Sunday, December 20, 2015

          The Shadow on the Cradle

The shadow on the cradle first was life.
God's Spirit overshadowed Mary's womb,
And brought His Son into a world of strife,
And changed the pattern on the master loom.

The second shadow fell on Jesus' bed,
While in the manger silently He lay.
The shadow of the cross, all stained and red
Came to His cradle's foot and there it stay.

The shadow of the sceptre came at last.
Though yet a babe, the royal seed was sown.
God's triumph over Satan with one blast
Will end with Jesus on His Father's throne.

And of His kingdom there shall be no end:
The Savior, Sovereign Lord, and Faithful Friend.

Luke 1:31-35; 2:11
Copyright, 1979. Ken Cooper

Saturday, December 5, 2015

How Big is God?

Henry Norris Russell taught astronomy at Princeton back in the day when modernism and fundamentalism butted heads. On one occasion, Russell delivered a lecture at Princeton on the Milky Way. After the lecture, a woman approached him and said, "Dr. Russell, you've lectured on the Milky Way. You've made us aware of how big the universe is and how tiny the earth is. Can we believe that there is a God who would be interested in us?"

Dr. Russell replied, "It depends entirely on how big a God you believe in."

Russell lived from 1877 to 1957 and was the leading theoretical astronomer in America. He graduated from Princeton in 1897 at the age of nineteen. In 1900, he earned his PhD summa cum laude, subsequently gaining considerable recognition in the field of astronomy. In all of this activity, Russell stood firm in his belief in the God of the universe.

Several years after Russell's death, Missionary Alliance pastor, A.W. Tozer published a classic in Christian literature, The Knowledge of the Holy. Tozer opened the first chapter with the words, "What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us."

Today, when we are overwhelmed with current affairs, major personal expenses, unemployment, significant medical issues, and the list goes on, we need to draw our attention to the God of Henry Norris Russell and A.W. Tozer. We may need to ask ourselves "How big is the God we believe in? What comes into our minds when we think about God?"

Isaiah describes Him in these words:
            Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand,
            And marked off the heavens by the span,
            And calculated the dust of the earth by the measure,
            And weighed the mountains in a balance
            And the hills in a pair of scales?
                                                            Isaiah 40:12, NASB, Rev. 1995

A rhetorical question, but a challenging one. For instance, how much water does He measure in the hollow of His hand? First, I know, God is a spirit and doesn't really have hands as such. But He uses this kind of language to help us gain a little understanding about God, Who He is, and how great He is. Now, this planet contains a lot of water. Let's gather it together and take a closer look. There are five oceans: The Pacific Ocean, The Atlantic Ocean, The Indian Ocean, The Arctic Ocean, and the Southern Ocean, sometimes called the Antarctic Ocean. That's a ;lot of water to begin with. Then there are the seas. To name a few, the Mediterranean Sea, the Black Sea, the Aegean Sea, the South China Sea. Then let's add the lakes. There's Lake Victoria at the mouth of the Nile River. In the United States, we have the Great Lakes--Lake Huron, Lake Ontario, Lake Michigan, Lake Erie, and Lake Superior. In my neighborhood in Texas, we have Lake Arlington, Lake Benbrook, Lake Texoma, Eagle Mountain Lake, Lake Bridgeport. Then there's Lake Tahoe and the Great Salt Lake, and many more. How about adding a few rivers? In my home state of Pennsylvania, there are the Delaware River, the Schuylkill, the Allegheny, the Monongahela, and the Ohio. Then, of course, there are the St. Lawrence River and the Mississippi River. Here in Texas, we have the Trinity River, the Brazos River, the Lampasas River, and the Guadalupe River. Then there's the Colorado River running through the Grand Canyon and the Snake River in Wyoming. Did I mention the Amazon River and the Yangtze River. Put these and all the other rivers of the world in the pot and add all the streams, the creeks, the rain drops and melted snow and how much water do we now have altogether? Lots and lots.

Would you believe, the United States Geological Survey Office has actually calculated the total amount of water on the planet. According to their figures, there are 326,000,000 cubic miles of water. Wow! That's definitely lots of water! But there's more! One cubic mile of water, according to the USGS, contains more than one trillion gallons of water! That's 1,000,000,000,000 for ONE cubic mile! That would make the total amount of water come to about 326,000,000,000,000,000,000 gallons! WOW!  And all that in the hollow of ONE hand! What comes into your mind now when you think about God?

In the next phrase, Isaiah says, God marks off the heavens with a span. How big is a span? For most humans, about nine inches. It covers the distance from the tip of the thumb to the tip of the little finger when the hand is spread out as far as it is able. But then how does this help us understand how God marks off the heavens? How big are the heavens? Astronomers measure distances in space in terms of light years, a standard I still have trouble wrapping my mind around. One light year is the distance light travels in one solar year at 186,000 miles per second. This calculates to a total of 5,865. 696, 000,000 miles in one year. Round that up and it comes to 6,000,000,000,000. The nearest star--after our sun--is four light years away or 24 trillion miles.

