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Friday, August 26, 2016
18 And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. 19 And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. 20 And they straightway left their nets, and followed him. 21 And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them. 22 And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him. (Matt 4:18-22)
10 And he called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand: 11 Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man. 12 Then came his disciples, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying? 13 But he answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up. 14 Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch. (Matt 15:10-14)
The motto of the US Army Infantry Branch is “Follow Me!” It is emblazoned above the entrance to Ft. Benning, Georgia – home of the US Army Infantry School. It is the guiding star of every military leader, for one can little expect to be followed into combat if the commander is reluctant to lead his brave troops there. It is not possible to “lead from behind”! In fact, that is a foolish contradiction in terms. The word LEAD means to go before – to show the way, and to bear the brunt of danger. No leader worth his salt would expect his troops to go where he will not lead. What soldier would not loathe a commander who hides behind the line while his troops move forward to carry the battle to the enemy?
Jesus was the supremely ultimate example of a leader. He never asked any to go where He had not gone, and He asked none today to go where He has not already been. He was a fearless leader who knew the way, the truth, and the life and was, in fact, the Personification of all three of those leading factors.
During the fiercest fighting at Shiloh during the War Between the States, the Confederate line hesitated under withering fire from the Union line. As the southern troops lay low for cover, they called to the Color Bearer to fall back to their line for safety. The young Color Bearer called back, “No, men! You come up to the Colors. The Colors will not retreat for they are set fast at the leading line of battle.” Humbled by the courage of a boy of tender years, the southern line rallied to the colors and carried the battle, though the Color Bearer died doing his duty in the same way that the Color Bearer for the Church died in doing His duty of Redemption.
In the Army of Christ, our Lord is Himself, not only the Color Bearer, but also the Ensign of our Cause. He has gone before and faced the enemy lines head-on. Though He gave His life in advancing the Colors, He has opened the enemy lines for us to pursue on to victory through Him – the victory that He purchased.
He has not asked us to follow Him on some impossible exploit, but to follow Him to the only possible victorious offensive. Death and sin lie victims to His courageous sacrifice. He has borne the Colors beyond the gaping lines and grasped victory from the jaws of death though He gave up His own life in the ordeal. Further sacrifice is not required for He rose again according to the Scriptures and has ascended beyond the Gates of Splendor to await our own death-defying victory under those same Colors. I wrote a poem many years ago to commemorate that once-and-for-all sacrifice and victory won at Calvary:
The Scarlet Cross Banner
High aloft the Battle Lines
The fiery angels shrilled and Cried,
As young and gallant soldiers fell
And ‘neath the Crimson Banners Died.
The Wars of every age and time
Are fought and waged by Youth.
The blood which flows as free as Wine
Was shed for Lie, for Gold, or Truth.
The ancient Cause for which men Fight
Has ever been for Honor’s Name.
To bear the e’er revealing Light
The Light for which our Savior Came.
The only Fight that lifts men’s Souls
From out the dark and dewy Cave
Is that to save the Shepherd’s Fold
For whom the Master’s Blood He gave.
We cannot know the appointed Days
Upon the Earth our lives may See,
But certain is the Starry Blaze
The end of which our Days shall be.
Beneath the Crimson Cross of Christ
Shall every warrior take His Stand
And hold aloft the Torch of Right
Whose beams shall brighten every Land.
©Logos of St. Andrews, 1999
Every true Christian who reads this devotion has heard a Voice calling from the Secret Place of the Heart – “Follow Me!” It may have been a small, still Voice; or it may have been thundered from the storm clouds of Heaven – nevertheless, you heard that voice and, like the Apostle Peter, you followed without question. My own humble little church of St. Andrews is named after the first disciple to meet Christ – St. Andrew. He was brother to Simon Peter, and he went to fetch his bother after first meeting Jesus. (see John 1:37-42) Both men were casting nets into the sea when called by Jesus. How did they respond? “And they straightway left their nets, and followed him.” Every man, woman, and child who hears that beckoning Voice of Jesus will do likewise. That Voice is irresistible. It may be resisted only for a moment, but the calling and election is sure. You will be drawn, kicking and clawing if necessary, but you shall come at the call.
Simon Peter was labeled a ‘stone’ by our Lord – a chip, so to speak, from that great Rock which was Christ. Yet, Peter failed miserably that night of Jesus’ betrayal. Judas may have betrayed Christ once, but Peter betrayed three times. The great difference was the fact that Judas betrayed out of malice, but Peter out of fear for which he wept bitterly for THREE days!
