Purpose in that Pain

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Last Wednesday, in a second, things changed.  I slipped, badly wrenched my knee (still waiting MRI to know extent of damage), and became ‘weak.’  Every step hurts. Simple things like going from standing to sitting require deliberate thought. Getting in and out of the car is complicated as I gently tuck my leg in without bending the knee any more than I have to.  Like most people, it’s not easy to ask for help so I try to do things and find myself either hurting or frustrated. I forgot what a blessing it is to walk quickly, to take steps without pauses, to be without pain. This knee will heal soon and I will return to ‘normal’ but will the experience cause me to be more thankful and make me more patient with those who don’t ‘get better?’

This experience has made me think about the gradual losses that come with aging and caused me to face up to one of my own fears – that I will someday be dependent on others.  Honestly, I am not at peace with either of those things just yet.  I do pray that the Lord will give me faith and love so that as one strength fades another will grow – that even as ‘weakness’ increases there will be a corresponding growth of spiritual beauty that makes me a blessing in my world instead of a bitter or cynical old man.

In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul responded to the boasts of the ‘super-apostles’ that told that church he was a failure, unimpressive, and unworthy of respect.  He boasts (his word, not mine) about his many visions, revelations, and trials endured for the Lord’s sake. He knew the power of the Spirit, had sacrificed safety and comfort in radical ways, and knew the supernatural call of God to ministry.

All of that was fertile soil in which spiritual pride and elitism might have grown except for yet another fact that he reveals. “To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10, NIV)

God knows that we are at our best when we know our dependence on His grace and the power of the Spirit. Sounds great as we read it, doesn’t it? But, in real life we resist pain and we do just about anything to own ourselves and create a place of security, don’t we?  I am praying for healing of my busted knee and at the same time I am asking the Lord to use this time to shape me a bit more into the image of Jesus.  I don’t like pain but I know it can serve a purpose if I put it in the hands of God and let Him use it for my good.

How about you? Are you cursing some hardship in your life, angry at some continual source of pain, demanding that things get easier?

Make a better choice! Take that thing to the Lord in prayer and trust Him with it.  Tell Him that you will walk with a limp for the rest of your life if it makes you more useful in His purposes. Some will read that as a lack of faith! They will insist that suffering has no place in the life of a Spirit-filled disciple, that we should pray away every problem. Not so. The greater faith lets the Sovereign God choose the path and takes His grace for the day.

Jacob, the patriarch of the Old Testament, was a conniving schemer, a man who was smart and got his own way.  Where did it lead him? To exile from his family, to a place far from where God promised. But, the Lord did not abandon him.  Years after he stole his brother’s birthright and alienated himself from his father, he decided to go home.  On the way, he met a Person who “wrestled with him until daybreak” (Genesis 32:22-24).

The struggle went through the night to the dawn. Jacob was defeated when the Man “touched the socket of his thigh, so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him” (v.25).  At that moment, Jacob seemed to grasp that his encounter was with God and he prayed,  “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (v.26)

He left that encounter with a limp and a changed name. Names reveal God’s purposes in the Old Testament. Jacob, which meant ‘Deceiver,’ became Israel, which means ‘wrestles with God.’ He was not useful to the Lord until he was broken and submitted to Him.  What a powerful lesson for us.

Meditate on the passage I quoted a moment ago. Take the word from the Word and pray that God will make you strong in Him. “Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10, NLT)

__________

Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)
(a beautiful worship song that invites us to trust God)

You call me out upon the water
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep my faith will stand

 And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

 Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sov’reign hand will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now

 Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Saviour

 I will call upon Your name
Keep my eyes above the waves
My soul will rest in Your embrace
I am Yours and You are mine

Joel Houston | Matt Crocker | Salomon Ligthelm © 2012 Hillsong Music Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) CCLI License # 810055

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On a power trip?

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Kathy (not her real name) struggled with life. She had bouts of severe anxiety, sometimes flew into blind rages, and was occasionally suicidal. She was in therapy for years.  Her psychiatrist reached out to me and asked if I would counsel with her.  “I have gone about as far as I can go,” he told me. “I believe that there are spiritual issues in her life that I cannot change.”  After meeting with her a couple of times, I felt strongly that in addition to her real emotional problems that somehow she had come under the influence of demonic spirits.

