Is Peace Possible?

Fear is as old as humanity. If I asked you today, “Of what are you afraid?” the answers would be many and varied;  aging, poverty, sickness, war, disease, and death – to name of the more common. All of us would admit that fear finds us at least some days. Any thinking person who considers the state of our world experiences some anxiety over the future.  We may disagree about what is wrong but most all of us would agree that we are in a precarious place – rather like a car driven by a drunken individual careening down a highway, an accident waiting to happen!

Christian, one of the promises of God to His children is a ‘peace that  which passes all understanding.’  This second week of Advent we note the theme of PEACE, but unless we learn the why and how of the peace of God it will remain just a sentiment, an idea that is unattainable for the majority of us.  In thousands of churches yesterday this text was read – “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”” (Luke 2:13-14, NIV)  I hope you hear those words with faith, with a breathed prayer to know the fullness of the promise of peace in your life and thus to become a peace-maker in your world.

Luke tells us that those rough men who were shepherds living with their sheep heard the angelic announcement and that they responded with faith. They ‘hurried off to find Mary and Joseph.’  Those few words inspire me.  How easily they might have looked at one another and said, “What a strange sight,”  and settled down again for the night. But, they wanted to see, to know, to experience what God promised, so they went seeking.  Did they understand Who is was that they found newly born among the animals out back of the inn? Probably not, but they felt the wonder and spread the word.

The One they saw that night was the Prince of Peace, born to show us the heart of God, which is filled with love. The enemy of our soul, the instigator of fear, would like to us to think that God is either cruel or remote, that He does not care for us, nor take note of us.  But, the Baby of Bethlehem was a  divine letter of love to us.  John teaches us that “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.”  He walked with us, entering our lives, and in the end dying for us – reconciling us to our Father. 

Love makes peace possible.  John was inspired to write to us that “love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:17-18, NIV)

If you would know peace today, receive the love of Christ. No matter what you have done, who has told you that you are worthless, or what your current status – you can receive the grace and love of God, by faith, and experience peace. Copy the example of those shepherds who heard, chose faith,  and went to find the Savior.

David, in a time of distress, penned the words we read in the 70th Psalm. How I love them for their authenticity. As I read them this morning, they were my prayer. You may want to make them yours.

If you are where you can read aloud, speak these words with faith:

“Hasten, O God, to save me; O LORD, come quickly to help me.
May those who seek my life be put to shame and confusion;
may all who desire my ruin be turned back in disgrace.
May those who say to me, “Aha! Aha!” turn back because of their shame.

But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who love your salvation always say,
“Let God be exalted!”
Yet I am poor and needy; come quickly to me, O God.
You are my help and my deliverer; O LORD, do not delay.
” (Psalm 70:1-5, NIV)

Isn’t that a wonderful prayer for peace?  And, it is not just a wishful thought!!  We are addressing a loving Father, One Who stands with arms outstretched, welcoming us – just as we are – to Himself.  Oh yes, You are my help and my deliverer; O LORD.  I receive Your peace today in this turbulent world. I pray to be a messenger of peace, knowing Your healing and wholeness, so that I will bring Your peace to others.

The word from the Word is a reminder that ours is not a religion but a relationship.  Hear the truth. Live in the promise of peace. “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.” (Romans 14:17-18, NIV)   Amen.

 (Video of this blog at this link)

____________

Prince Of Peace

My heart
A storm cloud’s raging deep within
The Prince of Peace
Came bursting through the wind
The violent sky
Held its breath
And in Your light I found rest

Tearing through the night
Riding on the storm
Staring down the fight
My eyes found Yours
Shining like the sun
Striding through my fear
The Prince of Peace met me there

You heard my prayer

Hope like the sunlight
Piercing through the dark
The Prince of Peace
Came and broke into my heart
The violent cross
The empty grave
And in Your light I found grace

You’re always there
And You hear my prayer

(And my soul will know) Your love surrounds me
When my thoughts wage war
When night screams terror
There Your voice will roar
Come death or shadow
God I know Your light will meet me there
(And my soul will know)
When fear comes knocking
There You’ll be my guard
When day breeds trouble
There You’ll hold my heart
Come storm or battle
God I know Your peace will meet me there (again)

Oh be still my heart
And know that You are God
Oh fear no evil
For I know You are here

Oh be still my heart
And my soul will ever know that You are God
And You heard my prayer

Dylan Thomas | Joel Houston | Matt Crocker

© 2015 Hillsong MP Melodies (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

Hillsong Music Publishing Australia (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

“I’m here for you”

Many years ago, when I still had little ones at home, the best time of each day was when evening came.  We shared dinner at 5 then we watched ABC News (Peter Jennings was like a family friend) together at 6:30. Those moments were ‘together’ time, talking, laughing, wrestling, snuggling – probably some fighting too, though I have forgotten that. There was something about being there together that defined who we are as a family, that spoke a message to my children – ‘I’m here for you.’  If I sound nostalgic, I am!  Now they are scattered around the country, but it is not all that unusual for them to call me when they are having a rough day or to share some success.  We have a text group where messages flow back and forth almost every day between siblings and Dad. Why? Because we are family, here for one another.

