God, break my heart!

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From my privileged place, in my comfortable warm home where the water is clean and plentiful, the food rich and nourishing, in my social position which enjoys an abundance of friends and family- it quite easy to close my eyes to suffering. The plight of that widow in Uganda who is trying to raise five little children on a couple of dollars a day in a country where abuse, physical and sexual, is more common than not, can disturb me if I let a picture of her hard life stay in my mind. It’s hard to think about those refugees of Syria, people who are surviving in dirty, crowded camps with no future prospect of return to their homes.

A lot closer to home there are elderly people without family, who are so lonely, so afraid of the days ahead. Their sad faces make me troubled! The list of suffering lengthens when you take in families struggling with an addict, those who are trying to recover from great loss, those who are desperate in a terrible relationship with no way out …

I admit that I am tempted to ease the concern with superficial prayer for those in need – Lord, bless the hurting.  Amen – as if that alone is the answer. But, the words that I read in my Genesis meditation this morning are like a slap in the face. Cain, when asked by the Lord where his brother was, the very brother he had killed in jealousy, callously dismisses his responsibility.  “Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9, NIV)

God is asking you- yes, He’s asking me – “Where is your brother?”

We are fools to think that we can avoid feeling the hurt of the suffering, that we can live in our indulgence, and lay claim to a deep, saving relationship with Jesus Christ, the Lord of compassion.  James writes pointedly – “Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?” (James 2:14-17, The Message)

It’s time we prayed, “Lord break my heart!” instead of our constant prayers for comfort and more blessings. I am not advocating misery for misery’s sake. I am pleading for us to become “Jesus with skin on” in this world;  people who are willing to serve the lost, the least, who are willing to lose sleep, to set aside our pleasures, to do the work of the Kingdom.  We cannot save the world but we can save those to whom the Spirit sends us.  We can feed an orphan. We can regularly visit our elderly neighbor. We can love our friend whose life is mess of dysfunction; listening, hoping, praying without superiority or judgment.

Because, we are our brother’s keeper!

“Lord, break my heart.” It is a dangerous, costly prayer.  When He answers, your life will change. You will be compelled to pursue Him, to love beyond words, to sacrifice. You will cry, your heart will ache, sleep may avoid you in the small hours of the morning.  Those who love like Jesus will dig deeper, pray longer, go farther, and reach higher. A broken heart will the mess of sin close, the stench of spiritual death into your life. The bloody wounds of those left for dead on life’s road will stain your hands with blood as you carry them to Him.

Not many of you are still reading, but if you are, I am praying for you, right now;  not for guilt, not for frustrated, momentary emotion, but for the beginning of a vision of what God, the Spirit, can do with your life when you offer it without any reservation to Him.

Jesus had an encounter with a man wondering about his social responsibility.  He wanted to know what God expected. Jesus asked him what the Scriptures taught him. ”‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:27-29, NIV)  It was another way of saying, “Am I my brothers’ keeper?”

Jesus told him about a man who needed someone to care who had been beaten up and abandoned to die on the road. Two religious people saw that bloody man and walked on, taken up with their own lives. One, a despised Samaritan, cared, beyond words! “He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him.” (Luke 10:34, NIV)

The word from the Word comes from the end of that story. “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked. The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same. (Luke 10:36-37, NLT)

_______

Hosanna (compassion begins with a renewed calling)

I see the King of glory
Coming on the clouds with fire
The whole earth shakes
The whole earth shakes yeah 

I see His love and mercy
Washing over all our sin
The people sing
The people sing

 Hosanna hosanna
Hosanna in the highest
Hosanna hosanna
Hosanna in the highest

 I see a generation
Rising up to take their place
With selfless faith
With selfless faith

 I see a near revival
Stirring as we pray and seek
We’re on our knees
We’re on our knees

 Heal my heart and make it clean
Open up my eyes to the things unseen
Show me how to love like You have loved me
Break my heart for what breaks Yours
Everything I am for Your Kingdom’s cause
As I walk from earth into eternity

Brooke Ligertwood © 2006 Hillsong Music Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) CCLI License # 810055

A great start for a new week

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Thinking that life would be better – “If only I …” had a different job, were as smart as she is, lived in the city – is a thought that we all think, sometime, isn’t it? Following closely behind those thoughts are ones that tend to a sin that is subtle but destructive. What is that? Envy!

