We Hold These Truths

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For 244 years, every Fourth of July since 1776, Americans remember and celebrate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. Our nation has truly been blessed of God. My prayer is that we continue to “hold these truths” dear in principle and practice.

The 56 men who signed that historic document knew there would be great consequences and losses of life, if America truly gained independence from England. John Hancock stated, “We must be unanimous… we must all hang together…” to which Benjamin Franklin quipped, “Yes, we must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”

In his research on the Signers of the Declaration of independence, Michael W. Smith noted that seventeen of the 56 signers saw military service in the Revolutionary War, and 9 were killed. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned.

Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships sunk by the British Navy. He sold his home and property to pay his debts, and died penniless.

Thomas McKeam was forced to constantly move his family from British pursuit. He served in the Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken and he died in poverty. The properties of Ellery, Clymer, Hall, Walton, Gwinnett, Heyward, Ruttledge and Middleton were vandalized and looted as well.

The home of Thomas Nelson Jr., was seized by British General Cornwallis and used as his headquarters in Yorktown, Virginia. During the Battle of Yorktown, Nelson quietly urged General George Washington to open fire anyway. Cornwallis was defeated but Nelson’s home was destroyed. He eventually died bankrupt.

John Hart was driven from his wife’s bedside as she was dying. Their 13 children fled for their lives. His fields and gristmill were laid waste. For more than a year John lived in forests and caves, only to return home and find his wife dead and his children vanished. A few weeks later he died from exhaustion. Lewis, Norris and Livingston suffered similar fates.

Smith sums it up like this: “Such were the stories and sacrifices of the American Revolution. These signers were not wild-eyed, rabble-rousing ruffians. They were soft-spoken men of means and education. Their average age was 45. They had security, but they valued liberty more. Standing tall, straight, and unwavering, they pledged: ‘For the support of this declaration, with firm reliance on the protection of the Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor’” (www.michaelwsmith.com).

The United States of America is inseparably linked to the God of the Bible, no matter how revisionist historians seek to sever it, and political correctness to deny it. The Christian roots of our nation’s founding, and biblical quotations of our country’s forefathers are carved in stone, set in glass, and forged in brass, as well as written on parchment.

Principles of character, justice, and soul freedom that America holds dear, came to the early colonies from the English Common Law, which was based squarely on teachings of the Bible. Early in American history, belief in the Bible resulted in concepts of human liberty, social benevolence, and the system of government and education, that became the very fiber of our nation. References to the Bible and to the God of the Bible are inscribed on hundreds of America’s founding memorials in Philadelphia, Boston, Washington D.C., New York City, and elsewhere across our land.

This week we celebrate the Declaration of Independence, which did just that—it firmly declared the American Colonies independent of the authority and rule of Great Britain. This historical document states that the “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God” entitle the American nation of people to a separate and equal station among the powers of the earth.

The Declaration of Independence uniquely contains a theory of rights that depends on God, not man, for its validity. It states that, “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” With these words the Continental Congress affirmed that God, the Creator, gave people’s rights to them—not a monarch, an aristocracy or a government agency. Most historians agree that this wording—these rights—this statement of legitimacy—has no parallel in human sources. We see in these words a deep affirmation of the religious faith of our founding fathers.

What Thomas Jefferson and the contributors meant in these words were that the liberty God gave to man was not sourced in, or dependent upon, the permission or toleration of any human ruler or sovereign—but flowed directly from God the Creator, Himself. It was for this reason the Declaration stated that governments, “deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” are established. The result of this truth means that the people have the right, and even more—the obligation—to change or abolish a form of government that becomes autocratic or dictatorial.

In the closing paragraph, the signers appealed to “the Supreme Judge of the World for the Rectitude” of their intentions. They declared unashamed dependence upon God to validate the justice and righteousness of their cause, and without a doubt, He did! The United States of America came into being because of their commitment to principles of liberty and their reliance upon the God of the Bible.

God Himself promises:Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, The people whom He has chosen for His own inheritance” (Psalm 33:12). As Americans, let’s take God’s promise to heart and seek to bring others to saving faith in Jesus Christ. May God continue His blessing on America! Happy Fourth of July!

Think on These Things

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“Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching” (C. S. Lewis). Someone else said that integrity is choosing your thoughts and actions based on values rather than personal gain. But the most practical definition is from Brene Brown: “Integrity is choosing courage over comfort; choosing what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy; and choosing to practice our values rather than simply professing them.”

A person with integrity firmly adheres to a strict code of moral and ethical values. Integrity is needed in every career, calling and profession. Whether you are a physician or a plumber; a carpenter or an attorney, a coach or a pastor; integrity is essential.

Parents especially need integrity. Children are not born with it, but learn it as they observe their parents. Above all, people who name the name of Jesus must display integrity. It is part and parcel with godly character and a Christ-honoring life. So, how can we develop and maintain integrity in life?

Paul helps us in Philippians 4:8, as he addresses things that happen in our minds—because integrity begins there. Howard Hendricks used to say, “You are not what you think you are—what you think—you are!” People are what they are and do what they do because of what they think. Every deed begins as a thought.

