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Springs in the Valley

Greetings All!

     This week's "thought" comes to you from a devotional named, "Springs in the Valley," by L. B. Cowman (also the author of "Streams in the Desert" from which I quoted not long ago).

     I chose to share this particular selection because it displays such a profound understanding of God's personal intervention in our lives. In the age we live in, which loves formulas, and thinks we can duplicate the results of others simply by duplicating their methods, God often has a surprise for us.  For as many who have tried will testify, we can duplicate everything others do and still not get the same results.  Why? Because a sovereign God reigns over the universe who moves uniquely in each person, place, and situation -- a God who is intensely personal and isn't into cloning or copycat ministries.  In fact, the desire to duplicate the life and experience of others not only takes God's unique plan for each of us far too lightly, it also disavows the working of grace, and the richness of diversity within the Church -- the unique path to maturity that God has ordained for each individual believer.
     That's why I so enjoyed this entry.  It displays a profound understanding of God's unique care and work in the life of each believer.  If you have sought to do ministry at all, you have surely thought, or wrestled internally, with some of the things he speaks of here.  I know I have. 
     The only thing I might have changed would be the verse she uses for this entry.  She used Philippians 3:7, I would have used Matthew 20:1-16. Enjoy.

     "If God has called you to be really like Christ, He may draw you into a life of crucifixion and humility and put on you such demands of obedience that He will not allow you to follow other Christians, and in many ways will let other good people do things which He will not let you do.
     Other Christians, who seem very religious and useful, may push themselves, pull wires, and work schemes to carry out their plans, but you cannot do it. And if you attempt it you will meet with such failure and rebuke from the Lord as to make you sorely penitent.
     Others may boast of themselves, of their work, of their success, of their writing, but the Holy Spirit will not allow you to do any such thing. And if you begin to, He will lead you into some deep mortification that will make you despise yourself and all your good works.
     Others will be allowed to succeed in making money... but it is likely God will keep you poor, because He wants you to have something far better than gold, and that is a helpless dependence on Him, that He may have the privilege of supplying your needs day by day out of an unseen treasury.
     The Lord will let others be honored and put forward, but keep you hidden away in obscurity because He wants to produce in you some choice fragrant fruit for His coming glory. He will let others be great, but keep you small. He will let others do a work for Him and get the credit for it, but you He will make to work and toil without knowing how much fruit your efforts are bearing. The Holy Spirit will put a strict watch over you... rebuking you for little words and feelings or for wasting time.
     God is an Infinite Sovereign! He has the right to do as He pleases with His own.  Settle it forever, then, that you are to deal directly with the Lord Jesus -- that He is to have the privilege of tying your tongue, chaining your hand, or closing your eyes in ways that He does not deal with others.  Then you will have found the vestibule of heaven.  Others may, you cannot."
     In the parable of the kingdom in Matthew 20 Jesus speaks of hiring workers to tend His field for a denarius a day (the typical work day being 12 and not 8 hours)!  Yet as the story goes on, we see one worker works 12 hours, one works 9 hours, one works 6 hours, one works 3 hours, and one works only 1 hour -- but they all get the same pay!   And when they complain about the "unfairness" of this policy, Jesus (speaking as the landowner) responds, "Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I'm generous."
     The "pay" is obviously salvation, and its the same for those who follow Christ all their lives as it is for the person who comes to Christ in the last hour, on their deathbed. It's something Jesus sees as displaying God's uncanny generosity, though some see it as God being "unfair."
     Yet the same phrase the landowner uses to refer to money could also refer to the way God moves through all the varied details of our individual lives: "Doesn't He have the right to do what He wants with my own..."  Doesn't God have the right to deal with each of His grace-chosen children as He chooses?  And when He does, should we complain that we are not being treated as "fairly" as others (whose lives we envy)?  Should we not rejoice that the path He leads us on is one He designed specifically for us, in light of our unique makeup and personality, and the special work He desires us to carry out for His glory?
     You see, it is true -- God is an Infinite Sovereign!   And because He is, and deals with each of us uniquely, it can be said: Other may do what He will not permit us to do. He may even call us to do some difficult thing that others are not called to do.  He has the right to do as He pleases with His own.  No clones or formulas, just a sovereign God who as the divine Potter does what He desires with each unique and individual lump of clay.
In the Name of Him who is in Control, Pastor Jeff


Sacred Pathways

Greetings All!

