Truly Blessed, Part 2

I ordered a salad for lunch and when I picked it up, it was a small bowl, a few pieces of chicken, on a bed of not so fresh spinach leaves. “$8 for this?” I growled. Almost the moment I said it, I felt some regret. My words, while not unkind, were sharp. An inquiry about the value and quality of the salad was just fine, but not my tone or attitude. I failed, in that moment, to live as a man surrendered to Christ, in the spirit of meekness.

In His words about finding a life in God’s blessings, a life that enjoys the richest of Spirit-filled abundance, Jesus says this: Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5, NIV)  Ah, that is challenge for us, isn’t it?  As we think of the word, ‘meek’ almost at the same time, we think weak.  The meek do not inherit the earth, they get run over, used, and discarded – or do they? 

Jesus’ words about meekness have nothing to do with weakness or servility, as we might believe. Jesus invites us to know Him, to be secure in His love, so that we can lower our defenses, open our hearts, and become gentle, tender, and vulnerable. The meek are willing to empathize and identify with the least, to weep with those who are ground down by the powers of this world. 

The model of meekness is Jesus. He did not have to subject Himself to suffering at the hands of cruel people, but He did!  He chose to leave Heaven’s love and perfection for us. He surrendered himself to the Cross, taking our sins on Himself, so that we could be restored to our Creator Father.  Of Jesus the Word says, “he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him!” (Philip 2:8)

He was called the “Lamb of God” a primary reference to the sacrificial lamb of Exodus that gave protection to the faithful from death in the Passover.  Life came at the cost of death! “Lamb of God” also describes His meek nature.   A lamb is virtually defenseless.  It cannot run fast. It has no armor. It does not live in a shell. The only safety for a lamb is with the flock and the care of a shepherd

The Word teaches us that “our attitude should be the same that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God. He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form.” (Philippians 2:5-7, NLT)  

Become one with him. … no longer count on (your) own goodness or ability to obey God’s law, but trust Christ to save …  For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. (then you will) really know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead.  …. learn what it means to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that, somehow,  (you) can experience the resurrection from the dead!” (Philippians 3:9-11, NLT) Those of us who live ‘in Christ’ must, like Him, drop our defenses, love those who hate us, submit ourselves to others, as we trust in our Shepherd alone.  And, God empowers us, but not with worldly strength.

Meekness is a work of the Spirit, a choice He enables us to make.  Jesus was “God, in flesh.” He could have crushed His enemies, but He chose to be ‘sheep-ish.’  Will I, will you?  “God blesses those who are gentle and lowly, for the whole earth will belong to them.” (Matthew 5:5, NLT)  Will you give as good as you get, demand ‘respect’ you feel you deserve; or will you choose meekness, and in that choice become a person from whom love is spilled?  

Yes, I repent for growling about a salad, and all those times when I fail to have a life and heart fully submitted to the Lamb of God. I want to be gentle enough to be approachable, tender enough to care about those the world throws away, strong in the strength of the Lord, who is my security. In this, I will find life richer. Will you join me in seeking meekness?

Here’s a word from the Word. It is both beautiful and challenging. May the Spirit call us to greater meekness. “Who has believed our message? To whom will the Lord reveal his saving power? My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot, sprouting from a root in dry and sterile ground. There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him. He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with bitterest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way when he went by. He was despised, and we did not care. Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God for his own sins!” (Isaiah 53:1-4, NLT)  

“He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led as a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7, NLT)  “When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of what he has experienced, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins.” (Isaiah 53:11, NLT)

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Gentle Shepherd
(let this song, a prayer, touch you this day)

Gentle Shepherd come and lead us
Gentle Shepherd come and feed us
For we need Your strength from day to day
There’s no other we can turn to
Who can help us face another day

Gentle Shepherd come and lead us
For we need You to help us find our way

Gloria Gaither | William J. Gaither © 1974 William J. Gaither, Inc.

Offended!!

It is a time of ‘offendedness’ in America. Grievances are constantly rehearsed. A ‘cancel culture’ is erasing names of people, even those long dead, whose offenses are considered too big a stain to recognize their place in history. The sins of many, real and imagined, are headline material. I am not naïve. There are real issues in our society with which we are wrestling, and I agree that it is both right and good to refuse to overlook the sins that wound others, that oppress some, that bring pain.

Christian, we cannot afford to live an ‘offended’ life, nor is that the will of the Lord for those who walk with Him.
Among the ‘works of the sinful nature’ listed in Galatians 5, we find these- “jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions.”  
Wisdom words of Proverbs 19:11 teach us that “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.”  
Jesus says (Matthew 6:15) “if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
Instructions to the church include this – “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”  (Ephesians 4:31)   Go back and re-read those lines.

