Prone To Wander

I believe I truly have a lot in common with Robert Robinson. Who is Robert Robinson? Is he a famous golfer? A politician? An award-winning novelist or writer? Is he possibly a brother engineer from the another era that created some dramatic architectural work in his field? I know the name probably means very little to anyone these days as he lived a very long time ago. Mr. Robinson was famous for writing a hymn that most churches seldom sing in this late day and age, although the hymn he penned can be honestly said to transcend time with its earnest, touching message.

Robert lived back in the 1700’s and was saved in England after attending a service preached by George Whitfield. Eventually he entered the ministry himself, but always seemed to backslide back into the world at the most inopportune times. In fact, taken in that context, you could say that his ministry was an utter failure as little is known of his service due to his erratic faith, as per his own testimony. However, the hymn he wrote continues to touch many lives, including mine, and lives on as a shining example of grace and the patience of G_d.

The hymn he authored is entitled “Come Thou Fount” and was written, according to him, as an autobiographical sketch of his life. Verse 2 of the hymn tells of his conversion to Christ, and in verse 3 he admits that he has a daily debt to grace as a result of his ‘wandering heart.’ It is reported that late in life, he met a woman on a stagecoach as she attempted to share her faith with him, thinking he was lost. He assured her of his salvation, but admitted to falling away from the Christian faith as the years went by. Incredibly, she offered a printed version of his hymn to him saying, “These words might help you as much as they have helped me.” Recognizing the verses in front of him he sobbed, “Madam, I am the poor, unhappy man who composed that hymn many years ago. And I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to now enjoy the feelings that I had back then.”

I don’t know if the accuracy of this tale can be verified through Snopes or Wikipedia, but this is the way the story was told to me and I’ve read about it on more than one occasion over the years. I can believe in the validity of the words due to events I’ve encountered during my own life. It is hard to live as a Christian while remaining a part of the world. There are so many temptations out there, and much like Robert, I find my heart prone to wander and prone to leave the G_d I love. I do not believe you can ‘lose’ your salvation, as I believe that once you are truly saved, you always will be. This is promised to us in Romans Chapter 8: “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” But I also believe that you can fall by the wayside in your Christian walk and it is something, sadly, I seem almost predisposed to eventually experience at one time or another in my life as the years go by.

It is during those dark times of turmoil in my heart that I need to remember the promise quoted above from Romans. Christ will always be there and nothing can separate me from Him. Simply realizing and claiming the promise of these verses should serve as a reminder of His love, and a call for repentance in my heart as well as my life. I’m promised that once I wake up and realize just how far I have fallen in my daily walk with Christ, I need repentance in a sincere manner. At that point, when my heart cries out to Him, I understand much more deeply the truth of “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wand’ring heart to Thee;
Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, Lord, take and seal it; seal it for Thy courts above.

That Which Was Lost

In a roundabout way, I’ve been thinking a lot about forgiveness this week. Webster’s defines the word forgive as a transitive verb meaning “to give up resentment of or claim to requital for”. The second definition provided is given as follows: to cease to feel resentment against (an offender). I was thinking of persons I have wronged in my life, (I do that on occasion) in an attempt to provide a repayment in kind to each as part of my bucket list of things to do during the time I have left on this earth. In an instance of such, I would be the one seeking forgiveness from said persons. However, I seem to have run into a few snags in the plans I have made in this area which I didn’t consider when I first began filling in the various names on my list.

What does forgiveness cost? Is it generic? If I merely talked about someone behind their back and they did not know about it, what is the penance required from me in that situation? Especially if it actually provided no real damage to them despite my slanderous performance. Of course, it was wrong for me to do so in the first place, and with forgiveness being essential to my list, it is something that must be taken care of. The gist of which leads me back to the actual cost required as I’ve previously stated.