In this Season, we remember that God came to us long ago, a Baby born to Mary.  His desire is that we can be ‘together,’ reconciled to our Father, the family of God. Isaiah, given revelation of the Spirit, saw through time and said “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. ” (Isaiah 7:14, KJV)   Immanuel is a Hebrew name that means “God with us!”  

The God that Moses met on a mountain, Who was wholly ‘other,’ Whose Presence was symbolically separate behind the veil of the Temple’s Holy of Holies, became a Man, entered into His Creation in that mystery of Incarnation, and bridged the gap between Heaven and Earth.  Yes, my friend, He is now “God with us!”

Whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever you have done – you can know Him as Immanuel, too. The Gospel writers make it abundantly clear that He is not just God for the ‘together,’ the rich, the beautiful, the brave, or the intelligent. Jesus, son of Mary, is the God of the little, the forgotten, the weak, those bruised and broken by life.

The Father chose a young girl from a hill town to bring His Son into this world.

He was born in the animal shelter ‘out back,’ because the room ‘up front’ was full. Just maybe the kinsfolk of Joseph in Bethlehem had ‘no room’ specifically because they could count to nine, and knew that Mary’s pregnancy was a scandal.

The royal family in Judah determined early on to kill Him, and Jesus’ family became fugitives for a time until Herod’s death.

As He began His adult ministry, Mark tells us that His own family thought He was mentally unstable and tried to bring Him home to avoid embarrassment.

At the end of His short life, He hung naked, pinned to a rough cross, bleeding to death, while passers-by hurled insults at Him. Pilate mocked Him – “The King of the Jews” read the sign ordered nailed above Him as He died, a cruel joke.

Immanuel is not just a Name. It’s a statement. He understands who we are –
our hopes and our aspirations,
our successes and our defeats,
our certainties and our confusion,

… because He’s Immanuel – “God with us!”

The limits of human connection become all too obvious to me. 
My heart aches for the man who battles addiction and while I may be there for him, I cannot save him. 
I am touched by a woman who is drained by life, who gives without receiving, and I may be there for her, but I cannot impart renewal in life. 
I am concerned for a world that is divided by ideology and am a ready listener to those troubled with me, but I am not a savior.

Immanuel knows none of our limits! He offers more than empathy. He is the Savior, the Lord of Glory, the giver of Life and grace. Immanuel is the One who brings us the hope of the Great Reversal – the last, first –  the humble lifted up – the sinner made a saint – the hopeless filled with heaven’s promise.

 Today, join me in meditating on the Name – Immanuel.  Thank God that He is here now, that He has brought those once far away near.

The word from the Word is the song of Mary. Read it thoughtfully as you take note of the triumph in the words, spoken prophetically, and with great hope.

Oh, how I praise the Lord. How I rejoice in God my Savior! For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and now generation after generation will call me blessed. For he, the Mighty One, is holy, and he has done great things for me. His mercy goes on from generation to generation, to all who fear him. His mighty arm does tremendous things! How he scatters the proud and haughty ones! He has taken princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly. He has satisfied the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands. And how he has helped his servant Israel! He has not forgotten his promise to be merciful. For he promised our ancestors-Abraham and his children- to be merciful to them forever.” (Luke 1:46-55, NLT)

Today, find a moment to step out of the traffic, to retreat to the quiet, but don’t focus on your pain. Instead, wait for Immanuel to come. Invite Him to soothe your soul with His Presence.  I pray that you can hear Him say – “I’m here for you.”

 (Video of this blog at this link)
______________

Emmanuel

Holy holy
I will bow before
My Lord and King
Hallelujah
You have come to us
You make all things new

Emmanuel
Jesus Christ
You’ll never let me go
My Shepherd King
You’re watching over me
(Emmanuel)

So amazing
You have named the stars
Of the deepest night
Still You love me
You have called my name
I will follow You

Holy holy God Almighty
There is none like You
Holy holy God Almighty
There is none like You

Emmanuel Emmanuel (5X)

Reuben Morgan

© 2005 Hillsong Music Publishing Australia (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

Living with Wonder

I treasure those moments when the amazing Presence of the Holy settles on me. Sometimes it is in the sanctuary, in formal worship. Sometimes it is in the middle of the night’s darkness. Sometimes it is just a moment in the middle of the day’s work. He comes to me outside of the confines of my reasoning mind. This is mystery!  Yes, God is everywhere and His Presence surrounds me all the time, but there are just those moments that I cannot explain when I know Him, sense His love, and I am renewed in my hope.

God found a young woman in Nazareth. “In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.” (Luke 1:26-29, NIV)  Yes, God’s Presence and Word is not always sweetly comforting. Sometimes He disturbs the peace, inviting us to grow in grace.

