Harry’s Choice (and Ours) – Romans 12:1

On the morning of October 25, a few years ago, Harry made a decision that not only would tremendously affect his life but would also tremendously affect the lives of hundreds of other families.

He got up before dawn that day, sat down at his desk and penned this letter to his fiance:

My Darling,

In the years to come do not ever doubt how much I loved you.

I am filled with much sadness as I write this letter. Sadness because I will never hold you in my arms again. Sadness because we will not enjoy our wedding day. Sadness because we will not have a family or grow old together.

No doubt by the time this letter reaches you you will have heard of my death. I hope that you will remember me as a courageous and honorable man who was willing to die for a cause he desperately believed in. I do not regret my decision – my only regret is that I cannot look into your eyes, tell you again how much I love you, and kiss you one last time.

One day all this craziness will be over and life will be normal again. My hope is that you will find love again and enjoy your life knowing that you were very very loved.

All my love,

Harry

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Brick #64 – Hebrews 12:1-3

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Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 

looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.

It has rightfully been said that the Christian life is more like a marathon that a 100 yard dash. A marathon requires endurance. This passage is giving us some tips on what it takes to endure – what it takes to still be standing and to finish strong even when the race we are running becomes really really hard.

Tip #1 – We can be encouraged knowing that those saints who have already run their race and endured to the end are cheering us on and rooting for us to persevere courageously. When life is hard, stop and listen to this cloud of witnesses and take heart knowing that they have gone through incredible hardship to get to the finish line.

Tip #2 – Like a runner who would not ever think about running his race while carrying 10 pound weights, we must ruthlessly rid ourselves of anything that weighs us down and keeps us from running efficiently. These weights may not even be sinful but nonetheless they are hindering us from faithfully following Jesus. Identify them and do whatever it takes to rid yourself of worthless weight. This will involve hard choices.

Tip #3 – You can no doubt easily identify the sin in your life that “clings so closely.” You have tried to get rid of it but it keeps finding a way back into your life and just won’t let go. You try to shake it off but it just clings even more fiercely. How do you get rid of it? Here are a few thoughts: 1) Confess it as sin before God – agree with God that it is sin and that you want to be rid of it once and for all. 2) Find and memorize an appropriate Scripture verse and say it out loud to the evil one at least 10x each day. 3) Whenever you are facing the temptation to give in to this sin shout “NO” as loud as you can wherever you are and whoever might be around. 4) Find someone you trust to confide in who can both hold you accountable and can help untangle the sin that clings so closely.

Tip #4 – Keep looking ahead to Jesus  and keep your eyes on the cross. Don’t look back and wallow in shame or guilt. Don’t look around at other people who are content to live with their sin. Focus on the One who loves you, who forgives you, and who endured the hardship of the cross to gain victory over sin for you.

Tip #5 – By faith, allow the “joy of the Lord to be your strength.” There WILL be difficult days and difficult years. But find joy in the journey as you anticipate crossing the finish line and hearing the thunderous ovation from the cloud of witnesses and hearing the voice of your Heavenly Father say, “Well done! Enter now into the joy of your reward.”

May this brick help you to endure the hardships that this life brings and to run your race with ruthless tenacity as you look forward to the glorious finish line.

Quotes Worth Pondering – Randy Alcorn (Heaven)

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“The best of life on Earth is a glimpse of Heaven; the worst of life is a glimpse of Hell. For Christians, this present life is the closest they will come to Hell. For unbelievers, it is the closest they will come to Heaven.”
“For the Christian, death is not the end of adventure but a doorway from a world where dreams and adventures shrink, to a world where dreams and adventures forever expand.”
(Randy Alcorn – Heaven)

Pop Pop Epistle #125 – About Waterfalls

Dear Grandkids,

Last week Nona and I took a few days and went to the western part of NC and did some waterfall chasing. We saw 15 waterfalls in 2 days, put 40,000+ steps on our fitbits, and had a great time exploring some of the beauty of God’s creation.

We visited Skinny Dip Falls, Lower Graveyard Falls, Soco Falls, Mingo Falls, Dry Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, Glen Falls, Upper Whitewater Falls, Looking Glass Falls, Moore Cove Falls, High Falls, Triple Falls, Hooker Falls (these last 3 were all at Dupont State Park) Pearson’s Falls, and Catawba Falls. Nine of those included hikes to get to them which made the experience richer as we got away from the more touristy falls and out into nature.

One of the things that we marveled at was the amount of water that came over the falls we visited – that just kept coming and coming and coming. An unceasing flow of thunderous water that provided a majestic, awe-filled spectacle of nature that was wondrous to behold. It was in many ways a spiritual experience. When author Charles Dickens first visited Niagara Falls in 1842 he made this statement, “When I felt how near to my Creator I was standing, the first effect, and the enduring one—instant lasting—of the tremendous spectacle, was Peace.” There is very much a sense of enjoying God’s nearness while marveling at His creative genius.

