Restore the shine

Have you ‘renewed’ anything recently? A couple of weeks ago I decided that my battered dining room table top was in need of a refinishing.  After a few hours of sanding and applying new finish, it looks much better! The once dull tabletop shines again. Who doesn’t appreciate getting something old renewed? Whether it is a table top or a tattered relationship, it feels good to work at restoration.

Advent is a time for soul renewal! Life wears on us. The daily grind can dull our senses, rob us of joy, and bring on fatigue. 2020 has brought double portions of stress and uncertainty. Are you soul-weary; tired of the endless drone of statistics about the pandemic, feeling the weight of sadness for those who grieve, who have lost their livelihood, who are feeling the strain of isolation?  I surely am!  Join me in a faith response to God’s invitation to renewal of hope in the Lord as we remember the Savior who came to free us from sin and the promise that the King will come again to make all things new! 

Jonah, the wayward prophet, ran from his calling, found himself weary, asleep in the ship that was carrying him away from God’s will. You know the story. A storm blew up that threatened to sink that that boat, taking the lives of the sailors. Jonah realized he was the person God was pursuing and told them to throw him overboard, which they did. From the belly of the ‘great fish’ that miraculously swallowed him, he repented.

His prayer includes these words of renewal. “To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you brought my life up from the pit, O LORD my God. “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, LORD, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple. “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the LORD.” (Jonah 2:6-9, NIV)

I love the interplay of loss and hope in those words.  “I sank down … You brought my life up.”  “My life was ebbing away … my prayer rose to You.”  Do you need to pray those hopeful words today?  Are you sinking under the weight of the world, in need of Someone to raise you up?  Does it feel as though life itself is slipping way, with only faint whispers of prayer left over?  God is our HOPE. Jonah’s pride and self-will had brought him down. To all appearance he was beyond renewal, past redemption.

But God” …    Oh, how I love that little phrase that is tucked into the 2nd chapter of Ephesians signaling renewal for those who will respond to the Spirit’s invitation to life. Remember it?  “Once you were dead, doomed forever because of your many sins.” (Ephesians 2:1, NLT) “But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so very much, that even while we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s special favor that you have been saved!)” (Ephesians 2:4-5, NLT)

As we make the journey of Advent, making our way to the celebrate of Christmas, let’s listen for His words of invitation to renewal. Come to the old story of “Immanuel, God with us.” Come simply. Soak it in. Let go of the bad, the sad, the doom, the gloom, and let the Light shine.  Like Jonah, confess the goodness of the Lord … even if you are still ‘in the belly of the fish,’ so to speak.  He anticipated God’s goodness, trusting that the time would come to sing again, to do the work of God. And why? Because “Salvation comes from the LORD.”

The word from the Word is that portion of Jonah’s prayer which I want to read again.

As I do, let this become your prayer, one that reaches for the renewal and restoration of our HOPE in the Lord.

But you, O Lord my God, have snatched me from the yawning jaws of death!
When I had lost all hope, I turned my thoughts once more to the Lord.
And my earnest prayer went out to you in your holy Temple.
Those who worship false gods turn their backs on all God’s mercies.
But I will offer sacrifices to you with songs of praise, and
I will fulfill all my vows.
For my salvation comes from the Lord alone.”
(Jonah 2:6-9, NLT)

_________

Shine, Jesus, Shine
(a song of renewal!)

Lord the light of Your love is shining
In the midst of the darkness shining
Jesus Light of the world shine upon us
Set us free by the truth You now bring us
Shine on me shine on me

Shine Jesus shine
Fill this land
With the Father’s glory
Blaze Spirit blaze
Set our hearts on fire
Flow river flow
Flood the nations
With grace and mercy
Send forth Your word Lord
And let there be light

Lord I come to Your awesome presence
From the shadows into Your radiance
By the blood I may enter Your brightness
Search me try me consume all my darkness
Shine on me shine on me

As we gaze on Your kingly brightness
So our faces display Your likeness
Ever changing from glory to glory
Mirrored here may our lives tell Your story
Shine on me shine on me

Graham Kendrick© 1987 Make Way Music (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)

CCLI License # 810055

“Do the next thing.”

Elizabeth Elliott, Christian missionary, mother, teacher, and author, lived a full life that included what seems to be more than her fair share of suffering. She endured the long uncertainty of a 5 year courtship with a man who did not know if he should marry her. Finally, Jim did marry her and their marriage was sweet. Then, he was martyred 2 years later, leaving her a single parent. 

In pursuit of her calling to an Amazonian tribal people, she found herself in a terrible, unceasing conflict with another missionary that became so sharp she left Ecuador after 2 years of attempting to find reconciliation. She was criticized by many in the Christian world for her prolific writing and teaching that challenged the ‘victory speak’ and superficial Christianity she found in so many churches in America. Her second husband died after a long bout with cancer.

