God’s Unrivaled Pencil

Not a flower
But shows some touch in freckle, streak or stain
Of His unrivaled pencil. He inspires
Their balmy odors, and imparts their hues,
And bathes their eyes with nectar.
Happy he
Who walks with Him! —William Cowper







all photos (c) Craig T. Owens 2020

More Of Christ

“Preacher and people, we need more of Christ. More of Christ would make that sad home bright, that wavering soul steadfast, that breaking heart happy, that mourning spirit glad, that burdened conscience light, that selfish nature generous, and make those who are parted in enmity stand with clasped and forgiving hands. More of Christ would smite down sectarian walls and win outcasts to the fold. More of Christ is what we all want in our hearts and homes, in our business and politics, in our schools and universities, in our churches and pulpits.” —Canon James Fleming

Near Christianity

“The proclamation that Jesus died for our sins so that we could be forgiven and have eternal life is not, in fact, what C.S. Lewis referred to as mere Christianity—Christianity at its most basic. Rather, I would say that this message, which offers as its primary hope forgiveness and eternal life, and which offers these to all who merely profess belief in Jesus—this gospel which is roundly proclaimed in perhaps the vast majority of churches throughout the land—should be referred to as near Christianity.

“The Good News that Jesus and the Apostles proclaimed is a message so comprehensive, so altogether new and radical, that it requires deep-seated, heart-felt repentance, complete surrender to the risen Christ, and whole-hearted belief leading to obedience in every area of life. It is the message of the Kingdom of God.

“Anything other than the Gospel of the Kingdom is not the Gospel at all, but a form of near Christianity that holds out promises germane to the Kingdom, prescribes means related to the Kingdom, but holds back on making the full vision and demands of the Kingdom clear to those who would enjoy the conditions of blessedness.

“Such a message obscures the magnitude of God’s grace, minimizes the scope of Christ’s achievement, fails to nurture believers in the full obligations of Kingdom citizenship, and holds out a lesser hope—mere forgiveness and eternal life, rather than the glory of the living God.

“Near Christianity, therefore, produces little in the way of Kingdom evidence in the lives and churches of those who embrace it.” —T.M. Moore, in The Gospel of the Kingdom

(Check out some other quotes from The Gospel of the Kingdom by clicking here.)

Skilled In Scripture

Last week I shared how in a span of a month and a half Peter went from a man who crumbled before a little servant girl, to one who boldly stood up for Jesus before a huge crowd. Don’t you think that some of the other disciples that had spent the previous 3-plus years with Peter were thinking, “Who is this guy?! He’s preaching this amazing sermon that he didn’t even prepare for ahead of time!” 

That’s what the Holy Spirit does for us: He opens up God’s Word like we’ve never seen it before! It wasn’t just for Peter, or the original 12 disciples, or the first-century Church. This is still available to you and me today!  

Please note that it’s not just a relationship with Jesus that opens up the Scriptures to us. No one spent more time in the presence of Jesus than His disciples. And yet even after Jesus explicitly shared truth with them, we read, “His disciples didn’t understand at the time that this was a fulfillment of prophecy. But after Jesus entered into His glory, they remembered what had happened and realized that these things had been written about Him” (John 12:16). 

Notice those words “after…they remembered…and realized.” 

After what? After they were baptized in the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (see Acts 2:1-16). In every setting after that we see their new understanding and correct application of the Scriptures (check out Acts 2:16, 25, 34; 2:42; 4:25-26; 8:35; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12; 2 Peter 1:21).

This is still available to you and me today! Jesus told us that He had more to say to us, and that’s why the Holy Spirit would come. The same Holy Spirit that inspired the Word of God is available today to illuminate it to us! 

R.T. Kendall made this observation about the teachings of Jesus, “[His teachings] cannot be truly understood until you see that it is our Lord’s doctrine of the Holy Spirit. It means we must embrace His interpretation of the Law and how it is fulfilled in us.” 

This is what God foretold through Ezekiel—I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow My decrees and be careful to keep My laws… (Ezekiel 11:19-20). In other words, God is saying, “When the Holy Spirit is in you, you will know how to apply My laws to your every-day life. You will become skilled in the correct and timely biblical application.”  

ALL Scripture is for ALL servants of God. ALL Scripture is applicable to ALL the circumstances we will ever face in life. But we need the illumination of the Holy Spirit in order to make the connection from the written Word to the real-life application. 

So don’t stop at salvation—press on to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. 

If you have missed any of the other lessons in this series, you may access them by clicking here. 

