Whiter Than Snow

“God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways; he does great things beyond our understanding. He says to the snow, ‘Fall on the earth,’ and to the rain shower, ‘Be a mighty downpour.’ So that everyone he has made may know his work …” (Job 37:5-7)

I live in the beautiful mountains of Western North Carolina. Those of you who have been to my house or who follow me on Facebook are familiar with the grand westward vista from my rear deck. But the barrenness of winter renders that scene much less overwhelming as vibrant greens turn to muted browns and grays, flowers which added such color in the spring and summer shrivel up and die, and the leaves of autumn fall to the ground, leaving the trees stripped bare.

But then, as he did this past weekend, God is able to transform it all overnight into an unmatched masterpiece.

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As I pondered that this morning, I thought about the words of Isaiah 1:18, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”  I’m reminded that all my righteous acts- those things I do in the hopes of pleasing God- are as “filthy rags” in God’s eyes. (Is. 64:6) And that “without faith, it is impossible to please God.” (Heb. 11:6)

But when we do the “works God requires”, which Jesus says is “to believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:28), our filthy rags are cast aside. Then just as that scene from my deck was transformed overnight, we are transformed into “God’s masterpiece … created anew in Christ”. (Eph. 2:10)

After we shoveled to the top of our driveway Saturday and looked back, I remarked to my wife that our house had never looked better. It’s reassuring to know that on the day I accepted Christ into my heart and he washed away my sins, The Lord said the same thing about me.

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“Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” (Psalm 51:7 )

Note: All Scripture from the New International Version (NIV)

 

 

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Reflections From John

“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3 NIV)

imageAs I look back on almost 20 years of leading Bible Study in one capacity or another, I believe the most insightful and potentially life-changing study I have ever taught was the Gospel of John. A few years after leading that study, I informed my class that I hoped to teach John’s Gospel again someday. This blog affords me that opportunity.

This series of posts, which will be interrupted occasionally as the Spirit leads me, will not attempt to be an exhaustive expository study of John. Instead, each post will focus on one or two key verses taken from John’s gospel, reflecting on how those verses should inform or impact the conduct of our lives as followers of Christ, being obedient to His commands, and drawing others to know Him better.

I see this series of posts on the Gospel of John as a good fit for Ridgetop Reflections. In fact, I debated whether to title it “Reflections on John” or “Reflections from John”. I went with the latter because while he was once pegged by Jesus himself as a “Son of Thunder”, as John aged he likely became more contemplative- more reflective. I believe that as he pondered the gospel accounts that had been widely distributed, John realized they didn’t paint a complete picture of the Jesus that he knew. If he had written his gospel in modern times, he might have titled it, “The Jesus I Knew”.

John was probably the last of the four gospels to be written. According to Christian tradition, before his exile to the Isle of Patmos, John spent his latter years at Ephesus, where he carried on a ministry of preaching and teaching and writing. He probably wrote this gospel somewhere between 80-90 AD.

He did not attempt to chronicle all the events in the life of Christ- others had already done that. In fact, he memorably observed that should all those events be recorded, “the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” (John 21:25 NIV) But he was extremely focused on going beyond the events to explore the deeper meaning of the ones he chose to include.

Another thing that makes John’s Gospel unique and a good fit for Ridgetop Reflections is his emphasis on Jesus’ relationships with individuals. After 40 years as a Christian and 20 years teaching God’s Word, I have a greater appreciation for the value of relationships in our Christian walk. We better fulfill the Great Commission to make disciples through relationships.

My favorite pastors – the ones that have had the greatest impact on me through the years – are the ones with whom I developed a personal relationship. This blog will have more meaning for and generate more interest from those with whom I have a personal relationship. And I am mindful that what others see in me will either undermine my message or create a hunger to have what I have.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote,“ For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you- that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.” (Rom. 1:11-12 ESV)  Paul understood that personal interaction leads to mutual encouragement.

Lastly, John’s Gospel is a good fit for Ridgetop Reflections because John’s life is an excellent illustration of the love of God. This blog was birthed out of an overwhelming sense of God’s love- a topic I covered in “Reflections On God’s Love”. A simple understanding of God’s love is the deepest theology there is. The great theologian Karl Barth once commented that the most profound truth he ever discovered was “Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so.” And nowhere does the Bible reflect that more profoundly than in the Gospel of John.