Here is an interesting story about Niagara Falls. It is estimated that about 30 million people visit Niagara Falls each year. I was one of those people when I was about 10 years old. (And a bit of an adventurous daredevil as you can tell from the picture). It really is an amazing sight even if it is so touristy. But if you happened to be a visitor to the Falls on March 30, 1848 you would have been very disappointed. The mighty Niagara had slowed down to a mere trickle. The bed of the river was exposed. Fish died. Turtles floundered about. People were able to walk on the river bottom. For about 30-40 hours the waterfall ceased to exist.

So what happened? Well, it turns out that huge chunks of ice had formed at the northeastern tip of Lake Erie blocking the lake’s outlet into the head of the Niagara River. The ice jam had become an ice dam and the bottleneck effectively  stopped the flow of water over the Falls.

There is a lesson to be learned here. Psalm 42 says:

1 As a deer pants for flowing streams,
    so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
    for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?…
Deep calls to deep
    at the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your waves
    have gone over me.
By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
    and at night his song is with me,
    a prayer to the God of my life.

When the love of God washes over us like the rejuvenating waters of a refreshing waterfall then our souls are nourished and we can almost literally hear God singing over us. But when we choose sin over obedience, our ways over His ways; when we walk a wayward path and turn our face away from His; when the things of this world become more important to us than the things of His Word – then the music stops. The Lord seems far far away. And the refreshing waters cease.

I hope you will take this lesson to heart – and whenever you find yourself chasing waterfalls stop and ponder the deep deep love of God and let it wash over you and nourish your soul.

Never forget that you are very loved!

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Brick #63 – John 15:1-11

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Abide!

The word is mentioned 10x in these 11 verses. Evidently it is a key word in this passage. It is an awesome Biblical word and a great concept to understand and practice.

Why wouldn’t any believer want to know how to abide in Christ when they understand the results of abiding?

  • Verse 5 – Abiders bear much fruit!
  • Verse 7 – Abiders have their prayers answered
  • Verse 8 – Abiders bring glory to the Father!
  • Verse 11 – Abiders are joy-filled!

Shouldn’t all believers aspire to those 4 things? So let’s ask two questions as we ponder this passage:

1) What does it mean to abide? Jesus uses the illustration of a vine and a branch. As long as a branch is connected to the vine and drawing it’s nourishment from the vine then it will produce fruit. So abiding has to do with commitment, connection, and clinging fiercely to the vine. Jesus identifies Himself as the True Vine so when we are committed, connected, and clinging to Him we are abiding. But when he says He is the True Vine He implies that there are a lot of false vines that often capture our attention and allegiance. When this happens our souls are nourished not by Jesus but by other things – which prevents an abiding relationship with Jesus.

2) How do we abide? Jesus gives us two specific ways in this passage that answer this question. Verse 7 says, “If you abide in me and my words abide in you…” So a key to abiding is to make God’s Word a priority in our lives. Read the Word. Ponder the Word. Memorize the Word. Study the Word. Listen to the preaching of the Word. Sing the Word. Talk about the Word with others. Pray the Word. Obey the Word. Being a man or a woman of the Word will go a long way toward fostering an abiding relationship with Jesus. Secondly, verse 9 says, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.” Never forget that it was Jesus’ love that compelled Him to go to the cross. Think often about the cross. Think often about how our Savior suffered so that we would not have to suffer the consequences of our own sin. Think often about how you were once far from God but have now been brought near… because of the incredulous love of Jesus. Let it daily wash over you and refresh you. Abide in His love.

May this brick encourage you to do whatever it takes to become an abider so that you can indeed bear much fruit, have your prayers answered, glorify the father, and experience His unspeakable joy.

 

Quotes Worth Pondering – Jerry Bridges (The Pursuit of Holiness)

QuotesWorthPondering

“We need to cultivate in our own hearts the same hatred of sin God has. Hatred of sin as sin, not just as something disquieting or defeating to ourselves, but as displeasing to God, lies at the root of all true holiness.”
“God wants us to walk in obedience—not victory. Obedience is oriented toward God; victory is oriented toward self.”
(Jerry Bridges – The Pursuit of Holiness)

Pop Pop Epistle #124 – About Hoshana Rabbah

Dear Grandkids,

Happy Hoshana Rabbah!

OK, let me explain. This is another lesson in your Jewish heritage.

Today is the last day of the Jewish Festival known as The Feast of Tabernacles (or Sukkot or The Feast of Ingathering.) It was one of the three festivals on which the Israelites were commanded to perform an annual pilgrimage to the Temple and it commemorates the forty-year period during which the children of Israel were wandering in the desert, living in temporary shelters.

It was a seven day festival. And there were several rituals that had become a part of the celebration. One involved building make shift tents to live in for the week. One involved the waving of palm branches. But another one has special significance in relation to Jesus.

By the time of the first century, a water pouring ceremony had become part of the tradition of the festival. The priests would go down to the pool of Siloam and they would fill a golden vessel with the water there. They would then go up to the temple, through the Water Gate, accompanied by the sound of the shofar, and would pour the water so that it flowed over the altar, along with wine from another bowl.

