1) “He Makes Me Lie Down.”

David says, “He makes me lie down in green pastures” (verse 2).  He confesses that in the midst of the hectic pace of life, with all its pressures and stresses, God causes him to lie down in green pastures – the choicest place where sheep can graze.  But God must make him do so.

These “green pastures” can be understood to represent the Word of God.  Much like grass, the Scripture is full of life-giving nutrients and nourishment for our soul.  The lush meadows of biblical truth are always vibrant, never withered or wilted.  It is this spiritual food that gives David the inward strength and satisfaction that he needs.

How is God making David to lie down in green pastures?  The LORD is accomplishing this with two forces in his life – one is internal and the other is external.

He Creates My Hunger

First . . .

Internally within David’s soul,

God is creating a spiritual hunger

For the sustenance of His Word.

Only God can generate an appetite for this soul food.  Moses recorded in Deuteronomy 8:3, “Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD.”  We must feed on the Scripture daily.  Do you sense this hunger within you for the Word of God?

How sweet is the Scripture to the believer.  Concerning the precepts of the LORD, David writes in Psalms 19:10, “They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.”  He can never have enough of the Word.  Likewise, God puts the Holy Spirit within all believers in the new birth, who “causes” us to crave and keep His statutes.  The Bible tells us of this truth in Ezekiel 36:26-27, “I will give you a new heart an put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  I will put MM spirit within and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.”

If you are a true believer – if you are one of His sheep – then God is presently at work in your life, weaning you off of the bare husks of this world.  He is causing you to lie down in the green pastures of His Word.

David describes these “green pastures” in the plural.  It is not just one green pasture in which He leads this flock.  Instead, it is a vast expanse of many pastures.  Such an abundant supply pictures the sufficiency of the Word of  God to meet our spiritual needs.  There is the rich reservoir of truth contained in Scripture that is able to satisfy every hunger within us.  There is far more food in these lush grasslands than His sheep will be able to consume.

He Feeds Me His Word

Second . . .

There are external forces that God uses

To cause us to lie down in green pastures.

These are divinely-ordained times of trials and tribulations that He uses to humble us and bring us to our knees.  In such weakening times, we turn to His word and cling to His promises to sustain us.  These storms of life force us to lie down in the green pastures of His Word.

In Psalm 119:28, the psalmist testifies how his trials were causing him to cling to the law of the Lord. “My soul weeps because of grief; strengthen me according to your Word.”  Only the Word could sustain him and bring him through his difficulties.  Again, he writes in verse 50,  “This is my comfort in my affliction, that Your word has revived me.”  The only comfort for his troubled heart was in the replenishing word of God.

Do you see the good Shepherd working in your life to create a greater hunger in you for His word?  Is He using a present time of adversity?  In His word, you will find rest for your soul.

2) He Is Leading Me.

In the second line of verse 2, David says, “He leads me beside quiet waters.”  As country streams flow through pastures, there are narrow places where the rocks cause the flow of water to back up – and be still and “quiet.”  That is where the shepherd would lead His flock.  He does not guide them where the swift currents make the sheep to be fearful.  They will not drink or be able to rest there.  Instead, he ushers his flock to places where the waters are peaceful and calming.

By this analogy, David states that God is leading him into His perfect peace.  Even when the circumstances around him were raging, he possessed a God-given tranquility of heart that only He can give.  Jesus promises in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.’”  Jesus, our good shepherd, leads us to experience His supernatural peace, something this world cannot give.

He Gives Me Peace

David certainly experienced this perfect peace.  It was much like what Paul describes in Philippians 4:6-7, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  This peace comes to our hearts as we commit our concerns to God in prayer.

On the outside, our turbulent circumstances may be like a raging storm.  But on the inside, we can know the peace that surpasses all human understanding.  This is what we experience as we follow the Lord and nourish our soul upon His Word.

Two Important Questions

I have two questions to ask you.  These are important for you to pause and give careful thought.

