Are you anchored or adrift?

wordswag_1508499722191What are your anchor points for life?  Do you just ‘make it up as you go’ or have you committed yourself to principles that are bedrock solid, that keep you anchored when life gets stormy?  Are your decisions shaped around core convictions?

A thousand ideas, many quite good will come into your mind today.  How will you sort them? By what will you evaluate them, some on reserve, some discarded, perhaps one or two moved to the top of your list?

I am convinced that most of us do not need more things on our ‘to-do’ list. We need to pare down our commitments to things shaped by our anchor points! And that obviously means we must form those anchors from a solid base of truth.

I am deeply grateful to my Dad and Mom who taught me the principles of the Bible, who made regular attendance at church, along with the reading of the Word, first-line priorities for me.  My head is packed full of Scripture – stories of the Old Testament heroes and Jesus, and teaching about the Christian life from the letters of Paul.  My adult life has been marked by a journey of understanding, processing those ‘ideas’ that I learned over the years into Truth that is the basis of my anchor points!

What anchors me?
I am a child of God through the grace of Christ.
-My life aimed at eternal reward.
-Love is the highest value- loving God, loving family, loving others.

Ah, yes, friend, I know that life is very complex and demands growth. I did not decide what was true 4 decades ago and close my mind. I remain a student and a disciple, growing in grace and understanding.

One thing I can say with complete conviction – “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him for that day.” (2 Timothy 1:12)   I am comforted, corrected, and guided by the wisdom of the Word, which the Spirit brings to my consciousness again and again.  Those words are anchor points that keep me from going adrift.

The lack of love for the Scripture is one of the trends in the Church that is of real concern for this pastor. It is common for Christians to have little idea of what the Bible says about life, about God, about our hope. Many ideas compete in their minds and the lack of anchor points leaves them subject to fear, doubt, and instability.

Paul, near the end of his life, wrote to Timothy, a younger man pastoring a church, and struggling with opposition.  The old man reminds him of the importance of anchor points!  Hold on to the pattern of wholesome teaching you learned from me—a pattern shaped by the faith and love that you have in Christ Jesus. Through the power of the Holy Spirit who lives within us, carefully guard the precious truth that has been entrusted to you.” (2 Timothy 1:13-14, NLT) But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you. You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:14-17, NLT)

Are you receptive to the Scripture or do you argue with God’s wisdom because ‘it just doesn’t make sense,’ your mind without anchoring convictions? God is never offended by our honest questions, but we certainly sin when we allow our questions to become a root of bitterness or an excuse for rebellion. Be like Jeremiah who exclaimed: “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty.” (Jeremiah 15:16, NIV)

Want to develop anchor points that will hold you steady?
Give yourself to diligent study.
Find a pastor who loves the Word and who will faithfully open for the congregation.
Process your faith with prayer, thought, conversation, and by putting it to work!

Here is a word from the Word. I pray it is your desire. “With my whole heart I have sought You; Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments! Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You. Blessed are You, O Lord! Teach me Your statutes. With my lips I have declared All the judgments of Your mouth. I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, As much as in all riches. I will meditate on Your precepts, And contemplate Your ways. I will delight myself in Your statutes; I will not forget Your word.” (Psalm 119:10-16, NKJV)

__________________

Anchor

I have this hope
As an anchor for my soul
Through ev’ry storm
I will hold to You\
With endless love
All my fear is swept away
In ev’rything
I will trust in You

There is hope in the promise of the cross
You gave ev’rything to save the world You love
And this hope is an anchor for my soul
Our God will stand unshakable

Unchanging One
Who was and is to come
Your promise sure
You will not let go

Your Name is higher
Your Name is greater
All my hope is in You\
Your word unfailing
Your promise unshaken
All my hope is in You

Ben Fielding | Dean Ussher
© 2012 Hillsong Music Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

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Just a wise guy?

wordswag_1508411619710Circumstances of my life this week have pressed a prayer from me repeatedly – “Abba, I need wisdom!”  What am I asking for?

Wisdom can be difficult to define. Wisdom encompasses more than knowing many things and is certainly more than great intelligence. We all know some really smart people who do not have enough common sense to come in out of the rain! Yet, when we see Wisdom is obvious to us – a combination of knowledge, experience, and insight – that bring direction and purpose.  Wisdom sees beyond the moment, is able to take in a wide range of information and process it in decision-making. Wisdom understands the needs of the day and sustains discipline that leads to a better outcome tomorrow.

In the Bible’s collection of wise saying that we call Proverbs, the call to become wise is repeated often. “Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or swerve from them. Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding. Esteem her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honor you. She will set a garland of grace on your head and present you with a crown of splendor.” (Proverbs 4:5-9, NIV)
Get wisdom!  Got it, Lord. How does one become wise?

First there is the foundation we choose for our life
.
Fear of the Lord teaches wisdom; humility precedes honor.” (Proverbs 15:33, NLT)  Take God out of the picture and there is no hope for wisdom. The ‘story’ that shapes the richest life begins with the Creator, grasps the human dilemma brought on by Sin, and humbly seeks God, finding Him at the Cross of Christ, and resting hope on the Resurrection!

