Prepare for Action

Thursday, June 15, 2017, 9:34 p.m. – The Lord Jesus put in mind the song “Only to Be What He Wants Me to Be.” Speak, Lord, your words to my heart. I read 1 Peter 1 (Select vv. NASB).

Born Again (vv. 3-5)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

What does it mean to be born again? First, we are born physically of a mother, and then, because of God’s grace to us, and by faith in Jesus Christ, we are born of the Spirit of God to new lives in Christ Jesus, our Lord. One is a physical birth. The other is a spiritual birth. So, how are we born again?

Well, first of all Jesus Christ, the Son of God (and God) had to die on a cross. He who knew no sin became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Co. 5:21). He put our sins to death on that cross. And, when he was resurrected from the dead, he rose victorious over sin, hell, Satan and death. Jesus died that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. So, when we believe in him, we are crucified with him in death to sin, and we are resurrected with him to newness of life, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. The old has gone. The new has come. We are born again of the Spirit of God, and Christ now lives in us.

Various Trials (vv. 6-9)

In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.

So, we rejoice in our salvation and in the hope of eternal life with God. Yet, our hope is not just that one day we will be with our Lord forever, but our hope is in the freedom he has given us to walk (conduct our lives) not after the flesh, but according to the Spirit. Our hope is that we have a Savior, who is our Lord, but who is also our friend, confidant, counselor, guide, helper, strength, healer, comforter, encourager, and teacher, etc. Our hope is that we are in a personal and intimate relationship with our God, which gives us not only future hope, but present and living hope day by day, which is what keeps us going when times get tough.

Our hope, too, is that God created us for a purpose, and he has given meaning to our lives, and purpose and direction, and that even our trials are part of his plan for our lives in order to purify us, to make us holy, and to prepare us for his service. Also, our trials are for the purpose to test our faith, to make it stronger and more resilient. When we suffer, it is for our good, to make us more like Jesus, and to teach us to rely on God and not on ourselves. We, too, learn patience and perseverance through difficult times. And, we grow closer to our Lord, mature in our faith, and increase in our seriousness of our walk of faith, when we respond to our trials with grace, with trust in our Lord, and with submission to his perfect will for our lives.

Prepare Minds (vv. 13-16)

Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

In our minds we store memories, good and bad. In our minds we think, we believe, we discern, make decisions, and react to our circumstances. In our minds we entertain sinful thoughts or we dwell on heavenly things. Part of God’s saving grace to us is in the renewing of our minds, in the healing of past hurts, and in transforming how we believe and perceive things. Yet, we have a responsibility regarding our minds, in the renewing process, and that is in the putting off of the old, and the putting on of the new; in thinking about things which are pure, right, true, and beneficial, rather than thinking hateful thoughts or impure thoughts.

We also have a responsibility for what we take into our minds, to make sure that we are not feeding our minds with what is garbage, or what is immoral, wicked, and ungodly, etc. If we take garbage into our minds, that is what is going to come out in our words and actions and attitudes. If we entertain our minds with the sinful acts of others, this is what our minds will dwell on, and often our actions and words will follow suit. So, if we are going to prepare our minds for action, we need to keep our minds pure and focused on Jesus Christ and on the truths of his Word. And, we need to take God’s Word seriously and apply its truths to our daily lives.

Conduct Yourselves (vv. 17-19)

If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.

What does it mean to conduct ourselves in fear? I believe this is speaking here of the fear of the Lord, which is reverence, respect, honor, value, esteem, adoration, worship, obedience and submission to our Lord. Our conduct is the way in which we live, i.e. our daily practice. This is how we should live, day in and day out. Conducting ourselves in fear is also living on this earth as though we truly do not belong here, as though this world and all its stuff is really not our home, but with an eternal focus in mind. We are not here to build kingdoms on this earth, but to help, to work to advance God’s heavenly kingdom while we still live here. We are not here, in other words, to live to please and entertain ourselves, but we are here to give glory to God in all that we do and say and think and are.

It also means that we live holy lives, pleasing to God. Being holy means we are separate (set apart, unlike, different) from the world, because we are being made to be like Jesus. We should no longer be conformed to the ways (patterns, attitudes, values) of this world, but we are to be transformed of the Spirit of God in the renewing of our minds. Our new lives should not look like our old lives, and only slightly cleaned up to be more presentable. Our new lives should be radically different from our old lives, because we died with Christ to sin, and we were resurrected with him to newness of life, to be lived to him and to his righteousness.

Only to Be What He Wants Me to Be
Norman J. Clayton

Only to be what He wants me to be,
Every moment of every day,
Yielded completely to Jesus alone
Every step of this pilgrim way…

A Voice Cries

Thursday, June 1, 2017, 8:40 a.m. – The Lord Jesus put in mind the song “Only to Be What He Wants Me to Be.” Speak, Lord, your words to my heart. I read Isaiah 40:3-8 (ESV).

Prepare the Way (v. 3)

A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

Wilderness – “an empty or pathless area; wild, natural or uncultivated state” (M-W). Spiritually speaking, this is talking about our lives outside of faith in Jesus Christ – in our sin nature, void of God in our lives, and going nowhere.

As ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ, we are to prepare or make ready the way of the Lord for the people. The way of the Lord is the way of holiness, not just the way to forgiveness of sin and the promise of heaven when we die. John the Baptist prepared the way of the Lord for the people by preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus preached the same message, as did his NT apostles.