One night the Boy Scout troop I worked with set out on a canoe trip down the Brazos River in Palo Pinto County, Texas. At sundown, we set up a camp in a clearing on a riverbank about halfway to our destination. After the boys had settled in for the night, another Assistant Scoutmaster and I laid back on the grass to rest and visit awhile. My head had not even hit the ground when I was astounded by the sight above the trees. For a city boy like me, that country sky was a panorama of wonder with the Milky Way filling my view from horizon to horizon. How immense was the galaxy spread pout before me!

According to some scientists, the Milky Way Galaxy is 120,000 light years in diameter. That comes to approximately 720,000,000,000,000,000 miles using the rounded figure of six trillion miles to a light year. And this is just one galaxy! In 1995, Robert Williams, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute which operates the Hubble Telescope conducted an experiment with the telescope. For about a hundred hours, the Hubble was focused on a segment of the universe that was filled with absolutely nothing remarkable. National Geographic put it this way: "When Hubble Stared at Nothing for 100 Hours." As a result, the "nothing" was actually "stuffed with galaxies. More than 3,000 of them came spilling out.... " (
for-100-hours/, accessed 11-10-15; check this site for a picture of the "Nothing" Hubble looked at) As a result, Williams "calculated that the universe is stuffed with 50 billion galaxies, not the 10 billion that astronomers previously thought." (Sharon Begley, "Science: A Heavenly Host," Newsweek [January 29, 1996]: 52). If, for the sake of discussion, we consider the Milky Way to be average in size, then the size of the known universe would be roughly 120,000 times 6 trillion times 50 billion. The resulting figure would be astronomical (pun intended). And God marks it all off with a span! One hand! The hollow of one hand for the waters! One hand as a span for the heavens! What comes into your mind now when you think about God?

The rest of this verse only emphasizes further both the smallness of creation against the greatness of the Creator. The dust of the earth, the mountains, the hills all express by contrast the immense greatness of our God. Stuart Hamblen penned it beautifully in his song "How Big is God?" His answer was "He's big enough to rule His mighty universe. Yet small enough to live within my heart." What comes into your mind now when you think about God?

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Recently, I was perusing an old notebook and came across this little clip filled with some wonderful description of the Face of the Lord from Calvary Baptist News. Read it and ponder on it as I did.

That face was SET toward Jerusalem.
That face was SCARRED by thorns and rough hands.
That face was STAINED withy His own blood.
That face was SADDENED by the hardness of men.
That face was SAPIENT with the wisdom of God.
That face was SEDATE with the responsibility of souls.
That face was SHAMELESS because He was without sin.
That face was SILENT for He opened not His mouth.
That face was SORROWFUL for He was a man of sorrows.
That face was SMITTEN with the hands of His enemies.
That face was SUBMISSIVE to the plan of God.
That face was SHINING with the Glory of God.

          Look into that face and you will know that you can TRUST HIM.
                             ~~~Calvary Baptist News, Calvary Baptist Church, Grand Prairie,
                                      Texas, 03-25-81
Acceptable Worship

On his way to a Bible Conference at Oxford University, Jack Hayford visited Blenheim Palace, historic home of Queen Anne. There the stately buildings, the rolling countryside, the dignity characterizing the people tugged at his own spirit with a sense of destiny. Driving away from the palace, Hayford mused on that destiny, "There is something of a majesty in all this." He later added, "Majesty, I thought. It's the quality of Christ's royalty and Kingdom glory that not only displays His excellence, but which lifts us by His sheer grace and power, allowing us to identify with and share in His wonder." Before many miles had passed, that sense of wonder compelled him to dictate to his wife the key, the musical notes, the time and meter, and the lyrics to the inspiring song, "Worship His Majesty."

Hayford's experience and his song together occasioned my musing--naturally. Worship is our destiny, now and forever. Crack the Book of Revelation on any page and you will find the choirs of heaven worshipping the majesty of the Lord. Turn to Genesis. No sooner had the human family begun to grow beyond Adam and Eve than they found themselves confronted with the wonder of worship. And between Abel and Cain arose quickly the question of acceptable worship.

Thousands of years later, Jesus answered that question succinctly: God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." (John 4:24, NAU) True worship must be determined by God Himself. After all, it is a bout God; it is what He desires from us. And since God is spirit, true worship is basically spiritual.

Jesus describes the spiritual life, the life He came to make possible for all who believe, in terms of living water. With this analogy, He places worship right in the center. To Nicodemus, He declared the spiritual life comes in to believers as living water (John 3:5) To the Samaritan woman, He promised that life would spring up within her in worship (John 4:14). Later, to the Jewish leaders, He proclaimed that the spiritual life flows out from the believer in living service to others by the Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39). And service frequently describes worship in its richest form (cp. Romans 12:1-2); so in a real sense, worship consists of the "living water" returning to its Source just as rivers do on earth (cp. Ecclesiastes 1:7). The spiritual life which flows from God to us, returns to Him in worship from us, thus completing a divine cycle.

