IF you’re not going to finish, don’t start.

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“Pastor, I really want to serve the Lord. I’m feeling the call to do ___________ and hope this church will support me.”  That comment, in some form, is one that I hear quite often. Some follow through, apply themselves, make being Jesus’ disciple the top shelf priority in life. They discover the rich joy of fruitful and effective service and the work of God is stronger for their faithfulness. Others start, find out just how hard it can be, or get bored, or become distracted, and first come the complaints, then the excuses, and then they disappear.

There are seasons in life. The Word teaches us that “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:  a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, … a time to tear down and a time to build.”  (Eccl. 3:1-3)  But, when we are deciding to move on, to leave one call for another, the question that must be first is not our convenience, but rather God’s call.

One of the sad moments in the Gospels takes us to the Garden where Jesus is wrestling with the coming sacrifice. He is stressed, brokenhearted, and needs support. “Please pray with me,” He asks the disciples. What do they do? Fall asleep! Not once, does He ask, but twice! The frustration is evident when He asks “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter.” (Matthew 26:40, NIV)

Are you a person on whom the Lord can depend? Surprised?

We tend to only think of God as our Resource, the One on whom we can lean. He is! But … He desires faithfulness in us, as well. “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” (John 15:4, NIV) That word, “remain,” is translated as “abide” in the KJV. The original textual word is one that means to ‘continue to be present, to endure, to settle on and stay.’ Jesus is teaching us that a faith walk that is scheduled at our convenience, that is shaped around our ‘spare time,’ that is more like a hobby than a calling cannot produce the rich life in us that He desires. The only way His character and life can be reproduced in us is if we are willing to stay connected to Him – in the good times and bad, when we ‘feel like it’ and when we do not.

Kay Arthur, founder of Precept Ministries, a Bible teacher who is now 84 years of age, goes right to the point. She says, “If you do not plan to live the Christian life totally committed to knowing your God and to walking in obedience to Him, then don’t begin, for this is what Christianity is all about. It is a change of citizenship, a change of governments, a change of allegiance. If you have no intention of letting Christ rule your life, then forget Christianity; it is not for you.”

None of us is rich enough in time or energy to do all of the things we want to do or even are told we must do. There are choices that are required and those choices are hard! Choose wisely and you will find the life God planned. Choose foolishly and you will squander it.

The words from the Word invites our reflection. They are not a comforting. They challenge.

“Teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others. Endure suffering along with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. Soldiers don’t get tied up in the affairs of civilian life, for then they cannot please the officer who enlisted them. And athletes cannot win the prize unless they follow the rules. And hardworking farmers should be the first to enjoy the fruit of their labor. Think about what I am saying. The Lord will help you understand all these things.” (2 Timothy 2:2-7, NLT)

“Another said, “Yes, Lord, I will follow you, but first let me say good-bye to my family.” But Jesus told him, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:61-62, NLT)

Are you fit to serve, committed, connected?

________________

Father, help me to learn to ‘abide.’
When You invite me to love You,
May I have the courage to say yes, and follow through.

So many other things, opportunities, and distractions
Compete for my attention.
I need Your wisdom to sort out the best from the good,
The most valuable from the things that just are glitter and glam.

Jesus, help me to walk with You as a friend on Whom You can rely.
Spirit of God, keep me connected, committed, and faithful to the end.

Amen

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Does anxiety mean I am a bad Christian?

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Do you know that feeling of anxiousness that creeps up when life’s challenges start piling up? There are seasons (days, weeks, maybe months) when it feels like all of our resources are used up, when demands are many; some big, some just the regular stuff of daily existence.  When my life gets like that sometimes I awaken at 2 am and stare at the ceiling, my head full of worry and concern about it all. I wonder if my faith were greater, if my prayer life was deeper, if  … would I wrestle with this kind of concern or would I be able to let it go?   From many conversations with others over the years, I know that getting anxious and/or feeling overwhelmed is normal. But, again, does this indicate a lesser spirituality?

Here is an amazing revelation!

Jesus grew troubled, too. “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” (John 12:27-28, NIV)  He was approaching the time of His great work, dying on the Cross, making the sacrifice for the sins of the world, opening the way to reconciliation with the Father for us.

And, there it is – He was experiencing anxiety.  Where we read ‘troubled’ John uses a word in the original text that indicates strong feelings of fear and dread, about loss of inner peace! Yes, I know that nothing I face remotely compares to what Jesus was about face and yet I am comforted that He, too, felt the weight of life and responded with something less than serenity!