In later life, she slipped into Alzheimer’s disease, that robbed her of her sharp mind. But this was her creed“And I’ve come to see that it’s through the deepest suffering that God has taught me the deepest lessons. And if we’ll trust Him for it, we can come through to the unshakable assurance that He’s in charge. He has a loving purpose. And He can transform something terrible into something wonderful. Suffering is never for nothing.” ― Elisabeth Elliot, Suffering Is Never for Nothing

I loved the biography of the first half of her life, Becoming Elizabeth Elliott, which I read this week. I wondered how she remained a vital, faithful, fruitful follower of Jesus through all the trials and sorrow. Her choice was simple – Do the next thing.” I don’t know any simpler formula for peace, for relief from stress and anxiety than that very practical, very down-to-earth word of wisdom. Do the next thing. That has gotten me through more agonies than anything else I could recommend.”  Each time life knocked her down, she stood up, asked God for direction, and made the most of the next opportunity.

IF we are engaged with our world, deeply committed to the calling of Christ, we will find ourselves going through hardships. We don’t have to go looking for them. We don’t have to pick a fight for Christ’s sake. We don’t have to try to be a martyr!  The choice of discipleship sets us against the world systems, our own ego-centric nature, and the Evil One. 

Even if we do not experience great tragedy, we will be faced with the call of Jesus to ‘come and die,’ to ‘take up our cross.’  Being His disciple is a choice that comes with a cost, always. If we are content to know just enough “Jesus” to feel that we are ready for Heaven if He calls us home (Not too soon, though) but not so much “Jesus” that it disturbs our comfortable lives, we will never become beautiful believers.

But, when we choose to serve, generously give our time and money not from our excess but as a priority, forgive, love, worship – all things that are costly to Self – we are building a true treasure. We will begin to radiate His light into our dark world. Our reward may not be recognition but God sees and rewards. Today?  Perhaps not, but certainly! 

Paul, writing to us, assures that the daily choice of discipleship, though hard, has rich returns. “Among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.” (2 Thessalonians 1:4-7, NIV)

When we endure the hard, we become worthies of His Kingdom, men and women of note in Heaven! 

Ah friend, can you see beyond time’s horizon to hold onto the promise? 
Will you, by faith, receive the truth that God is just and that the sacrifices made will find His recognition? 

As Elizabeth Elliott would declare – “Suffering is never for nothing!”

This coming week in our time of Thanksgiving many are finding life more difficult than they might want it to be. There is uncertainty about the future.  We are in a troubled time of political and social change. As Christians, let’s deal with this without complaint. Even as we live in the reality of the ‘hard,’ we can stay steady in faith and offer genuine thanks to the God who never walks off, never abandons us, the God who stays!  We will pray, together, for Jesus’ life to be recreated us and in Him we will find life to the full as well the assurance of eternal life.

Here is the word from the Word.  “And so we keep on praying for you, that our God will make you worthy of the life to which he called you. And we pray that God, by his power, will fulfill all your good intentions and faithful deeds. Then everyone will give honor to the name of our Lord Jesus because of you, and you will be honored along with him. This is all made possible because of the undeserved favor of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ.” (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12, NLT)

NOTE –  Thank you for traveling with me in these daily thoughts.
Next week, I’ll be taking a break from writing. 
CoffeeBreak will be back on Monday, November 30, and together we can make the journey of Advent.

Happy Thanksgiving!

________

The God Who Stays
(Matthew West worships our faithful, loving Father)

If I were You I would’ve given up on me by now
I would’ve labeled me a lost cause
‘Cause I feel just like a lost cause
If I were You
I would’ve turned around and walked away
I would’ve labeled me beyond repair
‘Cause I feel like I’m beyond repair

But (‘Cause) somehow You don’t see me like I do
Somehow You’re still here
You’re (From) the God who stays
You’re the God who stays
You’re the one who runs in my direction
When the whole world walks away
You’re the God who stands
With wide open arms
And You tell me nothing I have ever done
Could separate my heart
(From the God who stays)

I used to hide
Every time I thought I let You down
I always thought I had to earn my way
But I’m learning You don’t work that way
My shame can’t separate my guilt can’t separate
My past can’t separate I’m Yours forever
My sin can’t separate my scars can’t separate
My failures can’t separate I’m Yours forever
No enemy can separate

No power of hell can take away
Your love for me will never change
I’m Yours forever

AJ Pruis | Jonathan Smith | Matthew West

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An emotional mess?

Last night, while reading some new state regulations for COVID there were rumbles in my heart, a gathering storm that signaled that I was not reacting rationally. My emotions were surging.  Seems to me that many of us are ‘emoting’ rather than thinking these days, reacting instead of responding. Fear or anger, two common emotions in this time, do not shape the best responses in any of us, do they?

Are you emotional? While some people more readily allow themselves to feel and express emotions than others it is a fact that we ALL experience those ‘feelings’ we call – emotions. They are gifts from God that give us the abilities to know joy, to feel fear, to be happy, to grieve, to love though love is more than a feeling. Rich as they are, it is a grave mistake to allow emotions to rule. That said, let’s not go to the other extreme either, repressing or ignoring those feelings.

When we learn how to experience a rich emotional life we are richer, more human.  And yet we know, or at least we should, that when our feelings are put in charge of our behavior, we are at risk of playing the fool. When motions rule, there is instability, a lack of productivity. We expect a toddler to plummet from giddy heights of laughter to stormy tumult of tears within 5 minutes. An adult who allows himself to be that volatile gives cause for concern!

So what’s my point today? 
Let’s keep faith fixed on the Solid Rock, Christ Jesus,
who is greater than the state of our heart at any given moment!

