Are you an influencer?

Influencers. These persons work to position themselves on social media to direct followers to products. If a person can attract a few thousand followers on social media, her marketing influence becomes valuable, increasing in value with each new follower. The explosion of users (around 4 billion people) of YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook creates opportunities for micro-marketing, which has proven amazingly effective. 

Christians have always been influencers although not with a personal profit motive. The presence of the Spirit in us should change our lives, creating a quality that makes His Gospel attractive.  Christian, does the thought of representing Jesus leave you feeling inadequate?

A pastor brought an electrical engineer to church to conduct an experiment. “We turned off all the lights, hooked up an ordinary pickle to some wires, and then passed an electrical current through it. The pickle glowed! It gave light to a room. Many people believe that the flow of the Holy Spirit is reserved for spiritual giants. but, throughout history God has caused His power to flow through the most unlikely people; a prostitute named Rahab, a con man named Jacob, and a cheat named Zacchaeus. So the next time you’re feeling inadequate, remember that even a pickle can glow if it stays plugged in to the flow of power.” (John Ortberg, God Is Closer Than You Think)  I have read that little story many times and each time, after I laugh, I feel renewed confidence that God can use me to do His work.

Representing Christ is a high calling for which my natural abilities and skills are unequal! I quickly identify with Paul’s question- “who is equal to such a task?” (2 Cor. 2:16)  I know, too well, my failures, inconsistencies, and fears. But, it is not about me. In fact, God invests the treasure of His grace and Spirit in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7, NIV)  Dear friend, while we do not revel in our failures, we can honestly acknowledge our weakness and lean hard on the Lord.  It is at that point that God can use us for ‘when we are weak, He is strong!

At the end of His earthly work Jesus called together that all-too-ordinary people to take His Message to the ends of the earth.  Oh how I love the promise made to those men, that is for us, too. “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49, NIV) Luke continues the story (Acts 2) telling us that a few days later, the Holy Spirit fell in that Upper Room.

When He rested on those men and women they did experience a profound change, empowered for the Kingdom life. No, they did not become super-humans. They were not flawless, fail-proof, or above mistakes.  But, they were increasingly filled with the character of Christ, persistent in faith, and hopeful above all. The Holy Spirit made them influencers who “turned the world upside down” in a generation!

Christianity has not survived for 2000 years
because of the greatness of Believers, but because of the faithfulness of God
.

Are you feeling a little overwhelmed by life today, wondering if you’re up to doing anything useful for the Lord?
Are you discouraged by what appears to be more problems than answers, more need than resource?

Confess your need. Humbly lean on Him; dependent on His power. Wait to be empowered, expecting the Spirit to come. Those first disciples waited in the Upper Room for days. God, the Holy Spirit, came in HIS time, not theirs!

And, don’t forget that even a pickle glows when it’s plugged into a current. (smile)

Here’s a word from the Word.  It my favorite passage of Scripture. Soak up the promise.  I pray “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 3:17-21, NIV)

Immeasurably more!

__________________

Goodness Of God
(worship along with CeCe Winans)

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

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

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

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

Ben Fielding | Brian Johnson | Ed Cash | Jason Ingram | Jenn Johnson
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Failed, again?

While reading the reports of the arrests of people who illegally entered the nation’s Capitol building I note some are solid citizens who made an awful error in judgment that day. Who knows why otherwise law-abiding people made the choice to rampage through the seat of government?  Their actions will change the rest of their lives;  jobs lost, perhaps prison time, criminal records. I am not justifying what they did in these remarks. But, I hope for restoration. Why? 

Because I understand failure! 35 years ago my life went sideways and I made ignorant and sinful decisions that led to painful personal consequences. As a result, life changed dramatically for me and for my family. In the middle of it all, God kept loving me, the Spirit reminding me that I could conclude that failure was fatal or I could receive the grace of God for a new start.  Yes, my choices had consequences, felt by me to this day, but out of those ashes came a new man.

Gordon MacDonald, an author and pastor, made some sinful choices in mid-life. A nationally known leading Christian, he found himself a pariah, many writing him off from any future in God’s work. He was an example of what is required for restoration. He made no excuses for the choices he had made. He took time to rebuild his life around truly important priorities, retreating from public view for two years. About a decade later, he reflected on that season and how God had changed him. “My touch with failure changed a large part of my perspective as a pastor. It gave me an indelible vision of the host of people who enter the sanctuary every week and are staring failure squarely in the face. When I stand to pray, I see two people a few rows back failing at a marriage. Next to them sits an attorney who faces disbarment. Nearby is a man crippled by an addiction to pornography. To his right, a mother who feels a failure with her kids; to her left, the man who can’t keep a job. …

I would never have seen most of these people … had it not been for my own failure. In short, failure gave me a new set of eyes. There is a stewardship to failure. What we learn and gain in our own dark moments is meant to be shared one day with others who face similar kinds of failures. Some of us would like to bury our failures, forget they ever happened. But that doesn’t seem possible. There are too many fallen people along the way who can profit from what we’ve learned of God.”  (Discipleship Journal : Issue 109)

Let me tell you something you must know – God is a Restorer! He does not write us off.  IF you fail, and the truth is that we all do – somewhere, sometime – there will be many voices that indignantly insist that you’re too damaged to be useful, that God is finished with you, that you should give up and go away. That is not the voice of God! 