Are you shocked? Does that seem the stuff of movies or the medieval age?  Over the next year, prayerful engagement with the evil influences in her life brought a remarkable change to Kathy’s life.

“Spiritual warfare” is often sensationalized, even in the Church. My generation gained strange ideas about ‘demons’ from by a movie called ‘The Exorcist’ that had a kernel of truth wrapped in layers of Hollywood dramatic fiction!  In many churches, other than the creed there is almost no recognition of the demonic, the dark influence of the Devil.  In a few, there is a silly, over-wrought insistence that every problem, pain, and personality issue requires ‘deliverance’ from demons.  The truth is more balanced. For the Christian there need not be an obsession with demons, given that in Christ we are secure, but should we ignore their reality we can end up fighting the wrong enemy with the wrong strategies.

Paul approached the Corinthians with correction for their spiritual errors reminding them of the power of the Gospel of Christ. “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5, NIV)

When a nation goes to war, the only way to win is to overpower the enemy. Half measures will not accomplish the goal of defeat. “Limited warfare” usually prolongs the conflict. Massive force is gathered and sent to gain victory, bringing death and destruction on a terrible scale.

Christians overcome evil with a powerful weapon called ‘love.’  We eliminate the darkness by shining the Light. Fear is erased by the assurance of the Father.  Deception is exposed by the Truth. Whenever the Church attempts to use political might, or coercive threats, or such things – the results may look good in the short term, but in the end there is only superficial compliance without deep heart transformation.

There are moments when demonic forces must be met with the authority of Christ. Such encounters are for those who are mature in faith, who have great spiritual discernment, and who are bold. On those occasions when a person is severely demonized (yes, it does happen) a solid foundation of Christ and His resurrection power must be laid down and in the proper time the person can be delivered from their captivity.  We all are delivered in some measure by the Gospel! “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:8-10, NIV)

We need not go on a power trip, loving our authority in Christ Jesus, shouting and confronting evil just because we can. Rather, we live holy lives, serving the least and the lost, careful to live the Truth we preach – and in this we, like generations of Christians before us, change our world.

Live in this confidence today. The word from the Word is one we need to confess and know. It our foundation for a life full of faith. “I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39, NLT)   Can I get an ‘amen’?

_________

 

A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
(listen to this great song of faith)

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 power 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

Martin Luther © Words: Public Domain

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Will you tip God this Sunday?

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Our church is in the middle of the “Matthew 25 Challenge” in cooperation with World Vision. Two goals are in view – to raise our awareness of the need that millions of people experience every day, and to open our wallets to become part of the effort to provide clean water, basic food, and education to parts of the world that are desperately poor.

The idea that fasting for a day, drinking only water (yes, I sure did miss my coffee!), sleeping on the floor, and such minor inconveniences could even begin to approach the hardships that those in grinding poverty live with is absurd. However, it is a way to drag us out of our apathy.  I’ll admit this about giving! Generosity that is just based on sympathy or pictures of children in rags won’t last!

A far deeper change in attitudes about our ‘stuff and store,’ about the money in the bank, must take place for real God-honoring giving to become a way of life.  Giving that is sustained grows from the faith that sees God as our richest Resource, our Supply.

Here is how Paul explains that to us. Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: “He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” (2 Corinthians 9:6-11, NIV)

Let me put it this way  – is your Christian giving more like an investment that you expect to return a dividend or a tip for efficient service?

Every month I take a sizable chunk of money and send it off to an institution where it is invested, used by churches and other organizations that pay me a small fee in return that is called interest. I ‘give’ that money away with the full expectation that the funds will be there for that time in my life when I am unable to produce an income.  When I am served, in a restaurant, by the barber, for example – I add a percentage to the total on the check that is called a ‘tip.’  It is a way to say ‘thank you’ for serving me in this way.  A tip is given out of some generosity, I suppose, but I do not expect much of a return on it.

God invites us to give with the full expectation of a return. He says that our generosity is an investment. “He gives you something you can then give away, which grows into full-formed lives, robust in God, wealthy in every way, so that you can be generous in every way, producing with us great praise to God.”  Some of you are gasping with shock!  “Jerry, are you teaching that old lie about seed faith, telling us to give to get?”  No, not at all. God says, “Invest in Me, every part of life, given away generously because I am Your rich Resource, your true Security.”

