Devotional thoughts (Monday through Thursday mornings) from the pastor of Exeter Presbyterian Church in Exeter, NH // Sunday Worship 10:30am // 73 Winter Street

Monday, July 16, 2018

Skip's Devotion - The "Why" in Life

Skip Phelps delivered this devotion at our recent Session meeting, and I wanted to share this with all of you as we, guided by the Scriptures, enjoy God in all that He has provided for us during these summer months:


A Devotion on “The WHY of Life” from A Day at the Track

“Racing is life. Anything before or after is just waiting” – Steve McQueen

“It’s easy to forget the WHY in our lives. We get busy at work, we have bills to pay and projects to complete, plenty of work to be done…but every once in a while, we get reminded of the WHY.

Hopefully it’s a celebration and not a tragedy that brings life back into focus. In my case it was neither. Just a track day at Virginia International Raceway doing what I love to do. I spent a day behind the wheel of a really fast Factory Five Race car with my good friend Wayne Presley who was there to drive our other Coupe. The smell of race gas, sound and performance of our cars at speed on the track, the smiles of people after getting a taste of real speed, and the fellowship of guys like Wayne made for a great day

Life continues to race by and there will be bills to pay and work to be done, but a day at the track reminds me WHY we do what we do here at Factory Five.”
(Dave Smith, President, Factory Five Racing)

So, what is the “WHY” in life for each of us? Probably not a day at the track but you fill in the blank; a day at the lake, a day with family or the grandkids; in earlier years, a dogfight in an F-4 where you just cleaned you best friends clock? In my case and probably in yours, the “WHY” has changed as we have grown older and hopefully are a bit wiser.

Taking a closer look at the “WHY” in our lives, I propose there are two distinct possibilities, either the “WHY” is about the “Self” or it is about the things “Eternal”.

Looking at the “Self” first: In “The Battle for the Self” from “The Path to and From Here” by Carl Trueman (In an Article from September 2016)

“The self in ancient Greece was political man, one who found his meaning (or WHY) in engaging in life in the “polis”. Political man gave way to religious man, who found his meaning (or WHY) in religious rites and observances. Religious man gave way to economic man, who found his meaning (or WHY) in economic activity. And economic man gave way to psychological man, who finds his identity (or WHY) in his own inner well-being and happiness.

"Self-understanding has always been complicated. Thus, the Augustine of the Confessions is arguably a psychological man, finding his identity (or WHY) in his inner dialogue and struggles. The precise nature of this psychological man has been established by various forces, some sophisticated, others decidedly demotic. At an intellectual level, psychological man downplays the objective givenness of the world. Later, romanticism, too, played its part as the artistic counterpart to such philosophical developments. Of course, romanticism is a vast movement where pleasure is made to be the central purpose (or WHY) with the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings. We might add to this the role of consumerism within society. The role of advertising, easy credit, and the capturing of the popular imagination by the idea that consumption is the key to happiness is yet another element in the story that places the individual at the center of the universe. Indeed, this is a story that makes the individual believe that he is able to construct his own (WHY) or meaning and significance in life.”

(Starts to sound a lot like the “autonomous man” Steve keeps reminding and warning us about.)

The problem with the individual constructing his own “WHY” of “Self” is that the final out-working of the “WHY” of “Self” ends up absorbed about consumption and can be summed up by the old adage that “he who dies with the most toys wins”, only problem, one is never fully satisfied with the toys we have so there is always one more trip to the mall required before life is fulfilled.

How does this Self constructed “WHY” differ from the “WHY” of things Eternal? First, we need to define the “WHY” of things Eternal. A good place to start is with the opening questions from the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

Question 1. What is the chief end of man?
Answer: Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

Romans 11:36 (ESV) Proof Text
36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

So, if the “WHY” of things Eternal is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever then how does this differ from the Self constructed “WHY”? By glorifying God and enjoying him forever are we then prevented from enjoying say “a day at the track” or “a day at the lake with the grandkids”? Are these activities inconsistent with or outside the purview of glorifying God and enjoying him forever? Are the two mutually exclusive, that is, in direct conflict with each other?

For those of us within the reformed faith the answer is absolutely not. Look at the second proof text for Question 1.

1 Corinthians 10:31 (ESV)
31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

Question 2 gives further specific instruction as to how we are to glorify and enjoy him.

Question 2. What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?
Answer: The word of God, which is contained in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.

1 John 1:3–4 (ESV) Proof Text
3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed, our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

We have no problem exercising and enjoying the freedoms afforded in Question 1 but when Question 2 tells us that it is only through the study and application of God’s written word as presented in the Old and New Testaments are we fully able to glorify and enjoy him. Then the problem comes when we let the freedoms in Question 1 take precedence over the study and worship required in Question 2.

