“Why Does God Save?” – COVID Era Devotion, Day 37

Brothers and Sisters,

Well, today’s devotional almost didn’t happen.  But, here it as the 11th hour.  I will keep it very short, and then hope to take up again tomorrow along these same lines.  Consider this question: “What is God’s ultimate goal in saving human beings from sin and death?”  As you ponder, read Psalm 79:9 (NASB): “Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of Your name; And deliver us and forgive our sins for Your name’s sake.”  May these thoughts bless you until tomorrow when we meet again.

In Christ,

P.J.

 

“Spurgeon and Shakespeare” – COVID Era Devotion, Day 36

Brothers and Sisters,

I’m continuing today on the martial note sounded by yesterday’s devotion with its reference the United States Air Force Academy, Class of 2020.  I’m doing so because of what I read last night in Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening.  Some of you may know Spurgeon.  He served as a preacher, teacher, and pastor in Victorian-era London during the latter half of the 19th century.  Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening is a devotional book with two entries for every date on the calendar (one to be read in the morning, and one to be read at night).  I don’t pick it up every day, but last night and I did, and I found myself reading Spurgeon’s brief meditation on 1 Samuel 18:17, a portion of which he quotes as follows: “Fight the Lord’s battles.”

I want to reproduce Spurgeon’s words for you below, but, as I do, I want to add in one other element.  I want to weave into Spurgeon some of the lines from one of my favorite speeches in all of literature, namely Shakespeare’s “Saint Crispin’s Day Speech” from Henry V.  Shakespeare and Spurgeon are somewhat odd literary companions, but, after all, they are both Englishmen!  For years I’ve loved the Saint Crispin’s Day speech, but it has about it a certain worldliness.  That worldliness necessarily limits the degree to which one’s heart can soar with the poet.  But, if we place Shakespeare’s language within the context of Spurgeon’s sanctified meditation, then perhaps the preacher can redeem the poet.  Perhaps Shakespeare can find a new and better life when put in the context of true reality.  With that said, here goes (Note: Spurgeon shows up below in italics, and Shakespeare in normal font):

The sacramental host of God’s elect is warring still on earth, Jesus Christ being the Captain of their salvation.

If we are mark’d to die, we are enow

To do our country loss; and if to live,

The fewer men, the greater share of honor.

God’s will!  I pray thee, wish not one man more.

By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,

Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;

It yearns me not if men my garments wear;

Such outward things dwell not in my desires:

But if it be a sin to covet honor,

I am the most offending soul alive.

He has said, “Lo! I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” Hark to the shouts of war! Now let the people of God stand fast in their ranks, and let no man’s heart fail him. It is true that just now in England the battle is turned against us, and unless the Lord Jesus shall lift his sword, we know not what may become of the church of God in this land; but let us be of good courage, and play the man.

 No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England:

God’s peace!  I would not lose so great an honour

As one man more, methinks, would share from me

For the best hope I have.  O, do not wish one more!

Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,

That he which hath no stomach to this fight,

Let him depart; his passport shall be made

And crowns for convoy put into his purse:

We would not die in that man’s company

That fears his fellowship to die with us…

There never was a day when Protestantism seemed to tremble more in the scales than now that a fierce effort is in the making to restore the Romish antichrist to his ancient seat. We greatly want a bold voice and a strong hand to preach and publish the old gospel for which martyrs bled and confessors died. The Saviour is, by his Spirit, still on earth; let this cheer us. He is ever in the midst of the fight, and therefore the battle is not doubtful. And as the conflict rages, what a sweet satisfaction it is to know that the Lord Jesus, in his office as our great Intercessor, is prevalently pleading for his people! O anxious gazer, look not so much at the battle below, for there thou shalt be enshrouded in smoke, and amazed with garments rolled in blood; but lift thine eyes yonder where the Saviour lives and pleads, for while he intercedes, the cause of God is safe. Let us fight as if it all depended upon us, but let us look up and know that all depends upon him. 

 But we in it shall be remembered;

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;

For he to-day that sheds his blood with me

Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,

This day shall gentle his condition:

And gentlemen in England now a-bed

Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,

And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks

That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Now, by the lilies of Christian purity, and by the roses of the Saviour’s atonement, by the roes and by the hinds of the field, we charge you who are lovers of Jesus, to do valiantly in the Holy War, for truth and righteousness, for the kingdom and crown jewels of your Master. Onward! “for the battle is not yours but God’s.”

(Back to P.J.’s voice now) Maybe this interweaving works for you, maybe not.  But, if nothing else, you can head for sleep tonight able to say that you read both Spurgeon and Shakespeare on the same day.  How often does that happen?  I trust that somewhere in the middle one or both helped you to think true things about Jesus.