Second, there is the recognition of our limits.
There is a conceit common to many, especially those who have not yet encountered life’s greater sorrows, that allows them to think that they are the master and commander of their destiny, that they are self-sufficient within themselves. The Word warns us “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.” (Proverbs 3:7, NIV)
I cringe when I remember the misplaced confidence that I had in my own abilities prior to the age of 32! My life was full of accomplishments in which I took pride. I had little understanding of the advantages that my upbringing gave me. I charged full tilt into life with that unique optimism of the young. But, experience taught me the limits of my abilities and wisdom began to settle on me when I humbly sought God in the middle of failure!

Third, there is the importance of gaining information!
True wisdom is impossible without opening our minds to the vast amount of information that is available to us. A person of great intellect who chooses to remain ignorant will not develop the best wisdom. Gleaning information demands conversations with others. Those learning conversations include formal learning in a classroom, talks over a cup of coffee with those further down the road in life, reading the thoughts of others in  books, and being part of peer groups that help us sort through the mental data we are accumulating as we pass through life.

Fourth, there is the discipline of thought!

Wisdom emerges from a willingness to learn to think. How often do we just react to life? And, those reactions are often lacking wisdom, leaving us with nothing but regret. In our culture where life moves at great speed, when we can interact in real time via texts, emails, and Facebook posts we can easily become ping pong balls, bouncing from idea to idea.

Those who would become wise must carve out time to think. Some call it meditation, others contemplation. Christians need to understand that prayer is not just presenting requests to the Father. True prayer also includes deep thought, time of focus on the Presence of the Spirit that allows Him to sort through the mental clutter, coupled with our willingness to confront our preconceptions, prejudice, and selfishness! Our Abba invites us to “Be still, and know that I am God!” (Psalm 46:10) From that centered place, we can move into wisdom.

Fifth, there is the choice of companions!
The simple truth is that we are influenced, powerfully, by those with whom we do life. “Walk with the wise and become wise; associate with fools and get in trouble.” (Proverbs 13:20, NLT)  Who can argue with that?
Here is a word from the Word.
May our Abba draw us to greater wisdom, leading us to lives that are rich, productive, and that honor Him.

“Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom?
Here’s what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts. Mean-spirited ambition isn’t wisdom. Boasting that you are wise isn’t wisdom. Twisting the truth to make yourselves sound wise isn’t wisdom.” (James 3:13-14, The Message)
“Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.” (James 3:17-18, The Message)
_____________
We Fall Down
We fall down
We lay our crowns
At the feet of Jesus
The greatness of mercy and love
At the feet of Jesus
And we cry holy holy holy
And we cry holy holy holy
And we cry holy holy holy is the Lamb
CCLI Song # 2437367
Chris Tomlin © 1998 worshiptogether.com songs (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)
CCLI License # 810055

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The collapsing house built on sand

wordswag_1508328311243A deep vein of skepticism runs through American society today. Institutions are no longer trusted after multiple scandals. Most of us do not trust our government systems, convinced that too often power is used for monied special interests. And, under it all, we have adopted a radical kind of individualism that rests on the conviction that we can make our ‘truth,’ that we can live as we believe best fits our own thoughts. Even many Christians reject a life shaped around the immutable will of God. They give lip service to loving God, but choose to ignore Him in areas where they believe the ancient ‘truth’ to be irrelevant to life. If we are a person dedicated to the morality of the revealed Word of God we are likely to be regarded with the same disdain reserved for racists!

What then to do with this statement? “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” (Proverbs 1:7, NIV) The Message paraphrase of that passage is more accessible – “Start with God—the first step in learning is bowing down to God; only fools thumb their noses at such wisdom and learning. ” (Proverbs 1:7, The Message) Do we believe that Truth about the world, about the meaning and purpose of life, about spirituality is found in the revelation of God or are we convinced that only those things which can be measured, discovered, and confirmed by scientific methods are ‘true?’

Many modern Christians are so confused about the truth that they make a mockery of the Scripture even while professing that they follow it for life. For example, a virtual tenet of faith among many conservative Christians is that capitalism and consumerism are enshrined in the Scripture. So, they pile up wealth and buy things considering this their destiny and right. In truth, the Bible is very clear about the importance of shared wealth, care for the poor, and the folly of shaping life around ‘stuff!’ Another glaring area of confusion is around sexual ethics. Christians raise a great deal of clamor over the agenda of the LGBT community, even as divorce is as accepted in the church at the same rates as it is among non-believers despite the Bible having much more to say about the sanctity of marriage than it does about homosexuality. My point is not to justify one with the other but to remind us that we lose credible witness to the truth when we select which ‘truth’ we accept.

When one looks over the holey faith practices that most of adopt, it is little wonder that a whole generation is discarding the church, rejecting Christianity as just another ‘idea’ and one that is not all that compelling. For the last half century many pastors and churches have looked for ways to accommodate the culture changes, softening the call of Christ to discipleship, remaining silent on the more controversial truths of the Scripture. As a result, the vast majority of people under 40 in our churches have no idea about the actual revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Instead they have adopted a new kind of ‘religion’ that some call “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” shaped around the idea that God exists but is distant from daily life, that He (or She) just wants us to be nice people, that we exist to find personal happiness and to feel good about ourselves, and that all ‘good’ people go to heaven.