But Peter would be restored to his place of eminence by the Resurrected Christ. Peter never again failed of courage following that one humiliating night when he denied Christ three times and the Lord, at the very moment of his third denial, turned and looked Peter in the eyes. Please observe the change the Resurrection had on Peter’s courage. 18 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. 19 This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me. (John 21:18-19)
It took a two-fold command of Christ to Peter to “Follow Me,” but from the moment of that second command to “Follow Me,” Peter never failed of courage even in being told that he would die a similar death of crucifixion.
Serious question: If men follow you, will they be led to Christ as did Andrew lead Peter, or will they wind up in the same polluted ditch as their leader? No man can lead from a vain and unsure faith. He must be at the forefront of the battle for the Church Militant – ready for whatever demands are made upon his life.
Are the Colors safe in your hands - are you leading, friend?
Thursday, August 25, 2016
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Early this morning, I was searching for ideas for today’s devotion. I pulled a book off the shelves which contains a perfect example of how we respond to the love of our Father in Heaven, and how we come to know of it. The story I found was one which I read as a child and was written by one of my favorite American authors – Pearl Buck (26 June 1892 – 6 March 1973; also known by her Chinese name Sai Zhenzhu). Though Buck was American by nationality, she truly was as much Asian as she was American. She went to Zhenjiang, China with her parent-missionaries in 1892 and did not return to the United States until 1934, some 42 years later. She was recipient of the Pulitzer Prize and the first female recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature. Though she has written volumes of works of both western and eastern interests, her most famous novel, “The Good Earth,” was the best seller in the United States for two years running (1931-32).
The below short story masterpiece illustrates how the love of God awakens our own love and results in action. We love him, because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)
Christmas Day In The Morning
By Pearl S. Buck
He woke suddenly and completely. It was four o'clock, the hour at which his father had always called him to get up and help with the milking. Strange how the habits of his youth clung to him still! Fifty years ago, and his father had been dead for thirty years, and yet he waked at four o'clock in the morning. He had trained himself to turn over and go to sleep, but this morning it was Christmas, he did not try to sleep.
Why did he feel so awake tonight? He slipped back in time, as he did so easily nowadays. He was fifteen years old and still on his father's farm. He loved his father. He had not known it until one day a few days before Christmas, when he had overheard what his father was saying to his mother.
"Mary, I hate to call Rob in the mornings. He's growing so fast and he needs his sleep. If you could see how he sleeps when I go in to wake him up! I wish I could manage alone."
"Well, you can't, Adam." His mother's voice was brisk. "Besides, he isn't a child anymore. It's time he took his turn."
"Yes," his father said slowly. "But I sure do hate to wake him."
When he heard these words, something in him spoke: his father loved him! He had never thought of that before, taking for granted the tie of their blood. Neither his father nor his mother talked about loving their children--they had no time for such things. There was always so much to do on the farm.
Now he knew his father loved him, there would be no loitering in the mornings and having to be called again. He got up after that, stumbling blindly in his sleep, and pulled on his clothes, his eyes shut, but he got up.
And then on the night before Christmas, that year when he was fifteen, he lay for a few minutes thinking about the next day. They were poor, and most of the excitement was in the turkey they had raised themselves and mince pies his mother made. His sisters sewed presents and his mother and father always bought him something he needed, not only a warm jacket, maybe, but something more, such as a book. And he saved and bought them each something, too.
He wished, that Christmas when he was fifteen, he had a better present for his father. As usual he had gone to the ten-cent store and bought a tie. It had seemed nice enough until he lay thinking the night before Christmas. He looked out of his attic window, the stars were bright.
"Dad," he had once asked when he was a little boy, "What is a stable?"
"It's just a barn," his father had replied, "like ours."
Then Jesus had been born in a barn, and to a barn the shepherds had come...
The thought struck him like a silver dagger. Why should he not give his father a special gift too, out there in the barn? He could get up early, earlier than four o'clock, and he could creep into the barn and get all the milking done. He'd do it alone, milk and clean up, and then when his father went in to start the milking he'd see it all done. And he would know who had done it. He laughed to himself as he gazed at the stars. It was what he would do, and he musn't sleep too sound.
He must have waked twenty times, scratching a match each time to look at his old watch -- midnight, and half past one, and then two o'clock.
At a quarter to three he got up and put on his clothes. He crept downstairs, careful of the creaky boards, and let himself out. The cows looked at him, sleepy and surprised. It was early for them, too.