Are you keeping your heart and mind open to the Lord’s Presence?  

Skeptics will insist that my ‘sense’ of the Presence of the Lord is nothing more than a brew of chemicals in my brain. They will read about the angel’s visit and a virgin bearing the Son of God with disbelief.  That ‘reason’ will steal the ability to truly worship the living, loving God.  It is not just the declared atheist that misses the wonder of faith. Many Christians will as well.  

In an excellent essay, Kathleen Norris observes that ‘modern believers tend to trust in therapy more than in mystery, a fact that shows in worship that employs bland speech of pop psychology and self-help rather than resonant with poetic meaning – for example, a call to worship that begins “Lord, use this hour to get our perspectives straight again.” Rather than express awe, let alone those ‘negative’ feelings of fear and trembling, as we come into the Presence of God … we focus on ourselves, arrogantly issuing imperatives to God.”  

Ah friend, let us have humility. Let us become like little children again; not childish, but child-like in wonder, admitting we cannot know all, that we are small and finite beings in a grand universe. Let us read the story of God’s love in the Incarnation with a heart of faith and a mind that is open to the mystery of things unexplained. 

You may ask, “Jerry, are you suggesting we start to believe in Santa Claus again, too?”  Of course not. I write of faith in the Living God, not in in the fables of our culture!  While Santa may appeal to a part of us, longing for simpler times and happy days of the past, we do know that the fable is just that. The story of God’s revealed love in Jesus, the Baby born of a virgin in Bethlehem, is beyond fable. It is mystery, hope, revelation!

This season of Advent make time for the discipline of worship.  Knowing His Presence will not likely just happen.  We find Him when we seek Him, when we pause to become mindful of Who exists beyond our five senses and the natural world to which we are so attached. True worship goes far beyond attaching a Christian fish to our car’s bumper, or wearing a cross on our lapel, or saying a ritual prayer.  Our God, Holy and Awesome, deserves and expects our trust, our devotion in thoughts, words, and actions.  And, that is where the mystery comes in. He is eternal, His plans and purposes spanning generations, stretching across time to eternity, but we see only a tiny slice of time. When we try to make Him fit into our little boxes of preconceived notions of Who He is, what He can do, we make Him lesser and rob ourselves. 

Are there some who work at discouraging you, whose criticism causes you doubt or fear?
Are God’s ways mysterious to you, your vision so limited that you will not worship Him?
Bow in humble reverence, magnify God in sincere praise.
Remember, “It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the Lord Almighty!”

Make His Name glorious! Worship His majesty. Accept the mystery.

Here is a word from the Word – my prayer for you today. “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (Ephesians 1:17-19, NIV) 

 (Video of this blog at this link)

______________

Majesty
(Ron Kenoly will lift your heart into the Presence. Listen!)

Majesty, worship His majesty!
Unto Jesus be all glory,
Honor, and praise.
Majesty, kingdom authority,
Flow from His throne,
Unto His own, His anthem raise!

So exalt – lift up on high –
The name of Jesus.
Magnify- come glorify –
Christ Jesus, the King!
Majesty, worship His majesty!
Jesus who died, now glorified,
King of all kings!

Jack Hayford © 1981 New Spring (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc.)

CCLI License # 810055

Hoping for?

Christmas is one of those times when hope is alive, especially in the hearts of children. Christmas lists are made in hope. I am old enough to remember when the Sears Christmas Wish Book showed up and became tattered by us when we thumbed through the pages, dreaming of what might show up on Christmas morning. Anticipation built as ‘the day’ came closer, when Mom transformed our home with decorations of the Season. 

As I grew older, the gifts were no longer of much importance but hope remained, the anticipation of seeing family members, of spending time with those I loved.  With the realization of life’s brevity hope in things eternal has become even more real for me.

Few things are as tragic as a person who has lost hope.  In a world where evil is real, where pain is not just imagined, we can lose sight of tomorrow. Chronic illness, a thousand little disappointments, financial ruin, rejection by those we love, and missed expectations are just a few reasons that hope fades, replaced with grim resignation or despair.  

I want to invite you to find hope, to anchor your hope in the eternal promise of God, to experience the kind of hope that is available to all regardless of circumstance, personal wealth, or family heritage!  In the middle of those situations that are inexplicable, when life defies our best efforts at change, there is a Savior Whose love is offered to all, available to be received by faith. He is the Hope of this Advent season and He gives hope.

Paul, inspired by the Spirit, teaches us of the power of hope. “Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” (Romans 8:23-25, NIV)  

Take note of the place of hope’s anticipation in his words.  Yes, Christ has saved us but the full experience of that salvation is still a promise.  In hope we know that we are not yet all that we will be. We continue to wrestle with temptation. We live in a world where the bad guys win too often.  But, we have HOPE that the Kingdom will come, that our salvation which is secured by Christ’s death and resurrection, will be completed because His promises are ‘yes and amen!’