This insipid religion cannot compel radical change, has no concept of sin, and does not see the need of a Savior, even disdaining the story of the Cross as a relic of superstition! Jesus’ words should shake us to our core. “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.” When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, for he taught with real authority—quite unlike their teachers of religious law.” (Matthew 7:24-29, NLT)

Dear Christian, it is time to dig down to foundations, to look deeply at our faith, to ask ourselves where the holes exist in our convictions! We need to pray for a new revelation of God, the rediscovery of Christ Jesus, and a fresh outpouring of the Spirit. Such a life will make us fools in the eyes of our world and cause us to be rejected, perhaps even hated, even as Jesus was. Paul sarcastically addressed the ‘worldly wise’ Christians in the church of Corinth saying “We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ!” (1 Corinthians 4:10, NIV) His words echo to us today who are confronted with the same label if we choose a live that is centered on God and His will. Are you ready to be dismissed as a ‘fool’ because you radically trust and serve Jesus Christ?

Here’s a word from the Word for your thoughts today. I pray that the Spirit will use it to pierce our pretensions, to guide us to true wisdom.
“Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God. So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.” (1 Corinthians 3:18-4:3, NIV)

_____________

Now walk with God
And He will be
your dearest Friend
Where’er you go
In everything you do.

And may your life
Reflect His love to ev’ryone.
Now walk with God
And He will walk with you.

 Now Walk With God
Skillings, Otis © 1969 Lillenas Publishing Company (Admin. by The Copyright Company)

CCLI License No. 810055

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When you are stuck in the mud, just give up!

wordswag_1508236545289A year or two after high school, my son bought a Jeep Wrangler. The romance of “off-roading” captivated him, and so off he went into the deep woods on a trail that was suited to a small four-wheeler. He over-estimated the ability of the 4 wheel drive as he drove into a muddy hole! The Jeep was soon buried to the axles.  When Jay showed up that evening long ago, tired and muddy after his misadventure in the woods, I was aggravated with him for being foolish, but thankful he asked for help. The next day, with help from me and a friend who knew the ‘woods’ well, the Jeep was recovered after considerable effort.

The trip to retrieve the Wrangler turned into an adventure we did together, a memory we share. Today, it’s one of those family stories that always brings on laughter. It’s not hard to imagine Jay’s frustration and desperation as he gunned the engine and just dug in deeper!

There is a parable for life. We all find ourselves in a bog from time to time, don’t we?  We cruise along, becoming overly confident and then, we’re stuck! Sometimes all our struggling does nothing but make the mudhole deeper. We squirm and argue, kick and whine, but no matter what we do, the hole just gets deeper. You know what I’m talking about, it happens to all of us.

The wise know when it is time to just give up – in a faith-filled way. No, we do not just quit or resign to the circumstance, with a heavy sigh and defeat.
We stop struggling.
We admit our weakness.
We enlist good friends to come alongside of us.
And, we surrender our heart and life to the Lord asking for His wisdom,  asking for an infusion of courage, and trusting Him to reveal the resources we need to get out of the hole.

Think that’s easy?  It’s not!  There is that thing called – pride.  Millions stay stuck refusing to admit, “I’m in over my head.”  Who wants to admit he can’t get himself out of the pit? Who wants to ‘let go and let God?’  We say it and it sounds good, but the doing is much, much harder.

Shortly after the miraculous Exodus from Egypt, the people of God found themselves with no way out! The Egyptian army (the super-power of the day) was a day’s march behind them and the Red Sea was blocking the way ahead. They were a nation of former slaves, with no army and few weapons.  As their situation became desperate, they “panicked when they saw the Egyptians overtaking them. They cried out to the Lord, and they said to Moses, “Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness? Weren’t there enough graves for us in Egypt? What have you done to us? Why did you make us leave Egypt? Didn’t we tell you this would happen while we were still in Egypt? We said, ‘Leave us alone! Let us be slaves to the Egyptians. It’s better to be a slave in Egypt than a corpse in the wilderness!” (Exodus 14:10-12, NLT)  Panic! Blame! Loss of perspective!  The mud flew, so to speak, but they were still ‘stuck.’

Moses, whose faith had been deepening, calls on them to give up! “Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today. The Egyptians you see today will never be seen again. The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.” (Exodus 14:13-14, NLT)  Just stand still. This was not giving in to fate. This was giving up in faith!  Their admission that they could do nothing was paired with their expectation that God would do something. And He did. Only as the faithful and courageous Moses was willing to obediently do what God said, extending his staff over the sea, did the Lord open up the sea. The solution was amazing, unforeseen, and a lesson in greater faith.

Is the mud flying, the hole getting deeper?
Is your desperation growing?

Give up! Look up!
Turn to the Lord and offer yourself completely to Him. Sometimes He changes our situation, sometimes He changes us.