When His people failed terribly, they suffered awfully; but He held out this offer which is still good. “Come now, let us argue this out,” says the Lord. “No matter how deep the stain of your sins, I can remove it. I can make you as clean as freshly fallen snow. Even if you are stained as red as crimson, I can make you as white as wool. If you will only obey me and let me help you, then you will have plenty to eat. But if you keep turning away and refusing to listen, you will be destroyed by your enemies. I, the Lord, have spoken!” (Isaiah 1:18-20, NLT)  

In our age there is so much gracelessness, so much judgment. As God’s people I pray our hearts will be filled with tender empathy, that we learn to see beyond the failure, that we will be willing to extend the same grace that we have received from God who loved us ‘while we were still sinners.’ Restoration is not easy! Forgiveness and healing seldom come in a moment’s time. If we will face life honestly, admit to ourselves and to those we have hurt what we have done, humbly asking them to forgive, we can start again. Yes, God forgives us but it is often much tougher to forgive ourselves.

If you’re tempted to try to make a deal with God, reject that impulse. The Lord does not plea bargain. He looks for repentance; “the sacrifice you want is a broken spirit. A broken and repentant heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17, NLT) If your ‘failure’ is not one of sin, but rather finding yourself overwhelmed by your circumstances, there is this in the Word. “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18, NIV)

Here is a word from the Word. Own it for yourself, give it away to those in need of hope. God told His people, and us, this – “Here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to take you out of these countries, gather you from all over, and bring you back to your own land. I’ll pour pure water over you and scrub you clean. I’ll give you a new heart, put a new spirit in you. I’ll remove the stone heart from your body and replace it with a heart that’s God-willed, not self-willed. I’ll put my Spirit in you and make it possible for you to do what I tell you and live by my commands. You’ll once again live in the land I gave your ancestors. You’ll be my people! I’ll be your God!” (Ezekiel 36:24-28, The Message) 

“The danger is not that we should fall . . . but that we could remain on the ground.”  
– John Chrysostom
______________

Holy Water

God I’m on my knees again
God I’m begging please again
I need You
Oh I need You
Walking down these desert roads
Water for my thirsty soul
I need You
Oh I need You

Your forgiveness
Is like sweet sweet honey on my lips
Like the sound of a symphony to my ears
Like holy water (on my skin)

Dead man walking slave to sin
I wanna know about being born again
I need You
Oh God I need You

So take me to the riverside
Take me under baptize
I need You
Oh God I need You oh

I don’t wanna abuse Your grace
God I need it ev’ry day
It’s the only thing that ever really
Makes me wanna change

Yeah it’s like holy water on my skin
Oh it’s like holy water

Andrew Bergthold | Ed Cash | Franni Cash | Martin Cash | Scott Cash

© 2019 Andrew Bergthold Designee (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

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Dirty Window Syndrome

How’s your vision? A young friend of mine recently had an eye exam and was prescribed corrective lens. When he put on his glasses for the first time he looked across the street through the front window and saw the neighbor’s house clearly. He said that he always just thought the windows needed cleaning!  

Many of us are struggling with what I am going to call ‘dirty window syndrome.’  We cannot see ahead clearly and we mistakenly conclude that our environment is the problem when, in fact, it is our vision that needs to be corrected.

Jesus, after a healing a blind born without eyesight, spoke to those around him who suffered from spiritual blindness. “I have come to judge the world. I have come to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind.” (John 9:39, NLT)  He promised to bring clarity of vision to those who would follow Him.  At the heart of His mission is the restoration of our ability to see the reality of life as God sees.

Christian, are you seeing life through God’s eyes?  When we have eyes that are open to spiritual reality, we begin to grasp the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’ in life. We were created for more than eating, drinking, and sleeping!  In the turbulent times in which we are living is critically importance that we live with spiritual insight to keep ourselves from being deceived by the mirage of finding security in the things of this present world.

There is a story about one of God’s preachers, Elisha, who found himself pursued by an angry king. His servant went out one morning and saw the king’s army surrounding the town and was terrified by the prospect of capture and death. When he reported his fear to Elisha, the old preacher prayed this: “O LORD, open his eyes so he may see.” Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” (2 Kings 6:17, NIV)  

Dear friend, because of Christ Jesus, we can find safety and security in the embrace of our Father. Not even the natural fear of death itself is a terror for the Believer. We, Scripture says, are no longer “held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Hebrews 2:15, NIV) Why? Because we can see beyond the edge of time into eternity!

People without vision merely survive.  They are like that guy in that 1990’s Dunkin’ Donuts™ commercial who staggered out the door each morning explaining that it was ‘… time to make the donuts!‘ We are made for more than just making the donuts, more than just grinding out another day.  The Word declares that “we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:10, NLT) I pray that vision is renewed in me, in you, in these opening days of 2021.  May He cause us to see His vision, give us courage to own it, and faith to live brightly, children of the Heavenly Father.

Here’s a word from the Word for you today.  It comes from a preacher with a strange name – Habbakuk. The people of God were under siege from their powerful neighbor.  That God would allow the godless Babylonians to destroy Jerusalem made little sense to natural eyes!  He cries out for revelation. Are you wondering about today, trying to find purpose in life? Take this promise.