First – Are you feeding on the Word of God?  This psalm urges us to lie down in green pastures.  Make time in the busyness of your day to be in the Scripture.  Hunger for it. Read it.  Study it.  Memorize it.  Meditate upon it. Dig into it.  Devour it.  And it will satisfy and strengthen you as nothing else will!

Second – Are you following the leading of God?  Never stray away from your Shepherd. Stay close beside Him.  The most repeated invitations that Jesus gave was, “Follow me.”

  • He called to Matthew, “Follow me” (Matthew 9:9).
  • He summoned Philip, “Follow me” (John 1:43).
  • He said to Peter, “Follow me” (John 21:19).
  • To His disciples, Jesus pressed, “Follow me” (Matthew 16:24).

He is always calling us in the same way.

The Lord is leading you into green pastures where He will feed you an abundance of nourishment in His Word.  He will lead us beside still waters to give us His peace in the midst of trying and difficult days.  No sheep ever had a better shepherd than who we have in the LORD!

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

 Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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Our Great Shepherd: Caring and Supplying, Part 1

Grace For The Journey

GraceForTheJourneyThemeFor2017

9June Every person needs hope for the future as they live their lives.  We have to believe there is a brighter day coming.  We cannot live in this trouble-filled world without a positive expectation as we move forward.  Otherwise, we would become so discouraged that we would give up – and sadly, that is where many people are today.

But it does not have to be that way.

We can live with hope in the Lord.

What is hope?  When the Bible uses the word hope, it does not use it like we normally do in our daily conversations.  Sometimes we say something like, “I hope it doesn’t  rain today.”  By that, we mean we have mere wishful thinking about the future.  However . . .

When the Bible uses the word hope,

It means something else entirely.

It speaks of a confident assurance in the present

About what God will do in the future.

Hope in the Lord

As we find ourselves in the midst of this world that is filled with much suffering and injustice, we need to have a steadfast hope in the LORD.  As the days in which we live grow increasingly darker, we must look to God with a renewed confidence that He has a perfect plan for what He will do in our lives.

I cannot think of a better place to strengthen our hope in difficult days than to look into the book of Psalms, and I cannot think of a better psalm than Psalm 23.

This psalm begins, “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.”  It is a psalm of David, who in his early years was a young shepherd boy.  He is very familiar with the role of a shepherd, as he watched over his father’s flock.  In like manner, this is what the LORD was to him and to every believer today – a caring shepherd.

We learn several truths in verse 1.

1) The Lord Cares For Us.

The first thing we need to note is Who this Shepherd is.  This overseer is not merely another person – a pastor, a parent, or a friend – undertaking the watchcare of our lives. Granted, God works through people like this in our lives.  But this says that the LORD Himself is our Shepherd.

The word for “LORD” here, translated with all capital letters, is the Hebrew word “Yahweh.”  This is the divine name that means God “is self-existent and self-sufficient.”  It indicates that God has no needs to be met within Himself by anyone or anything outside of Himself.  God is all-sufficient and is, therefore, able to meet all our needs.

This name for God – “Yahweh” – also means that God “is never-changing.”  We live in changing times, do we not?  The stock market rises and falls, the price of oil fluctuates, and the government is constantly changing its policies.

Yet . . .

There is one constant in our lives

That is never-changing,

And

That is the LORD Himself.

  • He is our immovable anchor in the raging storms of life.
  • He is our firm cornerstone in these earth-shaking times.
  • He is our sturdy rock in these unstable seasons and our unassailable refuge when we are threatened.

What a strength the LORD gives to our easily frazzled hearts.

2) As Our Shepherd, God Is Leading and Guiding Us.

Please note the verb here: “The LORD is my shepherd”­­ – not that He might be my Shepherd, nor He could be, or would be.  Rather, this affirms that the LORD is my Shepherd.  This is a statement of fact.  Every moment of every day, He is constantly tending to His flock.  Even when we go to sleep, the LORD remains awake and watches over us.

As our shepherd,

The LORD assumes

The total responsibility

For our well-being.