Enjoy the freedom that scripture offers but be very careful to not let “a day at the track” or “a final trip to the mall” be the end of our story. We should never lose sight of the “WHY” or in the end the “WHO” that is eternal.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Luke 10

At first Jesus seemed to be all alone in His ministry, but soon there were twelve that He sent out to overturn evil in Israel. In this chapter we read that “the Lord appointed seventy-two others” who went out “two by two.” Was that too many for the task? Not at all, for Jesus said to His ambassadors: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” Everyone was told to “pray earnestly” for the gift of more helpers.
These men not only preached, they were also to “heal the sick.” They discovered that “even the demons” were “subject” to them in the “name” of Jesus. Their ministry was very powerful, but their Captain insisted that they rejoice not in any supernatural gifting, but in the glorious truth that their names were “written in heaven.”
Jehovah was pleased to bring His Word to the Jews in such an important hour through people that were not seen by others as particularly important. They were called to “love” for God and “neighbor.” One religious expert, “desiring to justify himself,” had this question: “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus answered with a story about a “Samaritan,” a despised foreigner who was a beacon of God's mercy to someone he did not even know. An Old Testament Jewish “priest” and a “Levite” failed to show the kindness of the Almighty, but a stranger to the Jewish traditions displayed the mercy of the Son of God.
Our Lord came from heaven as a most surprising good Samaritan. He saw us in our desperate need and He paid everything necessary for our wholeness. Nonetheless, God will bring “woe” upon any person who “rejects” Him.
Jesus is the “good portion” that Mary of Bethany chose when her sister Martha just wanted her to get to work with all the chores. Mary “sat at the Lord's feet and listened to His teaching.” Valuing Jesus above all was essential. The Son of God would eventually send millions of people forth as agents of compassion to the world, but many who heard the gospel would be unable to accept the Messiah as the God of their salvation.

Prayer from A Book of Prayers
Sovereign Master, we pray to You as the Lord of the harvest. We ask that You would send forth laborers into Your vineyard. There is much service for You that can be done everywhere and at all times. We must call men to repent and believe, warn the complacent, and encourage all who would trust in Jesus. Your kingdom can defeat every power of the enemy. Whatever setbacks we face, evil snare we fall into, or foolishness we temporarily embrace, our names are written in heaven. You have revealed great truths to Your worshipers that even angels long to look into. Remove from us the impulse to justify ourselves. Our Redeemer saw us in our need and showed us mercy. Grant us peace within Your church as we serve You and others. Help us to choose the best portion of all, Your eternal Son.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Luke 9

The Lord intended to work through “the twelve” to “proclaim the kingdom of God” throughout Israel. Therefore He gave them “power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases.” King Herod heard about “all that was happening” and “he sought to see” Jesus.
Crowds came to the Son of God wherever He went. When thousands followed the Lord and His friends into the wilderness, concern was expressed about how anyone could supply food for such a large group of people. Jesus' solution: “You give them something to eat.” The disciples spoke of “all these people” in a way that showed that they were overwhelmed by the persistent and needy mob. Jesus had the right plan. He took the few loaves and fish were available, and then He “looked up to heaven and said a blessing over them.” A large number of people were fed and there was more food left over at the end than at the beginning.
Jesus was “the Christ of God.” Peter knew this, but he did not have an accurate assessment of what it would mean to Jesus and to His apostles to be part of a movement that would be not only glorious, but also extremely costly. He had to learn that “the Son of Man must suffer” and even “be killed.” Only later would he begin to appreciate the words that the Messiah spoke to His disciples: “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.”
Three of the Lord's best friends were given a glimpse of the shining kingdom of God at the transfiguration of Christ. The “Chosen One” of God who was radiating heavenly glory came down once more into a world of strife. Soon the leaders that Jesus had appointed were arguing about who was the greatest and suggesting that their adversaries should be killed. They needed to learn that they were serving a King who had “nowhere to lay His head” and would soon die on a cross for their sins.

