Is your Bible a kind of lucky charm?

IS4086RF-00030697-001Christians buy Bibles! About 25 million Bibles are sold in the United States annually. It is hard to come up with an exact figure but Guinness Book of Records estimates that since the advent of printing, about 5 billion (yes, billion) Bibles have been circulated.  The average Christian household has about 5 different Bibles available.  Smartphones have brought us an explosion of Bible apps, the most often installed one being YouVersion™ which is free and offering access to more than 2 dozen translations of the Scripture to readers.

So, what does that mean?  Apparently not as much as we would think.  We buy them but, increasingly, we do not read them.  Most Christians desire spiritual nourishment from the Word, but not directly. They prefer to receive their Scripture in blogs like this one, from sermons, and in books. A majority of Christians remain largely ignorant of Scripture passages that are outside of the tried and true passages like Psalm 23, John 3:16, Jeremiah 29:13, etc. Before you look away thinking that Jerry is a cranky old man intent on ‘guilting’ you, please read on.

The Scripture is the primary way we come to know Who God Is, How God works, and What God purposes for us.  It is not just informing, it is transforming! Remember this passage? “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:9-11, NIV)  It is healing!  As I have shared before, for months after Bev’s death, sleep came as the Psalms played on my IPad™ feeling my head and heart with assurance of God’s love.

Do you read and know Scripture? I am forever grateful for the teaching of the Word that came to me first through the efforts of my parents. They took me to Sunday School and church and read the Bible in our home. My understanding of the world around me was formed through the stories of Joseph, Samuel, David, Jesus, and Paul.  As a result of the constant exposure to the Scripture, I learned to interpret the events of life and the world around me through the filter of the Word. Let me be clear. I am not one of those who has a verse for every moment, who will not think and process. Truth is not simple, answers are not always easy to find.  Finding the way to bring the eternal wisdom of God to bear on the challenges of life is often an act of faith and requires discipline of mind and spirit.  Then, too, I know that times come when my rebel heart wants to throw off His reins and run head-long after my own way!  Yet, be the day bright with joyful hope or dark with trials and sorrows, I hold tightly to what God has said in His Word.

Jesus says that the Word of God is like seed. “What do you make of this? A farmer planted seed. As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road, and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn’t put down roots, so when the sun came up it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled by the weeds. Some fell on good earth, and produced a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.”  (Matthew 13:3-9, The Message)   His friends came to Him later on and asked Him, “Why do you tell these stories?  What does a story about a farmer planting seeds have to do with us?”   And He explained,  “Study this story of the farmer planting seed. When anyone hears news of the kingdom and doesn’t take it in, it just remains on the surface, and so the Evil One comes along and plucks it right out of that person’s heart. This is the seed the farmer scatters on the road. “The seed cast in the gravel—this is the person who hears and instantly responds with enthusiasm. But there is no soil of character, and so when the emotions wear off and some difficulty arrives, there is nothing to show for it. “The seed cast in the weeds is the person who hears the kingdom news, but weeds of worry and illusions about getting more and wanting everything under the sun strangle what was heard, and nothing comes of it. “The seed cast on good earth is the person who hears and takes in the News, and then produces a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.”  (Matthew 13:18-23, The Message)

Are you letting the seed of Truth be planted in you by regular reading of the Word?
Do you pick up your Bible (or open the app) and soak in a Psalm, process a chapter from the Gospels, or take challenge from a New Testament letter?

Be like Jeremiah who exclaimed:  “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty.” (Jeremiah 15:16, NIV)

Let’s not buy Bibles to decorate our coffee tables or to keep around like a lucky rabbit’s foot.  A Bible is just a book, not a religious icon. The words in the Book are His Word and when we read, study, and understand with the Spirit’s guidance, we grow strong in faith, deep in conviction, and steady in assurance.

Here is a seed. Plant it and let it grow.  “But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you. You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:14-17, NLT)

__________

Abba, help me to love You with my mind as well as my heart.
Keep me from slipping into a kind of sentimental faith.
Make my mind alive to Your Truth.
Give me a readily receptive attitude that desires to know and to do
what the Holy Scripture teaches me to do.

