Don’t you cross that line!

wordswag_1582721825995
Has your Christianity devolved into a set of rules, keeping of traditions that are disconnected from the Person of Jesus? It is not a silly question. Today, I want to go back to Matthew’s Gospel and read about a day when Jesus incurred the wrath of some important leaders by challenging their understanding about what it meant to love and serve the Living God.

Jesus met some religious leaders of His day who had lost sight of God’s Presence, who had made law more important that God and people. They hid their true motives behind an external conformity to the traditions that they had wrapped around the Law of Moses. To use a modern metaphor, they couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

At the outset of Lent, Jesus’ words will help us to use this traditional time of reflection for truly good and holy purposes.  

“At about that time Jesus was walking through some grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, so they began breaking off heads of wheat and eating the grain. Some Pharisees saw them do it and protested, “Your disciples shouldn’t be doing that! It’s against the law to work by harvesting grain on the Sabbath.” But Jesus said to them, “Haven’t you ever read in the Scriptures what King David did when he and his companions were hungry? He went into the house of God, and they ate the special bread reserved for the priests alone. That was breaking the law, too. And haven’t you ever read in the law of Moses that the priests on duty in the Temple may work on the Sabbath? I tell you, there is one here who is even greater than the Temple! But you would not have condemned those who aren’t guilty if you knew the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to be merciful; I don’t want your sacrifices.’ For I, the Son of Man, am master even of the Sabbath.”

Then he went over to the synagogue, where he noticed a man with a deformed hand. The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Is it legal to work by healing on the Sabbath day?” (They were, of course, hoping he would say yes, so they could bring charges against him.) And he answered, “If you had one sheep, and it fell into a well on the Sabbath, wouldn’t you get to work and pull it out? Of course you would. And how much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Yes, it is right to do good on the Sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Reach out your hand.” The man reached out his hand, and it became normal, just like the other one.” (Matthew 12:1-13, NLT)

The Sabbath, a command of the Law, was a gift to the people of God, one day in seven when they were called from the routines of life to remember the Lord they served. Pause, remember, worship! The focus of the Sabbath was not to be the  prohibitions of the day. They were to use the time to renew their relationship with God. But the Pharisees had turned the Sabbath observation into a rigid set of rules that made the day a burden, so that people were more concerned with making sure they did not break the rules than finding God’s Presence.

Sabbath law had become burdened with layers of a combination of inconsequential, restrictive, and harmful traditions. “Keeping the Sabbath” had become a key issue of Jewish identity obscuring the real reasons for the celebration of the Sabbath. Since Christians are not defined by that tradition, we can nod our heads in agreement with Jesus about the Pharisee’s rigidity while forgetting that we have our own ‘sacred’ traditions and woe be the person who treads on them!

Let’s not lose the lesson Jesus is trying to teach with an argument over modern “Sabbath” rules.  He condemns their rigid observance that would keep hungry men from eating, a suffering man from being healed. Jesus does not throw away God’s call to living holy and obedient lives that honor Him. He asks us to show some compassion, to understand that we can slip into a place where we love our traditions more than people, even more than the Lord Himself. We can, and many Christians do, become slaves of our rules that keep us from being compassionate, humble servants of Christ.

I am aware that some will twist these words into a  justification for doing whatever they please, for ignoring the call to holiness that is part of the Gospel. But I am willing to risk that abuse to keep Jesus front and center in the Gospel. When we love and worship Him – wholeheartedly and with integrity – He will lead us to please His Father. We are not saved by keeping up appearances and careful conformity to the rules, both written and unwritten, of our Church. We are transformed by daily intimacy with the Spirit that is made possible by the grace of Jesus Christ. When we seek Him first, He will lead us from darkness into Light, and the old things will pass away. We will become fruitful in the evidence of that life – “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”  (Galatians 5)

Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of a traditional season of sacrifice for many Christians. Don’t allow your choice to observe the fast to become more important than your desire to know the love of God. Use the disciplines of the Spirit to open your heart to Him, to invite the Spirit to make you alive.

Here is a word from the Word. Meditate on it for a few minutes and then, go bless your world with the love of Jesus!
You take no delight in sacrifices or offerings.
Now that you have made me listen, I finally understand—
you don’t require burnt offerings or sin offerings.
Then I said, “Look, I have come.
And this has been written about me in your scroll:
I take joy in doing your will, my God,
for your law is written on my heart.”
(Psalm 40:6-8, NLT)

____________

Lord I Need You

(A prayer in song.)