John’s life is also an illustration of the grace of God. When Jesus chose him, he had no lofty status as a fisherman, nor was he an educated man, even by the standards of that day. He doesn’t appear to have been a magnetic personality or charismatic leader. But this lowly fisherman went on to be called “the apostle of love” and authored five books in our Bible. He is a testament to the power of Christ to transform lives.

For years Luke was my favorite gospel, because it was written by a Gentile for Gentiles, and it appeals to my logical mindset as a degreed engineer. But I find that the more I have grown in Christ, the more I prefer John over Luke. I’ve discovered that to know about Christ and to accept Him as Savior is one thing, but to truly know Christ and make Him Lord is life-changing!

John knew Christ more intimately than any of the disciples. His gospel has helped me know Christ more intimately myself. And my sincere hope is that through this series of posts, you might get to know Him more intimately as well. Because it is only through knowing Him, trusting Him, and walking in step with Him that we will experience the abundant life that He desires for each one of us. (John 10:10)

“That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.” (Philippians 3:10 KJV)

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*Photo by Sallye Martin

 

 

Hope In The Face Of Affliction

(One year ago today, after spending the night by my brother’s bedside, we said our last goodbyes just twelve hours before he passed into eternity. As I reflect upon his final years as he struggled with various illnesses triggered by diabetes, I have no doubt that our conversations about faith helped inspire my decision to establish this blog. If you or anyone you love has been impacted by severe affliction, I trust that this post, which is adapted from my remarks at Ronnie’s funeral, may resonate with you no matter what trials you may face.)

image“Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

In the weeks leading up to Ronnie’s passing, I was drawn not only to God’s Word for comfort and inspiration, but also to some of the writings of one of my favorite Christian authors, Philip Yancey, who offers uncanny insight and wisdom on the subject of pain, suffering, and grief with books like “Reaching For The Invisible God”, “Where Is God When It Hurts”, and “The Question That Never Goes Away”.

You cannot talk about Ronnie’s life without addressing the suffering he endured when diabetes entered his life. Yancey reminds us that while the Bible is certainly a source of great comfort in times of trouble, sickness, and grief, it never gives clear answers to many of those troublesome Why? questions we all face in this life. Even at the end of the Book of Job, where God had the perfect opportunity to address the problem of pain and suffering- the longest speech by God in the entire Bible- he seems to avoid the topic entirely. God’s reply to Job in a nutshell is that divine providence is a mystery that only God understands.

In his initial struggles with the diabetes that would dominate his life, Ronnie wrestled with those unanswerable Why? questions. He had difficulty sensing God’s presence or even accepting that God heard his prayers. He felt unworthy of God’s forgiveness for past transgressions. But through the years, as he focused on God’s Word, and as he drew closer to God through his affliction, he began to recognize the presence of God, experience the reality of God’s forgiveness, and receive the assurance of his salvation. And those things made a tremendous difference in his outlook.

Only God knows whether it required years of affliction for Ronnie to come to that assurance. But God’s Word informs us that he works all things together for good for those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose. (Rom 8:28) I saw that Biblical truth exemplified in Ronnie’s life. After one of his last hospital stays, he told me that looking back on all that he had been through, he could see the hand of God guiding all the circumstances of his life. That is evidence of a mature faith- the ability to reassemble all the events of our life around trust in a loving God, believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse.

As I examined his Bible before preparing my remarks for his funeral, the verses from 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 that are cited at the top of this post clearly had very special meaning for him. He had started to view this life from a heavenly perspective.

Lessons from the 23rd Psalm
In times of grief, we often quote the 23rd Psalm, a psalm most of us likely memorized in our youth. But I doubt if many of us have ever noticed a subtle transition in that psalm. It begins with those reassuring words, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul; he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” But then the subtle shift occurs, “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (KJV)

Have you ever noticed the subtle shift in perspective there? When the psalmist spoke of experiencing green pastures, still waters, and paths of righteousness, he spoke of God more distantly, using the third person, “He maketh me to lie down, he leadeth me, he restoreth me”. But when he begins to speak of the valley of the shadow of death and the presence of enemies, notice how his tone becomes more personal, referring to God no longer as “He”, but as Thou or you. “Thou art with me … thy rod and thy staff they comfort me … Thou preparest a table before me … thou anointest my head.”