Here’s a word from the Word. “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” (Psalm 46:10-11, NIV)

________________

Lord I Need You

(Listen at this link as you pray)

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

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
My one defense my righteousness
Oh God how I need You

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

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Are you merely a ‘good person?’

wordswag_1508148239372.jpgWhat can replace a steaming hot cup of coffee on a chilly winter morning? One of the simple pleasures of life for me is my coffee. I want it hot, right on the edge of tolerable. Some people pour coffee and sip at the cup for an hour. Ugh. Who can enjoy it once it has cooled?  That lukewarm beverage reminds me of those who choose a kind of life that is safe, comfortable, and unchallenged- who have settled for duty and gave up on delight.

People who live colorless, bland, lukewarm lives without purpose or passion are a tragedy. Yes, I know that there are those who wake up to go to a job they hate, who shuffle through life just putting one foot in front of the other through one gray day after another feeling they are trapped, and I feel great compassion for them. However, there are many who choose to avoid challenge, who refuse to dream because they will not allow disappointment, whose vision is narrow and limited, because they choose that path .  What a contrast we see in those people who know why they are alive, who drink deeply from the cup of life be it filled with sorrow or ecstasy.  They love whole-heartedly, laugh readily, weep appropriately. They do not just exist, they live!

A soulless religion, shaped by duty, focused only around maintaining morality, that lacks any passion for Jesus Christ, is a tragedy.

Jesus looked at a church that was ‘good’ but He lamented their great lack – “I know you inside and out, and find little to my liking. You’re not cold, you’re not hot—far better to be either cold or hot! You’re stale. You’re stagnant. You make me want to vomit.” (Revelation 3:15-16, The Message)  His words are shocking when we understand that He did not utter them to a church that was without good.

The Laodiceans were upright and hard-working people, the kind of church many a pastor would envy!  But, they did not LOVE the Lord.  His further appeal to them is that they return to Him, that they look up to see what they were missing in Him, and that they would allow Him to clothe them with His rich garments of grace. And then, He made this offer: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20, NIV)

How long has it been since you just sat down, waiting on Jesus, and heard what He had to say to you?

Yesterday, prior to our worship at Faith Discovery, I slipped into the sanctuary to offer myself in worship, alone. I sat at the piano in that big auditorium, pouring out my praise, singing of the “Blessed Assurance” that I find in His love, singing my petition that the Holy Spirit would move on His people.  I don’t know how long it was before I opened my eyes because I was lost for a few moments in His goodness; yes, in love with Jesus. What renewal was found in that loss of Self to His Spirit. In that moment I was privileged to stand before the Throne of God.

A devilish lie takes root in the souls of ‘good’ Christians, one I have known too well and too often.  As sin is defeated, as we become ‘churched,’ a subtle temptation to shift focus creeps in. Faith moves from His majestic love and grace to our good works. The desperate sinner who knows her brokenness comes to worship like a thirsty person takes a glass of cold water. But, when sin is forgiven, when life has settled and God’s goodness has brought blessings, how easily that one slips into a deception of pride that replaces passionate love with soulless religion. Those faithful workers who are serving well, who show up to church activities, who tithe faithfully may lower their eyes from adoration of the Savior to look around at those who are doing little or nothing for God. In that moment the sin of the Pharisee, pride, takes root. Jesus called those ‘good’ men, and they were very religious, ‘whitewashed tombs, beautiful on the outside but full of death.’

A graceless, unloving, and joyless person is the very antithesis of an authentic Christian.

Let me be clear I am not setting up a false conflict between doing good and loving Jesus. Those who love Him most will serve Him best.  But, those who forget the One who called them to His grace are apt to fall for a lukewarm  “form of godliness but denying its power.” (2 Timothy 3:5)

As you read this word from the Word today, pray for understanding.  Stop. Look. Listen. Wait. Find your First Love.

“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:14-21, NIV)

__________________

Father, I wait for You today.
Captivate my heart and mind with your Beauty.
Restore the passion of true worship to my songs,
my prayers, my service.

Let me live with love, joy, peace in full fruit,
the evidence of your Spirit-life working in me.
Jesus, my Vine, keep this branch connected
to the Life source that You are.

And, in this, Lord, Your bright radiance will
shine through me and I will fulfill that purpose given to each of us –
To glorify Your Name forever.

Amen.

 

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A Cure for Bitterness

choosejoyGary Thomas tells the story of an experience that changed him.  He started to write a specific thing about his wife for which he was thankful, everyday. “I began filling in the day-to-day account that very day. It was easiest for me to do it first thing in the morning. I’d wake up, and even before I prayed, I’d pick up the journal, reflect on the previous day, and write something nice about what Lisa had said or done. Occasionally, it might just be a reflection of who she is, but I wanted it to be very specific, not generic—something that couldn’t be written about any other woman. After just one month of doing this, I noticed something curious—I hadn’t prayed once for God to change my wife.”  (Full article here)

Gary’s choice need not just be about a spouse. I think we might all benefit from keeping a ‘praise journal’ right alongside of our prayer list! The Word urges “Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” (Psalm 103:2, NIV)  Are you doing that?  A friend of mine gave me a magnet to stick on my frig that reminds me to ‘choose joy.’  The Gospel song tells us to, “Count your blessings, name them; one by one!”