He was not at all confused about His mission or calling. Prior to speaking about his inner tempest, He told the disciples – “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:23-24, NIV)  Even with such clarity, He wrestled with the will of God.  He does not beg to be ‘saved from this hour,’ released from the call, the hardship made less difficult.  He interjects a prayer that His Father’s Name would be made even more wonderful in His faithfulness.

Today, stop beating yourself up for feeling afraid, overwhelmed, or weak. Instead, follow the Master and choose obedient submission, humbly allowing the Lord to work His will in your life. Whatever your challenges, instead of begging for a more level pathway, pray for His power to be unquestionably evident in you as you remain hopeful and steady in Him.

Paul who also knew feelings of inadequacy was inspired to tell us that God whispered this word of faith into his heart in the hardship. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

If you are anxious, remember this word from the Word. “So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” (Hebrews 4:14-16, NLT)

Instead of trying to minimize your challenges,
choose rather to maximize your faith.  
There is a gift of strength to be found in Him.

_________________

 

Fear Is A Liar

(listen to this Zack Williams song at this link)

When he told you you’re not good enough
When he told you you’re not right
When he told you you’re not strong enough
To put up a good fight
When he told you you’re not worthy
When he told you you’re not loved
When he told you you’re not beautiful
That you’ll never be enough

Fear he is a liar
He will take your breath stop you in your steps
Fear he is a liar
He will rob your rest steal your happiness
Cast your fear in the fire
‘Cause fear he is a liar

When he told you were troubled
You’ll forever be alone
When he told you you should run away
You’ll never find a home
When he told you you were dirty
And you should be ashamed
When he told you you could be the one
That grace could never change

Let Your fire fall and cast out all my fears
Let Your fire fall Your love is all I feel
Let Your fire fall and cast out all my fears
Let Your fire fall Your love is all I feel

‘Cause fear he is a liar

Jason Ingram | Jonathan Smith | Zach Williams
© Anthems of Hope (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)
Be Essential Songs (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)

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Are you a radical?

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We have all experienced dealing with someone who is radically committed to something or someone.  There are those with whom there is no possibility of a discussion about politics because they are ‘’all in” in their dedication to a singular point of view. There is only one way to think and anyone who does not share their view is flat wrong, end of story.  There are sports fanatics whose dedication to a team extends all year long.  They show something like worship for the star players of their favored club!  The list of causes to which people commit themselves and their resources is a long one.

I admire those who are radically committed to Jesus!  No, not that kooky, spookily  weird, religious person who spouts Bible verses constantly, or who feels the need to interject something about “Jesus” into every conversation. The radical Christians who find my admiration are those whose love for the Lord goes deep, who live selflessly and lovingly, who are steady in faith – in all seasons.

Hyper-religiosity is not to be confused with radical devotion.  The former flows out of Self, is worked up and often sustained by emotionalism. The latter is evidence of an intimate conversation with the Spirit, rooted in an inner transformation produced by daily obedience to Jesus’ invitation to ‘Come, follow Me!’

Mary of Bethany was a radical lover of Jesus. In Luke 10, we meet her learning from Jesus, quietly listening to Him, “sitting at His feet.”  Her sister, Martha, in that famous scene, explodes in frustration, wondering why Jesus does not tell Mary to get up and help prepare the meal. Jesus gently reminds her that Mary has “chosen better!”  What a correction. Martha loved Jesus, too. But, she confused her own needs to do, to be, to work with true devotion. The result was anger. It can happen to us, Christian. When our ‘devotion’ gets mixed up with Self, we will get frustrated when people do not march to our cadence. We will begin to blame, accuse, and wonder why everyone is not as committed as we are. That kind of ‘devotion’ is too often the norm and drives people from knowing Christ because it is not really about Jesus; it is about us;  our agenda, our ego.

We meet Mary in John 12, once again in a place of radical devotion. After restored her brother, Lazarus, to life, Jesus and the disciples came to the house for dinner. The familiar roles play out again. Martha is serving and then Mary comes in the picture. This time the quiet woman breaks all convention, her commitment causing her to break society’s rules. She goes into the room where the men are eating, goes to Jesus’ place. John, who witnessed it, says  “Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” (John 12:3, NIV)  There was no mistaking her love for Jesus!  She did not preach, scold, or nag. She just loved and that last phrase sticks with me today …  “the house was filled with the fragrance.”

Paul says that when we truly love Jesus, our way of life will be a fragrance in the world. “For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life.” (2 Corinthians 2:15-16, NIV)  Are you so close to Jesus that you ‘smell’ like Him?  Do the people that you live with become consciously aware, not of you, but of Him when you are around?  It is question worth pondering!