Sheep cannot take care of themselves.  They do not know where the green pastures are.  They do not have a sense of direction. They do not know where the still waters are.  Sheep are defenseless against wolves and lions.  They are exposed to thieves and robbers. They wander over the edge of cliffs and fall onto ledges. They slip into holes and cannot escape.  Sheep desperately need a shepherd.

In like manner, how much like sheep we are.  We easily become fearful and lose our way.  We find ourselves straying in the wrong direction.  As a result . . .

Each one of us

Needs the LORD

To watch over us.

We need a shepherd to care for us as we are exposed to constant dangers.  We find ourselves worrying, “What does this crisis mean for my future?  What does this time of uncertainty mean for my family?  What does this trial mean for my livelihood?  How am I going to survive?  How am I going to function?”

This psalm assures us

That the LORD is guiding us

And providing for us

In our most difficult hours.

He is providing for our every need.  He is protecting us from present dangers.  He is strengthening and encouraging us in our times of fear.

3) As Our Shepherd, God Is Supplying All Our Needs.

In the second half of verse one, David adds, “I shall not want.” If the Lord is your shepherd, all of your needs are met in Him.  He is watching over us and meeting our needs on every level – spiritually, emotionally, physically­­.

We do not need to look within ourselves

To find the solution to our problems.

Neither do we need to first look

Around us for help. Instead,

We need to look upward

To the LORD.

Dear ready, rely upon the LORD to supply your needs.  He will work through people that He has put in place around us.  But the ultimate source for every blessing and every provision in our lives is the LORD Himself, our good Shepherd.

4) Because God Is Our Shepherd, We Have A Sure Testimony.

Perhaps the most important word in this verse is the little word “my.” David said, “The LORD is my shepherd.”  Can you say that?  Is He your shepherd? Do you know Jesus Christ, who claims, “I am the good shepherd?” ( John 10:11, 14)

Are you one of the LORD’s sheep?  This means that you have confessed your sin and committed your life to Him.  It means that you have entrusted your soul to Him.  If you have made that commitment, the Lord assumes full responsibility to take care of you.

However, if the Lord is not your shepherd, you are on your own.  You will soon discover that you are not able to provide for or protect yourself.  If there has ever been a time in your life when you need the Lord to be your Shepherd, it is now.  Turn to Him by faith. Put your trust in Him, and He will supply your every need – both in this life and in the life to come.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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How to Keep Our Hearts Pure, Loving, and Tender Toward the Lord, Part 6

Grace For The Journey

GraceForTheJourneyThemeFor2017

5June  Before we were saved our heart was hard and cold toward God. We wanted many things, even sinful things, but not God. We felt little affection for Him and had no interest in the things of God.  But God wants to have an affectionate relationship with us. So when we were born again, God not only forgave us and cleansed us of our sins, He also did something in our heart.

The Bible says in Ezekiel 36:26, “I will also give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take away the heart of stone out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.”  God renewed our heart of stone and made it soft, “a heart of flesh.”

Now . . .

Our new heart loves God,

Is inclined toward Him,

And responsive to Him.

With this new heart,

God wants us to enjoy

All He is

In a relationship

Of love.

Since we all received a new heart when we were saved, why is this loving heart evident in the lives of some but barely detectable in others?  How can some of our hearts seem to have become cold and hard, like they were before?  How can we keep our heart in its new soft and loving condition?

The need for exercise

Medical science tells us that for our physical heart to be healthy, we need to exercise, even vigorously.  But exercise doesn’t come naturally or easily to most of us . Consider what it takes just to put on our athletic shoes and go for a walk or run.  Even while we’re running, we have to exert ourselves to keep going and not quit.  And exercise isn’t a once for all matter; we have to do it over and over again.  But working out regularly isn’t optional if we want a healthy heart.

Similarly, if we want our new heart to be kept in newness, that is, to be kept loving, soft, and responsive toward the Lord, then regular, continued spiritual exercise is needed.

This is what makes the difference

Between whether our new heart

Remains in newness or goes

Back to its old condition.