Many Christians reduce their faith to an ‘experience,’ chasing a feeling, even judging the reality of their salvation by what emotions rule at the moment.  We are not more ‘saved’ on those days when we feel serene, nor are we less loved by God when our inner life is in a tempest!  I am a Pentecostal Christian who values personal experience because I believe that the Holy Spirit is present, active, and moving me.

My worship includes laughter and tears. In times of prayer it is not uncommon for me to become so full of emotion that it spills over in tears, is expressed with an outburst of loud praise, or even a hearty laugh! Jesus told us that we must “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’” (Mark 12:30, NIV) Our walk with the Lord is a combination of emotion and truth, of passion and discipline, of feeling and fact.

God’s love for us is not at the mercy of our emotions. He does not only love us when we have those warm and fuzzy feelings that come when we hear our favorite worship song or hymn. He is not more present if we find our heart broken and tearful when we pray. He is equally God – all the time – bad days and good ones.

He is still Lord when exhaustion steals our passion. He is Lord when anxiety about the future produces a temporary soul paralysis. The stress that accompanies COVID has complicated worshipful emotions for many of us. IF that is the case for you, acknowledge it and set your sights higher that the state of your heart. As the Word says, “Fix your eyes on Jesus!”

Let’s not let ourselves fall in love with a feeling. Choose to love the Truth! If we build our salvation on a special state of mind, on emotional well-being,  it is a weak, sandy foundation.  Our hope rests on the Solid Rock, Who gives us the unchanging promises of an eternal God, Who “does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1.17)

The word from the Word comes from the ancient revelation of the preacher, Zephaniah, who reminds the people of the Lord to trust the immutable Truth!

“The Lord your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,

he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing
.” (Zephaniah  3:17, NIV)
______________________

Immortal, Invisible

(A majestic hymn of worship.)

Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible
Hid from our eyes;
Most blessed, most glorious,
The Ancient of Days;
Almighty, victorious,
Thy great name we praise.

Unresting, unhasting
And silent as light;
Nor wanting, nor wasting,
Thou rulest in might.
Thy justice, like mountains,
High soaring above;
Thy clouds, which are fountains
Of goodness and love.

To all, life Thou givest,
To both great and small;
In all, life Thou livest,
The true life of all;
We blossom and flourish
As leaves on the tree,
And wither and perish
But naught changeth Thee.

Great Father of glory,
Pure Father of light;
Thine angels adore Thee
All veiling their sight.
All praise we would render,
O help us to see
‘Tis only the splendor
Of light hideth Thee.

Immortal Invisible
Smith, Walter Chalmers / Robert, John © Public Domain

When you’re sick of it all

The virus is ‘back,’ infection rates rising all across the nation. New restrictions are being put in place for travel and even for our holiday celebrations! We are of many opinions about the wisdom and effectiveness of those rules, but there is one thing that most of share – we are just sick of it all! Who wouldn’t like to just go out to dinner without thinking about a mask or sitting in a half-empty room? Who wouldn’t like to experience a Sunday morning worship service complete with hugs, singing loud, and warm human interactions? 

In a conversation yesterday I was asked, “Do you think life will ever be ‘normal’ again?”  Who has not wondered that?  I cannot predict what the future might look like, but I can say with complete assurance that I know Who holds me secure.

My prayers these days are filled with silence, focused on waiting, seeking to know anew that HE is God. I meditated on this passage today, one that invites us to ‘take refuge’ in Him. “So God has given us both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can take new courage, for we can hold on to his promise with confidence. This confidence is like a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain of heaven into God’s inner sanctuary.” (Hebrews 6:18-19, NLT)

One stormy night Peter stepped out of the boat on the Sea of Galilee at Jesus’ invitation. Remember that little story in Matthew’s Gospel?  “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:30-31, NIV)  

When he consciously thought about the ‘impossibility’ of walking on water he started to sink. In that moment he had the presence of mind to say – “Lord, save me.”  That is me in this time! Sometimes I whine my prayers confessing that I am weak, afraid, sick and tired of life as it is, that I am out of hope, spent, and done!  But, then there is renewed realization that Jesus is Lord and my faith grows, allowing me to renew my reliance on the God who saves.

Years after his walk on the water, Peter, then a spiritual leader in the new Church, wrote these words of encouragement – “Friends, when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner. “ (1 Peter 4:12-13, The Message)  

When life appears to be out of control, when questions outrun the answers, we might be tempted to conclude that God has turned His back on us. If we begin to believe that lie, we fall into a vulnerable place that is illustrated in the story of Eve in Eden. Satan approached Eve with the suggestion that God was not good, that He was withholding the best things in life from her.  I have heard that same whisper. When I listen to that voice, things get bad. When I look up in prayer, waiting, listening for the Spirit, I find that He is able to save.

When we feel desperate we are good company. Jesus Himself, when suffering on the cross, screamed, “My God, why have You forsaken me.”  The Resurrection life lay on the other side of painful death!  So it is for us, my friend. The new life of faith and hope emerges from the death of Self.  When we are conflicted, struggling, trying to find our way as a Christian, we make a mistake if we look for simple answers or quick resolutions.  Faith asks us to pray for courage and to allow for tears that entreat Him to hold our hearts together even as we wait the reward of eternal life.

