Captain of the Universe?

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Being awake at 2 am is a common thing for me these days. At that hour I am so aware of my limitations and the demands of my work. In the darkness, I remember that aged man who is dying, that marriage that is failing, that person who is wrestling with faith, that ministry that needs to be staffed, those who are hurting, the budget that needs to be balanced … And I pray! Knowing full well that I cannot heal, save, or restore, I turn to the One who is ‘able to do immeasurably more’ and ask Him for wisdom, for spiritual renewal.

In another era of my life, I sang a Gospel song with these words – “I’m learning to lean on Jesus! Finding more power than I’d ever dreamed; I’m learning to lean on Jesus.” (Brentwood Music, 1976, John Stallings)  I am still leaning on Jesus, more now than ever. The counsel of the world is that we ought to be self-sufficient and ‘in control.’  The truth that I know now that way of prideful man separates me from the resources that are freely provided to me by the Spirit of God.  When I abandon the “Lone Ranger” mentality and work with people, my levels of stress go down. When I kneel in prayer, confessing weakness and proclaiming His Majesty, God comforts me and leads.

Elijah was a mighty prophet of ancient Israel. He had a day of victory when fire fell from heaven and the false prophets that were deceiving the people of the Lord were defeated. Curiously, in the moment of triumph, Elijah became vulnerable, the threats of Queen Jezebel overwhelming him, causing him to run for the hills. He even abandoned his companions, seeking solitude in the wilderness. He had no relief, no peace, until God, the Spirit, found him. “When Elijah heard the quiet voice, he muffled his face with his great cloak, went to the mouth of the cave, and stood there. A quiet voice asked, “So Elijah, now tell me, what are you doing here?” (1 Kings 19:12-13, The Message) In the Presence of God, Elijah found strength. The great man grew even greater that day as he learned to lean more on the Lord!

Will we lean on Jesus?  So many other things will tempt us to ‘take control.’ Even pastors are deceived by the illusion. I hardly attend pastoral conferences anymore. The emphasis is seldom on waiting on God, on listening for the Spirit. Instead we are taught ‘leadership’ skills, told to be sensitive to our culture, and trained in psychology.  Oh, I make no case for foolishness, laziness, or insensitivity. However, pastor or plumber, teacher, Mom, or President – we are successful in God’s eyes only when we are leaning on Jesus!

We might find a measure of success, for a while, if we are fortunate enough to have brains, brawn, or fortune. In time, though, all of us find ourselves facing situations for which we are no match. New problems arise for which we have no answers. The flaws in our character become too obvious to ignore any longer. Mortality stares us in the face, defying our attempts to slow the march of time. What then? Many despair in those moments. Others bravely stand singing into the darkness trying mightily to create a new reality. Some escape into distractions of pleasure.

OR, we can lean on Jesus, who promises that He will lead us, never leave us, and make us ‘more than conquerors.’

There is a message that overcomes the world! What is that message? In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul says that the message is that Christ was crucified, buried, and raised to life – so that we can live in a dying world! “The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. . . . Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom. So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense. But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-24, NLT)

So what reminds you of your human weakness this morning?
It is a broken heart?
Is it a diagnosis of cancer?
Is it the wrinkles on your face?
Is it the failure of a friendship?
It is the mocking voice of the Enemy who reminds you of your past sin?
Is it, perhaps, the world that is full of suffering, war, and hatred?  Need I go on?

Just maybe, you are still feeling like a master of it all. I once did, too. Curiously, I would never go back to that time. I know His love, His grace, His tender mercies,  so much better today than I did then. Like Paul, I know that ‘when I am weak, then I am strong,’ because I lean on Jesus. His Cross is my glory. That symbol of shame and death – I know as the place where God’s eternal power meets my greatest weakness and saves me.  It is His life in me that overcomes the death sentence that sin spoke over me!  So I embrace the Cross, listen to the Spirit, and trust Him, even at 2 am!

Here’s a word from the Word to prayerfully ponder today. “He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:28-31, NIV)

“Finding more power than I’d ever dreamed;
I’m learning to lean on Jesus.”

____________

My hope is built on nothing less,
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness,
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ Name.

On Christ, the Solid Rock, I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

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Tripped up? Lost your way?

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My morning meditations have been in Peter’s second letter. He addressed Christians who were in difficult times, under pressure from both from outside and inside the church!  Persecution was intense. When Jesus’ followers grew in number their influence could not be ignored across Asia Minor. Because they refused to offer the obligatory gifts to Caesar as a god, they were suspected of disloyalty to the Roman empire. This brought on the persecution of authorities and rejection of neighbors and friends who feared being associated with rebels.

