Saturday, February 21, 2009


On the wall in front of my desk is a painting that captures my attention, reminding me again and again that I am the creation of my heavenly Father and He is ever in touch with me in every circumstance of life. It is a painting of a portion of that great work of Michelangelo that is found in the Sistine Chapel. It shows the finger of God stretching down to touch the finger of Adam, his concept of the creation scene.

On a related note, recently I had the occasion to see again the movie, “The Agony and the Ecstasy”, the story of Michelangelo’s plaster-fresco painting of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and the utter agony he suffered in accomplishing this work. On towering scaffolds, constantly bent over backward to apply his craft, contending with wet weather’s mold and thus, the difficultly of plaster’s curing time, through winter’s cold and summer’s heat, he slaved to complete it. On a curved ceiling 60 feet high, 131 by 43 feet, he created the 5000 square feet of fresco from July of 1508 to October of 1512. Today it still remains a remarkable achievement.

Indeed, “human history…out of the shadows of suffering have sprung the great literature, the great paintings, the great philosophies, the great civilizations. All of them have blossomed into the light out of the shadows of suffering.” Even logic shares this fact – if that which I dream of as the idealic life, the perfect place and life of peace and all of the blessedness that I could ever imagine, it is logical to assume that all that precedes such a dream is, by comparison, suffering in the less-than perfect present.

When we look to the Scriptures, the intimate moments of agony in the beautiful Mt. of Olives, from which heaven would finally be reclaimed, would have their ultimate consummation of suffering in the cross on another hill. The path to glory from the Mount had to go down in order to be lifted up.

My own existence and its thoughts of glory in this moment must realize the next moment’s return to the valley of shadows if I would mount up to the reality of glory in the tomorrow beyond this day’s measure of pain.

This contrasting note of suffering preluding glory’s consummation is Paul’s driving force as he glories in his suffering as a reach to the perfection of the glory to be revealed. It stands to reason then that the depths of suffering will increase by degrees the heights of glorious joy to be attained. And no difficult transition is this. 2 Timothy 2:12 “If we suffer, we shall also reign with him.” 2 Corinthians 4:11 “For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.”

Scientifically, it has been said that there is only a minute difference in the extremes of hot and cold, for they are like the opposite ends of a wire that is curved to form a circle, the suffering of one end and the glory of the other, brought into near contact’s joining. Time also, with all that it contains, is said to have a warp that puts the past quite near the future. Such ideas are not always understood or shared by the everyday musing of man, however, they do declare the reality of God, who is so timeless that His eternal past and future are present reality, and it is to this existence we are called out of our weakness and suffering to enjoy the timeless glory of perfect life with Him. Oh God, may I with Paul, so accept and glory in my weakness, that Your strength may help me and others to realize the music that is coming after this prelude of suffering is accomplished.

Here’s my own few lines to describe my meditations:

My life’s a prelude of songs in the night,
A durge of its suffering through wrong crushing right.
The notes being played from this first page of score,
Reveal with their rhythm of what is in store.
But words here aren’t written, no joy song is sung,
For that is reserved ‘til prelude’s finale is rung.
Life’s choir of suffered silence waits for its note to play,
When life’s prelude has concluded in that hymn of perfect day. (Jim)

Be encouraged in today’s valley as you move toward tomorrow’s mountain.

Friday, February 20, 2009


The nursery rhyme about Old Mother Hubbard’s “boneless” bare cupboard is all too familiar a theme in many lives at different times. Facing the prospects of more expense than income has driven many to despair, even those who, at other times, are people with strong faith in God. Of such the question may be asked:

How much do you have?
Enough the reply.
Then why for more manna do you cast your eye?
Do you not know, with much there is spoil,
But when there is little, it’s always fresh oil?
God’s bounty is not for hoarding away,
But given in measure for needs of the day.
With Him the provision’s just right there on time.
No need for your fretting when you’re on His mind.
So take daily blessings, though enough may be small,
For when God is in it, His little is all. (Jim)

I Kings 17:16 "And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the Word of the Lord, which He spake by Elijah."

Elijah was sent to a destitute widow of Zarephath, so that she could sustain him during the drought he’d pronounced. She had but little but gave it all to the prophet, and her gift was blessed by a meal barrel and oil cruse that daily met her needs. (I Kings 17:8-16) Israel was free but hungry in the wilderness, and God provided them with manna, enough for every day’s need. (Exodus 16:11-26) How typical the reaction of some to display a lack of trust and try to hoard it beyond their need. Such is the case when we lose sight of Whose provision it is, Whose promise sustains, and Whose purpose is to have it bear a future blessing to others. The result of such loss of vision is the spoiling of the very provisions intended for good. How much better to be blessed by enough, though little in its beginning, that God in His faithful purpose may increase our capacity for more blessing, in order to be more of a blessing. How much better to have the fresh new bread of daily fare, than the dry or moldy crusts of yesterday’s greed. Indeed, the Lord is great in His faithfulness and His mercies and compassions do not fail, but are new every morning. (Lamentations 3:22-23) Give thanks for such daily bread, and pray that you would so share its provison in your life, that your faith would grow, and that its provision through you would resound to the growing faith of others, too.