Prayer from A Book of Prayers
Lord God, You have power and authority over all things. You send us forward as representatives of Your goodness and mercy. Train us to be true ambassadors of Your Kingdom everywhere we go. Thank You for Your kind provision from on high. Open our hearts to the message of the Lamb. Show us how to know the truth and to live in it. We commit to a future of self-denial as we take up our cross and follow Jesus. Christ is coming again in glory. He has given us a glimpse of His heavenly majesty on the Mount of Transfiguration. Make us see heaven’s view of the ministry of our Redeemer. Teach us to listen to Him. He is the chosen One and we are Your people in a world that is full of disorder and unbelief. Help us to care and to act with the strength of the Man who had no sin. May the death and resurrection of our King be shining lights in our daily existence. As we receive even little children in the name of our Savior, we seek Your wisdom that we might understand who is with us and who is against us, lest we speak harshly to those whom You love. We will serve You wherever You lead. Lift us up as we walk in the Spirit.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Luke 8

The truth about Jesus the Messiah as God with us should be both alarming and enlivening. As our Redeemer went about with His small entourage of men and women, He was “proclaiming and bringing” the gospel of the “kingdom of God” to Israel. Many thought that they understood the ways of the Almighty, but they had not expected Christ to be like this Man.
It was unsettling when Jesus taught using parables. He told stories that began with words like these: “A sower went out to sow his seed.” What was His point? Nobody could comprehend the spiritual meaning, and He only explained His sayings to His closest friends. Even the members of His immediate family seemed to be on the outside, and the only way to be on the inside was to “hear the Word of God and do it.” He spoke with the full authority of heaven.
Examining the actions of Jesus did not make anyone feel more at ease. He made “the wind and the raging waves” obey. His companions asked each other, “Who then is this?” With no visible effort He brought life-changing help to a naked and dangerous loner who no one else was even able to restrain. He healed a bleeding woman whose story could not remain hidden because He said, “Who was it that touched Me?” He also raised a little girl who was clearly deceased, but said to the crowd, “She is not dead but sleeping,” and then brought her back to life.
How can we not be frightened by the God/Man? Nonetheless, rather than trying to run away from Him, we count ourselves among the millions throughout the centuries who have something more in our hearts than fear. We marvel at the goodness and power of His message and miracles, and we want to be near Him. We could reasonably be filled with awe by the experience of meeting the real Jesus, but we cannot help but hope that He will touch our overwhelmed souls, take us by the hand, and say, “Child, arise!”

Prayer from A Book of Prayers
Glorious God, You sent Jesus preaching and teaching the kingdom. You provided for His needs every day. He did not worry, but trusted You. As His gospel comes to us today we pray that it would find good soil in our souls, producing a fruitful yield. Protect us from any enemy that would seek to destroy the ministry of Your Word and Spirit in our lives. Help us to have a more perfect confidence in You. Grant to us honest hearts. Show us Your glory, and move us in the direction of all that is true and lovely. Thank you for the friendship that we enjoy within Your family as fellow-travelers in the way of righteousness. Together we will keep our eyes upon You, for You can calm the wind and the waves. Your great Son has power in His hands. He knows all the dangers that face us as we work for the progress of Your church. Bless us with close communion with Him in our service of You. Forgive us when we become filled with everything that this world offers us. We praise You for Your healing mercies and Your sensitivity to us in our pain. We tremble before You with reverence and joy. We cast off the chains of fear and doubt, and walk with You in hope. You make the dead rise. There is nothing too difficult for You.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Luke 7

Faith cannot begin with our own worthiness. A Gentile commander spoke the truth when he sent this message to Jesus: “I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.” The centurion continued with a second important component of genuine trust in the Almighty: “Say the word, and let my servant be healed.”
The one I-AM is so far above His creatures as to almost defy comparison. Yes, human beings are created in His image, but as Psalm 8:4 insists, “What is man that You are mindful of him?” People may boast about their best intentions to fix themselves and all the world's problems with their lofty promises, but only the Lord is holy, and He alone can speak worlds into being.
Jesus was and is truly divine. He healed from a distance, raised the dead when no one expected life, and fulfilled all the Scriptures about the Messiah in passages like Isaiah 29:18 and Isaiah 35:5-6. As our Lord Himself assured those who reported back to the suffering John the Baptist, “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.” His record of achievement was obvious.
In addition to all of these great manifestations of resurrection power, Jesus was also able to forgive sins and produce a life of love for God among those He restored to fellowship with Jehovah.
Religious leaders who were overly certain of their own perfection could not grasp the gospel from His teaching and His miraculous signs. They imagined that He was making foolish errors in receiving the affection of sinners. It was the morally needy who had repented of their transgressions in connection with the baptism of John who understood Jesus best. They were ready to put all their hope in Him, and He “saved” them.