In Christ,

P.J.

“Excited Hope in Disappointment” – COVID Era Devotion, Day 35

Brothers and Sisters,

Last Saturday, two days ago, was graduation day for the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA), Class of 2020.  It was graduation day, but not the sort that any of these now freshly-minted second lieutenants in the United States Air Force and the United States Space Force (or various foreign militaries) expected.  It wasn’t what they expected when they began their four-year odyssey in the summer of 2016.  It wasn’t the graduation they anticipated while, for three years, they attended ceremonies for the classes of 2017, 2018, and 2019.

Normally, the USAFA graduation takes place in the Academy’s Falcon Stadium (a picturesque spot) on what is often a warm, if not hot, day in late May or early June.  Thousands attend, including, usually, the President, or Vice President, or Secretary of Defense (one of whom serves as the keynote speaker).  The firstie-class (USAFA terminology for “seniors”) marches onto the field to loud acclaim, and then sits shoulder-to-shoulder throughout a ceremony marking the end of their USAFA journey.  The name of each graduating lieutenant is called, at which time they have an opportunity to salute, and then shake the hand of, their graduation speaker – meaning the President, Vice President, or Secretary of Defense.  The highlight point of the entire event comes when the Commandant of Cadets says, “Class of (and he or she gives the year) you are dismissed.”  At that precise instant a formation of the U.S. Air Force’s demonstration team, the Thunderbirds, comes roaring overhead and each member of the graduating class throws their parade cap into the air.  Few moments can match the sense of exhilaration, accomplishment, and relief.  Indeed, it’s an experience unlike any other.

All of that is what normally happens…when a global pandemic isn’t rocking our world.  For the Class of 2020, graduation day was anything but normal.  Their graduation took place on a cold and blustery April morning, some six weeks earlier than planned.  The ceremony wasn’t held in Falcon Stadium, but rather on the Terrazzo (the center of USAFA’s cadet area).  There was no crowd of thousands, though tens of thousands watched virtually.  The class sat on chairs arranged at least six feet apart on all sides.  Near as I can tell, their names were not individually called.  On the plus side (and to his credit), the Vice President still served as the keynote speaker.  I listened to a portion of his speech, profoundly grateful for his presence at the event, and heard a quote from C.S. Lewis and multiple references (direct or indirect) to Scripture.  General Raymond, first Chief of Space Operations for the U.S. Space Force, administered the oath of office to sixty some cadets who became the first ever commissioned directly from USAFA into this new branch of our armed forces. Afterward, General Goldfein, the U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff, administered an essentially identical oath to those lieutenants joining the ranks of the Air Force.  It all ended with the same heart-tugging hat toss and Thunderbird fly over.  In short, for the USAFA Class of 2020, historic in so many ways, graduation was a bittersweet sort of affair.

Following the hat toss, as the new lieutenants enjoyed themselves (while half-heartedly social distancing and donning their obviously standard-issue masks), a local news station interviewed one of them.  I found this young man’s response both heartening and remarkable.  When the interviewer inquired as to his thoughts on the disappointment of curtailed graduation proceedings, this new lieutenant said, essentially (in effect): “It wasn’t what we expected, but this is the only graduation ceremony I will know from USAFA, and it was incredible.”  To be sure, this quote is simply a rough paraphrase of his actual words, but it’s precisely the sentiment I took away from the brief interaction between the reporter and this now former cadet.  In short, he chose to accept and enjoy what he was given rather than bemoan what he did not have.  “Beautiful” is the word that comes to mind as I reflect on that sort of response.

I’ll end with a connection to Scripture, prompted again by this lieutenant’s reaction to the day of his graduation.  His response was excited and hopeful, even in the middle of what could have been disappointing and discouraging.  How about me as a follower of Jesus Christ?  What is my response in the midst of circumstances that could be disappointing and discouraging, particularly when long-anticipated joys seem stolen away in a moment?  I’m exhorted by words of the Apostle Paul:

 “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.  Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” – Romans 5:1-5 (ESV)

Hope, brothers and sisters, does not disappoint – it does not put us to shame.  And in Jesus Christ, we have every reason for a sure and confident hope in all things, every day, at every moment.  Praise God!

Congratulations to the United States Air Force Academy, Class of 2020 (see pictures here).  Well done!

In Christ,

P.J.

“What Mean These Stones?” – COVID Era Devotion, Day 34

Brothers and Sisters,

Today is sermon “two-for-one” deal!  How’s that for an attention getter?  In addition to our time this morning as Felton Bible Church, I’d like to point you to the preaching of one of God’s great servants now in heaven with Jesus.