It is wrong for individuals to feel pressured to sweep sins and mistakes of others, of society, of the government, of church leaders under the rug, covered up and forgotten.  The Scripture holds real confession, heartfelt repentance, as the pathway to healing and reconciliation. We can, we must, speak honestly to abuses of the past, to failure of others and to the sins committed against us.

But, if we are like our Savior, our desire is to find redemption, to seek restoration, to meet repentance with forgiveness.  Is this a costly choice? It surely is. Will some abuse the words of God to justify themselves or to refuse genuine change? Yes they will.

We cannot, as the people of God, hold onto offense or pretend that somehow we can perfect ourselves by making pariahs of those who have been flawed. We do better if we consider the sin, recognize the result, learn how to do better, offer forgiveness, and seek a new future together.  Just about everyone of us can remember a time when someone failed us, disappointed us, sinned against us. If we make that moment the defining one for the relationship, it will dissolve and, most likely, bitterness will set in.

For each of us personally, Jesus taught a better way. “If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the fault. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. If that person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. If the church decides you are right, but the other person won’t accept it, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15-17, NLT)

Before you go to Facebook, go to the person. Before you decide to tell 4 friends, speak to the individual. The exception to this is when the one who has offended has power over you, such as an abuser. Then, you should bring in an advocate who can protect you. But, the principle remains – face to face, one to one, first!  Woven into Jesus’ words is the desire for reconciliation, not retribution.  We go to the one who has hurt us, or misused us, or spoken untruthfully about us with a desire to make things right and win back relationship.  Why? Because as Christians, love is the highest value, a love like God’s love for us.

In our personal offenses, the majority of issues can be dealt with, one to one, if we courageous, prayerful, and honest. Often we are none of those things. We are just mad, offended, and want to exact some kind of revenge. We may not actually say it, but simmering in our anger, we just want to ‘make him pay!’  Our idea of justice triumphs over reconciliation, restoration, or relationship.

If the offender is unrepentant, we find trusted, wise friends who will go with us. No, we don’t line up the BIG GUNS on our side. Jesus’ wisdom was that we should find people who are also interested in healing. As much as possible, they are impartial, able to ‘speak the truth in love’ as we are taught. That may mean that we, the offended, are challenged about our understanding of the situation.

Ultimately, if we hang onto hurt, we lock ourselves into a cycle of anger. That is why Jesus tells us to forgive, which does not mean we say, “Oh, forget it. It’s not a big deal.” Sometimes that might be the right response when we get over ourselves. True forgiveness is modeled on God’s forgiveness of us.

The Scripture tells us that “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8, NIV) It seeks the offender! Moreover, true forgiveness bears the cost. Yes, it is costly to let go of our pain, especially when we have been terribly misused by another.  The heart of Christian forgiveness is understanding that justice is found in God and He is perfectly just. When we place the offense and offender in His hands, giving the debt owed us to Him, we are set free to live.

The word from the Word is lengthy, a story Jesus told about forgiving. May it shape us, heart and mind, to be like Him.

“Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” “No!” Jesus replied, “seventy times seven!

“For this reason, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. He couldn’t pay, so the king ordered that he, his wife, his children, and everything he had be sold to pay the debt. But the man fell down before the king and begged him, ‘Oh, sir, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ Then the king was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.

“But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment. His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and jailed until the debt could be paid in full. “When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him what had happened. Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ Then the angry king sent the man to prison until he had paid every penny.

“That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters in your heart.” (Matthew 18:21-35, NLT)

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Our Great Savior

Jesus what a friend for sinners
Jesus lover of my soul
Friends may fail me foes assail me
He my Savior makes me whole

Hallelujah what a Savior
Hallelujah what a friend
Saving helping keeping loving
He is with me to the end

Jesus what a strength in weakness
Let me hide myself in Him
Tempted tried and sometimes failing
He my strength my vict’ry wins

Jesus I do now receive Him
More than all in Him I find
He hath granted me forgiveness
I am His and He is mine

John Wilbur Chapman

Public Domain

Truly Blessed?

Yesterday, while visiting Bev’s grave, I sat down on the bench I placed there. I became aware of the sound of crying coming across the cemetery. Two people visiting a relatively new grave were grieving, torn by sorrowful storms, sobbing. I could empathize!  Not wanting to invade their privacy, I kept a distance but how I wanted to comfort them. That kind of sorrow is awful.  

I like being happy!  I’m sure you do, too.  Let me back up and confess that I am, by nature, a person of introspection who tends to be melancholy. Indeed I have been accused of being able to find the clouds on the sunniest of days.  But, I do love to laugh, appreciate a good joke, and find much in life that makes me glad to be who I am.  

Most people I know believe that joy finds them, not the other way ‘round. We tend to believe that ‘luck’ and happiness go hand in hand. Jesus teaches a different thing about being happy.  In the beginning of Matthew 5 we find His words about being ‘blessed.’   The passage confounds our natural mind, reading rather like a riddle, until we take time to look more deeply at His words.  