From this brief analysis, worship emerges as an attitude, a "feeling in the heart" that flows out from the heart to God. Some time ago, in a discussion of worship, my friend Don Miller described it to me as an exchange of hearts. This is neat, too. I meet with God; and when we part, He leaves with my heart, and I leave with His heart. I cannot leave without a deeper appreciation of His majesty and supremacy, an appreciation exploding from concentration on the awesome Person of the Lord. That is real worship. As Miss C. A. Wellesley once wrote,
Occupied with Thee, Lord Jesus,
            In Thy grace;
All Thy ways and tho’ts about me
            Only trace
Deeper stories of the glories
            Of Thy grace, of Thy grace.

Taken up with Thee, Lord Jesus,
            I would be;
Finding joy and satisfaction
            All in Thee;
Thou the nearest and the dearest
            Unto me, unto me.

Monday, October 26, 2015

"God is of no importance unless He is of supreme importance."
                                        ~~Abraham Joshua Heschel
"What good is our busy religion if we've lost majesty, reverence, worship--an awareness of the divine."               ~~ A. W. Tozer
"My suspicion is that God is more apt to change those who live in awe of Him than those who have merely recorded His attributes in their sermon 'notebooks.'" 
               ~~ Calvin Miller, Baptist Pastor, Writer, Professor
"His Joy in My Spirit"

On the kitchen counter in my home there once stood a plastic container labeled "New Fresher Lemon Scent Joy." Why should anyone want to call a dishwashing detergent "Joy"? I suppose to generate good feelings; because if you're doing dishes, you need all the good feelings you can get. However, neither that label nor the bottle's contents has ever made washing dishes any more enjoyable for me. But not long ago, while washing the dishes, I began to think again about another kind of joy.

My thoughts turned back to a fifth Sunday evening worship service at Sagamore Hill Baptist Church (before we changed locations and dropped the "Hill" part of the name) some years ago. At the close of a lovely testimony of the grace of God in her life, a singer names Gayle said these words: "I have the praise of the Lord on my lips, His joy in my spirit, and the passion of His love for me in my heart."  Powerful words. Words that penetrated my spirit, lingered there all this time both to encourage me and to challenge me in my own relationship in the Lord.

What is this thing called joy? Many of us relate joy to happiness and define them both as if they were the same. But joy is not happiness. Happiness often depends on circumstances, on events, or on happenings. When something good happens, something pleasant and beneficial as well, it brings us happiness. Alternatively, if something bad occurs, something also unpleasant and not so beneficial, it results in unhappiness. You see, happiness is kin to happenings, both descending from the same root word, "hap," which means luck, fortune, or chance. If you're lucky, you will also be happy. If you're not lucky, well, you get the picture. Not so with joy! Joy does not depend on luck or circumstances.

What, then, is this thing called joy? "O send out Your light and Your truth, let them lead me; Let them bring me to Your holy hill And to Your dwelling places. Then I will go to the altar of God, To God my exceeding joy; And upon the lyre I shall praise You, O God, my God." (Psalm 43:3-4)

The psalmist takes us into the presence of God to show us that joy is the Lord Himself; it is part of His very nature. For us to discover joy, we must abandon all searching for it and go searching instead for the One who is Himself joy to see, to know, and to love. Seek His face and you will discover not only joy but "exceeding joy," a phrase meaning actually "the gladness of joy" or "the delight of joy." And in your seeking, you will also discover that real joy is a deep, abiding sense of the presence of God in your life.

Very often we perceive His presence only when we discover the wonder that God has built into the daily experience of our lives. In the beauty of a sunset, for instance, I see the Lord. The rose bush beside my house once produced one yellow rose; and in its fragrance, I sensed the Lord's hand. In the warmth of a smile, the refreshment of a cool breeze, the exhilaration of worship at Sagamore (or anywhere else), in the joy of helping another--everywhere I turn, I sense God's presence and thrill in the joy of it. God is a God of joy. And this life--this day--this moment is His gift of joy because He is in my life and in this moment.

The Psalms, the most joyful of Biblical books, resound with rejoicing because its poets were keenly aware that God, the source of joy, is near to protect them and to succor them. Their confidence in His presence and their trust in His power join to remind us of the truth of a sign I once read: "Joy is the flag flown from the castle when the King is in residence."

Sunday, October 11, 2015

A Heart for God

When he was 22, Norman D. Vaughan had a passion and a dream.  When he was 88, he also had a passion and a dream.  And the last passion and dream were related to the first.  You see, in 1927, at age 22, Vaughan was a student at Harvard when he read about Admiral Richard Byrd's proposed expedition to the South Pole.  Although he'd never met Byrd and had received no invitation to join the expedition, Vaughan decided to quit school and go with the Admiral.  Two years later, as they crossed Antarctica toward the Pole, Byrd named one of the mountains they encountered Mount Vaughan.  In December 1994, Vaughan returned to the icy continent to climb Mount Vaughan.  Days before his 89th birthday, the intrepid explorer stood atop the 10,302 foot mountain and declared to all the world, "Wow!  Everywhere you look it's tremendous!  And the best thing I can say about conquering it, if you call it conquering it, is that I dared to fail.  And the one message that I think I want to send to the world is dream big, young and old, dream big and dare to fail."