As I meditated on that Scripture passage today, I remembered this quote from C. S. Lewis that urges us to raise our hope to higher things. “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” – C. S. Lewis    Let’s not try to satisfy our longing for real and rich life with the trinkets of this present world. Let us pray to see Jesus, to love Him, making Him our true hope, our joy, the reason we live.

Today, are you holding onto hope? 
If your life is dark with disappointment, take your broken heart to Jesus. 
If you are marred and scarred by sins past, let Jesus take the guilt and shame and replace them with His joy.
If you fear the future so that you have lost hope today, trust Jesus, the One who knows all our tomorrows.

He is our Hope!
Here is the word from the Word. My prayer is that God’s truth will inspire hope in us today.
“And again, Isaiah says, “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him.” May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:12-13, NIV)

 (Video of this blog at this link)

______________

O Come O Come Emmanuel (Veni Emmanuel)

O come O come Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear

Rejoice rejoice Emmanuel
Shall come to thee O Israel

O come Thou Dayspring come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight

O come Thou Wisdom from on high
And order all things far and nigh
To us the path of knowledge show
And cause us in her ways to go

O come Desire of nations bind
All peoples in one heart and mind
Bid envy strife and quarrels cease
Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace

John Mason Neale | Thomas Helmore

© Words: Public Domain

Baby and King

Yesterday, on Thanksgiving, I met a man of my generation who had come to faith in Jesus in the 1970’s during the “Jesus People” spiritual movement that swept America at that time. As he told me his story about conversion, about finding purpose in Christ, about starting Bible Studies just 2 weeks after cracking open the Bible for the first time, my heart welled up with emotion and I could not help murmur a prayer – “Lord, do it again!”  So many came to faith in that time. So many churches were built. There were so many ministries established.  The doctrine of the “Second Coming” of the Lord was a major theme.

Christians today probably find it hard to even imagine just how intensely we (yes, I was part of that revival) expected the imminent Return of the Lord.  As happens, the doctrine became unbalanced and what I call  “Rapture” fever took over, skewing a wonderful doctrine of hope into a message of fear and judgment. Some of you will remember those terribly made movies that were shown in every evangelical church’s Sunday night meetings; “Thief in the Night” and “Distant Thunder” They scared the sin out of Christians for at least a week every time we saw one of them!

We didn’t want to be “left behind” to face the horrors of the Tribulation era and the rule of the Anti-Christ. Prophecy preachers saw signs of the Return of Christ in every newspaper article and painted fantastic pictures of a world in flames which awaited anyone not ‘ready for the coming of the Lord!‘   At least for me what the Bible terms the “Blessed Hope”  became anything but blessed or hopeful!  

With a better grasp of the Bible’s prophecy texts and the grace of God, I still anticipate the coming of the Lord, but in a much more hopeful way. I love the message of Advent with the familiar themes of hope, peace, joy, and love, the annual reminder that the One who came to us as a Baby in a manger will return to us as the King of Kings. Advent reminds us that the story is not finished just yet, not for us individually nor for the Church.

This Sunday as we begin to celebrate Advent, how I pray that each of us will be renewed in true hope.  I pray that God, the Spirit, will lift our eyes so that we will see, once again, that we are eternal creatures, meant for more than a few years of struggle on this earth, destined by His Plan to live in the fullness of His reign.  When we sing the songs that tell us about God’s choice to step over the threshold of eternity and into time, humbling Himself to become a man, let’s rejoice.  And, let’s remember, anew, Advent’s most wonderful message: the Blessed Hope that Christ will come again.

In your prayers and ponderings today think on these words from the Word.

Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen.” (Revelation 1:7, NIV)

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”

Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.”  (Revelation 21:4-7, NIV)

The promised return of the King will change not only perspective but life itself!
This Advent worship the King!
Connect the Incarnation and the Revelation; the Baby and the King of Glory.

Advent will take on new meaning – not only of remembering a baby’s birth, but of hope of the King’s coronation.

_______

Joy to the World

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King!
Let ev’ry heart prepare Him room,
and Heav’n and nature sing, and Heav’n and nature sing,
and Heav’n and Heav’n and nature sing!

Isaac Watts, public domain

A realist’s Thanksgiving

Christians know this directive – “In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, KJV) I know it, too.  Does that mean we must attempt to exist in a world of unrelenting positivity, ignoring the hardships and problems of this world? That question creates a false choice – that we can either be realistic or we can be thankful.  I am convinced that the deepest gratitude grows from knowing the reality in which we live and seeing our needs matched by God’s provision!

Are you struggling to be truly thankful this year?  I hope this CWTW will encourage you today.

Let me give you a look at my process as I choose to be a realistic giver of thanks.

I know that energy prices are rising
but I am grateful that there is fuel for my car and heat in my home.

I know that I am growing older in body
but I am thankful for the wisdom that accompanies my experience in life.

I know that the nation in which I live is divided
but I am thankful that for the freedom to express my opinion and vote my conscience.