May the transforming power of the Bible cause my life to
Become ever brighter with Your wonderful, holy Presence.

In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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More than ‘being a nice person’

acceptHow do you treat those who are ‘other?’  Humans tend to gather in groups of people who are like themselves and, in the darker part of our beings, are often tempted to discriminate, to create ways to favor our own interests, and even to demonize those with who we have difference. We teach our little ones to be nice but even children on the playground sort themselves into groups, choosing who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out.’  Americans make much of being a society without a nobility, a nation of opportunity, and I am deeply grateful for that ideal, but must ask us to think if we really live it?

Let me be personal – are you a person who accepts others? Do you go beyond just being politely nice to those who are different, to a real acceptance that sees the God-created value of each one? It’s not an easy question.  I confess, sadly, I too often find myself finding a reason to stand apart from the ‘other,’ hear myself saying words that judge, unintentionally perhaps; but none-the-less building a wall instead of a bridge! Any intentions I may have to be kind are overcome by the natural tendency to love Self. That is why I need the Savior and the Spirit of God. He finds me where I am and move towards His calling.

Christians should be on the forefront of creating acceptance for we are called by God to build bridges between people who are separated by race, sex, status, and religion. This is a spiritual issue, not merely a social or political one. When we are made alive to God by new birth, when the Spirit restores us to our Father, we gain a new sense of identity. It is not shaped by our nation, our race, our sex, our education, or social status.  We are ‘children of God.’

John tells us that God lavishes His love on us, a transformational experience, and we become loving. In the 3rd chapter of his first letter, he make a lengthy case for this new kind of relationship with others. His words offer us no shelter for our old ways. “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.” (1 John 3:14-15, NIV)

Paul says that we go beyond religious regulation and we experience renewal, from the heart outward. Writing to the church in Galatia (and to us) he says that this renewal shows in a new community that not created of people who look and act the same ways, but by people who are God’s children. “For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.” (Galatians 3:26-29, NLT)  Abraham, by calling and faith, is considered the father of the faithful. One need not be his physical descendant to enjoy inclusion in God’s promise to him.  “In Christ” we are called into the family, all other distinctions eclipsed by this gift of grace!

Today America remembers Martin Luther King, Jr.,  the Baptist minister, who became the nation’s conscience, gifted by God with a voice that spoke to our persistent sin of racism and inequality. I pray that we will not see his message as one only for government and public policy, though it was aimed to change those things.

May we, who are God’s children through faith in His Son, understand that we, by our spiritual calling, should be the voice of the powerless, the defender of the weak, those who hold out a hand to all without regard to those things that naturally would divide us. Let our prayer be not just to be ‘nice people,’ but to be transformed people, changed by love that is deep and strong, that pushes fear from our minds and hearts, and replaces it with the serenity that God alone can offer us in this turbulent world – for Jesus’ sake.

Here is a word from the Word. “Showing partiality is never good, yet some will do wrong for a mere piece of bread.” (Proverbs 28:21, NLT) “For God does not show favoritism.” (Romans 2:11, NLT)

Lord, make us like You, without favorites, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

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Oh, those hurting hearts

wordswag_1515764749806This is Us is a TV drama that tells the story of the Pearson family. Kevin, Kate, and Randall are each successful adults who deal with issues to which many Americans relate. In the skillfully written drama, the past is interwoven with the present, giving us a look at the backdrop of decisions and feelings. This week’s episode was an emotional one. The family gathers at Kevin’s rehab for a session that gets intense, where old resentments and hurts come alive, with anger and tears.  Well written and beautifully acted, it was a moving hour of drama! (For this pastor, the one missing element of the show is faith. God is not present, sadly.)

I believe it is fair to say that we all have our wounds, hurts that we carry around. One reason This is Us is so popular is that the writers hook into real and familiar situations. Some us are carrying terrible pain from abuse, abandonment, and/or cruelty. Some of know the ache of being part of an imperfect humanity; slights, insults, missed expectations, and oversights.

Hurting hearts and wounded souls are real in us and the pain plays some part in how we relate to others today. Can we heal? Is there relief from the pain?