Be encouraged, my friends, for little is all, if it is His.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


I made a visit with church members today and something in the conversation brought to my mind some studies I had attended under T. W. Hunt several years ago. The study involved his notes which he later published in the book, “From Heaven’s View”. Writing out of his own experiences in family crisis with issues of terminal illness and suffering, he and his daughter walk the reader through the process of God bringing His children to glory. Unlike the traditional approach which was described as “me” centered reflections on what God has orchestrated, they attempt to shed light upon how God views our process and prayers, redemption and relationship, and our transformation into what He has already proclaimed us to be!

They pointed out that “down through history, people have tended to emphasize event rather than process…life moves around events and we measure progress in terms of event—graduation, a new job, or a promotion.” But, they emphasized “events become significant as they relate to process. God takes much more interest in our development than in our milestones.”

As I weighed this information, I realized how often that my desires and prayers have been for that significant event to occur that would make everything all right in the midst of whatever crisis I found myself. Taking Hunt’s lead, I recognize that more important than some instant’s relief is the “heavenly view” of my whole progress in “growing up into” the glorious image of Christ, crisis or not. “Putting on the new man” of Paul’s admonition is seeing my life from a higher perspective, and walking through each moment’s myriad of choices that lead me from one plateau to another, ever higher toward God’s glorious intent. Colossians 3:10 “And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.”

As I contemplate this, oh, how I realize that when I fail to look “from heaven’s view” I begin to look back and dwell upon past difficulty, allowing my attitudes to fall into a “slough of dispond” that often consumes me. In this state no forward vision and implementation of progress toward glory is realized, no joy of the journey experienced. (Note: The Slough of Dispond is a reference to a place spoken of in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. It represents one of the difficulties encountered by his main character, Christian, on his way to God’s promised, glorious land.)

Hunt further draws attention to the fact of the biblical pattern of process. He does so by drawing from several scriptures which accent the pattern most vividly. First, what he terms as the favor that leads to more favor, citing Matthew 13:12, “For whoever has, to him shall more be given.” Truly, when we have perceived God’s favor toward us, we are given the door to increasingly more favor, as we rightly seek deeper relationship with Him.

Secondly, Hunt cites the strength that leads to more strength. (Psalms 84:5-7 “Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee…they go from strength to strength.”) As we endure and press forward, we grow in strength to overcome greater odds. Even science agrees with this on a physical basis. Strength fails with a lack of stretching and exercise of it.

Thirdly, consider the progress of our faith. Quoted is Romans 1:17 “For in (the gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith.” As we exercise faith in God, more of Him is revealed, growing our faith in the very exercise of that relationship with Him. From one level of faith we step to yet a higher one as we keep walking and learning more of Him and His will and heart. The child who is learning to walk, and loses balance at times, does so even in the presence of a loving and guiding parent.

A final biblical principle cites “from glory to glory” in II Corinthians 3:18 “But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” Oh, here is the capstone of God’s continuing process of growth, the stairsteps, as it were, ever toward the fulfillment when we step through into heaven itself.

Careful! Do not see the steps of growth as our earning heaven’s entrance. That is assured when we begin our journey with Christ. The favor to favor, strength to strength, faith to faith, and glory to glory is our ever growing understanding and experience of “heavenly life” in the “here and now” of life in an imperfect world.

Indeed, we are limited in our vision of the completed journey with God. Like a tapestry being woven with threads of all kinds and colors, our lives are being completed toward a glorious picture. God, from heaven’s view, sees the completed work and the process it requires to complete it. We, quite naturally looking from the underside, see little but knots and frayed ends as the threads are tied together and shuttled through the loom. Hence, our dwelling on the “knots” rather than the beautiful blends of color that the process produces, a glorious work of God.

Oh, friend, take heaven’s view and be encouraged in your walk of favor, strength, faith and glory.

Monday, February 9, 2009


They say...(now, right away a question comes to mind - "who are the THEY who always SAY?)..."You can never go home again!" Well, I've got one for them to record.

Yesterday, I became the pastor of the church that was my first pastorate 44 years and 2 months ago. It also is the church where about 49 years and 7 months ago that I invited Jesus Christ into my heart and life, and was baptized, beginning my Christian walk. Now, as I enter into this new phase of my ministry, I have COME FULL CIRCLE.
As I approach this important new position as shepherd of God's flock, I am filled with all the apprehension of a brand new preacher, taking on his first charge, and when I think about it, perhaps that is exactly the feeling that I should have at this point. Anything more would be arming myself with a weight of any past laurels I may have had, and less dependence on the God Who is truly the One Who acheived them. Before me lies not simply a congregation that represents another step on my journey, but a people who, too, have a journey to fulfil, and now, hoping to do so with a new pastor to lead them in the right path.

Full circle, yes, and for each time I have stepped into that most sacred place of proclamation, it must be ever with the same resolve and purpose ... to preach Christ for the edification of the church, the members particular, and to share the good news of Christ to those who do not yet know Him as their Saviour and Lord!