I enjoy using social media, keeping up with pictures of friends far and wide, knowing what they are doing, how life is treating them. Facebook, Instagram, and the rest can turn into the fertile soil in which discontent grows like a weed. When we see another’s recent pictures about their great vacation, another’s report of promotion, and another’s new-found success we can, and many people do, start to compare our supposedly dull lives to those exciting ones that ‘everyone but me’ seems to be living. Here is what I know for certain: envy is the mold of the soul. It flourishes in the dark, makes a toxic environment, and sickens us.

Cain hated his brother’s righteousness, not because Abel had done a thing to him, but because Abel’s offering was one that was pleasing to the LORD.  The first book of the Bible says that “(Eve) gave birth to a second son and named him Abel. When they grew up, Abel became a shepherd, while Cain was a farmer. At harvesttime Cain brought to the Lord a gift of his farm produce, while Abel brought several choice lambs from the best of his flock. The Lord accepted Abel and his offering, but he did not accept Cain and his offering. This made Cain very angry and dejected.” (Genesis 4:2-5, NLT)

The text leads me to conclude that Cain refused instruction, insisting on doing his own thing. When his willful choice was not met with God’s approval, instead of submitting himself to the Lord, he turned, in envy, on his brother. “Why are you so angry?” the Lord asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected? You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.” One day Cain suggested to his brother, “Let’s go out into the fields.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother, Abel, and killed him.” (Genesis 4:6-8, NLT)

There is a place that we can find in God’s love that removes envy from our heart. It is called contentment. Contentment is borne of gratitude that rests on a solid foundation of faith. When envy starts to make an appearance, we must choose to begin to offer praise. At first it may a “sacrifice of praise,” but as we thank Him for Who He is, for His faithfulness to us, for the assurance that He provides all that we need for this day; we will find our soul resting in Him. Paul says, “I have learned to be content.” Yes, we must train ourselves, by prayer and thankfulness, to receive the provision of God for the day. The sinful nature will cause us to compare and then, largely, to complain.

When we whine about our lack, we cannot sing of our blessings.

Christian, do you what to make a great start today, the first day of the new week?

I encourage you to create a praise list to accompany your prayer list.  Write down things, big and small, for which you are grateful. That will change your perspective and free the Spirit to create a new kind of joy. Few things cause more problems among Christians than the ancient sin of envy. It masquerades as self-righteousness, criticism, holier-than-thou attitudes; ugly, divisive things that will destroy our peace with God.

Meditate on this word from the Word. Let God settle your soul in contentment and go bless your world with His love!
Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.” (1 Timothy 6:6-11, NIV)

________

10,000 Reasons (Bless The Lord)
(Matt Redman leads us to contentment in this song of praise)

Bless the Lord O my soul
O my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
O my soul
I’ll worship Your holy name

 The sun comes up it’s a new day dawning
It’s time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me
Let me be singing when the evening comes

 You’re rich in love and You’re slow to anger
Your name is great and Your heart is kind
For all Your goodness I will keep on singing
Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find

 And on that day when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come
Still my soul will sing Your praise unending
Ten thousand years and then forevermore

 Worship Your holy name
Lord I’ll worship Your holy name

Jonas Myrin | Matt Redman © 2011 Atlas Mountain Songs (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) sixsteps Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)
Thankyou Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

 

Ashamed and Alone

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We are all familiar with two powerful emotions – guilt and shame. Guilt serves us well when we do wrong because it motivates us to seek change, to make things right. Shame, on the other hand, is generally a terribly destructive emotion that causes us to hide, to feel worthless. It can become a root cause of all kinds of self-destructive behaviors. Guilt says, “I did something wrong.” Shame says “There is something wrong with me.”

After the glorious story of God and Creation, Genesis shifts to failure, doubt, and disobedience. In a few lines, the inspired text provides deep insight for us about the human condition when sin comes to us.  “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” (Genesis 3:7-10, NIV)

Adam and Eve, who enjoyed the love of their Creator and one another, who were innocent, made a choice to disobey and, in that moment, suddenly became vulnerable, self-aware, and guilty. Guilt morphed into shame and tragedy overtook them – ‘they hid from the Lord.’ The One with Whom they knew sweet fellowship became a fearful Presence to them. In language rich with symbolism, we are told that they ‘sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.’  Their relationship, once open, is now complicated by covering. But, God is there!

This story lays the groundwork for the redemptive story that is revealed in the rest of the Bible. God does not abandon us to our shame, leaving us to struggle alone with our shame while we desperately try to keep all our fig leaves in place. He pursues us, loves us, and offers restoration of the life that sin stole from us. We devise all manner of mechanisms to try to regain what we know is lost – hard work, achievement, fancier ‘fig leaves,’ status, religiosity – to name a few.  Some of us just collapse under the weight of our sense of ‘wrongness’ and develop behaviors like addictions and compulsions in a downward spiral.