Lord I come I confess
Bowing here I find my rest
And without You I fall apart
You’re the one that guides my heart

 Lord I need You oh I need You
Ev’ry hour I need You
My one defense my righteousness
Oh God how I need You

 Where sin runs deep Your grace is more
Where grace is found is where You are
And where You are Lord I am free
Holiness is Christ in me
Where You are Lord I am free
Holiness is Christ in me

 So teach my song to rise to You
When temptation comes my way
And when I cannot stand I’ll fall on You
Jesus You’re my hope and stay
And when I cannot stand I’ll fall on You
Jesus You’re my hope and stay

 Lord I need You oh I need You
Ev’ry hour I need You
My one defense my righteousness
Oh God how I need You
My one defense my righteousness
Oh God how I need You

Christy Nockels | Daniel Carson | Jesse Reeves | Kristian Stanfill | Matt Maher © 2011 sixsteps Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

Sweater Weather Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

Thankyou Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

Valley Of Songs Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

worshiptogether.com songs (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

Soul Renewal and giving up ice cream

wordswag_1582634401274

Last Saturday, on a sunny winter morning, I took my car to be washed. While there, I threw open the doors, vacuumed the carpets, and wiped down the dashboard. The dirt, old receipts, and little spills all accumulated so slowly that I did not see them until I really looked and realized – “this car is a mess!”  Similarly, all Christians need times of ‘soul’ renewal, don’t we?  The clutter of petty sins builds up almost imperceptibly.

  • Nobody ever became godly or stayed that way without being intentional and engaging with effort. Oh yes, Jesus saves but we work out the implications of that salvation as we ‘keep step with the Spirit.’

Tomorrow, Christians are invited to enter the season of Lent, 40 days marked by repentance, that includes time to reflect on life, to examine our hearts, and perhaps to enter a ‘fast.’ Traditionally the opening of Lent is called “Ash Wednesday” because ashes made from palm fronds from the previous year’s celebration of Palm Sunday are used by some churches to mark the forehead with a sign of our humility. Those ashes are also a reminder of our inevitable appointment with death; that ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust’ thing we say at gravesides.

Are you still stuck on that word – fasting?  In the most narrow meaning fasting is about abstaining from food but we can enter the joy of fasting in many ways.  We can choose to suspend our enjoyment of something like time on social media, or the amount of time we watch television. We can fast by laying aside the pampering of Self. Whatever our choice, true fasting is not focused on the ‘deprivation’ but rather on the pursuit of the Presence of God. If we enter into a fast as an act of obedience, offered in faith to God, we can our attention to the things of God sharpened.

God made us with a spirit-body connection! What we do in our physical body has an effect on our spiritual state- both positively and negatively. Paul starkly says “So I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step. I am not like a boxer who misses his punches. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:26-27, NLT)  A literal translation of the NT Greek would read “I pound my body into submission!”  God does not ask us to abuse ourselves. We need not actually beat ourselves bloody, but there is maturity in reminding ourselves that life is more than food, clothes, or comfort.

Jesus urged us to practice spiritual disciplines like fasting, giving, and prayer without telling anyone. Such choices, because they are acts of faith, must be very personal. He said, “when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, who try to look pale and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I assure you, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will suspect you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in secret. And your Father, who knows all secrets, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:16-18 NLT)

If we ‘show off’ or if we judge those who do not practice spiritual disciplines as we do, we rob ourselves of the value of offering ourselves to God. Our ‘spirituality’ turns into a self-centered display of religion and empty traditions. Our Lenten devotions must not be used as a means of making ourselves feel better than someone else.

Will you give up ice cream for Lent?  If you do, do it for the purpose of seeking the Lord. (I think we might be better served by giving up some TV time for prayer, meditation or reading Scripture.) Don’t do it just because I said to. Rather, pray about it. Ask the Lord if you need to discipline your body to provide freedom for the Spirit, to allow for a reset.  Has junk accumulated in your heart? Lent is an invitation to get ready for the JOYOUS celebration of the Resurrection, God’s ultimate declaration that He makes all things NEW.

Here’s a word from the Word. Think deeply and prayerfully on the promise of this passage.  “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. … Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. … so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe.” (Philippians 2:3-4, 12-13,15, NIV)
______

Kyrie Eleison
(a Lenten prayer in song by Chris Tomlin)

Lord have mercy Christ have mercy
Hear our cry and heal our land
Let kindness lead us to repentance
Bring us back again

 For Your name is great and Your heart is grace
Kyrie Eleison (translation – Lord, have mercy)
Over all You reign You alone can save
Kyrie Eleison
Lord have mercy Christ have mercy on us now

 Who is this God who pardons all our sin
So ready to forgive
You delight to show Your mercy 

For Your name is great and Your heart is grace
Kyrie Eleison
Over all You reign You alone can save
Kyrie Eleison

 Lord have mercy Christ have mercy
Lord have mercy Christ have mercy on us now

 Chris Tomlin | Jason Ingram | Matt Maher | Matt Redman
© 2016 S. D. G. Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)
Said And Done Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)
sixsteps Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

We’re family

wordswag_1582548786802

While at lunch on Saturday in our little town of Belvidere, I looked up and coming in the doorway was my son, Sean. He lives in Florida so seeing him in a restaurant in my town was a surprise, to say the least! He showed up without announcement, expecting a place to stay, just as it should be because we’re family.  There was no need to call ahead and make a reservation or ask my permission. Because he is my son, he knows there is always a room at Dad’s house. I was delighted to enjoy his company for a day before he went to NYC for business concerns.