It is so easy to narrow the focus to the slice of life that is unpleasant, to feel the pebble in our shoe to the exclusion of every other good thing.  When we slip into complaint about that chronic pain, that habit in our spouse that drives us crazy, that person at work whose attitude is like fingernails on a chalkboard, we can get lost in the pain and wrapped in bitterness!  How the Tempter must rejoice when he finds us focused on our failures, disappointments, or sins to the exclusion of the faithfulness of our Savior and Friend.

The pattern for prayer – ACTSAdoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication (requests) – is a reminder of the importance of praise and worship as the context of our prayer life. How quickly we slip into a pattern of whining our prayers if we fail to praise first.

The Psalm quoted a moment ago continues, “He forgives your sins—every one. He heals your diseases—every one. He redeems you from hell—saves your life! He crowns you with love and mercy—a paradise crown. He wraps you in goodness—beauty eternal. He renews your youth—you’re always young in his presence.” (Psalm 103:3-5, The Message)  In genuine praise, we find our soul lifted, our footing restored. “The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights.” (Habakkuk 3:19, NLT)

Let me add a word of caution here. Don’t become a phony, unable to deal with reality, living in a ‘everything is always wonderful’ kind of denial. The Lord does not ask us to pretend that all is well all the time. Jesus’ faith was profound and perfect yet He still wept! The sins of others, the pain touched His soul.

If we refuse to feel pain, if we ignore the suffering in this world, including our own, we will become shallow, insincere persons. But, the Word does ENCOURAGE US TO REMEMBER ALL of our reality, to bring to our minds His faithfulness, His love, His promises right in the middle of the sorrows and challenges.

Today, balance complaint with thanksgiving, criticism with encouragement, petition with profuse praise. Do it consciously as you walk with Jesus and let His Spirit “renew your youth… surefooted as a deer!”  Here is a word from the Word, practical and compelling. May the Spirit make it living Truth for us this Friday.

“Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!
Worship the Lord with gladness.
Come before him, singing with joy.
Acknowledge that the Lord is God!
He made us, and we are his.

 We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him and praise his name.

For the Lord is good.
His unfailing love continues forever,
and his faithfulness continues to each generation.”  – 
Psalm 100, NLT

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Are you a lover?

reallove

The word “love” gets tossed around often.  Preachers talk about it. Songs by the thousand are written about it. We fall into it and out of it, apparently. People profess to love various things, causes, and people. Love is powerful, sometimes painful, and as necessary to our health as the air we breathe!

John wrote to the churches in his charge and to us to remind us that a genuine experience of Christ Jesus will make us lovely people! “This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. … We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death … If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (1 John 3:11, 14, 17, NIV)

We know that our faith is genuine, our salvation real, when we are changed into loving people, when we no longer live apathetically towards those who are hurting, in need, or apart from God.  The word in the Greek of the first writer that is translated as ‘know’ is about seeing, perceiving, being convinced by examining the evidence.  The Holy Spirit is telling us that the observable evidence of our spiritual change is love.

What kind of love does the Spirit awaken in us? “We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.” (1 John 3:16, NLT)  We must not miss this! It is a love that other-centered, that is sacrificial, that is generous. That person in the church who just rubs you the wrong way, who you find obnoxious, that you ignore – is someone that Christ will cause you to love, actively.  That dysfunctional person who ‘just won’t get it together’ is someone Christ died for and calls me to love at great expense to myself!  Jesus did not just come for the beautiful, the pleasant, the well-adjusted people.  He came to save the world by love, giving Himself for those who were ‘sinners!’  He is the model for the love we experience and from which we gain great assurance.

C. S. Lewis disturbs me with this observation about love.
It is easier to be enthusiastic about Humanity with a capital ‘H’ than it is to love individual men and women, especially those who are uninteresting, exasperating, depraved, or otherwise unattractive. Loving everybody in general may be an excuse for loving nobody in particular.”

We will find it much easier to go and do some ‘ministry’ for a needy group than to actually love, deeply and consistently, those with whom we live and work. Some Christians say, “I am a very loving person. I give to World Vision to support a kid in Africa. I don’t do anything bad to others. I respect my neighbors.” And that is all good. But, if they will not do the arduous work of building and maintaining loving relationships with a group of Believers, sharing ups and downs, doing ‘life’ together, their love is not complete, perhaps not even authentic.

How do come to love others in an authentic way? Our word from the Word points us in the right direction. “We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. (complete) So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. We love each other because he loved us first. (1 John 4:16-19, NLT)

Let God love you. Inevitably, His love will make you a lover!

________________
Love Them Like Jesus (Link to song by Casting Crowns)

The love of her life is drifting away,
They’re losin’ the fight for another day.
The life that she’s known is falling apart,
A fatherless home, a child’s broken heart.
You’re holdin’ her hand, you’re strainin’ for words.
You’re tryin’ to make sense of it all,
She’s desp’rate for hope,
Darkness clouding her view,
She’s lookin’ to you.