John 7:37-38 records…

“On the last day of the feast, the great day (Hoshana Rabbah), Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”

Jesus used the symbolism of this ritual at The Feast to identify Himself as the Messiah – the One whom the Jewish people were watching, waiting, and praying for. Some people believed. Some did not. (John 7:40-44) For those who did – it was indeed a “great day”! The Hebrew words Hoshana Rabbah literally mean “the great salvation.” And that is exactly what Jesus is.

There are many many people that you will see this week who are spiritually thirsty – whose soul’s are parched and are yearning to be refreshed. Perhaps the Lord will use you to offer them a drink of “living water.” Perhaps the Lord will use you to make it “a truly great day” for someone today.

Happy Hoshana Rabbah!

Never forget that you are very loved!

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Brick #62 – Ephesians 5:15-20

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I want to zero in on verses 15-17 from this passage.

15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

Living with intentionality!  This is the point Paul is making. He uses the word “walk” in verse 15 as a metaphor for “live”. This has been a favorite theme of his in Ephesians…

  • “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world…” (2:1-2)
  • “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” (4:1)
  • “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.” (4:17)
  • “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.  And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (5:1-2)
  • “For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.” (5:8)

Paul’s encouragement to the believers is to live intentionally and to do so wisely – not foolishly. Practically, how do we do this – how do we become more wise in the way that we live? Scripture gives us some tips: 1) Hang around people that are already wise in the way that they live (Proverbs 13:20). 2) Ask God to fuel us and fill us with His wisdom (James 1:5). 3) Pay attention to what God’s Word says and obey it (Matthew 7:24-27). 4) Get to know Jesus better and better (Colossians 2:2-3).

The other side of the same coin would be to answer the question “how do we not live like fools?” Again, Scripture gives us some tips: 1) Learn to hold your tongue and watch what you say (Proverbs 18:7). 2) Learn from your mistakes and failures (Proverbs 26:11). 3) Never stop learning (Proverbs 1:22). 4) Listen to people when they give you advice (Proverbs 12:15). 5) Receive instruction with humility (Proverbs 1:7).

Why does Paul say we need to take this to heart – why do we need to be very intentional in the way that we live? Because the days are evil. Because life is short. Because people need Jesus. Because we don’t want to waste our lives. Because the Lord is honored when we use our lives for His purposes. 

May this brick encourage your hearts and motivate you to take one more step toward living each of your days with intentionality.

Quotes Worth Pondering – Nancy Pearcey (Finding Truth)

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“When a worldview exchanges the Creator for something in creation, it will also exchange a high view of humans made in God’s image for a lower view of humans made in the image of something in creation. Humans are not self-existent, self-sufficient, or self-defining. They did not create themselves. They are finite, dependent, contingent beings. As a result, they will always look outside themselves for their ultimate identity and meaning. They will define human nature by its relationship to the divine—however they define divinity. Those who do not get their identity from a transcendent Creator will get it from something in creation.”
(Nancy Pearcey – Finding Truth)

Pop Pop Epistle #123 – About Protocols

Dear Grandkids,

In just a few minutes I am going to hit a button on my computer and this blog post is somehow going to be available for you to read almost immediately. There are no wires connecting our devices. You might be in the room upstairs or you might be on the other side of the world. It won’t matter – you will still have instant access to what I write.

I have absolutely no idea how this is even possible. It certainly was NOT possible when I was growing up. But technology has made the impossible possible.

I have read that in order for this communication to happen that there are “protocols” that have to be place – some of these include hypertext transfer protocol (http), transmission control protocol (TCP) and the Internet protocol (IP). Protocols are sets of rules that machines follow to complete tasks. Without a common set of protocols that all machines connected to the Internet must follow, communication between devices couldn’t happen. The various machines would be unable to understand one another or even send information in a meaningful way.

But again, I am clueless how this is even possible.

What I am not clueless about is that there are protocols that must be in place if communication is going to happen between us and God. These protocols are spelled out in Scripture. Here are a few for you to ponder:

  • Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known. (Jeremiah 33:3)
  • Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God. (John 8:47)
  • For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil. (1 Peter 3:12)
  • My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. (Proverbs 2:1-5)
  • If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. (Psalm 66:18)
  • We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. (John 9:31)
  • If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (John 15:7)

God has made the impossible possible. We are able to communicate instantaneously with the Holy God of the universe. But we have to pay attention to the protocols that He has put in place. God does not answer the prayers of everyone. But His Word does tell us how we can be confident that He will hear our prayers. One more protocol to leave you with: And this is the confidence that we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will he hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of Him.” (1 John 5: 14-15)

When you read this, take a minute and pray a prayer of thanks to God for enabling us to communicate with Him. And ask the Father to give you a desire to always follow the prayer protocols so that you can be confident that He is not only listening but also ready to answer your prayers.

And never forget that you are very loved!

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