Do you know that you can be a CHILD of God with all the perks of being ‘family?’  The Scripture says, “Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence.” (Ephesians 3:12, NLT)  In another passage, we are reminded that we are children with privileges. “This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children.” (Romans 8:15-16, The Message)

God invites us to come close, to know Him, to trust Him, to love Him – because He loves us. Do you trust God with the affection of a child, or are you cowering before a distant Deity that terrifies you; guilty and ashamed?  Jesus has reconciled us, forgiven the past resistance to His grace, and offers a full restoration of our rights as children of God. We believe it, receive Him, and find ourselves welcomed home. That allows us to live with an even greater confidence of His welcome than my son felt when he came to my home this past weekend. We can be confident of His acceptance. We can learn to live in an ongoing conversation with the One who loves us most. What a privilege!

Hear the Truth again – “Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, everything he has belongs to you. Before you Gentiles knew God, you were slaves to so-called gods that do not even exist. And now that you have found God (or should I say, now that God has found you), why do you want to go back again and become slaves once more to the weak and useless spiritual powers of this world?” (Galatians 4:7-9, NLT)

Is there something in your life that is stressing you, keeping you awake at night, making your head ache? Share it with the Father. With child-like faith go to Abba and ask His wisdom, His comfort, His resources for your need. Don’t be shy; be boldly confident. No concern is too small or too big. No joy beyond His interest, nothing in your life outside His care.

Though my children are all grown with kids of their own, in their own careers and successful, I am still delighted to share their lives, to hear their hearts, to pray for their needs, to rejoice in their successes – because they’re family.  Your Heavenly Father desires your love and will hear your heart. Oh yes, as with any good father, He may not do what you want Him to do, but He will do what is best for you. If He corrects you, it is because He loves you.

The word from the Word is a single line. Meditate on the declaration. Ask the Spirit to help you to accept His love today. Don’t live like an orphaned child.  “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are.”  (1 John 3:1)
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­________________

No Longer Slaves

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

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

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

Thoughts on the Sadness

wordswag_1582290616517

On Wednesday evening, on a local back road, a teen-age boy’s life ended in a terrible crash. Yesterday the tragedy compounded when news outlets reported that he took his own life. I did not know him but I cannot shake the sadness. How can a young person with his whole life before him conclude that life is no longer worth living?  It is both unfair and wrong to try to find someone to blame.

So I have been prayerfully thinking, how is the Gospel I love, the Christ I know, made available to this generation? How can we communicate hope and life with meaning to others?

Then I read about two You-Tubers, Rhett and Link, who are popular in the United States among teens. They recently ‘deconstructed’ their faith.  These two articulate, funny guys who were Christians, active in local churches, explained that they are walking away. It is almost impossible to measure the impact they will have on young minds by stating their conclusions that Jesus’ resurrection is a myth and that Christianity does not stand up to modern science and contemporary sexual ethics. Again, I’m not blaming anyone or anything for this ‘death of faith’ but it makes me sad and calls me to do some self-examination. Am I living a consistent, charitable, open kind of faith life that invites others to consider Christ as Savior and Lord?

When people lose hope and transcendent purpose the results are generally not good. We need anchor points in life that can hold us steady when we encounter those rough things that inevitably come our way. Death is going to show up, sooner or later, in our lives when parents die, friends die. Even with faith, encountering mortality is a jolt that shakes people to the core. If faith’s call to greater purpose, to living for something or Someone greater than one’s self, is lost- how does a person remain whole and loving especially when life makes it clear that we are not ‘masters of our own fate?’  We are just small beings surviving in a harsh environment and without faith we can despair or just exist without joy.

I make no defense of the fundamentalism of my youth that mistakenly taught me that ‘absolute certainty’ about the Bible and all matters of faith is possible. It isn’t. Faith is, by definition, wrapped around mystery.  Faith is the bridge between the ‘unseen’ and us. Without it, we cannot know or please God, but it must not be sold as a ‘learn this verse and erase all your doubts’ kind of experience.

Faith involves our mind and our heart, our reason and our emotions. Christ invites us to come and find Him good but, if our Gospel is to survive we must make it safe and possible for questions to be asked.  We are authentic if we will admit when we cannot understand the ‘why’s’ or outcomes of life, or all of the ways of an eternal God.

Then, too, I think that Christians need to stop making secondary issues into primary ones. For example if we insist that real Christians must adopt a literal view of 6 days of Creation and declare that the earth is just a few thousand years old, without allowing for discussion, for many minds today the conversation about the rest of the Bible is over.  Do people have very different convictions about that issue? Of course and that is as it should be, but those convictions do not replace Christ at the core of our faith.

And, then too, if we reduce our understanding of human sexuality to a few simple Bible quotes and prohibitions without attempting a fuller conversation about why God made us sexual creatures, how this sacred gift fits into the whole picture of life, we will not connect with those who have been taught that sex is just another natural appetite to be satisfied in any way that does not hurt anyone else.