Jesus is the healer of broken hearts. He forgives our sin, loves us completely, and sets us free from slavery to regret and sin- ours and those who sin against us. When He announced His mission, He quoted words from Isaiah that are full of promise.

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed. He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of the Lord’s favor has come, and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.

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 61:1-3, NLT)

But, before we are too quick to conclude that a single prayer will heal us, consider this. Healing of the wounds of the heart is much like healing of a wound in our body. It takes care. It requires time. And, we will always carry a scar.

The Gospel is sometimes presented in a way that makes it seem that one quick prayer magically wipes out years of pain or regret. It is true that the Cross of Christ is completely sufficient. We are made right with God – completely – by faith.  We gain an unshakable assurance of eternal life, a gift that is provided fully by His death and resurrection. Our healing, however, is a process.

Want to start to heal? Prepare yourself to get honest, to rip the bandages off of the wound.  Sound painful? It is!  It may require the help of a skilled counselor, a Pastor, or a patient friend to re-visit some awful, infected place in the heart.  But, unless we are willing to touch it, to open it, to talk about it – it will just fester. There will be actions required.

Our wounded hearts develop defenses and coping mechanisms, not always the best or healthy ones, either. Becoming willing to set aside resentment, to change those things, to forgive – is never easy.  But, we can, and with the help of the Spirit, our hurts can heal.

The value and power of forgiveness cannot be overstated. Jesus taught us to pray “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. ” (Luke 11:4, NIV)  He reminds us that our own reconciliation to God requires our willingness to forgive others. Even on the Cross, He showed the way when He cried, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  So what does that kind of forgiveness look like? We are not asked to forget the offense or to pretend it does not matter. Real forgiveness starts with faith in God’s justice, the sure knowledge that He will settle all accounts. Assured of this, we release those who have wounded us to Him, handing off whatever debt we think is owed to us to Him. And, we can then start to heal.  Believe that, friend, for it is God’s way.

The paradox of healing for the Christian is that as we learn more of our Father’s heart towards us, as we become more deeply aware of His holiness and purity, our own sins become more clear to us!  But, instead of shrinking into shame, enveloped in guilt, we also learn of the grace and love of Jesus. That love, amazing, persistent, free, and complete, fills in the holes in our heart; we become whole. And, forgiven and loved, we learn to forgive and love!  “With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death. ” (Romans 8:1-2, The Message)  “Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life.” (Romans 8:6, The Message)

Do old wounds still hurt? Is the way you live today too often shaped by pain from yesterday? There is healing. Oh yes, there will always be scars. When I was 9, I crashed through a glass door, slicing my wrist deeply, creating a bloody wound. A half century later the marks in my skin remain to remind me of that frightening moment, but the pain is long gone.

Here is a word from the Word. Find healing and grace. “Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (Hebrews 12:12-15, NIV)

_________________

Healer Of Broken Hearts

Is your life full of heartaches and sadness?
Are your dreams all shattered and torn?
There is One who through mercy and suff’ring
For you ev’ry sorrow has borne.

 He’s the healer of broken hearts,
He’ll mend your shattered dreams.
He’ll pick up the threads
Of your broken life,
And weave them together again.
To your soul He’ll bring peace and joy,
A Friend in need He’ll He’ll be!
The Healer of broken hearts
Is Jesus of Galilee.

Georgia Stiffler © 1945. Renewed 1972 Fred Bock Music Company (Admin. by Fred Bock Music Company, Inc.)

CCLI License # 810055

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What to do with those emotions

wordswag_1515673248682A common conversation in my pastoral work goes something like this; “Pastor, how can be closer to the Lord?  I want to feel His Presence, to know Him.”  Is it possible to feel affectionate towards the God of the Universe? Is it right to desire an experience of Him that touches our emotions?  Short answer – Yes!

Let me remind you, up front, that our walk with God is grounded by faith, that we choose to trust His promises, that we learn, know, and do His Word and will, not because we feel like it, but because He calls us to obedience. But, we are not wrong to desire to experience His Presence.  The scripture is full of passages that speak of the “joy of the Lord,” about “loving God, heart, soul, mind, and strength.”  The language of faith is packed with emotional vocabulary.