I’ve mentioned before that Martyn Lloyd-Jones (MLJ) is one of my heroes in the faith; one of those in the great cloud of witnesses whose life and legacy stands near to my heart and mind.  Recently, I was reminded of the last sermon that MLJ preached before his death in March 1981.  He preached it on June 8, 1980, at Barcombe Baptist Chapel (England), dealing with the text of Joshua 4:21 (or, maybe, Joshua 4:6, depending on which source you consult).  Given that we’ve recently spent time together in Joshua 4 – in this devotional series, and also during our Good Friday service – I was struck by the fact that MLJ last proclaimed God’s Word from this passage.  With my interest piqued, I went hunting on the website of the MLJ Trust for a recording of MLJ’s final sermon.  While I didn’t find precisely what I was looking for, it appears the “Doctor” (as he was called….read his biography to see why) preached the same sermon on at least two other occasions.  I listened to one, a recording made in 1977 when MLJ preached from Joshua 4:21-24 during the dedication of a new building at Emmanuel Evangelical Church in Newport, England.  Give the sermon a listen this week and be encouraged to hear one of God’s men from days past address “What Mean These Stones?”

In Christ,

P.J.

“Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” – COVID Era Devotion, Day 33

Brothers and Sisters,

Tomorrow is Sunday.  Tomorrow is the first day of the week.  Tomorrow is the Lord’s Day.  Tomorrow we’ll gather virtually as Jesus’ people to worship the living God.  In preparation for that time, may these songs bless you…

“Crown Him with Many Crowns”

“Yet Not I But Through Christ In Me”

“My Worth is Not in What I Own”

“Behold Our God”

“Christ the Sure and Steady Anchor”

“Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus”

 

Anticipating tomorrow with you,

In Christ,

P.J.

“Tradition…Tradition!” – COVID Era Devotion, Day 32”

Brothers and Sisters,

Friday night is a tradition in the Davis household.  It’s pizza and movie night.  We’ve seen some good ones over the years; seen some losers; and even turned a few off.  Along the way we’ve put down more than a few pizzas.  We enjoy it.  The Friday night “pizza and movie” routine is part of our weekly rhythm as a family.

Now, for as good as this Davis family tradition is, I know it won’t last forever.  The day will come when it fades into our history; when it becomes the stuff of lore for future generations to reminisce over.  By God’s grace, this will happen because our family grows, matures, and advances in lives of faithfulness to Jesus Christ.  Perhaps when the days of Friday night pizza and a movie pass, we’ll start new traditions.  Maybe Friday date night.  Or (more likely?), Friday “watch the grandkids while their parents hit the town” night.

Here’s a thought to ponder: Doesn’t the life of the church work on a similar pattern?  We are, after all, like one big extended faith-family.  So how does tradition work in Jesus’ church?  Certainly, we have traditions.  Certainly, they’re important, even necessary.  Good traditions help to form us as a particular and special manifestation of Christ’s body. They give us a story that makes the “global,” “local.”  God-honoring tradition becomes a platform from which to experience, enjoy, and share the good news of salvation in Jesus.  We ought to treasure such patterns of congregational living.  But, if a family’s traditions come and go according to the seasons of life, shouldn’t a church’s do the same?  As God moves us through different seasons of ministering the Gospel, it seems our traditions ought to develop accordingly – some will persist, others will morph into something new, still others will become part of our history.  Along the way, we may find change of this sort difficult to navigate.  Traditions are precious after all…just ask the Davis kids.  But, if change in the traditional comes so as to continue in faithfulness after Jesus, then shouldn’t we welcome new seasons with excited anticipation for new traditions?

I’ll leave us with that question tonight and bid you, for now, God Bless!

In Christ,

P.J.

P.S. – I can’t help myself…Click this link to hear the classic of all “tradition” songs.

 

 

“The Grace of Prayer” – COVID Era Devotion, Day 31

Brothers and Sisters,

I won’t spend long on today’s devotional, but I do want to reflect for just a moment on prayer.  I was reminded this morning, reading Joshua 9, about how central prayer is, and must be, for we who live as children of God.  Joshua 9 recounts the failure of Joshua and the Israelites to accurately discern the deception practiced on them by the people of Gibeon.  In verse 15 we’re told the reason for this failure: “…[they] did not ask counsel from the LORD.”  How quickly and easily we neglect asking our Father in heaven for his counsel in everything we face!  Next Sunday (April 26th), when we reach the beginning of Luke 18, we’ll consider a parable that Jesus tells his disciples “to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1).  It’s a good time for us to ruminate on a life of prayer.

