“Soft Eyes”

Last week I pulled a book off of my shelf, The Different Drum, authored by M. Scott Peck in 1986.  It is about “community making and peace.”  What an appropriate place to spend time musing in 2021.  Our nation is divided – seemingly with no middle ground.  A person is either MSNBC or FOXNEWS, right or left, progressive or conservative, good or bad – what a list we make. Even when we try to get past our labels and identification,  we find out just how wide the gap is when we stumble into a conversation that turns ugly in a moment over a few misplaced words that reveal some view that is ‘unacceptable’ to another.

Peck invites us to replace our hard eyes with ‘soft eyes.’  Instead of seeing the surface of another person, soft eyes see the ‘suffering and courage and brokenness and deeper dignity underneath … because we choose to respect our humanity.’  When I read those words I stopped and thought about that and my own hardness. 

Last week, on my way to the office, I stopped behind a school bus.  One minute became two, two stretched on … a line of cars forming in both lanes. “Why can’t these parents get their act together and have their child ready for the bus?” I fumed.  Then the front door opened and I saw a woman struggling to get a teenage girl with obvious challenges to that waiting bus. The girl would take a step and flop down. The woman would get her up and move a few feet only to have the same thing repeat. I felt true shame at my harsh judgment and prayed for that girl who had to go to a place she did not want to go and for that woman whose daily care for the girl’s special needs is unending and probably often very difficult. “God,” I prayed, “Help me to learn patience, to extend love more quickly.”

This ‘cancel culture’ in which we live sees the acts of broken people, some of which are terrible and sinful, and turns the person into a monster. “How could he do that? What is wrong with that organization?”  Hard eyes judge, not just actions and behavior, but whole people as unworthy, garbage to be discarded. People do some awful things, make some terrible choices, even inflict pain on others.  You may be ready to say, “Not me. I make some mistakes, but I’m really basically good.”  No, you are not. Nor am I! 

The stark truth is much less attractive because it demands we see our own sin first, that we acknowledge that “all have fallen short of the glory of God’ in life. Yes, all of us are prone to failure, make poor choices, and are sinners in need of redemption.  “Soft eyes” give us the kind of spirit that create  pathways to restoration through confession. “Soft eyes” make vulnerability possible. Who dares open their heart about some place of failure in life in our time?  Who would risk being vulnerable? No one!  Because to do those things brings instant condemnation, the end of relationships, and more pain. So, we dig in and defend, even when our position is indefensible.

The Church should be a community with ‘soft eyes,’ able to see the whole person and the context of their sin and failure.  We must work at becoming a safe place to be open, to wrestle with life’s demons, and to admit “I hope for change while I admit that I am not yet all that I ought to be in Christ Jesus.”  Reflecting on this thought I recall Paul’s words to the Ephesians, written while he was a prisoner, judged a failure by many. The truth was that he was a prisoner of the LORD, so radically committed to Christ, that he was willing to risk his very freedom. To Christians he writes this plea- “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2, NIV)

This appeal is not to fake community that pretends not to see failure, that ignores sin, that is incapable of dealing with evil. That is cheap relationship, superficial, and without the healing power that is possible through Christ. Real communities of Christians are honest, but not cruel, seek change in behavior while preserving dignity, because they are radically committed to twin values – love and truth.

Those kinds of churches are rare in our time!  The average Christian congregation knows about as much about authentic community as I know about nuclear physics.  In this ignorance, our high calling to be a place of reconciliation and restoration is lost and we become clubs of conformity, carefully noting who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’ by our ‘community’ standards.

When we are committed to Christ first, not to our organization, not to our creed, but to HIM we become people who know how to love deeply and cling to truth in the same moment.  Love holds onto the person. Truth holds onto principle. Both look to the power of the Spirit to produce authentic transformation.  That change does not generally happen in a day or a week or even a month! It requires patience and a quality of love that “never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” (1 Corinthians 13:7, NLT)

The model of Alcoholics Anonymous is admirable in this regard. That person who is a slave to alcohol does not dress up, clean up, and try to look ‘all better’ before going to a meeting. He shows up and his first admission is “I’m an alcoholic.”  The admission is not where he desires to remain, but it is basic to moving to the next steps of recovery.  But, the group and the stories told in every meeting are a reminder that recovery is ongoing, that he is just one drink away from losing it all.  AA does not ask you what your net worth is, where you went to school, or if you bring some great skill set to the group. It invites people to sit together to create a community of transformation. And, where the model is practiced well, it works!  Anniversaries of sobriety are celebrated and arms of encouragement are offering to those who fell down – in the same meeting.

Christian, we must become a new community of Jesus’ people who refuse to throw others out, who will not withhold our love from those whose choices are ugly.  People matter. He died for us ‘while we were still sinners.’  Will we ‘die’ to our own comfort and social acceptability to become a place where the bruised and broken can discover the ongoing transformation of the Spirit, a place of reconciliation of people to one another and to God? Lord God, give us ‘soft eyes’ that see ourselves and others as YOU do.

Here is a word from the Word.
“If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr,
but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere.
So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do,
I’m bankrupt without love
.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,

Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled. ” (1 Corinthians 13:3-10, The Message)

______________

How Deep The Father’s Love For Us

(Selah sings – let this beautiful song lead you to worship today.)

How deep the Father’s love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure

How great the pain of searing loss
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory

Behold the Man upon a cross
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers

It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished

I will not boast in anything
No gifts no pow’r no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection

Why should I gain from His reward
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

Stuart Townend © 1995 Thankyou Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

Jesus, do you know Him?