Are you afraid of your emotions, especially the ones we think of as ‘negative,’ like grief or anger? Are  you reluctant to experience or express your emotions because you think they will control you, or because you fear being ‘unstable,’ or because they’re just too painful?  I was once that way too. I was convinced that emotions were embarrassing, dangerous, and to be tightly controlled.

What a barren way to live – unwilling to feel, only half-human, and certainly robbing myself of a rich part of what God has given me.  Yes, I hear the objections of some who point to those who are a train wreck in life, who let their emotions rule;  passionate about this today, that tomorrow, professing their love now, and a week later hating the same person.

Yet, I insist that there is a healthy way to be human, to know the full range of emotions that God gives to us that enrich our relationships with Him and one another. Dr. Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages, writes, “Anger, fear, disappointment, loneliness, frustration, depression, and sorrow don’t seem to fit the image of successful Christian living. However, both negative and positive emotions were designed by God to serve a positive purpose. It’s how we respond to our emotions that lead to good or bad. Negative emotions call for positive action. Positive emotions call for celebration. We should listen to our emotions because they can direct and motivate us to process significant events in life.”

Remember the story of David’s joy when he brought the Ark of the Covenant (the symbol of God’s Presence) to Jerusalem?  The king danced in front of the procession, joyfully tossing aside his royal robes. His wife, the daughter of Saul, watched and despised his emotional worship!  She mocked him for being undignified. David’s reply – “I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.” (2 Samuel 6:21-22)  We, too, are called to celebrate in the Presence of God.

Remember the story of Jesus’ going to the grave of His friend, Lazarus?  He openly wept.  John also tells us that He felt deep anger as He stood before that tomb, confronted with death, the result of sin. He then raised the dead man to life!  And, we cannot forget the well-known account of His angry challenge to those who had made “my Father’s house a den of thieves. This is to be a house of prayer!”  He did not whisper a challenge, nor did He register a complaint with the High Priest. He gave vent to holy fury in the Temple courts.

Yes, Christian, God gave you those emotions. Use them. Govern them, don’t put them in charge. But, don’t ignore them or turn them off.  Learn to feel, to empathize, to experience awe and wonder, to know that our God can be loved, celebrated, that He enters into our suffering, that our tears are a language He understands. Worship will be richer, relationships deeper, life whole as He intends.

You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
You have recorded each one in your book.
My enemies will retreat when I call to you for help.
This I know: God is on my side! I praise God for what he has promised;
Yes, I praise the Lord for what he has promised.
I trust in God, so why should I be afraid?
What can mere mortals do to me?”
(Psalm 56:8-11, NLT)

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Up and Down, blown all around?

wordswag_1515588485809

“Steady as she goes” the captain yells to the helmsman at the ship’s wheel meaning, “Keep the ship on course resisting the cross currents, the winds.”  That is God’s word to my heart this morning!  “Steady, Jerry. Don’t falter, don’t stop, don’t race or crawl. Steady on!”  Is it a word for you, too?  I am, by personality, a man who likes to see things accomplished, results matter to me. Impatience is a constant temptation.

My late father-in-law, a man skilled in craftsmanship, who could build and fix anything, tried to teach me his skills. More than once he told me, “Jerry, you could do this well if only you would just slow down.”  My need to ‘get it done’ made me less than steady sometimes, much to his irritation. My Heavenly Father counsels much the same. “Steady, wait, trust.”

Discipleship demands a ‘long obedience in the same direction,’ to borrow a phrase from Eugene Peterson. Every day there are choices to be made that require a higher value, a connection to eternity, if one hopes to live this Christian life well.  I love what David sings in Psalm 57.  His life was full of troubles. Saul had mobilized a special forces team to try to kill him.  He had no refuge, was living the life of fugitive in caves in the desert.  His circumstances were fertile soil in which hopelessness might grow, but did he let that happen?  Look at this song.

“They spread a net for my feet— I was bowed down in distress. They dug a pit in my path— but they have fallen into it themselves. (Selah)

While his enemies plotted his destruction, he made his heart quiet. “Steady as she goes,” he whispered and then, looking to God who reigns, he broke into song!