I know grief that is lasting after the death of my wife 6 years ago
but I am thankful for the 40 years we shared and the promise of eternal life in Christ.

I know that I am a flawed and failing person
but I am grateful that there is a Flawless Savior Whose grace is deep and wide on my behalf.

So, what’s your ‘reality?’
Will you include a longer and higher view than what you can see in the moment?

I have said it before but the point bears making again. The joy that a Christian can experience is different than happiness. Who does not like being happy, which ‘happens’ (see the connection?) when the sun shines, when resources are abundant, when things are going well for us?  But, even in the lives of good Christians the rainy days will come, relationships will get strained, unanticipated expenses will empty the bank account, the doctor will tell us that our health is threatened.  In those moments, we can remain joyful in hope. Oh yes, we realistically understand life’s challenges and develop strategies to deal with them even as we lean on the Lord in faith. The wisdom of the Word gives us this assurance – “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Romans 8:28, NLT)  He is there, at work, for our good.  Lord, I believe, help me overcome my unbelief!

Match your problems with prayers. Make your prayer than those desperate kind of pleas – “Oh get me out this situation, God, now.” Instead pray in worship, of deep surrender. Choose silence. Meditate on His love. “Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. ” (Philippians 4:7, The Message)

Tomorrow do not settle for an inauthentic kind of Thanksgiving. Don’t just do ‘happy talk’ that is unmatched by inner joy.  Be a realistic giver of thanks.  

The word from the Word points to praise. May the Spirit make it our song.

“Sing to the Lord, all you godly ones!
Praise his holy name.

His anger lasts for a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime!
Weeping may go on all night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:4-5, NLT)

“You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing.
You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy,
that I might sing praises to you and not be silent.

O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever!” (Psalm 30:11-12, NLT)

________________

Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee (Ode To Joy)

(Carrie Underwood sings)

Joyful joyful we adore Thee
God of glory Lord of love
Hearts unfold like flow’rs before Thee
Opening to the sun above
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness
Drive the dark of doubt away
Giver of immortal gladness
Fill us with the light of day

All Thy works with joy surround Thee
Earth and heav’n reflect Thy rays
Stars and angels sing around Thee
Center of unbroken praise
Field and forest vale and mountain
Flowery meadow flashing sea
Chanting bird and flowing fountain
Call us to rejoice in Thee

Mortals join the mighty chorus
Which the morning stars began
Father love is reigning o’er us
Brother love binds man to man
Ever singing march we onward
Victors in the midst of strife
Joyful music lifts us Sonward
In the triumph song of life

Edward Hodges | Henry Van Dyke | Ludwig van Beethoven
© Words: Public Domain

Well, what do you know?

Ever had a moment of when something about yourself became crystal clear in an instant, like the proverbial light switch flipped to on? It happened to me yesterday when someone made a casual remark about something in my life that is less than it ought to be. My first impulse was to raise a defense, to say “That’s not true!,” to offer excuses. I did not do that, though. I chose to think about it, to process it, to ask God prayerfully to guide me to change. It’s not a huge thing, but it was enough to make the night a restless one. Ever been on that journey?

Those who would be mature and productive must grow in self-awareness, understanding the who, the what, the why about themselves, which is a lot simpler to write about than it is to do.  We need to ask ourselves, from time to time, “What is going on in my brain?  Why am I saying that, doing this, chasing that goal?” This grasp of who we truly are gives us great freedom, but it is purchased at a high price. We have to be willing to face the fact of our human imperfection. We will need to submit to the scrutiny of others, both God, the Holy Spirit, and trusted friends. We will have to be willing to change, and most of us resist that ‘until the pain of remaining the same exceeds the pain of change.’  

Here is the wonderful fact about growing emotionally and spiritually as a follower of Christ: you have a Trusted GuideJesus was speaking with His friends the night before He went to the cross. He spoke at length about the coming Holy Spirit of Whom He said. “Instead, you are very sad. But it is actually best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Counselor won’t come. If I do go away, he will come because I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convince the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment.” (John 16:6-8, NLT)

Oh, there is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not be presenting his own ideas; he will be telling you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. He will bring me glory by revealing to you whatever he receives from me. All that the Father has is mine; this is what I mean when I say that the Spirit will reveal to you whatever he receives from me.” (John 16:12-15, NLT)

God sees us as we truly are, not just in the context of a moment, but in the totality of our lives. He knows our DNA, our family history, our experiences, our successes, our failures, our training, and our abilities. He comes us to as Love, not to destroy us, but to save us and make us whole. Foundational to true spiritual transformation is the faith that accepts this truth – God is for me, not against me.  The Cross of Christ is the testimony of His love, the reason we can lean into Him Presence and pray for transformation. Meditate on this: “Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. …  All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” (John 6:35-37, NIV)

As we live in that place of full acceptance as a child of God, we can let Him reveal our secrets to us – the good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly –  which He does by the work of His Spirit, by the truth of His Word, and through the community of the Church.  I should not imply that this is all a terrible or painful process.  Yes, the conviction of the Holy Spirit, those moments when He touches something in us that is less than God’s desire, is often hard. But, we need not experience His corrections as condemnation.  We need not wallow in guilt, hide in shame, or run to the dark from His Presence in such moments. The Garden Story of Genesis shows us that mistake when Adam and Eve hid from the Lord. Instead, we open up to Him in transparency – “here I am, just as I am.” 