Here’s what He says about finding the blessings of God.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”  (Matthew 5:3-4, NIV)

Does that seem utterly ridiculous to you? Are you tempted to read those words about as seriously as you might read that the lines from that slip inside the fortune cookie that came with your order of Chinese take-out?  His words are the wisdom of God, asking us to think differently than the natural mind does.

Jesus asks us to consider that there is a kind of joy to be discovered in God’s Presence that is greater than our circumstances of life.  Until we have felt the poverty of this present existence compared to the riches of knowing God; until we have turned off the music and let ourselves feel the ache of a life apart from God, we cannot experience the blessedness that is available from our Heavenly Father.

Jesus knew, and wants us to know, that real joy comes from something other than physical comfort, wealth, ‘good luck,’ youth, or a feast.  True joy is God-centered.  When we live though circumstances that turn our hearts to Him, when we reach out to Him, and when we choose to let Him reign as our Lord:  we enter into the ‘blessed’ (joyful) life.  

Here is the heart of this matter, a paradox really. Those most in touch with heaven, most deeply satisfied with God, are able to live the richest kind of life, right here and now. Jesus alludes to that when He promises – “My purpose is to give life in all its fullness.” (John 10:10, NLT) When we worship God rather than His creation, we are able to enjoy what He has made in a richer way.

I will not deny that there is a kind of happiness we can know when we find love, when our felt needs are met, when creature comforts are plentiful!  Money lets us buy fun. Health is better than sickness. Sunshine is preferable to a storm. IF you are in a season when you are full, well-supplied, and satisfied- be thankful!  Solomon wrote “Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God.” (Ecclesiastes 5:19, NIV)

Christian, this is true – we need not lose our joy, fall apart, slide into despair and depression when the sun disappears behind the clouds, as it surely will. We do well, as followers of Jesus, to pursue the Presence of God each day, to live for more than our appetites so that we are able to know the greater joy of the ‘blessed’ life.  There is a kind of joy that remains constant, that steadies us in the storms, that is not circumstantial. We find that in God’s love, the result of being “God blessed!”  That faith that connects us to the love of our Father is the foundation of true contentment of which is written – “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

Think!
Where do I seek joy?
Who or what do I believe is the source of my happiness?

This exercise is not just philosophical. It is quite practical.  Since we spend so much effort, consciously and unconsciously, seeking to make ourselves happy- does it not make sense to consciously understand what we want?   If we are chasing the temporary things, it follows that lasting happiness will elude us.  We will waste many hours and great resources to gain possession of things that will surely turn out to be less than we hoped they might be, returning less reward than we hoped.

Jesus says that being willing to be ‘poor in spirit,’ to become aware of our spiritual poverty, to be willing to ‘mourn,’ to let ourselves feel broken opens a door for God, the Spirit, to introduce us to real joy! We discover what it is to live under the care of God, in the ‘kingdom of heaven.’  We find that our broken state is healed when we are ready to accept Jesus’ love and the Spirit’s life. In Him, there is True Hope.

Here is a word from the Word. I pray it for you today. “We ask God to give you a complete understanding of what he wants to do in your lives, and we ask him to make you wise with spiritual wisdom. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and you will continually do good, kind things for others. All the while, you will learn to know God better and better. We also pray that you will be strengthened with his glorious power so that you will have all the patience and endurance you need. May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father, who has enabled you to share the inheritance that belongs to God’s holy people, who live in the light.” (Colossians 1:9-12, NLT)  Amen

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My Life Is In You

My life is in You Lord
My strength is in You Lord
My hope is in You Lord
In You it’s in You

I will praise You
With all of my life
I will praise You
With all of my strength
With all of my life
With all of my strength
All of my hope is in You

Daniel Gardner© 1986 Integrity’s Hosanna! Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing (Integrity Music, David C Cook))

The Amazing Grace of God

Paul was a young lieutenant in the US Army, leading a platoon in Vietnam in 1967, when he met Jesus during an intense battle at the Lang Vei Special Forces Camp. As men died all around him he thought death inevitable until Jesus appeared to him with a question. Without any church background, without a preacher leading the way, Paul chose faith in that moment and experienced incredible peace and transformation.

He went to ‘Nam a man full of pride and godless. He came home a changed man, as he says, “The old Paul died in that battle!”  He remained in the military, reaching the rank of colonel. But, Paul Longgrear would tell you that his most important mission is serving Jesus Christ.  (http://manleftbehind.christusfilms.com/)

The story of another Paul is told in the book of Acts. He was a Pharisee, a man who thought he was serving God’s purposes when he persecuted the first generation of Christians, trying to stamp out the ‘Jesus’ cult. He too met Jesus.  “As he was nearing Damascus on this mission, a brilliant light from heaven suddenly beamed down upon him! He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?”  “Who are you, sir?” Saul asked. And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” (Acts 9:3-6, NLT)  Saul became the messenger of Jesus’ Gospel to the Roman world, known to us as Paul, the apostle, writer of about half of the New Testament.