On the other hand, I do have an ex-wife and a few ex-friends I’ve accrued during my lifetime, and in most cases, both they and I have one-upped each other in the area of heinous deeds and misdeeds. As a Christian, I’d like to seek forgiveness in those areas as well. I’m betting that in those situations, the price of removing ‘resentment or claim to a requital for’ would be high indeed. The act of forgiveness is fraught with details and technicalities that can be hard to fathom when you get down to the area of cost and/or penance. Also, I have been on the receiving end of apologies in the past, and I know how the human mind responds to such. I can think of times when someone apologized to me and I accepted their apology, but in the back of my mind my forgiveness was not exactly pure. It was more along the lines of “I forgive you, but I’m gonna be watching you in the meantime.” Maybe the price they paid for my forgiveness was either not the right one or it wasn’t enough – to me. Or quite possibly, the price was beyond what they could actually pay, even if they were sincere. This in itself leads me back to the costs required for forgiveness.

Maybe the feddle gubmunt can come up with a law in this area, you know, form a committee and add a little bureaucracy into the area of personal apologies. If I lie to someone, then based on the strength of that lie I will need to pay x amount of dollars in order to be absolutely forgiven by the offended party; the sum to be based upon the new laws they would put in place. If I broke someone’s heart, the price could steadily ramp up. Using someone for personal gain? Again, the price mounts.

Nah, I can see where it would end up going – we’d need more lawyers than we already have and the claims would be endless from those seeking forgiveness from parties that may have their own axe to grind, only this time the offended would have the system behind them to utilize in exploiting the offender. And there would be no guarantee of a transfer of actual forgiveness in the litigation of the laws.

I’m just looking for a good, fair, honest price to pay here. Man seeking forgiveness, ready and willing to pay whatever price necessary to secure it.

I’m hoping by now you have figured out that most of this is tongue-in-cheek. But the problem is serious, and deserves careful thought from all of us. Forgiveness cannot be purchased, because far too often the price is too high or worse; the chance for redemption was lost a long time ago. Forgiveness must be given, and in many ways it is the ultimate gift one can give or receive. If it is not given or received as a gift, then in most instances it is simply lost.

The greatest example of forgiveness is Jesus on a cruel, painful, bloody cross, paying the penalty for our sin. Passed down to us from Adam like a bad, hereditary gene is a sinful nature acquired by mankind in the Garden of Eden, and it is something we must each take care of in order to make ourselves right with G_d. Without forgiveness for sin, we have no recourse. We miss out on eternity; we also miss out on the special place He has prepared for us. We can never have peace with G_d without forgiveness. What does our sin cost us? Everything.

What will forgiveness from sin cost us? Nothing. By our own methods and devices, it is far too late for forgiveness. We’ve missed the mark and we didn’t make the grade. We are lost, adrift in a sea of our own failures and transgressions against what G_d originally designed us to be. But Jesus tells us plainly in Luke 19:10 “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

It does not matter what you have done. Maybe you’ve broken all Ten Commandments repeatedly and quite possibly set a world record for doing so. Maybe you’re a good person and have broken only a few. In either instance and all points in between, forgiveness is readily available and it is free. Jesus is actively seeking you out to save you with an offer of the best gift you could ever hope to receive – the gift of forgiveness. Best of all, the forgiveness He offers is a pure, unadulterated forgiveness – one that will last throughout eternity.

P.S. Get yours today!

The Cave

I’m doing cave research this week. I’m giving the devotion at my church next Wednesday night and it seems as though the Holy Spirit keeps leading me in that direction, albeit in a roundabout way of which I’ll spare you the details. I lead the singing at my church, and speaking is something I seldom do in our services other than to direct the congregation to what page the next song selection will be from and which verses we’ll sing. Teaching a Sunday School class is more than enough speech-time for me, indeed. But anyway, my pastor will be on the road next week in a revival and asked me to handle the service for him, so here I am this morning. Researching caves as the Spirit directs me. I doubt there are many people who can say they’ve done that.

I’ve been in caves before; from the Tennessee caves of Rock City and the Lost Sea, to a neat little cave near Sylacauga, Alabama. They are always dark and damp, and during each tour there usually comes an obligatory time where the guide will turn off the lights to give the group a chance to experience ‘total darkness.’ Deep in the earth is a good place to experience that sort of gloom, and it’s a darkness so thick you can actually feel it. It pervades your senses and makes you long for the surface with its associated daylight and normality.