Yesterday my sermon asked “Who Is Jesus?”  It is a simple and complex question at the same time.  He was a Jew who lived 2000 years ago whose teaching about God’s love and how we live with one another is compelling. He is also the God-Man, the uniquely perfect Person who was “God, in flesh,” who came to save the world (and me!) from judgment and destruction.  Have you thought about who Jesus is in your life?  Have you wrestled with His claim to be “the Way, the Truth, the Life?”

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John tell us His story. Their accounts show us a Man who is also God, who lived – and died – and rose again – in a dusty out of the way place called Palestine, during a time when the Romans ruled. His timeless story has compelled people from every era, in every life situation – from primitive cultures in the Amazonian jungles to sophisticates in luxury Manhattan apartments – to accept God’s offer of grace and salvation. His sacrificial love displayed in His willingness to die on the Cross is a template for a life of service. Do you know Jesus?

When we read those ancient Gospels something amazing can happen. We turn to Him and we discover He is not a relic of the past, but a Friend for the present. He brings the good news of the love of God into our lives and His message is just as relevant in 2021 as it was in any past era.

Oh yes, it is a worthy effort for Christians to re-examine their understanding of the Gospel.  Our ideas about Jesus get stirred into the revelation of the Truth about Him, corrupting the wonderfully timeless message. Yes, we desire to know Him in a way that is contemporary and fresh but there is no need to re-write the Bible or to do a “Jesus make over” that robs Him of His majesty and message.

Jesus is a controversial and shocking Individual. He said outrageous things, made claims that are stupendous! He provokes and prods, demanding our attention and devotion. We don’t do Him or the Gospel a service by trying to round off the edges. He meant to challenge the status quo. He meant to call us to change, to tell us that there is a Way back to the favor of our Father through Him.

In his book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis writes this:
    “I am trying here to prevent anyone from saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him [Jesus Christ]: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with a man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice.

    Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse ….

   You can shut him up for fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that option open to us. He did not intend to.”

Paul was inspired to tell us that “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.” (Colossians 2:9-10, NIV)  There it is, the key fact, Jesus is the God-Man, God Incarnate, Creator become part of His Creation, so that we can know the rich, full life for which God made us. Do you know Him?

Here’s a word from the Word. For many it is likely familiar. You might be tempted to run through it… but don’t! Ponder it, meditate on it, believe it – and the testimony it makes about Him. “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:10-14, NKJV)

Bow yourself humbly before Him. Confess Him Lord. Receive Life!

____________

There’s Something About That Name

Jesus Jesus Jesus
There’s just something about that name
Master Savior Jesus
Like a fragrance after the rain

Jesus Jesus Jesus
Let all heaven and earth proclaim
Kings and kingdoms may all pass away
But there’s something about that name

Gloria Gaither | William J. Gaither © 1970 William J. Gaither, Inc. (Admin. by Gaither Copyright Management)

CCLI License # 810055

The truth, you say?

One of the real complications in dealing with the COVID pandemic is knowing who and what to believe about it.  With confidence in government at a low point, early on many Americans rejected guidelines. Even the simple choice about wearing masks has turned, for millions, into a way to make a statement about their politics.  In restricting association and commerce in an effort to limit the spread of the contagion, the government ran head-long into an American ideal of freedom.

Because the ‘truth’ was suspect, millions of Americans refused compliance with recommendations while others chose to do costly and largely unnecessary things. Our inability to agree about what is true meant that thousands died who might have lived and our economy has suffered a heavy blow.  A year into this mess and many of us are still trying to figure out what is true!

Truth is freedom. Knowing what is true – that can be the hard part, right?  Remember Pilate’s famed question of Jesus as He stood before that governor? When asked Who He was and what His mission was, Jesus told him that He was sent into the world to “testify to the truth.” Pilate cynically asked, “What is truth?” (John 18:37)

Some Christians choose to deal with the vagaries of life by adopting a kind of faith that stakes out an accepted position on all things. “We have a rule for that,” they insist. Often a proof text or two from the Bible is sufficient for to establish the ‘truth.’  Their world is a place of right and wrong, black and white, period; end of discussion.

While there is some comfort found in assuming ‘we know the truth, the whole truth,’ eventually life will bring some experience, some encounter that does not fit neatly into the boxes. What then?   Too often instead of a gentle and gracious conversation that allows understanding to ripen, those who claim to know the truth lecture the questioning person to “just trust God!”  That line, I learned a long time ago, often means ‘we don’t know how to answer that and stick with our system of truth so we don’t talk about it.’

Christians can be people, indeed they should be, of strong convictions. I am totally committed to the reality of a personal God, Who made Himself known in Jesus Christ. I am thoroughly convinced that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior of the world, the ‘Way, the Truth, and the Life.’  I believe that the Holy Spirit is alive in me and all Christians, leading us to know and do the will of God.  I do not waver in my conviction that life is a sacred gift, that love is our highest calling, that eternity awaits me when this sojourn on the planet comes to an end. Jesus Christ is the true North of my life.

And then there are those ‘other questions.’  Yes, there are plenty things that I will readily admit that I do not completely understand. I am not a blank slate without opinions but I am prepared to have a conversation that is honest and aimed at increasing knowledge, not winning an argument!  One of the most liberating things I have discovered in dealing with Truth is that being a ‘good Christian’ does not require me to have an answer for all questions.  It is perfectly acceptable to say –  “I do not know.”  Great faith includes living with mystery. 