There were factions inside the church, too.  People from every way of life came together in Christ but it was not all hymn-singing and happy times. Finding community was difficult and they fought among themselves. They were beset by teachers who brought false doctrines, by those who were just in it for themselves. Peter, knowing that some were discouraged, urges them not to walk away or to compromise their commitment.

He writes  “If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud.” (2 Peter 2:20-23 NIV)  Then he points out the reward.  “You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.” (2 Peter 3:11-14, NIV)

2000 years later, the circumstances are different but the temptations remain. Christians still deal with pressures from inside and outside of the faith. We can begin to wonder if we are being foolish in our giving, serving, loving, and commitment. The way of compromised faith is offered by self-interested teachers who are willing to comfort those who are looking for an easy ‘discipleship.’ (a contradiction in terms, by the way) If we look around we will be disappointed to find that there are many who claim to be Christ’s but live filled with Self. And, there is the ever-present subtle work of the Deceiver to draw our focus away from Christ Jesus and onto to our bruised feelings or missed expectations. Peter warns that if we let ourselves get tangled up in all of that, we can end up worse than we were before coming to Jesus!

A bitter, back-slidden Christian can develop a heart that is hardened. I have known that temptation, too!  Cynicism blinds a person to every expression of love or makes that love feel manipulative. The Spirit’s invitation to know His tender mercies is lost to anger. Worshipfulness can be replaced by a dutiful form of religiosity. But, that can be changed! To avoid the deception, we pray to keep eternity in view. We can let go of our woundedness, see beyond our disappointment, and/or put temptation for pleasure to death when the bright light of God’s promise is our beacon. It that difficult?

Peter knows it is.  “Make every effort to be found spotless, blameless, and at peace with Him,” he tells us.  I cannot think of anything of great value that is gained without consistent effort and clear vision. Knowing Jesus in the rich way that the Word promises demands hard choices, death to Self, and a willingness to defer rewards for an eternity that is, as yet, unseen.

Let’s not get tripped up in our tests and trials.
Before you fall down, kneel down and look up.
Before you give up in despair, surrender to the One who gives hope.

Here is a word from the Word. May the inspired revelation of Peter renew our hope and deepen our commitment. “You need to know that in the last days, mockers are going to have a heyday. Reducing everything to the level of their puny feelings  … Don’t overlook the obvious here, friends. With God, one day is as good as a thousand years, a thousand years as a day. God isn’t late with his promise as some measure lateness. He is restraining himself on account of you, holding back the End because he doesn’t want anyone lost. He’s giving everyone space and time to change.” (2 Peter 3:3,8-9, The Message)

________

Abba, help me to see the rich reward You have in reserve.
Thank You for the grace of Christ. Help me to lean hard on Him
when the trials of life make temptations glitter attractively.

Strengthen faith, silence the voice of the deceiver.
May my hope be set in Christ alone,
My love be strong enough to withstand every hardship,
My faith finding renewal day by day.

In Jesus’ Name. Amen

A Sure Thing!

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One thing that 6 decades of living has taught me is that there are no ‘sure things’ this side of Heaven. In 2006, I bought a house in a time when real estate was increasing in value. When I sold it in 2011, the value had fallen by 20%!  I thought real estate was an investment that would always return some profit. I learned a lesson about investments.  People surprise us, too, don’t they? We build a friendship or even a marriage, expecting a life-long relationship of mutual benefit. It is a shock when our ‘friend’ abandons us for another or we discover that we are with someone we really did not know at all.  The vagaries of life can cause us to become fearful, can’t they?  But …

If we are God’s children by faith, there is security for us that allows us to live with confidence.

In my ongoing exploration of Peter’s letters, this morning I came to this passage.  “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others; if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)— if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment.” (2 Peter 2:4-10, NIV)

Peter points to two Old Testament stories as examples of God’s sure promises. The flood of judgment came, but Noah obeyed the Lord’s directions to build an ark and he was saved from loss! In the middle of the conflagration that destroyed Sodom, the Lord sent angels to bring Lot out to safety, answering the prayers of his uncle, Abraham. We can trust our God to do what He says He will do.

The apparent randomness of life tries to convince us that we must scramble to protect our own interests, best that we are able. The temptation is to take whatever pleasure we can find today, to do whatever brings us the most happiness now, reasoning – who knows if tomorrow will even come?  But, because of the Word and Jesus – we know that eternity is assured and that our life is held in His hands!