 In Christ Jesus, I find hope that is rich and steady. In His story I find an invitation into life that is fuller now and that has purpose beyond what I see and know in this world.  I hold tightly to these declarations about Jesus – to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—” (John 1:12, NIV) The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14, NIV)  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NIV)  Trusting His love for me, I learn to love Him and the world which He came to restore to the Creator.

Thanks for reading along with my meandering thoughts this morning. My heart is heavy for the world in which I live. I want to know Christ and made Him known. Don’t you?

Before you go, join me in meditation on this sweet invitation of Jesus to a kind of life that knows His power and peace. Here is a word from the Word.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, NIV)  This paraphrase might make His words more accessible for you. “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message)

___________

Abba, I want to know You better,
to live so that the Light shines through me
into a world stumbling around in the dark.

Transform my sorrow over those who have abandoned You,
over the death of faith that is almost an epidemic around me,
into a desire to pray, to listen, to invite, to show You in my words and actions
as the Beautiful One that You are.

Make your Name glorious, Your Presence compelling.
Come, heal us. Revive my heart with the Breath of the Spirit.

In the name of Jesus, Amen.

Sparrows and Hair loss

wordswag_1582203319929

Finding the right balance between feeling valued as a human being and becoming an entitled narcissist is not all that simple. Our culture preaches self-love to us constantly, yet millions of people live with insecurity, trying desperately to prove their worthiness. Some pursue beauty, others chase recognition. Some buy latest fashions, while others turn themselves into virtual slaves- people pleasers- in attempts to gain acceptance.

We have turned into a nation of perpetually offended individuals, carefully trying to guard ourselves from those who fail to show the respect we feel we deserve. Our national obsession with self-esteem has given us layers of laws that are supposed to protect us from hateful words and actions. And still, we have this epidemic of anxiety about our personal worth.

Christian, we can lay down our defenses, stop clamoring for people to love us, and find security in being loved deeply by God! Jesus said “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31, NIV) Think hard about that statement. God knows YOU, loves You, cares about YOU.  It’s not a cliché nor is that a greeting card kind of sentiment. It is a baseline fact which can radically change the way we live.

Seeing our human plight, God did not hide in His Heavens. He entered the Creation, mysteriously and wonderfully becoming fully Man, to suffer with us, to save us from destruction. Why? “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8, NIV) We cannot add anything to His Complete Person, nor could we do anything for Him that He could not do for Himself. It is love that causes Him to come alongside of us, to offer us restoration, to give us eternal life. When we receive that love, by faith, everything changes.

Paul prays for Believers this way.  I pray “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19, NIV)  That is the heart of God: to love us and to have us know His love so that we will be drawn to become like Him in love.  John says it simply – “We loved because He loved us first.”

Does shame or guilt destroy your sense of personal value?
Let Jesus forgive.

Does failure dog your thoughts making you wonder if you are worthy?
Trust God, through Jesus, to give you a new vision.

Do others point out your flaws, bringing the pain of rejection?
Tell the Lord and meditate on His promise of unconditional love.

Do you hate yourself?
Bathe your mind and heart in the promise of His love, letting Him heal you.

Here is a word from the Word. May the Spirit turn the written Word into a living truth for us, making us whole and beautiful for Him. “What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it—we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are. But that’s also why the world doesn’t recognize us or take us seriously, because it has no idea who he is or what he’s up to. But friends, that’s exactly who we are: children of God. And that’s only the beginning. Who knows how we’ll end up! What we know is that when Christ is openly revealed, we’ll see him—and in seeing him, become like him. All of us who look forward to his Coming stay ready, with the glistening purity of Jesus’ life as a model for our own. ” (1 John 3:1-3, The Message)
___________

You Say

 I keep fighting voices in my mind
That say I’m not enough
Ev’ry single lie that tells me
I will never measure up

 Am I more than just the sum of
Ev’ry high and ev’ry low
Remind me once again just who I am
Because I need to know oo oh

 You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing
You say I am strong when I think I am weak
You say I am held when I am falling short
And when I don’t belong oh You say I am Yours
And I believe oh I believe
What You say of me I believe

 The only thing that matters now
Is ev’rything You think of me
In You I find my worth
In You I find my identity

 Taking all I have and now I’m laying it at Your feet
You’ll have ev’ry failure God
You’ll have ev’ry victory

Oh I believe yes I believe
What You say of me I believe

Jason Ingram | Lauren Daigle | Paul Mabury © 2016 CentricSongs (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

On a mission from God

wordswag_1582118950787

Down deep most of us want to have a purpose, a mission in life, to know: “This is the reason I exist.” Yes, I’m old enough to remember the Blues Brothers, Jake and Elwood, who made a punch line out of the phrase “on a mission from God” in the original Blues Brothers film. But, disciple, it is no joke!

We exist to know, love, serve, and glorify God; all of us, not just pastors and religious professionals. The mission is the same. How we carry it out will be amazingly varied, depending on His calling, our gifts, and opportunities.  Some serve Him by making a Christ-centered home where children learn of His love. Some may be artists who turn people’s hearts to Him with their work. Some may make Him known by their steady integrity at work.