So, we tell people the truth. We tell them that Jesus died that we might die to sin and live to righteousness, not just so we can be forgiven our sins. We share with them that coming to Christ means we are crucified with Christ in death to sin, and we are risen with Christ to new lives in him, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. We inform them that if we make a practice of sinning, i.e. if we walk (in lifestyle) according to our sin nature, we will die in our sins, but if by the Spirit we are putting to death the deeds of the flesh, then we have the hope of eternal life with God (Ro. 8:1-14).

We are to also make straight in the desert a highway for our God. This highway is the road we are to travel, the path we are to follow, and it needs to be straight, not crooked. Straight – honest, above-board, upright, pure, and unadulterated (unmixed, undiluted) by the world of sin.

It is the way of holiness, and to be holy means to be separate (unlike, different) from the world, because we are being made into the image of Christ. We are not to immerse ourselves in the culture of our societies or to blend in with the world in order to be accepted by them, for God called us out of the world. If we love the world like we are supposed to love God, then the love of the Father is not in us. God’s grace to us is not carte blanche (free rein) to do what we want. His grace, which brings salvation, teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives while we wait for his return (Tit. 2:11-14; 1 Jn. 2:15).

Shall Become Level (vv. 4-5)

“Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

My husband and I moved into a high-rise apartment complex a year ago, right after he retired. Right after we moved in, a major renovation of the property, inside and out, was under way, and it is still not completed. For the past year we have watched all kinds of earth moving equipment dig up the old and replace it with the new, as well as we have witnessed multiple trucks hauling stuff in and out as the old has been taken away and has been replaced with what is new – new paint or wallpaper on walls, new ceiling tiles, new lights, new carpeting, new doors, new security system, new landscaping, upgraded parking lots, and remodeled party rooms and lobbies.

When we believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of our lives, via death to sin and resurrection to new lives in Christ Jesus, born anew of the Spirit of God, our Lord puts to death our old lives of living for sin and self, and he gives us completely new lives in him, which are to be lived to him and to his righteousness. The old is taken away, and the new has come, just like in our building and on the building’s property, only spiritually and perfectly done by God, and not physically removed and replaced by human flesh. Jesus Christ, who knew no sin, in his death on a cross became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God. Jesus Christ “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (2 Co. 5:21; Tit. 2:14).

Yet, it is not as though God just zaps us and we instantly become perfect, and that we have nothing to do with it at all. We must exercise the faith he provides, and we must cooperate and participate with the Spirit of God in the removal of the old and in the replacing of the old with the new (See: Eph. 4 – the whole chapter, Ro. 6:1-23; Ro. 8:1-14 & Lu. 9:23-25). We must humble ourselves before God, acknowledge and repent of (turn from) our sin, and turn to God/Christ to follow him in his ways and in his truth, so we might receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those sanctified by faith in Jesus Christ (See: Acts 26:16-18).

Flesh is Grass (vv. 6-8)

A voice says, “Cry!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All flesh is grass,
and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades
when the breath of the Lord blows on it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever.

A lot of people these days, though, who are sharing what they believe is the message of the gospel, are not preparing a way of holiness, i.e. the way of the Lord, which is straight (unmixed with the world). They are not making the uneven (potholed, irregular) ground (terrain) level (straight, upright).

Instead, they are preaching a message which is adulterated with the world of sin, and which gives its adherents the impression that they can merely acknowledge Jesus’ existence, accept his forgiveness for their sins, and that they now have salvation from sin, escape from eternal damnation, and the promise of heaven when they die, which can never be taken away from them. Many of these “preachers” of the “Word” tell them that they don’t have to repent of their sins, and they don’t have to obey Jesus, because, they say, God requires nothing of us other than to “believe,” which is made out like a mere intellectual or emotional acknowledgement of what Christ did for us, but absent any teaching on death to sin and living to righteousness.

What this also does is give the impression that one who “believes” in Jesus is now set for life no matter what he or she does from this moment forward. This false (adulterated, diluted) gospel gives its followers the notion, too, that they can continue living in sin, that they can continue sinful practices, and that God’s grace just covers it all, so no worries.

But, that is not what scripture teaches, and we need to know what the Word teaches, because these men or women are flesh, and they will die, but it is the Word of God which stands true to the very end. And, it is the ONLY WORD we can really depend on. It says if we say we have fellowship with God, and we walk in darkness (sin), we are liars. It also teaches us that if we practice, if we walk in sin, we don’t have the promise of eternal life with God (See: 1 Jn. 1:6; Lu. 9:23-25; Ro. 8:1-14; & Gal. 5:19-21).

Only to Be What He Wants Me to Be
Norman J. Clayton

Only to be what He wants me to be,
Every moment of every day,
Yielded completely to Jesus alone
Every step of this pilgrim way…

Acceptable to God

Friday, May 19, 2017, 10:56 a.m. – The Lord Jesus put in mind the song “Oh, To Be Like Thee.” Speak, Lord, your words to my heart. I read Psalm 19 (quoting vv. 7-14 ESV).

God’s Words (vv. 7-11)

The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true,
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.

Our Bible (Genesis to Revelation) is the Word of God to us. It was penned by men of God, as God breathed his words into their hearts and minds. All of it is “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). But, not all of it literally applies to followers of Jesus Christ. So, we have to read scripture in context and see how God might use it to teach and to train us in righteousness, always making sure it agrees with the teaching under the New Covenant relationship between God and his people.