Then the LORD replied:
“Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it.
For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false.
Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.

“See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright—
but the righteous will live by his faith—” (Habakkuk 2:2-4, NIV)
_______________________

Be Thou My Vision

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

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

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

Eleanor Henrietta Hull | Mary Elizabeth Byrne

© Words: Public Domain

Truth? Does it exist?

Trust in authority has taken near fatal hits in recent months, at least for me. Who can I trust? What is true?  We all know how to deal with ‘spin,’ which is presenting the ‘facts’ in the way that best supports the position for which we are an advocate. Currently, what we are experiencing is more than spin. Facts seem to shift depending on the winds of public opinion and the manipulation of the media.  The tragic result, at least in my life, is the development of an awful cynicism about public figures and authority.  I question most everyone and everything and it is an unpleasant way to live. God help me to find a better way.

Christian, we must be people who are committed to the truth.  Do you know that you can avoid speaking falsehoods and still be less than honest? If we work to create an impression, if we allow others to form wrong conclusions that are encouraged by a wink or a nod, we are living a lie even if our words are technically true. Truth, as a word, is fairly easy to define. Truth is the actual state of a matter, conformity with fact. Living truthfully is much more difficult. 

One of the great tragedies of America today is our willingness to assign motives, to assume we know the content of another’s heart. When someone says or does something we find offensive, we tend to turn them into a villain, the whole of their life defined by a single statement or a moment.  Oh how we need to realize anew that each one of us is a mixture of motives, that we are human beings capable of being wonderful and awful in the same day.

One of the most honest things we can say is this – “I don’t know.”  When we get caught up in thorny issues – pandemic policies, political issues, or a plethora of other questions – we do not always have to ‘be right’ or have a set opinion. We need not rush to judge another, be quick to condemn or acquit, or choose a side!

When we say “I just don’t know,” this lets us listen and learn.  Genuine humility will lead us to acknowledge that in many situations, perhaps most, we just do not have ‘all the facts.’  To assume that we do leads us to judge and frankly, makes fools of us on too many occasions. No wonder Jesus cautions us about taking God’s place and says, “Stop judging others, and you will not be judged. For others will treat you as you treat them. Whatever measure you use in judging others, it will be used to measure how you are judged.” (Matthew 7:1-2, NLT)

When we walk with God, when we create an open heart to His Presence, there is a promise He gives. Jesus said of the Holy Spirit “when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” (John 16:13, NIV)  Yes, He will reveal what is best and true to us. We need not live in confusion, allowing the chaos born of our current controversies to own us. Why?  Because God, the Spirit, will give us ‘the mind of Christ.’  (2 Cor. 2.13)  Think of Jesus as He was dragged before Pilate, questioned, judged unfairly, sentenced to death. In spite of the lies and the hate, He knew Who He was, what His mission was, and remained steady through it all.

Let’s pray to be like that: not detached, but engaged with hope; not quick to judge, but patient; people who love the truth even when it means saying, “I don’t have that answer!”

Do you love the truth?  Is your life characterized by honesty, authenticity?  Do you refuse to become a part of the image-building and public posturing that fills this age?  Living in that way will not necessarily win any popularity contests.  Jesus confronted the world with the truth and they killed Him for it!   But, letting truth shape your life from the inside out will make you whole and holy, a person who has the ‘mind of Christ’ in this world.  Resting on the Truth we will live lovingly, people who are capable of creating peace. 

Here’s a word from the Word for your thoughts today:  
“Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’
For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:37, NKJV)  

No spin, no quick judgments- just the Truth!
_______________

Truth I’m Standing On
(Listen and let faith grow!)

Scared
Oh I thought I knew scared
But I’m so filled with fear that I can barely move

Doubt
I’ve had my share of doubts
But never more than right now
I’m wondering where are you
Here on the edge of ‘fall apart’
Somehow your promises
Find my troubled heart

This is the truth I’m standing on
Even when all my strength is gone
ou are faithful forever and
I know you’ll never let me fall
Right now I’m choosing to believe
That someday soon I’ll look back and see
All the pain had a purpose
Your plan was perfect all along
This is the truth I’m standing on

Even when all my strength is gone
You are faithful forever and
I know you’ll never let me fall

Right now I’m choosing to believe
That someday soon I’ll look back and see
All the pain had a purpose
Your plan was perfect all along
This is the truth I’m standing on

Good I believe you’re still good
Even when life’s not good
I’m clinging to this hope
That the God who parts the sea
Promises that he will make a way for me

You’re my rock my shield my firm foundation
I know I will not be shaken
You remind me where my help comes from

Andrew Jacob Pruis | Leanna Crawford | Matthew West © Combustion Five (Admin. by Me Gusta Music LLC)

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The richest gift you can give

The gift of praying for others is one each of us can offer to others.  I count the prayers of others among my richest resources. Yesterday, as I began a full day of ministry, a friend texted me a prayer offered on my behalf. I felt the Presence of God as I read those words. Decades ago, on that May evening on which I was ordained to Christian ministry, senior pastors gathered around me, placing their hands on my shoulders, inviting God, the Holy Spirit, to prepare me for service. 