Paul, at the end of his life, penned his second letter to Timothy from death row. He had given himself to the service of the Lord, traveling thousands of miles to preach in hundreds of cities. His life had not brought riches or comfort. Many of the churches he planted turned against him.  Yet, he knew a ‘sure thing.’  “And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that Day.” (2 Timothy 1:11-12, NIV) A few passages later, he sums it all up – “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8, NIV)

What confidence! Where did he find it? In knowing God, by faith. People failed him. Situations turned out differently than he thought they should. His life was not ending with a parade down Jerusalem’s Main Street in his honor.  And yet, he is not ‘ashamed,’ nor is he full of regret.  He knows God and knows that His promises are sure.  Do you?

This Monday morning, take hope in the Lord. Anchor yourself in Him, the only real ‘sure thing.’  Meditate prayerfully in this passage of faith, then go live today confidently, held in God’s hands in a chaotic world. “Since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s people, let us go right into the presence of God, with true hearts fully trusting him. For our evil consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:21-25, NLT)

_________

Fear Is A Liar

(Zach Williams sings of our assurance, enjoy.)

When he told you you’re not good enough
When he told you you’re not right
When he told you you’re not strong enough
To put up a good fight
When he told you you’re not worthy
When he told you you’re not loved
When he told you you’re not beautiful
That you’ll never be enough

  (Oh) Fear he is a liar
He will take your breath stop you in your steps
Fear he is a liar
He will rob your rest steal your happiness
Cast your fear in the fire
‘Cause fear he is a liar

 When he told you were troubled
You’ll forever be alone
When he told you you should run away
You’ll never find a home
When he told you you were dirty
And you should be ashamed
When he told you you could be the one
That grace could never change

 Let Your fire fall and cast out all my fears
Let Your fire fall Your love is all I feel
Let Your fire fall and cast out all my fears
Let Your fire fall Your love is all I feel

 ‘Cause fear he is a liar

Jason Ingram | Jonathan Smith | Zach Williams

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Not a fairy tale

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The tales we are told as children are handed down, generation to generation, because they reflect something in us, that is universally true of humanity. Cinderella, the mistreated girl whose cruel step-mother keeps her from happiness, is saved by the prince. That tale resonates with us because it is one of hope in the middle of injustice.  Beauty and the Beast works so well because innately we desire a love that sees us deeply, underneath our flaws. Aesop’s fables teach us lessons of character. They are clearly just stories, riveting for children, intriguing when seen through adult eyes, but tales none the less. The tales, sometimes horrific, told by Hans Christian Andersen, who is possibly most famed for the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes, a warning of the deceit of vanity.

Some read the Scripture as a collection of fables. Those who approach the Bible, the accounts of Moses, Joshua, David, and even Jesus, as just great teaching stories, may see them as foundational in shaping our understanding of the world, but less than what they really are. If we read the Bible with those eyes, it is not the ‘word of God’ with the power to save us, nor is it compelling Truth that requires obedience.

The Bible is a revelation, not just a tale. It is a ‘living Word,’ that finds us in the confusion of competing voices and shows us the Way, the Truth, and the Life found exclusively in the Majesty of our Savior. Peter writes to remind us of the compelling nature of the Gospel of Christ, putting his own credibility on the line.

We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” (2 Peter 1:16-20, NIV)

Peter tells us that he saw and knew Jesus Christ;  heard the voice of God and, was an eyewitness to the actual events that confirmed the words of the ancient prophets. He asserts this about the Scripture – Above all, you must understand that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophets themselves or because they wanted to prophesy. It was the Holy Spirit who moved the prophets to speak from God.” (2 Peter 1:20-21, NLT)

When you open your Bible, do you seek to hear God speak?
Do you read the words as a revelation of His will, His purpose, His salvation?
Does the Scripture call you to change, to humility, to life?

Yes, this demands diligent study, careful interpretation, grasp of context, and the Holy Spirit to guide. There are passages that are difficult, parts that when robbed of the full context of the Truth are abused.  But, in the whole, the Word is a precious gift to us, one that we demean or discard at our own peril. Have you let your mind be infected with the skepticism of this age?  Do you argue with the Bible, refusing the plain truths about sin and salvation, about love and redemption, about life eternal?

May this word from the Word help us to return to the foundation of Truth – reading the Word for what it claims to be – God’s truth given to us as ‘words of life.’

“But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you. You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood,

and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God

and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right. It is God’s way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do.” (2 Timothy 3:14-17, NLT)

By faith, may those words become ‘beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life.’