God’s Word is perfect, without error in its original form. Over the years since these books were first penned, it has been copied over and over again, and it has been translated into multiple languages and in various versions, too. So, the translations we have in our possessions may not be 100% accurate to the original texts, but our God is all powerful, and as believers in Jesus we have the Holy Spirit living within us who will guide us into all truth, and who will make his Word known to our hearts. Yet, we must also be diligent in our study of scripture to make certain we are correctly handling it, too. So, we should always read scriptures in context, and see if what we are reading agrees with other similar texts, if we are able, and to make certain, as much as is within our ability to do so, that we are hearing and following the truth.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we should also be students of his Word, for this is how God primarily speaks to us. This is where we learn truth from what is false, and righteousness, holiness, godliness, and the will of God for our lives. “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). This is our bread, our sustenance for our spiritual lives. Through God’s Word he encourages, strengthens, counsels, urges, warns, instructs, guides and directs us in the way we should go, as well as he answers our prayers.

We, as Christ’s followers, should love the Words of God, and they should be more precious to us than gold, or than anything this world has to offer us. When we read and study God’s Word, and we pray, and we worship him, this is where we have our intimate times of fellowship with our Lord. Our lives should not be complete without our times with our Lord each day in personal worship. Through these times we grow to maturity, and we learn what it means to follow HIM in obedience, and we understand his will for our lives. It is here that we hear his voice speaking to us ever so gently, and his voice should be what we long to hear, too. His words should bring much joy to our hearts. And, in keeping them, there is certainly great reward!

No Dominion! (vv. 12-13)

Who can discern his errors?
Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.

When we get to know God’s Word, and our Lord’s voice, and we recognize when the Holy Spirit is speaking to our hearts, it greatly improves our discernment in knowing right from wrong. Yet, when we come to faith in Jesus Christ, God puts his laws in our minds, and he writes them on our hearts (Heb. 8:10). So, even from the beginning of our walks of faith we should know when we are doing wrong. Yet, it is possible, because of other influences in our lives, and wrong teaching and training, to become desensitized to some things which are wrong, which we may not see as wrong, because they are not blatantly as offensive as some more obvious sins. But, when the Holy Spirit convicts our hearts, and he shows us the error of our ways, we must respond in obedience.

There are some sins, too, which we may have formed as habits, and they may be so automatic that we do them without much forethought. These need to be eradicated from our lives, and they need to be confessed as sin, and not excused away as just habit. God will help us to put off these sins and to put on his truth and righteousness in their place, if we are willing (See: Eph. 4-5). Jesus died for our sins, not just to deliver us from the punishment of sin, but to deliver us from bondage (addiction) to sin. He has given and he will give us the way of escape, but we have to take the way out he provides, and not ignore his promptings.

Other sins are regarded as willful sins, i.e. knowingly and arrogantly making a choice of the will to do what we know is wrong. This may include plotting out the sins in advance, lying about what we are doing before we even do it, in order to deceive others, and then covering up our sin with lies after the fact. Sinful habits can also fit into this category, especially if we keep repeating the same sins over and over again, knowing that we are doing this, and yet we do nothing or little to try to overcome or to correct the sinful behaviors, or we give up easily, which is why they then get ingrained in our lives and become so automatic. One of the main reasons these sins hang on is that we are not willing to go the distance with them to truly remove them from our lives, but we continue to play with fire.

So, if we don’t want to be ruled by them, we need to obey the teachings of scripture and do what it teaches us we must do to shake off these sins which so easily entangle, so we can run the race marked out for us by the Lord. We also have to get rid of what leads us into sin and what hinders our walks of faith. If the internet is your downfall, for instance, cut it out of your life if you can’t manage it under the power of the Spirit within you. If yard sales are your downfall, stop going to them, and avoid streets where you know they frequently have them. Learn to say “NO” to what you know is going to lead you into sin, resist Satan, run away from what even tempts you to sin, and draw near to God in obedience to him and to his Word.

My Words (v. 14)

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

I think one of the most besetting of sins are those involving the mouth. We speak before we even think sometimes, and that is not good. We need to guard our tongues, but we also need to have our hearts cleansed first, because it is out of the heart that the mouth speaks. So, if we want to have purity in what we say, and not falter in our speaking, we need to have our hearts and minds in the right place.

We must forgive others, and not hold grievances in our hearts against anyone. We must be careful not to judge others unjustly, hypocritically or with human judgment. We must avoid gossip like it is the plague and keep from complaining about things over which we have no control, and just because we want to gripe. There is a time to confront wrong, though, and to speak out against what is evil, but it should be for good purposes, to warn others, to call for repentance, and to encourage faithful obedience.

I pray this prayer with the psalmist that the words of my mouth, and the meditation (what I focus on) of my heart would be pleasing in HIS sight. If it is not, I pray the Lord would reveal this to me, that I might confess it to him, and that I would respond to him in obedience in having the change of heart and mind he would have for me that would result in the right words coming out of my mouth, for I want to honor him in all ways, including with my lips, i.e. with the words that I speak.

Oh, to Be Like Thee, Blessed Redeemer
Thomas O. Chisholm / W. J. Kirkpatrick

Oh, to be like Thee! blessèd Redeemer,
This is my constant longing and prayer;
Gladly I’ll forfeit all of earth’s treasures,
Jesus, Thy perfect likeness to wear.

Oh, to be like Thee! full of compassion,
Loving, forgiving, tender and kind,
Helping the helpless, cheering the fainting,
Seeking the wandering sinner to find.

