Drawing Near

A Pastoral Perspective on Biblical, Theological, & Cultural Issues | The Personal Website of James B. Law, Ph.D.

Devotional Archive

Tuesday

8

August 2017

3

COMMENTS

Massah and Meribah: Living a Thankful Life in a Grumbling World

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Grumbling Man ImageIngratitude is one of the official symptoms of this age. In fact, ingratitude made the noxious list of behavior that characterizes living in the last days (2 Timothy 3:2-4). We are warned in Scripture that ungrateful hearts are often unbelieving hearts. That was certainly true of ancient Israel in the days of the wilderness wanderings. In the book of Exodus, we follow the account of Israel’s miraculous deliverance from Egypt where God’s power was demonstrated uniquely in world history. (Exodus 1-14)

Through mighty power God delivered His enslaved people and brought them out of bondage to pursue a new life in a Promised Land. Even though Israel had seen the unparalleled might of these liberating miracles, and even though they had tasted of the provision of the Lord day-after-day, they still did not trust God to meet their needs en route to this new homeland.

One major spinout is recorded in Exodus 17 where Israel erupted with gripes over their circumstances. Panic gripped the people over the shortage of water, and instead of trusting the God who had parted the Red Sea to secure their deliverance, the nation grumbled and complained. The text says they put the Lord to the test and quarreled with Him.

In response, Moses put new names on the map to identify this location as a place of national failure. Massah (testing) and Meribah (quarreling, grumbling) would mark the spot of a major attitude problem that would bear terrible consequences. On this occasion Israel tested the Lord, “Massah,” and from that appalling attitude flowed grumbling and quarrelling with God, “Meribah.” Psalm 81:7 and Deuteronomy 33:8 suggest that God was testing the Israelites in these instances, and so God’s tests were met with severe grumbling. The Psalmist gives a vivid descriptor when he wrote, “They murmured in their tents, and did not obey the voice of the LORD.” (Psalm 106:25) (more…)

Friday

27

May 2016

0

COMMENTS

I’m Not the Master of My Fate, Nor the Captain of My Soul

Written by , Posted in Church Life, Devotional

Childlike FaithWilliam Ernest Henley was an influential poet, critic, and editor in the late 1800’s. His life was marked by sorrow and struggle. His greatest battle was with tuberculosis which eventually took his life at the age of 53.

Henley was best known for his 1875 poem, Invictus, which I remember reading for the first time in a college dorm room. One of my friends had a large poster on his dorm wall that proclaimed Henley’s humanist creed.

Out of the night that covers me,

 Black as the Pit from pole to pole,      

 I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul. (more…)

Thursday

21

April 2016

0

COMMENTS

Resurrection +

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Image-ResurrectionFollowing the invasion of Normandy in World War II, many historians chronicled the Allies progress through Europe as D-Day + (the number of days from June 6th 1944). For the Christ follower, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was the most important weekend in the history of the world and in reality we are living our lives in a “Resurrection +” mode.

This post comes about a month removed from Resurrection Sunday, and I was reminded this morning of the promised power given to believers because the tomb is empty. This is a tremendous encouragement of hope as we navigate the challenges, demands, and sorrows of this world. (more…)

Thursday

21

January 2016

1

COMMENTS

Take Hold Of That Which Is Truly Life

Written by , Posted in Church Life, Devotional, Leadership

Version 2For the last few months I have been sharing pastoral reflections from twenty-two years with the same congregation. In previous posts we have discussed Gospel centrality; the priority of prayer; spiritual leadership; spiritual sweat; and healthy relationships in church life. Each of these posts mirrored the Apostle Paul’s instruction in the pastoral letter of I Timothy.

In this sixth and final post, there is strong challenge to live in light of eternity. In other words, a living out of Jesus’ instruction in the Sermon on the Mount “to lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” and to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. (Matthew 6:20,33)”

The Apostle Paul, in a similar charge, calls Timothy to warn those under his care of the dangers of loving money and living for this world. For me, this theme is an ongoing challenge of the pastorate to give an impassioned plea to invest our lives in eternity, to lay up treasure in places where moths can’t destroy and thieves can’t steal. (more…)

Wednesday

23

December 2015

0

COMMENTS

Though He Was Rich, Yet For Our Sake He Became Poor

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Birth of ChristIn this Christmas season, once again the question of the ages is, “Who was the baby in the manger?” If he was in fact God in human flesh, and his life was lived in the monumental way in which it was lived, what are we supposed to do with that information? The Apostle John wrote his gospel to answer that question:“so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31,32).