______

Abba, I thank You for Your Word.
The arrogance of the ‘wise’ insists
that Your revelation is just a myth,
that Your word is nothing but a collection of legends.

Speak to my heart. Open my eyes.
Let me see the desperate state of the world,
Your desire to redeem me,
the amazing extent of Your love.

I would see Jesus, to know Him,
To love Him, to find eternal life through Him.  Amen.

What Kind of Love Is This?

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Call me overly sentimental, but I am happy that the calendar includes a day to celebrate love! Happy Valentine’s Day. The cynical among us will see this day as one hyped to create a market for cards, chocolates, and flowers. And yes, some of that is true, but expressions of loving affection are always a welcomed thing in this love-starved world in which we live.  But, today, we can celebrate real love.  Is it just about hearts and flowers, about romantic attraction?  A little, yes, but it is so much more.

In this beautiful passage, Paul describes the rich fullness of love. “Love is kind and patient, never jealous, boastful, proud, or rude. Love isn’t selfish or quick tempered. It doesn’t keep a record of wrongs that others do. Love rejoices in the truth, but not in evil. Love is always supportive, loyal, hopeful, and trusting. ….For now there are faith, hope, and love. But of these three, the greatest is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:7-11, 13, CEV)   That kind of love is far more costly than a Hallmark™ card or a dozen roses.   It will flourish long after the sparks of passions have diminished!

How I pray for love to be found in me and all those who claim the Name of Jesus.  My prayer is that it will not be shallow kind of affection, but an enduring choice we make about others. What does that look like?

  • It is the love that reaches out to the child in a distant nation through an agency like World Vision or Compassion and invests $40 a month for that child’s education and care.
  • It is the love that forgives the one who wounds us with thoughtless words, reaching for restoration.
  • It is the love that makes us blind to skin color seeing others as our brothers and sisters.
  • It is the love that sees the person and not just his usefulness in our agenda.
  • It is the love that will not allow us to divide people, but rather makes us ‘messengers of reconciliation.’

Jesus taught us that this kind of love is the mark that will cause others to know that we are His disciples. Profound love is not natural to us. To love, as He did – sacrificially, for the benefit of others – demands an experience of God’s love that dethrones Self and changes us inside out. John says “This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. … We love each other because he loved us first.” (1 John 4:10, 19, NLT)  Love comes from God and flows from us even to those who are unlovely.  Jesus said it is modeled on the love of our Father Who “gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.” (Matthew 5:45-47, The Message)

Happy Valentine’s day. Celebrate the love even if you’re not romantically tied to anyone.   Love, like Christ loved you!   It will change your world;  yes, that love will come back to change you!

The word from the Word are Jesus’ words about love, spoken to His disciples the night before He went to the cross.

“I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me.
Make yourselves at home in my love.
If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love.
That’s what I’ve done—
kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love.

 “I’ve told you these things for a purpose:
that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature.

This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you.

 This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends.
You are my friends when you do the things I command you.”  (John 15:9-14, The Message)
________________________________________

Your Love Is Extravagant

Your love is extravagant
Your friendship is intimate
I find I’m moving to the rhythms of Your grace
Your fragrance is intoxicating
In our secret place
Your love is extravagant

Spread wide in the arms of Christ
Is the love that covers sin
No greater love have I ever known
You considered me a friend
Capture my heart again

Your love is extravagant
Your love is extravagant
Your love is extravagant

Darrell Evans © 1998 Integrity’s Hosanna! Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing (IMI)) CCLI License # 810055

Stale bread and flat soda

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I like those artisan breads, made locally, without the preservatives found in packaged breads. There is one problem, however. If I do not use the loaf within a couple of days of purchase, the bread goes stale, the flavor lost. I also enjoy a nice cold glass a raspberry-lime seltzer as long as it hasn’t had time to go flat, losing the carbonation that gives it that unique appeal.

Did you know that our Christianity can lose the edge, get stale? Peter wrote to us to encourage maturity in the daily practices of our faith- “complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love.”

And, he then goes on to say, But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have.” (2 Peter 1:9-12, NIV)

What does a stale faith look like?

It is mumbled prayers, without heart, without faith. It is dutiful service lacking in fervor. It is an unread, dusty Bible or, at best, a few minutes spent in familiar Psalms. It is apathetic about the condition of the world that does not know the hope of Jesus. It is loveless, joyless, and lukewarm. The Bible warns of ‘deadly drift’  in life, when the pressing issues of each day carry a person away from the fellowship of the Spirit, with a growing chill in the soul.