God had drawn closer in his trials. Yancey says that those reassuring words, “Thou art with me” are the best biblical answer to the question that never goes away in difficult times. Where is God when it hurts? … He is with us. No matter the circumstances, we have the assurance of “Immanuel”, which simply means “God with us”.

Grieving With Hope
Since delivering my Mother’s eulogy eleven years ago, I have spoken at several other funerals, including those for my sister, Paulette, my Uncle Frank, my Uncle Ralph, my dear friend, Jay, and most recently, my Aunt Carolyn- the last surviving sibling of my mother and father. As I look back on those messages today, years after their passing, I still grieve. Tears come to my eyes. I can be sitting in church, and the choir starts singing “In Christ Alone” which was sung at Paulette’s funeral, and I rarely get through it without choking up.

A few years ago, at our church in Hendersonville, we hosted a singing group called “This Hope”. I love that name- it is based on Heb. 6:19 which says “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” They sang a song I had never heard- “There Is A Heaven”. The lyrics hit me like a brick. The writer laments about a friend who has died too soon. He talks about the days they could have had together. But then he reflects on his friend’s destination as he gets to the chorus, singing “But I know there is a heaven. And one day I’ll see you there. Where Jesus holds us through forever. There will be no goodbyes when I see you in Heaven. I close my eyes and see you basking in the presence of our Lord. The fullness of His grace you now know face to face.”

As I processed those words, I began to cry once again. But for the first time since my sister and mother’s deaths, they were not tears of grief or sadness. They were tears of joy as the thought of them together in their heavenly home overshadowed my grief.

As I remember those loved ones, I grieve only for myself and those of us they left behind- but not for them. They are basking in the presence of our Lord. The fullness of His grace, they now know face to face. While times of grief are always times to reflect on experiences from our past, as Christians we must remind ourselves that there is also a future. Based on God’s promises, we grieve knowing that because of our faith in Christ and the promises of God’s Word, we’ll be together again one day with all those loved ones who preceded us in death knowing Christ as their Lord and Savior.

And my prayer is that because of your relationship with Christ, you can be as confident of that as I am. And that on the day The Lord calls your name, you can face it with the same dignity, grace, peace, and positive expectation that they did.

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In memory of Ronnie and all those loved ones who are awaiting us in Glory, please enjoy “I Will Rise” performed by Chris Tomlin.

Note: All Scripture references from the New International Version (NIV)

 

Attention All Readers!

I need your help! Recently I have come to realize that Facebook and Twitter are very inefficient delivery mechanisms for distributing new posts to Ridgetop Reflections. I have learned from experience that not all posts which my Facebook friends share actually show up in my News Feed due to screening algorithms based on my activity on the site. (Can it really read my mind?)

I also know from experience that as my list of Facebook friends has grown, so has the time it takes to scroll through the feed and determine what is worthy of my consideration, reading, viewing, liking, and sharing. And don’t even get me started on Twitter! Some days I just don’t have that much time to spare- and I’m retired! So I can imagine the time constraints on those of you who go to work every day and take care of your families.

imageIf you enjoy my blog and want to insure that you get a chance to see each post, I encourage you to sign up for email notifications. As you scroll through this post, you should notice a small pop-up tab labeled “Follow” appear on the bottom of your screen. Just click on that tab and a window will appear where you simply need to enter your email address and submit it.

Future posts will then appear in your inbox as soon as they are published and you can read them at your leisure. I’m confident you will find the format very convenient for reading now or saving for later when you have more time. If you find a post share-worthy, you can still link to the site and share as always. (If you already subscribe, please feel free to comment below as to just how convenient it is.)

I shared my most recent post via Facebook Messenger with many of you this week and received a lot of positive feedback and useful interaction, but it is a tedious process and could be a duplication of effort if you’ve already read the post on Facebook.

If you currently receive notifications of new posts through personal emails from me, I also encourage you to sign up for notifications as I’ve described above. You will then receive the email from WordPress, the platform which hosts my website, as soon as a post is published. This is much more efficient for you and for me.

Please help me and help yourselves by giving this a try. Like that commercial says, “Try it- you’re going to like it!” If you try it and don’t like it, instructions for unsubscribing are included in each email you will receive. But I’m confident that if you like my posts, you’re going to like receiving them this way.