The answer to our guilt is not shame, it is salvation!  He holds out the offer of reconciliation and forgiveness through Jesus Christ and invites us to accept what we cannot find anywhere else. Paul’s words are compelling.  In this world, where the sinful nature makes failure inevitable, there is this promise of healing.  “We all did … what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah. Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish!” (Ephesians 2:3-8, The Message)

Are you living ashamed and alone?

You can attempt to excuse yourself or explain away that which creates guilt. You can retreat into shame’s isolation but your conscience will not be easily stilled. Take your guilt to Him. Don’t hide! Prayerfully, in a quiet place, let the Spirit find you and open up to Him, with honest confession – about your confusion, about your guilt, about that shame that makes you feel so worthless. Then, by faith, accept the grace that makes you new and whole! Discard the ‘fig leaves’ and put on the robe of Christ’s righteousness (right standing with God) that He gives to us, freely in Christ Jesus.

Here is a word from the Word. May it be living truth and reason to be ashamed and alone no more. “Since you have heard all about him and have learned the truth that is in Jesus, throw off your old evil nature and your former way of life, which is rotten through and through, full of lust and deception. Instead, there must be a spiritual renewal of your thoughts and attitudes. You must display a new nature because you are a new person, created in God’s likeness—righteous, holy, and true.” (Ephesians 4:21-24, NLT)  “Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete. … So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you.” The Message (Col 3:10-12)

________

No Longer Slaves

(worship at this link)

 You unravel me with a melody
You surround me with a song
Of deliverance from my enemies
Till all my fears are gone

 I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God
I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God

 From my Mother’s womb
You have chosen me
Love has called my name\
I’ve been born again into Your family
Your blood flows through my veins

 You split the sea so I could walk right through it
My fears were drowned in perfect love
You rescued me so I could stand and sing
I am a child of God

 Brian Johnson | Joel Case | Jonathan David Helser © 2014 Bethel Music Publishing

CCLI License # 810055

He Lies!

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We all deal with those sales calls that plague us. Most of us hang up, but on occasion I engage the person who is doing the call. I find it fascinating to observe how the best of them will they bait their hook and then manipulate words to attempt to draw me into some scheme to relieve me of my money. Then, too, who has not had the unfortunate experience of a sales experience with a person that is willing to say anything to close the deal?  Even more tragic are those occasions where someone is sweet-talked into a relationship with another who they discover, too late, is just a beautiful liar.

In Genesis 3, where the story of sin is tragically unfolded for us, we meet a Beautiful Liar who twists the words of the Lord and invites humanity to the ‘delights’ of disobedience. When he came to Eve, he suggested that God was keeping the best from her, that she should exercise her will, choose to disobey and seek an alternate way to be full!

His very first tactic was to introduce doubt“Did God really say… “?  When Eve clarified the directive of the Lord, he lied again – “You won’t die! … God knows that your eyes will be opened when you eat it. You will become just like God, knowing everything, both good and evil.” The woman was convinced. The fruit looked so fresh and delicious, and it would make her so wise! So she ate some of the fruit. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her. Then he ate it, too. At that moment, their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they strung fig leaves together around their hips to cover themselves.” (Genesis 3:4-7, NLT)  I want to scream- ‘He lies!’ as I read that, until I remember that he is still doing it. The Genesis story of sin is repeated millions of times every day when people decide to ignore God and do their own thing.

Are you listening to the seductions of the serpent?

  • Is he suggesting that your emptiness can be filled with another car, a new house, a new pair of shoes?
  • Is he pointing out a ‘short cut’ to success if only you are willing to sell your integrity or compromise your convictions?
  • Is he tempting you with comparison of your marriage to another, inviting you to go ahead and love another so you will feel less alone, more alive?

HE LIES!

Luke tells of Jesus’ encounter with the Devil.  In the wilds of Judea, He was fasting, praying, alone.  There “the Devil tempted him for forty days. He ate nothing all that time and was very hungry. Then the Devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, change this stone into a loaf of bread.” But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People need more than bread for their life.’ ” (Luke 4:2-4, NLT)

Jesus met the lie with Truth! He quoted Moses who urged the people of the Lord to remember their experience of God’s full provision. “He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” (Deuteronomy 8:3, NIV)   Each lie Satan told Jesus that awful day was met with the Truth of the Word.

One day when some people were asking about following Him, Jesus told them 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)  Truth is sometimes hard but always liberating.

