Emails from Almighty God

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Often, we will benefit from reading the Word in a fresh new way. We approach it much in the same way every time, and we just as often will get the same sense. But the Bible is alive, and it will declare to us its vitality and relevance.

The author of the letter will determine its value. If it’s coming from a Nigerian Lottery, you quickly dismiss it. From your grandparents, not so much. When we read we look for wisdom and joy, and peace for our souls. When you get an email from a close friend, you just want to find a place and time to sit and read. This is perhaps the first step. You don’t want to be distracted, but really just want to enjoy the read. If the letter is very good, we will save it to reread later.

We value the message when we seek to make it permanently available; printing it would the first step to that end. And memorizing it would be a next step, especially if the note was of a very important significance. Sometimes, you may read it out loud to others! The New Testament is the Church’s collection of letters which we deem as “inspired” to speak to us. These “emails” were saved and treasured as coming from the Spirit of God to us by association. they are infused with a a living presence, They can be like a sponge saturated with God Himself.

Some “letters” are read quickly– these are read in just 10 minutes or less.

  • 2 Thessalonians,
  • Titus,
  • Philemon,
  • Jude,
  • 2 & 3 John.

Others can be read in less than 20 minutes or so.

  • Galatians
  • Ephesians
  • Philippians,
  • Colossians,
  • 1 Thessalonians,
  • 1 & 2 Timothy,
  • James,
  • 1 & 2 Peter,
  • 1 John.

The following letters can be read in about an hour, or more.

  • Romans,
  • Hebrews,
  • 1& 2 Corinthians.

Trust and read, there is no other way…  try other versions, or an old favorite. All are excellent, if the Holy Spirit speaks to you. (I’m reading the NLT– the New Living Version, lately.) But I do remind myself, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.”

2 Timothy 3:16-17, NLT

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Alwyn Wall, Jano Wall and Tom Hooper at Calvary Chapel Melbourne, Florida, playing “Fool’s Wisdom.”

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“The Bible is alive; it speaks to me. It has feet; it runs after me. It has hands; it lays hold of me!” – Martin Luther

“The Word of God is creative. It is a hammer that crushes the hardness of our insubordination. It is medicine that heals the broken-hearted. And it is light that gives us guidance and hope on our way.” — John Piper

Becoming a Gentle & Meek Person

Being very gentle with others
Being very gentle with others

Gentleness means recognizing that the world around us is fragile, especially other people. It is recognizing our own capacity to do harm and choosing instead to be tender, soft-spoken, soft-hearted, and careful. To be careful means that you are becoming aware.

Perhaps this idea of becoming careful brings us the closest.  People who know exactly who they are become the most gentle of human beings.  They now live for others, and show a deep-seated care for even the “least.”

Jesus was gentle just as much as He is strong and wise and bold. You could say He was always gentle, even when He was bold and authoritative. No once did Jesus show unkindness in His words or teaching or actions. He was kind all the time, even when He was tired and hungry.

“He will not crush the weakest reed
or put out a flickering candle.
Finally he will cause justice to be victorious.
21 And his name will be the hope
of all the world.”

Matthew 12:20-21, NLT

 

“The meek man is not a human mouse afflicted with a sense of his own inferiority.  Rather he may be in his moral life as bold as a lion and as strong as Samson; but he has stopped being fooled about himself.  He has accepted God’s estimate of his own life.  He knows he is as weak and helpless as God declared him to be, but paradoxically, he knows at the same time that he is in the sight of God of more importance than angels.  In himself, nothing; in God, everything.  That is his motto.”                                                

 A.W. Tozer

“The higher people are in the favor of God, the more tender they are.” 

Martin Luther

“Perhaps no grace is less prayed for, or less cultivated than gentleness.  Indeed it is considered rather as belonging to natural disposition or external manners, than as a Christian virtue; and seldom do we reflect that not to be gentle is sin.” 

Norman Bethune

“Gentleness is an active trait, describing the manner in which we should treat others.  Meekness is a passive trait, describing the proper Christian response when others mistreat us.” 

Jerry Bridges

 

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Living Tethered to the Cross

We live in this place.
We live in this place.

St. Francis of  Assisi once wrote, “The devil never rejoices more than when he robs a servant of God of the peace of God.” Sometimes I think I’ve made the devil dance far too many times.

