Have You Ever Been Lonely?

Patsy Cline’s song has replayed itself in my mind since a show I watched included it. No doubt it’s a catchy little ditty, and in all honesty I have to admit my answer to her question is in the affirmative. A literary cliche mentions being lonely in a crowded room. All such thoughts are intended to emote feelings of dejection and longing for the better times before, “My Darlin’, she went away.”

When I feel sorry for my solitary self, God reminds me what He gave up to indwell Jesus, live among His creation, and subject Himself to all the abuse we could dish out. Think about it; the I Am, the eternal One, the Creator of the Universe, stepped out of His eternal comfort to be born of a virgin, not to set up His kingdom and be worshiped by all mankind, but to be tempted in all the ways that we have—without sinning—and in His innocence to be treated like an accursed sinner, even a criminal, to buy us back from the lying enemy who swindled humanity with promises of God-likeness.

I know you’ve heard all this before, but how often do you think about it, meditate on it, shed tears of conviction for taking Him for granted, and thanks for His unending love, forgiveness and faithfulness toward you personally. Here’s God’s promise, along with one of His requirements, from Hebrews 13:5 Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU NOR FORSAKE YOU.”

In view of all that, we should live in a constant state of thankful elation, but we don’t. We let our short-term worries distract us from our long-term hope. We need to memorize Matthew 6:25-34, then meditate on His words, controlling our worrisome emotions and trusting Him as we say we do.

Father, in Jesus name I ask you to give me the joy of Your salvation, instead of letting me wallow in my own self-pity. Let me see You as You are, faithful, even to Your own hurt. Make me always grateful for your free gift of reconciliation with You and eternal salvation.

Easy Rider

Some off-ramps don’t appear worth taking.

“Enter by the narrow gate;
for wide
is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction,
and there are many who go in by it.
(Matthew 7:13 NKJV)

Seems like everybody has written or sermonized about the broad way versus the narrow, or the easy way versus the hard. We’re talking about destinations here.

When Jesus delivered his sermon recorded in Matthew’s gospel, chapters five, six, and seven, most of His audience were common folks, like you and me. His message hit home for them, as they knew they were sinners.

The elitist religious leaders, however, were also listening, and of course He wasn’t talking to them; no one could tell them anything because they were teachers, lawyers, priests, and scribes who knew it all. That’s not to say all of today’s teachers, lawyers, and clergypeople are know-it-alls, but … well, you know what I mean.

When I examine my conscience I know Jesus was talking to me when He sat on that rock on the hillside, as the broad and easy way has always been my default path—until, that is, I decided to give myself to God through Jesus Christ. But old habits die hard; I still struggle with self-control, occasionally reverting to my old ways. Now, however, my reaction to those slips and stumbles is entirely different; where I used to seek every opportunity to sate my fleshly desires, now such slips grieve me deeply. That’s how I know I’ve changed. Another change is taking my sins to God straight away, and begging for the grace to truly repent.

Wonder why I didn’t say, “ask forgiveness”? That’s because as long as I am in Christ, my sins are forgiven. And that’s even more reason for me to feel grieved when I sin; it’s like adding another thorn to Jesus’ crown of thorns.

My reborn self doesn’t want to ride easy any longer, but I pray for God to keep me on the hard and narrow way until I can give my Savior a big hug with tears of gratitude for what He has done for me.

A Most Unexpected Blessing

O LORD, our Lord, How excellent is Your name in all the earth, Who have set Your glory above the heavens! (Psalms 8:1 NKJV)

As I was reading my son-in-law’s excellent book1 about worship, a nearby explosion concussed the air and resounded throughout this end of the city—this was Independence Day—and drew my attention outside my window. What I beheld nearly took my breath away. A storm cell had recently passed directly overhead and left the most spectacular, sunset-lit cumulus clouds in the distance. Then the clouds took on a deep, red glow, as if filled with fire. They were literally glorious. If not for the annoying fireworks, I would have missed the amazing scene, and an opportunity to spontaneously praise God.

As my amazing son-in-law Kenneth pointed out in his book, if we’re walking daily with God we don’t have to wait til Sunday to worship Him. Neither do we have to rely on an emotional worship service to draw tears of joy from our eyes. Whether or not we feel His presence, He is always with us and in us, if we have relinquished our lives, including all of our works and rights, to Him through His eternal Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

I pity the millions who find wonder and gratitude welling up in their souls, but don’t know who to thank. Those who aren’t completely jaded by intellectualism may know it all has something to do with God, but most of them don’t have a personal, conversational relationship with Him. To most people, God is the big Codger upstairs who can’t busy Himself with our daily joys and concerns, except to grab a nearby lightening bolt to zap those who get out of line. What a tragic misunderstanding, both for their material life, and for their eternal life—and make no mistake; one way or another there is eternal life.