So, if God can help the way we think, it will impact what we do, and alter the way we live. Paul shares six important traits for godly living that we must consider, if we would live with integrity. You must dwell on…

1st “Whatever is TRUE”

Things that are true are opposite of dishonest, deceptive, and phony things. People who speak truth, regardless of feelings or company, always stand out, often alone. When Paul suggests thinking on whatever is true, he is not talking about academic truth, but a lifestyle of honest, godly conversation and living.

A true Christian will seek to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). Truth and love always need to be kept together. If you cannot speak truth in love, you may not need to speak at all. Don’t be the one who “speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword,” but like “the tongue of the wise [that] brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18). Soften the truth with love and blend it with a lot of grace.

2nd “Whatever is HONORABLE”

This word means noble, dignified and worthy of respect. If you want to live a life of holiness and integrity—begin with honesty. Being honorable means, not only speaking truth but also possessing proper motives, manners and morals.

We are surrounded by a cesspool of vulgar, shallow and shameful things that dishonor God and man. Words and statements with double meanings pollute the mind, but noble and honorable thoughts lead us to higher ground. Honorable people have nothing to hide and nothing to fear because their lives are open books. Focus on—dwell on—doing things honorably.

3rd “Whatever is RIGHT”

Being right or just is connected with conforming to God’s standard or character. It means seeking to do what Christ would do…doing what God would approve. Dwell on being fair in dealing with others by treating them with respect, kindness and thoughtfulness. Churches should make it their goal to be honorable in dealing with all people; that is to do what is just and right for them.

4th “Whatever is PURE”

Think about—dwell on—things that are pure and undefiled. The word for pure is related to the word translated “holy.” We need to keep our minds scrubbed clean and disciplined enough to resist tempting thoughts about promiscuous things. If you struggle with this in your thought-life, stop and think of the effects your failure would have on others—defaming the Lord who redeemed you; disappointing the wife or husband who trusts you; destroying your example with your children; bringing shame to your family; hindering your testimony to the lost; hurting your church family and its reputation; and on and on. Start doing what is right. Focus your mind on things that are holy and pure.

5th “Whatever is LOVELY”

We are also to dwell on things that are lovely—pleasing or pleasant. God wants believers to live attractive lives of generosity, kindness and compassion. This results in them being agreeable and amiable—living lives that bring pleasure and delight to others. The word “lovely” almost sounds feminine, but basically means to be congenial and enjoyable. It is what promotes peace rather than conflict. Christians who have lovely character attract believers and unbelievers alike.

6th “Whatever is of GOOD REPORT”

This word speaks of things that are admirable, commendable or praiseworthy. We are to consider ways to maintain a godly reputation and give a good report. We would rather be around people who give good reports than those who constantly judge and criticize others. I can make a list of people who have made a difference in my life, and almost all of them were admirable, encouraging and shared a “good report.” That is what we need to think about!

No matter how many difficulties and disappointments we face, focusing our minds on things that build our character and make us more Christ-like will bless our lives and others. If you look closely, you can see the Lord Jesus in all six of these traits. Everything that is true, noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous and praiseworthy is found in Him. And we are called to follow him, and strive to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Dwell on these things!

 

WANTED: Fathers!

Clements 20200621 Fathers PIX

My dad was a heavy equipment operator. I believed he could run anything that had a motor. As a youngster, I went to work with him occasionally. On one job, he ran a gigantic electro magnetic crane on train tracks in a scrap iron yard. To me, the President of the United States may have had a more important job, but not by much. Proverbs 17:6 surely described me when it said, “the glory of sons is their fathers.” There is something about fathers that touches your life—for life.

Sunday is Father’s Day in the United States. Though not as popular as Mother’s Day, the role of dads is just as important. Fathers and mothers are not in competition in God’s plan for humanity—but are to form a complementary union. God’s plan for the family cannot be improved. When we alter His blueprint for the home, we do so to our peril.

Amazingly, God’s Word has much more to say about fathers than it does about mothers. The word “father” and the derivatives is found 1,664 times in Scripture, while the word “mother” and related titles are used 327 times. The reason fathers are addressed five times more than mothers is debatable. It could be that men are more stubborn and don’t listen well. But it is probably because God wants fathers to recognize their responsibility to lead in the home.

Fathers play a huge role in the healthy development of their children. The importance of his role in the family cannot be overstated. But sadly, the last U. S. Census reported 24 million children live in a home in which the father is absent. That means one of every three children in America is growing up without a dad.

The tragedy of fatherless homes is immense. Nationwide statistics from July, 2012 reveal: Children who grow up without a father—comprise 85% of prison convicts; are twice as likely to end up in jail; and are twice as likely to drop out of school. These children brought up without their fathers comprise 75% of teen suicides, and are 10 times more likely to be drug abusers.