     This week's "thought" comes to you from Gary Thomas in a new book I just picked up the other day. It's called "Sacred Pathways" and is actually very beneficial in helping earnest Christians to understand each other.  He covers nine "sacred pathways" that Christians follow in their pursuit of God and worship of God.  There is the Naturalist, the Sensate, the Traditionalist, the Ascetic, the Activist, the Caregiver, the Enthusiast, the Contemplative, and the Intellectual. And as any good author should, he points out both the blessings, biblical grounds, and also dangers of each path.

     It's helpful in understanding your brothers and sisters in Christ who worship the same Jesus, but do so in various different (not wrong) ways.  In that sense, it not only offers a chance for greater understanding but greater unity among earnest believers in Jesus who differ in their approach to God and their service for Him. This excerpt is from the second chapter, before getting into the nine different pathways.  Enjoy.

Where is your Gethsemane?

     "The Garden of Gethsemane holds a sacred place in faith history. It is the hallowed piece of ground on which Jesus prayed just before he was arrested. Churches don't normally talk about Gethsemane apart from Passion Week, but the reason Gethsemane had such a monumental role in the famous week, is precisely because it had such a huge and formative role in Jesus' life prior to Passion Week.  John 18:2, in speaking of Gethsemane, says: "Now Judas, who betrayed Him, knew the place, because Jesus had OFTEN met there with the disciples."   Luke backs this up: "Jesus went out AS USUAL to the Mount of Olives, and His disciples followed Him."  It wasn't an accident that Judas found Jesus in the garden. The betrayer naturally thought, "Where is Jesus most likely to be found?" He felt certain that Jesus would seek solace in the Garden of Gethsemane, and he was right.
     Jesus had used the garden on numerous occasions to meet with his Father -- to gain spiritual strength and to receive his marching orders... That's why Jesus went there to prepare for what was about to take place...  In fact, Jesus went there every day of Passion Week: "Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each evening he went out to spend the night at the hill called the Mount of Olives" (Luke 21:37).  The experience of Gethsemane, of course, is unique to him. None of us will ever have a moment like that.  But in using this sacred space, Jesus leaves us an example to follow. When you need to hear from God, when you need to be strengthened by God, when you need to receive your marching orders from God, where do you go? ... Where is your Gethsemane?  (Is it a garden, a room, a forest, a sanctuary?)
     What I appreciate about using Gethsemane as a metaphor for meeting with God is that it portrays a vivid example of the balance between intimacy and mission, prayer and work. I can't think of Gethsemane without being moved by the intimate communion between Son and Father. On the other hand, this garden is also the scene of intense spiritual preparation for the most important work ever done.  In a healthy Christian life, prayer and ministry go hand in hand. As we build intimacy with God in prayer, he communicates his love for us, but he also gives us our marching orders. In this way, prayer feeds our sense of mission and renews the urgency behind that mission. Likewise, Christian work -- whether it is evangelism, administration, teaching, discipleship, or something else -- reminds us of our need for God's strength and thus drives us further into prayer.
     When we get too caught up in ministry and cut corners in our devotional time, the results can be disastrous. We begin to minister with the wrong motivations, risk losing our passion, and often are tempted to make it all about us instead of all about God.  Dr. Wayne Grudem experienced a glimpse of this while working on the final translation of the ESV (English Standard Version) of the Bible. A dozen scholars from around the world gathered in Cambridge, England, to do the final polish of the translation. They worked nine hour days discussing the remaining tricky passages, voting on final word choices, and completing the project. Informal discussions often stretched into the evening as scholars contemplated the next day's work. Wayne said he started getting up a little later each day, taking away time from prayer.
     Many people might not see the danger in this. After all, Wayne was spending the entire day studying and discussing the Bible! What was the big deal if, for a rather short season, he allowed his prayer life to drift a little?  According to Wayne, it became a very big deal.  After God convicted him for not giving prayer its due, Wayne wrote in his journal about the spiritual sickness that followed from not tending to his heart: "pride, talking about myself a lot, inwardly hoping people would praise me, lack of love for friends, irritability, a general inward feeling of unease, self-reliance, and no peace." These are the classic signs of drifting from God.
     Wayne was devoted to a very pleasing work -- translating the Bible -- but even the act of translating the Bible can leave us spiritually empty if we ignore building intimacy with God through prayer. The image of Gethsemane reminds me that I need to tend to my heart.  When I give God the opportunity to speak into my heart, he motivates me to work -- for the RIGHT reasons. Working diligently, I'm reminded of my need to receive acceptance, favor, and strength from God. In this way, prayer and ministry together become a spiraling upward staircase of devotion."