And yet caves are where G_d has done some of His most important work in the Bible. Think of David in the cave of Adullam, and how the time he spent in that particular cave inspired him to write the 142nd Psalm. Elijah had a cave-experience on Mount Sinai, and G_d used that cave to teach Elijah (and us) a valuable lesson about giving up and thinking we are on our own. Jesus died on the cross, and where did they place his body? In a cave. But it couldn’t hold him and three days later he rose again. An angel rolled away the stone that covered the entrance to educate His disciples and the women of the fact that He was no longer there - He had risen! There are other caves mentioned in the Bible; many of the Patriarchs were buried in the cave at Machpelah, and Lot and his daughters resided in a cave following the fall of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Many times in life I’ve found myself in caves (figuratively of course) of my own making. There have been bad patches and dark places along my path, some of which caused me to lose my focus on almost everything - including my faith. Sometimes you can simply feel as though life has dealt you a dirty hand. It happens to all of us and eventually we all spend some time in the cave. Problems at work, broken relationships, misguided trust, and overall disappointment can lead us there. Why a cave? A cave is a good, safe place to hide out and separate yourself from problems you do not wish to face. A cave is a ready-made environment for a procrastinator. I’ll face my boss tomorrow. I’ll discuss the issue with my spouse again in the morning. Someone hurt my feelings so I’ll just avoid them from now on. I did my best on that project and it didn’t work out; might as well not spend any more time or effort on it. I'm nervous about giving the devotion in church next week, so I'll lead a hymn and have the benediction right after we sing. (kidding!)

Finding yourself in a cave is no mean feat because it’s easy to get there. The real trick is getting out of the cave once you realize you’re there. David figured it out: “I cried unto the LORD with my voice; with my voice unto the LORD did I make my supplication. I poured out my complaint before him; I shewed before him my trouble.” Is it ever good to complain to G_d? These verses have convinced me that it is.

So many times I pray and ask G_d for things, and I also do my utmost to thank Him for my countless blessings. I try to remember to praise Him for all He has done in my life at the same time. But to complain to Him seldom crosses my mind in my daily spiritual walk. I forget that I am His child, and therefore He has an interest in everything I say and do, as well as what I think at any particular moment. When the problems of life pay a visit and I’m overcome by doubt and fear, that is when I need to call on Him and not merely trust in my own instincts and skill-set to get me by. Because due to my personality traits, I’ve found I’m quick to withdraw into a cave of my own making, and that’s when the trouble starts. I get accustomed to the safety of the cave, and I not only get used to the darkness but I welcome it. For a little while, that is, until I realize I’ve lost the connection with all of the things that are important in life. It’s usually around that time when I begin to feel my prayers are going no further than the ceiling, and I’m completely out of touch with my Heavenly Father.

When I find myself in that situation, I’ve learned to complain to G_d. I’ll pour my heart out to Him in words that closely resemble David’s own words in the psalm I quoted above. I show Him all of my troubles although I’m certain He already knows all about them. And though it may seem petty to me, I know that my heart is precious to Him. And it helps me get out of that cave and back into the sunlight of His Love, which is where I belong and what I was created for in the first place.

Plague In The Gulf

Moses was sent to Egypt by G_d to free His chosen people from the bondage of Pharaoh. Depending on the math you choose to utilize, those people had been in slavery for around four hundred years. Thus began the Exodus as recorded in both the Bible and the Torah, and Israel became a nation following forty extra years of wandering in the wilderness. But there is much more to the story than the Creator freeing his chosen people and giving them His law out on the high deserts of Sinai. G_d also gave Egypt and their ruler a meticulously painful object lesson in recognizing His supremacy through a series of plagues. One of my favorite movies, The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston as Moses, ends with Pharaoh explaining why he could not stop Moses and the Children of Israel: “Because his god… is G_d.”

