He knows . . . it all!

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Clear lines of cause and effect are comforting to me.  I like to think that if I do this, I can expect that result; if I put in the time and effort, I will find the results I desire.  Mostly that is true, but then it happens.  In spite of doing good, pain comes.  Four and half years ago, my dear wife, a godly and good woman who took care of her health, who had loved God and others for her entire life, was diagnosed with a cancer that eventually ended her earthly journey after a long slog through suffering.  It still feels unfair to me!  “Why her?” I ask. “She did not deserve this.” A hundred people have offered me ‘explanations.’ I know the philosophical arguments for God’s goodness and human free will – and that helps, a little, but still there are moments when I wonder if He is, in fact, a “good, good Father.”  (That is one of the hardest songs for me to sing to this day.)

Bitterness is not part of my life because I match my doubts with declarations that do not explain my pain, but which offset the anger I might otherwise experience.

One of those facts that I learn from the Scripture is that the whole script is not written on this side of eternity. God asks me to trust Him with the parts hidden in that realm that exists as surely as this present world. That does not release me from responsibility for making the best choices possible, for realizing that there actions taken by others that are affecting my life of which I am completely unaware.  My greatest comfort and strongest faith grows out of the heart-deep conviction that ‘He knows … it all!”   “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:13, NIV)

That is no threat to me. How about you?  I am glad He knows … it all! I am comforted that He does not evaluate me based solely on the last 24 hours of my life, that He sees the totality of my life and the context of my choices; good and bad.  Best of all, I rest in the declaration that He knows me as a son, beloved, and dressed in righteousness through the grace-gift of Christ Jesus.  Am I deluded about the sins and failures of my life? I surely hope not. I fail Him and others. I grow impatient, I am not loving.   However, faith closes that gap between my profession of faith and the actions of a still as yet imperfect man.  God be praised.

The rest of the story is told by Peter – Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.” (1 Peter 1:17, NIV)  Precisely because God knows … it all –  there are no excuses for our failure to take the grace and power for godly living that that will hold water.  God looks at us completely impartially. We are loathe to attach the word “fear” to our Father but if we make Him too small in our mind, we risk living carelessly, thinking that He can be swayed like an old, gentle grandpa.

Today may the fact that He knows … it all both comfort and challenge us.  When life is hard, when sorrows come, when temptation appears to be overwhelming make the faith statement that He knows and has not forgotten. And, as you feel His gaze, reject disobedience as you choose holiness.

Here is a word from the Word – “Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” (Proverbs 1:7, NLT) “Cry out for insight, and ask for understanding. Search for them as you would for silver; seek them like hidden treasures. Then you will understand what it means to fear the Lord, and you will gain knowledge of God.” (Proverbs 2:3-5, NLT)

____________

Blessings

We pray for blessings
We pray for peace comfort for family
Protection while we sleep
We pray for healing for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand
To ease our suffering
And all the while You hear each spoken need
Yet love is way too much to give us lesser things 

‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
And what if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
And what if trials of this life
Are Your mercies in disguise

 We pray for wisdom
Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt Your goodness
We doubt Your love
As if ev’ry promise from Your Word is not enough
And all the while You hear each desp’rate plea
And long that we’d have faith to believe

 When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not this is not our home
It’s not our home

 ‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
And what if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is a revealing of a greater thirst
This world can’t satisfy

And what if trials of this life
The rain the storms the hardest nights
Are Your mercies in disguise

 Laura Story © 2011 Laura Stories (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc.)

New Spring (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc.)

CCLI License # 810055

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Saved by grace? Act like it!

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There’s a saying in Texas: “All hat, no cattle.”  It’s a shorthand way to describe a person who is all talk, pretentious, who lacks substance. A guy might drive a King Ranch™ Ford pickup, wear Tony Lama™ boots and a Stetson hat;  he might even own a horse-  but all that does not make him a rancher.  A common human temptation is to pretend to be someone we are not because we want to ‘fit in’ so desperately.  Sometimes this is harmless, but when a person confuses fantasy with reality too long, there are serious consequences. In the long run, being phony destroys the very relationships that person is trying so hard to gain.  Authenticity lays a foundation for a deep, lasting relationship.