When I heard that crusty old gentleman say these words on National Geographic Explorer, I thought almost immediately of another "old man" who at 85 conquered a different mountain.  His name is Caleb, the son of Jephunneh the Kenezite.  Standing atop his mountain, Caleb would have said, "Dream big and dare to trust."  For most of his life, that kind of spirit dominated the man so that at age 85, Caleb could scale a mountain where giants dwelt in fortified cities, drive them out of their cities, and take possession of their mountain.  And Caleb accomplished all these deeds in the power of God because he had a heart for God and because he had dared to trust in God.

Caleb allowed nothing to deter him from his faith in God.  Two things shine in his testimony: his spirit and his heart.  Virtually every day of his life, Caleb focused his heart on the Lord and on the things of the Lord.  He walked with God consistently.  Please note, when God says something even one time, you know it's important, right?  While it's true He doesn't say very much about Caleb altogether, not less than six times God says of him that "he has followed the Lord fully."  In fact, the first time He said it, He was offering all the land of Hebron to "My servant Caleb, because he has had a different spirit and has followed Me fully" (Numbers 14.24).  There you see both rays of testimony shining, his spirit and his heart for following God.

Look at the spirit first.  God said, "he has had a different spirit."  What does that mean?  God had sent twelve spies to spy out the land of Canaan, and all twelve spies brought back the same report.  That's right!  All twelve reported essentially the same thing.  Check it out. In Numbers 14, God gives us the details of their report:  (1) The land really is as rich as God said it was, a land flowing with milk and honey and lots of good things (v. 27).  Two of them actually brought back proof.  One single cluster of grapes.  And it took both of them to carry it on a pole across their shoulders.  Can't you just hear the response?  "Man!  Wouldn't you like to see the vine that one came from?"  (2) The people are strong.  (3) The cities are fortified and very large (v. 28).  They all also reported that (4) giants, the descendants of Anak, lived there (v. 28).  Then the report changed.  Like Goliath centuries later, the giants had altered their perspective, intimidating them.  Ten spies added the interpretation, "We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us" (v. 31).  Caleb, on the other hand, declared, "We should by all means go up and take possession of it, for we shall surely overcome it"  (v. 30).

What makes the difference?  Spirit!  The ten spies had a spirit of fear.  Caleb (and Joshua) had a spirit of faith.  The ten saw the enemy and their own impotence.  Caleb saw the Lord and His omnipotence.  The ten had the spirit of the world.  Caleb had the Spirit of God.  It was in Caleb's heart that God was fully able to give what He had promised.  And He had promised the land of Canaan with all its blessings to Israel.  All they had to do was take the gift.  I can just hear him say, "Let's go get 'em!"

God also said that Caleb "followed the Lord fully."  It doesn't mean so much that he followed God as a puppy follows its master, but rather it describes the condition of his heart.  His attitude.  His affection and desire.  The Medieval Rabbi Rashi interprets it this way, "He hath filled his heart (to follow) after Me."  He filled his heart after God.  His heart was so full of God there was no room in it for anything else.  His heart was so filled with God there was no room in it for any one else.  A slave in Egypt, he filled his heart after God.  When he spied out the land, he filled his heart after God.  Wandering in the wilderness, he filled his heart after God.  Finally, standing before Joshua, he has the same testimony.  No wonder he can say, "Now, therefore, give me this mountain!" (Joshua 14.12, KJV)  His heart was so tuned to God's he wanted only what God wanted.  And that was actually given to him forty five years before in an irrevocable promise of God.  Since God is glorified in the keeping of His promises, Caleb glorified Him by claiming the promise.  As a result, of all the children of Israel, he is perhaps the only one to fully claim the promise and to fully enjoy the blessings of the Lord.  Because he dared to trust in God; because he had a heart for God.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

You are There

I'm a big fan of most of John Wayne's westerns---El Dorado, The Searchers, The Undefeated, The Sons of Katie Elder,  to name a few. One---Chisum---was loosely based on the true story of a New Mexico cattle baron in Lincoln County, John Chisum.

The movie closes with an interesting and refreshing dialogue between Chisum (John Wayne) and his foreman Pepper (Ben Johnson). Addressing Chisum's niece, Pepper says, "There's an old saying, Miss Sallie: There's no law west of Dodge; and no God west of the Pecos. Right, Mr. Chisum?"

"Wrong, Mr. Pepper," Chisum replies. "Cause no matter where people go, sooner or later, there's the law. And sooner or later, they find that God's already been there." (Scene 38)

Not a bad message in a secular movie even though made many years ago (1970): "God's already been there." We Bible students can revise Chisum's observation slightly. God's not just already been there, but He's still there. In fact, a basic tenet of Biblical doctrine declares God is essentially everywhere. We call this doctrine the omnipresence of God. Okay, it's a technical term, but it means essentially that God is present everywhere in some way we can't understand. But it is nevertheless true because He is God.