A God that I can squeeze into all of my preconceptions is too small, too tame for the real world. Paul declares – “Oh, what a wonderful God we have! How great are his riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his methods! For who can know what the Lord is thinking? Who knows enough to be his counselor?” (Romans 11:33-34, NLT)

That admission of my insufficiency is not an excuse for apathy, laziness, or avoidance of hard truth. God invites to know, equipped with the ability to reason and think.  Both science and theology should exist to pursue the same thing:  the Truth!  Both are hindered in the effort when we bring an agenda to our study, having already reached a conclusion and now looking for support for our thoughts.  The discovery of the truth – be it about physical laws of the universe or spiritual laws about pleasing God – brings great benefit to those who align themselves with it. Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32, NIV)

Christian, let’s renew our commitment to be a student of the Scripture, a person who loves God enough to seek to know Him, to know His ways, to live in the truth. Beware of the deception that grows out of a mind nearly closed because of fear or being tradition bound! Jesus’ most ardent enemies were leaders of the people who thought of themselves as protectors of the faith. But their ability to know the truth was corrupted by insistence on maintaining their accepted traditions, which led to their refusal to know the Spirit’s moving.  

One of those leaders did come to Jesus seeking to know God and His ways. I love how Jesus spoke to Nicodemus. “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8, NIV) He cautioned that learned man about concluding that all of God’s ways in the human heart could be reduced to formulas!

Are you pursuing God, letting Him lead where He will? Is your mind and your heart open to Him, loving Him with deep faith?  Here’s Truth to live by today. Meditate on it and take the deep assurance offered by the Word with you into a world full of uncertainty. “When he (the Counselor, the Holy Spirit) comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment . . . he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.” (John 16:8,13-14, NIV)

_______________

Be Thou My Vision

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

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

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

Eleanor Henrietta Hull | Mary Elizabeth Byrne

© Words: Public Domain

Do you know how to fight?

They were two tough men – one who served in the Marines who was still in excellent physical condition at mid-life – the other a guy in his 20’s who worked hard every day with a frame that was solid muscle. They started with arm wrestling at a church picnic. The ‘contest’ became serious when they stood up. Moments later these two men were on the ground fighting. It went on for a few minutes until they got up, shook hands, and laughed in spite of dirt on their clothes, scrapes on their arms, and blood on their faces. They were just ‘having fun.’ I don’t care for that kind of fighting, never have!  If you want to mix it up with me in verbal jousting; I’m good for that. I’ll ‘fight’ with you in the realms of ideas and enjoy the encounter.

The idea of fighting and following Jesus strikes most of us as being incompatible. Christians are to be peaceful people, right? Yes, we are. It is a mistake to think that we have to take on every person or institution with whom we disagree, struggling for power, waging a war of destruction.  We are, however, living at cross purposes with the world in which we live.  Christians are at war, though not with other people. The real enemy is the Evil that is real, that is persistent, that threatens what is of God and good. So, how do we fight that evil?

The Scripture teaches this about the nature of the battle. “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) We do not need to buy guns and bullets to fight for the right! We do not need to build political parties or create bigger blocks of voters to force change in public policy that align with Christian values.

Our fight is for Truth, our weapons are spiritual. With the Truth about life, about God, about ourselves;  we encounter the ‘father of lies’ and his power is neutralized. The transformation starts personally, in me, in you, then moves from us to our sphere of influence. Jesus says this – “You are truly my disciples if you keep obeying my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32, NLT)  

The war that is waged against God and those who love Him centers on selling big lies. Apart from the Spirit’s revealing the truth we believe the ‘natural fact’ that life is about ME, that happiness is found in unrestricted Self-expression, that real wealth is about having more things, that pleasure is largely sensual … and more. In the Creation story, when the devil approached Eve, he offered her an alternative to God’s truth. She believed it as did Adam and you know the rest of the story. He still uses this strategy. Jesus rips away his mask telling us that –  he” has always hated the truth. There is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44, NLT)

Love, self-sacrificial serving, grace, peace – these are the powerful weapons that defeat evil. If we are not ‘in Christ,’ if we have not been made alive by the Holy Spirit, the idea that evil in all it’s terrible power can be defeated with love seems to be quite stupid!  But, it is actually the wisdom of God.  IF you do not ‘get it,’  then go to the Lord in humble prayer and ask Him to give you the mind of Christ.  It is not arrogance nor exclusivity to which I speak. It is receiving, by God’s grace, a new set of eyes that see past the natural world. 

That is why Paul was inspired with these words – “People who aren’t Christians can’t understand these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them because only those who have the Spirit can understand what the Spirit means. We who have the Spirit understand these things, but others can’t understand us at all. How could they? For, “Who can know what the Lord is thinking? Who can give him counsel?” But we can understand these things, for we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:14-16, NLT)

Jesus powerfully reveals the path of resistance to evil for each of us. “You have heard that the law of Moses says, ‘If an eye is injured, injure the eye of the person who did it. If a tooth gets knocked out, knock out the tooth of the person who did it.’ But I say, don’t resist an evil person! If you are slapped on the right cheek, turn the other, too. If you are ordered to court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow.” (Matthew 5:38-42, NLT)  

That’s God’s wisdom!  Christians do not fight with ever escalating armed encounters. We live in the Truth, secure in the love of God, convinced of eternity, and lead others to the Light. It sounds simple but I assure you it is not. The love is costly. It took Jesus to the Cross!

Feeling like you are under siege in our world? Me, too.  Sin abounds. Evil seems to be winning. But, I have read the whole Book and I know the end of the story. God wins and Heaven awaits the faithful.

Here is a word from the Word. John, in the Revelation, heard Jesus say, “Do not seal up the prophetic words you have written, for the time is near. Let the one who is doing wrong continue to do wrong; the one who is vile, continue to be vile; the one who is good, continue to do good; and the one who is holy, continue in holiness.”

“See, I am coming soon, and my reward is with me, to repay all according to their deeds. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” Blessed are those who wash their robes so they can enter through the gates of the city and eat the fruit from the tree of life.” (Revelation 22:10-15, NLT)

Steady on, in faith, hope, and love – ‘and the greatest of these is love.’