Peter, writing to us, spoke of the amazing gift of God’s grace. We are given ‘new birth’ and an inheritance of a Heavenly home. All of this was no spur of the moment decision by God. He planned from ages past, told the prophets about it, and then sent Jesus to reveal our salvation.  “Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:13-16, NIV)

Since you are saved by grace,” Peter says, act like it!”  Where we read, “prepare your mind for action,” in the original text there is a much more colorful and compelling metaphor.  In some older translations the idiom was translated literally – “Gird up the loins of your mind.”  In order to get ready to work, men gathered their long robes at the waist and secured them with a belt so they could move freely.  There are choices we must make as a Christian that involve real, sustained effort; more than Sunday singing and church pew warming.

Take control of your passions,” Peter says.  Are you ruled by impulses, pulled this way and that by appetites for food, sex, pleasure, ease?  Are you temperamental, quick to quit, unwilling to take on service that has no glamour or immediate reward?  Grow up in Christ.

Look forward to the eternal promise.”  One of the marks of maturity is appreciation of delayed gratification, the grasp that what I do today can pay rich dividends farther down the road. Christians who are living maturely in Christ need to understand this, to live in faith.  Sometimes doing what is right is costly in the present. Who enjoys saying “no” to themselves?  We will do it more readily IF we have our hope resting on God’s promise, not just our desires.

“Don’t be stupidly sinful.”  There is a time when we are forgiven the things we do ‘in ignorance.’ We simply do not know any better, but the Word and Spirit bring correction and instruction. The conviction of the Spirit speaks to us and says, “Stop it.”  Or, “Forgive him.” Or, “Give generously.” Or, “Love that person beyond your words.” Will we respond maturely and with the help of God, the Holy Spirit, become mature?

Grow to be more like Me,”  the Father directs. “Be holy!”

Let me clear up one misconception.  This is a work in progress for each one of us. We will have bad days when we fall flat on our face. Fatigue, frustration, and plain old foolishness will trip us up from time to time, but there is grace to recover. God does not practice ‘three strikes and you’re out.’  He works patiently, persistently, to bring us to beautiful maturity.  So, let’s get on with it.  Since you’re saved by grace, act like it.

The word from the Word comes from Paul, who also reminds us to be authentic Christians, who grow in grace. “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2, NLT)

_________________

No Longer Slaves

(listen and worship)

You unravel me with a melody
You surround me with a song
Of deliverance from my enemies
Till all my fears are gone

I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God
I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God

From my Mother’s womb
You have chosen me
Love has called my name
I’ve been born again into Your family\
Your blood flows through my veins

You split the sea so I could walk right through it
My fears were drowned in perfect love
You rescued me so I could stand and sing
I am a child of God

Brian Johnson | Joel Case | Jonathan David Helser © 2014 Bethel Music Publishing

CCLI License # 810055

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All this, and Heaven, too!

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Reputable studies confirm that people in America, especially those under age 30, are experiencing sharply higher rates of anxiety and/or depression in the last 5 years.  Experts point to multiple theories about why.  Some suggest that social media creates an artificial world that full of false comparisons, leading to the conclusion that ‘my life is so much worse than that of my friends.’  Others point to the fact that finding a good, solid job can be more difficult. Others talk about the fluid relationships, constantly shifting, that do not allow for deep, steadying influences that are so necessary to mental and spiritual health.

I believe that one of the primary reasons for hopelessness is  real hopelessness. It is not just a perception.  Humanity apart from God is without hope, lost. We are made to worship, to be connected to God, our life about more than finding our next meal, having yet another experience of fun/pleasure.  When God is displaced at the center of life, as He largely is in our time, when even those who are supposed to know and love Him are frequently just superficially religious, the foundation is eroded and the meaninglessness of life can become unbearable.

Peter makes this bold declaration. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you.” (1 Peter 1:3-4, NIV)  Because Jesus died and rose again, by faith we who are creatures of time, under the curse of death, have a lively hope.  Yes, it is not a vague idea. God invites us to start to live right now like the eternal beings He makes us through Christ. By the Spirit, the death sentence that once caused us to seek relief in food, fun, and other diversions, is set aside.  We are made alive, with reason to live.

And …. We have an assured inheritance.  Whatever our temporary setbacks, disappointments, and troubles at the horizon of time we know that HEAVEN waits. How do we know this? Because of the Resurrection of Jesus. He came back!  He died for our forgiveness to make it possible for us to know the love of God, to feel at peace; and He conquered the grave to let us know that life does not end when we take our last breath. There is a home prepared for me, for you, that is “pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay.” It is not just ‘pie in the sky by and by’ that keeps us!  It is the hope that reaches from Eternity to Time, that takes away that sense of futility that overwhelms so many who are captives of sin and the flesh, who somehow realize that they are dead even while they are alive.