O to be like Thee! lowly in spirit,
Holy and harmless, patient and brave;
Meekly enduring cruel reproaches,
Willing to suffer others to save.

O to be like Thee! while I am pleading,
Pour out Thy Spirit, fill with Thy love;
Make me a temple meet for Thy dwelling,
Fit me for life and Heaven above.

Oh, to be like Thee! Oh, to be like Thee,
Blessèd Redeemer, pure as Thou art;
Come in Thy sweetness, come in Thy fullness;
Stamp Thine own image deep on my heart.

Swords in Their Lips

Tuesday, May 16, 2017, 8:48 p.m. – The Lord Jesus put in mind the song “Total Praise.” Speak, Lord, your words to my heart. I read Psalm 59 (Select vv. ESV).

They Lie in Wait (vv. 1-4)

To the choirmaster: according to Do Not Destroy. A Miktam of David, when Saul sent men to watch his house in order to kill him.

Deliver me from my enemies, O my God;
protect me from those who rise up against me;
deliver me from those who work evil,
and save me from bloodthirsty men.

For behold, they lie in wait for my life;
fierce men stir up strife against me.
For no transgression or sin of mine, O Lord,
for no fault of mine, they run and make ready.
Awake, come to meet me, and see!

Who are our enemies, if we are followers of Jesus Christ? Satan and his hordes, that is who. Our real battle is not against flesh and blood (human beings), but it is against the powers of darkness and spiritual forces of evil (See: Eph. 6:10-20).

This is not saying we don’t have physical enemies, i.e. humans who are working evil against us. We do. But, we don’t fight our enemies with physical weapons of warfare like they did of old. And, the real power behind these enemies is Satan. So, we fight these enemies with the armor of God, but not in a mean or hateful way, but in love we put on truth, righteousness, faith, prayer, the truth of the gospel, and the Word of God (of truth). We combat lies with truth, evil with righteousness, deceptions and false accusations with the Word of God, fear with faith, doubt with prayer, and false gospels with the true gospel. And, we stand on the Word of God and the true gospel. And, God delivers us from the control or the power of our enemy (or enemies) over us when we put on the armor of God, which he has supplied to us.

If we are truly following our Lord Jesus in obedience to him and to his Word, Satan is going to be coming against us, and he will use humans to do his dirty work for him. They will hate us, in this instance, not because of any evil we are doing, but because we love the Lord, because we stand on the Word of God, because we do put on the armor of God with which to fight off Satan’s evil schemes against us, and because we teach the truth and combat lies. And, Satan hates that! And, so he will use humans to try to stir up trouble for us, to make up lies about us, and to spread those lies to others so that they will hate us, too.

Like Howling Dogs (vv. 6-10)

Each evening they come back,
howling like dogs
and prowling about the city.
There they are, bellowing with their mouths
with swords in their lips—
for “Who,” they think, “will hear us?”

But you, O Lord, laugh at them;
you hold all the nations in derision.
O my Strength, I will watch for you,
for you, O God, are my fortress.
My God in his steadfast love will meet me;
God will let me look in triumph on my enemies.

Those who come against us, may speak evil against us. They will heap abuse on us with their tongues. They may even be close friends, neighbors, co-workers, fellow believers or even family members. They may pretend to be our friends, and may act nice to us to our face, though, but then betray us behind our backs by divulging whatever we have shared with them in confidence, and by twisting our words and actions to give an impression that is not true of us. They gossip about us in order to wound us and to cut us to the heart, and so others will not like us, too, or they may speak to us this way in person, as well. And, it is because they don’t like what we stand for, and what we do, and what we say. Yet, they think God does not see, and that he does not hear, and that he will do nothing.

This is not to say, though, that we are perfect, or that we are never deserving of censure, but this is speaking specifically of the undeserved mistreatment of God’s servants. This is speaking of willful and even premeditated abuse and persecution, and just because we are followers of Christ, who do what he says, and because we hold to the truths of scripture.

Yet, God is not intimidated by them. They have no power over him. He is completely in control over all he has made. And, there is nothing they can do to us, either, but what God allows it for his purposes, and for our maturing, holiness, purity, strengthening and perseverance. When we face such opposition from sinful humans, it should only draw us even closer to Jesus Christ, and it should instill within us an even greater dedication to the Lord and to his service, for God is our strength and our help in time of need.

But I Will Sing (vv. 16-17)

But I will sing of your strength;
I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning.
For you have been to me a fortress
and a refuge in the day of my distress.
O my Strength, I will sing praises to you,
for you, O God, are my fortress,
the God who shows me steadfast love.

We can’t let people get to us and get us down. We can’t let gossip, slander, hatred, bitterness, mistreatment, abuse and persecution undo us, either. We have to keep loving even our enemies, and returning hatred with kindness. Yet, we should grow in wisdom and discernment through this, and we should take care to not make our close friends those who are unbelievers or who are gossipers, haters, and the like. Yet, we should minister God’s love and grace to even our enemies. And, we must rely upon the Lord for our strength and for wisdom to know how to respond to such mistreatment as this.