____________

In Christ Alone

In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light my strength my song
This Cornerstone this solid Ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love what depths of peace
When fears are stilled when strivings cease
My Comforter my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand

In Christ alone who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless babe
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones He came to save
Till on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live

There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave He rose again
And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ

No guilt in life no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
Till He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand

Keith Getty | Stuart Townend © 2001 Thankyou Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

New wine, new wineskins

The speaker in the video was addressing change in the Church, speaking about leadership somewhat critically. About 10 minutes in I turned the presentation off, surprised at my reaction. I felt defensive, even angry.  The why of that response would not leave my thoughts for the rest of the evening. In my reflection I began to understand that part of what was going in somewhere deep inside of me was a resistance to changes in the world that were beyond my control.

Keeping up with change is hard for many people and perhaps even more difficult for those of us who are in the last quarter of life! Intellectually I know that everything must change or die, that each generation questions the previous generation, sorting through values, methods, ideas – discarding some, building on others, cherishing a few! 

So what does that have to do with our walk with Jesus?  Much in every way, my friend.

Jesus faced intense opposition when He spoke of His Kingdom to come! The Jews cherished their traditions and knew that His message would bring an end to the world they knew. They went beyond rejecting His message. They hated Him, seeking His death. He explained His work with this parable. “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:16-17, NIV)  What did it mean?

Over several centuries Judaism had built an elaborate ritual structure, a way of life that was defined by 613 rules that interpreted the Law of Moses for the Jewish people with the aim of making them acceptable to God.  Jesus declared that He had come to fulfill that aim of making a holy people, but in a new way, built on the old patterns of holy lives but in a new structure. The ‘new wine’ of the Gospel and Spirit would not fit inside the rules, nor even within the Jewish people. God’s invitation was to be offered to the whole world. It was a radical message!

God would build the Church to declare His praise and to be the messenger of His desire to reconcile humanity to Himself. The moment of change was decisive; at the crucifixion when the Temple veil ripped in two; sealed by the Resurrected Lord’s appearance on that first Easter morning! But, conflict dogged the church for nearly a century when the ritual laws of the Jews were replaced with the glorious Gospel of the Crucified Lamb of God, Savior of the World.

I am praying for the renewal of God’s Church. Question is, am I ready to follow the Spirit’s lead into the future? It is a question for each one of who seriously wants to know the Lord. Will we allow God to pour out His Spirit into our hearts made new, or will we try to force Him to use old ways and forms with which we are comfortable? Will we adapt gladly and readily to new methods, allowing structures and forms created over many years to be changed?

The Gospel does not change. Christ’s gift of salvation is fixed in His gift of grace purchased at the expense of His death. The hope of eternal life has been, is, and will always be guaranteed by the Resurrection. But, how we know Jesus, the ways in which we worship and serve Him will surely change, again, as they have through the centuries since He walked on this earth.

Each of us will grow, adapt, and learn to love and follow Him in different ways throughout our lives. We must let go of the past that holds us captive to regret, celebrate former glories without trying to recapture them, and anticipate, with great faith, that our eternal God will refresh our relationship with Jesus Christ, “the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8, NIV)

Here is a word from the Word. “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19, NIV)  O Lord, settle our hearts in You, lead us by Your Spirit to make Your Name glorious.
_______________

Glorious Day

I was buried beneath my shame
Who could carry that kind of weight
It was my tomb ’til I met You

I was breathing but not alive
All my failures I tried to hide
It was my tomb ’til I met You

You called my name (and)
I ran out of that grave
Out of the darkness into Your glorious day
(repeat)

Now Your mercy has saved my soul
Now Your freedom is all that I know
The old made new
Jesus when I met You

You called my name (and)
I ran out of that grave
Out of the darkness into Your glorious day
(repeat)

I needed rescue my sin was heavy
But chains break at the weight of Your glory
I needed shelter I was an orphan
Now You call me a citizen of Heaven
When I was broken You were my healing
Now Your love is the air that I’m breathing
I have a future my eyes are open

Jason Ingram | Jonathan Smith | Kristian Stanfill | Sean Curran

© 2017 Kristian Stanfill Publishing Designee (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

sixsteps Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

Given up on God?

Are you trusting God, praying in hope, expecting that He will be your Peace and Provider today?  Our faith can get battered by life. We can become pressed by problems, disillusioned in disappointment. There is no sin in admitting that the flame of faith has become just a glowing ember in your heart.

Many Christians are struggling to make sense of life. The world has gone sideways. Much of what we thought unshakeable has been revealed to be without substance.  Death has touched too many families; a half million lost to COVID according to government statistics. Regardless of our brave words, many wonder if the virus will find a way to come their way.

So, let me ask again, In these challenging times, is faith alive in you?
I remind you today that faith is NOT passive. Yes, it is a gift of God.
Our faith is also a choice.
Our daily decisions play a part in keeping our faith healthy.

What should we do?

God invites us to worship Him daily.  We turn our thoughts, our heart, our full attention to Him. This simple act can be incredibly difficult in the middle of phone notifications, kid’s problems, work pressure, and multiple distractions that are so much of life.  Making an appointment with God that is a first-line priority, a time in which we close out the rest of the world, even if to sit in silence, is an act of declaring His worth.

God gives us His Word. IF we will open the Scripture, feeding our souls on the Truth there, faith grows. Many tell me that understanding the Bible is difficult. It can be, but there are plenty of passages in the Psalms, the Gospels, the letters of Paul that are quite accessible to any one with an open heart. And there are a hundred ‘helps’ that will bring make the holy Word meaningful. The foundation of faith is the truth of the Word.  