Yes, Christian friend, there is joy in serving Jesus and that joy is deeper than the foolish and empty promises of the ‘prosperity Gospel’ about Jesus blessing you with a bigger house, success, and perpetual health. Such religion promises what it can never deliver.  The truth is that we may experience hard times, we may go through things for which there is no earthly explanation, but if we are loving God, reconciled to our Creator through Jesus,  we are never hopeless because our inheritance is secure, waiting for our perfection.

Are you alive to God?
No matter if you are 4, 14, 34, or 84 there is a constant hope that you can possess, beyond health and wealth. That hope comes from knowing that we are beloved children of God for whom there is love now and life forever.  The result of believing that in faith is explained in the word from the Word.

Meditate on these lines for a few moments. Let them soak into your awareness and you will find hope renewed.  Troubled? Experiencing some hard times?

“These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:7-9, NIV)

___________

Mighty To Save
(Laura Story sings about hope!)

Ev’ryone needs compassion
Love that’s never failing
Let mercy fall on me
Ev’ryone needs forgiveness
The kindness of a Saviour
The hope of nations

 Saviour He can move the mountains
My God is mighty to save
He is mighty to save
Forever Author of salvation
He rose and conquered the grave
Jesus conquered the grave

 So take me as You find me
All my fears and failures
Fill my life again
I give my life to follow
Ev’rything I believe in
Now I surrender

 Shine your light and let the whole world see
We’re singing
For the glory of the risen King
Jesus
Shine your light and let the whole world see
We’re singing
For the glory of the risen King

 Ben Fielding | Reuben Morgan© 2006 Hillsong Music Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) CCLI License # 810055

 

Pastor Jerry Scott

FAITH DISCOVERY CHURCH

www.FaithDiscovery.com

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Off to the convent?

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A couple of Summers ago, a country band named Florida Georgia Line recorded a song that went to the top of the charts.  It is called “Holy- High On Loving You.”  It’s a cute play on words but oh what an abuse of that word.  The song is a celebration of a love that changes a person’s life and it borrows a whole lot of Christian themes while missing the point of HOLY, altogether!  Too many of us misunderstand ‘holy’ believing it is only about pastors or church buildings or special days. “Holy” is the high calling of every person who belongs to Christ Jesus.

Yesterday, my sermon was from Isaiah 6, the preacher’s vision of God that transformed his life!  The angelic beings in his visions chanted this phrase about God, the Almighty:  “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:3, NIV)  What is ‘holy’ anyway?  The most basic meaning is ‘other.’ God is holy in that He is apart from His Creation, unique, special. He is not ‘like’ anything we know, a Person who so pure, so powerful, so indescribable that we have a word for Him – Holy!

Now here is the interesting part for us today.  “As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness. God said, “I am holy; you be holy.” You call out to God for help and he helps—he’s a good Father that way. But don’t forget, he’s also a responsible Father, and won’t let you get by with sloppy living. Your life is a journey you must travel with a deep consciousness of God.” (1 Peter 1:15-17, The Message)

A person in a Bible study I was leading recently made us laugh when she said, in all seriousness, that ‘holy’ was something only an older person could become. Was she right? Can we only become the unique possession of God who are dedicated to His purposes with advancing age?  I suppose it is easier to say ‘no’ to temptation, at least of some kinds, when you’re 60 rather than 16.

But, God’s invitation to live a holy life is not just for men or women, young or old, rich or poor.  When Jesus came to earth with the Good News of God and His peace, He also revealed a new kindness of thought about ‘holiness.’   No longer do we need a Temple, for we become His Temples. No longer do we think of ‘holy days,’ because every day belongs to God.  No longer is there a select priesthood among people, for all of God’s people are called to be filled with Spirit, ‘holy priests!’

Yes, friend, you and I are to like Him: select, unique, and called into holy service! “Come to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by the people, but he is precious to God who chose him. And now God is building you, as living stones, into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are God’s holy priests, who offer the spiritual sacrifices that please him because of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:4-5, NLT)  Does this calling to be God’s holy people mean that we have to wear dark colors, a serious look on our faces, and live in isolated communities of like-minded people?  No, true holiness is a change of heart, a life given to Christ Jesus completely, with no greater love than to do the Father’s will.