     In my time on the mission field in Honduras, I met with many missionaries who came to speak with me because they had lost all affectional connection to God. Call it burnout, call it depression, call it a phase, after speaking with them it became clear that for most, they were so busy serving God that they lost touch with God. They skipped their prayer time, devotional time, and other times of contemplation and private worship, and it resulted in the need to step back and set those things as a daily priority.
     As one of my professors at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary once told us in his class: "Don't ever think that as pastors, just because you are in the Bible, studying Scripture, and preparing lessons and sermons on Gospel truth, that you can count that as your personal time with God.  No, you need to nurture your own soul for you, and not in your time of preparing material for others."  I didn't understand the difference then.  I do now.  He was right.  As Corrie Ten Boom once rightly pointed out, "If the devil cannot make us bad, he will make us busy." Too busy to set aside personal quiet time with our God.

Living in the Grace of Jesus, Pastor Jeff


Streams in the Desert

Greetings Everyone!

     Today's thought comes once again from the same book as last week -- "Streams in the Desertby L. B. Cowman.  Yet today's entry (under the date of "August 1") is not from her.  It appears to be taken (copied) from the testimony of a man she simply records as "J. H. M."   I share it because it took me back to an earlier time in my life when I was on my journey from unbelief to faith, and then from faith to obedience.

     Some people know the truth of Scripture but don't believe it.  Others know it and confess to believing it.  But the real test of knowing and believing is whether or not it results in obeying it, or obeying the One who speaks to us in it.  And it's this area of being called to obey that causes the greatest resistance in the soul, for only then must faith become visible in our actions and life. The inner battle in relation to consecrating our lives to God stems from the cost which consecration or obedience calls for.  What will have to change, what will old friends think, what hard thing we will we be called to do, what might we miss out on, or what will we have to sacrifice or give up?
     I speak from experience when I say that faith is never really tested or tried (to see if it's real) until we are called to act upon what we claim to believe.  Until faith moves from being a mere proposition believed to a lifestyle of obedience, it may be questioned if we truly believe what we say we believe. If my conversations with people are any indication, then many people in the Church seem unaware that the goal of faith is to give birth to obedience and a life of consecration (Rom. 1:5 / I Cor. 6:19).
     Below is one man's struggle in moving from faith to the obedience and consecration that are intended to flow from it. Enjoy.
Offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life. (Romans 6:13)