God gives us the Church, the gathering of Believers, to nurture our faith.  When we find a local congregation that reverences His Presence, that loves His Word, faith is fed by the fellowship. Do find solid encouragement among Believers?  It is part of keeping faith strong.

God asks us personally to walk it out, to choose to trust when life is dark. Psalm 37 is one of my favorite ‘songs.’  The leading words are active ones that ask a response in me. “Trust, delight, commit, be still, wait patiently.”  That is sometimes difficult when we want to scream, “Enough, already, Lord!”  Will we keep on, steady in those choices? “The salvation of the righteous comes from the LORD; he is their stronghold in time of trouble.” (Psalm 37:39, NIV)

My reading today took me to a story from a time of hardship in Israel. Assyrian invaders had surrounded the city, cutting off food, causing extreme famine. The story includes awful atrocities. God’s man, that preacher Elisha, full of the Holy Spirit, told the king’s messengers of pending relief.  “Elisha said, “Hear the word of the LORD. This is what the LORD says: About this time tomorrow, a (quart) of flour will sell for a shekel and two (quarts) of barley for a shekel at the gate of Samaria.” The officer on whose arm the king was leaning said to the man of God, “Look, even if the LORD should open the floodgates of the heavens, could this happen?” “You will see it with your own eyes,” answered Elisha, “but you will not eat any of it!” (2 Kings 7:1-3, NIV)  In the skepticism of that officer, I see a failure of faith that is all too common today.

Many Christians only see what is ‘obvious,’ a world in flames. God speaks, declaring His purposes, with promise of His Presence. Will our faith receive His Word or will we join the ranks of skeptics, convinced that even if the LORD should open the floodgates of the heavens no revival is possible for us, for this world.  God asks us to live in hope.  Will we?  Will we worship, feed our mind with His Truth, gather with others of faith, and choose to trust?

The word from the Word comes from Matthew 21, one of Jesus’ kingdom principles. May we receive it with the open heart of faith, prepared to see the acts of God.  “But Jesus was matter-of-fact: “Yes—and if you embrace this kingdom life and don’t doubt God, you’ll not only do minor feats like I did to the fig tree, but also triumph over huge obstacles. This mountain, for instance, you’ll tell, ‘Go jump in the lake,’ and it will jump. Absolutely everything, ranging from small to large, as you make it a part of your believing prayer, gets included as you lay hold of God.”” (Matthew 21:21-22, The Message)  Amen.

________________

Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah

Guide me O Thou great Jehovah
Pilgrim through this barren land
I am weak but Thou art mighty
Hold me with Thy pow’rful hand
Bread of heaven Bread of heaven
Feed me now and ever more
Feed me now and ever more

Open Thou the crystal fountain
Whence the healing stream doth flow
Let the fiery cloudy pillar
Lead me all my journey through
Strong Deliverer strong Deliverer
Be Thou still my strength and shield
Be Thou still my strength and shield

When I tread the verge of Jordan
Bid my anxious fears subside
Death of death and hell’s destruction
Land me safe on Canaan’s side
Songs of praises songs of praises
I will ever give to Thee
I will ever give to Thee

John Hughes | Peter Williams | William Williams © Words: Public Domain

A cheap knockoff?

Many years ago, on a whim, I bought a gold ring that was inset with diamonds for just $19!  “Jerry, I’m shocked that you would trade in stolen goods.”  No, I didn’t.  It was cheap knock-off, obviously not real gold, the ‘diamonds’ were probably chips of glass. From 6 feet away, who could tell? Up close, you didn’t have to be a jeweler to tell it was something less than a quality piece. I wore that ring for while as a daily lesson in spiritual growth, a reminder to be REAL! There are plenty of  imitations in our world. A knockoff is a cheaply made copy of the original. What kind of person are you?

Real people are like authentic gems;  precious. You might be wondering, “Real people? What other kind are there? Fake people?”  In fact, there are plenty of people who live as empty shells, images without substance, hiding the truth about themselves behind titles, tales, suits, and surgeries.  To one degree or another, every one of us deals with the temptation to play a role, to be who we think someone else wants us to be. Alas, there are some who spend an inordinate amount of time and energy working hard to be somebody they are not, in a vain attempt to win the affection of people they don’t even like.

Authenticity is a quality of character that every disciple of Jesus should desire.  We love Him best and find His love richest when we are humble, able to be no more, nor less than the person He created us to be.  Don’t confuse ‘real’ with crude or rude. Some people are obnoxious, saying whatever comes to mind, refusing social grace, and claiming – “I just being real.”  What a mistaken notion of authenticity. Real people love, cry, find joy where they are, admit their mistakes, and love to learn every day.

Jesus reserved his most harsh criticism for some religious people of His time who tried very hard to ‘look better’ than they actually were. He called them out as hypocrites. When He interacted with the Pharisees,  who were experts in looking good while doing bad, He did not spare their feelings“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.” (Matthew 23:23-4, NLT)  “You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too. “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity.” (Matthew 23:26-27, NLT)  Just reading those words we can miss the tone in which He spoke them. He was outraged that they would devalue the things of His Father with a show of piety unmatched by true devotion. We need to make that personal, asking ourselves if we have allowed ourselves to be ‘fake’- better at pretending than being.

Hey, we all are tempted to think something like this, some of the time. ‘If people really knew me, they wouldn’t like me.’  Honestly, that is true sometimes. In our ‘cancel culture’ there will be those who decide your friendship is unwanted if you do not say the words they think you ought to say. There are some who like to focus on the failures of others, regardless of repentance, consigning those mortals to the trash heap of life. Real people, those who are humble and authentic, acknowledge this – “But for the grace of God, there go I!”  They, like their Father, believe in redemption.