The gentle psalmist David expressed it this way:
            Where can I go from Thy Spirit?
            Or where can I flee from Thy presence?
                                                Psalm 139:7
David is not necessarily trying to hide from God. He's merely asking a rhetorical question, such that, if I tried to hide from You, where could I possibly go that You're not there?

In the next three verses, David stresses this idea of God's omnipresence:
            If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
             If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.
            If I take the wings of the dawn,
            If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
            Even there Your hand will lead me,
            And Your right hand will lay hold of me.
                                                Psalm 139:8-10
Bottom line: Wherever you may go, seeking the Lord or running from Him, you will run into Him because He is already there!

Elijah discovered this in a very remarkable, interesting way. He stood firm on Mount Carmel against at least 450 prophets of Baal. Possibly another 400 prophets who ate at Jezebel's table were also there. In any event, Elijah showed them and all the people of Israel who was the true God. Then he led them in the execution of all the prophets of Baal. But... then he ran from one treacherous woman, Jezebel.

Elijah ran all the way to a cave at Mount Horeb. It apparently took him forty days and forty nights to get there; but when he arrived, he took up residence. And he discovered the Lord was already there!

The Scripture states,
            Then he came there to a cave and lodged there; and behold, the word of the Lord
            came to him, and He said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"
                                                                                                                        1 Kings 19:9
Note, God does not say, "What are you doing there?" instead, He says, "What are you doing here?" God was already there! He was already waiting for the prophet to arrive. Why? Because He is omnipresent. Although the contexts of both of these passages (Psalm & Kings) seem a little negative, they actually offer positive encouragement. God is there wherever we may go. God is with us wherever we may go. God will never leave us nor forsake us wherever we may go. (cp. Hebrews 13:5) He is there for His hand to lead us. He is there for His right hand to hold onto us. What a loving Father He is! Thank you, Lord, that wherever I may go,
                                                            You are there!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Come Down from the Mountain

Two inches of snow covered the ground as we spread our tents that December afternoon at Worth Ranch Scout Ranch. When the tents were up, the fire pit dug and fueled, and the boys organized for their afternoon hike, I took a hike of my own to a site called Point Davis not far from our present camp. Point Davis was situated on a ledge overlooking the Brazos River valley. On this day, the river was icing over and all the juniper and oak below were reaching barren fingers skyward in a mosaic of crystalline beauty. A winter wonderland spread out before me, not a picture in a travel magazine, but the real deal. At this moment, no one there to appreciate it but the Lord and me. Wow! What a scene!

This was a real mountaintop experience--on a real mountaintop. I stood about two feet from the edge about three hundred to four hundred feet above the forest below. Maybe not much of a mountain; but for me, a mountain nevertheless. And in those few moments of wonder over the scene spread out before me, I experienced the Lord Himself in ways my city life back east had never imagined.

Most of us don't have mountaintop experiences on real mountains. Then, where do we have them? And just what makes a mountaintop experience? They usually happen on weekend retreats or at Bible conferences. Or they happen at summer youth camps. What makes it a mountaintop experience is the presence of God. A presence that opens our eyes to the wonder of Who He is and what He has done. Wherever we are, His presence moves us to wonder at His works all around us.

The Lord was there on the Point with me. I felt His presence as an almost physical reality. I saw His handiwork in the scene all around me--on top of the mountain and in the forest and river below. I heard His voice, His Spirit within me, reminding me of the question He once asked Job, "Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow?" (Job 38:22, KJV) Regardless of where it occurs, that's what a mountaintop experience is. An encounter with God. An experience with God so vivid and powerful it burns itself into your memory. And you don't want to forget it. You don't even want it to end.

We call it a mountaintop experience because so frequently in the Bible men met God on mountains. And the characteristics of their experiences are often similar to what I have described. I think immediately of Moses. In Exodus 24:12, the Lord "said to Moses, 'Come up to Me on the mountain and remain there, and I will give you the stone tablets with the law....'" (NASB) On the mountain, God gave Moses the covenant that shaped the relationship between God and His people. God gave Moses His Word containing directions for holy living and for holy worship, directions designed to establish their relationship.

A "mountaintop" relationship occurs when God's Spirit through His Word cements our relationship with God. This is important. God only speaks to us today through His Word. (For an excellent study of God's speaking to us today, see Is That You, Lord?: The Voice of the Lord, A Biblical Perspective by Gary Gilley. Available at We hear God's voice today as we hear it through His Word. His Word preached in church. His Word read and hidden in our hearts through daily reading and study of the Word. And as the Spirit brings that Word to our minds in the circumstances of each day of our lives. But when we experience one of those mountaintop moments, we often get caught up in the experience and lose the sense of passing time. Or the sense of anything else but the presence of God. And we don't want it to end.