My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music. Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn. I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth.” (Psalm 57:6-11, NIV)

Yes, friend, we need to learn from him, to make that choice. We cannot allow our emotions to drag us into the pits today, where we complain in despair, only to proclaim great and wonderful plans tomorrow, to be eclipsed by some distraction the day after that!  Steady!  Isaiah, God’s preacher to Judah in a time of spiritual apathy and pending judgment, could have thrown up his hands in disgust, and retreated from his calling. He did not. He points to the secret of being faithful. “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal.” (Isaiah 26:3-4, NIV)

Have you been unstable, too quick to race towards a convenient solution, too ready to quit when things get tough, up today, down tomorrow?  God can change that in you (and me, too)!  Here is a word from the Word, full of promise. I find it interesting that the Spirit chose to inspire the man, Peter, who’s impulses caused so much drama.  Read it with faith and claim the power promised so that you can hear the call of our Captain – “Steady as she goes.”

“Be self-controlled and alert.
Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.

To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 5:8-11, NIV)

_______________

Abba, in our world full of change, where tempestuous winds blow over us,
Grace us with vision, patience, and steadfastness.
Speak to us, calling us higher, urging us to see Your power in our uncertainty.

Help us, Holy Spirit, to demonstrate faith by the consistent choice to honor You.
Jesus, forgive us our faithlessness, our tendency to seek the easy road.
Call  us to be true disciples, who sing the songs of our Father,
With equal fervor in the sunshine and the rain.  Amen.

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Alone? He’s Always There

lonelyI avoided being alone for my entire life. When Bev, my late wife, was away even for a day I was uncomfortable. Then, she died two years ago.  In the six months that followed her death, going home from the office in the afternoon often brought on an emotional storm. Many days I wept as I drove those miles to my house. Sometimes I parked in my driveway and stayed in my car, at least for a few moments, just to avoid the empty house.  Loss, accompanied by loneliness, has been difficult, to say the least.

Two years after her death I have learned to be ‘alone’ and found a new depth of knowing Christ, too. There are things about ourselves and Him that are best known in solitary! Oh, yes, I know that the Scripture is clear that the richest and most whole Christian life requires community of the Church. Paul’s well-known illustration of the normal Christian life is the human body. He says “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. … Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:12,27, NIV)  Those who discard the Church because of her failures, do so at their own peril.

Yet, there is a place of spiritual formation that happens when we are alone with the Spirit.

I have found that being alone need not be lonely, that there is a kind of inner communion with Christ that can be richest in the silence.  One of my favorite authors writes that “One reason we can hardly bear to remain silent is that it makes us feel so helpless. We are accustomed to relying upon words to manage and control others. A frantic stream of words flows from us in an attempt to straighten others out. We want so desperately for them to agree with us, to see things our way. We evaluate people, judge people, condemn people. We devour people with our words. Silence is one of the deepest Disciplines of the Spirit simply because it puts the stopper on that.  When we become quiet enough to let go of people, we learn compassion for them.”  ― Richard J. Foster  Can we find that kind of ‘silence’ apart from being alone? Not easily, I think.

Jesus taught us to find a place alone for our intimate prayer. There we can become most honest to God and ourselves. There, if we will learn to go deep, we can hear both His challenges and His promises, and enter into the kind of wordless prayer that is described as “groanings that cannot be expressed in words.” (Romans 8:26, NLT)

One of the discoveries of my unsought status as a single man is the loneliness of so many people around me. Many elderly persons are truly lonely, often spending days without meaningful human contact. Those who struggle with chronic illness often are isolated, too.  I have talked with teens who are not blessed with charm, who are ignored by peers, and discovered a kind of loneliness that crushes the human spirit. Oh, yes, our modern technologies offer us ‘relationships.’ We can pull up Facebook and ‘feel like’ we are connected on that social network, but it is a poor substitute for real human interaction. We can turn on the TV and choose to vicariously enjoy a romance or a hero’s exploits, but then the screen goes dark.