Much Christian giving is more like a tip than an investment.  God gets a $20 bill on Sunday with the idea that He’ll be good to us on Monday.  When we really want a big favor, we increase the tip.

I give because I love and trust Him, because I believe, at the core of my being, that He is my life. Beyond money, I invest time and effort in the work of the Lord, fully expecting that He is able to take what I give, hold it securely, and prepare what I need for days to come.  Jesus taught me that. “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19-20, NLT)  If you’re reading that we give so that God will make us rich so we can buy all the stuff we want, you missed the point.  We give so that we will become rich in godliness, so that true wealth of the Kingdom of God overflows in us, and so that we can live without being anxious about tomorrow or eternity.

I am invested in Eternal things. Are you?  Let’s invite the Holy Spirit to make the Kingdom of God, the things of Heaven real to us, so that our giving will become an investment rather than a tip.

Meditate on this story Jesus told about investing. Ask the Spirit to begin to shift your treasure from things of earth to the wealth of God! “After a long time their master returned from his trip and called them to give an account of how they had used his money. The servant to whom he had entrusted the five bags of silver came forward with five more and said, ‘Master, you gave me five bags of silver to invest, and I have earned five more.’ “The master was full of praise. ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’” (Matthew 25:19-21, NLT)

_________

You Are My All In All

You are my strength
When I am weak
You are the treasure
That I seek
You are my all in all
Seeking You as a precious jewel
Lord to give up I’d be a fool
You are my all in all

Jesus Lamb of God
Worthy is Your name
Jesus Lamb of God
Worthy is Your name

Taking my sin
My cross my shame
Rising again I bless Your name
You are my all in all
When I fall down You pick me up
When I am dry You fill my cup
You are my all in all

Dennis Jernigan © 1991 Shepherd’s Heart Music, Inc. (Admin. by PraiseCharts Publishing, Inc.)

CCLI License # 810055

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I feel so bad!

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My grandson, Gio, who is 4, sometimes needs to be corrected like any toddler. Grandfathers see those moments of discipline so much differently than the parents. “It’s just a little thing. Don’t make him sad,” I offer.  But, truthfully, it is good that his Dad and Mom correct his behavior. His protests and tears over a ‘time out’ are hard for this “Pop” to see but I know that the goal of his parents is not to make him miserable but to teach and train him for life.

Paul, the spiritual father of the Christians in the city of Corinth, sent them a letter of correction that made them sad! He spoke sharply about their abuse of spiritual gifts, told them to get over their immature worship of certain teachers, and pointed out their divisions which was destroying their testimony in the city.

Titus brought news of their response to Paul. “They are,” he said,  “experiencing true sorrow and repentance.”  Paul wrote a second time to say – “I am glad that you were sad.”  Is he gloating?  Not at all!  “Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.(2 Corinthians 7:8-10, NIV)

The Lord disciplines us and sometimes it hurts so badly that we weep!  His grace and mercy are deep and wide, but He loves us too much to allow us to destroy ourselves without challenging us.  I know when I have grieved God’s Spirit because I sense His disappointment.  That sense of peace that I know when He is with me lifts and I feel alone.  Confession and repentance restores the relationship. David knew that feeling, too.  In a Psalm that is a most heart-wrenching cry of godly sorrow he sings, “Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a right spirit within me. Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me again the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you.” (Psalm 51:10-12, NLT)

Paul tells the church that failing to recognize Jesus as Lord, abusing the grace of God, will cause us to lose our joy, and sometimes to go through terrible difficulties. When everything is going wrong, when we are continually sick, when depression stalks us –  we are wise to ask the Father if we are living in ways that invite His discipline.  If He reveals choices, words, thoughts that are rebellious, there is only one thing to do:  repent! “The sacrifice you want is a broken spirit. A broken and repentant heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17, NLT)  Paul calls this “godly sorrow.”

God is not petty nor petulant. He is good and kind.  The Scripture is clear that not all of the outcomes of life are direct cause and effect, at least from our limited perspective.  Godly people often suffer and sometimes the wicked prosper.  But, we cannot ignore the fact that God, our Father, desires obedience and corrects us for our own good.  He is glad when we are sad if that sorrow leads us to deeper devotion and sincere change of heart.

