Patient, like a farmer

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I asked our little Bible study group, “Have you ever quit?”  One said she stopped trying to learn to play the guitar, sold it, and was glad about it. Another said that there was a bully at work and the hostility was too much so she quit. Now there is regret for leaving a good job!  It’s my turn. I have quit more exercise programs than I care to remember. There was a treadmill that I purchased with all good intentions but after a few months, it started to collect dust. There was a gym membership … ah, yes, you know that rest of that story.  So, have you dropped out, quit, stepped away from something?

James, inspired by the Holy Spirit, instructs us about remaining faithful to Christ Jesus.  We will read his words of encouragement in a moment.  Pastoring the church in Jerusalem, I’m sure he had seen many begin to walk with God and the give up and walk away when friends and family pressured them to stop being such a fanatic, or when they were taken up with the immediate needs of their jobs, or when suffering and hardship arrived bringing questions about the goodness of the Lord with them.  It’s a story I have witnessed too often.  The question Paul asked his friends in Galatia reflected their abandonment of the Way. “You were running superbly! Who cut in on you, deflecting you from the true course of obedience?” (Galatians 5:7, The Message)

30 years ago, I met a man who had responded to God’s call to faith as a teenager. After high school, he prepared for full-time Christian ministry and then was invited to pastor a flourishing church where he served for nearly a decade. Gradually, for reasons he never shared with me,  he became disillusioned with people and exhausted emotionally.  He turned to the wrong places for solace and eventually left not only pastoral work but renounced his faith. When I knew him, he was a man who despised Christians and was engaged in active efforts to resist any and all expressions of Christian faith. He published a couple of books about what he saw as the folly of living for Jesus! He mocked me for serving a God that did not exist, claiming I was silly as a child who believed in the Tooth Fairy. He is a dramatic example of quitting.

Most Christians do not walk away like he did. More often, they just get distracted and start to let things slip; prayer, meditation, worship, service – the spiritual disciplines gradually abandoned like my old treadmill!

James’ words that urge us on say “Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!” (James 5:7-9, NIV)  Keep on, don’t quit. Like those farmers who puts seed in the ground in the Fall with the hope of a harvest the following Summer,  we need the long view of life!

Our word from the Word is an affirmation of the purpose of God, even when His ways are inscrutable. They come from that hero of faith, Job. “When He is at work in the north, I do not see Him; when He turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of Him. But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” (Job 23:9-10, NIV)  Re-read the passage! Let it sink in.  You may not be able to see what God is doing at this moment, but He knows your life and your path.

If you are adrift spiritually, anchor yourself to the hope of Jesus.
If you are wandering from your commitment, renew your heart with real repentance.
If you have considered quitting, find a faithful friend who can help you stay steady and to ‘stand firm.’

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One Thing Remains (Your Love Never Fails)

(worship with this song about His love)

Higher than the mountains that I face
Stronger than the power of the grave
Constant in the trial and the change
One thing remains
One thing remains

Your love never fails
It never gives up
Never runs out on me
Your love

On and on and on and on it goes
It overwhelms and satisfies my soul
And I never ever have to be afraid
One thing remains
One thing remains

In death in life I’m confident and
Cover’d by the power of Your great love
My debt is paid there’s nothing that
Can separate my heart from Your great love

Brian Johnson | Christa Black Gifford | Jeremy Riddle © 2010 ChristaJoy Music Publishing (Admin. by Bethel Music Publishing)

Mercy / Vineyard Publishing (Admin. by Vineyard Music USA)

Bethel Music Publishing

CCLI License # 810055

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What do you think you know?

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Seems to me that words are seriously devalued by the torrent of them that floods over us. Opinions are freely mixed with fact. Any user of the Internet has learned, hopefully, to look for source before repeating some wild story that shows up on their Facebook page. Our media often confers authority on those marginally qualified to opine by seating them at a table and pointing a camera at them. Somehow, even after all these years of the medium, we have not fully grasped that being ‘on TV’ does not make someone smart, right, or reliable. One author sees television as the ‘triumph of spectacle’ replacing literacy with illusion.

This trend has invaded the Church! Oh, yes, the message of the Gospel has always been hindered by people whose talk is far better than their walk. When Paul sent Titus to Crete to put the Christian church in order there he told him to look for leaders who could sort out the truth. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain.” (Titus 1:9-11, NIV)  In our time, we have multiple messengers who bring a “Christian spectacle” into our homes via media outlets, people who are just good talkers speaking empty words and often with a profit motive.