The paradox of loneliness is that it teaches us to value people in a different way. Instead of just craving companionship or conversation, we learn to value just being, loving the laughter of a child, the tears of an elderly person, the partnership of those with who we share discipleship!  One of the curious results of my hours alone is my new-found way to love those around me, with greater acceptance, with less judgment, and with deeper empathy.

Are you in a season of life where you are experiencing loneliness?
Has your marriage gone stale, leaving you feeling alone?
Have you, like me, lost a loved one to death?
Has divorce, job loss, or relocation made you feel alone?

Know this – Jesus is a Friend that is ‘closer than a brother.’  That is not a cliché nor is meant to be a Band-Aid™ on your wound. It is an invitation to find His love.  Choose faith in your struggle.  Pray honestly, even allowing the Spirit to take your groans and shape them into petitions of our Abba.

Hear is a word from the Word. May this draw you to comfort in Him. “Be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.” (Hebrews 13:5-6, NIV) “Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act.” (Psalm 37:7)
____________

 What a Friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and griefs to bear
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer.
Oh what peace we often forfeit
Oh what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer.

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In the hands of the Architect

wordswag_1515417675648For months, I visited the office of the architect who was designing the church building in which we now worship. His work fascinated me, taking ideas and turning them into plans! He talked with the building committee, finding out what the purpose of the building would be, trying to understand the desires of the congregation – for then and the future.  Along with that committee, I looked at the sketches that gave us a glimpse of his proposals. Together, we worked and refined the concepts. Ultimately he produced a stack of blueprints that guided the construction of the worship center that has housed the church for 39 years!

Does your life sometimes feel chaotic, like a jumble of responsibilities that compete for your time and attention? Do you wonder what could possibly emerge of value from all of it? Put yourself in the hands of the Architect!  The Lord of life has a plan for us and He desires to make us into a beautiful place where others can see Him working.  That is not just my opinion. It is the Truth of the Word. “As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:4-5, NIV)

Those blueprints contained many pages of detail that could not be understood apart from the larger context, but the architect had the whole project in mind. The wall details, foundation plans, for example, were part of his overall design.  The Divine Architect is working with us, sometimes in ways that can only be understood within the context of His eternal plan.  So let’s work with Him!  Peter calls us “living stones.”  Unlike a block of granite, we have will and choice. We can let Him place where He desires, or we can resist and mar the design. We can find our place in His Church, serving as He designs, or we can go it on our own, missing the joy of being a part of work that began before we were born and that will continue long after we are gone.

On this Monday morning, I want to encourage you to pause and ponder the amazing promise; that God has a plan to include you in His  ‘spiritual house.’  Are you allowing the beauty of His worship – spiritual sacrifices – to be offered in you and through you?

Our word from the Word enlarges the thought. Meditate on it. “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. . . .  Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.” (1 Corinthians 3:10-17, NIV)

Lord God, the Architect of my life,
I pray to be like a living stone in Your hand.
Take my life and shape it into a thing of beauty,
Where Your glory is revealed, where You are worshiped.
Give me wisdom and insight to build
In a way that turns my life into those precious materials
That will survive to Eternity.

Holy Spirit, teach me to trust, to live in an obedient response.
In Jesus’ Holy Name.  Amen

__________

My Faith Has Found a Resting Place (worship at this link)

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Life – on your own terms?

wordswag_1515158347557The conversation, though 50 years old, remains in my mind. A man who I, as a teenager, saw as a success, who was striving to make his place the company he worked for, insisted that if I wanted to amount to anything in life that I must learn to set my own sail, to make sure that others heard my voice.  He insisted that no one else would be my champion, that I must take charge and push for the head of the line. From what I could see his life confirmed his counsel. He had overcome many disadvantages to gain the kind of things that most see as indicators of success.

Years later, as an adult, I met him again and saw a lonely man, one whose ambition had caused much pain to others.  He died in debt, still striving for his own success. Mr. B. was not unique in advising me to press for my own advantage. I have known hundreds since then who are caught up in the world of intrigue, power, and strategic alliances that shape the culture of ‘success.’