It is quite possible to wake up and find that the things of God just don’t matter anymore, the faith that once burned brightly in the heart, cooled to an ember, only to die completely!  Paul reminded Timothy, the younger pastor in a struggle in his church, to remember the calling, the faith, he had found and to take care of it. “Fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you.” (2 Timothy 1:6, NLT)

We know how important daily habits are to our health, don’t we? At my most recent physical exam, the doctor looked me over and wryly asked, “So, are you taking care of your body, God’s temple?” She pointed out the neglect of exercise, the extra pounds round my waist, and the rising blood pressure that were evidence of my need to change some of my ways. I know full well that I should walk each day, that I should eat a better diet, but I choose to push those choices of to tomorrow with gradual consequence to my good health.

Similarly, there are choices to be made for spiritual vitality. They are not usually all that difficult nor do they require horrendous sacrifices. Keeping faith fresh asks you and me to make some priority choices.

  • On Sunday morning, set the alarm and go connect with God and His family in worship.
  • Instead of watching another TV program, spend some time with a prayer journal, the Bible, and the Spirit.
  • Read something soul nourishing.
  • Choose a playlist that helps you to know God’s presence.
  • Forgive and strengthen ties instead of hanging onto resentments.
  • Find a place to give yourself away on a regular basis, doing something for others in Jesus’ name where there is no immediate benefit to you.
  • Make every effort to balance work and worship!

These are the kinds of habits that draw us back to the renewal of our faith, that ‘make our calling and election sure.’

One last thought today …  don’t confuse ‘exciting’ with ‘fresh.’  A fresh faith does not require novelty or entertainment. A common mistake of the modern church is to replace the Presence of the Spirit with things that excite us. Bright lights, loud music, faster songs, and sermons designed to tug at emotions instead of transforming us into Christ’s likeness.  A few tears replace repentance. But let’s remember –  vital faith is not novel faith; it is God-focused, eternal, hopeful, and holy.

Here is a word from the Word. Lord, help us to do those things that allow You to work in us and through us to become holy people that shine Your Light brightly into our dark work, passionately living out the faith.

“Here’s what I want you to do: Buy your gold from me, gold that’s been through the refiner’s fire. Then you’ll be rich. Buy your clothes from me, clothes designed in Heaven. You’ve gone around half-naked long enough. And buy medicine for your eyes from me so you can see, really see. “The people I love, I call to account—prod and correct and guide so that they’ll live at their best. Up on your feet, then! About face! Run after God!

“Look at me. I stand at the door. I knock. If you hear me call and open the door, I’ll come right in and sit down to supper with you. Conquerors will sit alongside me at the head table, just as I, having conquered, took the place of honor at the side of my Father. That’s my gift to the conquerors!” (Revelation 3:18-21, The Message)

___________

Spirit of the living God,

Fall fresh on me.

Melt me, mold me,

Use me, fill me.

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Just grow up!

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Bev, my late wife, was not much given to silliness and when I would joke in a manner which she found childish, when she had enough of it, I would hear – “Jerry, just grow up!”  A few days ago, while I was playing with some children at church, using my smartphone to create silly faces with filters on SnapChat, I could have almost sworn I heard an echo in my head of her voice – “Jerry, grow up!” There is a time to play like a child and there is a time to get serious and ‘grow up.’

God’s desire is maturity so that our faith in Christ Jesus will produce real and lasting change – in us and in the world in which we live. “So make every effort to apply the benefits of these promises to your life. Then your faith will produce a life of moral excellence. A life of moral excellence leads to knowing God better. Knowing God leads to self-control. Self-control leads to patient endurance, and patient endurance leads to godliness. Godliness leads to love for other Christians, and finally you will grow to have genuine love for everyone.” (2 Peter 1:5-7, NLT)

When we trust Jesus as our Savior, leaning completely on His grace, our sins are forgiven. That is the Gospel! We do not save ourselves for if we could then, as Paul says, we would have reason to boast.  Jesus saves us completely. There is a completion to His work at the Cross in our lives that demands our participation. The death and resurrection of Jesus transform us. Peter says that “Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” (2 Peter 1:4, NIV)  It’s time to ‘grow up.’  We need not remain spiritually childish, incapable of sustaining commitment, without the ability to discern between right and wrong, captive of every whim.  The life of the Spirit will make us productive and useful in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:8, NLT)

There is the choice to live for moral excellence. We desire the life of Christ, the purity of heart that is found in Him. We refuse to demean others, to gossip, to lust, to remain greedy, to measure our success by the things we own or the clothes we wear.  That choice is supported by becoming an intimate friend of God.  Prayer is a daily choice.  We meditate in Scriptural truth. We worship 7 days a week, not just one!