After Jesus called the Twelve who were His first followers, Matthew tells us that He sent them on a mission to the surrounding towns. “Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:37-38, NIV) “As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:7-8, NIV)  I confess when I first read those lines this morning, I found them almost beyond my comprehension. “Raise the dead?” Really?

I may not be resurrecting any actual corpses these days (you can argue that with me if you want) but I am speaking life into those who are dead to God, who receive the Spirit and are ‘raised to new life.’ I am pointing those who are without hope, sick in despair, to the hope that Jesus offers. That grace that I am given in Christ, I now offer to the world in which I live. How I pray that my words and life are living proof of His Kingdom Come!  And, you are called to this mission, too.

Jesus was traveling through the spiritually dead region of Samaria when He paused at midday near a town well. He sent His disciples off to find some food and while they were gone a woman whom we would call ‘dysfunctional’ showed up. The fact that she was getting water at midday shows that she was an outcast, avoiding the social interaction that would be inevitable in the morning when everybody came for water. He spoke with her at length and she came to believe, made whole and new.

When the disciples returned and found out what had happened they were full of wonder.  Jesus, using the metaphor of the harvest, told them they needed to look around and see the opportunities that existed! “Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” (John 4:35, NIV)

People around us need Jesus. We are messengers with a mission – to make it plain that God’s kingdom is here.  Pastor Bert Montgomery says it like this: “Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit into his followers, yet too many of us haven’t realized it yet. We’re still in a dream of “unforgivenness.” Alas, we are unforgiving of the sins of the world, unforgiving of the sins of others, unforgiving of our own sins; therefore sins are retained, sins continue to control us. We live as though Jesus remains in the tomb. Jesus wants to wake us from the dream. Jesus wants us to “make a profession out of this consciousness.” To live in the resurrection, to live in the consciousness of God’s forgiveness of the whole world which God so loves.”

Yes, because He lives, I live as eternal being, reconciled to God, filled with hope, on a mission from God!

Today, pray a simple prayer – “Lord, open my eyes to the opportunities near me and send me.”  Then, courageously follow Him. Show love. Offer hope. Speak life. Pray with and/or for that person who hurts. Share Christ and lead someone to give himself to Jesus. In those choices, you will find a new reason to be and joy of being a partner with God in saving the world, one life at a time.

Our word from the Word reminds us of the mission. “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:20, NIV)
___________

Lord Of The Harvest

Lord of the harvest
Place Your fire in me
Use me Lord to touch this land
To set the captives free
Lord of the harvest
Anoint my lips I pray
To boldly speak Your words of truth
To help men find the way

Lord of the harvest
The harvest fields are ripe
Touch Your people with Your pow’r
And send Your fire now
Lord of the harvest
The labourers are few
Lord raise an army by Your pow’r
To work this day for You

Send Your fire
Send Your rain
Holy Spirit come again
Come in power
Fall like rain
Holy Spirit come again

Mark Cole © 2000 Mark Cole/GT Music

Sheep and Shepherds

wordswag_1582032050409

When people call me “Pastor” they are using the Latin word for “Shepherd.”  My daily prayer is that I will care for the flock of God in a loving, caring, spiritually protective way. Sometimes, when the pain of another overwhelms my heart, I do remind myself, “Jerry, you are not the Savior, you are the pastor.”  My calling is to watch over God’s people, to love them, to lead and teach, and to care.

We all need people who care for us. Life gets turbulent, challenges multiply, spiritual challenges arise. It is a real comfort to know that there is someone who is looking out for our interests, who is ready to care for our soul.  Most important, we can be secure when we know the Good Shepherd.

Jesus saw the needs of people and it touched His heart. Matthew tells us that He traveled through the towns and villages, teaching about the arrival of the Kingdom of God. He was not a tourist, seeing the sights. He was a Shepherd, seeing the human needs. “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:36-38, NIV)

Some of our modern pundits like to mock ordinary people by calling them, ‘sheeple’ in the most derogatory way, arrogantly dismissing those who are struggling, who are not able to claim ‘self-sufficiency,’ who need help  – as weak. In fact, we are much like sheep, needing to be cared for.  Domestic sheep, if left alone on the open range without a shepherd, will invariably come to a terrible end! Predators will kill them off. Their wool will grow, becoming a mess of tangles, infested with parasites. They will over-graze the land, exhausting their food supply.  But, a well-shepherded flock thrives.

How are things in your life today?  Are you, in some way, feeling ‘harassed and helpless?’  Our cultural ideal of individualism, of needing no one, is a myth. People who try to live that way end up alone, usually miserable. There is no shame in admitting we need care, that we want to know that we are loved.  Yes, there are evil people who exploit that need and use others to serve their own agenda. Sometimes even ‘religious’ leaders abuse the flock of God. So before we entrust our soul and heart to another, we need to be discerning.