God invites us to  become ‘living sacrifices’ who reflect that we belong to God – all the time, everywhere. How that works out in everyday life is uniquely a reflection of God’s work in us individually. Whatever your gifts and abilities become a means of worshipping Him and you can use those gifts to display your devotion to Him by dedicated them to His purposes, that is, making them ‘holy.’

Are you dividing your life into what is ‘holy’ and what is ‘secular?’ For the Christian no day, no place, no person is more holy than the next. Every moment is a holy one lived in God’s Presence. Everyone of us is a priest whose life offers up sacrificial worship and whose words offer grace to those in need. And, every place on earth we go, we can make into a sanctuary for His worship!

Here’s a word from the Word to ponder today – “Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.” (Ephesians 4:21-24, NLT)
__________

Make us holy, Lord, people who belong to You,
People who love Your purposes,
Willing to let go of Self and those things that are not
like You.
Create a pure heart, a life of love, and show off
the radiance of Jesus’ beauty through me today.   Amen

___________

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More than Mindfulness

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Mindfulness is an idea from Buddhism that has become widely practiced.  Those who are mindful are learning to fully alive in the moment; aware (mindful) of their emotions, responses, and needs. The practice brings ‘non-judgment’ to those sensations, an acceptance of present circumstances. Being mindful can help a person to find a kind of peace and reduce levels of stress. Understanding who we are, why we are feeling certain emotions, how we respond to various situations is a very valuable thing for a better life.  The Christian, however, is offering more than mindfulness to deal with life. We can live in the peace of God!

We need to be live with complete awareness, honest with ourselves about what is going on in us and around us, and then take the step of which Paul writes in this passage.  “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:11-13, NIV) We do not just have to learn to accept life as it is, we can connect the Presence of Jesus to those situations. He will work in us – changing us and changing the world around us. 

A few lines earlier in this inspired letter, we read this “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7, NIV)  If we are merely mindful we just let go of it all.

God invites us to enter into an abundant life- one marked by purpose, passion, and peace. How? We accept, by faith, that we are His beloved children and as such we ‘present our requests’ prayerfully. While there is much to be said about accepting life as it, learning to be content, we never can allow ourselves to settle into apathy, mistaking that for God’s peace.  Our secret of contentment is knowing that we are held securely in the love of God.

The further step towards complete peace is learning to respond to His call, to live in obedience (yes, that word!) to His will so that that the flow of the Holy Spirit’s life is not hindered by guilt, by shame;  our desires brought into alignment with His.

With transparency, I will tell you that it is easier to write about living in that kind of contentment than it is to actually do it! Like you, I find myself confronted by circumstances that I do not like, having to deal with people that frustrate me, finding my own heart a rebel, and I slip into turmoil. I want to kick and scream, and sadly, sometimes I do.  There is no peace in those choices!

But, when I take it all to Jesus – holding the whole bundle – victories and defeats – to Him, asking for grace to walk with Him, the peace of God flows into my life.  Not only do I find contentment, I also find His wisdom and power to become an agent of change.

Are you merely attempting to be mindful? Go the next step.  As you become aware of the inner thoughts and needs  present those things to the loving Father who has prepared something better for you.

Here is a word from the Word.

“A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem.

From the depths of despair, O Lord, I call for your help.
Hear my cry, O Lord.
Pay attention to my prayer.

 Lord, if you kept a record of our sins,
who, O Lord, could ever survive?
But you offer forgiveness,
that we might learn to fear you.
I am counting on the Lord;
yes, I am counting on Him.
I have put my hope in His word.
I long for the Lord more than sentries long for the dawn,
yes, more than sentries long for the dawn.
O Israel, hope in the Lord; for with the Lord there is unfailing love.
His redemption overflows.
He himself will redeem Israel from every kind of sin.”   (Psalm 130:1-8, NLT)

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Has life eclipsed your faith?

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I stared at the miniature roses in the bay window for a few moments this morning, captivated by the simple beauty of those deep red flowers.  While wordlessly thanking God for them, I sipped my coffee, and felt grateful for the abundance I enjoy. There is no war outside of my door that could destroy my home, no threat of famine or want. I woke up in a comfortable bed. There will be interactions with friends today when I go to an office where I am privileged to do work that I love.  But, these are not my greatest blessings!

Paul points to the Christian’s reason for joy and it is not in their pleasant circumstances. I returned to meditate on a text I had read on Monday, one rich in meaning –  “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, 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. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:4-9, NIV)

Rejoice in the Lord! Joy is a possibility every day, for all Christians, regardless of the details of life. Some days we will be overwhelmingly aware of our abundance, as I am this morning, and grateful worship will flow easily. The reality of life reminds us that seasons will come when the sky darkens and joy will be a choice of faith.  Let me ask you – do you see life through the lens of faith or do you see faith through the lens of life?