Mary’s radical devotion was costly. The box of fragrant oil she opened that night was worth the annual wages of a laborer! Imagine that. Did she ask for recognition for her extravagance? No, she just gave it.  If we are radical disciples, we will just give our love to Him. We won’t be looking around for an award. We will not care if we serve one or a million.

Her gift was criticized. If you and I are radically committed to Christ Jesus, if we give our best, not everyone will see it in a positive light. There will be critics. Interestingly, it was one of Jesus’ own disciples who raised the objection.  “What a waste! She could have sold it and gave the money to the poor.” Judas missed the point. She was not doing something religious, calculating maximum benefit for the most people – She was loving the One who had given her brother life, the Savior who opened the Way to Eternal Life for her, too.

Hear Jesus’ invitation to be radically devoted. Let the Spirit work in you and learn to love Him – with obedience, in a costly way, that ignores the critics. When we live in this way, He is lifted up and promises that others will be drawn to His amazing love and life.

Here is a word from the Word –

“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)

________________

O God of such truth as sweeps away all lies,
of such grace as shrivels all excuses,
come now to find us
for we have lost ourselves
in a shuffle of disguises
and in the rattle of empty words.

 Let your Spirit move mercifully
To recreate us from the chaos of our lives.
We have been careless of our days,
our loves, our gifts, our chances…
 

Our prayer is to change, O God,
not out of despair of self but for love of You
,
and the selves we long to become
before we simply waste away.

Let Your mercy move in and through us now… Amen.

– Copied, Ted Loder

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Wild Winds and the Spirit to guide!

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The sun was shining when I left my church office to go to visit with an ill person. When I went into his home, it was beautiful outside.  Minutes later, we were rocked by a wild storm. I left for home in wind and driving rain.  I found the roadway blocked with a fallen tree.  What should have been a 15 minute drive turned into over an hour long adventure on back roads, finding no less than 6 roads blocked by trees, downed wires, and poles. Without my phone and GPS technology I think I might still be trying to get home!

Yesterday was a metaphor for life! One day everything is great, the next we are in crisis.  However … if we are walking with Jesus, there is a Guide, the ever present Holy Spirit.  Even then there will be times when we grow anxious, when our thoughts tumble and we wonder – “How, what, where, when?” … a hundred questions screaming for answers, the Tempter whispering that He has forgotten us.

When laid down to sleep last night another storm blew through my life, this one emotional and spiritual.  My mind revisited the room of that sick man, who is near the end of this life. His frail body, the constant hum of his oxygen machine, the hospital bed in his living room, the table full of prescription bottles; it all stirred up too many painfully vivid memories for me. At 10 pm, there in the darkness of my own bedroom, fear of the future crept in.  Would I someday be in that state? How could I endure it?  In faith, I reached out to the Father, asking that He would silence those questions that borrowed from an unknown future. And, just as my GPS guided me through the afternoon’s storms to home, I found the Spirit leading me to peace and rest.

This morning, I want to encourage YOU in two ways.

 First, walk with the Lord faithfully while the sun shines!

The spiritual disciplines of worship, prayer, Scripture intake, meditation, and service open up pathways in our soul that allows the Spirit of God to work in us. When things are going great, we may be tempted to ignore those important choices.  We must not wait for the arrival of a crisis and only then to cry out to the Lord!

Second, stay steady in faith, sure that He is ‘a present Help in times of distress!’

Faith does not eliminate every storm. It makes a way through the storm and leads us, ultimately, to Home.

Here is a word from the Psalm, a prayer of David when he was in a stormy time of life. Let the inspired Word take root and bring hope.

“Listen, God, to my prayer! Don’t reject my request. Please listen and help me.
My thoughts are troubled, and I keep groaning because my loud enemies shout and attack.
They treat me terribly and hold angry grudges.
My heart is racing fast, and I am afraid of dying.
I am trembling with fear, completely terrified.
I wish I had wings like a dove, so I could fly far away and be at peace.”
(Psalm 55:1-6, CEV)

 “I ask for your help, Lord God, and you will keep me safe.
Morning, noon, and night you hear my concerns and my complaints.

I am attacked from all sides, but you will rescue me unharmed by the battle.
You have always ruled, and you will hear me.
You will defeat my enemies because they won’t turn and worship you.”
(Psalm 55:16-19, CEV)

Amen!

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Disappointed with Jesus?

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I love a story of God’s miraculous intervention! My heart rejoices when I hear about the power of Jesus changing someone’s life- healing, providing, restoring a family, setting someone free from a sinful habit. I will just say it –  Sometimes He does not do what I want Him to do and I am disappointed in Him.  We do not hear many people say that out loud but I know that many feel the same way.