Are you troubled by the silence of God?
Is life filled with troubles?
Wisely, humbly, in times of quiet prayer, with a wise counselor –  evaluate your ways.
Is the Lord correcting you?
Will your response be a godly sorrow that leads to a change of heart?

Here’s the word from the Word. “My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline, but don’t be crushed by it either. It’s the child he loves that he disciplines; the child he embraces, he also corrects. God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children. Only irresponsible parents leave children to fend for themselves. Would you prefer an irresponsible God? We respect our own parents for training and not spoiling us, so why not embrace God’s training so we can truly live? While we were children, our parents did what seemed best to them. But God is doing what is best for us, training us to live God’s holy best.” -The Message, Heb 12:5-10

________________

Abba, renew my faith.
Help me to be ready to say “yes,”
to respond to correction with a real turnaround.

When I am troubled in heart or find myself in hard times,
give me a discerning mind to understand when You are
correcting me to make me more like Jesus.

Draw me close to Your heart.
Keep me in Your grace.
Let me know joy in a new day of mature godliness.
In Jesus’ Name. Amen

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Cleaned up!

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Can you imagine showing up for a family celebration dinner, sweaty, dirty, and stinking? It’s just not what’s done, right? No matter how much I loved him, I would not find it a very appetizing meal if I had to sit down with a relative who just came from cleaning out his gutters, covered in the debris of rotting leaves and muck, would you?   There is a time and place to get cleaned up and presentable.

God told His people that He desires a change in us, too. In Christ we are washed up, made presentable for service!

Paul describes the sinful lives before Jesus in the past tense:  “that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:11, NIV)  Jesus did not come to tell us that we are just fine as we are. He entered creation to provide a Way to become acceptable to our Father, to get cleaned up.

Selfishness, hate, rage, greed, lust – such things – once dirtied up our lives.  Christians talk about being ‘washed in the blood.’  It sounds like a strange phrase without understanding. In fact, it seems almost gross to us until … we grasp that Jesus gave us life, spilled His blood at the cross, so that there is a means for us to leave old habits, things that make us guilty and ashamed, that keep us from enjoying our Father’s table, behind because we are washed.

On this Monday morning, there comes this challenge from the Spirit.  “Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” (2 Corinthians 6:17-7:1, NIV)  Our Father says, “Show me respect. Stop wallowing in the muck of sin. Clean up!”

Let’s take care not to turn this instruction into a kind of rule that makes us self-righteous or hypocritical. This passage is often abused and mis-taught in a way that makes Christians isolated, afraid, and alone- unable to talk about their failures, putting a thin veneer of “spirituality” over an unchanged heart. We are called into the Body of Christ, tied heart to heart by profound love that listens, cares, and restores.  We take the stuff that makes us dirty and ashamed to Christ and to trusted brothers and sisters so that together we can find our way to wholeness, to joy, to the freedom from fear that is be a foundation of our faith. In the letter to the Hebrews we are told to ‘encourage one another,’ to speak truthfully and loving in ways that allow those who are struggling to get life right to find hope and a real desire to deal with the broken and sinful places in life.

Our Father invites us to celebrate with Him, and says that because He loves us and we love Him, we will apply faith and make the choices to get ‘cleaned up.’  “Perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.”  The word, perfecting, is not about being flawless; it is a process of growing into wholeness.  What do we pursue in our spiritual growth?  We desire to become useful to our God, recognizing that we exist for a higher purpose than our fun, our pleasure. We are part of His family and as our Father He has a plan that we will live a quality life of beauty that turns the attention of others to Him.

Here is that passage from The Message. Make this word from the Word your aim this week. “So leave the corruption and compromise; leave it for good,” says God. “Don’t link up with those who will pollute you. I want you all for myself. I’ll be a Father to you; you’ll be sons and daughters to me.” The Word of the Master, God. With promises like this to pull us on, dear friends, let’s make a clean break with everything that defiles or distracts us, both within and without. Let’s make our entire lives fit and holy temples for the worship of God.” (2 Corinthians 6:17-7:1, The Message)

________________

Thank you, Lord, for faithful words
which help us to understand life as it really is,
which keep us from illusions and fantasies and self-delusions and sets us free.

Thank you that you love us and want to see us men and women|
wholesome and whole, free and confident and able to function as we were intended.