I confess that peace has never been real high on my list. Love, joy, kindness and even goodness are clear priorities. Peace–well… not so much. Until it’s not there. And then I get frantic by its absence, and look for it with manic bewilderment.

I’m panting for some sign that God still loves me. Anxiety eats at me. I beat myself up by my last failure. The guilt of my latest sin grows until it looms larger than the blood that saved me. Sometimes religious people have the most neurosis.

I’m afraid that we are taking “the present tense’ out of the Gospel. The past tense is far preferable to us as we manage the Christian life. We like to make check marks on our list. Repentance– check. Baptism– check. Bible study– check. I think it gives me a definite feeling of ‘maturity.’

But truth has a way of punching through. I haven’t arrived, and it seems I’m still the hideous sinner I always was. I cannot pretend otherwise, even with a truck load of cosmetics at my disposal. I know, I’ve tried. And I’m still ‘ugly.’ I do know forgiveness, and I do walk in its wonderful light (by grace.)

I read Luther 30 years ago. (And Bonhoeffer would say something similar.)  “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” – Martin Luther (this is the first of his 95 Theses.) There is a present tense here we can’t ignore. I don’t just repent over smoking, or fornication, or of hypocrisy, once and done. But my entire way of living is to be one of repenting.

Repentance is a ‘moment-by-moment’ grace.

As I read the Beatitudes I cannot evade the sense that they are present tense. Read them, they’re obviously not a spiritual checklist. Each verse seems to speak of the time being, the present moment. No list here, guys. It will never be ‘one-and-done.’

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,
    for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
4 God blesses those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
5 God blesses those who are humble,
    for they will inherit the whole earth.
6 God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,
    for they will be satisfied.
7 God blesses those who are merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
8 God blesses those whose hearts are pure,
    for they will see God.
9 God blesses those who work for peace,
    for they will be called the children of God.
10 God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right,
    for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

Matthew 5:3-10, NLT

All of the Christian life is repentance. Turning from sin and trusting in the good news that Jesus saves sinners aren’t merely a one-time inaugural experience but the daily substance of Christianity. The gospel is for every day and every moment. Repentance is to be the Christian’s continual posture.”

–John Piper

Luther’s last words, on his deathbed wrote on a scrap of paper these words, “We are beggars! This is true.” Thirty years before, he was only echoing his first thesis. It seems dear ones, we are to live at the foot of the cross. Everyday. Because we desperately need to.

And perhaps the biggest reason is this: Jesus only comes for ‘sinners.’

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Seeing the Real Thing, [Heroes]

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“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. 4 He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. 5 For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. 6 Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation!”

2 Corinthians 1:3-6

“Grace is given to heal the spiritually sick, not to decorate spiritual heroes”

Martin Luther

I don’t know if I have ever met a Medal of Honor recipient, and somehow I’m sure that I would’ve remembered.  I most certainly have not met ‘a spiritual hero’.  I imagine them however to be quite dynamic, gushing over with humility and love.  Somewhat like being a ‘Superman of the Soul’.

Through His Holy Spirit, we were chosen not because we are superheroes, but because we are sick.  God doesn’t inspect us for exceptional qualities that we may someday possess.  Instead He is a paramedic, intervening with grace and mercy in our distress and helping us in our desperation.

Perhaps, there are some who secretly want to be ‘decorated’.  They love the attention and covet glory.  Faith is not really a medicine; it is more like a decoration.  It pins on its chest the Medal of Honor.  The highest award you can receive–the holy medallion of faith (with oak leaf clusters, of course).

Having had lived for a few years in a ‘third world country’,  I’ve gotten to observe up close believers who are pathetically poor.  I have seen poverty crush people like a boy crushes a bug on the sidewalk.  The sense I have can be summed up in a phrase, a ‘desperate gratitude’ for His grace.

Jesus has come and gathered up all their sin and shame and evil, and carried it away from them.  Their walk with Him now is in gratitude, not in attainment.  Here in the USA that ‘seeing’ has become myopic.  We struggle to see clearly.  Actually, we can be almost dangerous if we don’t see this.

We cannot envision anything clearly without an adjustment to our eyes.  There has to be a desperation that moves in and heals us.  Something that will pull our faith like a magnet.

We are not collecting ‘merit badges’, but medication and rolled-up bandages.  We hurt– our friends and family hurt, people we haven’t met yet, hurt.