In the Gospel we meet some people who were acquainted with Martha and Mary, sisters grieving the death of their brother, who were disappointed in Jesus!  “But some said, “This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?” (John 11:37, NLT)  Can you feel their pain and confusion?

Here is something we need to recognize upfront as we wrestle with God’s will. Some of the time our disappointment results from wrong expectations! A young, wealthy nobleman came to Jesus inquiring about how to find eternal life. (Matthew 19) He fully expected Jesus to commend his goodness for he had carefully observed the Commandments.  Perhaps he thought Jesus would welcome him into His inner circle? However, Jesus spoke to his greatest need;  his love for his wealth. “Go, give it all away, then come and follow Me.”  That man was disappointed! Matthew tells us simply, “He went away sad.”

Does your faith include the thought that the Lord knows your real need and acts to meet it?
Or are you so fixed on having it your way that you walk away angry or sad when He does not do what you ask Him to do?

In the Lazarus account, we get the insider view; something that the mourners did not have. When Jesus delayed His response to their request that He come and heal Lazarus, He was not being selfish. He was not uncaring, nor was He just busy doing something else. He waited four days, got word his friend had died, and then He told the disciples- “Lazarus died. And I am glad for your sakes that I wasn’t there. You’re about to be given new grounds for believing. Now let’s go to him.”  (John 11:14-15, The Message)  There was a purpose in Lazarus’ death. God would show His power and strengthen faith but what a cost it involved.

This was not the first nor the only time this reason was given for someone’s difficulty.  After healing a blind man, who the disciples assumed was that way because of someone’s sin, Jesus told them they were wrong. He was blind so that God’s glory could be displayed in his healing. In our thinking, that seems unfair, but God reserves the right to do as He pleases.

 Even as I write those lines I have in mind those who have a child with some severe disability, those who are stuck in war zones living shattered lives, those who are battling an addiction that relentlessly tempts and tests. How can God allow these things? Why doesn’t He act? Is He unfair?  No answer is complete, no explanation satisfies every question – on this side of eternity.

I strongly believe in His gift of freedom, that He does not directly act to contravene our wills. He allows human beings to do things that have rippling effects on others both for good and for evil. The God I know from experience and from Scripture’s record invites us to participate in establishing His rule. He begins with my heart. He asks me to surrender myself, my demands, my sin to Him; to become useful for His purposes.

His plan  may not include my momentary happiness, but it will lead to deep joy.  That is a tough concept for those of us who believe so strongly in having our own way, that we have a right to be happy.  The truth is that we are in His hands, living for His purposes, and our greater reason for existence is to know Him, to worship Him, to love Him beyond our own personal comfort. Thus, despite the fervent prayers we offer, Jesus sometimes refuses our request.  Will we trust Him in those moments, assured that He is doing something that is outside the reach of our comprehension?  Will our trust be shown in obedience and faithful service, as we work under His command to defeat sin, evil, and suffering?

My appeal today is not to fatalism, to resignation, to some grim kind of existence that is just holding out for heaven! Jesus promises that even in the middle of our disappointments, He will be present. When we accept His Presence, we find Life. In His presence there is full joy!

Here are words from Paul that I love. In the middle of hard times, his faith took a beating, but this inspired word reveals something greater. May our faith find the same Solid Rock.

“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

 Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God. We have done so not according to worldly wisdom but according to God’s grace.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-12, NIV)

______________

Father, lead me to Your will,
Give me grace to embrace You, beyond my own wishes.
Help me to see You as my hope,
To hold tightly to You when life goes upside down.

Where I need to turn to You, away from sin,
Lead me.
Where evil is raging against You in my life,
Deliver me.
When the way is steep by Your will,
Keep me.

Let Jesus’ beauty shine brightly.
Be glorified, this is my prayer.

Amen

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It’s “Wonder- Full!”

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In our gathering at church yesterday, I was privileged to baptize 2 people. Those moments were ‘wonderful’ to me. Some may have just seen 2 guys dunked in a tank of water. I ‘saw’ a moment when heaven and earth intersected, when we acted out the ‘burial’ of the ‘old’ and anticipated the resurrection of the new, when what was perishing was divinely infused with forever life!  Can I explain it? No.  It is just ‘wonder -ful.”