There is a Good Shepherd that loves you! His name is Jesus. He invites us to – “Come, follow me. … I am the Good Shepherd.” In John’s Gospel, He enlarges the idea, speaking of the sheep-fold that the shepherd prepared for his flock at night. There they were safe, gathered in under care.  He tells us that He is “the Gate for the sheep. … Anyone who goes through me will be cared for-will freely go in and out, and find pasture. … I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of. I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd puts the sheep before himself, sacrifices himself if necessary.” (John 10:7-11, The Message)

“Come, follow me.” Will you take Jesus up on His invitation?  It’s an invitation to adventure, to life that is purposeful and meaningful, and – best of all – to a relationship! He promises that if we follow Him, He will never leave us. He does not promise that we will never be attacked by wolves, go through violent storms, or experience difficult days! But, He promises we won’t face those challenges alone. “I’ll be there,” He says, “caring for you.”

Follow the Good Shepherd. Serve Him. Worship Him. Listen to Him. And, you will ‘have real and eternal life, more and better life than you ever dreamed.’ That’s the truth.

Here’s a familiar word from the Word. Don’t rush through it!  Savor the promise.
The Lord is MY shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23, NIV)

_____________________

Savior Like A Shepherd Lead Us
(An older recording of this song by 4Him)

Savior like a shepherd lead us
Much we need thy tender care
In thy pleasant pastures feed us
For our use thy folds prepare
Blessed Jesus blessed Jesus
Thou hast bought us thine we are
Blessed Jesus blessed Jesus
Thou hast bought us thine we are

We are thine do thou befriend us
Be the guardian of our way
Keep thy flock from sin defend us
Seek us when we go astray
Blessed Jesus blessed Jesus
Hear O hear us when we pray
Blessed Jesus blessed Jesus
Hear O hear us when we pray

Early let us seek thy favor
Early let us do thy will
Blessed Lord and only Savior
With thy love our beings fill
Blessed Jesus blessed Jesus
Thou hast loved us love us still
Blessed Jesus blessed Jesus
Thou hast loved us love us still

Dorothy Ann Thrupp | William Batchelder Bradbury

© Words: Public Domain

 

Closer Than You Know

wordswag_1581947128998
There is an old story, true or not I’m not sure, about a man who strung a tight-rope across Niagara Falls to show his skills. To the gathered crowd he asked, “Who believes I can push this wheelbarrow to the other side on that rope?” A great cheer went up, universal agreement that he could do the amazing feat.  “Ok, who will ride in the wheelbarrow?” he asked, to a now silent crowd!

Sometimes I think our faith in Jesus is similar to the ‘belief’ in that crowd. We think He can do what He says, but we are not quite willing to entrust our lives to Him, without reservation, radically committed to His way as a disciple. We hope for eternal life through Christ, but that is out on the horizon, in a realm over which we know we have no control, so why not? What’s to lose? Living for Him today is, for some, an entirely different proposition. Will we do what He teaches, even when it challenges our personal comfort? Will we pursue His will, even when it means abandoning some cherished goal of our own?

Our continued reading in Matthew tells us short stories about faith, times when Jesus challenged the people standing around to believe. “Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.” Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed from that moment.” (Matthew 9:20-22, NIV)  “As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” “Yes, Lord,” they replied. Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith will it be done to you”; and their sight was restored.” (Matthew 9:27-30, NIV)

Faith! How do I believe? Is my faith strong, shaping my choices, or just part of the background in my life, a faith whisper, a tradition summoned for times of crisis only? Before we throw up our mental defenses, arguing that it was a different time, or that the era of miracles is over, or that we would believe if only Jesus were standing there alongside of us, let’s look at the sacred text and ask the Spirit what He is saying. The best commentary on Jesus’ words come from Hebrews: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6, NIV)

The baseline for knowing God and His best for us is faith; that assurance, matched with trust, that causes us to shape our lives around His promise and His plan.  Some make Jesus’ words mean that ‘if we believe enough’ we can make miracles happen at our command. I do not believe that, for this reason. Miracles are in God’s hands, not mine. I can’t force them to occur by saying the right words, working up the right emotions, or quoting the Bible loudly enough.

But, if I refuse to trust God with an active faith, I will not experience His power and provision for my life. Oh yes, He is always active, but without faith I will not see His work. How many times are we like those first disciples who prayed for the release of Peter from prison but when he showed up at their door, knocking to get in, they didn’t open it, fearing that it was his ghost. (Acts 12) Their faith was deficient, they did not, apparently, expect God to secure Peter’s freedom.  I have done that, too. After praying for someone or something, when my prayers are answered, sometimes I fail to thank God, chalking the results up to coincidence or good fortune. What a failure of faith.

Two words come to mind for me when I think about faulty faith – one is presumptive; the other is gullible. Faith that is not God-centered will lead us to a place where we mistakenly think that we are in charge of God’s power to heal, to restore, to enrich. No, we are not. We are partners with God in faith, but He never surrenders His right to rule to us. Many are the sad Christians who have been deceived by quacks and false prophets who speak persuasively, who tell grand stories, which lead to false expectations and disappointment because the ‘faith’ of which they speak is not centered on God.