What does the Lord say to us?  James, inspired by the Spirit, says – “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.” (James 3:13-18, NIV)

Real success is not defined by how much of my agenda I accomplish, nor is it measured by how many work for me.  Those who would live best and leave the richest legacy cannot choose expediency, willing to do whatever is required to ‘get ahead.’  God invites us to a life marked by humility, a true understanding of who we are, the gifts we enjoy, and who value those around us. Blind ambition, fed by love of Self, will destroy our families, our business endeavors, and our churches!

Note how James defines the truly wise person.  He is “first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others.”  Are those qualities cultivated in you? Does the Spirit have the lead in your heart and mind so that your daily choices are without shadows and questions as to motive?  Are you building relationships, actively seeking to bring people together?  This life, the Word says, produces a life that is lived near the heart of God, that enjoys a wealth that is very different from the temporary wealth that may be gained by those who attempt to live on their own terms.

In this first week of 2018,  may I suggest an evaluation of your goals, your motives, your vision?  Ask the Holy Spirit for insight.  What ‘wisdom’ guides you – the advice of those who do not know Christ, or the truth of the Spirit?

Here is a word from the Word.  Meditate on it today.
“Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers.
But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night.
They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season.
Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.
 

But not the wicked! They are like worthless chaff, scattered by the wind.
They will be condemned at the time of judgment.
Sinners will have no place among the godly.

 For the Lord watches over the path of the godly,
but the path of the wicked leads to destruction.” (Psalm 1, NLT)

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Got the scoop?

wordswag_1515070147275I like to be ‘in the know,’ don’t you?  I am not talking about gossip. I am talking about having real understanding of a person, a situation, that lets me feel connected and involved. Who does not enjoy a conversation is open and warm, where nothing is hidden, where there is no secret agenda?  I am blessed to have some friends with whom I can say, “This is what I think,” and know that they will lean in and offer counsel and/or correction as needed.

God is a Friend to those who walk with Him! “The Lord confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them.” (Psalm 25:14, NIV)  Another translation says this: “The secret of the LORD is with them that fear him; and he will shew them his covenant.” (Psalm 25:14, KJV)  We can know God in a way that goes far beyond just the “Someone Out There,” a distant deity. He will become our Friend, sharing His plans and purposes, speaking of His love to us. How? 

Jesus offers us restoration. Confessing our sinfulness and humbly accepting His forgiveness is the first step. Nobody gets to make an appointment with the Lord and announce themselves. We are invited to grace and, receiving the gift, we understand this, that God has “reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.” (Colossians 1:22, NLT)

And, then, as with any relationship, we must be attentive to Him!  The Psalm says, “All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful for those who keep the demands of his covenant.” (Psalm 25:10, NIV)  “My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release my feet from the snare.” (Psalm 25:15, NIV)  Can any friendship survive neglect or long periods of silence? Of course not.  When we invest time and attention in a relationship, it grows deeper and stronger.  If you want God to speak to you, if you want to learn to hear the Spirit’s encouragement, guidance, and counsel – live in a way that invites Him in.  Most of us have experienced the disappointment that comes from having a friend who gets distracted by other things. They no longer reach out or have time. What happens? The relationship withers.

Are you a friend of God?
You can be!
His love is limitless and He desires to know us.

Here is a word from the Word.  For many, it is likely familiar, a favorite quote. Meditate on the truth.  Take the invitation. Let God make you an insider in the Kingdom.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord,
“plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
plans to give you hope and a future.

Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me,
and I will listen to you.
You will seek me and
find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
(Jeremiah 29:11-13, NIV)

____________

Friend Of God

Who am I that You are mindful of me
That You hear me when I call
Is it true that You are thinking of me
How You love me it’s amazing
(It’s amazing it’s amazing)

 I am a friend of God
I am a friend of God
I am a friend of God
He calls (You call) me friend
God Almighty Lord of Glory
You have called me friend

Israel Houghton | Michael Gungor
© 2003 Integrity Worship Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing (Integrity Music [DC Cook])) Integrity’s Praise! Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing (Integrity Music [DC Cook])) CCLI License # 810055

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When we fall down

wordswag_1514982912194The title is correct.  It is not “if” but rather, “when.” One of the things I love about the inspired Word is that the stories of the ‘heroes of faith’ get told in full, without censoring out the ugly stuff! Abraham, the father of the faithful, lied about Sarah’s identity to save his own skin. David, the man who loved God wholeheartedly, lusted for Bathsheba, wife of Uriah, and ended up conspiring to murder. Peter vehemently swore he did not know Jesus when he felt threatened.  Later on, he compromised his Christian conviction about God’s acceptance of all people and exercised prejudice against the Gentile believers.