Just love her like Jesus, carry her to Him.
His yoke is easy, His burden is light.
You don’t need the answers
To all of life’s questions.
Just know that He loves her
And stay by her side,
And love her like Jesus,
Love her like Jesus.

The gifts lie in wait in a room painted blue,
Little blessing from Heaven would be there soon.
Hope fades in the night blue skies turn to gray,
As the little one slips away,
You’re holdin’ their hand, you’re strainin’ for words.
You’re tryin’ to make sense of it all,
They’re desp’rate for hope,
Darkness clouding their view,
They’re lookin’ to you.

Just love them like Jesus, carry them to Him.
His yoke is easy, His burden is light.
You don’t need the answers,
To all of life’s questions,
Just know that He loves them,
And stay by their side.
And love them like Jesus

Lord of all creation,
Holds our lives in His hands.
The God of all the nations,
Holds our lives in His hands.
The Rock of our salvation,
Holds our lives in His hands.
He cares for them just as He cares for you.

So love them like Jesus,
Love them like Jesus.
You don’t need the answers,
To all of life’s questions.
Just know that He loves them,
And stay by their side,
And love them like Jesus.

Bernie Herms | Mark Hall© 2005 Word Music, LLC (a div. of Word Music Group, Inc.)
My Refuge Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) CCLI License # 810055

 

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This crazy, mixed-up thing called Life – and God’s invitation!

jumpSometimes we come to the proverbial fork in the road.  A choice must be made and both have advantages, both are acceptable, both will require something of us, though the demands will be different. That is my place today.  It is there and it is as if I am standing, pondering, wondering, waiting. I imagine that I feel something of what a first time sky-diver feels as she stand at the door of the plane about to jump into the air, will the chute open? What happens when she leaves ‘safety?’  What I must remember, consciously bringing this to mind, no matter which way I go, I am free falling into the arms of God!

The life of faith in one sense is always uncertain and yet it is ultimately the most secure! “The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see.” (Hebrews 11:1, The Message)

Our very Gospel pivots on faith – will we trust the promise of God’s grace or continue in our own religious works?
Our security rests on faith – will we attempt to create wealth and relationships that make us feel secure or will we live with our hope resting on the Rock, secured by His Word?

True faith is never static. The faith that led us yesterday must be renewed with a faith matched to the challenges of this day.  It is not that we must ‘work up’ a new belief or try for some new kind of assurance. Just like He provided manna for the people of Israel in the wilderness, He provides us with faith for each new day. However, it is up to you and me whether we will choose to accept it with obedience. “The righteousness of God (is) revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:17, KJV)

Real faith does not exempt one from feeling real fear! Those who engage in extreme sports where they risk their lives, do so with full faith in their skills and equipment, yet they also feel fear. Curiously they love facing fear and the exhilaration that comes from overcoming it. When they reach the summit, they may be near collapse with exhaustion, but they also feel triumph.

Daniel is an inspiration for those of us who are challenged by life, who must walk on in faith.  He and his friends were taken captive when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem. Led, mostly like in chains, over hundreds of miles from their home into an alien culture, they were immediately faced with the challenge of onto their faith in the Lord or being assimilated into the religion and culture of Assyria. The safe choice was to ‘go along to get along.’ The faith choice was to trust the Lord. They chose the Lord and He gave them want they needed.

The megalomaniac king decided that he would set up a giant image of himself and require all of his administrators to give worshipful homage to it or face a fiery death. These men could not bow to an idol and keep their faith intact. Did they feel fear? Judge for yourself as you read their response to the king’s demand. “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18, NLT) Do not miss that phrase – ‘even if He doesn’t!’ They fully recognized that their choice could bring them death and they were willing to make the faith choice anyway!

Are you facing a choice of faith today?

Don’t confuse your fear and/or uncertainty with faithlessness. Faith, by definition, leads us from the visible, the known, the secure, the comfortable and into the realm of the Spirit, where we are led towards what is yet a promise.  Commit yourself to the faith way, He will meet you there. When the summit is reached, you may be exhausted, but you will be able to say: “I’ve run hard right to the finish, believed all the way. All that’s left now is the shouting—God’s applause! Depend on it, he’s an honest judge. He’ll do right not only by me, but by everyone eager for his coming.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8, The Message)

Here is a word from the Word. May it be the wind that fills the chute as we leap into the unknown of faith today.