In the June 23, 2011 edition of Psychology Today, Dr Ditta Oliker wrote: “Even from birth, children who have an involved father are more likely to be emotionally secure, be confident to explore their surroundings, and as they grow older, have better social connections. Children with involved, caring fathers also have better educational outcomes. The influence of a father’s involvement extends into adolescence and young adulthood. Numerous studies have found that an active style of fathering is associated with better verbal skills, intellectual functioning, and academic achievement among adolescents.”

Another surprising statistic about fatherhood is related to church attendance. If a mother attends church regularly with her children, but without the father, only 2% of her children will choose to become regular churchgoers as adults. However, if a father attends church regularly with his children, even without the mother, 44% of his children will choose to become regular churchgoers.

The Bible has much to say about the role of parents, in the upbringing of children. God calls children “a heritage from the LORD” (Psalm 127:3). He makes it clear that they are to be nourished and trained by parents, who then dispense them toward a target: “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth” (verse 4). So, “Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them!” (verse 5).

So, as a father, how can you best lead and equip your children?

ONE: Fathers Must Love the Lord“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart” (Deuteronomy 6:5-6).

A concerned, godly father will spend time in God’s Word, and learn to love Him with all his heart. Faith in Christ can change your life for the better, here—and hereafter. “The Faith of our Fathers” is more than a song.

TWO: Fathers Must Teach their Children“You shall teach them diligently to your children” (verse 7).

The Hebrew word for “teach” literally means to sharpen, with the idea of piercing your child’s heart and mind with Bible truth. Fathers need to step up and communicate God’s Word to their children. Be alert for teaching opportunities in everyday life that they can apply to life.

THREE: Fathers Must Model Truth in Life“You shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up” (verse 8).

Father, your children need to see you living out Bible principles. Too many times dads say one thing and do another. No matter what you say with your lips, your life speaks louder. Children recognize that what you really believe is what you actually do. If you want your children to love and follow God—you must truly love and follow Him.

Bible truth is best communicated during the normal circumstances of daily life. When children rise and prepare for the day, teach them about God. When you, your wife and children sit at the table for a meal, give thanks and talk about things of the Lord. When you drive them—walk with them—when you put them to bed at night—pray with and teach them about God.

Robert L. Backman nailed it when he said, “‘Father’ is the noblest title a man can be given. It is more than a biological role. It signifies a patriarch, a leader, an exemplar, a confidant, a teacher, a hero, a friend.” Amen! Hope you have a Happy Fathers Day!

Grace to Forgive

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In 1945, a liberator of the Ravensbrück women’s concentration camp, picked up a crumpled note, on which this prayer was written:

“O Lord, remember not only the men and women of goodwill, but also those of ill will. But do not remember the suffering they have inflicted upon us. Remember the fruits we brought, thanks to this suffering—our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, the courage, the generosity, the greatness of heart which has grown out of this. And when they come to judgment, let all the fruits that we have borne be their forgiveness.” (ODB May 6, 2020).

It is hard to imagine a victim of such abuse, seeking God’s forgiveness of her abusers. Nazis had exterminated 50,000 women in Ravensbrück during the Second World War. But this is the nature of forgiveness—of God’s forgiveness toward us—and our forgiveness toward others.

The natural response to abuse is to become bitter and resentful. However, unforgiveness is extremely costly. It is like a prison without bars. It leads to an endless cycle of resentment and retaliation. Offering forgiveness is not forgetting—it is remembering without anger.

People who do not forgive are locked into events of their past. Offering forgiveness is not approving what happened, but choosing to rise above it and get beyond it. Forgiving allows the offended to go on despite the offense. It serves to release the offended from the control of the offender.

After Nelson Mandela was released, following 27 years of wrongful imprisonment, he refused to step out of the prison, until he was sure he had forgiven the people who had put him there. Mandela said his failure to forgive would mean he would walk out of one prison, into another higher prison without bars. He knew that greater imprisonment would follow him the rest of his life. He discovered that forgiveness was the way to find freedom from hurts of the past. (The Long Walk to Freedom, by Nelson Mandela).

Sin is the root of the problem but forgiveness is the solution. What does God say about it?

The Principle of Forgiveness

If we had no sin, we would need no forgiveness. Since the entrance of sin into the human family—failures, abuses, evil, and sin of every form, have plagued the offspring of Adam. Sin affects us all. It is at the core of every offense committed by the human family because, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Sin came to us by way of our common ancestor, Adam, so, “by one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all have sinned” (Romans 5:12). Sin is rampant and repeated, and its effects are universal and dominant.

Though we are active in sin, God is aggressive in forgiveness. “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared” (Psalm 130:3, 4). David wrote, “For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon you” (Psalm 86:5).

The Prospect of Forgiveness

That guilty sinners can be completely forgiven is a wonderful prospect. When laden with sin, forgiveness is almost too amazing to consider. Yet, God is anxious to forgive, and, His forgiveness is complete, pervasive, covering all sins, past, present and future. David wrote, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). Jesus promised there would be no condemnation—forever—to any who believed in Him: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and will not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24).