The prayers of friend and family have sustained me in trial, in sickness, when seeking guidance.  I am beyond grateful for the prayers of others.

James tells us to “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16, NIV)  Don’t miss the heart of that instruction by understanding it too narrowly.  We are to remain open with each other, able to talk through our faults and failures. The right response to the vulnerability of another Believer is not rejection, but rather prayer which brings healing. The word James uses for healing is about wholeness  of body, soul, and spirit.

On this Monday morning, I want to encourage you to PRAY for one another. Toss the criticism. Leave behind the remarks about another’s faults or difference. The Christian church would be a wholly different place IF God’s people really prayed for one another, constantly, earnestly, fervently.  When you pray for someone, you give them an amazing gift.

You do not have to be wealthy to do this. You do not have to be a pastor or church leader, either.  God just asks you to be faithful to pray for others. Let me repeat that text – “pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed. The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with.” (James 5:16, The Message)

I doubt many of my sermons have a shelf life of even 7 days! Things I write to encourage other Christians quickly fade into forgottenness. But, the prayers that I pray are recorded in eternity and are actively reshaping lives. That is not intended to sound grandiose. It is the reality I know.

Make sure when you pray you are actually addressing God.  That is one of the reasons for getting alone when you engage in real prayer. There we are not tempted to polish our words, to speak to the people in the room instead of the Father. It is a natural temptation to turn public prayers into little sermons or inspirational talks; both of which miss the point of prayer entirely! Jesus said “when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6, NIV)

You CAN pray effectively for others. Eloquence is not required. Lengthy, involved petition is not a prerequisite. You do not have to be faultless or sinless to pray! Present the need of your friend to God, asking Him to work on their behalf. Open your heart, your mouth; engage our mind and speak to the Father.  Often when I am praying for those in my pastoral care, I don’t even know what to ask for on their behalf. 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.

You might wonder why that is necessary. Doesn’t God know what we need before we ask? He does! I do not know all the reasons that an All-knowing, All-powerful Purposeful God wants us to pray, but clearly He does. The Bible make that abundantly clear. “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)

There are moments when you can be an incredible blessing to someone by praying with them and for them. One of the joys of my calling is to sit with a person who is broken, or sick, or overwhelmed and to speak to God on their behalf. You can do this, too. Your words might get mixed up. There may be moments when there are quiet pauses.  But, when we invite God’s Spirit to come near, together, it is like a soothing salve for the soul. Few things are capable of touching me more deeply than hearing someone talk about me, my needs, my life to the Father. It does not have to be ‘perfect’ to be good.  God will put it all in the right perspective and use our prayers to accomplish His will and purposes.

A caution is in order here. IF you are privileged to pray with someone else, do not turn it into a moment of correction or rebuke! Such ‘prayers’ are unloving and self-defeating because they stir up resentment. IF a friend needs to get something right in his life, talk with the Lord alone about that. Should you feel the need to address their ‘problem’ do it face to face, honestly, without using ‘prayer’ as a cover.

Let’s go beyond – “Lord, bless Pete, Sally, and Sam.” Let’s ask God to enrich the lives of our family, friends, and those in the world around us by praying authentic prayers on their behalf.

The word from the Word is Paul’s amazing prayer for the Ephesians. I love the hope and power that fill these words.

What a prayer to pray on behalf of others.

“Ever since I first heard of your strong faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for Christians everywhere, I have never stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you might grow in your knowledge of God.

I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the wonderful future he has promised to those he called. I want you to realize what a rich and glorious inheritance he has given to his people. I pray that you will begin to understand the incredible greatness of his power for us who believe him.” (Ephesians 1:15-19, NLT)

Can I get an Amen?

___________

The Prayers Of The Saints
(Matt Redman invites us to worshipful prayer)

Are the prayers of the saints
Like sweet smelling incense
Are the prayers of the saints
Like sweet smelling incense to Your heart
To Your heart

Let these prayers of the saints
Be sweet smelling incense
Let these prayers of the saints
Be sweet smelling incense to Your heart

Are the songs of the saints
Like sweet smelling incense
Are the songs of the saints
Like sweet smelling incense to Your heart
To Your heart

Let these songs of the saints
Be sweet smelling incense
Let these songs of the saints
Be sweet smelling incense to Your heart

Matt Redman © 1998 Thankyou Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

All Shook Up!

The political chaos that has engulfed Washington, DC is tragic and unsettling, isn’t it? The uncertainty ripples out across America. My FaceBook™ news feed is filled with people ‘screaming’ at one another, accusing, blaming, calling for ‘justice,’ which usually means ‘what I think is right.’  Many of us hoped that the election, however it went, would bring about some easing of the angry rhetoric, but events of this week foreshadow more of the same.  Some of us hoped that the chaos wrought by COVID would be sorted out by this time.  But, yesterday’s news was even more alarming.

Many are all shook up by life’s tempests, caught in the maelstrom of these events, to say nothing of our own personal storms! I know this, dear friend: 
Times of conflict and confusion contain the seeds of change.

Tony Evans, pastor and author, observes that “God creates discontinuity in history in order to bring the uniqueness of his Kingdom to the forefront.”  Simply said, God uses the storms of life to remind us of His plans!  You may not like that statement. It might even infuriate you. “How can a loving God allow me to go through these things?” 