Controlled By The Holy Spirit

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:18-21) 

Jesus wanted His followers to be His missionaries throughout the world, but not until they were empowered with the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The new Testament writers elaborate on concepts that boil down to a Christian being controlled by the Spirit. What does that entail? I think these words from J. Oswald Sanders are well worth consideration—

“What does this apostolic injunction in Ephesians 5:18 mean? It is not an invitation to realize a privilege but a command to fulfill an obligation. … The clear teaching of Scripture is that we are filled with the Spirit when our human spirit is mastered and controlled by the Holy Spirit. The idea behind the command ‘be filled with the Spirit’ is not so much that of an empty vessel passively waiting for something to be poured into it, as water into a glass [here is a 3-minute video where I illustrate this idea]. It is rather the concept of a human personality voluntarily surrendered to the domination the Holy Spirit. … The Spirit’s control is not automatic but voluntarily and constantly conceded. 

“The fullness of the Spirit does not obliterate personality, as does hypnotism. In fact, the person who is filled with the Spirit only then realizes and discovers his true personality. It is not obliterated but released. We will never know the possibility of our redeemed personality until we definitely yield ourselves in full and undeserved surrender to His control. … 

“Paul’s personality was not obliterated by [Christ’s] indwelling. ‘I live,’ he said, ‘yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.’ He did not become any the less Paul because he was indwelt by Christ. Indeed, he became more and more the Paul God intended him to be; the ideal Paul who was a chosen vessel to the Lord. We need not fear the fullest surrender to Christ, for He enhances and ennobles personality. He imports qualities which are absent and brings into activity powers and possibility which were latent. He became a different Paul, but a greater and better Paul. Apart from the indwelling and mastery of Christ, the world would probably have heard little of him. Instead his influence has been one of the dominating features of the last two millennia.” —J. Oswald Sanders, in Cultivation of Christian Character (emphasis mine) 

If you would like to review some of the thoughts I have already shared in this current series, please click here and scroll down to the list of posts listed on that page.

Zero Casualties

The whole army then returned safely to Joshua… (Joshua 10:21).

The only time any deaths in battle are mentioned in the whole military campaign of Israel conquering Canaan is at Ai when 36 men died (7:1-5). Other than that, zero casualties.

A massive Israelite army, waging war against huge armies “as numerous as the sand on the seashore” (11:4), many of them entrenched in fortified cities, several of the warriors are giants, fighting on terrain that is unfamiliar to them—zero casualties! 

But why should this surprise us?

God doesn’t see masses of people; He sees individuals. He knows how many hairs are on each soldier’s head! He is able to keep alive all His children despite the rigors of warfare.

Total victory. Zero casualties!

The casualties at Ai were due to Israel’s disobedience. The ongoing victories were due to Israel’s total obedience: “As the Lord commanded His servant Moses, so Moses commanded Joshua, and Joshua did it; he left nothing undone of all that the Lord commanded Moses” (11:15).

“All these kings and their lands Joshua conquered in one campaign, because the Lord, the God of Israel, fights for Israel” (10:42), with zero casualties!

We wage a spiritual warfare today that is no less rigorous or dangerous than the military campaign the Israelite army fought. God is still able to keep those who are His until He calls them home. 

Missionary John Paton, while surrounded by hostile cannibals, said, “I realized that my life was immortal till my Master’s work with me was done.” 

The same is true for you. Don’t fear the enemy. Don’t shrink from the battle. Obey God, and trust Him to bring you safely home to Heaven. Then you can say with the apostle Paul, as he neared the end of his campaign—

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8). 

Jesus is able to keep you from falling until He brings you into His Father’s presence—zero casualties!

Hope-Filled Declarations

Whether it’s a doctor’s diagnosis of cancer, or a rapidly-spreading virus, or a painful relationship, Lynn Eib helps us keep these unexpected things in perspective. These may have taken us by surprise, but nothing takes God by surprise. No diagnosis nor prognostication can limit God’s power and love. 

As David learned in his painful time: “God has spoken once, twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God. Also to You, O Lord, belong mercy and loving-kindness” (Psalm 62:11-12). He is All-Powerful and All-Loving. 

Let these declarations Lynn made when receiving her cancer diagnosis help put things in perspective for you—

I refuse to believe my diagnosis is a death sentence.

I believe God is on the side of my healing because His unbreakable Word says so.

I believe treatment is effective against this illness, especially the skillful efforts of scientific medicine with my strategies for replacing lying thoughts with truth.

I believe my hormones and immune system are on the side of my healing and are even now working to overcome this illness.

I believe I am personally responsible for my treatment and for managing it.

I believe hope is a choice. I choose hope, not hopelessness.

My major aim is to have a mind fully submitted to the Spirit of God and His truth, not just to see better lab results or improvement in physical symptoms.