One of the ways we should respond to opposition is by singing and praising our Lord, thanking him for his steadfast love and for the strength he gives us each day in order for us to keep going, even in the face of great opposition. Singing is a great antidote to fear, oppression, discouragement, sadness, and broken hearts, etc. Singing songs to our Lord has a way of lifting our spirits and filling our hearts with love, but also with confidence and even greater determination to keep on keeping on in doing what we are called to do. Singing gets our focus off our circumstances, and off those who oppose us, and it gets our focus on to Jesus Christ and all that he has done for us and all that he has gifted us with and has equipped us to do. It gets us thinking about HIM and his love, mercy and strength, and of his absolute sovereignty over all things, and then we can rest in HIM and not give way to fear, doubt, discouragement or even anger. His joy will then fill our hearts.

Total Praise / Richard Smallwood

You are the source of my strength
You are the strength of my life
I lift my hands in total praise to You.

What Do You Think?

Monday, May 8, 2017, 8:02 a.m. – The Lord Jesus put in mind the song “Refresh My Spirit, Lord.” Speak, Lord, your words to my heart. I read Psalm 1 (ESV).

Ways of the Wicked (v. 1)

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;

We are joyous, peaceful and contented in Christ, and in his favor (grace, benefits, and provisions), which he bestows upon us, when we walk (in lifestyle) in the ways of the Lord and not in the ways (counsel, thinking, values and behaviors) of the wicked, who practice sinning against God.

So, in what ways might we be guilty of walking in the counsel of the wicked, of standing in the way of sinners, and of sitting in the seat of scoffers? The answer to this may be as individual as we are, but I can think of some ways which may be common, at least here in America, to the majority. For one, I believe television has played a HUGE role in American households in shaping our thinking, values, morals and behaviors. TV can be very hypnotic, persuasive, addictive and influential in our lives, and it can break down biblical morals and values, and desensitize us to many evils, ever so subtly.

About ten years ago, my husband and I took all of our movies, of which we had plenty, and we compared them to this passage of scripture:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. ~ Phil. 4:8

We literally threw in the trash all movies which did not fit with this passage of scripture. I think that only left about 2 or 3, and later we realized they did not conform, either. What I learned through this process, though, is how easily we are deceived, influenced and manipulated into accepting evil into our minds, hearts and lives, because it is disguised as something else. A lot of it is made out to be fun, innocent, and charming, and if we are brought up on this, and it is introduced so slowly and gradually, pretty soon we are accepting more and more, and don’t even realize it. But, that is exactly how Satan works. So, we got rid of our TV, too, and I have not missed it one bit!

Yet, TV is not the only culprit. Obviously the internet can be very seductive, as well, and so can be our close associations, which is why the Bible warns us about that, too, that we should not have close associations with the ungodly, i.e. with those who are living sinful lifestyles, lest we should be led into sin with them. And, it takes it one step further when it says that we should not even associate with a professing Christian who is living a sinful (immoral, wicked) lifestyle, and who has not repented of his or her sin.

Yet, the worst of all, I believe, is the modernized (remodeled) church of today. Why? Because the gatherings of the church should be where we are instructed in the ways of the Lord, where we experience biblical fellowship with other believers in Christ, and where God’s morals, values and thinking are upheld with the highest of honor. When we gather with the church, we anticipate that we should be influenced in what is godly, not in what is worldly. Nonetheless, the world has been brought into much of the church, along with its thinking, values, morals and behaviors, and thus we are even being influenced in the wrong ways within many of our church get-togethers.

Our Delight (v. 2)

but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

So, how do we combat all these worldly and wicked influences in our lives, so that we do not walk in their ways? Well, I have suggested one way, and that is to compare the influences in our lives against Philippians 4:8 to see how they compare, and then to rid our lives of those (scripturally speaking) negative and wicked influences, as much as it is in our power to do so.

You have probably heard the phrase, “garbage in, garbage out.” If we take garbage into our minds and hearts, that is what we will reproduce. It is a simple fact. We have to remember here the teachings in the New Testament with regard to cutting out of our lives what leads us to sin (Matt. 18:7-9; Heb. 12:1-2). We have to cut them off (get rid of them) and throw them off so that we can run with perseverance the race God has marked out for us to run. This also fits with the scriptures teaching on fleeing wrong influences, false doctrines, sexual immorality, idolatry, slander, greed, and youthful passions (Jn. 10:5; 1 Co. 6:12-18; 10:14; 1 Tim. 6:3-11; 2 Tim. 2:22).

So, we have to put those wrong influences off, but then we have to put the right ones on. This is a scriptural principle taught throughout the Word of God. Not only do we learn what we need to cut out of our lives, but we learn what we need to pursue, develop and cultivate into our lives, in the power and working of God’s Spirit now living within us, as we cooperate fully with God’s work of grace in our lives.

And, the way in which we learn these things is by reading, studying and meditating on God’s Word, not just five minutes of the day, but throughout the day and night. And, we can’t do this if we are filling our minds with the junk of the world the majority of the time while we spend little time in God’s Word. And, we also can’t do this if we do not put God’s Word into practice in our lives, and if we walk away after we read it and forget what we learned, and thus we don’t apply it to our lives.

God’s Word has to be our delight! We have to love his Word, and desire it above all other influences in our lives. We have to hunger and thirst after righteousness, and want to walk in the ways of the Lord, or it won’t happen.

We Prosper (v. 3)

He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

Yet, if God’s Word is our delight, and we meditate on it day and night, and we do what it says, then we will be at rest, secure and firmly planted in our faith in Jesus Christ, and in the truths of his Word, and nothing will be able to move us. We will not be easily persuaded and influenced by the world, nor will we sway with the wind in our beliefs. “We will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming” (Eph. 4:14). Instead, we will become mature in our walks of faith with Christ, and we will speak the truth in love to our brothers and sisters in Christ, so that they, too, can be built up in Christ and reach maturity.