Refuse to believe that your  personal worth comes from being some ideal shape, having a pretty face, a sweet place, or a big brain. Nobody is too fat, too thin, too dumb, too ugly, too shy, too tall, too short, too poor, too damaged – to be a precious child of God.  When we accept that, by faith, something happens on the inside that lets us be at home in his own skin. It’s great to be around that kind of authenticity.

Have you convinced yourself that you need to be ‘just like _____________’ (you fill the name of someone you admire) in order to be valuable to God. Wrong. The Bible is clear that you are a person God made to fill a specific place in this world. Nobody can be you and you cannot successfully become somebody else! If we refuse His gifts and callings, and choose to pretend, to fake it; we sin against Him.  When we deal with the hurt, pain, failure, and disobedience not by covering it up, but rather by owning it and taking it to the Cross, the Christ who forgives also restores hope, and gives healing. There is no greater source of security than knowing we are God’s beloved, with a divine purpose to fulfill right where we are!

On this Monday morning, let God love you to reality. He knows the ‘real’ you.
Got some sins dogging you? Confess them without excuse. He always forgives.
Have some area of deep insecurity about yourself? Pray about it, and talk it over with a trusted friend. You will gain freedom. 
Hiding your light, insisting that your ‘gifts’ are something less than those of another? Stop that and thank God for giving you the opportunities that come your way today.

Here is a word from the Word. “But God made our bodies with many parts, and he has put each part just where he wants it. What a strange thing a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.” In fact, some of the parts that seem weakest and least important are really the most necessary. And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect from the eyes of others those parts that should not be seen, while other parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together in such a way that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity.” (1 Corinthians 12:18-24, NLT)

Real is a beautiful thing – truly!

_______________

Who You Say I Am

Who am I that the highest King
Would welcome me
I was lost but He brought me in
Oh His love for me
Oh His love for me

Who the Son sets free
Oh is free indeed
I’m a child of God
Yes I am

Free at last
He has ransomed me
His grace runs deep
While I was a slave to sin
Jesus died for me
Yes He died for me

In my Father’s house
There’s a place for me
I’m a child of God
Yes I am

I am chosen not forsaken
I am who You say I am
You are for me not against me
I am who You say I am

(Oh) (Yes) I am who You say I am

Ben Fielding | Reuben Morgan © 2017 Hillsong Music Publishing Australia (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

Like a piece of burnt toast?

It is as subtle as a developing cancer and every bit as deadly if left untreated. It grows in the soul, feeding on good intentions and high goals that are misfocused. I am talking about ‘burn out.’ Is your life about as appealing as a piece of burnt toast?  If you hate life, feel exhausted, don’t want to get out bed, are slipping in your performance at work, have trouble sleeping, are finding yourself in more arguments, and are not focused;  you may want to have a conversation with someone about making some changes in the way you live. Burnout generally results from stress and stress levels are way up since the pandemic started. Burnt out people have allowed themselves to be overwhelmed by life’s responsibilities.

Burnout is not indicated when we have a few bad days in a row. Everybody has those times when it feels like nothing is working, when life’s demands overload the schedule, when they arrive at the end of day exhausted. Burnout is different!  A person who is suffering this way starts the day exhausted, week after week. She may drive herself to work, but productivity is diminished.  A burnt out person has no motivation to excellence, has lost any joy in life to duty.

So, if you’re saying, “Jerry, that’s me! Want can I do?” 
First of all, don’t quit your job. That might sound like a fix, and it might even feel good to hand in your keys … for a few days, but burn out is more about HOW we react to life than it is about life itself.  We can work at high levels of productivity without burning out.

1. As a Christian, we must accept the Word’s principle of breaking up our work schedule with times of rest. In the Old Testament, the people of God were instructed to observe the 7th day of the week as one of rest. The law of the Sabbath was important. It followed the Creation story of God’s own ‘rest.’  Genesis says, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning-the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” (Genesis 1:31 -2:3, NIV) 

We must discipline ourselves to set aside the constant clamor of responsibility at least one day out of the week.  Many of us are ruled by the notifications on our smartphones, by laptop computers that let us bring ‘the office’ into our living room, by work expectations that we will be ‘available’ at any hour of the day.  It can be difficult to remind ourselves that the world will not stop if we turn off the work email at 6 pm! We might even be passed over for a promotion if we insist on honoring God with a true priority of rest. But … we will be emotionally and spiritually healthier.

2. Christians who adopt a standard of ‘perfection’ put themselves at a much higher risk of burnout.  The call of Christ to a holy life of devotion is a worthy one and in the memorable words of Oswald Chamber’s devotional book, requires ‘my utmost for His highest.’   IF we turn knowing and serving Jesus into keeping measure of hours spent in prayer, chapters read in our Bible, Sundays spent in church, or time invested in ministry work any ‘joy of the Lord’ that could renew us will be lost in the statistics.  The sweet relationship of a loving God will be replaced with the rigorous religion that exhausts us.  Who intends to become one of those drudges who occupy church pews, joyless, hanging on to God knows what, to stay out of Hell? 

Of course Christians will be diligent in the spiritual disciplines, but for the purpose of knowing God, not gaining approval of others or even to try to find some inner sense of worth. They are a means not an end. Jesus wants us to know Him even as we serve Him.