Meditate on the Word. Take it into your heart, your mind and let the Spirit use it to shape what you believe about God, about the world in which you live, about yourself – and the Truth will set you free.

Need a place to start? Here are some facts about you, declarations of your Father.

  • You are more than a conqueror. (Romans 8:37)
  • You are the apple of God’s eye. (Psalm 17:8)
  • You are a joint heir with Christ of eternal glory. (Romans 8:17)
  • You are a beloved child of God. (1 John 3:1)

Here’s the word from the Word.
“How can a young man keep his way pure?
By living according to your word.
I seek you with all my heart;
do not let me stray from your commands.
I have hidden your word in my heart (banked the Truth!)|
that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:8-11, NIV)
________________

Build My Life

(a favorite new song of mine, a commitment to His call)

Worthy of ev’ry song we could ever sing
Worthy of all the praise we could ever bring
Worthy of ev’ry breath we could ever breathe
We live for You

 Jesus the name above ev’ry other name
Jesus the only one who could ever save
Worthy of ev’ry breath we could ever breathe
We live for You
We live for You

 Holy there is no one like You
There is none besides You
Open up my eyes in wonder and show me who You are
And fill me with Your heart
And lead me in Your love to those around me

 I will build my life upon Your love
It is a firm foundation
I will put my trust in You alone
And I will not be shaken

Brett Younker | Karl Martin | Kirby Elizabeth Kaple | Matt Redman | Pat Barrett © 2016 Martin, Karl Andrew (Admin. by Arkyard Music Services Limited)
Kaple Music (Admin. by Bethel Music Publishing) Bethel Music Publishing

CCLI License # 810055

Loving

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God brought Bev and me together, taught us about love, and gave us 42 years before taking her home. Was our marriage heaven on earth? No. We had our fair share of disappointments and difference. But, we were instructed by the Word, led by the Spirit, and found grace to become the best of friends and inseparable partners. Contemporary American culture is confused in many areas but none more than understanding what God intends in the establishment of marriage.

Sin has so marred our grasp of love that it is next to impossible for us to accept what God says about forming a life-long partnership with another. We have entangled lust with love. Sexuality has become a kind of god and, in that disordered place, skews our sense of identity.

Here are the first words in the Word about this. But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” (Genesis 2:20 NIV)

We need to read those words with Spirit-opened eyes. The truth here is about man and woman before sin messed it all up, before power became an issue, before exploitation was a factor. And, it is beautiful!

From inspired Word we learn that marriage is a natural and desirable state. (Just to be clear, no one is less because they are single! If that is the choice and/or calling of an individual, we should honor that decision.) There are so many who refuse marriage or enter into it with all kinds of clauses and reservations because they do not understand that kind of selfless love, inspired by God, that makes a true marriage. Eve was the creation of God to be Adam’s complement.  (And, he was hers.)  Marriage is not just about legalizing sex or making children.  It is a state where the individual can find a completely new way of being;  the ‘me’ eclipsed by the ‘we.’

Adam’s delight in Eve is obvious. To cheapen his response to her, as is often done, as merely a leering, lustful thing is a terrible abuse of the text. He saw, in her, the same essence, the ‘bone of my bone,’ that would allow a whole new kind of existence for both of them.  They would be ‘one flesh.’  Does that allude to the sexual union? It does, and so much more. God created the possibility of man and woman joining together in a new way that redefines both of them.  It is the essence of holy marriage and increasingly rare in our culture where we defend our individuality so strenuously, where we fear surrender of ourselves to another so much as to make true marriage of mutual benefit just about impossible.

I love that phrase “they felt no shame.”  There was no concealing of themselves, no reluctance to share every part of themselves.

There is a great need in our time to recover a sound understanding of sacred marriage. God does not just invite us to form a contract with another. He invites us to become one in covenant before Him. It is not a ‘law’ thing, it is a love matter, shaped by the example of His love for us. Paul is explicit about that in the 5th chapter of his letter to the Ephesians where he weaves the narrative of the relationship of husband and wife around the sacrificial love of Jesus for His Bride, the Church.

  • Do you love your spouse in a God-honoring way?
  • Is Christ invited to teach you about entering into a selfless love that serves?
  • Do you protect that relationship with prayer, seeking the enablement of the Spirit to become a true ‘one flesh’ couple?

Marriage can be hell on earth when it is about being first, about protecting our individual rights.  It can be the most enriching experience where there is a mutual love of Jesus, where growing is ongoing, where the love of Christ teaches love for each other.  God teach us of holy matrimony, allowing us to model the kind of intimacy and love that reveals You in us. Amen.