I believe we are living in time when Paul’s warning is being fulfilled. He said “For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4, NLT)

The fact is that our Christianity must be grounded in truth that will, in the honest seeker, transform life! We must ‘work out’ our salvation, wrestling to understand ourselves in the light of the Scripture that we come to know by the work of the Spirit and within the holy gathering of the Church.  There really is no such thing as ‘your truth and my truth’ though we love that phrase.  We have our individual experiences, to be sure. We understand the world we are a part of very differently, given those experiences. But, the Truth is always true and does not change with time, era, or culture.

The foundational Truth we receive is Jesus Christ.  When we believe that He is God come in flesh, that Jesus showed us the Father, died for our sins, was raised to life, and will come again – our lives begin to take new direction and purpose. “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.” (Ephesians 4:21-23, NLT)  Instead of wasting vast amounts of time and energy arguing about secondary convictions, we need to be those who proclaim the heart of God’s good news – Jesus Christ, Savior, Lord, and coming King.

Christian friend are you being duped by spectacles that masquerade as ‘worship?’
Are you being taken in by good talkers who offer empty words that offer a kind of ‘faith’ that does not demand submission to Christ Jesus as Lord?
Is your religion shaped by loving Jesus with ‘heart, soul, mind, and strength’ or by some other ‘truth?’

In the flood of words, of opinions that are sold as facts, may we desire to know the Truth and the One who is Truth.

Here is a word from the Word. Meditate prayerfully on this declaration.  Make it the cry of your heart. “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:7-11, NIV)
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Be Thou My Vision

(a beautiful old Irish hymn)

Be Thou my vision
O Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me
Save that Thou art
Thou my best thought
By day or by night
Waking or sleeping
Thy presence my light

Be Thou my wisdom
Be Thou my true Word
I ever with Thee
And Thou with me Lord
Thou my great Father
I Thy true son
Thou in me dwelling
And I with Thee one

Riches I heed not
Nor man’s empty praise
Thou mine inheritance
Now and always
Thou and Thou only
Be first in my heart
High King of heaven
My treasure Thou art

High King of heaven
When vict’ry is won
May I reach heaven’s joys
O bright heaven’s Sun
Heart of my own heart
Whatever befall
Still be my vision
O Ruler of all

Eleanor Henrietta Hull | Mary Elizabeth Byrne
© Words: Public Domain

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Passing the faith along

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A man who has profoundly encouraged me through his books for more than 3 decades is getting ready to ‘go home.’ Eugene Peterson, 85, entered hospice care this past weekend, recognizing that he is in the last lap here. He is best known for his paraphrase of the Scripture, The Message, often quoted in this blog.  Peterson was the founding pastor of Bel Air Presbyterian Church in Maryland. He is a pastor’s pastor!  He does not know me and I have only known him from afar yet my heart is sad at the news that he will soon leave us.  I highly recommend one of his earlier books, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, based on the Psalms of Ascent that encourages faithfulness in the pilgrimage that is the Christian life.

Peterson had little time for the Church as ‘business,’ and the pressure that is often placed on pastors to grow ‘’big” ministries that cater to the culture. He invited us to lives of prayer and contemplation, to reflection on the Word, and to model the life we preach. An article written about him several years noted this of his work as a teacher in the last 20 years, a man “who aims to keep Christian leaders grounded in robust biblical theology amid the din of shallow preaching aimed at self-improvement and megachurch marketing campaigns to “do more.” He was never content simply to look good or to say the right words. Peterson worked ‘to be’ the Christian he believed God desired him to be.

Most of you who are reading this blog (if you’re still reading) do not even know his name, and yet he has touched your life through me.  I am, in part at least, who I am because of who he is.  If I am being the faithful shepherd Christ Jesus desires, you are, in part who you are, as a result of my influence in your life. This handing off of the faith, one generation to another, is as it should be.

I want to ask you an important question. Are you intentionally passing the Faith along, living an authentic Christianity that invites your family, your children, your friends to walk with you to discover the Person and purposes of the Lord?  “Listen, dear friends, to God’s truth, bend your ears to what I tell you. I’m chewing on the morsel of a proverb; I’ll let you in on the sweet old truths, Stories we heard from our fathers, counsel we learned at our mother’s knee. We’re not keeping this to ourselves, we’re passing it along to the next generation— God’s fame and fortune, the marvelous things he has done.” (Psalm 78:1-4, The Message)

There is an apt metaphor for this transfer. In a relay race each person carries the baton for one lap. The critical moment is the hand-off. The outgoing runner does not look backwards, even as she extends her hand to receive the baton from the one coming at full speed towards her. It is the responsibility of the incoming runner to set that baton into the outstretched hand and not let go until the outgoing runner takes hold of it. The baton must not be dropped!