I briefly conversed with an older man on Tuesday who saw the cross I always wear and the church logo stitched on my shirt. “You follow Jesus?” he asked.  “I am a Christian” I said expecting him to affirm that he was, too. But, a shadow crossed his face and he told me that he had given up his faith years before. He was raised in church and by his own profession once had loved God, but in a time of hardship, this man had turned his back on a relationship with God.  He was not being humorous as he told me “I believe in my beer and I drink too much of it, I guess.”  He asked me, wistfully, if I believed in that verse (Proverbs 22:6)  that says “raise a child in the right way and when he is old he won’t depart from it.”  I assured him that God was waiting for him to come home.

This man had chosen to look at life first and his troubles eclipsed faith. Will  you, will I, make a different choice when difficulties come?  Will we put faith first, and hold onto the declaration that God loves us, that eternal life is promised to us, and that He never forgets us – in spite of what our circumstances may seem to argue?  Will we ‘rejoice in the Lord!’?

Today we have a decision to make – to live in faith and to order our thoughts around the truth of God’s eternal faithful!  Paul says if we do this, “the God of peace will be with us.”

Here is a word from the Word. Learn it, live it.
The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God,
this faith, is the firm foundation under everything
that makes life worth living.
It’s our handle on what we can’t see. …

It’s impossible to please God apart from faith.
And why?

Because anyone who wants to approach God must believe both
that he exists and
that he cares enough to respond to those who seek him.” (Hebrews 11:1, 6 The Message)

___________

Reckless Love

(worship with this song about His love)

Before I spoke a word
You were singing over me
You have been so so good to me
Before I took a breath
You breathed Your life in me
You have been so so kind to me

 O the overwhelming never-ending reckless
Love of God
O it chases me down fights ’til I’m found
Leaves the ninety-nine
I couldn’t earn it I don’t deserve
Still You give Yourself away

 O the overwhelming never-ending reckless
Love of God
When I was Your foe still Your love fought for me
You have been so so good to me
When I felt no worth You paid it all for me
You have been so so kind to me

 There’s no shadow You won’t light up
Mountain You won’t climb up
Coming after me
There’s no wall You won’t kick down
Lie You won’t tear down
Coming after me

Caleb Culver | Cory Asbury | Ran Jackson © Watershed Publishing Group (Admin. by Watershed Music Group) Bethel Music Publishing Richmond Park Publishing

CCLI License # 810055

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Implications of worshiping the belly god

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Our country is in turmoil about immigration. Who should be allowed to enter these United States? What should we do with those who are here without going through the legal processes?  It’s a thorny problem created by a desperation that grows out of poverty and political turmoil that drives thousands to risk everything for a chance of a better life in this nation.

The tragedy at our southern border is compounded by fear fanned by words that I believe are primarily spoken for political advantage on both sides of conversation. There are no solutions that will satisfy every desire, that can allow every person to feel good about what happens at those borders. I pray for compassion and justice to meet as our nation wrestles with this issue!   As for me, when I travel outside of the United States, I know I can go home, that I will be welcomed at our border, because I have a passport that declares that I am a citizen of the United States.

I also have another passport, granted to me freely by the grace of God, through Jesus Christ.  As a citizen of the United States I enjoy protection of my rights under the law which creates an expectation that, as a citizen, I will pay my taxes, be loyal to my government, and live within the law of the land.  The same is true of my heavenly citizenship.  Here is how Paul speaks to that.  For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” (Philippians 3:18-21, NIV)

Some who claim to be Christians in reality are very much ‘at home’ in this world.  The Word speaks strongly about their way of life.  The governing authority of their lives is not Jesus Christ. Paul says they worship their ‘stomach.’ In other words, they lack any real desire for spiritual things, preferring instead to feed the appetites of the body without restraint. They do so with such intensity that they worship their food, their sex, their pleasure like a god! In the Old Testament record of the people of the Lord, we see many instances where they turned to worship idols, lesser gods. That choice was always accompanied by a descent into debauched, sinful lives!  When a person makes appetites into a god, the Word says that they will ‘glory in their shame.’  They begin to brag about their pleasures, their conquests, the things for which they should feel shame becoming that which they celebrate instead of praising God.