God took on human flesh and dwelt among us and his glory was seen by a multitude of witnesses. The brief life of Jesus Christ was captured in four inspired and authoritative books named for the authors who penned them: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. From these four perspectives, we receive a composite of the life and work of Jesus Christ. These accounts were written not so we would remain neutral on the question of Jesus, but for the expressed purpose that we might believe that he was the long awaited Messiah, and that by believing we might have salvation and hope in his name.

Some years ago Philip Yancey, in his book The Jesus I Never Knew, contrasted the humility that characterized Jesus’ royal visit to planet earth with the prestigious image associated with world rulers today. Yancey wrote:

Queen Elizabeth II had recently visited the United States, and reporters delighted in spelling out the logistics involved: her four thousand pounds of luggage included two outfits for every occasion, a mourning outfit in case someone died, forty pints of plasma, and white kid-leather toilet seat covers. She brought along her own hairdresser, two valets, and a host of other attendants. A brief visit of royalty to a foreign country can easily cost twenty million dollars…

In meek contrast, God’s visit to earth took place in an animal shelter with no attendants present and nowhere to lay the newborn king but a feed trough. Indeed, the event that divided history, and even our calendars, into two parts may have had more animal than human witnesses. A mule could have stepped on him. (more…)

Monday

23

November 2015

0

COMMENTS

Spiritual Sweat

Written by , Posted in Church Life, Devotional, Leadership, Uncategorized

Image of spiritual sweatFrom the age of five until I was twenty-two, I spent most of my time either on a ball field or in a gymnasium.  Through my youth, I was involved in hundreds of practices and games.  Athletics was very much at the center of my life, and from those experiences I learned the importance of commitment, teamwork, and discipline.

When I came to saving faith in Jesus Christ at the age of 20, I discovered that what was true in athletics was also true in living the Christian life, namely that to live for Christ is a call to discipline and training.  I knew that I could never work to earn salvation or even to contribute to it, for salvation comes by grace alone, through faith in Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8,9). I understood that God would not love me more if I prayed more, or gave more, or went to church more.  However, as I read the Bible, I discovered straightforward commands and disciplines that believers were to embrace into their lives. If I was going to grow in my walk with Christ, then I needed biblical intake on a daily basis. I needed daily times of God-connecting prayer. I needed personal and corporate worship. I needed to share my faith regularly. I needed to give of my time, money, and resources for Kingdom advancement. I needed to serve others and be united in a local body of believers.

In this fourth post on pastoral reflections, I come to I Timothy 4 which underscores the need for every believer to embrace spiritual discipline as a means of grace to grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ. In this chapter, the Apostle Paul gives a directive to Timothy, which comes to every believer. The Christian life is described in athletic terms as the New Testament describes a race (Hebrews 12:1-3) and a battle (2 Timothy 4:7; Ephesians 6:10-17).  For this contest, followers of Jesus Christ are called to “discipline themselves for the purpose of godliness” (I Timothy 4:7). (more…)

Friday

9

October 2015

0

COMMENTS

The Priority of Prayer

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Christian kneeling in prayerSome years back, I had a friend who was serving on the pastor search committee of her church. She shared with me her discouragement with the whole search process as she bemoaned the fact that the team commissioned by the church for this very important assignment seemed devoid of any commitment to pray. When she expressed her burden that the committee spend a season in prayer, one member said, “We don’t really need to pray, one pastor is just as good as another.”  Her heart sunk, and needless to say, the search process did not go well, and the church was hindered by poor leadership.

In reading I Timothy, we find a crucial blueprint for establishing pastoral ministry in a local church. The apostle Paul had placed Timothy, his young protégé in Gospel work, in the city of Ephesus. Ephesus was a spiritual war zone (Ephesians 6:10-20), and Timothy was commissioned to establish sound doctrine with this goal in mind, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (I Timothy 1:5)

With Gospel centrality and biblical authority as the foundation for church life, Paul establishes the priority of prayer in I Timothy 2 as a matter of first importance. Notice the language, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people.” (I Timothy 2:1)

Timothy received seasoned counsel that would be essential to fulfilling his ministry. Namely, he was to make prayer the priority of his life and lead the congregation to embrace a commitment to prayer—-about everything and for everyone.