Whatever challenges you’re facing today,  God is present. Walking with Jesus is little like Peter’s walk to Him on the water, impossible in the natural, but completely plausible when He holds our hand.  Pray a simple prayer – “Lord, save me!” and let Him.

Here’s a word from the Word.  Let the living Word fill your mind with His Presence as you meditate on the promise.   

“God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.  As it is written: “He has dispersed abroad, He has given to the poor; His righteousness endures forever.”

Now may He who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food,
supply and multiply the seed you have sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness, while you are enriched in everything for all liberality, which causes thanksgiving through us to God. For the administration of this service not only supplies the needs of the saints, but also is abounding through many thanksgivings to God.”

(2 Corinthians 9:8-12, NKJV)

________________________

HIDE THOU ME
(A Southern Gospel song that carries a GREAT message)

Sometimes I feel discouraged,
And think my life in vain.
I’m tempted then to murmur,
And of my lot complain.
But when I think of Jesus,
And all He’s done for me,
Then I cry, “O Rock of Ages,
Hide Thou me.”

O Rock of Ages, hide Thou me.
No other refuge have I but Thee.
When life’s dark vale I wander,
Far, far from Thee.
Then I cry,”O Rock of Ages,
Hide Thou me.”

Sometimes it seems I dare not,
Go one step farther on.
And from my heart all courage
Has slipped away and gone.
But I remember Jesus,
And all His love for me.
Then I cry,”O Rock of Ages, Hide Thou me.”

Hide Thou Me
Harris, Thoro / Tolbert, L.R. © 1926. Renewed 1953 Singspiration Music
CCLI License No. 810055

As good as he is?

One of my heroes is Jim Elliott, a young missionary martyr who died while attempting to reach an Amazonian tribal people with the Gospel of Christ in 1956. Words from his journal, written when he was a young adult, have inspired me including this well-known line: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”  I am currently reading the authorized biography of his wife, Elizabeth, a woman who writing has also fed my soul. I was privileged to hear her speak several times in years past before her death.

Jim was, in my mind, a special kind of Christian;  one who lived in perpetual fellowship with the Lord, who never waffled on a commitment, who knew the will of God for his life and walked in it flawlessly – except that he wasn’t!

While reading the book (Becoming Elizabeth Elliott) yesterday, I laughed and cried while discovering authentic human dimensions I had not known before in these two saints. No, there were no scandals or huge character flaws in evidence. There were inconsistencies of confession, self-doubts, longings for comfort, insensitivities to the feelings of others bordering on arrogance, and times when they were confused about the best way to serve God. In short, they were real people ‘working out their salvation’ everyday!

We all need our heroes and examples – men and women who help us to understand what it means to serve God whole-heartedly, don’t we? There is a dangerous side to that. In books and films we see them in one dimension. We lift them up to places above the experiences of ordinary Christians like ourselves which can make us feel like second-class Christians wondering why we cannot live in the same daily ‘glory’ that they found. The truth is they did not live in some kind of unique holy glow either. When we read their stories we tend to focus on the high points, the days of discovery, while ignoring or glossing over the months of waiting, wanted, and wondering!

Are you tripping yourself up by living in comparison to another Christian?
Are you wondering why you cannot be as good as they are?
Do you question God why He has not given you the wonderful experiences of your hero of faith?

God finds us where we are, loves us deeply as we are, and asks no more or less from us than to seek Him with our whole heart. Will we always ‘get it right?’ The answer is obviously NO. We will get distracted. We will be tempted and sometimes fail. We will sometimes confuse our agenda with His will, getting it sincerely wrong! Yet He is patient with us, leads us, forgives us, heals us, uses us. Best of all, in His amazing providence, He can take even our ‘mistakes’ and use them for His purposes.

In my reading yesterday, I realized anew that when I stand before Jesus to ‘report in’ at the end of my life, He will not ask me why I wasn’t more like Jim!  He will ask me what I did with the opportunities of the life I lived. He will see Jerry with love and grace. And yes, He will see the successes, the failures, the triumphs, the defeats with perfect clarity. 

God does not award grades ‘on a curve.’ He asks our faith, our commitment, our confession. Our true assurance is not that we were ‘just like Jim,’ but that because of His grace we are just like Him.  What a wonderful thought.

Here is a word from the Word.
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load.  …

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Galatians 6:2-10, NIV)

___________

There Was Jesus
(Zac Williams and Dolly Parton remind us of His grace!)

Every time I tried to make it on my own
Every time I tried to stand and start to fall
All those lonely roads that I have traveled on
There was Jesus
When the life I built came crashing to the ground
When the friends I had were nowhere to be found
I couldn’t see it then but I can see it now
There was Jesus

In the waiting in the searching
In the healing and the hurting
Like a blessing buried in the broken pieces
Every minute every moment
Of where I been or where I’m going
Even when I didn’t know it
Or couldn’t see it
(There was Jesus)

For this man who needs amazing kind of grace
For forgiveness at a price I couldn’t pay
I’m not perfect so I thank God every day
There was Jesus (There was Jesus)
There was Jesus on the mountain in the valleys
(There was Jesus) in the shadows of the alleys
(There was Jesus) in the fire in the flood
(There was Jesus) always is and always was
No I never walk alone You are always there
(Never walk alone)There was Jesus
(There was Jesus)
(There was Jesus)

Casey Beathard | Jonathan Smith | Zach Williams

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Be Essential Songs (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)

CCLI License # 810055

In the deepest part of me

A video circulated on the Internet last week that was tragically moving. It showed an elderly woman, Marta C. González, once a prima ballerina, who has Alzheimer’s. She sits in a wheel chair, slumped over, until she hears the music of Swan Lake. Beautifully her hands, arms, neck, and head begin to move as she recreates the dance from memory long past. The scene is captivating – amazing, sad, and beautiful all in the same moment. (See it here.) 