Here is a word from the Word. “My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality.” (1 John 3:18-19, The Message)

The Sacred Trust

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Even in my 6th decade of life, a full 10 years after my father’s voice was stilled by death, I feel the weight of his words that laid a sense of family, legacy, and responsibility on me from my earliest years. He instilled the truth in me that life is a sacred trust. He taught me that I am connected to ancestors past and generations future therefore, every choice, each act, should be considered the light of how it uses the investment of those who went before and how it prepares for those coming after for life.

Our Heavenly Father teaches us of the sacred trust of life, too. From the opening page of the revelation of Holy Scripture, we learn that He made us, not just to gather a few crumbs to eat, not just to propagate our DNA in an instinctive drive for survival, but rather to live for Him, which is a noble purpose! “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27, NIV)  What is He saying?

Some take that paragraph and turn it into a reason to exploit the earth and all living things. “After all,” they say, “God put us at the top of the pile, didn’t He?” It is true that humanity is distinct from the rest of Creation. In the story that the Spirit tells in Genesis, He “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7, NIV) He made us eternal, like He is! Our dusty bodies are decaying and eventually will return to the elements, but that ‘breath of life’ that gives us ‘soul’ lives on. However, that distinction of being, and that offer to ‘rule,’ does not give us unrestricted rights to selfishly use up our earth’s resources. Why? Because our life and place in His Creation order is a sacred trust!

Rachel Held Evans is eloquent about this.  “But to be “created in the image of God” carries significant leadership implications as well. In the ancient Near Eastern world, kings were considered divine image-bearers, appointed representatives of God on earth. Kings would often place images of themselves, usually statues, in distant parts of their kingdoms to remind their subjects of their sovereignty over the land. So for man and woman to be God’s image-bearers in this context, means that God has entrusted both men and women with ruling the world on God’s behalf.  “Let us make humankind in our image,” God says, “according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish,…birds, cattle,…all the wild animals…every creeping thing.”

We ‘rule’ in the sense that we bring His kingdom of Light and Love to the places where we work, play, serve, and worship. We push back the darkness of hatred. We work to build relationships. Our lives reveal Eternity to those who live just to serve their appetites. Yes, we are ‘more than conquerors’ through Christ, bearers of the image of our Creator.

Think about that deeply this morning.  You might be tempted to say, “Oh, Pastor Jerry, that’s just philosophy that does not really concern me.” Ah, but it does.  All of Scripture is given for our instruction, to make us wise, to point us to the best life. These words in the opening book of the Bible are more than a simple story and certainly beyond mere myth. They are there to shape our understanding and identity, so that we will live for His glory and enjoy the richest kind of life possible.

Live this day, make each choice, as the image-bearer of your Heavenly Father. Reflect His Presence into the world in which you live. Live in the sacred trust.

Here is a word from the Word. “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life.” (Philippians 2:12-16, NIV)

________

Lord Reign In Me

Over all the earth You reign on high
Every mountain stream every sunset sky
But my one request Lord my only aim
Is that You’d reign in me again

Lord reign in me reign in Your pow’r
Over all my dreams in my darkest hour
You are the Lord of all I am
So won’t You reign in me again

Over every thought over every word
May my life reflect the beauty of my Lord
‘Cause You mean more to me
Than any earthly thing
So won’t You reign in me again

Brenton Brown © 1998 Vineyard Songs (UK/Eire) (Vineyard Music UK)

CCLI License # 810055

A Statement We Cannot Ignore

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On this Monday morning, let’s go back to a familiar line in the Scripture – In the beginning, God created …”  (Genesis 1:1) We cannot over-estimate the importance of those five words for our understanding, words that will give us hope, purpose, and meaning in a confused, disorderly world. Have you forgotten these words or set them aside because of the controversies that swirl around them among those who argue about whether there is a literal 6 day creation or whether we live on a young earth created just a few thousand years ago, as some insist?

All we can know about the existence of this universe flows from that declaration. It is a bedrock foundation for our faith. God says that we are not accidents, nor are we simply the latest development in a random sequence of events ranging back over millions of years. He created – intentionally, beautifully, wisely, and with order.  If we erase that statement from how we understand life, all of the rest of our faith disintegrates.

 

That chapter includes three additional words that we need to know – “And God said … Nine times that those opening lines of the inspired Scripture tell us that God spoke the world we know into existence. The universe, as we know it, came from the mind of God and reflect His intent.

Genesis 1 causes me to know profound joy and deep assurance. I am not an insignificant organism, my body a mere collection of star dust! Oh, it may well be that God used the matter of His universe to create my body. But, it was His purpose to do so. Those words also call me to reverence and worship, to love and care for what He has made for me.