Grant to us that we will glory in the fact that we are the temple of the living God,
and that you dwell in us. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

  • A prayer from Pastor Ray Stedman

 

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How to find maximum freedom

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Parenting teens is seldom fun, almost never easy, is it?  Bev and I aimed for a balance between love and respect.  We tried to affirm a sincere ‘try’ even if it failed, but also let our teens live with the consequences of their choices. I smile when I recall an oft-repeated line that I spoke when they were angry with me. “I’m not your best friend; I’m your father.”  Nothing brings greater joy to my heart than seeing those ‘kids’ navigating adulthood, creating good for others, loving God and their own families.

Let me ask you this. Which child will be a happier person when they reach adulthood;  the one who is indulged and therefore thinks the world owes them everything; or the one who knows how to show up responsibly, who understands the concept of commitment, the one who can choose wisely for long-term gain?

Just as loving discipline, sometimes unpleasant, trains a child for life, we who are God’s children need our Father’s training for godliness!  He is not a cruel God when He allows us to feel the sting of His correction. In the letter to the Hebrews we learn: “Only irresponsible parents leave children to fend for themselves. Would you prefer an irresponsible God? We respect our own parents for training and not spoiling us, so why not embrace God’s training so we can truly live? While we were children, our parents did what seemed best to them. But God is doing what is best for us, training us to live God’s holy best. At the time, discipline isn’t much fun. It always feels like it’s going against the grain. Later, of course, it pays off handsomely, for it’s the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God.”  [12:11-12 The Message]

Freedom is often confused with irresponsibility.  Those who do what needs to be done regardless of how they feel often are mocked as drudges.  But, doing the daily things, the little things, consistently and in an orderly fashion, frees a person from the chaos that comes with the snarls of unmet obligations and unpaid bills.  Do I always enjoy finishing a project on-time? No, sometimes I would rather goof off.  Do I like mowing my lawn on a hot day, or doing the laundry when I’m tired? Not any more than anyone else. But, I do enjoy the beauty of a well-kept property and finding a clean shirt in the closet at 6 am. Yes, there is a freedom that discipline produces.  When we take care of the little stuff, the larger problems are less likely to develop tomorrow.

Disciples (see the connection with discipline?) who want to know God and to walk with Him in joyful freedom will choose well today.  I cannot recall ever having a discussion with a Christian who said, “Jerry, I just want to do the minimums, live spiritually on the edge, and squeak into Heaven by the razor edge of grace!” Yet, that is exactly the way of so many who claim to be followers of Jesus.

One last thought today …  We love quick fixes, easy solutions, and pills to heal our ills. Truth is there are no ‘magic pills’ that will produce instantaneous or effortless spiritual health and maturity. There are choices to be made, disciplines to practiced.  Most are not huge, earth-shattering, turn life inside out, kinds of choices.

They are ordinary life decisions, things like –

  • Turn off the TV an hour earlier and go to bed so you can get up 30 minutes earlier and have time to prayerfully meditate and take in some Scripture before rushing out the door to work;
  • Make a first line priority of being in corporate worship on Sunday morning.
  • Deal with temptation in its infancy instead of letting it turn into an enslaving habit.
  • Settle conflict quickly, forgiving instead of carrying around the weight of a grudge.

One writer puts it this way: “Each of us becomes another Michelangelo, for choice is nothing other than the chisel we use to sculpt our life. The chisel doesn’t come free, however, for the price of choice is responsibility. But when we accept and carry out our responsibility, the reward is great. The reward is happiness.”  (Learning to Laugh, Gary McGuire)

Let’s ‘grow up’ in grace. Our Father provided the means for freedom of choice by saving us through the gracious gift of His Son, Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit persistently leads us to life. Now, let us use that freedom to grow into Christians who live worthy of His investment in us.

Here are a couple of thoughts from the Word. Take them with you today. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” (Proverbs 1:7, NIV) “If you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.” (James 1:25, NLT)

___________

He Set Me Free

Once like a bird
In prison I dwelt
No freedom
From my sorrow I felt
But Jesus came
And listened to me
And glory to God
He set me free

He set me free
Yes He set me free
And He broke the bonds
Of prison for me
I’m glory bound
My Jesus to see
For glory to God
He set me free

Now I am climbing
Higher each day
Darkness of night
Has drifted away
My feet are planted
On higher ground
And glory to God
I’m homeward bound

Good-bye to sin
And things that confound
Naught of the world
Shall turn me around
Daily I’m working
I’m praying too
And glory to God
I’m going thru

Albert E. Brumley © 1939. Renewed 1967 Bridge Building Music, Inc. (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc.)