He had never milked all alone before, but it seemed almost easy. He kept thinking about his father's surprise. His father would come in and get him, saying that he would get things started while Rob was getting dressed. He'd go to the barn, open the door, and then he'd go get the two big empty milk cans. But they wouldn't be waiting or empty, they'd be standing in the milk-house, filled.
"What the--," he could hear his father exclaiming.
He smiled and milked steadily, two strong streams rushing into the pail, frothing and fragrant.
The task went more easily than he had ever known it to go before. Milking for once was not a chore. It was something else, a gift to his father who loved him. He finished, the two milk cans were full, and he covered them and closed the milk-house door carefully, making sure of the latch.
Back in his room he had only a minute to pull off his clothes in the darkness and jump into bed, for he heard his father up. He put the covers over his head to silence his quick breathing. The door opened.
"Rob!" His father called. "We have to get up, son, even if it is Christmas."
"Aw-right," he said sleepily.
The door closed and he lay still, laughing to himself. In just a few minutes his father would know. His dancing heart was ready to jump from his body.
The minutes were endless -- ten, fifteen, he did not know how many -- and he heard his father's footsteps again. The door opened and he lay still.
His father was laughing, a queer sobbing sort of laugh.
"Thought you'd fool me, did you?" His father was standing by his bed, feeling for him, pulling away the cover.
"It's for Christmas, Dad!"
He found his father and clutched him in a great hug. He felt his father's arms go around him. It was dark and they could not see each other's faces.
"Son, I thank you. Nobody ever did a nicer thing--"
"Oh, Dad, I want you to know -- I do want to be good!" The words broke from him of their own will. He did not know what to say. His heart was bursting with love.
He got up and pulled on his clothes again and they went down to the Christmas tree. Oh what a Christmas, and how his heart had nearly burst again with shyness and pride as his father told his mother and made the younger children listen about how he, Rob, had got up all by himself.
"The best Christmas gift I ever had, and I'll remember it, son every year on Christmas morning, so long as I live."
They had both remembered it, and now that his father was dead, he remembered it alone: that blessed Christmas dawn when, alone with the cows in the barn, he had made his first gift of true love.
This Christmas he wanted to write a card to his wife and tell her how much he loved her, it had been a long time since he had really told her, although he loved her in a very special way, much more than he ever had when they were young. He had been fortunate that she had loved him. Ah, that was the true joy of life, the ability to love. Love was still alive in him, it still was.
It occurred to him suddenly that it was alive because long ago it had been born in him when he knew his father loved him. That was it: Love alone could awaken love. And he could give the gift again and again. This morning, this blessed Christmas morning, he would give it to his beloved wife. He could write it down in a letter for her to read and keep forever. He went to his desk and began his love letter to his wife: My dearest love...
Such a happy, happy Christmas!
Wednesday, August 24, 2016
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7 Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? 8 If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. 9 If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; 10 Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. 11 If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. 12 Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee. 13 For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother's womb. 14 I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. 15 My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. (Psalm 139:7-15)
The flower called Morning Glory is one of my favorite flowers, not only for beauty, but also for its natural characteristics. Its fragrance is sweet, its appearance profoundly beautiful, its colors of deep and royal purple, or even white, adorn the humble roadside scene. It blooms at the instant of the risen sun, and it folds its fragile petals and dies at the sun’s setting. In this way, the Morning Glory is like the children of God who are children of the light: 4 But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. 5 Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. 6 Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. 7 For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. 8 But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. (1 Thess 5:4-8)
The plight of mankind is to be conceived in darkness, and born into the light of day. This is a physical illustration of the spiritual Christian life. No one is born Christian. He lives in darkness until His faculties admit of a power beyond that has granted life and light to men. He is then born into the starry light of this worldly wilderness. He is like the Morning Glory that blooms only at the approach of light, and sheds its pedals at the closing of day. During the short life of the Morning Glory, it always follows, full face, the orbit of the sun across the heavens. It will not deign to endure darkness, so it dies when the sun of day sets on the western horizon. All of its brothers and sister, emerging from the same vine, stand at the ready to bloom in the place of the faded Morning Glory at the coming of the next day’s sunrise. This reveals the importance of the replenishing of the blood of the Christian Church with the youth of her members. The church of aging members has failed to reproduce the Gospel fervor in the hearts of their children – how sad!