We may not always see all (or much of) the fruit for our labors in the Lord immediately, but God sees them, and they will be evident when the season is right. Some of us plant the seed, and others water it, but it is God who makes it to grow, and all in his perfect timing. We may never know in this life in how many people’s lives God has used us, and I don’t think we have to know. But, if we are walking in obedience to our Lord, and if we are faithful in service to him, in doing what he asks us to do, then that is fruit in and of itself, is it not? For, by this we grow in him and in our walks of faith, and we learn obedience, submission, and love for our Lord and for others. And, this is how we prosper, in Christ, and in his holiness and righteousness.

Wicked Not So (vv. 4-6)

The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

When it speaks of the wicked here, it is speaking of those who walk (in lifestyle) in sin, who make sinning the practice of their daily lives. We all sin, most likely, at some time or another, but we don’t all willfully keep on sinning as the pattern of our lives. We don’t all hold on to specific sins and refuse to give them up, i.e. we don’t all refuse to repent.

Jesus said that if we want to come after him, we must deny self, take up our cross daily (daily die to sin and self) and follow (obey) him. He said if we hold on to our old lives (of living for sin and self), we will lose them (for eternity). But, if we lose our lives (die with him to sin), we will gain eternal life (we will save our lives). Paul reiterated Jesus’ words when he said that if we walk (conduct our lives) in the flesh, we will die (in our sins), but if by the Spirit we are putting to death the deeds of the flesh, we will live (with Christ for eternity). And, John said that if we say we have fellowship with God, but we walk (in lifestyle) in darkness (sin), we are liars (Lu. 9:23-25; Ro. 8:1-14; 1 Jn. 1:6).

The point of all this is that Jesus died that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. He died that we might no longer live for ourselves, but for him who gave his life up for us. Jesus, who knew no sin, became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God. He died that we might no longer walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. And, he gave himself up for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. His grace is not a free license – carte blanche (free rein) – to continue in sin without guilt and without remorse. His grace, which brings salvation, teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives while we wait for Christ’s return (1 Pet. 2:24; 2 Co. 5:15, 21; Ro. 8:1-14; Tit. 2:11-14; cf. Jn. 6:35-66; Ro. 6:1-23; Eph. 4:17-24; Gal. 2:20).

So, what this means is that the wicked and righteous are not only divided by those who believe in Jesus Christ and those who don’t, but they are distinguished by those who walk in the way of the righteous, and those who walk in the way of the wicked. So, make sure you are walking in God’s ways.

Refresh My Spirit, Lord / An Original Work / August 8, 2011

Based off of Psalm 51 & Matthew 11:28-30

Refresh my spirit, Lord.
Revive my heart today.
Move me to serve You,
Lord in all I do and say.
Be my heart’s one desire;
my spirit set on fire
In pure devotion, Lord,
to love you and obey.

Create within me, Lord,
a pure heart, this I pray,
So I can worship You
and yield to You always.
May all Your love and pow’r
be lived in me, I pray,
So I might love as You;
be Your witness today.

Jesus says, “Come to me
all you with heavy hearts,
And find in me your peace,
and give to me your all.
My yoke is light to bear,
‘cause I paid for your sin,
So you might be set free,
and purified within.”

Do We Love Him?

Wednesday, May 3, 2017, 7:41 a.m. – The Lord Jesus put in mind the song “My Jesus, I Love Thee.” Lately, the Lord has not been having me read book by book, and chapter by chapter, as usual, so I asked him where he wanted me to read this morning. Then, I sensed he would have me look at what it means to truly love him. Speak, Lord, your words to my heart. I read various scriptures (in the ESV) on the subject of love for God (for Jesus).

More Than These (Jn. 21:15)

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”

Jesus didn’t say what the “these” were, but Peter had gone fishing, and some of the other disciples had gone with him, so Jesus could have been referring to literal fish, or to fishing, or to his friends (the other disciples). The point of what he said, though, is that Jesus was to be loved more. So, the question for us is, “Do we love him more than anything else?” Do we love him more than our possessions, food, friends, hobbies, our time, retirement, social media, TV, sports, etc.? Love for Jesus means to love him above all else, not just to say that we do, but to truly put him first and foremost in our daily lives. Is he truly Lord (owner-master) of our lives?

Peter affirmed that he loved Jesus, so Jesus told him to “Feed my lambs.” Now, he was not speaking of literal sheep, but of Jesus’ followers. And, he was not asking him to give them literal food, though that certainly could have been part of it, but to feed them spiritually with God’s Words, i.e. with what Jesus had taught him. And, our Lord is saying the same thing to us today. If we love him truly, we are to care for, minister to, and share the Word of God with other believers in Jesus Christ for their encouragement, strengthening, and maturity in Christ (See: Rom. 12; 1 Co. 12-13; Eph. 4).

No Love for World (1 Jn. 2:15)

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”

If we truly love Jesus, we will not love the world. Now, this word for “love” in the Greek is “agape,” which means: “wish well to, take pleasure in, long for; denotes the love of reason, to prefer, esteem” (biblehub.com). And, to esteem means: reverence, honor, approve, respect, value and admire, etc.