Today I write to encourage renewal and hope. The lie persists both inside of us and in the Christian church that failure makes us unacceptable to God, unworthy of His service.  Jesus’ interaction with Peter on the shore of Galilee says otherwise.  Peter was so demoralized by his denial of the Lord that he went back to fishing.  One morning, after a night of fruitless effort, the resurrected Lord came to the beach.  He did not berate Peter.  He restored him – with confrontation, confession, and commission! “After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.” “Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him. Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.” “Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said. A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.” (John 21:15-17, NLT)   Three denials, three affirmations!

When we fail, God offers forgiveness and restoration. How does it happen?  Look at this amazing passage.  Speaking of the efficacy of the sacrifices of lambs and bulls to atone for the sins of the Old Testament faithful, the Word then tells us – “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” (Hebrews 9:14-15, NIV)

Christ Jesus holds out His hand to us and restores us to our Father; a Mediator of the Holy Promise!
His grace is free, but it is not cheap.
And it is not a Band-Aid™ to temporarily soothe us;
it is a healing experience that empowers us for a whole new kind of life.

Here in the opening days of this New Year, we must not become obsessed with living a flawless life. Instead, we will choose to celebrate God’s grace. The paradox of holiness is that it is first declared by God, and then grows in us. We cannot perfect ourselves, but He can, and will, make us whole. Paul might have spent his life after meeting Christ filled with shame and regret for his persecution of Christians, a kind of spiritual leper, crying “Unclean! Unworthy!”  He did not! Instead, he accepted the forgiveness of the Lord and help of Barnabas and gave us half of our New Testament by the inspiration of the Spirit!  Might have been thinking about his part in the stoning death of Stephen even as he wrote that ‘there is no condemnation for those who in Christ?

His words about God’s grace move me deeply. “With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2, The Message) “Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life.” (Romans 8:6, The Message)  “If God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him. Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won’t know what we’re talking about.” (Romans 8:8-9, The Message)

Are there some dark chapters  in your story?
Does some temptation whisper its seduction in your heart?
Is fear fighting with faith in your chest?

Stop soaking  in self-pity. Refuse to listen to the lie that you are unworthy. Cling to the Mediator of Grace, the One whose perfection wraps around our failures and ushers into the Presence of God.

Here are words from the Word. Spend a few moments letting them fill your mind, as you invite the Spirit, to make them living Truth today.

“Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18, NIV)

“Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.” (Psalm 51:2-3, NIV)

“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8-9, NKJV)

When we fall down, we have only to look up, see Jesus’ hand extended. And that, my friend, is the Gospel Truth.

_____________

And Can It Be

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood
Died He for me who caused His pain
For me who Him to death pursued
Amazing love how can it be
That Thou my God shouldst die for me
Amazing love how can it be
That Thou my God shouldst die for me

 He left His Father’s throne above
So free so infinite His grace
Emptied Himself of all but love
And bled for Adam’s helpless race
‘Tis mercy all immense and free
For O my God it found out me
‘Tis mercy all immense and free
For O my God it found out me

 Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray
I woke the dungeon flamed with light
My chains fell off my heart was free
I rose went forth and followed Thee
My chains fell off my heart was free
I rose went forth and followed Thee

 No condemnation now I dread
Jesus and all in Him is mine
Alive in Him my living Head
And clothed in righteousness divine
Bold I approach th’eternal throne
And claim the crown through Christ my own
Bold I approach th’eternal throne
And claim the crown through Christ my own

 Charles Wesley © Words: Public Domain

Jerry D. Scott, Pastor
Faith Discovery Church

www.FaithDiscovery.com

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