The hymn, Amazing Grace, includes this line, “I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind, but now I see.”   John Newton wrote that as part of his own story. He went to sea in 18th century England and eventually became the captain of slave ships, a godless man. He, too, met God and was changed. Newton turned into a fervent opponent of the slave trade and committed himself to God’s service. He was ordained by the Church of England and was the parish minister at Olney, Buckinghamshire, for 20 years.

Have you been converted?

Let’s not confuse ‘church-going’ or ‘being religious’ with true conversion. There is a much good in going to church and practicing the ways of Christianity, but getting right with God is a heart issue. As Jesus explained to a leader of the Jewish people who came to inquire about Who He was and what He was doing. “In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:3-8, NIV)

What wonder! What grace!  We who are forgetful of God can be changed, turned into true saints, beloved of God, and in possession of eternal life! It is His work, a gift “that even while we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s special favor that you have been saved!)” (Ephesians 2:5, NLT) I ask you today, do you know the Savior?  He is received by faith. Your conversion may not be as dramatic as those mentioned above, but it is every bit as amazing, from faith from first to last.

The word from the Word are Jesus’ words of promise. “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19, NIV)   “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it. “There is no judgment awaiting those who trust him. But those who do not trust him have already been judged for not believing in the only Son of God.” (John 3:17-18, NLT)

Trust Him!

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Another of John Newton’s hymns

Glorious Things Of Thee Are Spoken

Glorious things of thee are spoken
He whose word cannot be broken
Formed thee for His own abode
On the Rock of Ages founded
What can shake thy sure repose
With salvation’s walls surrounded
Thou may’st smile at all thy foes

See the streams of living waters
Springing from eternal love
Well supply thy sons and daughters
And all fear of want remove
Who can faint while such a river
Ever flows their thirst to assuage
Grace which like the Lord the Giver

Never fails from age to age
Savior since of Zion’s city
I thro’ grace a member am
Let the world deride or pity
I will glory in Thy name
Fading is the world’s best pleasure
All its boasted pomp and show
Solid joys and lasting treasures
None but Zion’s children know

John Newton © Words: Public Domain

Commencement Exercises

It’s the season of moving up, promotion, and graduation. From preschool through university, the end of an era for students is marked with pomp and ceremony, as is fitting!  One young friend, who is graduating from high school wondered about the term ‘commencement exercises.’  He thought that it is a strange phrase.  It’s quite accurate. Leaving high school is a rite of passage, a beginning of adulthood.

Commencement points some on to college; others into the workplace. College grads, with freshly printed degrees, are beginning new careers. The differing perspective of graduating students is most interesting. Some are anticipating the next step; others reluctantly yield to the inevitability of leaving familiar settings and friendships.

As I thought about this season of graduations by the thousands, I thought about the seasons of life that we all experience. Life never stands still, does it? We are always ‘moving on’ as time continues to carry us in it’s unrelenting current. Try as we may, we cannot make the world stand still.

Christian, let’s pray for faith to see the ‘next thing’ as a divine opportunity!  The Spirit counsels us to “be careful how you live, not as fools but as those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity for doing good in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but try to understand what the Lord wants you to do.” (Ephesians 5:15-17, NLT)  That’s not just for those with new diplomas or degrees. There are unique ways to grow in grace and serve the purposes of God for you – whether you are 8, 18, 38, or 88!

The key is VISION – having the insight to see the way ahead. Have you lowered your eyes, lost sight of the way ahead?  Pray! Really, I mean it. Pray more than a short ‘Hello, Lord. Bless me, my  kids, my friends. Amen” kind of prayer. Take time to get alone with the Lord. Wait on Him with focus. Thank Him for Who He is, how you have known His ways in the past, and ask for vision. God promised His people of ancient time that He would lead them. “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:21, NIV)  That promise has no expiration date!

We must be willing to let go of yesterday – both its successes and failure – if we want to faithfully walk in the way of the Spirit. Paul writes of his journey. He was a mature believer and yet knew that there were new opportunities to grow. “I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. ( completeness) But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” (Philippians 3:12-14, NLT)  He was forward-focused, not captivated by past glories nor paralyzed in regret.

One of these days each one of us will have a final graduation. (You knew I would go here, didn’t you?) But, even death, we learn from the Word, is a commencement! When we come to the end of this life, we will finally enter eternity, perfected in our knowledge, transformed into a being of unimaginable light, knowing God beyond any shadow. Ah, what a moment that will be.  Secure in the grace of God, shown us in Christ Jesus, we need not fear that day. I am not eager to go through the process of dying, but I do not fear death. I see it as a commencement exercise, the last promotion to Glory! Until then, there is living to do, people to love and serve, discoveries of God’s grace and goodness that wait for us at each bend of the road.