It should sober us and cause us to evaluate the ways we are investing our time and resources. Lord, help us to understand that most of what we do in our lives will be forgotten, or even done better by someone who comes after us. Records are made to fall. Achievements are usually eclipsed by those of the next generation.  However, when we disciple someone, when we pass the faith along, we do something that time does not erase, that lasts beyond our lifetime.  Eugene Peterson handed me some tools of for my faith.  I have handed those tools to you. And, that pleases our Father and changes destinies.

One of these days, you and I will be entering the last lap. What will be the musings of those who knew us? Will they give thanks for our love, for our faithfulness, for the way that we showed them a Way to find ‘life eternal’ in Christ Jesus?    My brother, Eugene Peterson, I pray for you as you approach the Gates of Glory. What a moment when you step from time to eternity, when your Savior welcomes you HOME!  I so look forward to not needing to say, “so long” to anyone ever again. But until then, I’ll keep running. How about you?

Here’s a word from the Word. “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.” (Hebrews 3:13-14, NIV)

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Watching You
(A country song by Rodney Atkins)

Driving through town, just my boy and me
With a happy meal in his booster seat
Knowing that he couldn’t have the toy
Till his nuggets were gone
A green traffic light turned straight to red
I hit my brakes and mumbled under my breath
As fries went a flying and his orange drink covered his lap

Well, then my four year old said a four letter word
That started with “s, ” and I was concerned
So I said, “Son, now where did you learn to talk like that?”
He said, “I’ve been watching you, dad, ain’t that cool?
I’m your buckaroo, I wanna be like you
And eat all my food, and grow as tall as you are
We got cowboy boots and camo pants
Yeah, we’re just alike, hey, ain’t we dad?
I wanna do everything you do
So I’ve been watching you.”

We got back home, and I went to the barn
I bowed my head, and I prayed real hard
Said, “Lord, please help me help my stupid self.”
Then this side of bedtime later that night
Turning on my son’s Scooby Doo night light
He crawled out of bed, and he got down on his knees
He closed his little eyes, folded his little hands
And spoke to God like he was talking to a friend
And I said, “Son, now where’d you learn to pray like that?”

He said, “I’ve been watching you, dad, ain’t that cool?
I’m your buckaroo, I wanna be like you
And eat all my food, and grow as tall as you are
We like fixing things and holding mama’s hand
Yeah, we’re just alike, hey, ain’t we, dad?
I wanna do everything you do
So I’ve been watching you.”

With tears in my eyes, I wrapped him in a hug
Said, “My little bear is growing up.”
He said, “But when I’m big, I’ll still know what to do.”
“‘Cause I’ve been watching you, dad, ain’t that cool?
I’m your buckaroo, I wanna be like you
And eat all my food, and grow as tall as you are
Then I’ll be as strong as Superman
We’ll be just alike, hey, won’t we, dad?
When I can do everything you do
‘Cause I’ve been watching you.”

Songwriters: Teddy Natalia Noemi Sinclair / Emile Haynie / Jeffrey Bhasker
Watching You lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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Life Lessons and football

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This Patriots fan was up too late last night watching their ‘slugfest’ with the Chiefs. What a game, better, of course, because that Pats won. The game of football has many life lessons for us in it. In no special order, here are a few.

Having a comfortable lead in the first half does not take away the need to keep playing through the second!

The Pats went into the locker room at half time looking like sure winners. Their opponents found some kind of inspiration and came out to put up a real fight, even taking the lead in points for a portion of the 4th quarter!  God reminds us to stay focused, to remain faithful.

I have witnessed the collapse of faith in so many in the second half of life!  Those who were always in worship, who taught Sunday School, who gave generously, who brought others to faith find new prosperity,  more opportunities for leisure, and they drift away.  “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” (Hebrews 2:1, NIV)

There are stand-out players but their success rests on being part of TEAM.

Tom Brady is inarguably an outstanding quarterback. His statistics and skills are amazing. But, as good as he is, without those other 10 players on the field, linemen blocking, receivers ready to catch passes, coaches strategizing on the sidelines, Brady would be unable to get the win.

Are you creating and strengthening your team?  Do you value that family who does life alongside of you, your church family who should be helping your spiritual gift to mature and become fruitful? Paul’s metaphor for us is the body and he asks this question that has an obvious answer: “If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” (1 Corinthians 12:17-18, NIV)  Let’s play our position in life – wherever God has placed us – for His glory.