Whenever I think of God’s goodness and His love for His creation, especially for us unworthy humans, my emotions are split between the unexpected blessings that are just a precursor to eternity in heaven, and regret for all those whose pride prevents their admitting they are not God, and need the Savior.

Father, open our eyes to Your glory, whenever it occurs,
and lead us to spend at least a moment in spontaneous praise.

1Kenneth J. Spiller, Journey of a Worshiper (Bloomington, IA, Oxbow Press, a division of Thomas Nelson and Zondervan, 2016)

Prayer Is an Attitude

Surrender to God in prayer, even though you have nothing but yourself to give.

I am only human. Moments of weakness come upon me, weakness that Jesus paid for on “the place of a Skull,” where the Roman soldiers dropped his cross into a socket dug in that hard earth. I know even as I choose to ignore God’s principles that, though He is grieved, His presence is none-the-less with me, and upon my confession and contrition, that sin-guilt is washed away(1 John 1:9).

In view of my chronic weakness, I have a prayer ready at a moment’s notice:

O Father, please prevent my taking Your grace for granted, and keep me from bringing a reproach upon You.

Two Kinds of Prayer

The two ways of living are: self-centered, and God-centered. The same applies to prayer: Self-centered prayer makes demands of God, usually under the guise of claiming His promises and expecting Him to give us what we want. And yes, we can take that attitude even when praying for others, when our confidence lies in the power of prayer rather than in God’s sovereignty.

God-centered prayer takes the attitude that we are both subservient and submissive to Him. He owes us nothing, and only by His grace may we stand, kneel, sit, or lie prostrate before Him in prayer.

God-centered prayer confesses our sin and expresses our gratitude and praise for His forgiveness, before we enter into our shopping list of petitions.

God-centered prayer echoes Christ’s words in Gethsemane, “Nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.” We must never take the arrogant attitude that just because we want something it is automatically aligned with His will.

God-centered prayer expresses sincere gratitude for His action regarding our prayer—and everything else for that matter—whether or not we get what we want. “Everything else” means just that, even when we don’t see the immediate blessing.

Pray Without Ceasing

See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:15-18)

Verse 17, “pray without ceasing,” stands out to me because simply praying for fifteen minutes, let alone continuously, is a challenge. I see it as maintaining a mental attitude that allows me to pray spontaneously, without having to clear my conscience of unconfessed sin, before I can come boldly to the throne of grace.” (Hebrews 4:16)

Will you receive a “Holy Ghost blessing” every time you pray? No, and don’t expect it or you will become disillusioned. Once in a while, though, if you concentrate on Him, God will make this promise real to you: “Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.” (1 Peter 1:8b)

More Tears of Joy

Abundant Supply

Today’s Our Daily Bread reminded me once again of my Savior and Creator’s endless, boundless love for me. If you haven’t read it, click on the link above. It’s a true page-turner, even though it covers one scant page.

Glimpsing God’s personal love for me never fails to exercise my tear ducts. The only times I’ve been let down are then I’ve tried to accomplish things in my own strength, which seems to be most of the time. And I should know better—I have precious little of that commodity.

That’s the positive side of our glorious, unspeakable joy in Christ, but those sweet tears are always mixed with a touch of bitterness; His perfect, absolute love also humbles me, even grieves me when I think of my imperfect humanness. Or I should have said my perfect humanness, because humanity’s best (altruism) is terribly imperfect.

Thank You, Father, for resolving to love humanity, even though You knew when You formed Adam that we would need a Savior to complete us, and what that act would cost You. King David’s prayer complements my own:

Psalms 36:5-7
(5) Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.
(6) Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; your judgments are like the great deep; man and beast you save, O LORD.
(7) How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

Amen!
BTW: Those in the know realize the photo at the top of this page portrays an unwise practice. We’re not supposed to feed any wild critter, even birds. Though we love to watch them eat, and think we’re doing them a favor, it spoils their God-given, natural foraging behavior. If you must feed something, feed the needy and the homeless, ’cause we humans are already spoiled.
You’re welcome.

Uncle Jack on Life’s Troubles

Uncle Jack’s brother was worse than an alcoholic; he was an incorrigible, disorderly drunk. On the occasion of his commitment to a nursing home for detox, he proved so difficult that the nuns insisted that he be transferred to a “hospital,” but really it was an asylum, and the matter weighed heavily on him.