From that inner transformation comes self-control. We no longer allow ourselves to be held in the grip of anger, hatred, or apathy. Our mind becomes spiritual, made alive to God, the Holy Spirit, and we live in an awareness of His Presence, all of the time.  That person who knows self-control, is able to steadily do the will of God. He practices the disciplines of the Spirit regularly, not just when he feels like it or when he is shamed into it. The word in the original text that translated as ‘patient endurance’ is hupomone, which literally means ‘to stand under’ referring to a person who gets under a load and lifts it to carry it.  Maturity calls us to stick with Jesus’ call when it goes against our comfort, that we serve when it is inconvenient, that we love when it is costly to Self.

The evidence of our maturity is not our mastery of finer points of theology, though that may happen. Peter says that maturity is visible in our godliness.  We could us the word ‘piety’ here. Mature Christians are truly holy, lifting others into God’s Presence without a word just by being in the same room!  What a blessed thing, to honor Him, to make Him known, by carrying His presence with us wherever we go.   Mere religion does not have this authentic quality nor is it inviting. Religiosity, a scrupulous attention to rules, makes us judgmental and unloving. True godliness, Peter says, fills us with ‘brotherly kindness.’  We pull people together and focus their attention, not on us, but on the Spirit of God who lives in us.

Are you growing up in Christ?  Here is the word from the Word, that same passage from 2 Peter, from The Message. “So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus.” (2 Peter 1:5-8, The Message)

________

Holy Spirit

(a song of adoration and invitation)

There’s nothing worth more that will ever come close
No thing can compare You’re our living hope
Your Presence

 I’ve tasted and seen of the sweetest of loves
Where my heart becomes free and my shame is undone
In Your Presence Lord

 Holy Spirit You are welcome here
Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere
Your glory God is what our hearts long for
To be overcome by Your Presence Lord

 Your Presence Lord
Your Presence Lord
Your Presence
Oh God how we love Your Presence Lord

 Let us become more aware of Your Presence
Let us experience the glory of Your goodness

Bryan Torwalt | Katie Torwalt © 2011 Capitol CMG Genesis (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) Jesus Culture Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

Hidden under a bucket?

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I was at one of our church’s buildings around 6:30 this morning. A truck pulled up in the parking lot and the driver leaned out the window and asked what I was doing there so early.  I laughed and answered, “It’s Monday.”  “Too early,” he replied, “way too early for both of us.”  It’s Monday! For most of us “Monday” is synonymous with “work.” It means getting up to get the kids off to school, getting into the car for that commute, punching in for another day in the plant. A new week stretches out in front of us. Is it a week that you will just survive or will you thrive?

We serve God as much on Monday as on Sunday.
Our work matters to Him as much as our worship!

Do you compartmentalize your faith? Is Jesus welcome to go with you to work, to shape your thoughts, your words, your attitude there among the struggle of office politics, when you have to deal with a selfish supervisor, when you are tempted to just do the minimum because any extra effort is resented or goes completely unnoticed?   Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”  (Matthew 5)  I am sure that He intended to include that 40 to 60 hours that we will spend at that place of employment on the job!

Daniel, the captive from Jerusalem who ended up serving a pagan king in Babylon, is a great model for us. He never abandoned his faith in God under pressure. He never succumbed to the ‘office politics’ that landed him in the lion’s den at one point. He consistently served the Lord with great excellence and the knowledge of his devotion spread throughout the palace.  He was sought out by several different kings for his wisdom because they knew he was a person of integrity. It is worth noting that his dedication did not exempt him from real opposition and suffering!

If you are a quiet witness to Christ through your integrity and diligence you will almost certainly face some difficulties, too.  Many will pressure you to just ‘go along to get along.’  Make sure that your words do not outrun your actions. I have known too many Christians who noisily proclaimed their love for the Lord while slacking off, playing the same power games, or cutting ethical corners.  Their lives made a mockery of their profession. It is so much better to live in such a way that others have no argument with the depth of our devotion.

You might think that taking Jesus to work and living to honor Him is an impossibly high standard. How can I consistently live to honor my Lord?