As Moses begins the attempt to free the Israelites, by the power of G_d he begins to defeat each individual Egyptian deity, beginning with Pharaoh - who was considered to be divine by the people of Egypt. The authority of Pharaoh was represented by a coiled serpent; he wore the golden emblem of a cobra on his headdress. Moses threw his rod on the floor of the throne room and it became a serpent. This miracle had been previewed in the desert when Moses first answered G_d’s call, and I can speculate that Moses understood the symbolism at the time as he was actually raised by the Egyptians. Oddly enough, the Egyptian magicians performed the exact same feat, only to watch in horror as Moses’ serpent devoured their own serpents in turn. The rod of Moses overcoming the rods of the Egyptian magicians was a very literal symbol of the G_d of Moses overcoming the gods of Egypt, beginning with the Pharaoh himself.

Moses explained The Lord's plan to Pharaoh by saying, “And in very deed for this cause have I raised thee up, for to shew in thee my power; and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth.” Next came the plague of the Nile River turning to blood. The Egyptian god Hapti was said to rule the Nile and cause its annual inundations, and the river was believed to contain the god Osirus’ transformed blood. In addition, the Egyptian god known as Hatmeyt was worshipped as the fish goddess. When Moses smote the river with his rod, it became blood. Not only did it become undrinkable for the Egyptian people, it also caused the fish to die. This was only a foretaste of the plagues to follow, each one an attack on a particular Egyptian god. Space here does not permit me to go into detail on each one, but you get my drift. G_d, in His power, destroyed Egypt and ‘cut them off’ from the face of the earth. Although He is Lord of Israel, we should never forget that He is Lord, Ruler, and Creator of all the earth first. And He shares His glory with no one and nothing.

I was reading an article on the oil spill in the Gulf this morning, and it gave me pause when I grasped the consequences we face here in the South as a result of this disaster. The reader comments at the end of the article gave me a specific insight into the thought process of most of the people in our nation on the disaster. Everyone is blaming BP, and rightly so, and there is plenty of blame being placed on the government for the response to this date or lack thereof. It was also clear that many did not care for impetus being placed on the current administration, and they were vocal about it. The argument continued on both sides and I read all that I could stomach within only a few moments. But it made me wonder about Egypt of old, and G_d’s object lesson for Pharaoh and his people. I’ve said it before in this blog; we seem to worship our government as our provider for whatever we need and look to them for solutions for all of the things that go wrong in our lives. We take no accountability for ourselves these days. By the same regard we place our faith and trust in our technology to step in and save the day in hand with that same government whenever the need arises.

As I read the reasons why the government is not doing more and has not taken over the disaster (BP has the technology and experience to better do so) and clean up (BP should foot the bill, they caused it!) I can only shake my head in disgust. There were other articles from very knowledgeable people in power with suggestions including but not limited within the realm of using nuclear weapons to destroy the broken well. (I kind of liked that idea, myself. Nuke it and rain all of that oil and radioactive fallout on Shannon and his family. Yeah, that'd do it.)

During this going-on-two-months disaster, I see very little suggestion or barely a mention that maybe we should be praying and turning to G_d for a solution. Ah, that would be taboo, I know. The god of technology will eventually save us and the god of government will make everything better once we finally reach a solution. The god of legal torts will make a lot of people rich, too, once the situation is under control – wait and see.

I’m not fiddling while Rome burns here, and I write this with not even a minute hint in my heart of gloating. The situation is critical, and we cannot fathom the damage that will be done to the coastline for many generations to come. My point this morning is that we have put our faith and trust in things we honestly should not have. In many ways, Daniel’s explanation to Belshazzar still applies to us today: “And thou hast praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know: and the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified:” It is becoming blatantly obvious that the god of government cannot see beyond the legal ramifications of an issue before it has even been solved, and the god of technology cannot hear the damage that is being done to the environment due to the profits that are on the table to be made. As they stumble around blind and deaf, heavy crude oil continues to flow steadily into the Gulf of Mexico, and the true Creator of the Universe who holds our breath in His very hands has been deemed to be too politically incorrect to be called upon.