As well, the phrase “the world” is not speaking of human beings, who we are to love, but rather of the things (stuff, possessions), attitudes, values, principles, culture, behaviors and philosophies of the world of sin. These we are NOT to love – prefer, esteem, wish well to, take pleasure in and long for, like we are supposed to do for our Lord. We are to prefer him above all else, “choosing his choices and obeying them through his power; actively doing what the Lord prefers, by his power and direction” (biblehub.com).

Practice Righteousness (1 Jn. 3:10)

“By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.”

If we truly love our Lord, we will practice righteousness, i.e. what is approved in the eyes of the Lord. Some people will say that we are made righteous, i.e. that Christ’s righteousness is credited to our accounts when we put our faith and trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This is true! But, these same people often think that is all that is required, but God’s Word teaches us we must put righteousness – morality, decency, uprightness, honesty – into practice in our daily lives, or we are not of God. We not only have to be made righteous in God’s eyes through faith in Jesus Christ, but he also requires that we live righteously. Peter said that Jesus died that we might die to sin and live to righteousness (1 Pet. 2:24).

We are also not of God if we do not love our fellow humans. And, this is also agape love, which prefers what God prefers, and which esteems, takes pleasure in and longs for God/Jesus Christ. It means to love others as God loves us, and according to his divine will and purpose. Since this love prefers what God prefers, it is not going to include anything that is against God and against his Word. In other words, we don’t love people by telling them lies to make them feel good, or so that they will like us. We speak the truth in love. We don’t take advantage of them or do harm to them. We don’t lead them into sin, either, by trying to persuade them to do something that is wrong. Loving others in this way will always be centered in God and in his will.

In Deed and Truth (1 Jn. 3:18)

“Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”

Words can be cheap if they are not followed up with action. If we say that we love Jesus, but we do not honor, value, respect, esteem and reverence him in what we do, and if we do not prefer what he prefers, and live our lives accordingly, then we don’t really love him. It is just words.

Obey His Commands (1 Jn. 5:2-3; 2 Jn. 1:6; cf. Jn. 14:15, 21, 23-24)

“By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.”

“And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it.”

Jesus said that if we love him, we will obey (guard, preserve) his commands (Jn. 14:15). John reiterated Jesus’ words when he said here that to love God is to keep (obey, observe) his commands. So, what are his commands? They are everything Jesus taught his disciples, which are recorded in scripture, which were NOT specific to one particular situation, or to one specific period of time, or to one particular person or persons. But, they are commands that were intended for his disciples at all times, and in all situations, as general rules of practice. They are also the teachings of the NT apostles with regard to the church, as a whole, present and future, which, again, are to be regarded as general rules of practice for all, and for our daily living.

Yet, this is not absolutely black and white. What I mean by this is that there is not a hammer hanging over our heads which says we must obey 100% or we are not saved. Even though we have been delivered from slavery to sin and from the power Satan had over our lives, at one time, it does not mean we will never sin again (See: 1 Jn. 2:1-2). If we could have obeyed with 100%, Jesus would not have had to die for our sins. But, what the law was powerless to do, in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son to die on a cross for our sin, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit (See: Ro. 8:1-14).

So, God’s grace does not demand sinless perfection, yet it does demand that we walk (in lifestyle) no longer according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. This means that we don’t make excuses for willful sin against God, or excuse away sin on the basis of God’s grace to us. His grace is not a free license to continue in sin. His grace, which brings salvation, teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives while we wait for Christ’s return (Tit. 2:11-14).

My Jesus, I Love Thee
William R. Featherstone / Adoniram J. Gordon

My Jesus, I love thee, I know thou art mine;
For thee all the follies of sin I resign.
My gracious Redeemer, my Savior art thou;
If ever I loved thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

I love thee because thou hast first loved me,
And purchased my pardon on Calvary’s tree;
I love thee for wearing the thorns on thy brow;
If ever I loved thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

I’ll love Thee in life, I will love Thee in death,
And praise Thee as long as Thou lendest me breath;
And say, when the death-dew lies cold on my brow,
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ‘tis now.

In mansions of glory and endless delight;
I’ll ever adore thee in heaven so bright;
I’ll sing with the glittering crown on my brow;
If ever I loved thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

Is It Good News?

Sunday, March 26, 2017, 2:34 a.m. – The Lord Jesus put in mind the song “When in the Stillness.” Speak, Lord, your words to my heart. I read Isaiah 40:1-11 (NASB).

Speak Tenderly (vv. 1-2)

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.

God’s grace to us is amazing! Jesus Christ, the Son of God (and God), left his throne in heaven, humbled himself, came to earth, took on human flesh and died on a cross for our sins. When he died, our sins died with him, and were buried with him, and when he was resurrected from the dead, he rose victorious over sin, hell, Satan and death on our behalf. By God’s grace, through God-given faith in Jesus Christ, we can be delivered out of slavery (addiction) to sin, and be given new lives in Christ Jesus, born again of the Spirit of God, to be lived to God and to his holiness and righteousness.

A Voice Cries (vv. 3-5)

A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

So, what does it mean to have God-given faith in Jesus Christ? Well, it means that we are divinely persuaded as to God’s will for our lives. And, what is God’s will? Peter said that Jesus died that we might die to sin and live to righteousness (1 Pet. 2:24). This is the essence of the gospel of our salvation. Jesus died that we might no longer live for ourselves, but for him who gave his life up for us (2 Co. 5:15). God’s grace to us is not a free license to continue in sin without guilt and without remorse. His grace, which brings salvation, teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives while we wait for Christ’s return (Tit. 2:11-14). Jesus, who knew no sin, became sin for us on that cross so that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Co. 5:21).