Consider the truth of this profound passage of the Word.  “See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.”  The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.  Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:25-29 NIV)

Many of us have turned God into a “Moral Therapeutic Deity” who is supposed to comfort us, make us secure, and remove the challenges of life. It is true that HE is a loving Father, that HE desires the best for us. Sometimes that includes shaking up our world to remind us just how very dependent we are on Him, how little real strength we have to control life. In our world of climate controlled homes, insurance plans, pain-controlling medicines, clocks, and agendas, too many of us live for too long with the illusion we can be the ‘master of our universe!’

When storms break over us, when pandemics rage, when our personal life falls to pieces, there is an opportunity to let go of the need to be ‘large and in charge,’ to turn to Him, to listen for the Spirit. Most genuine spiritual renewal occurs when life is all shook up!

Comfortable, well-fed people tend to slip into apathy toward the Lord, the kind described in the Revelation. “These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:14-16, NIV)  Spiritual apathy is an offense to our holy God who desires that we love and serve Him passionately.

Jesus disciples learned a powerful lesson when they were so ‘shook up’ they believed death was imminent. During a crossing of the Sea of Galilee a sudden squall blew. Waves whipped up, spilling into the little boat. They screamed at Jesus. “Don’t you care if we perish?”   What He do? “When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” The disciples were absolutely terrified. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey him!” (Mark 4:39-41, NLT)  

Their encounter with the power of God through Jesus made them even more fearful! The Bible says that they ‘feared exceedingly.’  (The NT Greek is almost modern there – ‘phobos megas’ )  They were mega-afraid!   And, in that holy terror, they gained a new revelation of the identity of their Friend, Jesus.

Are you all shook up?
Let go of your need to try to control life. Cry out to Jesus. Confess complete faith. Pray the heart-broken prayer that a desperate Dad uttered to Jesus when all hope seemed lost- “Lord, I do believe! Help me overcome my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24) He is there, He is near.

Here’s a word from the Word. If a storm is shaking your world today, give God, the Spirit, the opportunity to use it to renew your heart, to bring about His purposes. Trust Him!

Look out! God’s hurricane will be let loose— my hurricane blast,
Spinning the heads of the wicked like tops!
God’s raging anger won’t let up
Until I’ve made a clean sweep, completing the job I began.
When the job’s done, you’ll see that it’s been well done.”
(Jeremiah 23:19-20, The Message)
____________

I Know Who Holds Tomorrow
(The Isaacs sing this old gospel song of assurance. Enjoy!)

I don’t know about tomorrow
I just live from day to day
I don’t borrow from its sunshine
For its skies may turn to gray

I don’t worry o’er the future
For I know what Jesus said
And today I’ll walk beside Him
For He knows what is ahead

Many things about tomorrow
I don’t seem to understand
But I know who holds tomorrow
And I know who holds my hand

I don’t know about tomorrow
It may bring me poverty
But the One who feeds the sparrow
Is the One who stands by me

And the path that is my portion
May be through the flame or flood
But His presence goes before me
nd I’m covered with His blood

Ira Stanphill © 1950 New Spring (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc.)

Run for the hills?

Like millions of Americans I tuned in the news yesterday and watched the chaotic events at the Capitol. A deep sadness swept over me, a realization of just how close anarchy and the terror it brings with it is to our lives.  A few months ago it was riots in the streets, burning and looting businesses. Yesterday it was literally ‘rage against the machine.’  The rule of law was challenged by people fed up, marginalized; whose anger was stoked by irresponsible political rhetoric.  It was made abundantly clear in yesterday’s insurrection that what we call a ‘divide’ in our nation is actually a chasm of the scope of the Grand Canyon.  

As I felt my sadness starting to morph into fear, I did what I have done my entire life: I prayed. These words of the Psalm reassured me of the One who is my Hope, my Rock.

“In the LORD I take refuge.
How then can you say to me: “Flee like a bird to your mountain.
For look, the wicked bend their bows; they set their arrows against the strings
to shoot from the shadows at the upright in heart.

When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?”

The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD is on his heavenly throne.
He observes the sons of men; his eyes examine them.
The LORD examines the righteous,
but the wicked and those who love violence his soul hates.
On the wicked he will rain fiery coals and burning sulfur;
a scorching wind will be their lot.
For the LORD is righteous,
he loves justice; upright men will see his face.”
(Psalm 11, NIV)

What a rich source of wisdom.  David says he will not run for the hills because trouble and danger would find him there, too. He acknowledges that when law and order break down, (the foundations are being destroyed) there is no security to be found in human answers. And, then, in an abrupt shift of perspective, he looks up! “But God hasn’t moved to the mountains; his holy address hasn’t changed. He’s in charge, as always, his eyes taking everything in, his eyelids unblinking, examining Adam’s unruly brood inside and out, not missing a thing. ” (Psalm 11:4, The Message)

David’s hope, mine too, is the justice of the LORD. God is not fooled by empty religion. He is not duped by political machinations. He is just and will bring about justice. Our assurance is that we will see His face, that is, we can know Him and enjoy eternal life even as the world we live in is unraveling.