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You gave them the keys

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On my front door is a little device into which I enter a code to unlock the door. My family and a few of my friends know the code. It is implied that they are welcome to just ‘’walk in” anytime. They do not need an invitation. I truly enjoy extending hospitality, but not everyone I know gets the code to the front door.

In the passage we are reading this morning, Paul reminds us not to give the code to the front door of our heart to just everybody! “Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? What harmony can there be between Christ and the devil? How can a believer be a partner with an unbeliever? And what union can there be between God’s temple and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God said: “I will live in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (2 Corinthians 6:14-16, NLT)

Christians are to be loving and accepting of others, regardless of their status, their beliefs, even their moral choices. We model our lives after Jesus who spent time with the outcasts and received condemnation for it. The Pharisees scathingly accused Him of being a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.”  He wore the label even insisting that He came to save those who were spiritually sick, that it was those most in spiritual distress that received His message of the Kingdom.

However, the people to whom Jesus opened His heart, those with whom He prayed and shared the deepest parts of Himself, were His disciples. Even within the 12, there 3 who were an inner circle; Peter, James, and John.  These men were included in His sorrows, witnessed the raising of a dead girl, and joined Him at the Transfiguration.

We must be loving but wise, recognizing the importance of our own inner circle, the people who know our failures and successes, who know the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’ of our lives, who share our faith and love. The Word tells us that those we invite into that place in our lives must love God.  It is not that we are superior to anyone else. We want those who have the code to be able to share the weight of serving God, to  pull in the same direction as we do, to be those who know and speak ‘truth’ into our lives.

Who has the code?
Who is on your team?
Are they people who love God as you do?
Will they stand with you – when you fail as much as when you win?
Is theirs a heart full of the Spirit?

Here is a word from the Word.  May it remind all of us to strengthen the ties with those who are in our inner circle.  Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, NLT)

________

Friends

(a classic!)

Packing up the dreams God planted
In the fertile soil of you
Can’t believe the hopes He’s granted
Means a chapter in your life is through

 But we’ll keep you close as always
It won’t even seem you’ve gone
‘Cause our hearts in big and small ways
Will keep the love that keeps us strong

 And friends are friends forever
If the Lord’s the Lord of them
And a friend will not say never
‘Cause the welcome will not end
Though it’s hard to let you go\
In the Father’s hands we know
That a lifetime’s not too long
To live as friends

 With the faith and love God’s given
Springing from the hope we know
We will pray the joy you’ll live in
Is the strength that now you show

 No a lifetime’s not too long to live as friends

Deborah D. Smith | Michael W. Smith

© 1982 Meadowgreen Music Company (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

 

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Building a connection

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Staying connected!
  It is one of the things that I most appreciate about the technology that fills my life. My phone signals the arrival of text messages dozens of times each day; everything from the mundane, “Won’t be home ‘til 6”  to the urgent, “Call me, it’s an emergency!”  I can be reached anywhere, anytime, with that amazing little device that I carry everywhere. Facebook keeps me aware of what’s happening to my friends and relatives scattered around the country.  (Yes, it also keeps me aware of a lot of nonsense, too, but I’ll wade through the political rants and the silly memes to enjoy the smiles, family pictures, and personal updates.)  Yes, I like being connected in this way.

There is a responsibility that comes with having all those connections. Paul says that a priority for me, and all Christians, is to work at connecting people to their Creator. “Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men.  … If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5: 11,17-18, NIV)  We love and respect our Father, gaining from Him the gift of eternal life through Jesus. Because we are changed, inside out, to love, to serve, to hope;  we want others to know Him, too.

How do we offer Jesus’ love to our world?

Yesterday I had a brief conversation with some teens who complained about a friend who was so ‘religious.’  Her “God-talk” was counter-productive, obscuring the offer of God’s love with what they saw as her personal agenda to ‘make some converts.’  Christians must be bold in faith, to be sure, but also take care that we do not come off as trying to ‘sell’ Jesus.