The greater amount of wickedness and evil happen during hours of darkness since evil hates light. This is true of armed robbery, fraud, and even politics. Drunkeness, drug abuse, rape, murder, and other sins often occur during the hours of darkness. The quality of light to illuminate wickedness makes the ways of the criminal much more difficult. But light also illuminates truth and the Good Way. In following the sun across the sky, the Morning glory exemplifies the spiritual eyes of the Christian in following Jesus Christ – the Light of the World – throughout the long day of life’s existence.
Sickness and sorrow are magnified during the nighttime hours. Fevers reach their peak at the midnight hour. Though sorrow and mourning are greatest during the night-walk of life, Joy will soon appear with the Morning Sunrise of the Day Star.
You will not commonly find the Morning Glory blooming in neat, well-kept gardens just as you will seldom find the humble Christian in the modern monuments-to-shame of the great, glass-adorned churches. Christ never wore vestments of silk, presumptuous miters, gold-trimmed robes, or rings of rubies or emeralds. He walked the common path of life preaching as often by wells, mountains, and seashores as in the Temple – in fact more commonly in those other places. He did not even own a pillow upon which to place His weary head. He did not even perform miracles where men demanded the spectacular, or signs and miracles. He performed the miracles of healing where hearts were humble, heavy, and hurting. That was the purpose of His miracles – to eliminate pain and suffering, not to boast of His power and glory. He often went to the mountain heights to pray at night while others went to their warm beds, or the streets to sin. Prayer is most efficacious at night because sin is most rampant at that hour. So the humble Morning Glory is most commonly found in the pasturelands, the fencerows, and the rural mailboxes of the world.
Light is a form of armor to the Christian soul revealing every area of goodness as well as wickedness. The snail, that eats and destroys the labors of the gardener, hurries to find shelter under a rock at the coming sunrise. If he lingers too long at his thieving enterprise, he will be melted by the rays of the sun.
Morning is always coming closer at the darkest moment before the light. So as the long night of the soul dwindles on, look at the hope we have of the coming light! If we are walking in the Light of the Lord, we cannot be walking in darkness. Already we have seen a preview of the coming Day of Eternal Glory in Christ. Though we now see through a glass darkly, we shall, on His Day, see Him face-to-face. 11 And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. 12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. 13 Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. (Romans 13:11-13)
Since the entire night of sin is most complete just before sunrise, so all do of those sins lie open to be illuminated by the disinfecting light of the Sun at the rising thereof. That speaks to us of the revealing Light of God’s Holy and only Begotten Son at His return as the Sun of Righteousness with healing in His wings. (Mal 4:2)
The coming of morning is a time to awaken to a new day. Men rise from their beds and prepare, refreshed from sleep, for the labors and excitement that lie ahead. So comes the great Day of the Lord when the skies shall be rolled back as a scroll, and the entire globe will be illuminated by the Light of the Lord rather than by that celestial orb that has heretofore given the light of the common day. Men, women, and children (who know the Lord) will arise from their beds of dust, from the ashes of ancient fires of the martyrs, and from every corner of the globe to be received by the Lord Himself. They shall no longer wear the perishing robes of this world, but White and Spotless Robes of Splendor. The fiery snake of the Wilderness shall no longer bite, and the whip of the tyrant will be replaced by the love of the little child for his parents, and the Child of God for His Lord.
The birds of delight sing most beautifully with the sunrise. So will those birds of divine music and joy sing on that morning of pure delight with Christ’s Coming. The air will be pristine, and the fragrance of all flowers will everywhere be a joy. All life will awaken to an endless day, and the lion shall lie down with the lamb.
The Morning Glories of our pasturelands and fencerows already know that their life is only given for the day of sunshine. They know that the twilight shall bring an end to their brief, but beautiful, existence. But the day will come when the Morning Glory shall bloom never to shed her robes of white or purple.
In this life, too, men awaken often with the happy expectation, or even dread, of what the day will bring. There are occasions when the most promising sunrise may end in the most egregious sunset - but not at that day of the coming of the Lord. The golden rays of His appearing will caress the hills and mountains, and the valley’s shadows will be erased. The Morning Glory will not fold her leaves and die at the extinguishing of the light, for that Light is eternal.
Every soul that has ever lived upon planet Earth will arise on that Resurrection Morning – some to a glorious reward, and others to shame and eternal damnation. What a devastating damnation to the damned to realize that, like Judas as he departed from the Last Supper into the night, they shall never again see the light of day. How happy the redeemed of Christ to know that they shall never see another night of gloom, but only Light and Joy forevermore.
I love many different flowers, and for different reasons, but my favorite of all is that beautiful purple Morning Glory of promise.