Peter answers that for us.  As you head off into a new work week, here is a promise to own.   “As we know Jesus better, his divine power gives us everything we need for living a godly life. He has called us to receive his own glory and goodness! And by that same mighty power, he has given us all of his rich and wonderful promises. He has promised that you will escape the decadence all around you caused by evil desires and that you will share in his divine nature.” (2 Peter 1:3-4, NLT)  Plug into Him this morning.  Hit the pause button for a moment and pray for the Spirit to work in you. Tell Him about that challenging co-worker and ask for patience. Confess that desire you know is unworthy of Him and let Him start to change your heart.  Lean into Jesus!

The word from the Word comes from Jesus. I quoted this passage above. Here it is again, from The Message. “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16, The Message)

Go, be a blessing and let the Light shine.

_________

Living Hope

(Jesus, You are my living hope)

How great the chasm that lay between us
How high the mountain I could not climb
In desperation I turned to heaven
And spoke Your name into the night
Then through the darkness Your loving-kindness
Tore through the shadows of my soul
The work is finished the end is written
Jesus Christ my living hope

Who could imagine so great a mercy
What heart could fathom such boundless grace
The God of ages stepped down from glory
To wear my sin and bear my shame
The cross has spoken I am forgiven
The King of kings calls me His own
Beautiful Savior I’m Yours forever
Jesus Christ my living hope

Hallelujah praise the One who set me free
Hallelujah death has lost its grip on me
You have broken every chain
There’s salvation in Your name
Jesus Christ my living hope

Then came the morning that sealed the promise
Your buried body began to breathe
Out of the silence the Roaring Lion
Declared the grave has no claim on me
Jesus Yours is the victory

Jesus Christ my living hope
Oh God You are my living hope

Brian Johnson | Phil Wickham
© 2017 Phil Wickham Music (Fair Trade Music Publishing [c/o Essential Music Publishing LLC]) Simply Global Songs (Fair Trade Music Publishing [c/o Essential Music Publishing LLC]) Sing My Songs (Fair Trade Music Publishing [c/o Essential Music Publishing LLC]) Bethel Music Publishing

CCLI License # 810055

This Little Light of Mine

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The early morning of February 10, 1977 is still a vivid moment in my life.  I became a father that day at about 6 am!  My emotions wildly swung between elation and terror when they placed that little baby boy in my arms for the first time.  I was responsible for a helpless infant; to protect, to feed, to lead along the pathway to productive adulthood. Most weighty that day was the realization that an eternal being was in my care. 42 years have passed and Jay, my son, is a joy, a man who has his own sons now. Most everything else I have done in life will be erased by time and/or could have been done by someone else. But, being Jay’s Dad is my unique privilege and he, along with my other children are my legacy.

After my children, near the top of list of the things that bring me joy there is another kind of ‘fathering.’  Nothing compares to the experience of being a partner with the Spirit of God in the spiritual re-birth of another person. When that person chooses to trust Christ Jesus, to receive the Spirit, and to be born into the family of God, I feel an elation akin to what I knew at the birth of my own children. Seeing faith mature, walking through the up’s and down’s of life with those who are my children in the faith, gives purpose and meaning to my life.

Have you had the privilege of praying with a friend to receive Christ? Have you led another along the pathway of discipleship, sharing discovery of truth, praying through hardship, celebrating break-throughs?  It is not just the work of pastors. All of us are given the privilege of sharing the Gospel and seeing the miracle of new birth come to others.  You don’t need a pulpit or a church office to be a witness for Jesus and His Gospel.  After His resurrection and prior to returning to His Father, Jesus said this – “When the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you will receive power and will tell people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8, NLT)

Evangelism (telling good news) is the privilege of every Christian.  A recent study in the church found that many Christians do not engage others in spiritual conversations. Talking about the importance of knowing Jesus is regarded by about half of young Christians as something that should not be done in our culture of tolerance and self-expression. I understand the angst of those younger Christians. They have no wish to be part of mega-movements that record ‘conversions’ as a measure of success; as in, ‘hundreds saved in weekend revival.’  They intuit that getting someone to raise their hand at the end of a meeting is not the same as inviting someone to become wholly new in Christ through new birth.  Even more offensive to these younger Believers is the mess of religion and politics that confuses being a patriot with being a disciple. Those younger Christians want to know Jesus in an authentic way.