The Gospel needs a context. That is why Paul says that we are a ‘new creation.’  If our lives are not marked with a genuine love for others, if Christ Jesus is not known by us in a way that is producing real and observable change, we are mostly wasting our breath when we ‘preach.’  We cannot live with hate and division, behind walls that cut us off from those with whom we differ, and then preach the good news that Jesus brings people together in the family of God with authenticity.

The aim of our work at presenting Jesus to others is not just to get them to make a ‘decision.’ We are to make ‘disciples.’ The Church, in my opinion, too often is content with having a person say the right words, making a verbal acknowledgement of Jesus and ‘accepting Him into their heart.’  The ‘sinner’s prayer’ has become something of a sacrament to many of us. That’s a start, but our goal is not just to lead someone in a brief prayer of decision. We want to help them form deep faith, to make a real connection with God, and begin to experience the change of heart and mind that the Spirit desires.  Discipleship may begin with a prayer, but it continues for life, one choice after another as a person grows in grace and faith!

Here is a pointed question for us:
Does my life create a hunger and thirst for God in those with whom I am connected?
Asked another way:  Is my Christianity authentic, my love for God and others real, my heart surrendered to God, and my hope on things eternal?

Nothing in life compares to the joy of seeing a person who does not know the Lord come to faith, become a disciple. It is something like becoming a parent. When my children were born all those years ago, the delight was incomparable. When someone is born into the family of God, there is a similar reaction in me. How about you?

Here is a word from the Word.  I pray it helps us all to get our priorities aligned with the desire of our God. “For God wanted them to know that the riches and glory of Christ are for you Gentiles, too. And this is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory. So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ.” (Colossians 1:27-28, NLT)

Abba, help me to be connected to You,
Intimately, deeply, and honestly.
As the Holy Spirit works in me to lead me to love,
to help me to serve without self-interest, and to
hope in things eternal,
I pray that the Goodness of Jesus will be evident.
Let Your radiance shining through me, invite those who live around me,
to love and trust You.

Amen.

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Prepping for Exams

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Long ago, when in college, I had friends who showed up in class who obviously had not slept much the night before.  They were up into the small hours of morning ‘cramming,’ trying to absorb weeks of material in preparation for an exam to be given that day. Cramming was not my style. I preferred to pay attention in class and read my the material as it was assigned. I don’t recall ever spending an entire night before an exam trying to stuff information into my brain. My exam prep was a review to refresh what I had already learned.  I still generally prefer methodical preparation over last minute scrambling to meet a deadline, a plodder by nature, I suppose.

Paul urged maturity of faith for the Corinthian Christians who were notorious for their impulsiveness, their abuse of spiritual gifts, and their love of personalities. He tells them about the promise of their immortality in Christ, that He opened Heaven to them by His death and Resurrection. “Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:6-10, NIV)

When faith informs us in our day to day experience, life and death lose their fearfulness! “Always confident,” Paul says.  Twice we see him affirm that our boldness to engage life, to deal with the unexpected that comes our way, grows out of our understanding that there is more going on than meets the eye, that we are on a road that leads to home.  This assurance led Paul to say that he was, in fact, eager to be ‘home with the Lord.’  Christians sometimes repeat this thought, but then when I see the choices they are making, I wonder if they really grasp what they are saying? The ‘rest of the story,’ so to speak, is that there is an exam waiting for each one of us.

Knowing that we have an eternal life, a prepared place in God’s house, gives us great confidence.  It is not just a promise for the future, however.  This hope, if firmly believed, will cause us to make significant changes in the choices we make about the things we do and say. Why?  Because we know that each one of us will stand before Jesus for exams!

Our salvation is a gift, let’s not forget that. The question asked at the ‘judgment seat’ of which this passage speaks is not about whether we ‘make it in’ or not. If there were any doubt about our adoption into the family of God, how could we live with the confidence of which Paul writes? Christ has written a ‘new covenant’ in His blood, which we celebrate in Communion.  We trust in His promise. But, knowing that He will ask about how we used the gifts of the Spirit invested in us, knowing that our lives will be an open book before Him, should be a powerful incentive to make the will and ways of our Father priority in life – now.