Today, will you trust Him again?  Will you make Him your true God, the Center, accepting His grace shown through Christ Jesus?

Personal transformation that is created by a profound experience of the amazing love of the Father is available to all of us, received by faith.

IF you have never trusted Christ, would you do that today? In your own words, from your own heart, invite Him to reveal the depth of His love for you. In Christ there is reconciliation to our God, there is rest for our soul, there is hope for tomorrow’s tomorrow!  If you have loved Him a long time but are feeling the fear of the times, take time to renew your heart in quietness, to ask Him settle you with the revelation that “God hasn’t moved to the mountains; his holy address hasn’t changed.

Here is a word from the Word. Own the promise today by faith!

Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely, who conducts his affairs with justice.
Surely he will never be shaken; a righteous man will be remembered forever.
He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD.
His heart is secure, he will have no fear; in the end he will look in triumph on his foes.” (Psalm 112:5-8, NIV)  Amen!

______________
There Was Jesus

Every time I tried to make it on my own
Every time I tried to stand and start to fall
All those lonely roads that I have traveled on
There was Jesus

When the life I built came crashing to the ground
When the friends I had were nowhere to be found
I couldn’t see it then but I can see it now
There was Jesus

In the waiting in the searching
In the healing and the hurting
Like a blessing buried in the broken pieces
Every minute every moment
Of where I been or where I’m going
Even when I didn’t know it
Or couldn’t see it
(There was Jesus)

For this man who needs amazing kind of grace
For forgiveness at a price I couldn’t pay
I’m not perfect so I thank God every day
There was Jesus (There was Jesus)
There was Jesus on the mountain in the valleys
(There was Jesus) in the shadows of the alleys
(There was Jesus) in the fire in the flood
(There was Jesus) always is and always was

No I never walk alone You are always there
(Never walk alone)
There was Jesus (There was Jesus)

(There was Jesus)

Casey Beathard | Jonathan Smith | Zach Williams
© Anthems of Hope (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)
Be Essential Songs (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)
CCLI License # 810055

Good morning, Dad

There are hundreds of ‘prayer’ rituals in various cultures and religions.  Some years ago, at the station where I frequently purchased my gasoline, I often heard a CD playing a man’s voice repeating lines over and over.  Though in a language foreign to my ear, I could pick out the repeated syllables. One morning I asked the attendant about it. He said that it was his ‘morning prayers.’  At the Western Wall in Jerusalem I saw Jewish men standing facing the wall, murmuring and rocking back and forth. Many slipped little pieces of paper bearing their petitions into the cracks between the stones. Tibetan Buddhists spin prayer wheels, cylinders on which prayers are printed, believing that the act of spinning the wheels is the same as saying the prayers. Many Christians adopt rote prayers which they recite at various times.

The heart of prayer is not just a ritual involving words.
We are, through Jesus Christ, invited to converse with our Father!

Jesus reminds Christians that God cares nothing for the quantity of our words. He desires to know our heart when we come before Him. “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, (those who do not know God) for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” (Matthew 6:6-7, NIV) 

Over and over Jesus focuses our thoughts on our ‘Father,’ so that we will pray to a loving Person, not a frightening impersonal Power.  Paul teaches us that we are talking with someone who is our “Abba” (Daddy) when we pray.

Let me ask you simply- would you talk with your Dad in the same way that you pray?
Are your prayers humble and focused on the Father’s love?
Is it your desire that He answer in a way that is best in His will?

When He was giving final instructions to the men to whom He was handing His work, Jesus was clear about the importance of their prayers. “The truth is, you can go directly to the Father and ask him, and he will grant your request because you use my name. You haven’t done this before. Ask, using my name, and you will receive, and you will have abundant joy. “I have spoken of these matters in parables, but the time will come when this will not be necessary, and I will tell you plainly all about the Father. Then you will ask in my name. I’m not saying I will ask the Father on your behalf, for the Father himself loves you dearly because you love me and believe that I came from God.” (John 16:23-27, NLT)

When we have received Christ as our Savior, we have complete access to the Father. So many Christians tend to pray only to Jesus, and that is just fine, however we need not avoid engaging with “Our Father in Heaven.”   Prayer includes conversing with and listening to the Father! Jesus is interceding for us all of the time. What joy.  But He also tells us that we should “Go to your Father for yourself, approaching Him confidently.”

We don’t have to spin a prayer wheel, play CD’s that repeat prayer phrases, or go to some revered place to murmur certain words. Prayer is, for the Christian, an open heart before the One who loves us; sharing life with Him. And we do this with confidence because Jesus invites us to come ‘in His Name.’  That means more than just saying “In Jesus’ Name” at the end of a prayer. We are made part of the family of God because we are saved, forgiven, and reconciled to our Father through the Cross of Christ.

Our praying is heard because He has brought us home to the Father’s house. Yes, friend, our Father is looking for hearts that hunger for Him, for people who love Him, for those who bring their petitions with faith to receive. Jesus tore away the ritualism that blocks fervent, effective prayer. Don’t fall into that trap again, thinking that God can be impressed with your religiosity. Instead, as He taught, just ‘ask, seek, and knock.‘ 

If you’re sad, cry with your Abba.
If you’re afraid, tell Him.
Share your joy.
If you need to shout, do it.
If you want to whisper, that’s fine with Him, too.
Just don’t ignore Him!