Even when a play falls apart, the game goes on.

Last night, at one point, Brady made an inexplicable choice to hang onto the ball when he under pressure. He ran around the back field looking for a receiver and ultimately was sacked, losing the ball in the process. That fumble led to the opposing team scoring the go ahead touchdown.  A second’s misjudgment nearly changed the course of the game, but the Pats did not retreat to their bench to mourn. They regrouped and fought back.

We are all going to have those moments when we make a poor choice and it might be one that knocks us off our feet! We must not quit. 33 years ago I made one of those and it cost me, my family, and the church I served dearly. For a time I thought perhaps I was finished as a pastor, but an older, wiser counselor slipped his arm around my shoulders and reminded me that “God isn’t finished with you so pick yourself up and go love people.”  God and others gave me grace and though that scar stills stings, it has become a place of grace in my life.   The Word says “do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.” (Hebrews 10:35-36, NLT)

There will be another game next week.

Part of the Patriots success is said to be the discipline that their coach creates. Win or lose, they are back at practice, refining skills. Why? Because they will be facing yet another team next week.

Have you under-estimated the value of doing the right things in the pursuit of God and His purposes? Are you convinced that there is some magical moment when He will just make you a saint, make prayer easy, cause worship to be wonderfully exciting?  Jesus saves us by grace through faith. We cannot make ourselves ‘right with God.’ However, mature, effective, solid Christians know the importance of daily spiritual discipline, which keep them in tune with God, aware of the Spirit’s voice.  They pray, even they don’t feel like it. They show up for worship even after the ‘worst week’ ever. They give as a principle not a convenience. They serve when they want to sit.

Jesus invites us into a yoke with Him. “If you are tired from carrying heavy burdens, come to me and I will give you rest. Take the yoke I give you. Put it on your shoulders and learn from me. I am gentle and humble, and you will find rest. This yoke is easy to bear, and this burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, CEV)  “Learn from me,” He says.

So there  are my thoughts for this Monday morning.  God has a plan and purpose for YOU.  Pursue Him. Get with His team. Keep going.  When our season finishes in His time, if we have played well, we will be able to borrow Paul’s words, one I love, that he wrote near the end of his season. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8, NLT)

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Abba, I thank You for a new week, for the opportunities that You are creating.
May my mind and my heart be ready to listen, quick to follow Your lead.
Deal with my failures, showing me a better way.
Give me vision that will keep me from wasting days on worthless things.

Jesus, for the privilege of being Your disciple and called onto Your team
I give humble thanks and pray that I will honor You – thought, word, and action.

Amen

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Who needs to talk about Heaven?

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So, your life is full of activity, chock full of wonderful success and excitement? Great, rejoice in that.
Or, is there disappointment, a sense of futility nagging around the edges of days that pile on top of one another, not terrible, not great, a time when you slog through work, chores, keeping house, doing the daily stuff that must be done?
Then, too, you may be dealing with a hurricane of sorts; like Michael blew through the panhandle of Florida two days ago. All you can see is destruction.

Wherever you are, whatever your experience, you need Heaven!

I have a confession.  Not all that long ago, I used to think that Christians who talked about Heaven were a little strange. I heard older people talk about ‘’going home” and their words seemed kind of silly. “There is so much to live for, life is too full of things to do, to be thinking about Heaven,” I thought.  I just had not lived long enough to know that it is the hope of a home in Heaven that is exactly what makes sense of this earthly life.  If we make life only about what we can experience, own, achieve, and build sooner or later we will find ourselves with a lot more past than future and wondering what it all meant.

However, a grasp of the promise of Heaven and our assurance of eternal life will be like a spiritual North star, guiding us now to a godly life and giving us reason to remain faithful. Paul, who knew amazing success and bitter defeat in equal measure, reminds us that  we  live in “faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you.” (Colossians 1:3-6, NIV)  Eugene Peterson’s Message says it this way, The lines of purpose in your lives never grow slack, tightly tied as they are to your future in heaven, kept taut by hope.” Isn’t that rich?

The light that shines from Eternity into the Present makes all things we know here more wonderful, meaningful, of purpose.

Please do not think that I am talking about escapist fantasies about a kind of super Disney World.  This is not about retreating from the realities of life.  This is about taking hold of a promise by faith that helps us to reject distractions and to invest ourselves in those things that will gain the Father’s approval, a rich reward in heaven.