On this Monday morning, let me encourage you to remember to ‘’wonder.”  Let yourself be surprised by something beautiful, feel a surge of admiration for someone or something.  Replace the sigh with a wow! In the Psalms (the Bible’s song book) the word “wonder” appears often.  Why? Because wonder leads to worship“Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always. Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced, O descendants of Israel his servant, O sons of Jacob, his chosen ones.” (1 Chronicles 16:10-13, NIV)

Being a practical person, wonder is not often my first response to life.  I approach situations, people, and experiences in a manner that is functional. But, I work on recovering my sense of wonder. Even though I highly value things that get the job done, whatever that may be, I know that there must be time to see the sunset, hug a child, really listen to a song. My practicality is trait that helps me to plow through a lot of work. However, when I am too focused on ‘work’  I often miss the bigger picture of life and, yes, I let duty overtake delight.

We all to hit the pause button so we can enjoy the pleasure found  ‘in the moment.‘  God has painted the world with beauty that exists for no other purpose than to provide delight.  How else can we explain the plumage of peacock, the explosion of colors in a field of wild flowers?  Worship and wonder are closely related.

There is a dryness in the practice of Christianity that comes from reducing worship to theological concepts and empty liturgy, hurrying through the forms without allowing for the Spirit to touch us, trying to make the ‘wonder-full’ truths that the Bible tells us in the stories of the works of God into neat packages of doctrine. Too many Christians do not have much time for mystery these days. Their faith is all about pulling apart Scripture texts, and finding proofs!  I fear we are in danger of killing the very thing we strive to admire.  It is like trying to appreciate an exquisite animal by dissecting it on an autopsy table!  If we ask only – “How does it work? What is the benefit to me?” we will not experience the Spirit ‘that blows as He wills.’  Let us not reduce our discipleship to a system of principles that help us find marginally better lives. There is awe; there is mystery that God allows to exist around us which we can only appreciate if we will allow ourselves to wonder.

Recover the wonder! It will cause you to serve God with more passion, to love Him more deeply.

Here is a word from the Word.  Lord, fill us with wonder. May our hearts become quiet with awe as we ponder the measure of Your work.
” God, investigate my life; get all the facts firsthand. I’m an open book to you; even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking. You know when I leave and when I get back; I’m never out of your sight. You know everything I’m going to say before I start the first sentence. I look behind me and you’re there, then up ahead and you’re there, too— your reassuring presence, coming and going. This is too much, too wonderful— I can’t take it all in!  …

Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mother’s womb. I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking! Body and soul, I am marvelously made! I worship in adoration—what a creation! ” (Psalm 139:1-6, 13-14, The Message)

________________

More Than Wonderful

He promised us that He would be a Counselor
A Mighty God and a Prince of Peace
He promised us that He would be a Father
And He would love us with a love
That would not cease

Well I tried Him and I found His promises are true
He’s ev’rything He said that He would be
The finest words I know could not begin to tell
Just what Jesus really means to me

For He’s more wonderful than my mind can conceive
He’s more wonderful than my heart can believe
He goes beyond my highest hopes
And fondest dreams

He’s ev’rything that my soul ever longed for
Ev’rything that He promised and so much more
He’s more than amazing more than marvelous
More than miraculous could ever be
He’s more than wonderful
That’s what Jesus is to me

I stand amazed when I think the King of glory
Would come to live within the heart of man
I marvel just to know He really loves me
When I think of who He is and who I am

He’s ev’rything that my soul ever longed for
Ev’rything that He promised and so much more
He’s more than amazing more than marvelous
More than miraculous could ever be
He’s more than wonderful more than wonderful
That’s what Jesus means to me

Lanny Wolfe © 1982 Lanny Wolfe Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

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Harassed? Feeling Helpless? You need a Shepherd!

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Jesus’ words I read from John 10 this morning are needed in my life right now.  “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11, NIV)  Within my sphere of responsibility, there are multiple challenges that are in need of answers. Will I try to be God, forcing solutions into place, or will I let the Shepherd lead, as I trust Him? As I mused on that passage, my mind went back a half-century to a sweet memory and a lesson.

When I was a little boy, my dad took me with him to Wyoming, to a remote area, where we visited shepherds tending huge flocks of sheep! Prior to entering vocational ministry, Dad was a livestock dealer and traded mostly in sheep. In the mountains around Buffalo, WY, I met rough-looking men who were dedicated to the care of their sheep 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They lived alone in little mobile houses for months on end, putting the sheep first, over their own needs. These men, helped by their amazing dogs, made certain that their flocks were safe and provided with pasture.

Their constant presence caused those sheep to respond even to their voice! I watched as a single shepherd called his flock, sent his dog to round up stragglers, and moved hundreds of sheep from place to place in open range. Unlike cattle which can exist with only minimal attending, sheep without a shepherd will inevitably die! They are defenseless when attacked by predators. They will over-grazing the land exhausting their food supply.  Sheep must have a shepherd!