The terms Paul uses in v. 1 range from general prayer to specific petitions. Paul was describing the type of prayer that becomes the aroma for every gathering of God’s people. Prayer that is specific as a local church prays for every subdivision, apartment complex, trailer park, law enforcement personnel, elected official, local school, and business. Prayer that manifests concern for others and for their struggles and needs that we see every day. Prayer that seeks Christ for the global triumph of the Gospel in an Acts 1:8 concentric all the way to the unreached people groups of this world.  (more…)

Sunday

30

August 2015

0

COMMENTS

Reflections on Katrina Ten Years Later

Written by , Posted in Devotional, Faith & Culture, Uncategorized

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On Sunday, August 28th 2005, the First Baptist Church Gonzales, La.  gathered for worship with a foreboding outlook on the next 24 hours. As we closed the worship service, I addressed the congregation by stating the obvious, namely that the radar and forecast were troubling, and that we should make final decisions regarding the storm. My last comment was one leading to a closing prayer for God’s protection and provision, I shared with our church that Katrina promises to be a future pseudonym for disaster, and I am confident that it will change south Louisiana in a very profound way. I challenged our people that with such destruction coming our way, we could count on unprecedented opportunities for ministry.

For five hours on Monday, August 29, Hurricane Katrina battered the major Gulf Coast cities, and when all was said and done there were 1833 deaths and $108 billion dollars in damages.  Douglas Brinkley in his comprehensive and impressive chronicle, The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast,  writes, “The storm-surge flooding, which submerged a half million homes, creating the largest domestic refugee crisis since the Civil War. Eighty percent of New Orleans was under water, as debris and sewage coursed through the streets, and whole towns in southeastern Louisiana ceased to exist.”

Gonzales, being some 60 miles west of New Orleans along the route of Interstate 10, would escape the higher winds and the devastating flooding of our friends in New Orleans.  By being one of the first major exits on I-10 west out of New Orleans, Gonzales became a city of refugee for many fleeing Katrina. (more…)

Thursday

20

August 2015

0

COMMENTS

The Harvest is Past, the Summer is Ended, and We Are Not Saved

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From the rhythm of the seasons, the ending of summer is a reminder of our need to be right with God. When August comes, I often am reminded of this statement found in the prophecy of Jeremiah,

“The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.”       ~Jeremiah 8:20

These words were actually spoken by the people in a moment of anguish. It was a proverb expressing that their God-given opportunity to repent was now over. It was a statement of great despair and loss.

Throughout their history, Israel’s greatest enemies were not the Philistines or the Assyrians or the Babylonians. Israel’s greatest enemies were the false prophets who stood in the gates and told the people what they wanted to hear.

However, Jeremiah was not cut from that cloth of duplicity. By contrast, Jeremiah’s preaching was a ‘downer’ for the hard-hearted nation of Judah. When Jeremiah confronted the sins of his people he was persecuted. When he called the nation to repent, he was brought into the cross-hairs of their distain and ridicule.

Jeremiah’s one-tracked message to repent and return to the Lord was grating on the nerves of many. I mean, really, how many times do you need to hear about your sins? How many times do you need to hear that you must repent and turn to the Lord? But faithful prophets don’t custom craft their messages to please the people. (more…)

Thursday

21

August 2014

1

COMMENTS

Suicide: Where Do We Go From Here?

Written by , Posted in Church Life, Devotional

On a cold November night in the early days of my ministry, I received a panicked call from a family in the church I pastored. The request in between sobs was simple, “Come now.”

As I raced to their home and pulled into their driveway, I was stunned by the sight of a young man who had hanged himself in the family barn. The young man had been residing in their home to attend a local community college, and for a reason unknown to anyone decided on that day to end it all.

I sought to comfort the family as they tried to process this tragedy and found myself praying for his parents who were coming from out-of-town to the scene of their son’s death. (more…)