Our Christianity is very much about how we live right now precisely because we believe that we will live forever!  Paul is candid about the importance of eternity to the present.  He says that “If our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.” (1 Corinthians 15:19-20, NLT)   He told Timothy about being lifted up to Heaven, seeing visions that were beyond description. Those visions sustained his faith through a life of costly service to his Lord, and near the end of his earthly journey, when he was facing his execution caused him to send this final greeting to his protégé – “Now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return.” (2 Timothy 4:8, NLT)

Christian friend, let this promise keep you faithful – equally in the wonderful and the awful. “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4, NIV) Oh, what joy! The Lord I love now only in part, will then love me in a way I can only imagine. The hand of Jesus will dry my tears and I’ll never cry again, ever. No regret, no pain, no disappointment, no longing for what cannot be, no loneliness exists where God, in all His Fullness, will clear up our confusion, heal us forever, and welcome to our eternal reward.

Does all this talk of Heaven strike you as irrelevant? As I wrote a moment ago, I once had little time for Heaven , too. I insisted that  “there is just too much living right here and right now to ‘waste’ time thinking about Eternity. I’ll enjoy it when I get there!” What a foolish boy I was. Heaven is for now. Plant your heart in Heaven. Invest yourself in God’s work.

Our word from the Word comes from the Lord Jesus Who says, “Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.” (Matthew 6:19-21, The Message)

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When We All Get To Heaven

Sing the wondrous love of Jesus
Sing His mercy and His grace
In the mansions bright and blessed
He’ll prepare for us a place

When we all get to heaven
What a day of rejoicing that will be
When we all see Jesus
We’ll sing and shout the victory

While we walk the pilgrim pathway
Clouds will overspread the sky
But when travelling days are over
Not a shadow not a sigh

Let us then be true and faithful
Trusting serving every day
Just one glimpse of Him in glory
Will the toils of life repay

Onward to the prize before us
Soon His beauty we’ll behold
Soon the pearly gates will open
We shall tread the streets of gold

Eliza Edmunds Stites Hewitt | Emily Divine Wilson | James Koerts© Words: Public Domain

______________

Listen to Tim Keller talk about the Christian hope of eternity at this link.

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Kicking and screaming?

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Unless you’re completely out of touch you are aware that Americans are an angry lot. Demonstrators filled up the halls of government to protest. One of our Senators said that never before had he feared for his life, but now he wonders if some angry person will try to kill him.  I believe that the levels of anger in our nation are taking us to dangerous places from which there can be no return.

I enjoy Facebook as a way to stay in touch with my friends and family but recently I have found it necessary to stop seeing the posts of some of my friends, not because of their opinions, but because of the level of anger in their posts. I have heard more than one of my friends admit to feeling discouraged and spiritually depleted. Often it is unresolved anger that saps their spiritual strength like an internal bleed!

Solomon reminds us that anger is a dangerous thing. “The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride. Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools.” (Ecclesiastes 7:8-9, NIV)  I confess that lack of patience and a temper has led me onto the fool’s pathway too many times in life.

Anger can be useful. Paul teaches us to ‘be angry, but don’t sin.’   He goes on to tell us that anger cannot be left to simmer for days. “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”  Another translation says, “don’t sin by letting anger gain control over you.” (Ephesians 4:26, NLT)  A person who cannot feel anger over injustice, who cannot care deeply enough about people to be stirred in their emotions, may avoid anger but they are likely to slip into another state which makes them useless in the work of God – apathy.

So how do we turn the anger into a reason for positive action, draining the toxic bitterness from our life?

First, if you are angry, admit it- to yourself and to the Lord. Say, “I am angry” without offering excuse or justification.  

Thinking that all anger is sinful, there are many Christians who refuse to face it honestly.  People get offended but insist they are ‘just sad,’ when they are really angry!  They become are raging inside but will only say, that they are ‘hurt.’   If you’re angry at political developments, at people, at God – admit it.  Only then will you be able to deal with it and give the Holy Spirit a place to begin a heart change.

Second, work at understanding the cause of your anger.  

Anger is often misdirected.
We get angry when our boss overlooks us at work, but focus the anger on our wife when she tries to tell us something.

We grow frustrated and angry over chronic illness and it boils over on our kids.  God, the Holy Spirit, will help you (as will a good, honest friend) to understand the root of rage, but when He does, be prepared to work hard at change, starting with that person who stares back at you from your mirror.

Third, kill the fantasies!  Missed expectations feed a ton of rage.

Wouldn’t we love a wonderful world where everyone was nice, all dreams came true, and people lived happily ever after? The sooner we decide to deal with the world as it is rather than pretending that somewhere, out there, there is a place where life works as we desire, the better our lives will be. People aren’t perfect. Dreams don’t always come true, no matter how hard you work at them.