Until next time, may the grace and love of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

 

The Paths Of Life

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Ps. 16:11 ESV)

A number of years ago, my wife and I went on our first cruise- a Bible Study cruise with Charles Stanley and Adrian Rogers, two of my all-time favorite preachers. After purchasing one of Dr. Stanley’s books, we stood in line for his signature and a photo. Above his signature, he inscribed Psalm 16:11, as cited above.

As my spiritual journey has continued since that day, this verse has reminded me that as a follower of Christ, I need to seek His direction daily. It informs me not only of the pleasures that are mine as I recognize His presence day by day, but also the eternal pleasures that are awaiting me when this earthly life is over. Hearing of the passing of a high-school friend last week was a sobering reminder that at the age of 65, I have many more years behind me than lie ahead of me in this world.

When I look back on my life and reflect on all the ways God has directed my paths in the past, it motivates me all the more to seek divine direction as I move forward. Pondering those times that I have sensed and followed God’s clear direction, at least nine significantly memorable occasions come to mind- the most recent being a call to establish this blog. From time to time, when appropriate, I will share some of the details of those encounters.

One that stands out prominently with me is my call to move to Denver, Colorado at the end of my career. At the time, I was serving in a staff position with the Bureau of Prisons in Washington, DC. Nearing retirement eligibility, and having moved a number of times throughout my career, I intended that Washington would be my last duty station. But as someone once said, “If you want to make God laugh, just tell him your plans!”

Out of the blue one day, in a quiet time, just minding my own business, a verse of Scripture invaded my mind along with an image of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains that border the city of Denver. The verse was Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you … plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (NIV)

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At the time, we were considering a change in the management of our Denver operation which was under my supervision, but I had never considered myself as the replacement. And I suppose God started to chuckle just a bit. After discussing the possibility with my wife and receiving several divine confirmations in the days that followed, I made no other moves regarding the filling of the Denver position, leaving it entirely in God’s hands.

A couple of months later in my personal Bible study before catching the carpool for my daily commute into DC, I came to Jeremiah 29:11. As those words seemed to leap off the page, I knew in my heart that the day had come. Within an hour after arriving at the office, though we had never discussed the possibility of moving my position to Denver, my boss called me in and opened the conversation with words I’ll never forget – “What would you think about moving to Denver?”

Denver would be my last duty station, and it could not have been a better place to close out my career. We met folks there who would become lifelong cherished friends. Though it was so far from home and family, Denver was a fantastic place to live- in fact, our favorite of all the duty stations we called home through my 25 years with the Prison System. The work was so rewarding that I stayed almost two years beyond my retirement eligibility date.

The Lord led us to Riverside Baptist Church (which is a testimony I’ll share at another time) and we sat under the preaching of Pastor Rick Ferguson, who continues to rank as my all-time favorite pastor. Adding to God’s plans to prosper us, the real estate market conditions allowed us to build more equity in a home than ever before, providing a much needed down payment toward our retirement home.

Since that experience, I have had several other occasions of clear divine direction, but I’ve learned that it is not something I can force God’s hand about, no matter how urgent and fervent my prayers. It always comes in God’s perfect timing and for his purposes rather than my own anxious inclinations. All I can do is create the environment for divine direction to take place by maintaining a strong intimate relationship with The Lord through the spiritual disciplines of Biblical prayer, personal Bible Study, regular worship, and exercising the spiritual gifts the Lord has granted me.

Through these 65 years, I have made my share of poor decisions. I can certainly relate to the song I’ve linked at the end of this post. But I have never regretted obeying the clear directions of the Holy Spirit. The Lord has led me down many rejuvenating, fulfilling, and purposeful paths. And those paths have taken me to a much deeper faith and a more intimate relationship with Him. In fact, this post was a divine redirection from my plans to begin a series of posts from the Gospel of John. I’ll start that on my next post, unless of course, the Boss has other plans. (Are you laughing, Lord?)

Perhaps you are at a point in your own life where you need divine direction. Perhaps God changed my plans for this post to speak through me to you. If so, I encourage you to listen for his voice. Make those spiritual disciplines I identified above a part of your daily routine. It is time well invested. And when He clearly speaks to your heart, ask for divine confirmation, and obey that still small voice. And He will fill you with the gladness of His presence, and perhaps he just might direct your paths. And if he does, just step out on faith and enjoy the journey!

Until next time,

“Trust in The Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. (Prov. 3:5-6 KJV)

Enjoy ” Through All Of It” by Colton Dixon.