What is this regular exercise for our new heart?  Since our heart is composed of our conscience, mind, emotion, and will, the “workout” our heart needs involves four parts.

  1. Exercising Our Mind To Turn Our Heart Back To The Lord.

Second Corinthians 3:16 says, “Whenever their heart turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.”

Everything begins with

Turning our heart to the Lord.

When we were saved, we first repented and received Christ to begin our Christian life. To repent means to turn, to have a change of mind and direction.  We realized we were sinful, and we turned to God.

But even after we’re saved, we still need to keep turning.  Our minds are easily distracted and can cause our hearts to turn away from the Lord.  Whatever turns us away from the Lord becomes a “veil” to us, keeping us from seeing Him.  Similarly, Matthew 5:8 says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”  To be pure means “to be unmixed with anything else.”  When we’re turned away from the Lord, our heart is impure toward Him.  Our focus is split between the Lord and something else. We have two goals in mind, two aims our heart longs after, and we can no longer see clearly.  Our future, our career, even our work for the Lord can begin to compete with God in our heart and occupy our mind.

So we need to exercise our heart by praying, “Lord, I turn to you right now.”  In fact, in the course of a single day we need to turn repeatedly to the Lord.  For instance, we might be thinking about a certain thing and suddenly find we’re away from the Lord, so we need to turn.  Later, we might see a billboard that sticks in our head, and we have to turn again.  Then we begin to have negative thoughts about someone close to us, and we have to turn yet again.

Again and again, when we realize we’re turned away from the Lord, we need to turn our heart back to Him.  It takes regular exercise.  When we turn our heart from all other things back to the Lord, we’re made singleminded and pure again, and the veils are taken away. This is a daily workout we all need.

  1. Exercising Our Emotion To Love The Lord.

For us to have an affectionate relationship with the Lord, we need to exercise the emotions of our heart to love Him.  We may not think we’re that capable of loving the Lord, but we can remember, He gave us a new heart specifically to love Him!  And according to Romans 5:5, His love has been poured out in our hearts.  He even told us in John 15:9, “Abide in My love.”  Our heart is ready to love the Lord; we just need to start exercising it.

One way we can daily give our heart a “love workout” is by telling the Lord out loud that we love Him.  What an enjoyable workout!  Just as a spouse wants to hear these words from each other, the Lord wants us to tell Him, “I love You” – the more often, the better. How wonderful it would be if we were to begin and end each day with, “Lord Jesus, I love you!  I want my thoughts, words, and actions to reflect that today!” We can even say it all throughout the day.

Telling the Lord we love Him not only makes Him happy, it also helps to nurture our own love for Him.

Exercising our heart this way

Keeps us in the sweetness of His love

And refreshes our love for Him.

We enjoy Him and sense His nearness.

We can also exercise our heart to love the Lord by singing to Him.  As we sing to Him, our heart warms and we love Him afresh.  The following poem would be a great way to “warm up” to the Lord:

Give yourself to love the Lord.
No other way is so prevailing
And no other way, no other way is so safe.

Give yourself to love the Lord.
No other way is so rich,
And so full, oh so full, of enjoyment.

Each morning we must rise up and say to Him,
“Lord Jesus, I love You.”

Give yourself to love the Lord.
Do not care for anything else;
Just love Him! Do not care!
Give yourself to love the Lord!

We are not our own, Lord;
All we have we give to You.
Lord Jesus! Lord Jesus!
Lord Jesus, we love You!

  1. Exercising Our Will To Obey The Lord.

We also keep our heart new by exercising our will to be obedient and submissive to the Lord.  We do this by saying “Yes” and “Amen” to the Lord when He speaks to us in our daily life.

Perhaps the Lord speaks to us, “Don’t go to that place.”  If we ignore His speaking and go anyway, we disobey Him.  Repeatedly disobeying God hardens our heart toward Him.  But if we go along with Him and say, “Yes, Lord, I won’t go there,” we obey Him. This may be difficult, but when we obey Him, our heart is kept soft and submissive.  We enjoy Him and He becomes so real to us, not in theory, but in our actual experience.