“The mercies of God make a sinner proud, but a saint humble.”   Thomas Watson

 

 

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Dismayed by My Own Fallenness

“As the Scriptures say,

“No one is righteous—
    not even one.
11 No one is truly wise;
    no one is seeking God.
12 All have turned away;
    all have become useless.
No one does good,
    not a single one.”

Romans 3:10-12

Scripture never, ever flatters the human ego.  It acts on us directly, “dividing the spirit from the soul.”  I find no glowing review of our “noble” humanity. The opposite is true.

At our deepest core, the Bible teaches that we are depraved—separated from truth and goodness.  In theology this is called, “original sin.”  (I don’t think there is really anything original about it.) There is also a concept called “contrition.”   It means, “having sorrow or sadness over sin involving making steps to amend your ways.”  Notice the definition instills a sense of action.  Perhaps the idea of penitence need a new emphasis?

Does your discipleship include the reality of you?

There are broad, generalized teachings that are woven into the Word— the iniquity and fallenness of men.  It consistently talks a seemless truth, without fail. ( That’s one of the reasons why I know the Bible is true.)  Yet the Father has made provision for our falseness and weakness, he sweeps nothing under a cosmic rug.  You might say the Scripture completely understands us, as us.  Our illusions and deceptions, blatant or subtle, do not confuse or mislead him.

Our discipleship must be “walked out” in brokenness. That is the only way it will work.

We have absolutely nothing to boast about.  I cannot point to this blog— or having been a missionary, a teacher and a pastor as my “good things.”  Today, I sat and became very aware of my inner wickedness. But because He directly intervenes in my life, I will not die in my sins like I deserve.

I am sad.  You see, I am fallen, a complete failure.  It’s easier to find water in the Sahara Desert than to find goodness in my heart.  As a matter of fact, I’ve taken evil to a new level.  I excel, and then I keep practicing it trying to squeeze out more and more power— pride— pleasure.

Those who mourn their contagiously evil hearts (Matthew 5:3-4) are the ones who God can comfort.  Our sadness over our sin (and the sin of the world)—is evidence of the Spirit’s action over our depravity. Look for it, and rest in the Spirit’s work.

“Original sin is in us, like the beard. We are shaved today and look clean, and have a smooth chin; tomorrow our beard has grown again, nor does it cease growing while we remain on earth. In like manner original sin cannot be extirpated [completely destroyed]  from us; it springs up in us as long as we live. Nevertheless we are bound to resist it to our utmost strength, and to cut it down unceasingly.” 

 ~Martin Luther

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The Clinic is Open

In the late part of the 1800s, a London Times journalist asked ten of the brightest men in England this question, “What is wrong with the World?”  One of these men responded,

“Dear Sirs,  I am.

Signed, G.K. Chesterton.”

Chesterton had been incredibly convinced of his own depravity.  He knew the evil that waited for him, lusting for him in the next room–or the very next set of circumstances.  G.K. had no illusions about the sin, a ravenous sin that could seize him at the drop of a hat–springing up, and devouring him.  In the moral and spiritual landscape, he wasn’t the predator, no!  He was the prey.

In my own walk of following Jesus, I must deal with certain issues.  I want to stress this–I have a mental illness but, it is not a spiritual illness.  But  that is not completely true either.  We all are spiritually ill, everyone of us, made sick by sin–and Satan is volunteering to be our doctor!

Redcross On a different level, the kingdom of darkness is working to keep me spiritually sick.  The Prince (or chief physician) of that evil has intentions to malnourish and to erode my spiritual health.  His form of smallpox, and his version of the measles corrupt and sicken me.

I guess I’m in a quandary.  Who should treat me?  I find myself trying to see both.  I have periods when I favor one treatment plan–and then I abruptly make an appointment  to see the competing healthcare provider.  I vacillate and it carries me right in the dynamic tension of Romans chapter 7:5, 14-15.

5 “When we were controlled by our old nature, sinful desires were at work within us, and the law aroused these evil desires that produced a harvest of sinful deeds, resulting in death. So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. 15 I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.”

I’m at the place; and perhaps, the age, to work out some kinks in my heart–and my thinking.  And I scare myself.  There is such a dynamic working over me, that compels me to seek Jesus for his help.  My soul is sickened– a wrong diet of choices, habits, attitudes– all in an “overheated culture that is pounding and cajoling and maneuvering, like some “used car salesman” all on a spiritual level.