The whole of this truth is that we are ‘clothed in the righteousness of Christ’ even as we are becoming more like Him. We exist in a ‘now and not yet’ world, one where Christ has completely saved us from sin and death by His grace gift, but where we are still saints under construction who are ‘being saved’ into His likeness.  Here is great sustaining truth for the battle for holiness – “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, (will)   give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints… ” (Ephesians 1:17-18, NIV)

Give thanks today for His love – that He loves you enough to call you to change and loves you patiently through the up’s and down’s of the process. Take hold the hope – there is a glorious freedom for the children of God.

The word from the Word is the testimony I hold. May it be yours as well. “I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back. So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision—you’ll see it yet! Now that we’re on the right track, let’s stay on it. ” (Philippians 3:12-16, The Message)

______________
Graves Into Gardens

I searched the world but it couldn’t fill me
Man’s empty praise and treasures that fade
Are never enough
Then You came along and put me back together
And every desire is now satisfied here in Your love

Oh there’s nothing better than You
There’s nothing better than You
Lord there’s nothing
Nothing is better than You

I’m not afraid to show You my weakness
My failures and flaws
Lord You’ve seen them all
And You still call me friend
‘Cause the God of the mountain
Is the God of the valley
And there’s not a place
Your mercy and grace won’t find me again

You turn mourning to dancing
You give beauty for ashes
You turn shame into glory
You’re the only one who can

You turn graves into gardens
You turn bones into armies
You turn seas into highways
You’re the only one who can

Brandon Lake | Chris Brown | Steven Furtick | Tiffany Hudson
© 2019 Brandon Lake Music (Admin. by Bethel Music Publishing)
Music by Elevation Worship Publishing (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)
Maverick City Publishing Worldwide (Admin. by Heritage Worship Publishing) Bethel Music Publishing CCLI License # 810055

The Richest Gift You Can Give

The young woman visited our church’s Food Pantry and as she gathered some items mentioned that she was selective about her choices since she was living in her car! My heart was touched and as the opportunity presented I asked if she had resources to get housing before the winter months. She replied that she was working on it and that an agency was assisting. Then I asked if I could pray for her. “Sure,” she answered, “that would be nice,” and started to walk away.

“Could I pray for you right now?” I asked. When given permission, I prayed for God to send kind and good people her way, to give her wisdom and courage to face the future, and that she would know, deep inside of her heart, that Jesus loved her. I looked up and saw tears streaming down her face as she left.

I cannot remember how many times that others have prayed for me. I probably do not even know about most of the prayers offered for me, but they are treasured! The prayers of friend and family have sustained me in trial, in sickness, when seeking guidance. One of things I lost when my wife stepped into eternity were her prayers for she was my constant advocate before the Lord.  I can only hope that my prayers are as comforting to them as the prayers offered on my behalf are to me. When I have passed on most of my sermonizing will be forgotten, my writing will fade into oblivion. The prayers I have prayed for others will last, written in eternity.

Please know this, my Christian friend, you can give others a rich gift with your prayers. You don’t have to be a Pastor to pray for others. You don’t have to have a theology degree or be eloquent! The Word urges us to keep close relationships that include transparency and advocacy.  These lead us to ‘healing,’ which is not just about physical well-being, but wholeness of our person – body, soul, and spirit. James says  “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man (person) is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16, NIV)

When we pray for one another, let’s not just do it from a distance, let’s learn to do that in person, or in a text, or in a phone call. Praying, even if the words get fumbled, even when there are quiet pauses, is a soothing salve for the soul. Few things will stir me as deeply as hearing someone talk about me, my needs, my life to our Father.  God will put it all in the right perspective and use our prayers to accomplish His will and purposes.

When we pray for each other, we must go beyond – “Lord, bless Pete, Sally, and Sam.” Let’s get specific, praying for financial provision, for specific guidance, for restoration of love in marriages, for victory over sin, for spiritual growth, … the stuff of real life! We don’t have to long or wordy, but we need to be direct! Please remember this – prayers for others are not an opportunity to ‘set them straight’ while we preach them a mini-sermon. If someone needs to get right or change course, talk to God alone about that in their life and ask for an opportunity to be a loving friend who helps, but never misuse prayer as a message system. I have experienced those ‘prayers’ and honestly, I resent them.