A friend and I were talking about it and her observation paralleled mine – what am I storing up in my memory that is dug in so deeply that it would resurface even if my conscious mind no longer functioned? Who am I in the deepest part of me?

Jesus taught us that our inner reality inevitably becomes the outer one! “A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. A tree is identified by the kind of fruit it produces. Figs never grow on thornbushes or grapes on bramble bushes. A good person produces good deeds from a good heart, and an evil person produces evil deeds from an evil heart. Whatever is in your heart determines what you say.” (Luke 6:43-45, NLT)

If we want to experience a life transforming spirituality we will cooperate with God’s Spirit to change us from the very core of our being.  What are your core convictions, the unshakeable things that form your behavior? 

Let me illustrate my point with the idea of gravity. We know that the law of gravity is real, it works, and that if we break it, we will suffer, don’t we? A rational person does not stand at the edge of a cliff and think, “Perhaps today I can fly!”  She knows that if she jumps the result will be severe injury or death! That’s a core conviction. We understand that a wire charged with electricity can light up a room or give us a terrible shock. It only takes one encounter with electric shock to create a core conviction – don’t touch bare electrical wires!  

When we believe what the Bible says about God’s love and forgiveness, about judgment and salvation, about Christ and the Cross, about the life of the Spirit – and those beliefs work their way to the core of our being – our lives will inevitably change.  How do we change our convictions, forming a beautiful inner person that will overflow with life and grace in life?

We need to immerse our mind in the Scripture! 

The Bible shows us who God is, how the world works, and what is true. In the holy Word we learn that in spite of what our culture drives into our brain about self-expression, He is God and we are not. Our world centers on Him and our life is made richer in the discovery of His will. Constant exposure to the stories, doctrines, and promises of the Word changes our core convictions.

We must adopt an attitude of humility.

A person who insists on doing things that he knows to be a violation of the will of the Lord gradually slips deeper into deception. If a person continues to rationalize and justify actions he once understood to be wrong, he will cloud his mind. Lies will soon seem to be true. The distortion will become a toxic mix that causes destruction.

Paul reminds us of the renewal the Spirit offers. Once we “were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared,  He saved us!”  (Titus 3:3) In humility we accept the gift of life we can never earn for ourselves.

We seek daily interaction with the Holy Spirit! 

Life can fill up with ‘stuff,’ keeping us busy with making a living, chasing fun, feeding our face so that we might forget that we a spiritual person, an eternal being made in the image of God. Making time for contemplative prayer, for worship (and not just ‘in church), and to look beyond our next meal creates opportunities for God to speak, to remind us that we are His children, to change who we are from the inside out.

So, let me return to the ballerina. If the time should come when your conscious mind is failing, what will remain, embedded at the core?  The answer is not necessarily what you thought you learned in Sunday School!  It is revealed in the unguarded moments, when you are under pressure, or when hardship comes.  

Peter speaks of the amazing grace of Jesus that gives us salvation, reminds us that trials come to refine us, and then assures us that our “faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:7-9, NIV)

Let’s pursue a depth of faith, a core conviction of Truth.

Here is a word from the Word. May it speak to us this Monday morning. “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)

_____________

Beautiful Things

All this pain
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change
At all

All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found
Could a garden come up from this ground
At all

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found
In You

You make me new You are making me new
You make me new You are making me new

Lisa Gungor | Michael Gungor

© 2009 worshiptogether.com songs (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

Ready for dinner?

God has blessed me with a network of friends and I am thankful for each one!  Some I only ‘see’ on Facebook or in texts. Others are part of daily life. To hear “I love you” not in a romantic setting, but in a friendship, is a rich gift. I hope you know both the giving and receiving! When we share a cup of coffee and our stories, when we enjoy dinner together and linger at the table, we experience one of humanity’s greatest joys.

Ah, yes, friendships require work, demand maintenance and investment of time. The return on investment is the discovery of what it really means to love and be loved!  Oh yes, it creates the possibility of being hurt, too, but that’s for another day’s thought.

Made in the image of God, we are made for life together. He exists in a Holy Trinity of perpetual relationship; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, together. We, too, need others. I know I have beat this drum for a few days now. It because I feel a certain urgency about it as I see virtual ‘relationships’ replacing real human interaction on an accelerating pace in this era. They are not the same!  We need real ‘flesh and blood’ people in our lives and we need to teach our children how to make and sustain interdependent relationships that will make them more healthy – emotionally and spiritually.