God calls us the ‘flock of His pasture.’ He knows that we are in need of Shepherding. Without care, we die. Even if we have all we need right now, without guidance we will get stuck and fail to move ahead in life. Jesus saw the need of the people that he lived with observed, “they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36, NIV)

Our world is full of people who would ‘shepherd’ us. They call to us, inviting us to follow them. Some are earnest, some in it only for themselves. Jesus warns “A hired man is not a real shepherd. The sheep mean nothing to him. He sees a wolf come and runs for it, leaving the sheep to be ravaged and scattered by the wolf. He’s only in it for the money. The sheep don’t matter to him.” (John 10:12-13, The Message)

Jesus promises care that leads to our wholeness and safety.  “I am the Gate for the sheep. … Anyone who goes through me will be cared for-will freely go in and out, and find pasture. … I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of. I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd puts the sheep before himself, sacrifices himself if necessary.” (John 10:7-11, The Message) Go back and read that passage again.

Are you head-strong, running off on your own, ignoring the Shepherd? To do brings only peril.  Savor the promise of His care. Listen and learn to hear His voice. “After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice.” (John 10:4, NLT)

Here’s a familiar word from the Word. Don’t rush through it even though it is one of the most familiar passages in the Scripture.
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.

He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
(Psalm 23, NIV)

_____________________

Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us

(Enjoy a mellow presentation at this link)

Savior, like a Shepherd lead us;
Much we need Thy tender care.
In Thy pleasant pastures feed us;
For our use Thy folds prepare.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!
Thou hast bought us; Thine we are.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!
Thou hast bought us, Thine we are.

 We are Thine; do Thou befriend us;
Be the Guardian of our way.
Keep Thy flock; from sin defend us;
Seek us when we go astray.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!
Hear thy children when they pray;
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!
Hear Thy children when they pray.

Savior Like A Shepherd Lead Us
Bradbury, William B. © Public Domain

 

 

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You’re worthless, beyond all hope!

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Elise Ryan got a critical note from an anonymous neighbor about the unkempt state of her house and yard. “Show some pride in your property and the property of your neighbors,” she read. It was part of a judgmental move by a neighbor who had nothing close to the whole story. Turns out that Ms. Ryan’s grandson has cancer and that she spends her days caring for him, which led to the poor condition of her yard.  When the note went public, her other neighbors did something amazing. They organized a day to help her get the grass mowed, the bushes trimmed, the leaves raked up.

Whether you will admit to it or not, you judge people. We all do.  The moment we are introduced we form an opinion about the other person.  In less than a second (really!)  we evaluate “like” or “dislike” based on age, appearance, gender, race, dress, facial expression.  Shocking to you?  Those first impressions tend to stick. It can difficult for a person to change our opinion unless we consciously choose to know and understand them.

Jesus tells us – “Judge not, that you be not judged.” (Matthew 7:1, NKJV)  Does that mean we sin when we form first impressions?  Is evaluation of the merits of another’s choices something we cannot do?  The word “judge” is about dividing, condemning, and dismissing!  We need to be able to discern and make wise choices, but we must not do so in a way that communicates to another that they are worthless. Christian, we need to hear and obey His word.

There are too many in real spiritual need who will not go near a Christian or darken a church’s door because they have heard rhetoric that communicates – “You are not us and therefore not a person of worth.” Whole groups of people have been swept away by thoughtless, judging words.  Jesus modeled an amazing grace that challenged people who were sinning to change but that did not condemn and dismiss them.  Zaccheaus, a tax collector, a collaborator with Rome who lined his own pockets with wealth, met the Lord on the roadway.  Jesus invited himself over to dinner (a shocking thing to do in that culture because it showed acceptance of the person) and in a conversation lost to history brought light to Zack’s darkened heart and the man was transformed.  The sinless Man somehow found Himself welcomed by the ‘sinners’ that lived around Him and His presence caused them to desire the living God!

Many is the person who has been hurt, sometimes terribly, by judgments proclaimed by self-righteous critics within the church. A gracelessness is often in evidence that fails to appreciate the process of justice, preferring instead to hand down a quick verdict and move on, no matter the consequences for some.  Jesus forbids this ‘judgment’ among us!  Oh, yes, we need to understand right and wrong, but in a word picture that must have provoked laughter in his audience, Jesus tells to deal with our own sin first, suggesting it may be worse than that of the person we are juding!  “Why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3-4, NLT)    When we wag our heads in disgust and repeat a juicy morsel of unsubstantiated gossip,  we place ourselves in the seat of the judge, but our judgment is flawed, hindered by our own lack of clear vision!