No Father likes to be forgotten until a crisis arises or a storm blows in. Offer Him your worship often. Seek His Presence every day. And, you will learn to pray in a way that honors His great Name.

Here is a word from the Word. Meditate on it, letting the truth become a foundation of your prayers. “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you should not be like cowering, fearful slaves. You should behave instead like God’s very own children, adopted into his family—calling him “Father, dear Father.” For his Holy Spirit speaks to us deep in our hearts and tells us that we are God’s children.” (Romans 8:14-16, NLT)
_________________

Good, Good Father
(a prayer song!)

I’ve heard a thousand stories
Of what they think You’re like
But I’ve heard the tender whisper
Of love in the dead of night
You tell me that You’re pleased
And that I’m never alone

You’re a Good Good Father
It’s who You are, It’s who You are
It’s who You are
And I’m loved by You
It’s who I am, It’s who I am
It’s who I am

I’ve seen many searching for answers
Far and wide
But I know we’re all searching for answers
Only You provide
Because You know just what we need
Before we say a word

You are perfect in all of Your ways
You are perfect in all of Your ways
You are perfect in all of Your ways to us

Love so undeniable I can hardly speak
Peace so unexplainable I can hardly think
As You call me deeper still
As You call me deeper still
As You call me deeper still
Into love love love

Anthony Brown | Pat Barrett © 2014 Capitol CMG Paragon (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) Common Hymnal Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) Housefires Sounds (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

Praying through your doubts

In my youth I was convinced that when I was ‘mature’ (whatever that means) all my questions would disappear, replaced by utter certainties! I’m 65, have lived the Christian life for 5 decades, and still find myself wrestling with many why’s and what’s and how’s.  Ah yes, there is a foundation of faith that is solid but God’s ways still defy my understanding. That is as it should be for He is God – “Whose ways are higher than my ways.” 

A person who never deals with some doubt is probably not engaging with life, not processing God’s Word into his own experience. The deeper a person delves into faith, if we trust God radically, we find increased possibilities of experiencing doubt. Why? Because a life given to God, that seeks to be aligned with His will, leaves behind the safe and the tested, venturing to the world of the impractical, the realm in which we are ‘walking in the Spirit.’

Questions are not terrible. They can lead us to an examined and tested faith that is able to withstand the stormy times of life that will come to us all.  Timothy Keller, author and pastor, says that “a faith without some doubt is like a human body without any antibodies in it.  People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic.”  (Reason for God, Riverhead, 2008)  I love that analogy to antibodies. We can live without them, but we are much more resistant to sickness because of them.  Each time our bodies fight off some virus, we gain strength for the next assault.

Doubts are disturbing! But, they also can help us to clarify our beliefs which, in turn, deepens our ability to trust God. Doubt and faith need not be adversaries.  As we deal with our questions it is important to consider the vastness of the wisdom of God, to reckon honestly with our own preconceptions, and to accept the limits of our experience. That person who demands iron-clad proofs that fit within their ability to see, touch, smell, or hear will suffer from a  type of doubt that turns destructive, bitter, and cynical. That person who is humble, who will acknowledge that we cannot reduce all things to the simplicity of our own understanding is able to arrive at a position where he is prepared to live with the mystery and  – at the same time- choose to trust God in those things that he can understand.

In my spiritual experience, doubt is ultimately defeated by building from the broad issues of faith to the more defined ones.  I believe in the existence of God because, for me, the balance of evidence in this world points to a Supreme Being, a Creator. That is a broad statement that then allows me to take the step of considering the Scripture which reveals that God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to this world to reveal His grace and Himself to us. This leads me to trust Him and thus; I am a Christian.  That choice leads to consider the ways of life He taught and seeing how authentic Christians bring know personal peace, I choose to respond to His offer of grace and follow Him as a disciple. Do you see the pattern?

John closes his Gospel, which is a long argument for Christian faith, with a story of doubt overcome. As you read it, take note that Jesus did not condemn the doubter. Instead, he invited him to examine the evidence and make a choice!

“Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:27-31, NIV)

Are your prayers hindered by doubts about something that happened to you for which you have no explanation?
Are you angry at God at some deep level which hinders faith?
Are you unwilling to admit to your questions, thus avoiding intimately dealing with the Lord?

God loves that person who has an honest faith, whose mind is alive, who will wrestle Him. Ask the questions, not as accusations but as real inquiries. Allow for mystery.  Be a good student of the world, the Scripture, and yourself. 
And, listen for the Spirit’s invitation to faith.

Faith must focus on God. He is greater than all our questions.

Here is a word from the Word.  “What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see.” (Hebrews 11:1, NLT)  “So, you see, it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that there is a God and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6, NLT)

___________________

My Faith Looks Up To Thee

My faith looks up to Thee,
Thou Lamb of Calvary,
Savior divine!
Now hear me while I pray;
Take all my guilt away.
Oh let me from this day
Be wholly Thine!

May Thy rich grace impart
Strength to my fainting heart,
My zeal inspire.
As Thou hast died for me,
Oh may my love to Thee
Pure, warm and changeless be,
A living fire.