To help in that rumination, let me share with you one of my favorite (and famous) photographs, titled Grace.

Grace Picture

 

According to Wikipedia, the photograph is a shot taken in 1918 or perhaps 1920 (Note: Wikipedia also asserts the book in the photo is not a Bible, but a dictionary…a point which, if true, I choose to ignore).  This photograph hung as a print in my grandparents’ home, and thus I will always associate it with their steadfast love for Jesus…a love which took them often to prayer.

May the Lord bless and keep you in prayer tonight.

In Christ,

P.J.

“Who Calls the Shots?” – COVID Era Devotion, Day 30

Brothers and Sisters,

As followers of Christ who know the sovereign God of all creation, we rightly love to remind ourselves and each other that God is in control.  We do so often, and we should do so often.  In his mercy, God brings moments and seasons into our lives that test our belief in his sovereignty.  “Testing” is an important theme in Scripture; an important aspect of growth in the Christian life.  We need the times when it feels easy to say that God is sovereign – the sun is shining, the bank account feels stable, the car works okay, there’s food on the table, the kids are doing well, etc.  We also need the times when it feels like a difficult act of faith to say that God is sovereign – when we’re not allowed out in public together, and when our “freedom” to live normally seems dependent on government shelter-in-place orders.  Such times press us to search our hearts.  Who do we actually believe is “in control”?  What authority stands truly sovereign over not only the affairs of men and nations, but the affairs of our county, and the needs of our city?  Who holds the steering wheel in our daily lives?

Increasingly we’re beginning to hear talk of when, and how, the coronavirus restrictions will lift.  On the one hand, I’m heartened to read of some restrictions possibly being loosened by early May.  On the other hand, I’m at least concerned to hear of significant continuing restrictions for possibly months ahead.  As discussion begins to ramp up it’s coming, not surprisingly, with a clash of authorities.  The “who is sovereign” question figures prominently in our media at present.  President Trump asserts one thing, state governments another, and meanwhile county health officials continue their work apace.  Who’s to say what should or should not be (Note: Let’s not forget, as informed, faithful citizens, that constitutions and laws matter at this point)?  Praise God that we have an answer!  When will we as Jesus church be free to gather and meet once again?  Answer: Precisely when the Lord Jesus Christ says so!  The God-ordained powers that be will work through a process – for better and for worse – but the outcome of that process will accomplish God’s plan for his people – “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will (Prov. 21:1). I trust that our governing authorities will allow us to meet again at the earliest point possible.  I will hope for and expect that outcome unless reality suggests otherwise.  No matter what, it is for us to live each-and-every God-given moment in humble dependence on him.

We can rest secure in what Paul said to the pagan occupants of Athens:

“And he [God] made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.  Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’  Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.  The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” – Acts 17:26-31

Anticipating with you a day of freedom to come…

In Christ,

P.J.

“Silent, Sort of, Seismometers” – COVID Era Devotion, Day 29

Brothers and Sisters,

In listening to an episode of “The Briefing” podcast this morning, I heard Al Mohler (the host and president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) make reference to a New York Times article titled: “Coronavirus Turns Urban Life’s Roar to Whisper on World’s Seismographs.”  The gist of the article is that “shelter-in-place” measures around the world have literally silenced humanity.  This silence reflects in the readings of seismometers all over the globe.  A seismometer is an instrument that records vibrations in the earth.  They’re used, as the article writes, “to detect earthquakes, but their mechanical ears hear so much more…Even the everyday hum of humanity – people moving about on cars, trains and planes – has a seismically detectable heartbeat.”  With our world’s response to the coronavirus, the human signature on seismometers is now measurably, even significantly, quieter than before.

As we reflect on a curiosity article like this one, it seems appropriate that the oddity of quieted seismometers would turn our attention to God’s Word:

Psalm 46:10 (ESV) – “Be still, and know that I am God.  I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” 

 Psalm 65:7-8a (ESV) – “By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness, O God of our salvation, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas; the one who by his strength established the mountains, being girded with might; who stills the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples, so that those who dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe at your signs.”

 Habakkuk 2:20 (ESV) – “But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.”

In a special way, we’re experiencing these texts while we wait for coronavirus to pass.  Praise God that he will be glorified, come what may!

In Christ,

P.J.

 

 

“Anger and Bitterness?” – COVID Lockdown Devotion, Day 28

Brothers and Sisters,

Have you ever walked through a time when your perspective needed help; a time when you were tempted to be overwhelmed by bitterness and anger, even anger that seemed justified?  How does a right perspective on God meet us when we struggle to understand, interpret, and live well in our world, including with respect to the evil that manifests so often?  Well, consider Psalm 73 with me (all quotations come from the NASB translation).