Are you critical of others?
Are you pointing the finger of accusation at this one or that one?
Are you deciding whose ‘in’ and whose ‘out’ based on your own personal preferences?

Stop, in the name of Love!  (Sorry, Diana Ross, just had to use that line.)  To the extent that we are secure in God’s love we are able to love others, even those who are in great need or open disobedience. Abandon quick decisions about the worth of ‘the other person!’  Pray much, listen lots. Like Jesus you can then become a force for good, an ambassador of the Gospel.

Here is a word from the Word.
“It is written: “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.’
” So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another.
Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.” (Romans 14:11-13, NIV)

_______________

Reckless Love

(worship with this song about His love)

Before I spoke a word You were singing over me
You have been so so good to me
Before I took a breath You breathed Your life in me
You have been so so kind to me

O the overwhelming never-ending reckless
Love of God
O it chases me down fights ’til I’m found
Leaves the ninety-nine
I couldn’t earn it I don’t deserve
Still You give Yourself away
O the overwhelming never-ending reckless
Love of God

When I was Your foe still Your love fought for me
You have been so so good to me
When I felt no worth You paid it all for me
You have been so so kind to me

There’s no shadow You won’t light up
Mountain You won’t climb up
Coming after me
There’s no wall You won’t kick down
Lie You won’t tear down
Coming after me

Caleb Culver | Cory Asbury | Ran Jackson
© Watershed Publishing Group (Admin. by Watershed Music Group)
Bethel Music Publishing
|Richmond Park Publishing

CCLI License # 810055

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All of those old people!

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When I look into the mirror I am sometimes oddly surprised by the older man looking back at me. How did this happen?  The gray hair, what little I have, the lines in my face, are time’s mark. Mostly I am at peace with the fact of ‘age,’ but there are moments when I wish I had the stamina of my youth, the strength of my 30’s! Then, too, I exist in a culture which assigns no value to growing old. Billions of dollars and millions of hours are spent to hang onto a firm body, to reclaim the beauty of youth. And, why not, when we see the elderly left alone, sometimes warehoused in nursing homes by families with no time for Mom’s stories, Dad’s rambling, or the time it takes to get around at 80?  Then, too, it is hard to see any glory in an Alzheimer’s ward, isn’t it?

But, does all of our fixation on eternal youth and virility keep us from finding a greater grace?

Mark Galli writes in the May, 2018 issue of Christianity Today about aging. He asserts that “we are in our physical and mental prime from our late teens to our early 20’s. … But from that point on, we slowly but surely become unable. We’re not as quick on the field, childbearing takes something out of else that never comes back … a knee goes out, vision clouds …   Whether gradually or quickly, we move to that state where our entire being is ‘disabled;’  we die.”  He goes to say that while this may be heartbreaking it is not tragedy.

Before you dismiss him (or me) would you listen to the Word of God? “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-17, NKJV)  It can be hard to grasp that there is a glory unfolding inside even as there is loss on the outside.  It requires faith. In the last decade, I have lived up close and personal with loss, with sickness, with death. I won’t insult your intelligence by putting a nice spin on it, tying it up with a neat bow of platitudes.

Watching my Dad die a hard death with wasting disease over 14 months was an agony. Yet, tempering the pain, there were moments of amazing grace. I’ll never forget cradling his head in my lap at 2 am on a Monday morning, singing softly to him of God’s faithfulness and feeling the Spirit minister to both of us. Our stormy relationship found healing in the long nights of shared pain; his physical, mine emotional. As I watched death stalk him, my vision developed that allows me to see into eternity with more clarity.

2 years later one of my more crushing memories is coming home from vacation that Summer and having to make the trip to tell my Mom that her doctors had found advanced lung cancer in her body.  That little woman of 73 years bent herself in half sobbing. But, then she composed herself and her final days were a demonstration of the depth of her faith as life was slowly ending. She moved into our home and in her company I found sweet loving peace. I can still see her lying in the bed where she would die, holding frail hands heavenward, caught up in prayer. Faith grew!

Three years after Mom’s death, my own Bev was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer and we began a 20 month journey of grief, resolution, and love; accompanied by our 4 adult children who spent themselves to come and stand alongside of us.  It was ugly to live with the almost weekly losses of that last year. In all the sorrow and pain of loss, we found the deepest love we had ever known. I am shocked today when I look at the pictures of her in advanced stages of her cancer.  She looks terrible, but then I saw only the woman I loved.  The promise of the Resurrection is no longer just words! It is my hope.