     "One night I went to hear a sermon on consecration. Nothing special came to me from the message, but as the preacher finished and knelt to pray, he said, “O Lord, You know we can trust the Man who died for us.” That was my message.
     As I rose from my knees and walked down the street to catch the train, I deeply pondered all that consecration to God would mean to my life. I was afraid as I considered the personal cost. Yet suddenly, above the noise of the street traffic, came this message: “You can trust the Man who died for you.”
     I boarded the train, and as I traveled toward home, I thought of the changes, sacrifices, and disappointments that consecration might mean in my life—and I was still afraid. Upon arriving home, I went straight to my room, fell on my knees, and saw my life pass before my eyes. I was a Christian, an officer in the church, and a Sunday School superintendent, but I had never yielded my life to God with a definite act of my will.
     Yet as I thought of my own “precious” plans that might be thwarted, my beloved hopes to be surrendered, and my chosen profession that I might have to abandon—I was afraid. I completely failed to see the better things God had for me, so my soul was running from Him.
     Then, for the last time, with a swift force of convicting power to my inmost heart, came that searching message: “My child, you can trust the Man who died for you. If you cannot trust Him, then whom can you trust?” That, finally, settled it for me.  For in a flash of light I realized that the Man who loved me enough to die for me could be absolutely trusted with the total concerns of the life He had saved.
     Dear friend, you can trust the Man who died for you.  You can trust Him to thwart each plan that should be stopped and to complete each one that results in His greatest glory and your highest good. You can trust Him to lead you down the path that is the very best in this world for you.  J. H. M.
Just as I am, Thy love unknown,
Has broken every barrier down, 
Now to be Thine, yea, Thine ALONE
O Lamb of God, I come!"

     Is God moving you from a faith of mere assent to the obedience that comes from faith (Rom. 1:5)?  Has faith produced in you that consecration the N.T. speaks of in Rom. 12:1-2? I have often said that what we believe affects the way we think and the way we think affects the way we act, showing by our actions what we really believe. If people were to read your actions, would they be able to see without a doubt what you believe? Has your faith in Jesus led to a consecration of your life to Him? By the grace of God can you pray that it would?
In the Service of Jesus,  Pastor Jeff


Streams in the Desert - Morning and Evening

Greetings All!

     About three weeks ago I was feeling rather dry spiritually speaking. So I headed to a nearby bargain outlet to see if they had any good devotionals. They did. Two of them.  One was "The Gift of Jesus," and the other the one I will quote from today called, "Streams in the Desert - Morning and Evening" by L. B. Cowman.  It's an old classic, but it has been edited and updated in modern language by James Reimann, and expanded to two devotional entries per day --  bringing it to 670 devotional readings and just about 900 pages.

     L. B. (Lettie Burd) Cowman was a tireless Christian worker.  Born on March 3, 1870, she met her future husband, Charles Cowman, when she was 13 years of age, and married him six years later, on June 8, 1889. On February 1, 1901, the Cowmans left the United States to work as missionaries in Japan. The work in Japan grew and by 1903 two Bible Training Institutes had opened in Japan. These schools held classes during the day, and in the evening hosted evangelical services open to the public. Dozens flooded in nightly to hear the Gospel.  At this time they (along with two other co-workers) started the OMS (Oriental Missionary Society). 
     Although they were making huge strides in their goals, Charles was not satisfied.  This led to the start of the Great Village Campaign in 1913.  His goal was for every person in Japan to hear the Gospel within the next five years. Teams of missionaries went to every town, village, and home throughout Japan, proclaiming the Gospel and distributing Bibles. When Charles’ health took a turn downward in 1917, he and Lettie were forced to return to America, they received news through the O.M.S. Standard in January 1918 that the Great Village Campaign was complete. About 60 million Japanese had heard the Gospel, with teams covering 161,000 square miles of the country.  Charles’ health continued to decline, and as he suffered in pain Lettie also suffered, watching her husband slowly fade away. Yet it was during this time her best-selling devotional book, Streams in the Desert, was conceived. In September of 1924 Charles died. Their co-worker took over as president of OMS and died in 1928.  It was then that Lettie took over the presidency of the OMS and held that position until 1949.
     Just as Charles felt such a strong calling to proclaim the Gospel to every individual in Japan, Lettie felt a similar call to distribute the Gospel to ALL nations. They had already been to Japan, Korea, and China, so they began to make plans to go to India, Africa, South America, Europe -- all the nations of the earth.  In Europe, they expanded into countries such as Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, and Czechoslovakia, a crusade which marked one of the last great evangelistic efforts in Europe before Nazi Germany took control.  In Africa, Egypt was a country for which Lettie felt a great burden. In December 1941, a crusade began in Mexico, and over the course of five years, the total evangelical church membership there doubled.  In 1943, the OMS entered South America, something Lettie never dreamed would happen. The right doors opened, and a Bible Training Institute began that year in MedellĂ­n, Colombia.  She became ill in 1957 and died on Easter Sunday, April 17, 1960, at the ripe old age of 90. This selection is her devotion for the evening of July 19. Enjoy

     Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me? (John 18:11)

     "To “drink the cup” was a greater thing than calming the seas or raising the dead. The prophets and apostles could do amazing miracles, but they did not always do the will of God and thereby suffered as a result. To do God's will when you know it will bring suffering is still the highest form of faith and the most glorious Christian achievement. 
     Having your brightest aspirations as a young person forever crushed; bearing burdens daily that are always difficult and never seeing relief; finding yourself worn down by poverty while simply desiring to do good for others and provide a comfortable living for those you love; being shackled by an incurable physical disability; being completely alone, separated from all those you love, to face the traumas of life alone --  
yet in all these, still being able to say through such a difficult school of discipline, “Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” --  this is faith at its highest, and spiritual success at its crowning point.
     Great faith is exhibited not so much in doing as in suffering (Charles Parkhurst).
     In order to have a sympathetic God, we must have a suffering Savior, for true sympathy comes from understanding another person’s hurt by suffering the same affliction. Therefore we cannot help others who suffer without paying a price ourselves because afflictions are the cost we pay for our ability to sympathize. Those who wish to help others must first suffer. If we wish to rescue others, we must be willing to face the cross; experiencing the greatest happiness in life through ministering to others is impossible without drinking the cup Jesus drank and without submitting to the baptism He endured. The most comforting of David’s psalms were squeezed from his life by suffering, and if Paul had not been given “a thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor.12:7 KJV), we would have missed much of the heartbeat of tenderness that resonates through so many of his letters.
     If you have surrendered yourself to Christ, your present circumstances that seem to be pressing so hard against you are the perfect tool in the Father’s hand to chisel you into shape for eternity. So trust Him and never push away the instrument He is using, or you will miss the result of His work in your life.

Strange and difficult indeed,
We may find it,
But the blessing that we need
Is behind it.

The school of suffering graduates exceptional scholars."
     Hebrews chapter 11 is "Faith's Hall of Fame."  Listed in it are people who by faith did all sorts of miracles, persevered against immense temptation in remaining true to God, and won all sorts of life's battles. Yet after going through a long list of overcomers, the tone changes in v. 35a, and instead of speaking of those who, "conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised, shutting the mouths of lions, quenching the fury of the flames, escaping the edge of the sword, and seeing their weakness turned to strength, routing foreign armies," we find others who did not gain deliverance or "victory" as we would often tend to describe it. 
     These others did not escape by faith but were, "tortured and refused to be released so they might gain a better resurrection."   They, "faced jeers and flogging, were chained and put in prison, stoned, sawn in two, and put to death by the sword.  They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted, and mistreated..."
     Yet interestingly, it is not the first group, but this last group -- the sufferers of abuse, poverty, torture, and death for their faith -- of whom the author writes: "The world was not worthy of them."  The others are commended are commended for their faith, but the people in this second group (those who suffered abuse, severe poverty or destitution, and often torture until death) are said to be, "those of whom the world is not worthy."  To use the words from Lettie's entry: "Great faith is exhibited not so much in doing as in suffering...  The school of suffering graduates exceptional scholars." 
In His Service, Pastor Jeff