The Psalmist praises the Almighty because He “sets the lonely in families.” (Psalm 68:6, NIV)  Amazing things are accomplished when people cooperate for mutual benefit. Where love exists,  life becomes beautiful.  One of the reasons that the early Church grew so quickly was that their gatherings were more than sterile ‘meetings.’  They were weekly celebrations of God’s love which spilled into the lives of Believers, creating cooperation and belonging. That is no less important for us 2 millennia later!  

Our worship gatherings which are often focused primarily on the vertical relationship with God, must recapture the importance of loving people, becoming celebrations when we know that we belong to a family, not of shared DNA, but of a shared spiritual heritage!

The Word calls on us to “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:25, NIV)  How do we encourage one another?  “Keep on loving each other as brothers.” (Hebrews 13:1, NIV)  Christians are called to ” live a life of love,”  not the cheap, erotic, selfish kind of ‘love’ that replaces real love, but a love modeled after “Christ (who) loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:2, NIV)

In a world of competition, these words may seem naïve, an impossible dream. However, what I know is that I love because He loved me first. Our salvation results from His love and the Spirit will, when we allow Him, teach us to love.  It demands sacrifice of us. Love is not cheap! However, when we give love, we will find it. 

Let us renew our understanding that it is love that is the mark of the Christian; not orthodoxy, not holiness, not esoteric spiritual experiences.  Yes, we need sound doctrine, we must live holy lives, and our hearts will  overflow when the Spirit comes, but those things will ebb and flow, and eventually die, but there are only “three things that will endure—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13, NLT)

One of the Bible’s best love stories is found in Luke 15, Jesus’ story about an awful son and a loving father!  The son was a selfish, foolish, and sinful man. He thought he had lost his place in the family forever, yet in desperation he went back home. He found a waiting father who longed for the return of his wayward son.  This is God’s story about you and me. We stole our inheritance, used the gift of life for our own purposes, but if we will go home, He’s waiting with forgiveness, renewal, and a whole new way to live. Don’t be fooled by the lies of self-expression that insist that your best life is found in preservation of Self.  Love is the best way to live – fully, joyously, and with Heaven in your heart.

Some Glorious Day comes,  our Father will call – “Come to Dinner!”   We will all sit down to the table of His great family.  Our word from the Word comes from John’s Revelation. May they inspire us to pray for and practice living in love now so that we are ‘at home’ at that Eternal Feast, when the Kingdom comes.

“Then a voice came from the throne, saying: “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, both small and great!” Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.) Then the angel said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’” And he added, “These are the true words of God.” (Revelation 19:5-9, NIV)

________________

Oh Love That Will Not Let Me Go

(An old hymn that will move you to love!)

Oh love that will not let me go
I rest my weary soul in Thee
give You back this life I owe
And in Your ocean depths its flow
May richer fuller be

Oh light that follows all my way
I yield my flickering torch to Thee
And my heart restores it’s borrowed ray
And in Your sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter fairer be

Oh joy that seeks me through the pain
I cannot close my heart to Thee
I chase the rainbow through the rain
And feel the promise is not vain

That morn shall tearless be
Oh cross that lifts up my head
I dare not ask to fly from Thee
I lay in dust life’s glory dead
And from the ground their blossoms red
Life that shall endless be

Public Domain George Matheson

People matter to your health

Word reached me yesterday that COVID has touched my extended family once again. We are blessed in that there has not been death or even hospitalization as a result of sickness. I was saddened by the fact that the appearance of the virus will hinder some from being part of our holiday gatherings. What a tragedy!  

Yes, there is a hidden cost of COVID. The news focuses on statistics about physical illness. There is something that is largely hidden and/or ignored;  the ripping apart of our social ties which results in more depression, more abuse of alcohol and drugs, and more stress on families. Reputable studies are finding significant psychological distress and loneliness among adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, published findings in mid-August, that Americans are experiencing depression, anxiety, substance abuse and thoughts of suicide at unprecedented rates!

All of this reinforces what we all know intuitively – people matter and relationships are critical to our well-being. This is nowhere more true than in our Christianity! A practice of faith that is without community is not normal. We are called to be together. Yes, I know that this is not a new thought, but we need to keep reminding ourselves of the value of worship and gathering; finding the balance between caution and overall well-being.  Yesterday, in CoffeeBreak, I emphasized the importance of being ‘living stones, built into God’s temple.

Today, I want us to look at a lesson from Paul’s letter, found in parts that are usually read quickly or that are just ignored. In many letters, the apostle closes by mentioning people by name. He writes about their needs, their contributions, sometimes even including a word of correction. The closing words of his letter to Titus is an example. “As soon as I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, because I have decided to winter there. Do everything you can to help Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way and see that they have everything they need. Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives. Everyone with me sends you greetings. Greet those who love us in the faith. Grace be with you all.” (Titus 3:12-15, NIV)  

I don’t know much about Artemas or Zenas but they mattered to Paul and the Church!  These people were his friends, his compatriots in the work of Christ. He cared about them and his affection is written into Holy Scripture.

The entire 16th chapter of Romans, Paul’s letter that is so rich with theology for our Christian faith, is devoted to people in his life. At least 25 different people are mentioned, by name, along with personal notes. Here’s an excerpt – “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many people, including me. Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Greet also the church that meets at their house. Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia. Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you. Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.”

What can we learn from the inclusion of those personal names and notes? That people matter! We must continue to connect, to care, to love, to share life as much as possible throughout this time. It is critical to our spiritual and emotional health, important for the vitality of Christ’s church.