But … true heavenly citizens are attuned to Heaven, guided by hope, living fully under the reign of the Lord Jesus Christ!  What results is a ‘transformed life’ which will ultimately lead to a total change from a dying temporal body to an eternal glorious one!  Those who love the stomach god will be destroyed by their ‘worship.’ Those who love Christ Jesus will find an amazing eternal life that is beyond our human imagination.  So, what are the implication of this fact?

Paul says “Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!” (Philippians 4:1, NIV)  Our heavenly passport creates an expectation of life from which we gain the ability to ‘stand firm,’ committed completely to our Lord and Savior.

Let’s live as citizens of Heaven, even now, in this ‘foreign land’ of the present world. Here is a word from the Word – with promise and challenge.

“For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:18-22, NIV)

______________

Abba, I am often tempted to love the ‘stomach god,’
to worship Self and Pleasure, rather than loving Jesus.
By the power of the Spirit, give me the ability to grasp
Heaven’s beauty, to be shaped by the hope of that Kingdom.
Fill my life- right here, right now- with Eternity.
May I celebrate Your goodness and grace,
overflowing with love, being light in the dark,
knowing the amazing assurance that comes from knowing
I have a Home awaiting me.

In Jesus’ Name, I pray. Amen.

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A Life that Dishonors Jesus

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“Can you believe … She is just so … I can hardly stand it … I am ready to kill somebody … “ and so the conversation went, from negative to complaint, gripe to accusation. I do not know if the things being said were true or not, but they were sure a sad commentary on the state of the heart of the two Christians deep into their gripe session.  Have I complained? Yes, I have. Have I griped when it was too hot, too cold, too loud, too soft, too early, too late … ?  Yes, God forgive me!  Constant complaining reveals a person consumed with Self who is unwilling to flex and adjust, to honor the Lord with the choice for JOY.

I had to deal with the irresponsible behavior of another and there was not a thing I could do about it. I felt the irritation grow and I growled in anger, “Why me, Lord? Why do You allow me to live with this all the time?”  The Spirit’s response in my soul was a question – “Will you honor Me or yourself today? It’s not about you, you know.”  I wryly smiled at His patience with me, and with a sigh, asked “How many times Lord have you had to love me through seasons when I was not the person you desire me to be?”   I settled into the circumstances and trusted Him, again!  I found joy when I ‘let it go.’

Paul says this, and it is a command, not a suggestion –  “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, 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. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:4-9, NIV)

On this Monday morning, God offers a better way than griping our way through the day!  Let’s take apart His word to us.

First up, determine where you will go to find joy.  Will you look for it in success, in a meal of fine food, or through escape?  The Word tells us to celebrate our relationship with the Lord!  Remind yourself, “I am God’s kid! He’s a good God.”  Look up, past the problems, beyond the disappointment, higher – and sing a song that extols the wonder of our God.

Second, tame that urge to take control.  “Be gentle,” the Bible says.  Another version tells us to be “moderate.”  Conventional wisdom is that we need to ‘kick butts, power up, and make things happen’ when faced with challenges.  I travel that road too often, trying to force solutions, get action, find compliance.  But, when that is my choice, Jesus is dishonored.  Sure, I can get things, but at what cost to others and to His kingdom?

Third, let prayer take over for worry.  The concerns that can cause me tension are real;  change in the organization I lead, a teenager in my house that challenges me at every turn, financial needs of the church, etc.  God knows all of that and still does not give you or me permission to gripe, complain, or settle into anger. Instead, He invites ‘present your requests.’ He promises that if we will pray He will  steady our minds and hearts with a gift of peace that guards us from the fear that will rob us of rest.

Fourth, be positive.  Yes, the Holy Spirit tells us to choose to expect better things, to look for the best, and to seek out the excellent.  Does this mean we cannot be honest in our evaluations? Not at all.  Are we forbidden from speaking truthfully about gaps and flaws? No.   Even then, we can destroy or build. We can help or hinder. We can encourage shared success.

Admit it. Life has troubles!  If you believe that the only way to know joy is to find perfection, you are destined for frustration. We live in a world where sin and evil oppose the good of God, all the time.  Sickness, heartbreak, disappointment comes. Temptation will roar from the shadows of your mind. Satan will prowl on the perimeter, looking for an opening to attack.  But, in Him we are ‘more than conquerors.’  There is joy to be found, but not in a gripe session where we rehearse all our troubles.  Joy is found in radical faith, in trust that helps us to ‘let it go.’