The word from the Word comes from a song of David, a prayer.
Make it your prayer today.
“Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my sighing.
Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God,
for to you I pray.
In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before you
and wait in expectation.” (Psalm 5:1-3, NIV)

” I, by your great mercy, will come into your house;
in reverence will I bow down toward your holy temple.
Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness because of my enemies—

make straight your way before me. (Psalm 5:7-8, NIV)

And all God’s people said – AMEN!

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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 FatherI 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

Insiders and Outsiders?

We all have memories of finding ourselves among people with the clear sense that we did not belong.  Maybe it was a day in high school when you realized you were not ‘in,’ excluded. I was never an athlete and did not fit in among those guys that were gifted with speed or strength!  Perhaps it was a moment at a social gathering when, as you stood to one side, it became clear that you were not really included.  People of every age, culture, and society tend to create bonds with people like themselves and sometimes quite consciously ‘insiders’ decide to close the door to those who are different, the ‘outsiders.’

When Abraham was called by God into faith, given a promise to be blessed and a blessing, he became the father of the faithful, the people of the Covenant. The descendants of Abraham were careful to keep their distinction, forbidding marriage with outsiders, restricting access to holy rites to priests of the proper lineage, maintaining a calendar of feasts and holy days that drew them together. Over time a wall was built that not only separated Jews and Gentiles socially, but also kept the Gentiles from God’s promises.

When Christ came, He tore down that wall. In Him, the former distinction of Jew and Gentile was erased and a ‘new kind of human being,’ a people belonging to God was called into being. In Ephesians Paul says, “But now you belong to Christ Jesus. Though you once were far away from God, now you have been brought near to him because of the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:13, NLT)  “So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. We are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We who believe are carefully joined together, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. Through him you Gentiles are also joined together as part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22, NLT)

Personalize that today, dear friend. Have you believed one of many lies that keep people from knowing the love of God?  Yes, we may hear that little voice inside our head that whispers,  “you are not good enough,” or “your heritage is not the right one,” or “your past choices are too regrettable,”  or “you just do not have what it takes” and the lie keeps us from living as a friend of God, in the family of faith. In the eyes of God there are no insiders, no people who enjoy special access to His grace. Christ’s sacrifice was made on behalf of the world, sufficient to make us right with God, regardless of what we did, who we were!

God invites you to be a ‘citizen’ of His holy nation! In the United States a debate continues to rage about immigration, about who can become a citizen and enjoy the right to participate and enjoy the prosperity of the nation. There is no debate about your invitation to the Kingdom of God. Because of Jesus, we are made a new people, with a new identity; called into “one body and one Spirit— just as you were called to one hope when you were called— one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4-6, NIV)

God has made us members of His household. What a thought.  Our family members enjoy unique access and privileges, don’t they? My adult kids can show up in my house anytime, raid my refrigerator, call me for help.  Why? Because we are family!  God calls us His sons and daughters and makes us brothers and sisters.  Have you given thanks that you know your Abba (Dad), that you have a family that extends over the whole earth?

Yes, God is making His people into a living Temple, a place where He dwells by His Spirit. Jesus is the Cornerstone, the keystone, that brings us all together. What a beautiful thing the Church can become when we accept, by faith, that we are called into this holy temple, living stones, our former distinctions lost to the one true glory of belonging to God, the new people of the Lord.

The implications of those holy callings on our day to day lives are huge.
How can we hate, when we are so loved?
How can we discriminate when we are so accepted?
How can we live pridefully when we have been given such grace?

How can we feel the fear or insecurity that is so common to human beings, when we are given such an identity?

Here is a word from the Word. Meditate on the declaration that God makes of you, who are ‘in Christ.’

“As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him—” (1 Peter 2:4, NIV)  “you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9-10, NIV) So, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:12, NIV)

Oh, Spirit of God, let us grasp the wonder of being called, accepted, given the privilege of sharing in the display of Your majesty. Amen.

_______________

No Longer Slaves

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

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

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

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

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

CCLI License # 810055

I’ll Go Where You Want Me To Go

“When did you know you were going to be a pastor?” I am asked that question often. I felt God’s call as a teen,  in a Sunday evening service in a little church, when Spirit extended His invitation to serve. But, the ‘call’ was a part of my life from childhood. 

Our family was part of a denomination that emphasized world missions. When missionaries came to our little church it was always a special Sunday for me!  Their stories about far-away places, the things they put on display from their ‘field’ were captivating.  The pictures they showed from their slide projector carried me away to some African nation or Asian island!  They built schools, preached revivals, did Sunday School under straw roofs, and ministered to the sick!  Those people were heroes in my eyes. I was sure they had a higher calling than the rest of us.  More than one Sunday night, during the prayer time that always ended the meetings, I sang “I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go,” from the most sincere heart.