This kind of fantastic biblical truth aligns with Paul’s words, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). We rejoice with the apostle John that, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). This fact is true because, “We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation [satisfying sacrifice] for our sins; and not ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1-2).

The Practice of Forgiveness

God can forgive us because He loves us, and sent Jesus to die for our sins, paying the ultimate price. For, “Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). Because of that, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our sins, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us” (Ephesians 1:7, 8).

Not only does God forgive our sins, because of the payment of His Son, He expects us to forgive others who sin against us. In the model prayer, Jesus taught to pray for God’s forgiveness, while forgiving offenders (Matt. 6:12-15; Luke 11:4). Christians are to forgive others because they have been forgiven themselves, “bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whosoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you” (Colossians 3:13).

Take a moment to reflect on these Scriptures and ask God’s help in forgiving those around you. Though it is difficult to forgive others, God’s Word encourages us to show them the same grace and forgiveness our Heavenly Father has shown us. Forgiveness is extending grace to people who do not deserve it…in the same way God gives His grace to us, who do not deserve it!

Anticipating the Eternal

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I would hate to come from a foreign country and learn English. In addition to some mind-bending rules of spelling, pronunciation, and grammar, we have mind-boggling homonyms. Homonyms are words that are spelled the same, and sound the same, but have different definitions.

For example: It is one thing to run through an airport, looking for a terminal. It is another to put a new battery in your car and connect the cable to a terminal. But it is altogether different when the doctor comes into your hospital room to announce that your disease is terminal. The same word ends each sentence, but what a difference it makes!

If you find the airport terminal, you can depart on your flight. If you connect the battery terminal, you can depart in your car. If you get a terminal diagnosis, you will eventually depart this life.

For several years my wife, Pat, has been badgering/encouraging, for us to do some end-of-life planning. She is much more practical than I, and to be frank, I didn’t want to talk about it. So, I did the husbandly thing and put her off for years. I mean, the prospect of discussing death, wills, gravesites, funerals, caskets, tombstones and obituaries, was gruesome to me.

Finally, despite my reluctance, she made an appointment for us to meet and talk to a funeral director. It wasn’t altogether terrible. In fact, here in Monticello, we are blessed to have extremely professional and compassionate people in the funeral business. The gentleman who set up, what he called, the “final lay away plan,” was a good guy. Despite the dismal subject, he was jovial, knowledgeable, and enjoyable. Now, it was not fun picking out a casket, but Pat and I don’t want our children to be burdened with that. This is reality, and it makes sense to plan it, before you need it.

The difficult truth is this—we all have a terminal disease. Barring divine intervention, none of us will get off this planet alive. The latest statistics reveal that one out of every one of us will die sometime in the future.

As gloomy as all this sounds, there is eternal hope to terminal illness. Terminal is the opposite of eternal. The word, terminal means something that comes to an end—the word, eternal, means something that will not end—and all God’s promises come with eternal guarantees.

Truthfully, our physical lives will come to an end, but our spiritual lives can go on. We can believe this because of the promises in an eternal Book that is “Forever…fixed in heaven” (Psalm 119:89)—the very Word of God we call the Bible.

So, though the perishing surrounds us—in Christ—the permanent awaits us. What can we do to anticipate the eternal? What has God promised?

ONE: He Promised an Eternal Life

Through faith in Christ, God’s Word says we can have Eternal Life. Jesus said: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Not only can we have eternal life by believing in Jesus, but we will never be condemned for our sins according to His words in John 5:24, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” God gives eternal life to all who receive His Son as their Savior.

TWO: He Promised an Eternal Body

When Christ returns, believers in Him who have died are resurrected to a new life in a new body. Paul wrote: “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1). When “the dead in Christ shall rise first” (1 Thessalonians 4:16), because “it is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body…it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:42, 44), “the dead will be raised imperishable” (verse 52). God promises a new, spiritual, eternal body for every believer in Him.

THREE: He Promised an Eternal Kingdom

Countries and kingdoms in this world rise and fall—come and go. But when Christ sets up His kingdom, it will be eternal. Peter encouraged believers that, “an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:11). And the writer of Hebrews encouraged, “Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12:28).

FOUR: He Promised an Eternal Inheritance

Peter encouraged those scattered, persecuted believers in first century Asia Minor, by reminding them that in Christ they would, “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 salvation” (1 Peter 1:4-5). Because of faith in Christ, believers will “receive the promise of eternal inheritance” (Hebrews 9:15).

It is depressing to focus on the terminal…but exhilarating to anticipate the eternal. Eternal life, with an eternal body, in an eternal kingdom, enjoying an eternal inheritance should be the motivation of our lives. It was for John Newton, who ended Amazing Grace with these words:

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,

Bright shining as the sun,

We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise

Than when we first begun.

 

 

He is Risen…and Ascended!

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Within 50 days of the crucifixion of Jesus, three enormous events transpired: the Resurrection—the Ascension—and the Day of Pentecost. Each of these events was essential in the plan of God, and each is fundamental to our Christian faith.