  1. Exercising Our Conscience By Confessing Our Sins.

We exercise our conscience by confessing our sins to the Lord. Confessing isn’t saying, “Lord, I won’t do that again.”  It’s saying, “Lord, I agree with you, that was a sin.  I sinned.  I was wrong.  Forgive me.” Confessing is simply agreeing with God when His light shines on something.

We shouldn’t be afraid to confess, nor should we try to hide our sinful selves from the Lord.  A strong believer is a confessing believer.  We may have years of unconfessed sins on our conscience, clogging our spiritual blood vessels, and resulting in poor circulation; we’re “sickly,” that is, spiritually weak and lacking in God’s life.  Accumulated sins on our conscience can make us insensitive to our conscience, causing us to lose the proper feeling toward sin.  Our heart becomes hardened, callous toward sin, and unfeeling toward the Lord.

But confessing clears everything away;

God forgives us

And the blood of Jesus cleanses us.

We’re restored to fellowship and

Enjoy the flow of God’s life in us again.

Because our conscience is clear, our heart is untroubled and peaceful, and we can have unhindered fellowship with the Lord.  We desperately need this regular exercise of confessing our offenses to the Lord.

Paying a price to exercise

The thought that we can live any way we like, do whatever we want, and still experience Christ as our life is harmful to our Christian life.

The experience of Christ

Is something precious;

It has a price.

In Revelation 3:18, the Lord counseled the church in Laodicea, “Buy from Me.”  To buy something means “to pay a price for it.”  It’s a spiritual reality that to gain the precious experiences of Christ, a price must be paid. Our own wishes, desires, and decisions are the price we pay when we exercise our heart to keep it in newness.  But by daily exercise, our new heart is kept pure, loving, right, and submissive.

When our heart is in this condition . . .

All the riches of Christ

Are ours to experience.

And the more we go on,

The more we realize

The price we pay

Is actually a bargain

For the unsearchable Christ

We enjoy in return!

We will learn more about out heart in the upcoming blogs this week.  Stay tuned for an exciting journey!

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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The Key to Maintaining a Deepening Love Relationship with the Lord, Part 5

Grace For The Journey

2018BlogTheme

1June  Most of us Christians would say we love the Lord Jesus, the One who gave His life on the cross for us.  But what kind of love do we love Him with?  More importantly, what kind of love does He want us to love Him with?

In Revelation 2, the Lord reveals the love He wants from us.  This chapter begins with the Lord’s words of praise to the church in Ephesus for being faithful in many things. Then, in verse 4, He says, “But I have one thing against you, that you have left your first love.”  This verse shows that the kind of love the Lord Jesus wants from us is our first love.

What is our “first love?”

The Greek word for “first” is the same as that translated “best” in Luke 15:22. Our first love toward the Lord must be our best love for Him.”

In Luke 15, the Lord Jesus tells the story of the prodigal son. In verse 22, after being reunited with his long-lost son, the father says, “Bring out quickly the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet.”  The father didn’t put just any robe on his son; he clothed him with the best robe he had, the top robe.

By using the same Greek word for “first” in Revelation 2:4 as “best” in Luke 15:22, the Lord is making the point that He cares very much about receiving our first, best, love.

Our relationship with the Lord is a relationship of love

The Bible teaches that the Lord is our Creator and we are His creation; He is our Master and we are His servants.  But our sweetest relationship with the Lord is one of love.  He certainly loves us, and we enjoy His love.  But He also needs and wants to enjoy our love for Him.

A marriage is a good picture of our relationship with the Lord.  Two people marry each other because they love one another.  And although husbands and wives do a lot of things for each other, what matters most is that they continue to love one another.  What they do for each other should come out of their love for each other.

For example, we can all agree it is much sweeter when a husband buys flowers for his wife out of his love for her, rather than out of a feeling of duty.  Additionally, a husband and wife want and need the first and best love from each other – not just any kind of love.  Their marriage would be weakened, and even damaged, if one of them were to love their job or their friends more than their spouse.  What nurtures and strengthens their marriage is loving each other most of all, with their first and best love.