Prayer is powerful!  Do you pray for others?   If that seems daunting to you keep in mind that you are just taking the need of our friend to God, asking Him directly on their behalf. Open your heart, your mouth, engage your mind and speak to the Father.  Sometimes when I pray for people I have no idea what to pray about. The situation may be complicated, the details of their dilemma unknown to me, yet I can pray for them because God knows their need, so I ask Him to love them, keep them, steady them, entrusting that person to Him. He knows what is best.

“But, Jerry, what does that gain? Doesn’t He already know the need?”  He does! I cannot explain all the reasons that an All-knowing, All-powerful Purposeful God wants us to pray, but clearly He does. “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7, NLT)  If we prayed for people even half as much as we talk about them to others we would see amazing things happen!

So let us pray! Really. Let’s take seriously God’s desire that we exercise a priestly ministry for others. Christians are called to be priests. That does not mean working in a church, wearing vestments, or being ordained. A priest is one who administers God’s grace to others, sharing His love. We ALL can do that and one way is prayer.

Let me pray for you now borrowing Paul’s amazing prayer for the Ephesians, a prayer that is one of my favorite passages in the Word.

“Out of his glorious riches (may) 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.” (Ephesians 3:16-19, NIV)  To the praise and honor of our wonderful Lord. Amen!

__________________

Somebody’s Prayin’
(Ricky Skaggs does this song beautifully!)

Somebody’s prayin’
I can feel it
Somebody’s prayin’ for me
Mighty hands are guiding me
To protect me
From what I can’t see
Lord I believe
Lord I believe
Somebody’s prayin’ for me


Angels are watchin’
I can feel it
Angels are watchin’ over me
There’s many miles ahead
‘Till I get home
Still I’m safely kept
Before Your throne
‘Cause Lord I believe
Lord I believe Your angels
Are watchin’ over me

Well I’ve walked
The barren wilderness
Where my pillow was a stone
And I’ve been through
The darkest caverns
Where no light had ever shone
Still I went on
‘Cause there was someone
Who was down on their knees
And Lord I thank You
For those people
Prayin’ all this time for me

John G. Elliott

© 1985 Universal Music – Brentwood Benson Publishing (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc.)

CCLI License # 810055

I love a good story!

I’m officially “old’ I suppose and one of the prime evidences of that fact is that I love to tell stories!  Those of us with a lot more history than future tend to do that. One of my late uncles visited our home a couple of times each year when he was traveling. Uncle Keith was a great story-teller and I enjoyed sitting with him, listening.  One of the joys of the upcoming holidays for many people is the opportunity to gather with friends and family. There will be meals but the food will soon be forgotten while the stories told around the table will linger in memory. There will be tales told of accidents, spills, scrapes with the law, awards, and little dramas that are ‘life.’  Most of them will have been told before and will be told again. It’s what we humans do. Our stories will make us laugh and cry, but they are more than entertaining.

Stories define and explain us.  The more of your story I know, the better I understand who you are. Authentic stories reveal the triumphs and failures, the hits and misses of life.  Being able to talk about who we were, who we are, and who we hope to become is part of growing emotionally and spiritually.  When a person is loved enough to know they can tell their whole story, they can find redemption, forgiveness, hope, and change that flows from the inside out. That is why 12 step recovery groups like Alcoholics Anonymous© create safe places for people to tell their real stories, not the “fake news” that perpetuates a lie about life.  The truth is liberating, but leaves us vulnerable, so we need a loving place to tell it.  

One of the functions of the church is community, a place to gather ‘round the Table, in the love of the Father, and live our story.  Is your church a loving place where people can tell their story, live authentically?   

The love of Jesus – told in the always new yet so old story of His birth, His death, His Resurrection – allows us to tell ourselves the truth and to find in Him that love that heals us and saves us.  Our natural impulse is to change our story, to conceal the ugly parts, to magnify the moments of success. Pride makes hypocrites of us. Jesus warns us about  “the yeast of the Pharisees—their hypocrisy. The time is coming when everything that is covered up will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all. Whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be shouted from the housetops for all to hear!” (Luke 12:1-3, NLT)

So, what’s your story?
Have you written a fiction about yourself that has enslaved you?
Have you believed a lie that somebody told you, a falsehood that controls you to this day?

KNOW THIS – The God Who knows you best, loves you most!   He knows our story, loves us, and invites us to leave the sins in the past and live richly, resourced by His Spirit.  John reminds that “If we say we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and refusing to accept the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts. My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if you do sin, there is someone to plead for you before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who pleases God completely. He is the sacrifice for our sins. He takes away not only our sins but the sins of all the world.” (1 John 1:8-2:2, NLT)

So next week, I’m looking forward to telling and hearing some stories.  My prayer is that there is a thread of faith, an echo of the love of Christ in many of them.