3. God calls us out of isolation and into His Church, into loving relationships. If you ‘don’t have time’ for relationships, something is wrong with the way you understand life itself.  Having even 2 or 3 real friends with whom we can be ourselves, who have permission to ‘call us out’ when needed, who we know we can call at 2 am if needed, are a primary defense against burnout! When you invest a couple of hours at a table with people who know you, who listen to your stories, who make you laugh, and you will feel renewed. Share a passion for some project with 3 or 4 other like-minded Christians and you will multiply your effectiveness and find joy in the journey!  Solomon should have taken his own advice when he wrote: “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 4:12, NLT)

Let’s learn how to pursue our God with real love, with a diligent desire for excellence, observing days of rest, receiving His grace for our imperfections, and reflecting on the journey in the company of friends.  Let’s not miss out on Jesus’ promise that through Him we can know ‘life to the full,’ because we are living in a pressure filled environment that controls us. 

Meditate on this word from the Word and see what the Spirit is saying to you today.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, NIV) 

Eugene Peterson offers this commentary on that passage – “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me-watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message)

Now that sounds like a life I want to live.
How about you?

_________________

Goodness Of God

(CeCe Winans reminds us of His love)

I love You Lord
Oh Your mercy never fails me
All my days
I’ve been held in Your hands
From the moment that I wake up
Until I lay my head
I will sing of the goodness of God

All my life You have been faithful
All my life You have been so so good
With every breath that I am able
I will sing of the goodness of God

I love Your voice
You have led me through the fire
In darkest night
You are close like no other
I’ve known You as a father
I’ve known You as a friend
I have lived in the goodness of God

Your goodness is running after
It’s running after me
Your goodness is running after
It’s running after me
With my life laid down
I’m surrendered now
I give You everything
Your goodness is running after
It’s running after me

Ben Fielding | Brian Johnson | Ed Cash | Jason Ingram | Jenn Johnson
© 2018 Alletrop Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)
SHOUT! Music Publishing Australia (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)
Fellow Ships Music (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)
So Essential Tunes (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)
Bethel Music Publishing

CCLI License # 810055

Revive those dry bones!

Over lunch yesterday, a much younger pastor and I talked about our calling, about the future of the Church.  I’m getting ready to take a seat on the sidelines; he’s coming into his prime years of productivity but both of us have questions about how Christianity will be lived in the coming years. 

How will the Church look coming out of the pandemic years?
Will people return to the congregation or ‘privatize’ their faith? 
How will the message of Christ find a way into the hearts and minds of the younger generation of which about 4 in 10 are stated, “nones,” meaning that they self-identify as having no spiritual preference? 

Much more personally, I ask myself, “Jerry, what will your faith life look like as you move into your retirement years, away from leadership in the local church? Will you stay vital and strong in the Lord, your commitment to Him the core of your life?”

We are all in constant need of revival, an infusion of the Life of the Spirit that keeps our faith from turning into a relic, focused on some memory of yesteryear. Some of us will see that word, ‘Revival’ and it will bring to mind a week of church meetings conducted by a fiery preacher who stirs up a surge of emotional enthusiasm. That could be a partial idea but spiritual revival is more. For others a ‘revival’ is seen in the launch of a moral cause, the birth of a new church program, or the construction of a house of worship. Not really, though those things can bring a temporary renewal. Revival certainly is not rolling back time to recapture some moment of spiritual ecstasy.

Ezekiel’s famous vision, that weird one in chapter 37, defines revival for me! The preacher saw a valley full of old, dry bones. “The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “O Sovereign LORD, you alone know.” (Ezekiel 37:1-3, NIV)

At the Lord’s command, he preached the Word of the Lord to those bones. Before his eyes they rattled, arranged into skeletons, took on flesh; and the wind of the Spirit blew over them restoring life. What a vision.  God said, “Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, ‘Dry bones, listen to the word of the Lord!” (Ezekiel 37:4, NLT)  Ezekiel’s responses –“So I spoke the message as he commanded me, and breath came into their bodies. They all came to life and stood up on their feet-a great army.” (Ezekiel 37:10, NLT)

The breath of the Spirit can and will bring life to people and places that resemble a valley of dry bones!  If your soul is dry, your heart without a love for Jesus, if your eyes have lost a vision of the Most Holy One – the answer is a revival, a renewal of life.

God can make the dead live again!

“Won’t you revive us again, so your people can rejoice in you?” (Psalm 85:6, NLT)

“O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years.” (Habakkuk 3:2, KJV)

“For this is what the high and lofty One says- he who lives forever, whose name is holy:

“I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Isaiah 57:15, NIV)

“Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces; now he will heal us. He has injured us; now he will bandage our wounds. In just a short time he will restore us, so that we may live in his presence.” (Hosea 6:1-2, NLT)

It is a real mistake to think that we can manufacture a revival – in our own heart or in our church – with more meetings, more hype, or pumped up emotions. Those ‘revivals’ are more like a circus that comes through town, creates a little excitement and then moves on.  Genuine revival starts in our heart, work of the Spirit of God that is deep, personal, and persistent. While we cannot make it happen, we can prepare for revival, hunger for renewal, and wait on the Lord.

First, we pray. In our prayers we confess our desire and ask the Lord to send the Word anew that makes us live!

Second, we humble ourselves, acknowledging Who He is – Majesty enthroned – and we are – His children in need.

Third, we turn to Him; “here I am, Lord; all that I am, all that I am not. It is You I desire more than anything or anyone.”

I am praying for revival, knowing full well that when the Holy Spirit shows up, He comes as a disrupter, asking for change.
Will I let Him own my life, change my heart, fill my mind? This is the heart of spiritual revival.

Here’s the word from the Word.  It is more of Ezekiel’s strange vision. My prayer is that it becomes a template of renewal for 2021.

“Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say, ‘Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!’ Therefore prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God:Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves.  I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken it and performed it,” says the Lord.’ “ (Ezekiel 37:11-14, NKJV)

_____________________

RAIN DOWN

(a song from Delirious, a rewind to 2004!)