On the Lord’s side, He loves us purely, with an unchanging love.  But what about on our side?  The Lord doesn’t want the love that’s left over after we’ve loved the world, our career, or anything else.  He wants us to love Him first and best.

The importance of keeping our first love toward the Lord

In our consideration of Revelation 2:4, we see something more about the importance of our love for the Lord.

Nothing but love can keep us in

A proper relationship with the Lord.

How incredible is that statement?

It is not doing things for the Lord

That keeps us in a

Proper love relationship with Him.

After all, the church in Ephesus did many good things for the Lord, but He had one thing against them: they had left their first love.  Loving Him with our first love is paramount.

Often . . .

We care too much about

Doing things for the Lord.

We may even unwittingly

Begin to love serving the Lord

More than the Lord Himself.

But what we do for Him

Should issue from our

Fresh and first love for Him,

And from our oneness with Him.

Loving the Lord with our best love

Is the top priority of our Christian life.

The leaving of the first love is the source of all the degradation in the succeeding stages of the church.

If we experience degradation in our spiritual life, whether as the church or as an individual, we can be sure it is because we have left our first love for the Lord.  Loving Him with our best love and not letting our love for Him fade or wane saves us from degradation.

How Can We Maintain Our First Love For The Lord?

It is not hard to maintain our first love for the Lord, or to rekindle our love for Him.  The truth is, the Lord is so lovable; He’s the most attractive and loving person in the universe.  Our love for Him can be renewed by just spending time with Him and opening our hearts to Him.  For example, we can commit ourselves to be with Him first thing in the morning, rather than immediately checking our phones or doing other things.

A simple way to maintain our love for the Lord is to tell Him we love Him.  Throughout our day we can quietly say, “Lord Jesus, I love You.”  Our spouses may know we love them, but saying “I love you” to each other keeps the love fresh.  Likewise, the Lord knows we love Him, but He wants to hear us say it.  Telling Him “Lord Jesus, I love You” helps us maintain our first love for Him.

We can also pray, “Lord, You’re my first and best love. I love You more than anything else.”  Even if we don’t feel like this is true, we can still pray these words to the Lord in faith.  As we do so, we will be reminded and strengthened to love Him until eventually, loving Him first and best becomes our reality.

Singing to the Lord helps us love Him with our whole heart.  For instance, the following song encourages us to love the Lord with our best love:

Jesus Lord, You’re our first love;
You’re the One we love the best.
When our heart is loving You,
How we’re filled with Your sweet rest!

Lord, we love You for Yourself,
Not for what You give or do.
Nothing else could e’er compare
With the joy of loving you.

Lord, we’ve been drawn off by many things;
Now we turn our heart back – how it sings!
We repent of loving other things –
Jesus, Lord, You’re our first love.

Let me conclude with a short prayer:

“Lord Jesus, we love You.  Increase our love for You day by day.  Don’t let us leave You as our first love.  Keep us in a proper relationship with You and remind us to turn to You and love You with our first and best love.  Give us opportunities in the days ahead to deepen our love for you and love others as you love us.  Amen.”

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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What Is the Heart in the Bible? Part 4

Grace For The Journey

2018BlogTheme

1June  As human beings we, of course, have a physical heart.  But we’re all aware that we also have something within us we recognize as an intangible heart.

But what exactly is this intangible heart?  We’ve heard the word “heart” used since we were young, in everyday language, in literature, in music, and in other contexts.  And most of us probably have a general definition of the heart, thinking of it as something inside us that feels emotions like love, affection, compassion, or sorrow.

The definition of the heart in the Bible isn’t given in one verse; it’s spread throughout many verses and can be easy to miss.  Since the Bible refers to the heart hundreds of times, it must be significant to God and to us.  So what does the Word of God say about our heart?  And what is its importance to God and to us?

The Importance Of Knowing About Our Heart.

