Three funerals on Sunday morning

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Yesterday, in our worship gathering, I was privileged to baptize 3 individuals. There was a time when I did not value baptism in the same way that I now do.  Back then, I saw baptism as a kind of ‘after thought,’ something that people did just to affirm their faith in Jesus Christ, the Savior.  It is that, and so much more! With the greatest joy and deepest reverence I walk into that baptismal, trusting God, the Spirit, to be present in that moment of death and life.  Do I believe that the Scripture teaches that people are put right with God through baptism?  I do not. Baptism follows saving faith.  I do insist that we must not devalue baptism as an act of obedience that has spiritual consequence.

These amazing words were inspired in Paul and given to us. “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him.” (Romans 6:4-9, NIV)

Baptism is a moment of burial, a funeral for the sinner in us; and resurrection, our eternal life evident in the act of coming out of the water. Woven through that text is assurance. “If we are united with Him in His death, we will certainly also be united with Him in His resurrection!”  Baptism should be a kind of ‘I know it’ moment. And, from that realization a new way of living emerges, one that is anchored in eternity, the promise of eternal life with God, our Father.

What does that have to do with everyday life?  The choices we make, the things we pursue, come from what we truly believe. IF you take the truth of the Scripture about baptism’s identification with Christ to heart, life will become different.  The old fear of mortality is eclipsed by the hope of heaven. The preoccupation with the feeding and comfort of the body is broken, replaced with a desire to walk with God from here to eternity.

Have you been baptized? Have you affirmed the faith choice to receive the gift of salvation through Christ and entered joyously into the new life made possible by the Holy Spirit at work in you?

The word from the Word today fills me with hopeful wonder. May the Lord bless it to you. Happy Monday! “By faith in Christ you are in direct relationship with God. Your baptism in Christ was not just washing you up for a fresh start. It also involved dressing you in an adult faith wardrobe—Christ’s life, the fulfillment of God’s original promise.” (Galatians 3:25-27, The Message)

___________

A New Name In Glory

I was once a sinner but I came
Pardon to receive from my Lord
This was freely given and I found
That He always kept His word

There’s a new name
Written down in glory
And it’s mine, O yes, it’s mine
And the white-robed angels sing the story
A sinner has come home

For there’s a new name
Written down in glory
And it’s mine, O yes, it’s mine
With my sins forgiven
I am bound for heaven
Nevermore to roam

I was humbly kneeling at the cross
Fearing naught but God’s angry frown
When the heavens opened and I saw
That my name was written down

In the Book ’tis written
“Saved by grace”
O the joy that came to my soul
Now I am forgiven and I know
By the blood I am made whole

Charles Austin Miles© Words: Public Domain

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When you feel that they just don’t care

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She felt invisible. A good Mom, she has loved and cared for her family and seldom receives even a word of appreciation. Her heart is wounded by their thoughtlessness.  He is aged and cries often, not because of physical pain, but because his family is so busy that they forget to include him, in spite of years of caring for them, giving up his own comfort to provide what they needed at the time.

Perhaps you can identify with this, having your own story about being overlooked, ignored, or forgotten by others?

When we give ourselves away, dig in and try to make a difference, only to be misunderstood and/or misjudged, it hurts!  The story of good people who get caught in the crossfire of personalities and egos at work, in their home, or at their church is an all too familiar one. When we find ourselves in those situations we have a choice to make. Will we get bitter?

Bitterness, a self-defensive reflex that says, “Take care of yourself. Trust no one. Build walls.” is chosen so naturally when we are hurting. We might want to retaliate.  Let me tell you something you probably know – bitterness is a poison that is indiscriminate. We cannot pour a cup for another without wounding our own soul.

So, how can we get better instead?

It is no cliché to say – “Remember who you’re ultimately serving!”  Jesus said that even giving a cup of cold water to a thirsty man or visiting a lonely one is a gift to Him. “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:40, NIV)  He knows exactly why we did what we did and never misunderstands or forgets.  Sobering, isn’t it? Hopefully, it encourages to do good even when we’re unappreciated.

One night, long ago, at a time when I was doing my absolute best to try to lead a church that was broken, a man I had trusted turned against me. He accused me and opposed me at every turn. He saw only a part of what was going on, his judgment was clouded by other associations. After months of being attacked, again and again, my heart was broken, my strength nearly gone. I never came closer to making the choice to leave pastoral ministry than I did one night after yet another tempestuous meeting.

Walking alone in the darkness of the church’s sanctuary, with tears streaming down my face that came as much from anger as from sorrow, the Spirit whispered oh so clearly “What do I know about this situation? Have I released you from your calling?”  I found comfort in committing the whole conflict to him, taking my part, and trusting Him to care for the rest.  The grace of His embrace gave me new strength and provided the freedom I needed to pursue forgiveness and reconciliation. It was not simple, nor was it easy!