The opening passage of Scripture ends with this – “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. (Genesis 1:31, NIV)  “Very good” is a rather weak translation of the Hebrew text which includes the richer meaning of excellent, beautiful, pleasant, and abundant! That is the Creation that He made for us. Look at the colors that are painted in the sky this morning. He made them. The renewal of the earth with the coming of Spring; He designed that. Those eyes that drink in the beauty of the earth, those ears that hear the sound of the wind, those hands, that heart that beats, that brain that processes … these were made by Him with excellence!

Have you forgotten the majesty of Genesis 1?
Have you allowed the conceit of human wisdom to rob that foundation of faith from you?
Are you arguing over the ‘how,’ the ‘why,’ of that revelation and missing the meaning for you?

Today, this Monday morning – confess these three things:
“In the beginning, God created …”
“And God said…”
“God said it was very good.”

Then, worship Him with awe and step into this new week with the assurance that you exist in His Plan, that your life, though just one among 7 billion, matters to the One who called you into being. Let this revelation preserve you from the ancient, and now once again renewed, error of worshipping the Creation rather than the Creator! The earth He has made, the universe He has formed – these are for His glory.

Here is a word from the Word, a song of praise to the Creator.
” O Lord, our Lord,
How excellent is Your name in all the earth,
Who have set Your glory above the heavens!

 Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants
You have ordained strength,
Because of Your enemies,
That You may silence the enemy and the avenger.

 When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained,
What is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that You visit him?

 For You have made him a little lower than the angels,
And You have crowned him with glory and honor.
You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things under his feet,
All sheep and oxen—
Even the beasts of the field,
The birds of the air,
And the fish of the sea
That pass through the paths of the seas.

 O Lord, our Lord,
How excellent is Your name in all the earth!”  (Psalm 8, NKJV)

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How Great Thou Art

(A hymn for worship, in beautiful simplicity)

O Lord my God
When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds
Thy hands have made
I see the stars\
I hear the rolling thunder
Thy pow’r thru’out
The universe displayed

Then sings my soul
My Savior God to Thee
How great Thou art
How great Thou art

When through the woods
And forest glades I wander
And hear the birds
Sing sweetly in the trees
When I look down
From lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook
And feel the gentle breeze

 And when I think
That God His Son not sparing
Sent Him to die
I scarce can take it in
That on the cross
My burden gladly bearing
He bled and died
To take away my sin

 When Christ shall come
With shout of acclamation
And take me home
What joy shall fill my heart
Then I shall bow
In humble adoration
And there proclaim
My God how great Thou art

Stuart Wesley Keene Hine© Copyright 1949 and 1953 Stuart Hine

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A mirror reflecting His majesty

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Harry A. was a man who loved Jesus and it showed. There was nothing artificial or forced in his faith. He laughed heartily with others and he spread the love of God. He was a retired missionary who had served in hard places where Islam was the majority religion and Christians had to tred lightly. One of the things I loved about him was his little notebook in which he jotted down thoughts and impressions he felt were inspired by his conversation with the Holy Spirit. He would occasionally reach for it and say “let me tell you what the Lord and I have been discussing.” Then, he would share some insight he had gleaned from reading Scripture or meditation. Lest you think he was preachy or religious, let me quickly tell you that Harry was neither. I cannot remember a visit with Harry that wasn’t challenging, or inspiring, or comforting! He was an ambassador for his King.

Do you know how you become like another? There is just one way – spend time with that person! People start to ‘rub off’ on us when we sit at dinner with them in a Life Group, when we learn their stories, when we live through stormy times and triumphs with them.  Our associates will always influence us – to lift us up or pull us down. Harry’s life revealed with Whom he spent time. He was like Jesus.

When others spend time with you is it obvious that you have spent time with Jesus?  I have been reading and studying the stories of the Acts.  When Peter and John were hauled before the ruling council of Jerusalem for a lengthy interrogation, that hostile group came to this conclusion: “these men had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13) His love, wisdom, strength, and character had become theirs.

You probably know people who try too hard to be like Jesus. Their words often are just repeated phrases of things they have read or from sermons they have heard. Their efforts come off like a parody of the Christian life. You can’t fake love; not for long anyway. You can’t fake the life of the Spirit because the fruit of His Presence only ripens in us when we spend time in the Son.

My prayer that others will see Jesus in me. Paul says this – “Now, the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, he gives freedom … so that we can be mirrors that brightly reflect the glory of the Lord. And as the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and more like him and reflect his glory even more.” (2 Corinthians 3:17-18, NLT)  How amazing that ordinary people – you and I – can become mirrors that reflect the brightness of His majesty into our world.