If you search online for heart you will find details on the physical heart, with photos and diagrams explaining its function and the way it works.  You will also find a lot of information on caring for it so you can live longer.  A poor diet, lack of exercise, and other factors can have dire consequences.

But what about the condition of our intangible heart?  If neglecting our physical heart affects our life negatively, then surely neglecting our nonphysical heart is also detrimental.  But how can we care for our heart if we don’t know what it is?

So, let’s discuss what our heart is, not according to our common understanding, but according to the Bible.  This will help us to properly care for our heart in our life with the Lord.

What Does The Bible Say Our Heart Is?

God created humans as three-part beings with a spirit, a soul, and a body (1 Thessalonians 5:23).  Our heart is not a fourth, separate part of our being.  Instead, as we will see in the verses below, our “heart” in the Bible is a composition of all the components of our soul – our mind, emotion, and will – plus the most important part of our spirit – our conscience.

  1. Matthew 9:4 – “And Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, Why are you thinking evil things in your hearts?”

Thinking is something of the mind, but the Lord Jesus asked the scribes why they were thinking in their hearts.  This shows that our mind is part of our heart.

  1. John 16:22 – “Therefore you also now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and no one takes your joy away from you.”

We rejoice with our emotions, and here we see that our heart rejoices. As we might expect, this shows us that our emotion is part of our heart.

  1. Acts 11:23 – “Who, when he arrived and saw the grace of God, rejoiced and encouraged them all to remain with the Lord with purpose of heart.”

To purpose means to decide strongly to do something, to use our will, so this verse shows that our will is part of our heart.

  1. Hebrews 10:22 – “Let us come forward to the Holy of Holies with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”

As this verse shows, our conscience is part of our heart.  This is further confirmed by the phrase “if our heart blames us” in 1 John 3:20.  Since our conscience is what blames or condemns us when we’re wrong, this verse makes it abundantly clear that our conscience is part of our heart.

So according to the Bible . . .

Our heart is not simply something

We feel emotion with.

Because it is composed of

Our mind, our will, our emotion,

And our conscience,

It does much more;

Our heart also thinks, decides,

And senses right from wrong.

The functions of our heart

To understand what the function of our heart is, we first need to realize that . . .

God’s desire is to have a warm,

Loving, and affectionate

Relationship with us

In which we and He share

The same life – His divine life.

For this, God created us with a heart.

The Lord Jesus tells us in Mark 12:30, “And you shall love the Lord your God from your whole heart.”  So, as we might expect, our intangible heart is our loving organ.  If we didn’t have our heart, we couldn’t sense love, know love, or love in return.

Our heart has another important role. Our relationship with the Lord is always begun and maintained by the heart.  Of course, to contact the Lord is a matter of the spirit, but this must be initiated and maintained by the heart, for our heart is the gateway, the portal, of our whole being.  So whether we open or close the doors of our heart determines what we let into our inner being.  In other words . . .

The heart becomes both

The entrance and

The exit of our being.

Whatever enters into us must enter through the heart.  Whatever comes out from us must proceed through the heart.

We can see that our heart functions as both the loving organ and the gateway of our being if we recall our salvation experience.  When we heard the gospel of how the Lord Jesus died on the cross for our sins and rose from the grave three days later, our hearts were touched.  We sensed the depth and the sweetness of His love for us and responded to His love.  We couldn’t help but love Him in return for all He did for us.  So, we opened the doors of our heart to believe in Him and we repented of our sin and received Him as Savior and Lord.  We received Him and were born again of the Spirit in our spirit, but it was our heart that first had to open to let Him in.

Our heart and our relationship with the Lord

We were created by God in such a marvelous way with a spirit to contact, receive, and contain Him as life, and with a heart to love Him!

He wants to be our life

And

He wants us to love Him

With our whole heart.

This is the relationship the Lord wants to have with us – in life and in love.

Our relationship with the Lord is both begun by our heart and maintained by our heart.  This is why the condition of our heart is very important.  In fact, many problems in our Christian life are really “heart problems.”  We will at this matter in tomorrow’s blog.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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