It’s not wrong to emphasize the resurrection. But Christ’s resurrection without His ascension 40 days later would have left the church helpless. And Christ’s ascending without the Holy Spirit’s descending on Pentecost 10 days after that, would have rendered the church powerless.

The ascension of Christ after His resurrection is the connecting link between the past ministry of Christ and His future ministry. Griffith Thomas said, “No complete view of Jesus Christ is possible unless the ascension and its consequences are included.” His ascension completes His resurrection. Without the resurrection, Christ’s death would be meaningless, and without the ascension, Christ’s resurrection would be incomplete. We would have a resurrected Savior, but not one at God’s right hand in His place of authority.

When you put it all together, there is a beautiful unity and completeness: First—Jesus descended to earth—becoming man—to be the Incarnation. Second—Jesus died on the cross as the God-Man—to be the Sin-Sacrifice. Third—Jesus was brought back to life—rising from the grave—to be the Savior. Fourth—Jesus ascended into heaven to His throne—to be the Intercessor. Fifth—Jesus will descend from heaven as King of kings—to be the earth’s righteous Ruler.

Many times during His earthly ministry, Jesus predicted His ascension, like when He said, “I came forth from the Father and have come into the world; I am leaving the world again and going to the Father” (John 16:28). In the same context, He connected His departure with the Spirit’s arrival: “When He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth” (verse 13).

The word “ascension” is used to mean the physical removal of Jesus Christ from this earth, to a different place, sphere and ministry in heaven. Following His resurrection, Jesus spent forty days with His disciples. Then, “He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen” (Acts 1:2). Jesus had taught them “things concerning the kingdom of God” and “commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised…for you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (verses 3-5). After the Holy Spirit came on them they were to receive power to, “be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (verse 8).

Luke recorded, “After He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight” (verse 9). While the apostles were “gazing intently into the sky while He was going” (verse 10), two angels beside them said, “Why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven” (verse 11).

That is the record of Christ’s ascension. So, what makes the ascension so important?

  1. Christ Ascended so the Holy Spirit could Indwell Believers

Jesus promised, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’ But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:37-39). After the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, He will always be present comforting God’s people (John 14:16, 17); He leads and empowers churches for worldwide mission (John 16:13; Acts 1:8; 4:31); and He indwells and transforms believers into the likeness of Christ (Rom. 8:9-11; 2 Cor. 3:18).

  1. Christ Ascended to Assume His Glory as King

The testimony of the first Christian martyr, Stephen, verified that Jesus had reclaimed His place on God’s throne: He said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). Daniel prophesied about the Son of Man, “to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:14).

  1. Christ Ascended to Be Our Mediator

The Bible teaches, “There is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). The ascended Savior constantly assures the salvation of believers and the intercession for their prayers—“He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). We rejoice that “Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us” (Romans 8:34), assuring that nothing can ever separate us from the love of Christ (verse 35).

Though often overlooked, the effects of Christ’s ascension touches the lives of believers every day, in every way, assuring hope in a glorious future. We may pray and live boldly, confidently and strategically as servants of our exalted King because He is over us on His throne in heaven. And because of His ascension—that will not change!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Freedom is Never Free

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Inscribed on a 300 foot long black granite wall in Washington D.C., are the names of 58,267 American men and women who were killed or went missing in action, during the Vietnam War. There are very few dry eyes among the 3 million plus visitors to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. On that wall, I touched the name of a classmate and close friend from Malvern, Arkansas, that paid the ultimate price, as an 18 year-old young man.

The words, “Freedom is not free,” graces the entrance to the Korean War Veterans Memorial, as well. Hopefully, there will be a memorial to the 4,424 who gave their lives in the Iraq War, and the 2,440 American military personnel who have died in Afghanistan—every life just as precious—every sacrifice just as appreciated. Their sacrifice, along with hundreds of thousands of others, through years of war, reminds us that freedom is never free. It is wonderfully free to receive, but carries a great price. America is the land of the free, because it is the home of the brave.

Memorials are good things. When we see them, they trigger memories of love, value, gratefulness and appreciation. It is for this reason there are headstones in cemeteries, statues in parks, memorial plaques and monuments across our land. Every memorial shouts out: “Remember Me! Don’t Forget! Consider Our Cause!”

On Monday, in the United States, we celebrate Memorial Day—A day when we pause to remember the men and women who have given their lives in defense of this nation and our way of life. This day should provoke thoughts of thankfulness and appreciation. It is a time to remember the great sacrifice of our fallen soldiers. It reminds us how precious freedom is, and that it needs to be constantly guarded.

However, we are prone to forget the significance of Memorial Day. President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Those who have long enjoyed such privileges as we enjoy, forget in time that men have died to win them.” The president was absolutely correct. Unfortunately, it seems many Americans celebrate Memorial Day without a thought about those who died to keep us free.

Robert A. Heinlein put it perfectly when he wrote: “Liberty is never unalienable; it must be redeemed regularly with the blood of patriots or it always vanishes. Of all the so-called natural human rights that have ever been invented, liberty is least likely to be cheap and is never free of cost.”