But, to use a cliché, we cannot throw out the baby with the bathwater.  Evangelism remains our commission. Jesus sends us to the ends of the earth with His message of eternal life. The best ‘sermon’ is our life, our love, our joy, and our hope. The authentic experience of the Spirit is far more important than our words in drawing others to know Him.  Evangelism need not be a forced or awkward thing.  We are simply introducing our friends to our Friend. Peter explains “Worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if you are asked about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.” (1 Peter 3:15, NLT)

Would you like to live life with your friends and family eternally, knowing the joy of a shared love of Jesus? Don’t make Him invisible.  Moses said “Love God, your God, with your whole heart: love him with all that’s in you, love him with all you’ve got! Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night.” (Deuteronomy 6)

Here is a word from the Word. “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16, The Message)

________

This little light of mine
I’m gonna let it shine
This little light of mine
I’m gonna let it shine
This little light of mine\
I’m gonna let it shine
Let it shine let it shine let it shine

 Let it shine till Jesus comes
I’m gonna let it shine
Let it shine tell Jesus comes
I’m gonna let it shine
Let it shine tell Jesus comes
I’m gonna let it shine
Let it shine let it shine let it shine

Harry Dixon Loes © Words: Public Domain

“It’s really just this simple”

seed
It was a long phone call that tried my patience.  The discussion was about a challenging situation that involves attempting to meet many converging needs. Every ‘solution’ creates wins and losses. The man with whom I was speaking was singularly focused on protecting his interest at the expense of all the rest. He was insistent that answers could be found, implying that all we had to do was work a little harder. The truth is that there are answers but none are simple, none easy, and the best will require a lot of compromise.

People love slogans, mottos, and memes, don’t they?  Those one-liners imply that the complex nature of life can be met with a quick fix. Christians do it, too.

Guilt got you down?
Just
ask Jesus into your heart and you can instantly change.
-Struggling with a chronic sickness?
Find a healer and say a faithful prayer and claim your healing.
Stuck in apathy? Struggling with faith in your crisis?
All you need is some author’s testimony of faith or a grand story about some charismatic leader to get through it. Perhaps, but not likely.

Not for one moment is it my intention to make the Christian way of life into a grim long slog through gloom and misery. There is joy in serving Jesus, hope for every day, and victory over sin, death, and Hell as we walk with Him in integrity working out the implications of the call of the Spirit to a holy life.

Conversion, Healing, and examples of overcoming faith ARE rich resources that help to mobilize Christians. However, just getting someone to repeat the sinner’s prayer does not guarantee real transformation of character unless that person subsequently becomes a disciple of Jesus. Healing is more than a miraculous relief of symptoms. Healing is about wholeness – forgiveness, balanced worship and rest, better food choices, for example.  Passion for Jesus is a choice each day about making Him first, over self-interest. Most service is done in hidden places, and will never be recognized this side of Heaven. If it takes applause and appreciation to keep us serving, apathy is inevitable.

If that all sounds complex, it should; because life is complex! While we might like simple slogans, Jesus never spoke in one-liners for the media. He invites us to let the Spirit work in us, deeply. He asks us to take up our cross daily, in order to let the true life of the Spirit emerge.  In Christ, the power of our sinful nature is replaced with the power of the Holy Spirit working within us.

How did Jesus illustrate that transformative power? He chose the seed. His Gospel, He said, is like seed that is planted in a field. That seed finds all kinds of soil – hard, shallow, weedy, fertile – in which to take root. “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God.” (Luke 8:11, NIV) “But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.” (Luke 8:15, NIV)  Hear, retain, persevere – and find a harvest.

Only a foolish person plants one day and expects to harvest the next. There is a time for germination, growth, and ripening before the realization of the fruit. A mixture of sun and rain are required in the process. It’s not ‘just that simple.’

Whether you are dealing with your own challenges or helping someone else work through theirs, have patience.  Patient endurance is a consistent theme of the Bible when describing the way of those who are godly.  Paul, a man who knew much about complex situations, urges us to stand faithfully.  “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” (Romans 5:1-5, NIV)

Here’s a word from the Word for your thoughts today. “Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.” (Philippians 2:12-15, NLT)

__________

King Of My Heart

(worship at this link, renewed in an upward focus)

Let the King of my heart
Be the mountain where I run
The fountain I drink from
Oh He is my song
Let the King of my heart
Be the shadow where I hide
The ransom for my life
Oh He is my song

 You are good good oh
You are good good oh

 Let the King of my heart
Be the wind inside my sails
The anchor in the waves
Oh He is my song
Let the King of my heart
Be the fire inside my veins
The echo of my days
Oh He is my song

 You’re never gonna let
Never gonna let me down

 When the night is holding on to me
God is holding on
When the night is holding on to me
God is holding on

John Mark McMillan | Sarah McMillan
© Meaux Jeaux Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)
Raucous Ruckus Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)
McMillan, Sarah (Admin. by Moniker Music Group)

CCLI License # 810055