No, I am not suggesting that the only way to find love, grace, or faith is to get terminal illness. But, I will boldly suggest that the things of God become dearer and nearer when and if we accept the inevitable decline of the body and increasingly turn our gaze to spiritual things.

One of the tragedies of our culture is the failure of my generation to let go of the obvious benefits of their youth to claim the prize that is found in loving deeper, serving faithfully, and becoming wise.  These are to be the glory of our later years. They can make us beautiful even as bodies grow wrinkled and weak! We don’t have to turn into bitter old people, railing at ‘those terrible kids’ who live around us. We can be sweet with the love of Jesus, capable of spending more time with Him, loving the beauty of life around us, even those we see it through clouded eyes.

Galli writes “There is something about our inability that reveals the heart of the Gospel. We’re not sure what Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh’ was, but it is not a reach to see it as a physical disability.”  How did the Lord explain that to the preacher?  Here is what Paul tells us – “even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. 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.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9, NLT)

Have you bought the myth of a fountain of youth?
Are you captivated by the superficiality of maintaining the illusion of agelessness?
Living a healthful life is good. Making choices that allow a good and long life are admirable, but … No one stops time. Make the choice to grow beautiful in soul, filled with the glory of God.

Here is a word from the Word. “Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator. Honor him in your youth before you grow old and say, “Life is not pleasant anymore.” Remember him before the light of the sun, moon, and stars is dim to your old eyes, and rain clouds continually darken your sky. …  my child, let me give you some further advice: Be careful, for writing books is endless, and much study wears you out. That’s the whole story.

Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty. God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad.” (Ecclesiastes 12:1-2,12-14, NLT)

_______

Pastor Jerry Scott
FAITH DISCOVERY CHURCH
www.FaithDiscovery.com

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“The Elijah Syndrome”

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It was my privilege to be invited to join one of FDC’s small groups for a meeting last night. The room was buzzing with conversations, three teens chatted, children played. The glue of the group is their shared love of the Lord Jesus and after a meal where people were talking about ‘life,’ we settled down to open the Word. They were earnestly working on understanding what the Spirit was saying.  Near the end of the evening, their prayer list was brought out, current needs added. I left encouraged and I believe the others did as well.

We were never meant to answer “the Call” (yesterday’s blog) without becoming part of a larger group. God does not asks us to “do life alone.” We give away our individuality and God places us ‘in His Body.’ Being part of a team is not optional. It is God’s direction.  This familiar passage needs to be etched into our minds when our packed schedules pull us away from fellowship. “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25, NLT)

A Christian who walks alone will never reach the level of effectiveness or joy that is possible when she is an active part of God’s church.  We all get worn out, weary, and – sometimes we are even ready to quit!  Who does not tire of endless demands?  The lawn I mowed yesterday will need attention again later this week. The laundry basket you emptied this morning will fill up too quickly again.  That habit you thought was defeated will try for a comeback. Yes, life requires work and it can be especially tiring if we feel like we are working alone.

Don’t be overcome with the “Elijah Syndrome.”  The preacher enjoyed a huge spiritual victory on Mt. Carmel, the fire of God falling from heaven to burn up the sacrifice, a demonstration that called Israel to spiritual revival. But, in his fatigue, he became convinced that “I am the only one left serving the Lord!”  His skewed understanding is almost laughable, but he was serious.  “It is too much, Lord, I just want to die!”  (see 1 Kings 19)  God renewed his heart with food, with comfort of the Spirit, and by giving him Elisha, who worked with him!

God gave Nehemiah the job of leading the Jewish people in an effort to take a pile of rubble that was once Jerusalem and to turn it back into a beautiful city. God miraculously provided the resources needed. But, Nehemiah had to provide the sweat! He planned the work, enlisted the laborers, and resisted his critics. What we often overlook when we read the amazing story of his call to restore that city is his reliance on his team. He had those on whom he relied. The work of the leader would not have been finished without Ezra and Zerubbabel.

There’s a lesson in his story for us. God calls us to be part of a community because He knows life must be shared. “Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down.” (Romans 12:15, The Message) Alone, we are quickly overwhelmed. Together, we can stand. It is not only for ourselves that we work; it is for our brothers, sons, daughters, wives, and homes.

An acronym that I remember often is based on the word-
TEAM:
Together
Everyone
Accomplishes
More!

Don’t forget that when you’re tired and ready to quit. Instead; reconnect, refocus, and find renewal.

Here is a word from the Word. “If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.” (Philippians 2:1-4, The Message)

Together, we can do it!

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