Before you head off today, re-read Paul’s letter, this time in modern language.  Then, humbly, prayerfully, ask the Lord for power to live it, so that your thoughts, words, and actions will HONOR HIM with joy.

“Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute! Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.” (Philippians 4:4-9, The Message)

__________

10,000 Reasons (Bless The Lord)

Bless the Lord O my soul
O my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before\
O my soul
I’ll worship Your holy name

The sun comes up it’s a new day dawning
It’s time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me
Let me be singing when the evening comes

You’re rich in love and You’re slow to anger
Your name is great and Your heart is kind
For all Your goodness I will keep on singing
Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find

And on that day when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come
Still my soul will sing Your praise unending
Ten thousand years and then forevermore

Worship Your holy name
Lord I’ll worship Your holy name

Jonas Myrin | Matt Redman

© 2011 Atlas Mountain Songs (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

sixsteps Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

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Show me the money!

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When I am making a major purchase, I check on the consumer report. Does the product work as advertised? Does it have a good service quality?  My hope is that the testing will prove the maker’s claims.  I have paid more for a product that has a significantly higher rating, believing that the quality is worth the expense.

We are discouraged from testing the Lord! He does not subject Himself to our proofs and standards, except in one instance. HE invites you and me to put Him to the test in the area of giving, for He knows that generosity always ultimately enriches the giver. “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test! Your crops will be abundant, for I will guard them from insects and disease. Your grapes will not fall from the vine before they are ripe,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.” (Malachi 3:10-11, NLT)

Preacher Malachi urged the people of God to put Him first; in their worship, in their personal lives, and in their practice of tithing. Do you know what a ‘tithe’ is?  It is the first 10% of our income. An ancient principle found in Scripture teaches those of us who love Him to set aside that portion of our stuff for God’s work in this world. IF we will faithfully put Him first, He will care for us. And, He invites us to take note of His performance.

I realize that writing this invites abuse. Some pastors turn this into a kind of game … “You give God a hundred dollars and He’ll give you back a thousand!” they loudly proclaim, all the while enriching themselves by playing to people’s greed! That is not what that passage means, at all. The Lord calls us to be a people who get our lives in proper order; putting Him first in all things. If we do, He says that He will see to it that we are cared for, that He will make a clear distinction of blessing in our lives. The tithe is just one way, among many, that professed devotion turns into true worship.

Let me offer this personal testimony.  I have always tithed my income. When I made very little, God got the first 10%. When I had more, I rejoiced that I could give more. Writing those checks over the years has given such great joy. I support ministries and missions with regular, faithful, and sometimes sacrificial giving and that makes me a partner in that work. I have not researched the actual amount I invested in the Lord’s work over 5 decades of life but I am sure it is in excess of $200,000. (That’s not a boast. That’s a testimony to God’s goodness as I am not rich man.) Have I ever given those offerings expecting to get rich? Not for a moment.

Giving is a tangible act of worship, a spiritual discipline that keeps material things in their proper place.  Has God been faithful?  Well, of course.  Do I have everything my heart craves? No, and for good reason.  Are there things He has allowed into my life that seem less than fair? Of course, but He is God and I am not.   What I can say with deep conviction is that He has turned little into much, kept me heart steady in stormy times.  Yes, I can say that He has passed the test.

Disciple, is He first in your life? Does your commitment show in your use of time, in your daily choices, and in your checkbook?  God says, “Test me in this and see if I don’t open up heaven itself to you and pour out blessings beyond your wildest dreams.” (Malachi 3:10, The Message)

Actually, that is not an isolated text in the Scripture. Malachi most succinctly summarizes a principle that is woven throughout the Word.  We are urged to “love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.”  The result is that we live in Him, not exempt from the trials of life, but guided and sustained by Him through them.  In our devotion, we find grace that teaches us the disciplines that allow us to enjoy abundant lives marked by the fruit of the Spirit which includes all the best qualities – “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance.” (Galatians 5:22-23, KJV)

Remember, disciple;  the promised harvest does not show up the day after the seed is planted, nor is there abundance that comes from a single choice. A rich harvest grows up from a steady cultivation of the soul, as maturity develops over time.  So, I urge you to consistently and faithfully do His will, accept His grace, and obey His commands.  Prove Him!  My report is:  “He is faithful!”