If you’re hurting, dangerously close to slipping into bitterness, remember Who it is that you serve, ultimately.

We must not return fire, when others fire on us. Whoa, that’s a tough call, isn’t it? Peter tells us “If you’re treated badly for good behavior and continue in spite of it to be a good servant, that is what counts with God. This is the kind of life you’ve been invited into, the kind of life Christ lived. … He never did one thing wrong, Not once said anything amiss. They called him every name in the book and he said nothing back. He suffered in silence, content to let God set things right.” (1 Peter 2:20-23, The Message)

We actively seek the good of those who hurt us. It is not enough just to face this passively! Going beyond mere non-response supernaturally we move to bless them. “Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you.” (Luke 6:28, NLT)

How can we choose this way? Who will care for us? All of this rests on the secure foundation of the Lord’s love for us and His keen insight into the circumstances that have broken our hearts.

IF your soul is battered, IF your heart is broken, WHEN your mind cries out for vindication – go to Jesus’ embrace. He knows the Truth and even if all Hell accuses, it is He alone that makes us right in the sight of the Father.

Here’s a word from the Word. Make it your prayerful meditation today.
“Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have led a blameless life;
I have trusted in the LORD without wavering.
Test me, O LORD, and try me, examine my heart and my mind;
for your love is ever before me, and I walk continually in your truth.

I do not sit with deceitful men, nor do I consort with hypocrites;
I abhor the assembly of evildoers and refuse to sit with the wicked.
I wash my hands in innocence, and go about your altar, O LORD,
proclaiming aloud your praise and telling of all your wonderful deeds.
I love the house where you live,
O LORD, the place where your glory dwells.”  
(Psalm 26:1-8, NIV)  Amen.

__________

Good, Good Father  (listen, learn, and worship at this link)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CCLI License # 810055

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Justified freely – not just dry theology

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If we hold that God is the Creator, the Source, the Giver of Life – there is a question that begs an answer.  How can I know Him?  Why would we not want to know the Being Who made us, to discover – in Him – the answers to questions about our purpose in existence? Paul tells us, in the opening passage of Romans, that God announces Himself to humanity in the grandeur of what He’s made, that He writes His moral code into our consciences.

But, is it enough to just say there is a Divine Being and then to conclude that He is unknowable?  We need not make that sad choice to live in ignorance of the Holy One. Why? Because, He has revealed Himself to us in His Son, Jesus Christ, and through the pages of the inspired Scripture; and He invites us to know Him.

That revelation includes an astounding declaration about how we can find freedom from that sense (which is real) that we are separated from Him, from the guilt and unworthiness that comes when we approach Him in worship. In the following passage, we find the heart of the Good News, the statement about how we are set right with our God, restored to our Father, and enter into eternal life.

But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice . . . so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:21-26, NIV)

Justified! Does it matter? Is it a word only of interest to theologians?  It should not be. It is the heart of the Gospel, the great news that we who have wandered far can come home, not abjectly begging for a place among the hired help, but as children in the family, heirs of the Father’s life and riches!  The amazing part is that there is no initiation fee, no arduous pathway to His altar. There is an invitation to believe and receive!

Many find it just too good to be true. Insisting there must be something they must do, they straddle the fence of their own goodness, their own religiosity, and the grace of God. They say that they have faith in Christ and but hold high their baptism as the trophy that makes them right.  They add many things to ‘faith in Jesus’ – church membership, attempts at impeccable morality, humanitarian service, benevolence  … it is a long list.

All the while God says we are ‘justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.’  Yes, Jerry, but …  I must be good enough for God. And that is the lie that makes sons into slaves. God asks us to take that decisive step, in faith, to leave behind the human religious systems that are so appealing to us and commit ourselves to Jesus Christ alone.

The completed thought of being set right with God (justified!) is that we will become people useful to His purposes, we will find the joy of serving Him,  we will grow away from sin and into holiness that is beautiful, whole, and full of love.

Are you attempting to act like a Christian without actually becoming one? Are you trying to earn your way into the favor of God, to build a legacy of good that is sufficient to erase your sense of guilt?  If so, you have taken on a task that is impossible.  Would you be willing to just believe what He says to you, to accept His invitation to trust Christ as the complete and total reason for your acceptance at the throne of the Holy One?