Memorial Day reminds me of two things. On one hand, it’s about remembering the price of our freedom. It is recalling the cost paid to secure our way of life in liberty. The very most a person can do for his friend is to die for him – a clear demonstration of supreme love. But Memorial Day also reminds me of the greatest cost ever given by any man to bring freedom to others. It is a day to recall the immense price Jesus paid to free us from the death penalty of our sins and to grant soul liberty, salvation and eternal life to all who trust in Him.

Jesus spoke of this great love in John 15:13 when He said, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” This “greater love” was shown—not debated—it was displayed—not discussed. This kind of love becomes visible when one person willingly gives his life for another. It is this quality of love Jesus has for each one of us. He demonstrated His love by giving His life a sacrifice “for his friends” – literally in behalf of his friends, or in the place of his friends.

The Lord’s love for us was immeasurable—His compassion for our condemned condition—incalculable. The Apostle Peter wrote that this love was so great that, “Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive by the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18).

As Peter wrote, this sacrifice Jesus made, this death He died for us, was to allow Him to, “bring us to God.” His atoning death was able to please the holy and righteous demands of God because “Christ also loved us and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Ephesians 5:2).

My son, Timothy (1997 graduate of Monticello High School), is a Staff Sergeant in the U. S. Marine Corps. He served three deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is currently an Infantry Instructor at SOI West, Camp Pendleton, California. Not long ago, Tim wrote: “This Memorial holiday we pause to remember those loved ones we have lost, who served. Being the greatest country on the planet requires the greatest sacrifice, many times to the detriment of our family and friends. But as Americans, we have always stepped up and taken it on the cheek. That’s why we celebrate Memorial Day—to remember those who served who are no longer with us. So, if you have lost someone who served—from my family to yours—we THANK YOU for their service, and we HONOR their sacrifice. The remembrance of their sacrifice is special because it reflects the greatest kind of love there is…the love of God, #gonebutneverforgotten.”

On this Memorial Day, why not take some time to thank God for those who paid the ultimate cost? Thank the Lord for those who gave their lives for our nation and our personal freedom. Pray for their spouses, parents, children and families. Also, why not rejoice and trust in the One who gave His life for your spiritual freedom? Jesus said, “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). After all, freedom in Christ is the greatest freedom the world has ever seen.

 

 

 

 

Where Could I Go?

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Threatening worldwide events, and uncertainty on every hand, has caused me to stop and think more than usual. Here lately the chorus of this old gospel song has come to mind—“Where could I go, oh where could I go? Seeking a refuge for my soul. Needing a friend, to help me in the end. Where could I go, but to the Lord?”

Even in the darkest of days, every believer in Christ has a never-extinguished light, in which to find guidance, direction and security. We have a haven of rest during any storm. This place of respite—this source of consolation—is the sure promises of God.

When news, conjecture, opinions, projections, and uncertainties of life seem to overwhelm us, it is then we need a strong foundation—an immovable rock—an unchanging source of strength—and we have it in the Word of God.

For me, Psalm 33 is such a place of safety and restoration. It fortifies my faith and comforts my heart. As I look at the frailties and failings of our small lives, I find comfort in the attributes and power of our great God.

Psalm 33 Teaches….

We are Blessed by Giving God Praise (Psalm 33:1-5)

Expressing thanks is a great source of strength during times of weakness. After urging people to “Sing for joy in the LORD” the writer states “joy is becoming to the upright” (verse 1). Singing, thanksgiving and joy are like medicines that heal the hurting heart. In times of sadness and loss, it is spiritually healthy to count your many blessings, name them one by one. Sorrow and despair focus on what you have lost through life—Praise and thanksgiving focus on what you have gained through Christ. This section closes with the truth: “The earth is full of the lovingkindness of the LORD” (verse 5). There is much for which to give thanks. Find and focus on those things.

We are Awed by the Display of God’s Creation (Psalm 33:6-9)

When you observe God’s stunning creation, it leaves you transfixed in wonder. God’s handiwork is astonishing in its enormity, and incredible in its details. The vast, seemingly never-ending solar system is almost unbelievable—while the beautiful minute features of the smallest creatures are simply amazing. The psalmist wrote that “the heavens were made” and “all their host”—“By the word of the Lord…And by the breath of His mouth” (verse 6). If fears threaten to overwhelm you, stop and “Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him. For He spoke and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast” (verses 8-9).

We are Encouraged by the Comfort of God’s Providence (Psalm 33:10-12)

In times of uncertainty it is comforting that God knows everything from the beginning to the end. God is never surprised. The psalmist states it: “The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of His heart from generation to generation” (verse 11). The counsel of the nations may be nullified; the plans of the peoples may be frustrated; but the counsel of God will never change course. The God of the Bible “works all things after the counsel of His own will” (Ephesians 1:11). It is for this reason, “we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

We are Humbled by the Extent of God’s Knowledge (Psalm 33:13-17)

God wants us to know that “He who fashions the hearts of them all” is “He who understands all their works” (verse 15). He knows and understands us because He created and made us. In a later Psalm, King David wrote “O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways” (Psalm 139:1-3). Remember this when you go through difficult times—God knows everything about you, and can meet your needs. Indeed, in the person of Christ, “since He Himself was tempted [tried] in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted [tried]” (Hebrews 2:18).