Looks like tonight the sky is heavy
Feels like the winds are gonna change
Beneath my feet the earth is ready
I know it’s time for heaven’s rain
It’s gonna rain

‘Cause it’s living water we desire ’cause
To flood our hearts with holy fire
Rain down all around the world we’re singing
Rain down can you hear the earth is singing
Rain down my heart is dry but still I’m singing
Rain down rain it down

Back to the start my heart is heavy
Feels like it’s time to dream again
I see the clouds and yes I’m ready
To dance upon this barren land
Hope in my hands

Do not shut do not shut
Do not shut the heavens
But open up open up
Open up our hearts

Rain down all around the world
We’re singing rain down

Give me strength to cross the water
Keep my heart upon Your altar
Give me strength to cross this water
Keep my feet don’t let me falter

Rain Down © 2004 Curious Music UK (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)

Martin Smith | Stuart Garrard

CCLI License No. 810055

Giving up your M+M™ candy?

When I was in the third grade our family moved from rural Iowa to Staten Island, NY into an Italian neighborhood where most everybody was Roman Catholic.  I heard my new friends talking about what they were going to ‘give up’ for Lent.  It was a puzzle to me because my Pentecostal church did not observe seasons of Advent or Lent. Even as a child I realized that most of what they were ‘fasting’ for Lent was symbolic, as in giving up chocolate cake.  Will you be observing a Lenten fast?

Today is the beginning of the season of Lent, 40 days that lead up to the celebration of the Resurrection. The word has roots in Anglo-Saxon language, sounding like their word for Spring.  Traditionally, Lent was marked by fasting, abstaining from certain foods for the purpose of spiritual focus. It was set at 40 days (excluding Sundays) because the number, 40, is a recurrent one throughout the Bible that is often associated with preparation for God’s work of renewal. The rain fell for 40 days in Noah’s flood. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years.  Moses spent 40 days on the mountain receiving the Law.  Israel’s spies explored Canaan for 40 days. Jesus spent 40 days alone, fasting, and during that time experienced the temptation.

I believe that the Christian church desperately needs a renewal in our time.
Would you join me in prayer, asking God to prepare our hearts for the move of the Spirit? “Lord, start with me,” I pray!

Though we do not practice the discipline of fasting very much these days, it is useful as a discipline to remind ourselves that we are more than our physical appetites.  A meaningful fast is an offering to God as well as a discipline of the body. Fasting, coupled with prayer, can help us to grow in Christ. Paul knew the importance of a fast. “I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:27, NLT)

Saying ‘no’ to our personal comfort is not a choice readily made. Living in our climate-controlled homes, with abundance of food, we respond like servants to our body’s signals for warmth, food, or drink.  Don’t misunderstand me. I am grateful for a secure home, a warm bed, and a full belly! But, things are out of balance.  If we are incapable of refusing the cravings of our body, we will be easy targets for the Tempter.

Paul puts it in stark terms of slavery. “Before, you let yourselves be slaves of impurity and lawlessness. Now you must choose to be slaves of righteousness so that you will become holy. In those days, when you were slaves of sin, you weren’t concerned with doing what was right. And what was the result? It was not good, since now you are ashamed of the things you used to do, things that end in eternal doom. But now you are free from the power of sin and have become slaves of God. Now you do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life.” (Romans 6:19-22, NLT)

During the season of Lent, I am suggesting that we engage with a meaningful kind of ‘fasting.’  Instead of symbolically giving up M+M™ candy, how about taking on your appetites with the help of the Spirit?

Are you consumed by anxiety in these uncertain days? Take up a fast.
Is there an ‘addiction’ in your life, something that owns you instead of you owning it? Take up a fast.
Complaining too often or too much about discomforts or inconveniences? Take up a fast.

Give God your lunch hour one day a week and make the time one of prayerful reflection. Or, set aside one evening each week to sit in silence instead of watching  YouTube.™ 

Whatever you do remember, it’s not a ‘hunger strike’ to get God’s attention!
Fasting is for the purpose of discipline and preparation.

Match your fast with meditation on the meaning of our Christianity.  In Christ, we go from death to life, from facing an eternity apart from God to having a home promised for eternity in His Presence. Lenten fasts end before Easter so that Christians can feast with joy.  That feast anticipates the promise of life beyond death, of hope that survives the body’s demise

Spirit-filled Christians must have a vision that reaches over time’s horizon.  The reason we say no to the craving of ‘the flesh,’ (the sinful nature) is because we know that there is a greater promise of Glory. That is why Paul starkly tells us to mortify the flesh, that is, to put it to death. “We are debtors—not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” (Romans 8:12-14, NKJV)  Fasting is one way to say, “Die, old sinful nature!”

Let’s use this season to grow toward the eternal hope that we read about in the word from the Word. 

“It is this Good News that saves you if you continue to believe the message I told you—…  our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power.

But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.” (1 Corinthians 15:2, 53-58, NLT)  Amen!

Now, what about those M+M’s?

_______________

I Will Offer Up My Life

I will offer up my life
In spirit and truth,
Pouring out the oil of love
As my worship to You.

In surrender I must give
My ev’ry part;
Lord, receive the sacrifice
Of a broken heart.

Jesus, what can I give,
What can I bring
To so faithful a friend,
To so loving a King?
Savior, what can be said,
What can be sung
As a praise of Your name
For the things You have done?

Oh, my words could not tell,
Not even in part,
Of the debt of love
That is owed by this
Thankful heart.

You deserve my every breath
For You’ve paid the great cost.
Giving up Your life to death,
Even death on a cross.

You took all my shame away,
There defeated my sin,
Opened up the gates of heaven,
And have beckoned me in.

Matt Redman © 1994 Kingsway’s Thankyou Music (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)

CCLI License No. 810055