Just in case you believe the 1st century church was a paradise of loving relationships, you need to recall the many corrections written into Paul’s letters. In so many different ways he speaks to their conflicts. “Stop fighting about secondary matters!” he says.  “Stop judging one another and accept each other!” 

In Galatians, he calls out Peter by name. ” When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.” (Galatians 2:11, NIV)  Ouch! In Philippians, he names a couple of people asking them to stop fighting and imploring others to ‘help them.’ “I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.” (Philippians 4:2-3, NIV)

My point? People matter. The Gospel lives, not just in the Book, but in our lives as we become God’s people together even when it is difficult.

Are you working to make and strength significant ties with other Christians? Are they getting written into your story of faith – people you care for, who care for you?  Are you making the kinds of friends and allies in the faith that will stand with you when you’re down and celebrate your successes?

COVID has made the ‘usual’ things more complicated. But, we are not without the ability to connect, even if it is a note, a text, or a phone call!  Friend, I do not write this to guilt you. It is written from deep concern that so many have just let the crisis force them into a kind of isolation without realizing the long-term cost of that choice. It may be that you cannot be physically present but you can stay ‘in touch.’  That is the blessing of technology for us.

The word from the Word comes from Romans.  As you read these personal notes, pray that the Spirit will remind you of people you can love, of the priority of staying connected to Christ’s church, through sickness and trouble, for the Glory of God. “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too. Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brothers with them. Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas and all the saints with them. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ send greetings.

I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.

The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.” (Romans 16:1-20, NIV)

________________

We Will Stand
(I love this old 1980’s song with a timeless message.
Let Russ Taff’s artistry encourage you to stand together with other Christians.)

Sometimes it’s hard for me to understand
Why we pull away from each other so easily
Even though we’re all walking the same road?
Yet we build dividing walls
Between our brothers and ourselves.
But, I don’t care what label you may wear,
If you believe in Jesus you belong with me!
The bond we share is all I care to see,

And we’ll change the world forever,
If you will join with me,
Join and sing, sing.

You’re my brother, you’re my sister,
So take me by the hand.
Together we will work until He comes.
There’s no foe that can defeat us,
When we’re walking side by side,
As long as there is love,
We will stand!

The day will come when we will be as one
And with a mighty voice
Together we will proclaim that
Jesus, Jesus is King.
It will echo through the earth.
It will shake the nations.
And the world will see, see that;

You’re my brother, you’re my sister,
So take me by the hand.
Together we will work until He comes.
There’s no foe that can defeat us,
When we’re walking side by side,
As long as there is love,
We will stand!

James Hollihan | Russ Taff | Tori Taff © 1983 Word Music, LLC (a div. of Word Music Group, Inc.)

CCLI License # 810055

Scattered Stones?

In the middle of my lawn there is a stone, mostly hidden, too large to dig out by hand. It does no harm except to ding the blade of my mower when I fail to steer around it! It exists, singularly, without purpose. Several feet away, there are hundreds of stones, neatly aligned, built into a gracefully curved wall that adds a touch of beauty to the landscape. Those stones illustrate two types of Christians – those who exist disconnected from God’s Church and those who align themselves with others for the purpose of creating a place of beauty in this world.

Thousands, millions perhaps, of Americans believe in Christ Jesus but cling to an independent life. They profess, with no hint of irony, their refusal to ‘fit in’ with any formal church structure, reveling in their supposed ‘freedom’ in Christ Jesus. Their reasons for not connecting with a local fellowship are many – hypocrisy in leadership, disagreement with the way resources are spent, uninspiring worship, or some past experience that has left them wounded.

Others just choose not to connect with a local church because they can tune in to listen to a celebrity media pastor or enjoy a service from Mega City Church elsewhere in the US that their local church cannot begin to replicate. Their choice allows them to ‘feed’ their soul without making any demand of service.

The refusal to be an engaged, committed, serving Christian in a local assembly is without Scriptural foundation.  Peter reminds us that “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)  

There is no way to become all that God desires apart from the Church. Yes, Jesus is our ‘personal Savior,’ as we like to say. Of course, God knows us individually. And, He calls us INTO His Church where as we connect with others we become part of something larger, more beautiful, declaring the Glory of God.  Christians who are committed and connected and those who exist alone are as different from one another as a stone cathedral is from a rock on the ground!

Paul changes the metaphor of our relationships. In his first letter to the church at Corinth, he challenges their ego-focused faith, one that exalted favorite preachers and spectacular ‘spiritual gifts’ over humble, faithful, committed church life. “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. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-15, NIV)  A hand finds its purpose only in connection with an arm, directed by a head! A foot maybe hidden in a shoe, but it serves the body. A severed hand, a single ear, a disconnected leg may still be recognizable but it is lifeless, without purpose.

Is the Church perfect, always loving, a place of beauty? As one who has spent his entire life of 65 years as part of the local church, with the vocation of ministry, I know as much as anyone how difficult Christian relationships can be. God’s people can be amazingly wonderful, generous, and loving and they can be selfish, judgmental, and territorial – just like me, just like you!  