Here is a word from the Word, Paul encouraging us to tell the Story –  “Thanks be to God, who made us his captives and leads us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now wherever we go He uses us to tell others about the Lord and to spread the Good News like a sweet perfume. Our lives are a fragrance presented by Christ to God.” (2 Corinthians 2:13, NLT)

________________

I Love To Tell The Story
(Sung by EmmyLou Harris and Robert Duval)

I love to tell the story of unseen things above
Of Jesus and His glory of Jesus and His love
I love to tell the story because I know ’tis true
It satisfies my longings as nothing else can do

I love to tell the story
‘Twill be my theme in glory
To tell the old old story
of Jesus and His love

I love to tell the story more wonderful it seems
Than all the golden fancies of all our golden dreams
I love to tell the story it did so much for me
And that is just the reason I tell it now to thee

I love to tell the story ’tis pleasant to repeat
What seems each time
I tell it more wonderfully sweet
I love to tell the story for some have never heard
The message of salvation from God’s own holy Word

I love to tell the story for those who know it best
Seem hungering and thirsting
To hear it like the rest
And when in scenes of glory
I sing the new new song
‘Twill be the old old story
That I have loved so long

Arabella Katherine Hankey | Don Chapman | William Gustavus Fischer

© Words: Public Domain

Rich and Generous

Are you, by nature, generous? Do you tend toward being engaged and ready to share life with others?  Think of a time when you have worked with a person who has a generous spirit, someone who is positive towards others, who speaks encouragement, who actively hopes for the best and gives of his resources and himself.  Yes, that one makes the world a richer place. 

In this Thanksgiving month I want us to remember the generosity of our God. It is a key to living a richer, fuller life of generosity.  When we know that we are loved by a generous Father, that security will allow us to become ‘rich’ towards others.  Know this, too;  generosity has rich rewards for us.   

In 1892, the concert pianist, Paderewski, played a concert at Stanford University at the invitation of one Herbert Hoover, a poor student, who along with a friend, sponsored the concert to earn funds for his education. When the concert ended, the students discovered that they were far short of the agreed fee. They promised Paderewski the balance, explaining that their predicament. The generous man told them to take their expenses from the proceeds and give him whatever was left over!

Paderewski went on to become the Prime Minister of Poland, albeit not a very good politician by most accounts. During the first World War his country was devastated and people were starving. He reached out the United States to the Office of Food and Relief. The head of that office was one Herbert Hoover, who promptly set about to send tons of grain to help feed the Polish people. Paderewski offered profuse thanks to Hoover who reminded the Polish leader of his generosity in 1892, which the pianist Prime Minister had completely forgotten! 

Such is the nature of generosity!   The wisdom of God teaches us that “we reap what we sow” and in proportion to how much we sow.

Jesus told a story about a man who failed the generosity test at the point where it is most important. “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:16-21, NIV)   It is important not to misunderstand the message! Jesus did not condemn his success or his wealth. He pointed out the selfishness that followed success!

If we are carefully keeping record of what we think God owes us, if we are clinging to our time, our money; yes, to our Self – we are not ‘rich toward God.’ Jesus said that the man who took such good care of himself was a ‘fool!’ Strong word, isn’t it?  He failed to understand that eternity waited and those things he had carefully laid aside for his own comfort would be spent by another. Are you ‘rich toward God’? Do you serve to meet minimal expectations or in a way that reflects passion for Jesus and His Kingdom?

We must remember that we are blessed. Even if our bank account balance is in single digits, our car a dozen years old, our clothes hand-me-down, we enjoy riches. The Word reminds us that “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” (Romans 5:5, NIV)  The English text ‘poured out’ misses the power of the first language of the New Testament. The text there carries the meaning of overflowing, of being spilled out!  Paul says that we enjoy “the riches of God’s grace  that he lavished on us.” (Ephesians 1:7)   Do you live in awareness of that lavish love, that spilled out grace?

As we begin this new week, let’s take the Word to heart. Jesus invites us to  “Walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them. “If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.” (Matthew 6:28-33, The Message)

People who know the generous heart of the Father will become richly generous, blessed to be a blessing.

____________

The Generous Mr Lovewell

He wakes up every day the same
Believing he’s gonna make a change
Never wonders if but when
I guarantee he can find a way
To reach out and make somebody’s day
‘Cause someone took the time with him

He believes it’s the little things
That make a great big change

Hey Mr Lovewell
Doing today what you do every day
No matter how small
Believing that it’s all the same
Come on Mr Lovewell
Oh we could use a few more just like you
Who care enough to give
This life away
‘Cause you’ve been changed
The generous Mr Lovewell loves today

It may be a simple how do you do
The kind of thing that can pull them through
A minute or two can mean so much
Or maybe it’s the one across the street
He’s asking if there’s anything they need
‘Cause they will know us by our love

It may not mean that much to him
But it’s the world to them

We all
Need more Mr Lovewells

Barry Graul | Bart Millard | Jim Bryson | Mike Scheuchzer | Nathan Cochran | Robby Shaffer

© 2010 Simpleville Music (Fair Trade Music Publishing [c/o Essential Music Publishing LLC])

Wet As A Fish Music (Fair Trade Music Publishing [c/o Essential Music Publishing LLC])

CCLI License # 810055