In a letter to his friend Arthur Greeves, dated July 2, 1949, Lewis wrote about vicarious suffering:

Don’t imagine I doubt for a moment that what God sends us must be sent in love and will all be for the best if we have grace to use it so. My mind doesn’t waver on this point; my feelings sometimes do. That’s why it does me good to hear what I believe repeated in your voice—it being the rule of the universe that others can do for us what we cannot do for ourselves and one can paddle every canoe except one’s own. That is why Christ’s suffering for us is not a mere theological dodge but the supreme case of the law that governs the whole world; and when they mocked him by saying, ‘He saved others, himself he cannot save,’ [Matthew 27:42; Mark 15:31]] they were really uttering, little as they knew it, the ultimate law of the spiritual world.

From The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume II

In Lewis’ typical, economical style, he captured the foundational truth of God’s good news to humanity. His loving nature caused Him to do for us what we could never do for ourselves: take our death penalty for sin upon Himself, in the person of His only Son after His own kind, our Lord Jesus Christ. All who accept that substitutionary death for themselves will feel eternally grateful—literally.

If you claim Christianity as your religion, yet your life fails to reflect that all-consuming gratitude, you need to carefully examine your profession of faith. Apostle James wrote:

Jas 2:14-26
(14) What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?
(15) If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food,
(16) and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?
(17) So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
(18) But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
(19) You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!
(20) Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?
(21) Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?
(22) You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works;
(23) and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God.
(24) You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.
(25) And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?
(26) For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

Just as with ingratitude, gratitude will be known.

Another “One Another”

My pastor of a few years ago—don’t remind me how many—preached a series of “One Another” sermons. I searched, “one another,” in Bible Gateway and hit on  instances where the phrase is used for exhortation in the New Testament, but Jesus Himself expressed the heart of all those exhortations with His command, “Love one another.” To cop a popular Christian cliche, “it wasn’t a suggestion.”

I am a nine-finger-typist, so trying to type with three fingers pointed back at myself presents serious issues. Although I said that in jest, I must confess that I am a major offender of Jesus’ Great Commandment.

So, here’s a partial list of the epistle-writers’ applications of Jesus’ command to love one another:

  • Romans 12:9-12 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. (10) Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; (11) not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; (12) rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer.
  • Romans 13:8-9 Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. (9) For the commandments, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY,” “YOU SHALL NOT MURDER,” “YOU SHALL NOT STEAL,” “YOU SHALL NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS,” “YOU SHALL NOT COVET,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”
  • Romans 15:5-7 Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, (6) that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (7) Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.
  • Galatians 5:13 For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
  • Galatians 6:2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
  • Ephesians 4:1-3 I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, (2) with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, (3) endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
  • Ephesians 4:30-32 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (31) Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. (32) And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.
  • Ephesians 5:18-21 And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, (19) speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, (20) giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, (21) submitting to one another in the fear of God.
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. (17) Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. (18) Therefore comfort one another with these words.
  • Hebrews 3:12-13 Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; (13) but exhort one another daily, while it is called “TODAY,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
  • Hebrews 10:23-25 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. (24) And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, (25) not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.

Aw, come on now. That’s not a lot of Scripture. These are only twelve Bible passages that you should already know, if not have memorized, and they are only a small part of the epistles’ instructions for godly conduct within God’s church. Of course, these don’t apply to you directly, as you no doubt already have them mastered (yeah, right). But with three fingers pointed back at yourself, and in a spirit of Christ’s love, exhort those brethren who fall short. Come to think of it, you might want to visit your ophthalmologist first.

The Weeping Prophet

So, here’s the story: Last night I went to bed with hopes of falling asleep without delay, but as I lay there communing with my Creator, I began praying for heart-holiness, both for myself and for His church. As often happens when I pray for Christ-likeness, I began weeping, and the more I contemplated the contrast between Christ and myself, the more my tears flowed. I heard myself sobbing, both from grief and gratitude; I felt a sense of the Holy Spirit’s grief about my soulish stubbornness, and unbearable gratitude for God’s grace despite my failure to apprehend the victory I have in Christ Jesus.

Then, this morning’s Our Daily Bread devotional cited Lamentations 3:1-6, 16-25, where the weeping prophet Jeremiah mourned Jerusalem’s destruction and the Jews’ subsequent captivity. So in typical fashion, I lumped both experiences into a single conceptual stew.

God is disciplining His church in much the same way that He disciplined His people Israel, albeit with His New Covenant grace.

  • As Jeremiah cried out warnings about Israel’s wandering ways, God’s New Testament writers warn His church about our own carnality.
  • As Israel ignored the prophet’s warnings, most of today’s church lie comfortably in our worldly affluence, enjoying our Sunday religious lift while snoring through our godly preachers’ warnings.
  • As Babylon destroyed Jerusalem, popular culture is destroying the institutional church.
  • As Babylon carried Israel’s intelligentsia into captivity, the world system is co-opting the church’s theologians.
  • As Babylon absorbed Israel into its own culture, the world system is defiling God’s church through our preoccupation with its entertainments, its trendy styles, and its pursuit of youthful image.