Why live at a distance from the Savior, taken up with the temporal things of life as if they were what really mattered?  Too many do and then, when years advance, they try to cram for the exam, attempting to correct the neglect of earlier decades. That is impossible. Today’s opportunities are exactly that – of today!  The past is over and done, and cannot be reclaimed.  The future is not ours yet, but we have this day.  The counsel of the Word is that we ought to “Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity.” (Colossians 4:5, NLT)

As you read this word from the Word, ask the Lord for a faithful, steady heart, a willingness to do what He asks today.  Jesus said that we could ‘lay up treasure in Heaven,’ and, by His grace, let’s do it. “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.” (1 Corinthians 3:11-15, NIV)

No cramming for us as we near the test. Instead, let’s live with the holy confidence that comes from a faithful life, well-lived – for the glory of God.

____________

Take My Life
(a prayer in song, a reworking of the beautiful hymn)

Take my life and let it be consecrated
Lord to Thee
Take my moments and my days
Let them flow in ceaseless praise
Take my hands and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love
Take my feet and let them be
Swift and beautiful for Thee

 Take my voice and let me sing
Always only for my King
Take my lips and let them be
Filled with messages from Thee
Take my silver and my gold
Not a mite would I withhold
Take my intellect and use
Ev’ry power as You choose 

Here am I all of me
Take my life it’s all for Thee

 Take my will and make it Thine
It shall be no longer mine
Take my heart it is Thine own
It shall be Thy royal throne
Take my love my Lord I pour
At Your feet its treasure store
Take myself and I will be
Ever only all for Thee

Chris Tomlin | Frances Ridley Havergal | Henri Abraham Cesar Malan | Louie Giglio
© 2003 sixsteps Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

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

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The Last Unmentionable

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Mention death and watch the reactions – fear, uneasiness, discomfort, even shock. Acknowledging that death is inevitable is the last unmentionable, it seems. American Baby Boomers (yes, my generation) are living longer due to medical intervention.  The percentage of Americans over the age of 75 has quadrupled over the last century. This creates a false expectation of immortality makes the arrival of death, even to those who are far advanced in years, an intrusion, a surprise.

“Dying well” is seldom talked about, as if even the thought that life on the earth must end may hasten the day of our demise.  One researcher discovered that nearly a third of adults who have reached the age of 60 have not considered a plan for medical treatment in the event of terminal illness. An even larger percentage have not prepared a will.

Wishing to die is basically unhealthy, we know that! But, ignoring death is folly, too. The Psalmist prayed, “Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.”   Without an awareness of the march of time to an ending point of this earthly life, we will likely waste too many days and too much of our resources on things that lack real value. We will leave disputes unsettled, love unspoken, and sacrifice deferred.

There was a time when thoughtful people kept a skull as a memento mori  (Latin for “Remember death”) at their desk. Morbid? No. They were to be a reminder for the living that they should live with an awareness of their mortality so that they would arrive at that moment prepared. What a contrast to our way of life. We sanitize death and worship youth. The dying are removed (in many cases) from our homes, placed in the care of medical professionals.  We move quickly through rituals of death and grieving  to resume ‘life.

Christians live with hope in the face of death.  St. Paul insists that the Resurrection of Christ is the evidence that the grave is not the end of existence. Jesus said that He is the Resurrection and the Life for those who trust Him.  So, friend, are you ready to die?  No as in “I want to die today,” but as in “I have loved, I have forgiven, I have settled debts, I have lived to create a legacy.”

The word from the Word is lengthy, but encouraging, at least for me. (smile)  Read the inspired text with a prayer that the Spirit will set hope in your heart making it possible for you to grapple with that moment that will certainly arrive.

“Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.

Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:1-7, NIV)

What do you need to do today to prepare?

____________

Farther Along

Tempted and tried we’re oft made to wonder
Why it should be thus all the day long
While there are others living about us
Never molested tho in the wrong

Farther along we’ll know all about it
Farther along we’ll understand why
Cheer up my brother live in the sunshine
We’ll understand it all by and by

When death has come and taken our loved ones
It leaves our home so lonely and drear
Then do we wonder why others prosper
Living so wicked year after year

Faithful till death said our loving Master
A few more days to labor and wait
Toils of the road will then seem as nothing
As we sweep thru the beautiful gate

When we see Jesus coming in glory
When He comes from His home in the sky
Then we shall meet Him in that bright mansion
We’ll understand it all by and by

Jesse Randal Baxter Jr. | W. B. Stevens © 1937 Bridge Building Music, Inc. (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc.)

CCLI License # 810055

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