Acceptance of our limitations and of the situations in which we find ourselves provides great release from unnecessary anger. That does not that we must give up, surrender hope, or stop praying for change.  But, we must ask the Spirit of God to help us to know the difference between our fantasies about a ‘perfect’ world and His dream for our life which He will equip us to fulfill.

Fourth, ENDURE! Steady yourself and face the future.

A friend who is in AA, reminded me of a basic truth that recovering alcoholics learn – “Send your body and your heart will follow!” In other words, sometimes we do the right things, just because they are the right things, not because we feel great passion, enthusiasm, or joy! Sometimes the very best method of dealing with anger is simply to determine to outlast your enemies and critics as you kill’em with kindness. That endurance is sustained by the realization that there is coming a day of just rewards for us all.

Christians can set aside a lot of anger if they keep the promise of God’s Great Reversal in sight by faith. The injustice that comes to us personally and in the larger world, the seeming lack of consequence for some terrible sin, the ‘triumph of the wicked,’ can make us really angry if we fail to hope for that day when Christ and His kingdom will come and with Him will come the justice for which we pray. “Do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord, no matter what happens. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now, so you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised. “For in just a little while, the Coming One will come and not delay. And a righteous person will live by faith.” (Hebrews 10:35-38, NLT)

This word from the Word is one to which I turn from time to time.  It is the resolution of the anger felt by one who experiences delayed justice.  “Then I realized that my heart was bitter, and I was all torn up inside. I was so foolish and ignorant— I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you. Yet I still belong to you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, leading me to a glorious destiny. Whom have I in heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth. My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever.” (Psalm 73:21-26, NLT)

__________

Blessed Assurance

Blessed assurance Jesus is mine
O what a foretaste of glory divine
Heir of salvation purchase of God
Born of His Spirit washed in His blood

 This is my story this is my song
Praising my Savior all the day long
This is my story this is my song
Praising my Savior all the day long

 Perfect submission perfect delight
Visions of rapture now burst on my sight
Angels descending bring from above
Echoes of mercy whispers of love 

Perfect submission all is at rest
I in my Savior am happy and blest
Watching and waiting looking above
Filled with His goodness lost in His love

Fanny Jane Crosby | Phoebe Palmer Knapp © Words: Public Domain

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Sounds of Silence

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Our NJ network of pastors is gathered for 3 days here in Lancaster, PA for a conference with the theme- “Listen Up.” Our speakers are working to help us to become better listeners, teaching about communication skills, poking holes in our assumptions and human foibles with jokes (very good ones, I might add).  I intend no criticism when I say that we have not given much time to a kind of listening which is critical to life.  We were urged to listen to the voice of the Lord, to revere Jesus … but oh, the constant noise. I craved just 15 minutes of silence to allow the weight of the Glory of God to settle down over us.

Noise is a cultural phenomenon.  We are addicted to it, filling in every moment with sound. And the idea of contemplation of the Almighty without amplified songs is growing extinct and, with its passing, we are losing the art of listening. We crank up the volume, increase the stimulation, while we shovel sound into our ears.  Even as we are urged to listen we are being deafened by the noise and losing our individual ability to hear the still, small voice of God. Then, too, there is something that is all too common, as least among my tribe of worshippers.  The moment we feel our hearts stirred by the awesome Presence we feel need to let out a shout or utter a praise or sing another worship song, even louder. I think we may have become incapable of quiet wonder where God is allowed to dig deep into our souls. It is as if we are conditioned to think, “somebody quick say something, sing something, do something!”

There is a time to shout the songs of our victory in Christ Jesus. There is a time to roar our declaration of faith in the face of our Enemy. And there is a time to simply “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10, NIV)  My prayer is that we learn to worship and listen in silence as much as in our songs; that we find His Presence as wonderful in the quiet of our personal prayers as we do among the congregation.

Richard Foster, whose understanding of Christianity has shaped my own, observes “Our Adversary majors in three things: noise, hurry and crowds. If he can keep us engaged in “muchness” and “manyness,” he will rest satisfied.”   – Celebration of Discipline  Do you know the whisper of the Spirit’s voice – sometimes convicting, sometimes speaking of His love, always leading?

Peter’s impulses and tendency to speak when he ought to have remained silent speaks to me.  How I identify with him!  One day, in a moment of amazing wonder, he didn’t know enough about awe to keep his mouth shut and his ears open!  He earned a stunning rebuke from Jesus that remains a lesson for us. “After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters-one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.”  (Matthew 17:1-7, NIV)

God interrupted Peter’s intentions to say, “Listen up!”  Friend might He be asking the same of you today? May He be saying, “Please close your mouth and open your ears, so you can hear my Word?”