The word from the Word today states the glorious freedom of the children of God. Pause and invite the Spirit to open your heart and mind to the Truth. Then, read on.  “By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us—set us right with him, make us fit for him—we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. And that’s not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover, at the same moment, that He has already thrown open His door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.” (Romans 5:1-2, The Message)

Yes, we are justified (set right with our Father)  solely by faith in the Savior who gave His life to buy us back from the slavery of sin and the certainty of death. Only trust Him!

_________

Reckless Love

(worship with this song about His love)

Before I spoke a word
You were singing over me
You have been so so good to me
Before I took a breath
You breathed Your life in me
You have been so so kind to me

O the overwhelming never-ending reckless
Love of God
O it chases me down fights ’til I’m found
Leaves the ninety-nine
I couldn’t earn it I don’t deserve
Still You give Yourself away
O the overwhelming never-ending reckless
Love of God

When I was Your foe still Your love fought for me
You have been so so good to me
When I felt no worth You paid it all for me
You have been so so kind to me

There’s no shadow You won’t light up
Mountain You won’t climb up
Coming after me
There’s no wall You won’t kick down\
Lie You won’t tear down
Coming after me

Caleb Culver | Cory Asbury | Ran Jackson © Watershed Publishing Group (Admin. by Watershed Music Group) Bethel Music Publishing Richmond Park Publishing

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That Quiet Confidence

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“What’s going to happen to me? Will I be … what if?” Those questions have visited my mind many times throughout my lifetime. Confronted by change, I have a choice to make –  to trust God to lead me into the future or allow an awful anxiety to drive me to desperation. 

How well I remember the choices I had to make when confronted with the evidence that my wife of 40 years was terminally ill.  There were parts of me that wanted to run and hide. And God, the Spirit, was present, inviting to remain steady – caring for Bev in her hour of crisis and trusting Him for a whole new future. Is that easy? Silly question! Was it a once and done decision? Not at all.  Faith was a quiet confidence that I settled on God, that waited, that renewed day by day, that wavered, that found strength in support of friends and family. Faith was found then, and still is, in my willingness to release control of tomorrow to the One who is eternal.

Dramatic events tend to raise our consciousness of our faith (or lack thereof) but the truth is that genuine Christianity is a life of faith that owns us from the moment of each day’s awakening.  Our most basic daily decisions, if we claim to know, love, and serve Christ Jesus will be shaped by faith in what is beyond the perception of our natural eyes.

“The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. … It’s impossible to please God apart from faith. And why? Because anyone who wants to approach God must believe both that he exists and that he cares enough to respond to those who seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6, The Message)

Faith is not just discovered on the day of a diagnosis of terminal cancer, when circumstances go wildly out of our control, or when some critical question demands an answer. Faith leads us to shape the way we work, the way we spend our money, the way we use our time, and forms our most basic identity. It boils down to this – God owns me and secures my future through Jesus Christ or I am master of my destiny. There can be no middle ground.

As we learn to trust Him with our future, our kids, our marriage, even our own sense of worth – faith grows.  Jesus uses some interesting metaphors to illustrate that growth.  “What is the Kingdom of God like? How can I illustrate it? It is like a tiny mustard seed planted in a garden; it grows and becomes a tree, and the birds come and find shelter among its branches.” He also asked, “What else is the Kingdom of God like? It is like yeast used by a woman making bread. Even though she used a large amount of flour, the yeast permeated every part of the dough.” (Luke 13:18-21, NLT)

Let’s not turn faith into a kind of magic wand. Let’s not allow a caricature of faith to convince us that we are in control as long as we say the right words or somehow “believe” enough.  Instead, will you join me in a quiet confidence in the Father, a willingness to work with Him, to walk where He leads – be it into a spectacular miracle or to formation of the steady trust needed to endure tempestuous times of change?

The ‘Faith Chapter’ – Hebrews 11 – is of two important parts. Most of us tend only to read the first, which recounts the amazing victories won by heroes of faith. But there is a second part that teaches a faith that is much less appealing but just as necessary.

Read of the steady faith of those who did not find the miracle they desired in their lifetime. “Others braved abuse and whips, and, yes, chains and dungeons. We have stories of those who were stoned, sawed in two, murdered in cold blood; stories of vagrants wandering the earth in animal skins, homeless, friendless, powerless— the world didn’t deserve them!—making their way as best they could on the cruel edges of the world.

Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised. God had a better plan for us: that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith not complete apart from ours.” (Hebrews 11:36-40, The Message)

________

Lord, give us a Quiet Confidence,
a willingness to trust and wait, to hold onto hope,
to live with joy in the difficult days.
May we not surrender to apathy,
Nor demand what we must have to remain faithful.
Show us Your face,
Keep us near to Your heart.
Whisper to us that You are Master, Savior, and Friend.