While life’s dark maze I tread,
And grief around me spreads
Be Thou my Guide.
Bid darkness turn to day;
Wipe sorrow’s tears away;
Nor let me ever stray
From Thee aside!

When ends life’s transient dream,
When death’s cold sullen stream
Shall o’er me roll,
Blest Savior, then in love,
Fear and distrust remove.
Oh bear me safe above,
A ransomed soul.

Palmer, Ray / Mason, Lowell © Public Domain

What changes me, inside out?

I sat down at the piano in the church sanctuary yesterday and played for a few moments – worshipfully! In that overflow of praise, my prayers for the day were grounded, my faith strengthened. In these chaotic and difficult days, I often choose to offer my worship to the One who is greater than all these ‘light and momentary’ troubles.  The best prayer begins with worship. Do you realize that?  We do not ‘bribe’ our God with our words of adoration! Worship as a foundation of true prayer, changes us. 

Paul and Silas were doing wonderful things for Jesus when they were falsely charged and cruelly beaten. After this injustice, they were locked in an inner, dark cell of the jail in Philippi. Through their tears, they lifted their hearts together in worship. Luke tells us that  “Around midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening.” (Acts 16:25, NLT)

Let that sink in. They were not crying and begging God for release. They were worshipping Him with songs.  The story goes on to tell us that the Lord sent an earthquake, shook the foundations of the prison, and their chains fell off.  Later that night when their jailer saw their great faith he trusted in Christ Jesus and a church was planted in that city that night. It grew out of a sacrifice of praise.  Worship changes circumstances. 

Being human I know that we will be tempted to make a formula out of the story that goes something like this: “In tough times, sing three meaningful worship songs and wait for the miracle.”

No, that’s not the point of the passage.  Insincere praise, words of worship that are not heart-deep, are an affront to God. True worship begins with the humility to give up our demand for an outcome and then to radically trust God to hold us in His hands, come what may!

Worship may change our situation but it will always change us. 

N.T. Wright says that “You become like what you worship. When you gaze in awe, admiration, and wonder at something or someone, you begin to take on something of the character of the object of your worship.”   If we desire Christlikeness in ourselves, we will learn to yield ourselves to God, to bow in worship!  Do you want to be changed? Then, become a person who lives worshipfully.

God has always asked worship of His creation.
In the 10 Commandments, He says that there are to be no other gods, no idols, in our lives.  He owns our worship exclusively.
He wants more than the songs we sing on Sunday!
At the heart of all worship is this – an act, a word, a song, an attitude that assigns worth to the Lord
We can worship by caring for His Creation.
We can worship by loving those He loves.
We can worship by writing a poem. 
We worship when we pray in faith, when we give our time and money to causes of His kingdom. 
We can worship by coming to Him to wait, wordlessly, in His Presence.

Worship is putting Him first, before all other persons, things, or possessions.  Worship is both an act of faith and a response of our heart.   Sometimes worship is a ready response much like that moment when we are moved by a great performance and join the audience in a standing ovation.  In those moments, we are so touched we readily praise Him!  And, more often, there are moments, like that night in the Philippian jail, when we worship Him out of obedience – a choice more than a response.

Worship pleases God.  Thus, all of evil will conspire to keep us from it. The devil is content to keep us pre-occupied with work, or obsessing about our appearance, or frantic to make things work. In those moments, when God is dethroned, we are standing before idols. IF we will turn, by faith, to say, “You are God, I am not,” in that humility there is worship.  There is a promise that Jesus made about those worshipful moments:  that if we “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, (giving worth to God) … all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33, NIV)

Will you worship? 

Engage your mind and heart.
Borrow a Psalm, sing a song. 
Quietly adore Him.
Write a prayer of thanksgiving. 
Pour out your concerns. 
These are acts of worship.

The word from the Word says –
“Ascribe to the LORD, O mighty ones, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness.”
(Psalm 29:1-2, NIV)
____________

What A Beautiful Name

You were the Word at the beginning
One with God the Lord Most High
Your hidden glory in creation
Now revealed in You our Christ

What a beautiful Name it is
What a beautiful Name it is
The Name of Jesus Christ my King
What a beautiful Name it is
Nothing compares to this
What a beautiful Name it is
The Name of Jesus

You didn’t want heaven without us
So Jesus You brought heaven down
My sin was great Your love was greater
What could separate us now

What a wonderful Name it is
What a wonderful Name it is
The Name of Jesus Christ my King
What a wonderful Name it is
Nothing compares to this
What a wonderful Name it is
The Name of Jesus
What a wonderful Name it is
The Name of Jesus

Death could not hold You
The veil tore before You
You silence the boast of sin and grave
The heavens are roaring
The praise of Your glory
For You are raised to life again

You have no rival
You have no equal
Now and forever God You reign
Yours is the kingdom
Yours is the glory
Yours is the Name above all names

What a powerful Name it is
What a powerful Name it is
The Name of Jesus Christ my King
What a powerful Name it is
Nothing can stand against
What a powerful Name it is
The Name of Jesus

What a powerful Name it is
The Name of Jesus
What a powerful Name it is
The Name of Jesus

Ben Fielding | Brooke Ligertwood

© 2016 Hillsong Music Publishing Australia (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055