Here’s a word from the Word. Let’s let Him shine today.
All we are is messengers, errand runners from Jesus for you. It started when God said, “Light up the darkness!” and our lives filled up with light as we saw and understood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful. If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us.”  The Message (2 Corinthians 4:5-7)

Spend some time with Him and let His love rub off on you.

_______________

Forever Reign

You are good You are good
When there’s nothing good in me
You are love You are love
On display for all to see
You are light You are light
When the darkness closes in
You are hope You are hope
You have covered all my sin

 You are peace You are peace
When my fear is crippling
You are true You are true
Even in my wandering
You are joy You are joy
You’re the reason that I sing
You are life You are life
In You death has lost its sting

  (Oh) I’m running to Your arms
I’m running to Your arms
The riches of Your love will always be enough
Nothing compares to Your embrace
Light of the world forever reign

 You are more You are more
Than my words will ever say
You are Lord You are Lord
All creation will proclaim
You are here You are here
In Your presence I’m made whole
You are God You are God
Of all else I’m letting go

 My heart will sing no other Name
Jesus Jesus

Jason Ingram | Reuben Morgan© 2009 Hillsong Music Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

So Essential Tunes (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)

Spirit Nashville Three (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)

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Will you love me more if …

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Did you see the news story yesterday about wealthy parents who hired a ‘consultant’ to get their kids admitted to prestigious universities? The allegations include bribes to coaches for places on athletics teams, fixed test results, and fake online profiles created to impress college admissions officers. It is a sad reflection of the drive to ‘succeed,’ the need to be ‘someone’ defined by letters and awards instead of inner character. Is this something new? Silly you, if you think so. It is sad that some deserving kid got pushed out of the place he had earned by the child of a family who used their wealth to buy a spot at the front of the line. Even more sad is what this kind of lying does to the heart of the student who knows she is living as a fraud.

Here is some good newsGod does not love you more if you are taller, richer, faster, stronger, or smarter! You do not need to buy His favor or approval. Grace is a gift – freely available to all at Christ’s expense. What a revelation for us who live in a competitive world that creates the kind of insecurity that drives a few to try cheat their way to the front of the line.

We desperately need a revelation of grace. Without it, we slide into religion that demands more and more of us as we vainly attempt to earn what we can only gain by faith.  Many years ago, during a trip to Latin America, I saw many towns with beautiful churches at their center.  Inside those buildings there was a common sight that broke my heart.  Poor people, mostly older women, crawled across rough stone pavement and splintery wooden floors to ornate altars that depicted God far above them, just out of reach. In many cases, the knees of those old women were bloodied by their effort.

Their devotion was admirable, but terribly misguided. God isn’t impressed by bloody knees. We do not need to inflict pain on ourselves to gain His attention! The Word tells that we “have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:19-22, NIV)

While you won’t find many Americans crawling across a splintery floor to a church’s altar, the same misunderstanding of Who He is makes many of us believe that He is out of reach, that we need to give more, do more, or find someone with ‘pull’ to help us to gain His favor.

To be clear, our Christian discipleship demands much of us but not to earn God’s love. We serve from love and gratitude, fully assured of His acceptance. “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning.” (Reclaiming Jesus’ Teaching on Discipleship, Dr. Dallas Willard)  The grace of God is no excuse for lack of reverence.

There is a pseudo-grace to which some cling who have misunderstood the Gospel as much as those with bloodied knees. The Word describes them “godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.” (Jude 4, NIV) Authentic faith deepens awe, replaces self-confidence with God-confidence, and grows a holiness in us that results from our walking ‘in the Spirit,’ relying on God’s promises that bring our lives into alignment with His purpose.

My earliest experience of Christianity was something like that of those who crawl to God. I thought that He was distant, angry, and bent on my destruction, restrained only by Jesus. In a season of brokenness, the Spirit caused me to re-examine the Scripture and what I saw in the Gospel of Christ was amazing, graceful, and liberating. The Lord brought maturity that revealed the joy of holy living. But, it was not Self trying harder, it was God, the Holy Spirit, living in me, and our partnership allows something supernatural to happen in me.

Disciple, do you somehow think that bloody knees bring greater blessing?
Are you asking God, “Will You love me more if …?”
Are you so trapped by the need to perform that you are willing to try short cuts, tempted by ‘fraudulent’ offers made by religious charlatans?