I believe I am on earth to share Christ, hope, and joy with others. I am here only to love others, regardless of my physical condition.

I believe that God’s will is good. 

I believe that He loves me and wants only the best for me—whatever He is allowing me to experience right now.

I can recover from this illness and live a rich, productive life of service. But whether I recover or not, I am going to leave this life someday regardless. Until then I can live a full life of service every day for as long as I am given. 

—Lynn Eib, in Peace In The Face Of Cancer 

On Living In A [COVID-19] Age

In 1948, World War II had come to a close and the nuclear age had dawned. The Cold War was beginning to ratchet up and the fear of nuclear annihilation was gripping people’s hearts. 

In this environment, C.S. Lewis wrote an essay entitled On Living In An Atomic Age. I have changed the word “atomic” for “COVID-19,” and I think you will see the relevance. 

In one way we think a great deal too much of the COVID-19 virus. “How are we to live in a COVID-19 age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the COVID-19 virus was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by the COVID-19 virus, let that virus when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about viruses. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

For Christians, I would urge you to think in ways in which I am certain C.S. Lewis would agree: 

Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. (Colossians 3:2) 

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8) 

Be joyful because you have hope. Be patient when trouble comes, and pray at all times. (Romans 12:12)

The Closed Ear

“How much we lose by the closed ear! … Other speakers may win the ear of the multitude, but it is to God the Lord that the saint listens. His voice is powerful. Its tones are penetrating; its words attractive. God speaks as One entitled to be heard, expecting to be heard. He speaks with authority, waiting for our obedience to the heavenly voice.

A saint then is one who has listened to God; who has heard the words of peace from His lips; who has believed them; who has been reconciled; and who knows that he is so. Therefore he seeks to be holy. He hates his former folly. He does not return to it. He does not make his free pardon a reason for returning to it.

“Brethren, be consistent! Beware of sin, folly, unholiness of every kind. Be Christians out and out. Show that the peace you have received is a holy peace.” —Horatius Bonar, in Light & Truth—The Old Testament

Thursdays With Spurgeon—Comments On Commentaries

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Comments On Commentaries

     It has been said that the passage I have taken for my text [Isaiah 7:1-17] is one of the most difficult in all the Word of God. It may be so. I certainly did not think it was until I saw what the commentators had to say about it, and I rose up from reading them perfectly confused! One said one thing, and another denied what the other had said. And if there was anything that I liked, it was self-evident that it had been copied from one to the other and handed through the whole of them! 

     One set of commentators tells us that this passage refers entirely to some person who was to be born within a few months after this prophecy….

     Well, that seems a strange frittering away of a wonderful passage, full of meaning, and I cannot see how they can substantiate their view when we find the evangelist Matthew quoting this very passage in reference to the birth of Christ [Matthew 1:22-23]….

     I find, moreover, that many of the commentators divide the sixteenth verse from the fourteenth and fifteenth verses, and they read the fourteenth and fifteenth verses exclusively of Christ, and the sixteenth verse of Shear-Jashub….

     Then another view, which is the most popular of all, is to refer the passage, first of all, to some child who was then to be born, and afterward, in the highest sense, to our blessed Lord Jesus Christ. … 

     But I think that if I had never read those books at all, but had simply come to the Bible without knowing what any man had written upon it, I would have said, ‘There is Christ here as plainly as possible! Never could His name had been written more legibly than I see it here.’ 

From The Birth Of Christ

Spurgeon was not advocating that we never consult commentaries because elsewhere he said about the use of commentaries: “I find it odd that he who thinks so highly of what the Holy Spirit teaches him speaks so little of what the Holy Spirit teaches others also.” 

But what I believe Spurgeon is advocating here is this important principle—The best commentary on a passage of Scripture is another passage of Scripture. Which is why he used the passage in Matthew to help him understand the passage in Isaiah.

God makes Himself clear in His Word. The same Holy Spirit that inspired the pen of those who wrote the words in the Bible is the same Holy Spirit in you that can illuminate those words to your heart and mind. 

Commentators have their place. I believe that place is after you have prayed through and wrestled with a passage of Scripture for yourself. Think of commentators as the answers in the back of your math book. After you have worked through the equations for yourself, go to the answer key to verify your answers. If you simply look up the answer before you wrestle with the problem, how have you benefitted yourself? 

And always remember that God’s Word is infallible, but men are fallible. Commentators may provide an insight that helps you see something more clearly, but they are never a substitute for God’s very own word on a matter. 

Should you use commentaries? Sure! Find a good one, but consult it only after you have asked the Holy Spirit to help illuminate the passage, and after you have allowed the commentary of Scripture itself to shine its light on the difficult verse or passage.


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