Here is a word from the Word, not just about church offerings, but about a way of life.  “Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. As the Scriptures say, “They share freely and give generously to the poor. Their good deeds will be remembered forever.” (2 Corinthians 9:6-9, NLT)

_____________________

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Ugly Christians

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Beauty captures our attention.  When I drive by a home with neatly maintained lawns and tended flower beds, I notice. When I see a restored vehicle (like I did yesterday in the parade) I admire the craftsmanship that made an old thing new!  A job well-done demonstrates real effort that is noteworthy and appreciated.  And yes, it is true that those persons who are actively pursuing Jesus, who are learning how to love deeply, serve faithfully, who understand that following Him involves more than a Sunday morning visit to a church building, are beautiful in my eyes.

Even those who are outside of the faith can tell the difference between an ugly, undeveloped Christianity and a true disciple of Jesus. Let’s be clear about one thing here.  Beautiful Christians are not flawless and they do not  wear spiritual make-up to cover the imperfections. They are authentic, heart surrendered, life-given people who overflow with the Spirit.

Paul reminds us that becoming beautiful for the Lord does not just happen.  There is a process involved. I hear your objection.  “Jerry, that’s religion. I’m saved by grace.” And, indeed, you are. There is not a single thing you can do to earn God’s favor or make Him love you or cause Him to give you eternal life. But, there is a lot for all of us to do to let that life of the Spirit bloom into full maturity, evident in our day to day lives.  “Dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life.” (Philippians 2:12-16, NIV)

What are some things we do to ‘work out’ the implications of having Christ Jesus as our Savior? How do we become beautiful Christians?  In no special order, let me mention a few things I learn from His Word.

Because we belong to Jesus, we readily forgive! Yes, we refuse to drag around those resentments, that bitterness, those moments when others apparently failed us, for the sake of Christ.  We forgive completely, because we are forgiven, Jesus said.

Because we belong to Jesus, we no longer feed the sinful nature.  “Would I bring Jesus here? Would I speak in this way if I were talking to Him? Would I do this if I were accompanied by the Lord?”  Perhaps that strikes you as naïve or silly.  It is not.  While fewer Christians treat such questions with much seriousness these days, they remain important to those who desire to become beautiful Christians.  The fruit of the Spirit  – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – cannot grow in the life that is cluttered with love of money, undisciplined sexuality, selfish ambition, hatred, filthy speech, or just plain love of the world of which we are a part.  A pure heart is a thing of beauty and must be cared for with attentiveness and intentionality!

Because we belong to Jesus, we always think of ourselves first as belonging to Him.  Asking God, our Father, for guidance and actually concerning ourselves with His will, marks us in a culture that loves self-expression. Jesus invites us into discipleship that encompasses every part of life – “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed?” (Luke 9:23-25, NLT)

Let’s not think about this kind of life, about working out the implications of His gift of salvation every day, as a hardship! It is a refining process, to be sure, but He works in us to create a person of incredible beauty, full of love, overflowing with His Spirit, and who understands, in deep way, the world that misleads and the purpose of the Father that draws us to mature faith that is more than word or creed.  The best part of all this is not just our sense of fulfillment, but that we, ourselves, are eclipsed by His beauty radiant in us, causing others to thank God.

Our word from the Word comes from Isaiah, the preacher of Judah.  The Spirit inspired him with these poetic words that describe the actual beauty of the blessed.  Is this your desire?

“To all who mourn in Israel,
he will give a crown of beauty for ashes,
a joyous blessing instead of mourning,
festive praise instead of despair.
In their righteousness,
they will be like great oaks that the Lord
has planted for his own glory.” (Isaiah 61:3, NLT)

___________

Build My Life

(HouseFires sings about a beautiful life)

Worthy of ev’ry song we could ever sing
Worthy of all the praise we could ever bring
Worthy of ev’ry breath we could ever breathe
We live for You

 Jesus the name above ev’ry other name
Jesus the only one who could ever save
Worthy of ev’ry breath we could ever breathe
We live for You  We live for You

 Holy there is no one like You
There is none besides You
Open up my eyes in wonder and show me who You are
And fill me with Your heart
And lead me in Your love to those around me

 I will build my life upon Your love
It is a firm foundation
I will put my trust in You alone
And I will not be shaken

Brett Younker | Karl Martin | Kirby Elizabeth Kaple | Matt Redman | Pat Barrett
© 2016 Martin, Karl Andrew (Admin. by Arkyard Music Services Limited)
Housefires Sounds (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)
Bethel Music Publishing CCLI License # 810055

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