We are Comforted by the Depth of God’s Love (Psalm 33:18-22)

The driving force in God’s interaction with His created people is His great love for them. Many questions may arise when His children endure suffering and tribulations, but one thing that always rings true is that He loves them. We know “the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him, on those who hope for His lovingkindness” (verse 18). These three things we know: He cares, He watches, He loves. If we would be comforted by His love, the psalmist said there are two things we must do. First, “Our soul waits for the LORD; He is our help and our shield” (verse 20)—we must wait for Him. We are spoiled by instant everything, and don’t like to wait. But God doesn’t run His schedule by our clock. We must wait. Second, “Our heart rejoices in Him, because we trust in His holy name” (verse 21). We must rejoice in Him as we trust in Him, even when we don’t understand.

During times of uncertainty, when fears arise in our hearts, may we keep our faith and hope in Him. Believers in Christ need not live cowering under the circumstances—because they follow a God who is over the circumstances. Pray: “Let Your lovingkindness, O LORD, be upon us, according as we have hoped in You” (Psalm 33:22).

Happy Mother’s Day!

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The value of mothers cannot be overestimated. An old Spanish proverb rightly says, “An ounce of mother is worth a pound of clergy.” The powerful influence of mothers on the lives of their children lasts a lifetime and outweighs the impact of all other mentors.

Phil Whisenhunt correctly called motherhood the most important occupation on earth. He said, to be a real mother to children “does not have much glory; there is a lot of grit and grime. But there is no greater place of ministry, position, or power than that of a mother.”

Though the Bible was written mostly by men, and during ancient times, it was pretty much a man’s world, God’s Word reveals high praise for the position of mothers and elevates the role of women. It gives many examples of wonderful mothers.

Hannah, the mother of Samuel was a great, self-sacrificing mom. After many years of barrenness, in answer to sincere prayer, God gave her a son (1 Samuel 1). Hannah promised God she would give her only son to Him for full-time service. This act required great faith because Eli, the High Priest, had done a terrible job raising his sons ( 1 Samuel 2:12-17, 22-25). But because she trusted Him, God gave Hannah three more sons and two daughters (verse 21). Her son, Samuel, grew to become God’s man, leading Israel to worship and follow God; mediating, teaching, and praying them through difficult times; and anointing the first king of Israel, and King David as his successor.

Of course, Mary, the mother of Jesus is an amazing example of motherhood. The New Testament shows her always to be gentle, submissive to God, and faithful. Mary gave birth to Jesus under totally unique circumstances and under severe judgment by people. Yet, because she sought to please God, she was not deterred by the hardship. After rearing Him to love and serve God, Mary watched while He was persecuted, tortured, ridiculed and abandoned. As Jesus hung dying on the cross, His love for His mother was so strong, He arranged for her keeping (John 19:25-27).

Another great example of motherhood was Jochebed, the mother of Moses. She defied the command of Pharaoh and hid Moses three months, until deciding to launch him into the Nile, in a small boat, with his sister, Miriam, watching from the riverbank. Because of her strong love and teaching, when Moses came of age, he “refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt” (Hebrews 11:24-26).

One other powerful example of motherhood is Eunice, and her mother, Lois, mother and grandmother of the young preacher, Timothy. The apostle Paul stated that both women had “sincere faith” which they sought to pass on to their son and grandson. Apparently Timothy’s father was an unbeliever (Acts 16:1), so the duty of communicating God’s truth to the young boy fell to his mother. We know Eunice and Lois were successful, because Paul encouraged him to “continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15). The young preacher Timothy learned the truth of God, as many since, at the knees of a godly mom.

So, how can busy mothers be effective, leveraging their position and power, to influence their children for the glory of God? Sara Horn, founder of the military wives’ ministry, Wives of Faith, and author of “My So-Called Life as a Proverbs 31 Wife,” shared three suggestions in an article in Focus on the Family, July 5, 2017. She suggests that mothers:

Be Available 

Because influence begins with availability—you must be intentionally available—fully present. Moms cannot influence a child they are not with. However, it is possible to be in the same room as your children and not really pay attention to them. Sara suggests moms consider sitting next to their kids when they’re watching a movie, working on a project, or inviting them to help cook dinner. A mother’s presence in her children’s lives means more to them than anyone can imagine. An available mom when your kids are young also sets the foundation for relationship in years to come.

Be A Godly Example 

Your children constantly watch you. They don’t just notice when you do things right; they notice when you mess up, too. Moms need to apologize when they lose their temper. They need to watch their attitude and words when dealing with their children—and with other people. You need to teach and practice grace, frequently and often. Moms need to allow their kids to see their relationship with Christ as authentic and real. Kids need to know Jesus makes a difference in what their mom does and says.