The Psalm opens on a note of praise to God; to God who is “good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart!” (vs. 1).  But then, it quickly transitions into an autobiographical account of the Psalmist’s own struggle.  This man struggled deeply with bitterness and anger, especially as it pertained to his “envious” response toward the wicked:

“But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling, my steps had almost slipped.  For I was envious of the arrogant as I saw the prosperity of the wicked.  For there are no pains in their death, and their body is fat.  They are not in trouble as other men, nor are they plagued like mankind.  Therefore pride is their necklace; the garment of violence covers them.  Their eye bulges from fatness; the imaginations of their heart run riot.  They mock and wickedly speak of oppression; they speak from on high.  They have set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue parades through the earth.  Therefore his people return to this place, and waters of abundance are drunk by them.  They say, ‘How does God know?  And is there knowledge with the Most High?’  Behold, these are the wicked; and always at ease, they have increased in wealth.” – Ps. 73:2-12

The Psalmist’s struggle over what he observed was so profound that he cynically wondered why he even bothered to live a holy life.  All it brought him was difficulty and heartache: “Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and washed my hands in innocence; For I have been stricken all day long and chastened every morning” (vs. 13-14).  He was ready to “throw in the towel” on the God thing.  It simply wasn’t paying-off.

Over time, the anguish built up in this man’s soul.  Try as he might, his efforts to “understand this” proved fruitless.  They were “troublesome in [his] sight” (vs. 16).  Nothing changed until one crucial act.  Nothing changed, “Until I came into the sanctuary of God” (vs. 17a).  In that moment, everything changed.  What the Psalmist needed was not the fruit of his own distorted reasoning; not the logic of his own troubled soul.  He needed the presence of God and the Word of God.  When he entered into that presence, clarity came with a rush: “Then I perceived their [the oppressive wicked] end.  Surely you set them in slippery places; You cast them down to destruction.  How they are destroyed in a moment!  They are utterly swept away by sudden terrors!  Like a dream when one awakens, O Lord, when aroused, You will despise their form.”

And so, this man is thankful for God’s protection.  He realizes what it would have meant for him to walk away from truth in response to bitter, angry envy: “If I had said, ‘I will speak thus,’ Behold, I would have betrayed the generation of Your children” (vs. 15).  He realizes how close he came to becoming like those whose wickedness he so despised and bemoaned: “But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling, my steps had almost slipped” (vs. 2).

As his song ends, the Psalmist transitions from remembering bitter anger and envy into full-blown doxology (praise!).  He is full of praise both for who God is, and for God’s work to preserve him in the face of his own threatening sin:

“When my heart was embittered and I was pierced within, then I was senseless and ignorant; I was like a beast before You.  Nevertheless I am continually with You; you have taken hold of my right hand.  With Your counsel You will guide me, and afterward receive me to glory.  Whom have I in heaven but You?  And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.  For, behold, those who are far from You will perish; You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to You.  But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all Your works.” – Ps. 73:21-28

Notice how God’s divine work to preserve this man came when the Psalmist himself was helpless and even lost: “When my heart was embittered and I was pierced within, then I was senseless and ignorant; I was like a beast before You” (vs. 21-22).  In other words, “I was helpless and sinful in my position before you!  I was like the arrogant and oppressive wicked ones!”  And yet, even as he wallowed in the middle of such unthinking nonsense, God met this man and rescued him.  God moved toward him.  God took hold of him.  God brought him into God’s own presence and showed him truth: “Nevertheless I am continually with You; You have taken hold of my right hand” (vs. 23).  Such an awesome salvation gives the Psalmist great confidence for the future: “With your counsel You will guide me, and afterward receive me to glory” (vs. 24).  How then can the Psalmist do anything but praise God (vs. 25-28), ending with the beautiful statement: I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all Your works” (vs. 28)?

Do you struggle today with bitterness and anger, with envy and discontentment?  Do you ever wonder why you should bother with living a life that honors God as you follow Jesus?  What you need, what I need, is not better self-talk, or revenge, or “things to go our way for once.”  What we need is to come “into the sanctuary of God” in order to gain his perspective, to remember his love, and to experience his work to save us.  That sanctuary begins in a relationship with Jesus Christ, as we know him through the Bible, and it continues in our relationship with his body, the church.  Only there will our perspective become God’s perspective.  Only there will we understand the true nature and the real end of wickedness.  Only there will we realize our own wickedness and learn to rejoice in our Christ-accomplished salvation.  Only there will we find the contentment that can say: “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (vs. 26).

Love in Christ,

P.J.