I still have deep admiration for people who take up the call to serve God on the other side of the world, far from home and family!  But, I know that God’s calling is not just for an elite group, nor does it always involve moving to Argentina or Zimbabwe! 

People of great spiritual need live in my town, and yours, too.  Serving Christ and sharing the Gospel with people who live next door may not produce the dramatic stories but people are lost, without hope, without God, in our town.  People who share our culture and fashion may not appear to be living in spiritual poverty. Familiarity can make us blind to their condition.

Jesus’ disciples urged Him to move on from people they thought worthless, a place unimportant to God. He told them to take another look where they were, to see what saw God sees- “As you look around right now, wouldn’t you say that in about four months it will be time to harvest? Well, I’m telling you to open your eyes and take a good look at what’s right in front of you. These Samaritan fields are ripe. It’s harvest time! ” (John 4:35, The Message)

Sharing Jesus and hope with our neighbors will not involve a big tent filled with a thousand people like I saw in missionary pictures 50 years ago.  Few of us will cross flood-swollen rivers in a dug-out canoe to preach to a remote village or face the hostility of a local shaman!  (I remember those stories like I heard them yesterday!) We take the hope of Christ to our neighbors when we pray faithfully for individuals to know Him, when we set an example of compassion for others, when we care for the least among us, when we live what we believe. In these ways, we point others to Jesus, the Way, the Truth, the Life.

It’s easy to think that these United States are a “Christian” nation since there churches fill our towns and crosses dot the landscape.  The reality is that we are in a time of spiritual poverty – a lost people inundated with pornography, enslaved by greed, deceived by sensuality, and serving the great “I”- Self.  Because individuals live without God, our political system is broken, our justice system is a joke especially for the poor, and in spite of great wealth, we are poor in Spirit. Many churches are lifeless, having “a form of godliness but denying its power.”  Spirituality may be spoken of but God is absent.

This is our mission field! God commissions you and me, trusts us with the words of life. When we find the joy of being part of turning a life around, helping someone find Christ, it is a deeply rewarding experience. What thrills me in pastoral ministry is not ‘church work’ but rather those moments when someone makes a confession of faith, is baptized, and becomes a disciple of Jesus. You can be a disciple-maker.   

As you think about sharing Jesus, set aside the stereotypes of street preachers yelling about God’s judgment or the Jehovah’s Witnesses knocking on your door to hand out literature.  Just be a friend! Pray every day for a few people that need God.  And, live the Gospel before you speak the Gospel.  You are a missionary.

Here is the word from the Word – Jesus’ direction for us.  “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20, NLT)

When you have prayed with your friend, your children, your neighbor, your parent and helped them to find the Light, to change their eternal destiny, and discover real hope –
you will be the happiest Christian in your church!

__________

I’ll Go Where You Want Me To Go

(A hymn a century old, but still compelling in the message.
These words stirred my heart 55 years ago and still do!)

It may not be on
The mountain’s height
Or over the stormy sea
It may not be at
The battle’s front
My Lord will have need of me
But if by a still
Small voice He calls
To paths I do not know
I’ll answer dear Lord
With my hand in Thine
I’ll go where You want me to go

I’ll go where You
Want me to go dear Lord
Over mountain or plain or sea
I’ll say what You
Want me to say dear Lord
I’ll be what You want me to be

Perhaps today there
Are loving words
Which Jesus would
Have me speak
There may be now
In the paths of sin
Some wanderer
Whom I should seek
O Savior if Thou wilt
Be my guide
Though dark and rugged the way
My voice shall echo
The message sweet
I’ll say what You
Want me to say

So trusting my all
I know Thou lovest me
I’ll do Thy will
With a heart sincere
I’ll be what You want me to be

Carrie E. Rounsefell
Public Domain

Striding along confidently, in the light!

When I went into that hospital room, the atmosphere was dark. The woman in the bed is very old, her health frail, the future, as we see it, uncertain. “God has abandoned me,” she said, the fear in her voice unmistakable. I pulled up a chair and took her hand, listened to her for a few moments and turned her thoughts to the Scripture. When we prayed together, it was as if a light turned on. We welcomed His Presence and He brightened that day.

Are you living in the dark?

I am ever so grateful for the Light of Christ, that allows me to see life as it is. There are days when nothing makes sense, when the many contradictory voices around me leave me wondering, “Who is right? What is the way?”  IF I retreat from the noise, find a place to meditate, to pray, in silence, I am  recentered by His Presence. A clarity of mind comes with the Light He gives. He said  “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12, NIV)  The promise is ours to own. We can live ‘on purpose’ with a clear focus on the will of God.