The word from the Word this morning reminds us about holy awe! “God is in his holy Temple! Quiet everyone-a holy silence. Listen!” (Habakkuk 2:20, The Message)  A reminder as you process that phrase – His holy temple is not a cathedral in Rome or your church’s building.   We are His holy Temples, the Spirit living in us. When we sense the Spirit moving in us – be it in corporate worship, standing on a mountain, or in the company of a suffering saint – an appropriate response is to grow still;  to allow awe to overwhelm us.

Today, make some space in all the ‘noise’ of your life to listen.
Invite the Spirit to fill you up with holy awe.  “Our God is an awesome God.”

__________________________________

I am Thine, O Lord,
I have heard Thy voice,
and it told Thy love to me.
But I long to rise
in the arms of faith,
and be closer drawn to Thee.

 Oh the pure delight
of single hour that before
Thy Throne I spend,
When I kneel in prayer,
and with Thee, My God,
I commune as friend with Friend.

 Draw me nearer,
nearer, Blessed Lord,
to the cross where Thou hast died,
Dear me nearer,
nearer, Blessed Lord,
to Thy precious bleeding side.

Fanny Crosby-  Public Domain

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168 Hours

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As I write, my week is full – meetings, a conference, planning, a funeral to conduct, hospital visits, prayer and devotion, emails and calls. Like everyone, I have 168 hours to spend during this second week of October.  What are you going to do with those hours? The single largest chunk of that time, about 50 hours, we will be asleep. Another 40-50 will be given to our work.  What about the rest? Where does it go? Do you know?

People use time much like they use money. Some thoughtfully allot hours to exercise, worship, community service, and personal enrichment. Others waste hour after hour, having no idea where their time goes, staring at a screen, leafing through social media – even though time is our most valuable resource. Some invest their days, making every attempt to get the most in return for the hours spent. Others spend hours without a thought for tomorrow.

In my attic there are a couple of boxes that contains ‘memories.’  Items from the last half century are stored away there, each one attached to an hour that is memorable. Sorting through that box takes me back to schools, conversations with friends, the day of my marriage, the birth of babies, churches I have served, and yes; to final days of life.

I am thankful for the memories, but take my counsel for the 168 hours of this week from Paul’s inspired word –  “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,  I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 3:13-14 NIV)

How do we use the time that is given to us in the best way?  James offers insight. “You ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” (James 4:15-17, NIV)

The Spirit-filled Christian begins each new day with renewed realization that God’s will is of the highest importance.  With wisdom, with humility, with two-sided love – for God, for others – he goes into the day to ‘make the most of every opportunity!’ (Col. 4:5)   That does not mean we must be addicted to work or fill up the day with activities.  A day of recreation and rest is not the same as a day wasted.  Nor is a day packed with ‘business’ necessarily one well spent.  The difference is in the why and how behind the spending each hour.

There are 168 hours are coming your way.
What are you going to do with them?

Here’s a word from the Word.  Ponder it as you head into the stream of living this day.  “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-6, NIV)
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11, NIV)

___________

 

Build My Life
(a prayer for a life well lived)

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 Kaple | Matt Redman | Pat Barrett
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Never Forgotten

tat

Her name on my arm – symbol is Faith, Life, Love

It’s Friday morning. Are you wrapping up a busy week, perhaps anticipating some family time on Saturday? Are there some projects left undone, some situations that resist your best efforts at finding a solution? Have you (like me) spent a little too much time watching the chaos of the Kavanaugh confirmation fight in Washington, DC and got caught up on one side of that debate or the other, feeling tension over what you believe to be an injustice for him/ for her?  There are a thousand things that can steal our peace – and there is a word that will restore it.

Pause – pray this – “Lord, stir faith in me to receive Your Word that I am about to read.”

“This is what the Lord says: “At just the right time, I will respond to you. On the day of salvation I will help you. I will protect you and give you to the people as my covenant with them. … See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands. Always in my mind is a picture of (your need).” (Isaiah 49:8,16, NLT)

When Bev went to Heaven, I wanted always to keep her memory close to me. Some of you will not like the choice I made. I got a tattoo on the inside of my wrist that includes her signature. Yes, her name is etched permanently into my skin, a constant reminder of that person who walked at my side for 43 years.

God uses that image, telling us that we are never out of His mind, as if our names were written onto His hand!  What a wonderful truth, how comforting for us.  When we are foolishly trying to manage the universe, when we have allowed our rest to stolen by stress resulting from trying to be God, He reminds us that He’s got us, that we are loved.