We are works in progress, graced by God and graceful. The Church is the plan of God for our spiritual development, a living organism into which we are called where we grow. Some use “the love of Jesus” as an excuse to become parasites in the Body, draining life from the church. Others drink deeply of the Spirit and are changed, growing into persons of splendor, as they shine with Jesus’ light. That’s church life.

Are you just a rock or are you a “living stone built into a spiritual house?”  

Here is a word from the Word. I hope that it will encourage you to choose to become part of the temple, the Church where God reveals His purposes in us and through us.  

“Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything. Be quick to give a meal to the hungry, a bed to the homeless—cheerfully. Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it: if words, let it be God’s words; if help, let it be God’s hearty help. That way, God’s bright presence will be evident in everything through Jesus, and he’ll get all the credit as the One mighty in everything.”
-The Message, 1 Peter 4:8-11
____________

Build Your Kingdom Here

Come set Your rule and reign
In our hearts again
Increase in us we pray
Unveil why we’re made
Come set our hearts ablaze with hope
Like wildfire in our very souls
Holy Spirit come invade us now
We are Your church
We need Your pow’r in us

We seek Your kingdom first
We hunger and we thirst
Refuse to waste our lives
For You’re our joy and prize
To see the captives’ hearts released
The hurt the sick the poor at peace
We lay down our lives for heaven’s cause

We are Your church
We pray revive this earth

Let the darkness fear
Show Your mighty hand
Heal our streets and land
Set Your church on fire
Win this nation back

Change the atmosphere
Build Your kingdom here we pray
Unleash Your kingdom’s pow’r
Reaching the near and far

No force of hell can stop
Your beauty changing hearts
You made us for much more than this
Awake the kingdom seed in us
Fill us with the strength and love of Christ
We are Your church
We are the hope on earth

Chris Llewellyn | Gareth Gilkeson | William Herron

© 2011 Thankyou Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

Secure in His embrace!

Texts and emails by the dozen have urged me to prayer recently; a good thing, right?  Mostly, though, they are asking me to go to God with a single agenda, to press Him, as if I were lobbying a powerful Friend to act. Prayer is petitioning. We should ask God about our needs. However, true prayer must include time to listen, contemplative prayer, which can be incredibly difficult for those of us accustomed to living with smartphones and email; that provide those instant responses.  Talking with God is not at all like messaging with a friend!  

There is a kind of praying that is called ‘centering.’ Christ Jesus is made the focus. It is not a time for petitions or beautiful praise. It is an act of adoration, a time to receive a gift of His peace. It’s like those moments when you see someone you love and you reach out in embrace, holding each other close, wordlessly, just being together.  Right now in our crazy, mixed up, stressed out world – we must make time to find rest, to learn to be with Jesus.  I want to encourage to change your mental image of prayer to include times when you are content in His Presence, centered in faith, waiting.

Quietly murmur this confession. Learn how to listen!  
“He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear, he burns the shields with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah”
(Psalm 46:9-11, NIV)

There is amazing spiritual strength to be found in surrendering to the Spirit and entering into silent prayer that WAITS on the Lord. Paul urges us to dismantle “every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and (to) take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5, NIV)  In the story of Job, when his suffering drives him to angrily demand a confrontation with the Lord, God comes, not with explanations, but to reveal Himself in greater majesty. Job’s response is humility. He says, “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth.” (Job 40:4, NIV) 

Centering prayer does not seek to change God’s mind. It restores Him to His rightful place in my life. When I am actively, yet silently, waiting before Him, the Spirit helps me to re-enthrone Christ Jesus as Lord of life, my hope. I return often to the words of Isaiah inviting us to holy submission. In a time of national crisis the Lord called His people to re-center their hope on Him! “This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15, NIV)   In true prayer, we are intent on finding Him.  We set aside the need to press Him to endorse a solution of our own design.

Waiting can be much more difficult than working!

The angst of our time is real. The world, in the words of the hymn, is filled with devils who “threaten to undo us.”  But, we do not “In our own strength confide” for “our striving would be losing.” Now, there is a choice about how to live. We can attempt to control it all and find ourselves full of frustration. Or, we can enter into His Presence – centered on Christ! The Spirit is inviting us to a new and deeper spirituality, beyond the comfort of our religion.

Engage your whole person in this kind of praying.
Sit quietly.
Place your hands open, palms up, in front of you.
Draw your breath in slowly. Pause, then then breath out as you say the name of Jesus.
Tell Him simply, “I receive your peace.”
Stay there!

For most of us such praying, entering into His Presence is so unnatural that we will feel foolish, or nothing at all – at first. But, He is there.  It is likely that your mind will initially reject this ‘quiet’ and you will want to reach for your phone, turn on some music, just ‘do something.’ Choose Jesus! It’s simple, but it is not easy! Keep handing yourself to Him, giving the Spirit mastery as you meditate on His Word and Promise.

Here’s the word from the Word.
“O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. …
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope.
My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.” (Psalm 130:2-6, NIV)
_______

A mighty fortress is our God

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing
Our Helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe
His craft and pow’r are great, and, armed with cruel hate
On earth is not his equal

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He
The Lord of hosts His name, from age to age the same
And He must win the battle

And though this world with devils filled should threaten to undo us
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure
One little word shall fell him

That word above all earthly pow’rs, no thanks to them, abideth
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him who with us sideth
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also
The body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still
His kingdom is forever