But it must end. People who go to the mountain come away changed. They begin to see with new eyes. The world takes on a different hue. The Word of God they heard "on the mountain" has defined a new path to follow in life's course. At this point, we must come down from the mountain. All that wonderful experience with God, all that adventure into God's Word, has prepared us to face the world better equipped to serve the Lord. But to serve Him, we must come down from the mountain. We must face the world in which we are to serve Him. And we must bring the Word of God with us because at the foot of the mountain there is a task waiting for us to take it up. Like Moses, for instance, we need to take up intercessory prayer for God's people. Further, we need to share the experience we've had with those who didn't go to the mountain, but who desperately need to hear of it. But share it by focusing on the God who met us there, on what He shared with us from His Word, how it affected us and changed our lives. How it can provide strength and courage for the journey through the valley beneath the mountain. How it provides our connection to the God on the mountain.

To accomplish this, my friends, we must come down from the mountain!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Joy in the World

"The Big Adventure."  It was a well-worn sign inviting Boy Scouts to the adventure of camping at Worth Ranch Scout Ranch just down the road.  As the van carrying our entire troop and all its camping gear jostled along the trail past the sign, I thought, what kind of a "big adventure" are we getting into this time?  I hardly heard the scrunch of the tires on the new fallen snow.  Where are we even going to find a campsite we can reach in the snow with all this equipment?

We did find one.  It had an open-air stone building to boot.  So we set up the two patrol tents inside the building so they'd be protected from the wind and its chill.  Real adventuresome, huh?  After we'd set up camp, however, I just had to hike down to the site we usually picked, inaccessible today because of the snow on the trails.  Point Campsite was a plateau about 75 yards below the parade grounds.  It was broad enough to provide space for an entire troop to camp there safely, and it overlooked the Brazos River Valley another 200 to 250 yards further below.

That afternoon, I encountered a winter wonderland in panorama.  No National Geographic picture.  No vacation promotional brochure.  This was real life.  Stepping as close to the edge as I dared, I gazed out over a forest of evergreen, juniper, and oak covered with a gentle white blanket glistening in the muted afternoon light.  For miles around, I beheld a crystalline world that only God could have constructed.  And gliding through it to the west, the silver ribbon of the Brazos River itself wrapping the scene in sparkling wonder.  And God said to Job, "Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow?" (Job 38.22, KJV).

On another occasion, for hours we paddled our canoes down the Brazos River from Possum Kingdom Dam to Worth Ranch Scout Ranch.  Little powder puffs of cloud dotted the sky here and there, while the sun warmed everything but the water.  Halfway to the Ranch, we stopped for the night.  When darkness dropped its cloak on the woods and the boys were finally settling in for the night, I lay back on the river bank to rest and recreate.  Folding my arms behind my head, I gazed up and gaped, speechless and in wonder.  I am a city boy, born and bred.  On the clearest cloudless night in town, the heavens would unveil only a few hundred stars at best.  But there in the wilderness, it was as if the Lord had taken the blackest, richest velvet He could find, stretched it across the heavens, and dumped all the diamonds in the universe onto it --- just for me to see.  Wow!  Truly, "the heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handiwork" (Psalm 19.1, KJV).

Although a city boy, my experiences with Boy Scout Troop 83 have introduced me to a new dimension of my Father's world, a dimension of beauty, of delicacy, of intricacy, of wonder. From a goldenrod along the trail to a hummingbird's nest disguised unobtrusively as a knot on a tree limb.  From a delicate spider web to a stolid oak tree.  From a covey of wild turkeys on the river to a family of raccoons scurrying through the woods past a campsite.  There is wonder at every turn in the world my Father made.  And He wants me to experience the joy of it.

When He made it, He took great delight in it Himself.  I cannot help but think of the story of the creation of Narnia in C. S. Lewis's classic tales.  Pitch black.  So black that if you touched your nose with a finger, you still could see neither your finger nor your hand nor the tip of your nose.  Then incredible music filled the blackness.  One voice singing, rich and full.  But as the light gradually conquered the darkness, a thousand voices joined the Creator's; and Aslan, the Lion Prince of Narnia, created his world amidst a mighty chorus.  I imagine the creation of this world was not unlike that.  To be sure, God did not sing as Aslan did.  Instead, the Psalmist tells us, "By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, And by the breath of His mouth all their host....  For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast."  (Psalm 33.6,9, KJV)  Still, when He laid the foundations of the earth and dug out the channels for the rivers, it was a time "when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy" (Job 38.7, KJV, italic mine).

I have seen the joy of God in the purple peaked mountains of Virginia's Shenandoah Valley.  I've watched the sun set on the Grand Canyon, splashing changing pastels along the jagged canyon walls.  I've listened to the pitter patter of rain on my tent in Colorado's Mesa Verde National Park, and gazed at the majesty of Wyoming's Grand Tetons, snow capped even in summer.  At each of these moments, I remember most of all the wonder.  Jesse Brand, pioneer missionary to India, once wrote to his son Paul, "God means us to delight in his world."  From the very beginning, God planned His creation to be a garden of joyful beauty.  In spite of the sin that crept in and damaged it, He still delights in it.  Shouldn't we, too?

Monday, July 20, 2015

Praise His Name!