The Psalmist wrote, {127:1-2}
Unless the Lord builds a house, the work of the builders is useless.
Unless the Lord protects a city, guarding it with sentries will do no good.
It is useless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night,
anxiously working for food to eat; for God gives rest to his loved ones.

We may build a house, but only God controls the wind, the flood, the earthquake that can level it!
We may post our guard to drive away thieves and robbers but only God can secure us against the wily, evil that comes from the Devil and those who do his work.
We may diligently apply ourselves to getting the seed into the soil, but only God can make it grow! We can be thrifty and build our retirement account, but only God can guarantee our home in Heaven. Thus, Solomon, the writer of this Psalm, urges us to set aside anxiety and to trust our Sovereign Lord.

What’s eating away at you this morning? At this moment, commit it to Him.
Need wisdom? Ask!
Out of enthusiasm? Tell Him!
Need help to cope? Trust!
Just weary of the struggle? He’ll renew you.

Here is a word from the Word.  Though familiar, let the promise that Jesus made become a source of strength and hope today.
“People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things,
but you know both God and how he works.
Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions.
Don’t worry about missing out.
You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. “ (Matthew 6:32-33, The Message)

Remember, it’s as if your name were tattooed on His hand.

________________

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

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“I love what you did with My stuff”

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“It’s my money. I earned it and I’ll enjoy it.”  That’s my paraphrase of the words of a man who had a great crop in a parable Jesus told.  The rest of his story was about the unexpected quick end of that man’s life. The parable ends with this- “Then who will get everything you worked for?” (Luke 12)

Jesus’ words about how we understand wealth are hard for us to understand in our modern economy formed around making a profit. Our companies respond to consumers. Advertisers create a sense of ‘need’ in us, we choose to spend our money in certain ways, and companies respond with products we want, priced to gain our business. That is an over-simplified model of course for there are many other factors; regulation, global needs, labor costs – to name a few.

Most of us live in this system assuming ‘that is just the way the world works.’

Woven through the Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, there are themes that challenge our basic assumptions about accumulating wealth.  Let’s get one thing out of the way up front. God does not condemn wealth. In fact it is seen in the Bible as one sign of God’s blessings and something for which we give thanks. However, the wisdom of God constantly reminds us of two radical ideas.

  • First we are told that our wealth cannot become our god, that from which we take meaning in life or trust for our security.
  • Second we learn that those who have gained wealth have a responsibility to actively care for the poor, to use the influence that comes with their money to provide for those with less, to support just systems that respect everyone.

When we become Jesus’ followers, claiming His Name, He invites us to die to Self and that includes the basic selfishness of our economic system that is built around gaining profit. Whoa! I heard your reaction. “Jerry, are you saying that producing anything to make a profit is sinful?”  Not at all. A reasonable profit that allows a tradesman, a craftsman, a professional, or a corporation to accumulate ‘capital’ to continue to do business is quite in line with the Bible’s approval of diligence and hard work.

But when our economic system is shaped in a way that a few can benefit at the expense of the rest, it is a matter of concern to our Lord and should be for us as well. This is not just political, this involves the spiritual work of the Church. For me it is nearly unthinkable to believe that our corrupt and self-serving political parties in America should be or could be trusted to redistribute wealth. But, that does not relieve me of personal care for others or for evaluating my own use of resources, if I intend to be a faithful servant of Christ.

James, pastor of the first gathering of Christians in Jerusalem, was brutal in his condemnation of those who had no concern for people in need, who were quick to take advantage of a poorer person.  Read his inspired words slowly. They are disturbing (at least to me) when placed against the current economics values of our nation.

“Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.” (James 5:1-6, NIV)

How much is too much? The question is one that all serious Christians will ask. It is a terrible mistake to think that God’s economics are only written for those who make more than $150,000 a year, or who drive a certain kind of car, or who live in a house that is larger than the one we live in!  Little or much, we are all accountable to God.

The word from the Word today invites our reflection.  May He find us faithful in our response of obedience.
“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Luke 16:10-13, NIV)

______________

Abba, I thank you for the privilege given me to live
in a time and place where there is wealth and opportunity.
Forgive me when I begin to think that I am somehow better than
those who lack these things and therefore without responsibility for them.

Help me to trust You, not my money, for security;
to see that which I own more honesty as that which
You allow me to manage.

My prayer, Father, is that when I come home
You will be able to say, “I love what you did with My stuff.”

In Jesus’ name. Amen

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