Full circle, yes, and though I have grown somewhat wiser and more prepared to meet the challenges of my task, that task is the same as it was 44 years and 2 months ago. Mostly different faces, perhaps two or three added generations of people, but in every other way, the same. Come home again, oh yes, I have, and with a new resolve to take all I've learned and with God's guiding Spirit, do a better job than I did before.

It occurs to me that COMING FULL CIRCLE is exactly how God created His world to be. When He first created man and placed Him in that special Garden of Eden, there to fellowship and walk with God, He knew even then that man would sin and fall from its innocent perfect order. His design all along was to have His only Son, Jesus Christ, to redeem man's fallen condition and restore "Eden" again. To come home again! Consider these passages that provide the covers of all God has done and will do. Genesis 2:8-9 "And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden..." and Revelation 22:1-2 "And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations."

Oh, dear friends, we do have a great task to proclaim, and it is ever the same. Be encouraged and do it with all of God's granted might and will.

Friday, February 6, 2009


Monday, January 28th, a major ICE STORM hit northern Arkansas, leaving our county and others entirely without electricity. The icy mixture left the land looking like, first, the movie set of the ice palace in Narnia, then, with the melting, a war zone of broken trees and electric poles. With no power, my blogging was limited to writing down a few reflections for a future blog. Yesterday, February 3rd, power was restored. What follows is an expansion of my notes and thoughts during the “cold” spell.

1. ASLAN IS COMING BACK! (Jan. 29th)
The wicked Snow Queen is losing her grip on the world! Such was the news being rumored around the Land of Narnia, and was reported by Mr. Beaver to the children who were the main characters in C. S. Lewis’ epic fantasy, The Chronicles of Narnia. The snow and ice that had blanketed the land was melting, a sign that Aslan was on his way.

Such was my impressions as I looked out on the land around my new home, a scene that looked like nature’s war zone. Ice-laden branches broken and fallen lay strewn everywhere. Beyond our home, radio reports of the entire area, later learned to stretch across northern Arkansas, southern Missouri, and through western and north central Kentucky, revealed major power failures. Power lines and poles broken under the weight of ice and trees falling, a result of the 2-day onslaught of freezing moisture.

As in the movie, the crystal-like covering was at once mysteriously beautiful in its deadly grip on all of life. A close-up shot of a hickory nut shows how thick its icy prison to be.

After three days the temperature began to rise, and the melting revealed the earth again. Here I saw the reflection of Narnia’s hope, the return of Aslan. Aslan, a magnificent lion, and in Lewis’ imagined account, a type of Christ Who would return to free the land from the domination of Satan, typified by the Snow Queen.

Indeed, our world, like that of Narnia, is bound by sin’s icy grip that paralyses man’s life, life that could be warmed and blessed by the intimate love of our heavenly Father. God still reigns and though He allows Satan’s grip for a season, He is still in control and has set in motion the ultimate redemption of His creation, first man and then a new heaven and earth.
It has been promised. Christ, God’s Son, in His own words declared it so, and promised before He ascended to heaven after His resurrection, “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” (John 14:1-3) John then wrote what God revealed about what would ultimately happen as Christ’s promise was fulfilled. “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming dwon from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband…And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away…these words are true and faithful.” (Revelation 21:1-5)

Without power for a week caused one critical area of shortage – no water! The water company’s storage was drained and until generators were installed to pump and refill – we were without this most precious commodity for cleansing and drinking.

Oh, how wonderful to be reminded in the midst of shortages of such that my Lord is not only the provision of the water of cleansing for my heart and mind – and my soul’s thirst, but He is the LIVING WATER, the unfailing fountain source that promises to overflow in my life – to even give supply to others in like need.

Oh, God, fill me with Your sweet, fresh water of abundance to sustain and renew my dryness and the land.

“…whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:14)

3. WHEN THE HEAT FAILS (Jan. 31st)
With no heat provided by the electricity which normally provides it, we’ve layered clothing sometimes 3 deep to keep warm. With the wood in abundance around us, especially with trees which were victims of the ice, losing their majestic branches, we were able to build a fire in the hearth. This not only provided heat to warm but gave us a retreat of comfort, and a place to roast some food in the flames. Oh, how much I’m learning to appreciate what our ancestors went through in regular daily fare.

I’m reminded of the burning bush of Moses’ experience as I peer into the flames before me. He was drawn aside to experience this mystery of a bush burning but not consumed. (Exodus 3) As I periodically feed the flames a new sacrificial log, I long for a tad of that. That aside, however, when I think of Moses facing the flames, I think of him being enveloped by the firey presence of God Himself. He was “warmed” but not “consumed”, as well. Such is the relationship with our God. We face a cold and compassionless world, but our God, the true fire of life, at times a consuming force of righteous judgment, is for us a surrounding, enveloping flame of security and warmth.

Oh, God, thank You for a storm that causes You to meet my heart in its instant want and need.

Dear friends, be encouraged during your own storms. Our God is a very present help in time of need. Be encouraged today.