Be An Encouragement 

For moms, it’s often easier to spot the flaws in their kids than to be sensitive and aware of what they are doing that is good. Make a point to encourage your children in what they do right and not just correct them when they do wrong. Sara says it is best for moms to be direct in their actions but cautious in their reactions. This will help their kids believe that their mom will be their lifelong cheerleader.

As a mom, just think about the impact your choices have on your children. Proverbs 31:26 tells us that a great wife and mom, “opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” There are no perfect moms, but as much as possible, if you will let wisdom and kindness come out, when you open your mouth, your children will “rise up and bless you, and your husband will praise you” (verse 28).

 

WHY?

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A 37-year-old church member named Wanda had died. She was a very popular and much-loved fixture in our church—a faithful member and teacher of children. Her early death was difficult.

As I preached her funeral, our then five-year-old son, Daren, and his 4-year-old sister, Julie, sat motionless, with their mom. They were near the front of the chapel and Wanda’s body lying in the casket, dressed in a beautiful gown, was in their full view. In the hushed silence, Daren whispered, “Why is Wanda sleeping?” to which Pat gave a quick, short answer, “Wanda is in heaven.”

Following the graveside committal, as we drove away from the cemetery, Daren asked, “Why are we leaving Wanda here?” Without thinking, I replied, “Oh, Wanda is not here; she is in heaven.” Immediately Daren said, “No, she isn’t. She is in that box!”

“Why?” is a difficult question for us to answer, and sometimes it is impossible.

It is not wrong to ask “Why?” if we can be content that it may not be answered in this lifetime. Even our Lord Jesus, in the darkness on the cross, cried out: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Jesus sensed a separation from God the Father He had never known. As He literally became sin for all men, the Father had to turn judicially from looking upon His Son.

So, what are the reasons for times of testing? Why does God allow trials and tribulations to come to His children? Is there a purpose for the pain?

1st Peter 1:6 reveals four of God’s principles in trials—the What. Then in verse 7 he shows four of God’s purposes for trials—the Why. Verses 6 and 7 read: “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.”

What are God’s Purposes for Trials?

1st to Prove Your Faith—“that the proof of your faith”

It is through difficult trials that your faith in God becomes visible. Faith is proven present and positive as a result of trials. While everything is smooth and tranquil in your life, it is easy to believe, trust and obey. But, when tragedy, testing and difficulties barge in like unwelcome guests, true faith will shine through.

This purpose of God helps answer questions of why things happen. When Abraham was called by God to offer his only son Isaac, as a sacrifice (Gen. 20), the Scripture reveals he obeyed. He may have wondered why God asked that of him, but he obeyed. James noted that when Abraham obeyed God, he was “justified by works…as faith was working with his works” (James 2:21). Abraham’s actions proved that his faith was in God—not in himself. How did Abraham’s faith shine out as genuine? It was through his difficult time of testing.

2nd to Refine Your Character—“being more precious than gold…even though tested by fire”

Trials are more precious than gold, because gold perishes, whereas the positive effects of trials are eternal. Most believers can testify that through the difficult times of their lives, God refined and changed them for the better. They came near to God, humbly repented of sin, became more faithful, more godly, more prayerful, and followed Him more closely, because of their trials.

Peter compared the cleansing effect of trials on our lives to the purifying effect of heat on gold. The jeweler heats the gold at a high temperature to remove its impurities, thus increasing its value. When he applies high heat to the raw gold, he is not destroying it, but purifying it—by removing the useless dross. This is what happens to Christians through trials.

When believers go through trials, they come out cleaner and more pure. Job, who is the prime example of patiently enduring hardship, said: “He knoweth the way that I take; when He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10). There are no shortcuts—if you bypass the fire—your impurity remains.

3rd to Increase Your Praise—“may be found to result in praise and glory and honor”

One great result of hardships and trials is an increase in one’s praise of God. After enduring difficult times, it is common to hear severely tested believers give wondrous praise, thanks and glory to God for bringing them through.

The words, “praise and glory and honor” that God receives as a result of our times of testing mean, He gets our applause, all the fame, and the highest value we can render Him. Christians who have grown through difficulties rarely praise themselves—but are extravagant in their worship and admiration for their Savior.

4th to Enhance Your Anticipation—“at the revelation of Jesus Christ”

The final effect of trials will be an enhanced anticipation for the return of the Lord. “The revelation” means the appearing of Jesus Christ, when He comes to this earth for His own, and later to establish His kingdom.

Jesus promised: “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:3). He is the One who promises no more death, mourning, crying or pain (Rev. 21:4); and no more tribulations—“in the world you have tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33.

Meanwhile, until He comes, stay faithful to Him through sunshine and shadow—good times and bad. Charles Spurgeon summed up God’s presence during trials when he said, “Though we cannot always trace His hand, we can always trust His heart.”