Prayer from A Book of Prayers
Father God, You have granted faith to Your servants. We have come to understand that we are unworthy, and that our Messiah is perfect. We are well convinced that Your voice is powerful. When You speak, Your decrees will surely be accomplished. Your Son can even raise the dead. His compassion is warm and generous. Thank You for this deep love. You have visited us in Jesus. He gave sight to the blind, made the lame walk, and preached good news to the poor. We hear that gospel and find abundant riches in Him. We turn to You now and will follow You by Your grace. You know how to save the weak. We will listen to Your Word with respect and with a commitment to obey. Bring fruitful deeds forth from Your children. Help us to serve You in a way that is true to Your plan for redemption. We have been forgiven an enormous debt. We worship You and give our lives to You as Your disciples.

Monday, July 02, 2018

Luke 6

God gave humanity His Law, but many who claimed to be staunch defenders of His commandments did not really love Him. “Some of the Pharisees” were very ready to critique Christ. When they observed the companions of Jesus plucking some “heads of grain” and “rubbing them in their hands,” they imagined that such behavior was sinful. They said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?” These men loved their traditions far more than God. They rejected the “Son of Man” who told them plainly that He was “Lord” over Jehovah's appointed day of rest for Israel.
The controversy continued on another Saturday when the enemies of the Savior were looking for “a reason to accuse Him.” Jesus questioned them about the best way to celebrate God's holy day. Was it better “to save life or to destroy it?” Then He said to a man with a “withered” appendage, “Stretch out your hand,” and he was healed before their eyes. “They were filled with fury.”
Jesus continued with His mission despite increasing opposition from powerful foes. After a night of prayer, He chose those He would eventually send out as “apostles.” He then “lifted His eyes on His disciples” and taught them about true righteousness. God's legislation was not a weapon designed to judge others, but the revelation of a “Father” who calls His children to be “merciful.” The only man who ever kept the divine precepts flawlessly instructed those who would follow Him with these powerful words: “Love your enemies,” and “do good to those who hate you.”
Heavenly actions among mankind will only come from lives that have been miraculously renewed by God. “Each tree is known by its own fruit.” The root of the Lord's good planting must be Jehovah Himself. Jesus came from above in order to be the beginning of a new creation. He is the only solid foundation for anyone who desires a life of sincere holiness.

Prayer from A Book of Prayers
Our God and King, we will stay near You when men attack us. You know how to answer those who speak accusations against Your friends. Your Son is our holy rest and the Lord of the Sabbath. He restores us with His Word. He chose His disciples and made them apostles of the very best news. Though one was a traitor, his treachery could not stop Your plan. Our Savior has power to heal and to teach. He has brought us a living hope. You have great blessings for all who put their trust in Him. Show us the way of life in the day of temptation. Fill our souls with Your Spirit so that we will love even our enemies. Surely You will bring us out of every trouble. Grant that we would produce something beautiful out of Your gift of a renewed heart. We will build our house on the rock of Christ, for in Him we have kingdom stability.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Luke 5

After some of the disciples had spent all night fishing with disappointing results, it was quite shocking to let down their nets at Christ's command and then find that “they enclosed a large number of fish.”
How many did they catch? Luke does not include that detail, but we know that it was enough to put two boats in danger of sinking as they tried to take in the enormous haul.
Imagine if they had caught millions of people rather than hundreds of sea creatures! Jesus told them that was exactly where His great plan was headed: “From now on you will be catching men.”
When God came to earth, human beings with the most obvious and appalling diseases were healed. The largely hidden problem of moral culpability was also entirely lifted from the souls of those who received this good announcement of Jesus with faith: “Your sins are forgiven you!”
For some, this declaration was offensive. They could not believe that this Teacher and Healer spoke appropriately. He was a man, so how could He bring true deliverance from sin as if God was declaring good news in front of their eyes?
The truth was too much for so many to fathom: Immanuel Jesus was able to relieve deep, unseen wounds.
How did the Messiah settle the controversy? He spoke these powerful words: “Rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” And that's just what the (former) paralytic did!
The “Bridegroom” from heaven came to earth, and not everyone was celebrating. They said, “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, but yours eat and drink.”
Something new was happening. God had arrived in person, and it was all so unsettling!

Prayer from A Book of Prayers
Lord, Your Son came to preach and teach, but there was divine power in everything that He did. He could bring fish into the nets of His disciples, cleanse the leper, make the paralytic walk, and even forgive sins. He leads millions to trust in Him, and confounds those who try to stop Him. This great Teacher is our Redeemer and Messiah. Many men resist Him, but we know that He has healed and restored us. We have seen extraordinary things through the simple preaching of the Scriptures. Though we were once outside Your assembly, we have been drawn near by Your mercy. We receive the good word of absolution and celebrate the presence of our Savior as we gather together for worship. Jesus is the fulfillment of all biblical prophecy and the Giver of every new gift. Blessed be Your name, O God! We give You thanks for using us in the building up of Your Kingdom.