“And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6, NLT)
_______________

Even IF  (Listen at the link)

They say sometimes you win some
Sometimes you lose some
And right now, right now I’m losing bad
I’ve stood on this stage night after night
Reminding the broken it’ll be alright
But right now, oh right now I just can’t

It’s easy to sing
When there’s nothing to bring me down
But what will I say
When I’m held to the flame
Like I am right now

 I know You’re able and I know You can
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone

 They say it only takes a little faith
To move a mountain
Well good thing
A little faith is all I have, right now

But God, when You choose
To leave mountains unmovable
Oh give me the strength to be able to sing
It is well with my soul

 I know You’re able and I know You can
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone

 I know the sorrow, and I know the hurt
Would all go away if You’d just say the word
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone
You’ve been faithful, You’ve been good

 All of my days
Jesus, I will cling to You
Come what may
‘Cause I know You’re able
I know You can

 I know You’re able and I know You can
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone

 I know the sorrow, I know the hurt
Would all go away if You’d just say the word
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone
It is well with my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul

Songwriters: Bart Marshall Millard / Benjamin Glover / Crystal Lewis / David Arthur Garcia / Tim Timmons

© Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Music Services,

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Invest it and Forget it!

spendInvesting is about putting money, time, and/or effort into something today with the expectation of a return in the future.  Investing demands discipline and patience, doesn’t it?  35 years ago, when my income was meager compared to the present, a person I trusted talked to me about my future and encouraged me to set aside a small amount of money every time I was paid, putting it into my 403 (b) account.  I took his advice and set aside $30 from every check, a pittance really, but it was a start. John told me to ‘forget’ it, to let it grow, and to keep it up.

Times came when I really ‘needed’ to keep that money for the present. I stayed with the plan, increasing the amount set aside over the years as my income grew. When I saw that account balance turning into 6 figures, I faced the temptation to ‘borrow’ it.  Now, as I approach those years when I will no longer have a regular income, I am so thankful for that man who pressed me to  invest.

Spending is easy compared to investing!

Spending provides immediate gratification. Buying something I desire is fun. Sending money off to that retirement account makes it seem to just disappear, out of my hands, unavailable to me right now.  Investing is like seed planting, anticipating another season.

Serving the Lord is definitely more like investing than spending, isn’t it?

Each day we are given time, energy, resources to use. Some of us spend it all, some of us even mortgaging our future to get something we want today.  Making worship a regular practice is hard when Sunday comes and there are a thousand things that are more fun in that moment.  Giving our time to service – teaching, caring, loving – can be tough. When we commit to a ministry that requires us to show up, to do well, it limits our ‘freedom’ to do what we desire. Becoming part of a small group of disciples that grow together is not always fun and certainly demands that we set aside our own agenda. Giving to our church, the tithe (10%), sometimes causes us to look at that money and think, “My family could enjoy _______________ (you fill in the blank) if I kept that money in my checking account.”

Will we invest in those situations, anticipating a return in the future, perhaps not even until eternity, or will we just spend?

The preacher named Malachi spoke God’s message in a time of relative prosperity. The people of the Lord were struggling with keeping God first, with investing themselves in Him.  Instead of wholehearted serving and giving, they were choosing a course of minimal participation. God was offended by their attitude and sent this word. “Isn’t it true that a son honors his father and a worker his master? So if I’m your Father, where’s the honor? If I’m your Master, where’s the respect?” God-of-the-Angel-Armies is calling you on the carpet: “You priests despise me! “You say, ‘Not so! How do we despise you?’ “By your shoddy, sloppy, defiling worship. “You ask, ‘What do you mean, “defiling”? What’s defiling about it?’ “When you say, ‘The altar of God is not important anymore; worship of God is no longer a priority,’ that’s defiling. And when you offer worthless animals for sacrifices in worship, animals that you’re trying to get rid of—blind and sick and crippled animals—isn’t that defiling?” … God-of-the-Angel-Armies asks you.” (Malachi 1:6-8, The Message)

When we regard serving the Lord and giving to His work as just another cost of life like the electric bill or our taxes, we will seek to do only what is necessary, limiting the expense so to speak. And, that is exactly how so many Christians live. Serving the Lord is not an investment in eternity. There is no delight, no joy, in Him.  So many other things are allowed to crowd out worship and prayer. God is given the left-overs, as if He were worth what ‘we can afford.’

Wise Christians regard Him as their true Treasure and they invest in Him.  We must not say, “I will invest when there is more time or money.”  The truth is that with the increase comes more opportunity to feed Self, and without the discipline of investing learned early, we will not choose to give at all.  Jesus explains, “Let me tell you, it’s easier to gallop a camel through a needle’s eye than for the rich to enter God’s kingdom. … but anyone who sacrifices home, family, fields—whatever—because of me will get it all back a hundred times over, not to mention the considerable bonus of eternal life.” (Matthew 19:24, 29, The Message)

Here are the ancient words of Preacher Malachi. May they challenge our habits of spending and cause us to invest. “Should people cheat God? Yet you have cheated me! “But you ask, ‘What do you mean? When did we ever cheat you?’ “You have cheated me of the tithes and offerings due to me. You are under a curse, for your whole nation has been cheating me. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!” (Malachi 3:8-10, NLT)

_______________

Take My Life And Let It Be

Take my life and let it be
Consecrated Lord to Thee
Take my moments and my days
Let them flow in ceaseless praise
Let them flow in ceaseless praise

 Take my silver and my gold
Not a mite would I withhold
Take my intellect and use
Ev’ry pow’r as Thou shalt choose
Ev’ry pow’r as Thou shalt choose