One place I never expected to find myself there I was. We were visiting Eureka Springs, Arkansas. The theater we decided to attend was called Ozark Mountain Hoedown. It sounded like a hillbilly convention, but we went. And near the end of the first half of the show the lead singer in the group announced they were going to sing some Christian songs. It didn't take long for one of those songs to stand out in my heart. "Praise His Name!" And the lead singer, Bruce Haynes, was the one who wrote it.

"When you're up against the wall," he wrote, "and your mountain seems so tall...," what do you do? You praise His name. You lift Him up.  The command in Psalm 113.1 is to praise the LordHe is the focus of our praise.  He is the subject of our praise.  He is the object of our praise.  He is everything, our all in all.  And the command is Hallelu-Jah!  Praise ye the Lord!

But the Psalmist also says to praise the name of the Lord.  What does it mean to praise the name of the Lord?  What is His name?  Having grown up under the influence of the authorized King James Bible, I always thought God's name was Jehovah.  Not!  Imagine my surprise to discover Jehovah is not only not God's name, it is not even a name at all in Hebrew.  For fear of profaning God's name, the Hebrews contrived an artificial way of expressing it, resulting in the creation of an artificial name --- Jehovah, and almost losing sight of God's real name altogether in the process.

If Jehovah is not God's name, what is?  God's name is sacred, but God wants us to know His name.  Why else would He command us to praise the name of the Lord?  And His name is Yahveh, abbreviated sometimes as Yah or Jah.  The Lord Himself revealed His name to Moses, when He told him to "say to the sons of Israel, 'Yahveh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.'  This is My name forever, and this is My memorial-name to all generations" (Exodus 3.15).  Later Moses confirmed this in a song of praise.  When he witnessed thousands of his enemies fall under the judgment of God, he sang, "The Lord is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation; This is my God, and I will praise Him; God of my fathers, and I will exalt Him.  The Lord is a warrior; [and here it is] The Lord is His name" (Exodus 15.2-3, my translation).

In the Biblical culture, a name was more than just a tag for identification.  It was an expression of character.  God's name identifies His nature, so that a request for His name like Moses made, such as, what is Your name? is equivalent to asking about His character.  It is a succinct, yet overflowing revelation of who He is.  To praise the name of the Lord, according to Charles H. Spurgeon, means to "extol His revealed character, magnify every sacred attribute, exalt in all His doings, and reverence the very name by which He is called."

So, brothers and sisters, praise His name! Make it part of every day to praise the Lord even if no one is listening except the Lord Himself, especially if no one is listening except the Lord Himself.  Whatever your circumstances. Praise His name! However you feel. Praise His name! Remember who He is! And Praise His name! Like the Levites, whether you're in the choir or not, sing His praises, and sing them to the Lord.  Praise  the Lordbaruk ha shem (praise the name!)!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The greatness of God rouses fear within us, but His goodness encourages us not to be afraid of Him. To fear and not be afraid--that is the paradox of faith."    ~~A. W. Tozer

"Why are we here?"  We had just finished a weekly choir rehearsal that had gone very well that night.  Before dismissing the choir, however, it was the practice of the director to take a few minutes at the end of rehearsals to discuss things like worship, praise, hymns, and other types of music and their function in the church and its ministry.  We spend hours every week involved in all of these things, praise, worship, etc.  So he naturally wanted to make sure we understood what they're all about, and our role in relation to them.  Tonight, he turned our attention to the choir itself and its role.  Hence, the question, "Why are we here?"

Silly question, some of us thought.  We're the choir.  We're here to lead the congregation in the worship and praise of God --- right?  Not exactly.  King David gave us a hint when he laid plans for the temple.  Although God would not allow David to build the temple, the king could design it, organize its services, and finance the building of it.  First, he took a census of the Levites, the God-appointed ministers of God's worship.  Then he assigned them specific tasks with regard to the temple.  Some were keepers of the gates.  Some were assigned to the actual service of the temple itself.  Others the king organized into a choir, who were "singers, with instruments of music, harps, lyres, loud-sounding cymbals, to raise sounds of joy" to the Lord  (1 Chronicles 15.16).  Altogether he had appointed to that choir 4,000 Levites who were just "praising the Lord with the instruments which David made for giving praise."  (1 Chronicles 23.5)  It didn't matter if anyone else were present in the temple to share in the praise.  This choir just praised the Lord continually.  They spoke His wonders.  They praised His name.  They told of His glory.  They sang of His works.  They honored His name.  They ascribed greatness to Him.  They sang to the Lord (cp. 1 Chronicles 16.7-36).  And that's why we're here --- not just our choir, but everyone who is called by His name.  We're here to praise the Lord!