Hear the challenge of the word from the Word that Paul wrote to some Christians who had slipped back into mere religion after having known the revelation of grace.
“Oh, foolish Galatians! Who has cast an evil spell on you? … After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? Have you experienced so much for nothing? Surely it was not in vain, was it?  I ask you again, does God give you the Holy Spirit and work miracles among you because you obey the law? Of course not! It is because you believe the message you heard about Christ. In the same way, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” (Galatians 3:1-6, NLT)

_________

Amazing grace,
How sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but
Now I’m found,
Was blind but now I see!

Public Domain

Prayer – raw and honest

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Around 4:30 am, I awakened from a dream about my late wife, a poignant one about a road trip we took 4 months before she died. As is my custom, my waking moments were turned to God in prayer, but coming after that dream, my prayers were emotional, angry even. “God, where were you when cancer showed up? What good can possibly be found in this ongoing grief I feel?” In a few moments, I found myself thanking Him for her eternal life, moving to a better frame of mind as I prayed for His strength for the day, that His love and grace would show through me.

Prayer need not always be high praise. Sometimes it is a raw, honest overflow of our innermost struggles. The best prayer is a conversation with our Father that engages Him where we are and allows Him to move us to where He desires us to be. Paul urges us to “Pray without ceasing!”  (1 Thess. 5.17) That does not mean we go to live in some holy place or that we recite The Lord’s Prayer endlessly.  Ceaseless prayer is a way of life, constant contact with our God. IF we only allow ourselves to pray nice prayers we will not keep lines of communication open. Our heart will chill towards Him, reverting to formal, heartless prayers only on special occasions.

Those with whom we are closest in life are given the privilege of seeing as we are. We will risk a disagreement with someone that we love because we trust that love to keep the relationship strong, in spite of differences. So, if we really love the Lord, we will live openly before Him – our sorrow, our joy, our hopes, our failures, our celebrations – all shared with Him in prayer.

I have counseled many about getting through those times of life when we are angry at God, when we do not want to talk to Him.
How do we move beyond that kind of anger?

Use the words of another!
When words fail me, I turn to the Psalms to pray some of David’s rich words. I sometimes borrow a song. Recently the ancient words of the hymn – “Be Thou My Vision” have been part of my prayers.

Let others pray for you!
Oh, I hope you have advocates on whom you can call for prayer. Hearing the voices of others lifted to God on your behalf is a blessed thing.

Pray simply, using a single phrase!
“Lord, have mercy.” “Let Your kingdom come.” “Holy Spirit, come.” “Jesus!” God can fill in the gaps when our hearts are unable to shape our thoughts into long prayers.

Let the Spirit lead!
The Word gives this promise of His Advocacy on our behalf.  “The Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.” (Romans 8:26-27, NLT)  There is a time when we pray best by being silent: our hands and heart open to Him, listening, waiting, presented in adoration of His Holy Presence.

Prayer is not an option.  When we pray, we open up our lives to the power of God and, in ways that defy our understanding,  we become co-laborers in His work of building His Kingdom here on earth.
Pray first, not last.
Pray often, not seldom.
Pray boldly, not tentatively.
Pray “faith-fully,” knowing that He is faithful, even when you cannot discern His ways or hear His voice.

Here’s the word from the Word. “But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.  Hear my prayer, O LORD, listen to my cry for help; be not deaf to my weeping.  For I dwell with you as an alien, a stranger, as all my fathers were.” (Psalm 39:12, NIV) “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” (Psalm 56:8, NLT)

“I will fulfill my vows to you, O God, and will offer a sacrifice of thanks for your help. For you have rescued me from death; you have kept my feet from slipping. So now I can walk in your presence, O God, in your life-giving light.” (Psalm 56:12-13, NLT)

_________

Lord I Need You
(Pray along with Matt Maher at this link)

Lord, I come, I confess;
Bowing here, I find my rest,
And without You I fall apart.
You’re the one that guides my heart. 

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You.
Ev’ry hour I need You.
My one defense, my righteousness,
Oh God, how I need You.

 Where sin runs deep, Your grace is more.
Where grace is found is where You are.
And where You are, Lord, I am free,
Holiness is Christ in me.
Where You are Lord, I am free,
Holiness is Christ in me.

 So teach my song to rise to You,
When temptation comes my way.
And when I cannot stand I’ll fall on You,
Jesus, You’re my hope and stay.
And when I cannot stand I’ll fall on You,
Jesus, You’re my hope and stay.

Christy Nockels | Daniel Carson | Jesse Reeves | Kristian Stanfill | Matt Maher
© 2011 sixsteps Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) Sweater Weather Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055