Ever stumbled through a dark room, trying to avoid falling over unseen obstacles?  Without the Light, that is how we live. If we reject the Spirit and choose to be self-willed, if we refuse to trust God, we will ‘walk in darkness,’ knowing ever more confusion, one destructive choice following another.  Our lives can turn into a chaotic mess – relationally, financially, and spiritually.  “Why,” we wonder, “do I keep making the same dumb mistakes over and over again? Why can’t I get it right?” We need to move towards the Light. IF we remain in our sin unwilling to enter into faith, our understanding of the will of God will be clouded, the Truth hidden, our heart darkened by disobedience.

In John’s Gospel, the themes of Truth and Light are woven into the story of Jesus.  Summarizing His discussion with Nicodemus, a religious leader who was spiritually confused, Jesus said, “Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”  (John 3:19-21)

Christian, let’s choose to ‘live in the Light!’  “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” We can turn from the Light. If we do, the purposeful, hopeful life we knew is lost to the dark. That is why the Word reminds us to “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said: “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:8-14, NIV

Living in the light of Christ is not a ‘once and done’ decision. Each day we have a choice –  We serve Christ Jesus or we serve Self. We cannot do both. IF we turn from Him, we dim the light. The further we walk from Him, the more that the confusion of spiritual darkness overtakes us.  In the that dark we lose our purpose, our joy, our peace.

John preached that theme of Light throughout his life. In his letter to the church, written decades after his Gospel, he tells us that living in the Light allows us to know intimacy with the Spirit of God. “This is the message he has given us to announce to you: God is light and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness. We are not living in the truth. But if we are living in the light of God’s presence, just as Christ is, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from every sin.” (1 John 1:5-7, NLT)  Be careful not to turn that into perfectionism! The call to live in the Light is an invitation to a relationship, not a life committed to religious rule-keeping!

So, light or dark? What will you choose? 

Will you wander through life, alone and afraid? Or will you let the Light of Christ shine on you so that you can confidently walk through each day, guided by spiritual insight?

The word from the Word –
Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you.
The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going.
Put your trust in the light while you have it,
so that you may become sons of light
.” (John 12:35)
_______________

Here I Am To Worship
(Chris Tomlin sings a prayer)

Light of the world
You stepped down into darkness
Opened my eyes let me see
Beauty that made
This heart adore You
Hope of a life spent with You

So here I am to worship
Here I am to bow down
Here I am to say that You’re my God
And You’re altogether lovely
Altogether worthy
Altogether wonderful to me

King of all days
Oh so highly exalted
Glorious in heaven above
Humbly You came
To the earth You created
All for love’s sake became poor

And I’ll never know how much it cost
To see my sin upon that cross
And I’ll never know how much it cost
To see my sin upon that cross

Tim Hughes © 2000 Thankyou Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

Keep Running!

Have you ever watched a marathon at the finish line? The leaders arrive head high, often arms raised, still running… then come those who are limping, exhausted, faces drawn in pain. It is beyond my comprehension why they subject themselves to months of punishing training and then to 26.2 miles of struggle. But, they do! Their resolve astonishes me. How deep must a person dig to keep putting on foot in front of the other when every muscle fiber is screaming – Stop? And they keep coming, the later ones even more exhausted, but determined to finish, to be able to say “I ran a marathon!” 

That’s life for us, if you stop to think about it. We start full of optimism and energy. Obstacles we meet in the early years are more easily overcome, most of the time. But, with time, the hills seem to get steeper, the excitement less. Fatigue and sometimes, cynicism, takes hold.  What then?  Will we curse or cry; whine and whimper; sit down and wait for somebody to rescue us? Will we become a couch potato, unengaged, refusing to get involved? Or, will we dig deep, look up, and find a higher reason to press on?

The letter to the church in Philippi that is at the center of our New Testament is full of joy, a work of encouragement from a man who knew what tough times were!  Paul had been an evangelist for Christ for about 25 years at the time of the writing.  His work did not go from triumph to celebration!  He knew rejection, persecution, was unjustly accused of crime, had been beaten by mobs and the law, and was jailed on false charges. I’m sure the thing that hurt most was the criticism he received from the people he had brought to the knowledge of Christ’s salvation. But, he never quit.   Like a runner in a marathon, he kept on serving, loving, and hoping.

How did he do it? He reveals his Source:

“I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13, NLT) 
The Message goes like this: “Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.”

While I cannot know your state of mind today, I can invite you, whoever you are, wherever you are, to trust Jesus to live in you and, as you trust Him, He will infuse you with strength beyond your comprehension, with courage that you may not even be able to imagine!  Not for a moment do I mean to imply that Jesus is a motivation word just for the awful days, a thought to pull up in hard times, or a magical mantra that will make it better.