 Take my will and make it Thine
It shall be no longer mine
Take my heart it is Thine own
It shall be Thy royal throne
It shall be Thy royal throne

 Take my love my Lord I pour
At Thy feet its treasure store
Take myself and I will be
Ever only all for Thee
Ever only all for Thee

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Judging God! Who do You think You are?

judgegod“What do you think You’re doing?” is a question that springs to my mind too often, as if I have the right to question the Almighty, All-Knowing, Eternal God! It is a common human conceit, to think we understand more than we actually do, to want to make our will supreme. In a childish way, I want God to erase struggle, to grant perpetual smiles and sunshine. This fails to account for one of His greatest gifts to me (and all the world) – the gift of choice. He allows me to live in faith or to close my eyes to the mystery of the Divine.  If God were to become the ‘God’ so many of us desire, He would have to remove all creativity, all choice, every trace of freedom from this world because where there is freedom, there is always the possibility of evil.

If we take a short view of history, even in our own lives, we may join those who conclude that loving and serving the Holy One is an exercise in futility! “You have said, ‘What’s the use of serving God? What have we gained by obeying his commands or by trying to show the Lord of Heaven’s Armies that we are sorry for our sins? From now on we will call the arrogant blessed. For those who do evil get rich, and those who dare God to punish them suffer no harm.’ ” (Malachi 3:14-15, NLT)  I will confess that conclusion tries to take root in my mind.  The people of Malachi’s time were not the first to wonder about God’s goodness.  The singer of the 73rd Psalm laments that “these wicked people— enjoy a life of ease while their riches multiply. Did I keep my heart pure for nothing? Did I keep myself innocent for no reason?” (Psalm 73:12-14, NLT)

So what was the remedy for that kind of bitterness?  In both of those passages, it was a recovery of perspective, a long view, that restored faith. “Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name. “They will be mine,” says the Lord Almighty, “in the day when I make up my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him. And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.” (Malachi 3:16-18, NIV)

In the moment, we may wonder why, we may be unable to see the greater blessings of the Lord. But, read the finished stories of those who walk in faith and renewed appreciation for His love will grow.  That is one of the reasons I enjoy biographies of Christians.  Sometimes their struggles bear no apparent fruit for decades, sometimes not even until after their death!  The sweep of the Scripture that envelopes centuries reveals God’s will and purpose, even as He preserves His people – through times of failure and success.

C.S. Lewis, who wrote much of the faith in Christ that he found late in life, observes the upside down relationship into which we fall.  He wrote these words in the time of social upheaval that followed the Second World War, but they are even more true of so many people today“The greatest barrier I have met is the almost total absence from the minds of my audience of any sense of sin… The early Christian preachers could assume in their hearers… a sense of guilt. … Thus the Christian message was in those days unmistakably the Good News. It promised healing to those who knew they were sick. We have to convince our hearers of the unwelcome diagnosis before we can expect them to welcome the news of the remedy. The ancient man approached God as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man, the roles are quite reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock. … man is on the bench and God is in the dock.”  ― God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics

Have you put God in the seat of the accused?
Have you donned the robes of a judge, presuming to indict Him for failure?
Are you ready to doubt Him, challenge Him, or accuse Him of wrong-doing?

The truth is that God is good all the time. When we suffer because of evil He desires our restoration. We blame Him for judging us, when in reality we eat the fruit that grows from the seeds planted by human rebellion. One of the persistent lies in this world is that God is angry, vengeful, and ready to destroy.  The testimony of the Word is that God is loving;  not in a syrupy, sentimental way, but in a bold, engaged, and redemptive manner. Our sin does matter, but He took it on Himself and settled the score with evil so that we could become truly free, able to choose to love Him, to walk with Him, and to enter into the fullest life possible.

Here is a word from the Word. As you read it this Monday morning, take it deeply to your spirit, inviting the Spirit to humble your heart and quiet you in your struggle.

“Let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can’t know him if you don’t love.

This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God. … if we love one another, God dwells deeply within us, and his love becomes complete in us—perfect love!” (1 John 4:7-12, The Message)

___________

This Is Amazing Grace

Who breaks the power of sin and darkness
Whose love is mighty and so much stronger
The King of Glory the King above all kings
 Who shakes the whole earth with holy thunder
Who leaves us breathless in awe and wonder
The King of Glory the King above all kings

 This is amazing grace
This is unfailing love
That You would take my place\
That You would bear my cross
You laid down Your life
That I would be set free
Oh Jesus I sing for all that You’ve done for me

 Who brings our chaos back into order
Who makes the orphan a son and daughter
The King of Glory the King of Glory
 Who rules the nations with truth and justice
Shines like the sun in all of its brilliance
The King of Glory the King above all kings

 Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
Worthy is the King who conquered the grave
Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
Worthy is the King who conquered the grave
Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
Worthy is the King who conquered the grave
Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
Worthy worthy worthy

Jeremy Riddle | Josh Farro | Phil Wickham
© 2012 Phil Wickham Music (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)
Bethel Music Publishing CCLI License # 810055

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