Genuine faith is powerful because it is the connection between God and me. Faith allows me to put my life, my concerns, my fears, my hopes under His care. Knowing that He is a loving Father, a good God, I can radically trust Him. That is faith. And, as He speaks and leads, I can cooperate with Him to see His power brought to our human experience.  Deep and real faith bridges the gap between Heaven and earth in ways that defy my complete understanding. If I could understand it all, if I could reduce it to explanations I could fully grasp, then it would no longer be faith. Most everything we are taught in our present world argues against faith, teaching us that seeing is believing, that only what can be verified by rationale argument is to be trusted. But, what if our natural is too limited, our natural senses insufficient to see and know the living God?  Ah, yes, that is the beginning of faith.

Faith is both a choice and a gift. We invite God, the Spirit, to stir faith in us; and we respond with surrender – heart, soul, mind, and strength – to Him. Faith is primarily relational. Ask the Lord to make this word from the Word alive to you, to meet your doubts with His faith and to transform you into a disciple that knows the joy of being truly Fathered.  “And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will be given what you ask for. Keep on looking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And the door is opened to everyone who knocks. “You fathers—if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! If you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” (Luke 11:9-13, NLT)

_____________

Closer Than You Know

I tempered the storm though your faith was small
I prayed while you slept and the night waged war
We stood in the fire and we walked on sea
And we drank of the wine that was made of Me

 Don’t turn your eyes (away) from Me
For My love won’t be undone
Don’t hide your face from Me
For My light has surely come
Surely come surely come oh

 I carried that cross and I felt your pain
I took up your crown and I wore your shame
And death was a fire and its teeth were grim
But I left it behind along with all your sin

 Lift up your eyes and see
Heaven is closer than you know
(Know I’ll never leave you)
(So) Lift up your voice and sing
Know that My love won’t let you go
(And I won’t forsake you)
(And My light has surely come)

 Surely come surely come
And I’m closer than you know
And I’m closer than you know

 Lord I hear You I know You’re there
Closer now than my skin and bones could dare
Breathing deep within me
You are always with me
I can see You where eyes can’t stare
Brighter now than the sun could ever dare
Breathing all around me

(God I know You’re with me here)
(God I know that You are here)
For I’m Yours and You are mine
And my soul knows well
You are here You are here
And my soul will praise You
And my soul will praise Your name

Singing holy is Your name
Jesus oh Jesus

Joel Houston | Matt Croker | Michael Guy Chislett © 2015 Hillsong Music Publishing Australia (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) CCLI License # 810055

Responsive to Him?

wordswag_1581686066353

At my age there is a real possibility of becoming ‘set in my ways.’  The ways I ‘do life,’ the foods I like, the patterns I follow, are comfortable, like a pair of old shoes. And that’s just fine. A real problem arises if I confuse what is ‘comfortable’ for me with what is ‘right’ for everybody. I want to remain a learner, a person who can adapt to new things, new ways, new ideas. Most of all, I want an experience with God that is alive, that has not abandoned the passion of my first love for Jesus.

Matthew records an encounter that Jesus in which some people asked why the disciples were not following some of the ‘old’ ways. Take a look. “Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast. “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:14-17, NIV)

Devout Jews of the time sought to please God by fasting and other practices of self-denial. In themselves, such acts of devotion are not bad and they can serve a good purpose; helping a person to focus on God, to listen for the voice of the Spirit intently. However, Jesus tells those inquirers that God is doing a new thing in the world and that they needed to be responsive to Him.

The message of the Kingdom Come was bigger than fasts and feasts. The ‘new wine’ of the Spirit was going to poured into people whose hearts were soft and tender before the Lord so that the message of God’s reconciliation of humanity to Himself through Christ Jesus could go out to the whole earth. That Gospel could not be bottled up in the ‘old wineskins’ of Judaism, could not be expressed through rigid observance of the Law of Moses.

Using simple illustrations, He spoke of the importance of being responsive to what God is doing beyond what is comfortable, familiar, even traditional.  Was Jesus erasing our connection to the Old Testament or to practices of the Spiritual disciplines? Not at all! He says that when ‘the bridegroom is taken,’ in other words when He has gone back to Heaven having established the Kingdom by His death and Resurrection, His disciples would fast, too.  But, they would practice their devotion outside of the old patterns of the Law, without the need for further sacrifice for sin.

His word remains an important lesson for you and me! Each generation risks becoming rigid, exalting their own traditions to the place of sacred law. If we do, we will miss out on what God is doing, refusing to be responsive. A word of clarification here is critical. Jesus is not praising fads, novelty, or ‘relevance.’  Those things become a trap spiritually, too. Seeking some new thing because we are bored, wanting some excitement to relieve the tedium of daily life, can lead us to throw out good and desirable things in the name of revival and/or renewal. Jesus calls us to listen to the Holy Spirit. That asks for mature discernment, for a readiness to spend time listening before we announce God’s ‘next best thing’ to the world.