Take a look with me at Psalm 113.  Its opening words, Praise the Lord!, continue to echo through my heart.  We've already seen that it means to be boastful of the Lord, but it means so much more.  It comes from a family of words that expand and elevate its meaning.  For example, its Arabic relative means to "appear on the horizon," kinda like the glow that precedes a sunrise.  I remember my first camping trip to Worth Ranch with Scout Troop 83.  We camped on a cliff on the side of a hill overlooking the Brazos River Valley spread out below us.  Early the first morning, I crawled out of my tent to the aroma of fresh coffee and the slender glow of light outlining the mountaintops to the east.  And the glow grew and grew until it blossomed into a full sunrise.  Hallel, praise, is like that glow and the sunshine, because one of its relatives also means to make shine.  When you focus your attention, your words, your heart, your songs on the greatness and the condescending goodness of God, you make Him shine!  That is praise!

And that is why we're here.  To make Him shine.  The command in Psalm 113.1 is to praise the LordHe is the focus of our praise.  He is the subject of our praise.  He is the object of our praise.  He is everything, our all in all.  And the command is Hallelu-Jah!  Praise ye the Lord!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Marks of Godliness

What is godliness?  You don't find it mentioned much in the Bible, yet nearly all of the fifteen references where it is found challenge us to godly living, relating it to our knowledge of God and our devotion to Him.  The Apostle Paul, for instance, urges us to pray for all men "in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity" (1 Timothy 2.1-2).  Concluding that  "godliness with contentment is great gain" (1 Timothy 6.6, KJV), Paul instructs us, therefore, to  pursue godliness along with "righteousness..., faith, love, perseverance and gentleness" (1 Timothy 6.11).  Peter tells us God provides everything we need to live godly.   "His divine power," says Peter, "has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness through the true knowledge of Him" (2 Peter 1.3)  Then he lists godliness among the qualities of character we are supposed to develop diligently (verses 5-7).

Before long, you get the idea that godliness is a major quality of life.  What, then, does it mean?  How can we live a godly life?  To help answer that question, let's look at a man who lived such a life.  Daniel, when he was taken captive into Babylon, exemplifies godly character in an ungodly world.  Much like each of us, Daniel was a child of God in an alien environment--he a Jew in Babylon; we, Christians in the world.  Daniel began his life in that land with devotion to God.  When we first encounter him in chapter one, we learn that "Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king's choice food...." (Daniel 1.8).  As a result, "God granted Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the commander of the officials" (Daniel 1.9).  Daniel continued his devotion to God through the reigns of four emperors.  Late in the statesman's life, Darius, the fourth of these emperors, appointed Daniel as one of three commissioners over 120 satraps, lesser government officials.  Before long, the emperor planned to promote him to a position of authority over the entire kingdom because Daniel continued to distinguish himself (Daniel 6.1-3).  When they heard about this, the satraps and the other commissioners decided to discredit him.  But the more they tried to destroy him, the more they uncovered marks of godliness in his life.

The first mark is a godly spirit: "this Daniel began distinguishing himself...because he possessed an extraordinary spirit"  (Daniel 6.3).  Daniel was winsome, positive, teachable.  What he had was something like school spirit only far better.  Perhaps we could best describe it as an excellent attitude, an attitude that radiated God-likeness.  He had a consistent spirit that reflected God's control of his life and God's character in his life.  Whether at home, or walking the street, or in the palace, or shopping in the market place, Daniel conducted himself in such a way that, without his saying a word, people could see his love for the Lord and devotion to Him.   Ever notice how people can identify a christian even when he doesn't say a word? Daniel shows how. He was committed to the Word of God and to the God of the Word.  Therefore, he lived his life with an enthusiasm and energy that radiated the Spirit of God within him.  In the gait of his walk, in the sparkle of his eyes, in the glow of his countenance, anyone could see that "extraordinary" spirit.  It was extraordinary because it was godly, or more precisely because it was the Spirit of God Himself living in Daniel.  The verse literally reads, "there was in him an extraordinary spirit."

The second mark of godliness Daniel possessed is faithfulness in his work.  Although Daniel was faithful in his religious duty as well, we need to see that this refers to secular work, what we do for our employers "between Sundays."   The satraps tried "to find a ground of accusation against Daniel in regard to government affairs" (Daniel 6.4 ).  When they investigated his daily work, "they could find no ground of accusation or evidence of corruption, inasmuch as he was faithful...." (emphasis mine).  Godliness applies to secular jobs as well as our sacred occupations and reveals itself in loyalty or faithfulness to God and to our employers.  The Bible teaches us that "Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men; knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of inheritance.  It is the Lord Christ whom you serve" (Colossians 3.23-24).

I frequently think of Brother Lawrence, the seventeenth century priest who was able to turn even the most commonplace and menial task into a living hymn to the glory of God.  He once prayed, "Lord of all pots and pans and things...make me a saint by getting meals and washing up the plates."  In the palace of Babylon, Daniel had a more exalted responsibility than Brother Lawrence; but he carried it out in the same spirit and with the same devotion.  As if he were a member of the church at Smyrna, he was faithful unto death (cp. Revelation 2.10) or at least in the face of death on more than one occasion.  As a child of God, Daniel led a life of integrity, consistency, and faithfulness.  Although not particularly a tranquil life for him, it was a life of godliness and dignity.  Daniel had accepted the challenge of godly living.  Have you?