Though we have much reason to grieve, we have far more reason to rejoice; none of this surprises our omniscient God, and His plan for our triumph over the world system is, and always has been, in place. Yes, I still mourn for those of His church who will never awaken from their slumber, but I rejoice for the faithful remnant who heed His warnings, becoming incorruptible salt and prevailing light for this stale and dark world. Like God’s people Israel, the church’s exile is only temporary, and we have the Great Hope of our eternal homecoming, where our tears will cease and we will commune with our Lord Jesus face-to-face.

C.S. Lewis—More on God’s Love

This is the Jesus I knew as a Catholic.

This is the Jesus I know now.

From Mere Christianity:

On the whole, God’s love for us is a much safer subject to think about than our love for Him. Nobody can always have devout feelings: and even if we could, feelings are not what God principally cares about. Christian Love, either towards God or towards man, is an affair of the will. If we are trying to do His will we are obeying the commandment, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.’ He will give us feelings of love if He pleases. We cannot create them for ourselves, and we must not demand them as a right. But the great thing to remember is that, though our feelings come and go, His love for us does not. It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference; and, therefore, it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him.

Over all, I can’t find much fault with Uncle Jack’s take on loving God. He did, however, miss one key concept; to possess some grasp of the depth of Jesus’ sacrifice for us, and the depth of the Father’s love for us in allowing Him to take the world’s sin-guilt upon himself, is to love God more than naturally possible. If God’s demonstration of sacrificial love for you, personally, fails to excite you with overwhelming love for Him, you’re missing one of the two elements I mentioned above.

I know that’s true because I was that cold-fish Christian. Raised in the Catholic church, I was constantly bombarded with the Stations of the Cross, and the gory details of Jesus’ passion and death. But one night God gave me a dream where I met someone who was trapped in one of the many legalistic, “Christian” sects, and I felt a love for that young man that dwarfed even the love I have for my own daughters. It was a love that made me desperate to reach him with God’s eternal truth of priceless grace toward rebellious humanity. I normally can’t remember my dreams long enough to tell about them, but this time I recalled it in vivid detail, including the desperate love I felt, so I knew it was from God. Once I understood God’s message to me, I began weeping from brokenness, gratitude, and yes, love, for the Savior I never truly knew before that time.

If God’s love doesn’t fill you with that completely overwhelming gratitude and love for Him, get to know Him better through lots of time in His Word. If, on the other hand, all this Godly love-stuff isn’t worth your effort, you need to truly turn your life over to Him, rather than continuing to practice pretend-Christianity.

C.S. Lewis on Addiction To Experiences

Once again, Uncle Jack nailed it, and this time on a difficult topic:

TO MRS. RAY GARRETT: On the real program of the spiritual life—living in the present moment.

12 September 1960

The whole lesson of my life has been that no ‘methods of stimulation’ are of any lasting use. They are indeed like drugs—a stronger dose is needed each time and soon no possible dose is effective. We must not bother about thrills at all. Do the present duty—bear the present pain—enjoy the present pleasure—and leave emotions and ‘experiences’ to look after themselves.

That’s the programme, isn’t it?

Yes, that is indeed the “programme.” One sort of stimulation he left out is fun. We have elevated, “having fun,” from an occasional treat, to a continual obsession. We pursue it at the expense of life’s reasonable responsibilities, and as Lewis said, “A stronger dose is needed each time, and soon no possible dose is effective.”

We wonder why our kids complain so often of boredom. Have we never thought it might be related to our compulsion with keeping them occupied in, “fun activities?” We recognize our babies’ need to avoid “over stimulation,” but when they get older we keep them stimulated at all cost. Lewis didn’t use the word, but that’s called “desensitization,” where they become accustomed to a certain stimulation level, so they need ever more to feel it at all. Hmm, sounds like addiction, doesn’t it?

So, what choices do we have to deal with the problem? The easiest in the short term would be to keep on keepin’ on, leaving our offspring to deal with the consequences. But is the loving thing to do?

Our second choice is the hard one to implement, but it actually deals with the problem: Take away their media gadgets until they learn to live without them, and until they begin showing some level of gratitude for life’s more subtle enjoyments. Then, gradually reintroduce them to the gadgets which, by then, will be completely obsolete.

Yes, you will have to endure a storm of opposition. And yes, you will have to demonstrate your own independence from the entertainment media. Your reward will be more quality time with them, and yourselves.

That’s hard medicine to swallow, but nothing else will free both them, and yourselves, from artificial stimulation. Bite the bullet! Kick the addiction! And yes, I need to do it as well (ouch!).