The strength and joy that Paul experienced is our when we keep our lives centered on Christ Jesus. We find the joy of the LORD when we make our decisions around His eternal purposes, when we are willing to be surrendered to His will – in self-denying obedience.  It is a fool’s thought to believe that we can cry ‘Jesus’ and find everything is instantly better after living selfishly, sinfully, focused on all the wrong things in this life.

Let’s set Paul’s declaration – . “I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”  Into the full context of the letter.  He writes –  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:6-13, NIV)

The promise of victory emerges from consistent choices to think in a way that God desire, to discipline our mind to a singular focus on Christ, our Lord. Yes, Christian friend, the life to which He invites us resembles a marathon, not a sprint, a ‘long obedience in the same direction!’

Tell yourself, today, “Yes, I can!”  That is not true because you are smarter, richer, or more courageous than the next guy.  It is true because you are a child of God Who is walking with you, Who will see you through. Near the end of his earthly journey, Paul looked over the marathon of faith that had been his course.  His final words form one of my favorite passages of Scripture, words that are etched into my mind, that inspire me.

In spite of the pain and problems, Paul had no regrets, no gripes but he did have a rich assurance. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8, NLT)  “I did it! Now, all that’s left is the awards ceremony!”

On this Monday, take a few moments to recenter yourself in Christ Jesus. Think thankfully. Ask for fresh inspiration for the road. Take courage and remember “I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”

The word from the Word: “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 3:20-21, NIV)
 Finish the race.
________________

Goodness Of God

(Tasha Cobbs does this worship song with joy!)

I love You Lord
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© 2018 Capitol CMG Paragon (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

SHOUT! Music Publishing Australia (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

Fellow Ships Music (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)

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

Bethel Music Publishing

CCLI License # 810055

The Best Investment

When I opened an account, the financial company asked me – “What is your risk tolerance?”  Risk is part of having money in any investment. The economy changes, markets move up and down. Risk can be managed, however, by the choice of investment. Some funds promise higher returns generally accompanied by a higher risk of value fluctuations and loss. Others are more ‘balanced.’  They produce lower returns but generally their value is much more stable over time.

My ‘risk tolerance’ is low given my age and limited resources!  However, my real treasure is invested in a way that knows no loss, that is completely secure, beyond the reach of pandemic, war, or political chaos. Read on!

Jesus taught us that not all wealth is worldly, not every treasure a thing of earthly value. Counseling us about what is of true worth, He says –“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21, NIV)  

Lots of pastors like to use that passage to encourage giving in church offerings!  It is true that we can invest in God’s work when we support our local church’s efforts to make disciples and care for people in need. BUT, those words are about the whole of our lives, the focus of our day to day efforts. Are we serving God, investing in people, or serving ourselves, focused on our own ‘kingdom?’

Creating ‘treasure in heaven,’ giving of time and resources in Christ-honoring ways, is a long-term strategy, involving a willingness to trust Him for returns that are not visible in a day or a week. His rewards are sure, our lives secured by His promise. Jesus points out that “everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” (Matthew 7:23-25, NIV)

Christian, do you remember that you are investing each day?  How we live using the gifts and opportunities God gives will produce a return or a loss. Paul encourages us to remember eternity, our appointment with the Lord, where in His gaze it will be found if we built on the foundation of Christ’s Gospel “using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.” (1 Corinthians 3:12-13, NIV)  Yes, today’s actions have eternal significance.

Disciple, love Jesus! Invest yourself in Him. Don’t respond with fear or panic to the temporary up’s and down’s of life. Only God knows why the trials and joys of each day are allowed to come our way. Invest in Him for the long-term.

Here’s a word from the Word. It shifts the investment theme a bit, turning our thoughts to the harvest that will come. May it be both a caution and encouragement for you today. 
“Don’t be misled: No one makes a fool of God.
What a person plants, he will harvest.
The person who plants selfishness,

ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God!—
harvests a crop of weeds.
All he’ll have to show for his life is weeds!

But the one who plants in response to God,
letting God’s Spirit do the growth work in him,
harvests a crop of real life, eternal life.
So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good.
At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit.
Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance,

let us work for the benefit of all,
starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith.

(Galatians 6:7-10, The Message)

Where and in whom are you investing your life?  
Today is a good day to open that Heavenly account, by faith in Christ!
________________

Take My Life
(a prayer for this day)

Take my life and let it be consecrated
Lord to Thee
Take my moments and my days
Let them flow in ceaseless praise
Take my hands and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love

Take my feet and let them be
Swift and beautiful for Thee
Take my voice and let me sing
Always only for my King
Take my lips and let them be
Filled with messages from Thee

Take my silver and my gold
Not a mite would I withhold
Take my intellect and use
Ev’ry power as You choose
Take my will and make it Thine
It shall be no longer mine

Take my heart it is Thine own
It shall be Thy royal throne
Take my love my Lord I pour
At Your feet its treasure store
Take myself and I will be
Ever only all for Thee

Frances Ridley Havergal