Has your faith become rigid, your spiritual life without a tender desire for God? He makes us new, even those of us who are old!

The word from the Word is Paul’s prayer for God’s people. Make his words your prayer, too. I do for you, for me. “Ever since I first heard of your strong faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for Christians everywhere, I have never stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the wonderful future he has promised to those he called. I want you to realize what a rich and glorious inheritance he has given to his people.” (Ephesians 1:15-18, NLT)

___________

Abba, I humbly bow in Your Presence.
My prayer is that my mind will be clear, my heart will be tender.
Keep me from loving the safe, the familiar, the ‘tried and true’ so much
that I will not hear the Spirit’s invitation.

I pray for a discerning heart that can separate the merely novel
from the work of the Spirit in bringing the Kingdom to this time.

Teach me, renew my love. Preserve me from a living death
so that I will please and honor You for all my days.

In the Holy Name of Jesus.  Amen

Close the Gap

wordswag_1581600108243

Who is the real you? Yesterday the political world focused on some past words of one of the candidates. In a video clip that played widely, he made statements that were cringe-worthy about crime and race, his words seeming to reveal some inner thoughts that do not match his public rhetoric. Watching the furor over this, I felt humility because I know there are times when my feelings in the moment drag me towards actions that are inconsistent with my beliefs. For example, I accept Jesus’ call to live lovingly and to forgive. However, were you to mention a few names of people who have done hurtful things to me, my first thought is not to be loving or forgiving. That gap between what I believe and how I act needs confession, grace, and change!

We all have similar gaps, don’t we? For some, they are great chasms of hypocrisy resembling the Grand Canyon. For others, they are there, but smaller, like cracks in the sidewalk. Regardless, they must be acknowledged and confessed. If we allow hypocrisy to go unchallenged in our heart, it will grow. We must never attempt to conceal the gap – big or small – with religious talk. Jesus reserved His most scathing remarks for religious leaders who used pious talk to conceal sin-filled hearts! He told them – “You strain out a small fly but swallow a camel. You Pharisees and teachers are show-offs, and you’re in for trouble! You wash the outside of your cups and dishes, while inside there is nothing but greed and selfishness.” (Matthew 23:24-25, CEV)

 Hypocrisy offends God. It short-circuits our experience of God’s grace. He desires to forgive us and His Spirit will change us from the inside out but not if we are self-deceived, unwilling to get honest with Him. Simplicity, a singleness of heart and mind that is Christ-centered, makes us beautiful, stable, and people who know inner peace. James reminds us that “a double minded man – unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:8, KJV) The wisdom of the Word says “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity (Proverbs 11:3, NIV)

Do you practice the discipline of Simplicity – aiming to be no more and no less than the person God desires?  Is your life – each part – surrendered to Him so that the Spirit can work to make you the same – inside and out –  your thoughts, words, and actions aligned. Oh yes, we are all works in progress. The greatest self-deception is that which insists we have ‘arrived’ spiritually, that we have achieved a kind of perfection. No, I haven’t nor have you.

There is a lesson in grace to be found in the life of King David. He was a flawed man, one who sinned grievously. Yet, God loved him. Why? Because when his sin was pointed out to him, when his hypocrisy was challenged, he cried out: “You’re the One I’ve violated, and you’ve seen it all, seen the full extent of my evil. You have all the facts before you; whatever you decide about me is fair. I’ve been out of step with you for a long time, in the wrong since before I was born. … God, make a fresh start in me, shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.” (Psalm 51:4-5,10, The Message) Confession heals us when it is deep, true, and desires change.

Are you living a double life? How about that gap between what you profess and what you possess? Are you allowing the Spirit to lead you to close it, humbly following His lead, listening to His voice? Are you in close fellowship with other Christians who love you to wholeness?

Choose to practice the discipline of simplicity – saying only what is true, avoiding exaggeration, refusing to hide behind an image.

Here is a word from the Word.  “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (James 4:8-10, NIV)  Guilt and shame is not His desire for you. There is restoration and reconciliation, so kneel before the One who “became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God.”

Take a couple of minutes to listen to the prayer-song below. Fernando Ortega sings words that inspire, that invite the change that brings us peace.

_________________

Jesus, You Are My Life

You are my life,
O precious Christ!
You are to me
The pearl of greatest price.
My love for You will never die.
Jesus You are my life!

 I come to You.
I run to You.
There’s no greater joy
Than knowing You.

 O holy fire, Love’s purest light!
Burn all desires ‘till
You are my one delight.
My love for You will never die.
Jesus You are my life!

 O conquering King,
Conquer my heart!
And make of me a pleasing gift to God.
My love for You will never die.
Jesus You are my life! 

Jesus You are my life!

Jesus You Are My Life- Steve Fry © 1994 Maranatha Praise, Inc. (Admin. by Maranatha! Music) Word Music, LLC (a div. of Word Music Group, Inc.)

CCLI License # 810055