“True” holiness, not the religious kind, is our daily destiny. Mixed with grace, it becomes something that pleases our Father.

Dear ones, please hold on to your faith and love in our Lord Jesus.  We must fear God enough to do this.  We must hate sin even more.

“I am more afraid of my own heart than of the pope and all his cardinals. I have within me the great pope, self.”

–Martin Luther

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“Depression Deceptions,” by James Winsor

“Pilgrim’s Progress” by Bunyan

Bryan’s Note: On many occasions I encounter a blog that communicates so well that I think about doing a re-post.  Today is one of those days. So, here is Pastor Winsor’s exceptional article on depression.  I hope that his perspective will bless you and give you a deeper understanding of this mental illness.


 

Depression Deceptions by Rev. James Winsor
Lots of people these days suffer from depression. Many of them are Christians. If you suffer from depression, I hope the following information helps you. If you don’t suffer from depression, then maybe this will assist you in understanding and helping those who do. Here is a list of three Depression Deceptions to avoid.

 

Deception #1: If you’re depressed, you’re not a strong Christian. 

On August 2, 1527, Martin Luther wrote these words in a letter to a close friend: “l have been thrown more than a whole week into death and tossed back and forth in hell.. .I have lost Christ totally and have been shaken by the floods and storms of desperation and of blasphemy against God.”Even strong, mature Christians like Martin Luther can suffer from depression. Depression is not a sign of unbelief or weak faith. It’s a sign of spiritual battle, and battles are for healthy soldiers.

This is a sin-sick world. You’d be crazy not to be depressed sometimes!

Deception #2: No one would understand. 

Holy Scripture tells Christians to “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). We’re told to “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). God doesn’t want you to carry your depression alone. God makes sure there are Christians around who understand.

You don’t have to be alone in your depression. Not all Christians will understand it, but some will. You just have to take a few risks until you find the ones who have experienced depression themselves and will understand what you’re going through. Your fellowship with those Christians will be tight. You may even end up being glad the depression brought the two of you together.

Deception #3: Depression is a Useless Detour in the Christian Life.

God has a purpose for the depression that falls on His children. In an Old Testament passage we’re told that “an evil spirit from the Lord tormented King Saul” (1 Samuel 16:14). God had anointed David to be Saul’s replacement as king. God wanted to save Saul’s eternal soul, but He also wanted to replace him as king. So God sent David as a music therapist for Saul. “Whenever the spirit from God came upon Saul, David would take his harp and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him” (1 Samuel 16:23).

God gave Saul a problem and sent David as the solution. Saul might have done the obvious thing – thank God for David and support him! But instead Saul tried to kill David because he was jealous of him. Saul missed the opportunity his depression offered him. He rejected both his depression and David as gifts from God.

St. Paul, on the other hand, had a similar experience of evil sent from God for a good purpose. He responded the right way and received the suffering as a gift from God. Paul wrote, “There was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.. .When I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

God presented Paul with a problem. Then He presented him with the solution, grace in Christ. Paul learned to be thankful for his weaknesses because his weaknesses made him need Christ.

Depression does that to and for you. It leaves you with nothing to hang onto, but Jesus. When you’re depressed, you can’t find anything inside to place hope in. All that exists is darkness and emptiness. You come to find your hope in something outside of you: Christ and His cross and pardon.

That’s not a detour from the Christian life. That is the Christian life, God has you right where He wants you.

I was really depressed one day. I told a pastor friend of mine, “Sometimes I don’t know whether I’m saved. All I know is that I have a Savior.” God had me right where He wanted me. I could actually rejoice in my weakness. Suddenly all I had was Christ. And, in a way, you don’t have Christ until Christ is all you have.

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” 

Galatians 6:2

“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” 

Romans 12:15

NOTE: If you can’t seem to shake your feelings of sadness and depression after a few weeks, seek out help right away. Talk to your parents, a counselor, or your doctor to help you deal with these overwhelming emotions.

 


 

The Rev. James Winsor is pastor at Risen Christ Lutheran Church in Arvada, Colorado.

 

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Taken from the Spring 2002 edition of Higher Things magazine. You can write Higher Things at P.O. Box 58011, Pleasant Prairie, WI 53158-8011.

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