When we believe in Jesus Christ to be Lord (owner-master) and Savior of our lives, we are crucified with Christ in death to sin, and we are resurrected with Christ to newness of life, “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24). In other words, we are not saved from our sins merely to escape hell and to have the promise of heaven when we die. Jesus died on that cross so that we could be radically transformed of the Spirit of God away from living our lives to sin and self, to walking with God in his holiness and righteousness. To be holy means to be set apart (unlike, different) from this world, because we are being made into the likeness of Christ. As well, righteousness is to be equated with morality, uprightness, honesty, and purity, which God has imputed to us who believe in Jesus.

So, having faith in Jesus Christ is not repeating some words after someone else in a prayer after which we are congratulated that we are now part of the family of God and that our eternal salvation and heaven are guaranteed us. Jesus said that his sheep listen to him, they know his voice, and they follow (obey) him. He said that if we want to come after him, we must deny self, take up our cross daily (die daily to sin and self) and follow (obey) him. He said that if we hold on to our old lives (of living for sin and self), we will lose them (die in our sins). But, if we lose our lives for Christ and for his gospel (die with him to sin), we will have eternal life with God. And, Paul reiterated this when he said that if we walk according to the flesh, we will die (in our sins), but if by the Spirit we are putting to death the deeds of the flesh, we will live with Christ for eternity (Jn. 10:27-30; Lu. 9:23-25; Ro. 8:1-14).

Will Stand Forever (vv. 6-8)

A voice says, “Cry!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All flesh is grass,
and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades
when the breath of the Lord blows on it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever.

So, what is this saying? It is saying that what is of this world, i.e. what is fleshly and worldly, is temporary, and like grass, it will wither. It has no eternal value. We, as humans, without Christ, are destined to perish in our sins. So, if we hold on to the things and the sinful pleasures of this life, we will perish with them. If we think we can continue in our sins and still have the hope of heaven when we leave this earth, then we need to think again. That is not what the word of God teaches, but it is what fleshly humans would like us to believe. All that is of this world will one day pass away. So, we shouldn’t be “hanging our hats” on the things of this life. John said that if we say we have fellowship with God, but we walk (conduct our lives) in darkness (sin, wickedness), we don’t live by the truth (1 Jn. 1:6).

So, what can we count on? We can count on God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – to do what he says he will do. We can depend on his Word, which will never fail us, and which will stand forever. So, we need to stop listening to humans, unless they are telling us the truth, and we need to listen to what God’s word teaches us, because our eternity depends on it. If we say we love God or that we know God, but we don’t do what he says, we don’t know him, and we don’t have the hope of eternal life with him (1 Jn. 2:3-6). If we continue in HIS word, then we are truly disciples of HIS (Jn. 8:31-32). And, we have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first (Heb. 3:14-15).

Good News (vv. 9-11)

Go on up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good news;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good news;
lift it up, fear not;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Behold your God!”
Behold, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
behold, his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead those that are with young.

So, what is this “good news”? The “good news” of the gospel of our salvation is that Jesus died that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. Paul was given a commission by Jesus Christ to spread this good news. He told him that he was sending him to open blinded eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they might receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified (made holy, purified) by faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 26:16-18). The good news here is that Jesus died to turn us away from lifestyles of sin, and away from the power that Satan had (or has) over our lives. And, he died to turn us to God and to his truth and his righteousness, and to his power in our lives to deliver us out of slavery to sin and to bring us to wholeness in him.

If the “good news” to us is merely that we have been delivered from the punishment of our sin so that we can go to heaven when we leave this earth, but we are still left in slavery to sin, that that really isn’t good news, is it? Why? Because that means we have believed a lie, because if we are not delivered out of slavery to sin, that means we are still dead in our sins, and thus we don’t have the promise of heaven or the escape from eternal punishment. For, if we deliberately keep on sinning, “there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries” (Heb. 10:26-27).

The “good news” is not only that Jesus died that we might die to sin and live to righteousness, but that we don’t do this in our own strength or willpower. We can’t even come to faith in Jesus Christ unless the Father first draws us to him. Even the faith to believe in Jesus is a gift from God. He even grants us repentance, and he gives us the ability to obey him. This is a spiritual work of God’s grace in our lives from beginning to end, and yet we must cooperate with that work of grace by submitting to our Lord and Savior, and by following his lead, and doing what he says, yet all in the power and working of his Spirit within us who gives us all we need in Christ to live godly and holy lives unto him. So, we need to yield the control of our lives over to our Lord, and allow him to do his work in our lives, in making us like Jesus.

When in The Stillness / An Original Work / September 26, 2011

When in the stillness of this moment,
Speak to me, Lord, I humbly pray.
Be my desire, set me on fire,
Teach me to love always.
Help me to walk in fellowship with You,
Listening to You; sit at Your feet.
Whisper Your words to me,
Oh, how gently, guiding me in Your truth.

While we are waiting for Your blessing,
Lord, in our hearts be King today.
Help us to live for you ev’ry moment,
List’ning to what You say.
May we not stray from your word within us,
Help us obey You, Lord, in all things,
Walking each moment, Lord, in Your presence,
Our offerings to You bring.

Help us to love You, Lord, our master;
Be an example of Your love,
Helping the hurting, lift up the fallen,
Showing them Your great love.
Teach them to love You, follow You always,
Bearing their cross and turning from sin;
Walking in daily fellowship with You,
Making You Lord and King.