In Jesus’ Name. Amen

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The Truth Can Be So Hard

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I have some faithful friends who show their care for me by telling me the truth. I don’t always appreciate it! Who really likes having shortcomings and failures pointed out or corrected? The notes of appreciation, the words of praise and affirmation – those I accept joyfully. But, when told about a gap in character, a failure of commitment, I am oh so human – tempted to deflect, excuse, or even deny it.  Yes, sometimes I become angry, wondering just who they think they are to say something like that. The wisdom of the Proverbs reminds us that “An open rebuke is better than hidden love! Wounds from a friend are better than many kisses from an enemy.” (Proverbs 27:5-6, NLT)

In the letter to the Romans, Paul begins with hard words about the human condition apart from God. The opening chapters are a difficult read about sin, depravity, failure, and judgment!  My preference is to jump straight to chapter 5 where the hard truth resolves into the promise. “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.” (Romans 5:1-3, NIV)  Hold on! We need to know why that gift of being set right with God (justified) is so precious.

After telling us that God reveals Himself in the amazing world He’s created and that He’s written a knowledge of His moral commands into our conscience, Paul goes on to remind those of us who might feel superior to those who sin more flagrantly of our own need for the intervention of God’s loving grace, stating the truth about our spiritual state apart from God’s grace.

“You may be saying, “What terrible people you have been talking about!” But you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you do these very same things. And we know that God, in his justice, will punish anyone who does such things. Do you think that God will judge and condemn others for doing them and not judge you when you do them, too?

Don’t you realize how kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Or don’t you care? Can’t you see how kind he has been in giving you time to turn from your sin? But no, you won’t listen. So you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself because of your stubbornness in refusing to turn from your sin. For there is going to come a day of judgment when God, the just judge of all the world, will judge all people according to what they have done.” (Romans 2:1-6, NLT)

There is no need to wallow endlessly in guilt, to beat on ourselves with condemning words, or live in a state of spiritual defeat. However, we need to accept the truth about our desperate need so that we will gladly and faithfully embrace the gift that God offers us in Christ Jesus. If we minimize and/or excuse our own brokenness and sinfulness, we become abusers of His kindness and possibly sink into self-deception.  James says that a person who deflects the truth about his need for grace is like a man who sees his flaws in a mirror and walks away forgetting that image, pridefully pretending he is someone other than who he really is!  I don’t want to be ‘that guy,’ do you?

On this Monday morning, get real with God. Celebrate the goodness He’s given to you.  Develop the gifts invested in you. And yes, face the flaws, the unfinished, the broken, the thoughts that rebel against His mastery. It can hurt to look into the mirror when the Spirit convicts us of our sin, but oh the joy of knowing that His love is encompassing, that the One who knows us best also is the One who loves us most.  Here is a word from the Word. Own the hope today. 

“The sacrifice you want is a broken spirit. A broken and repentant heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17, NLT)

Each time he said, “My gracious favor is all you need. My power works best in your weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may work through me. Since I know it is all for Christ’s good, I am quite content with my weaknesses and with insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, NLT)

____________

RESCUE

(the beautiful song by Lauren Daigle)

You are not hidden
There’s never been a moment
You were forgotten
You are not hopeless
Though you have been broken
Your innocence stolen

I hear you whisper underneath your breath
I hear your SOS, your SOS
I will send out an army to find you
In the middle of the darkest night
It’s true, I will rescue you

 There is no distance
That cannot be covered
Over and over
You’re not defenseless
I’ll be your shelter
I’ll be your armor

 I hear you whisper underneath your breath
I hear your SOS, your SOS
I will send out an army to find you
In the middle of the darkest night
It’s true, I will rescue you

 I will never stop marching to reach you
In the middle of the hardest fight
It’s true, I will rescue you
I hear the whisper underneath your breath
I hear you whisper, you have nothing left
I will send out an army to find you
In the middle of the darkest night

 It’s true, I will rescue you
I will never stop marching to reach you
In the middle of the hardest fight
It’s true, I will rescue you
Oh, I will rescue you

Songwriters: Jason Ingram / Paul Mabury / Lauren Daigle Rescue lyrics © Essential Music Publishing, Capitol Christian Music Group, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

 

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What’s wrong with YOU?

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We live in a time of a strange collision of values. On one hand we teach tolerance, insisting that people be given freedom to be who they are, that we accept others. At the same time, there is unwillingness to allow for human imperfection.  A poor choice made by someone decades past gets dragged into view and, regardless of what he has done or who he has been for the last 20 years, the drumbeat of condemnation starts.

I know that I am not yet all that I will be, therefore, I believe in redemption!

If we search for perfection in ourselves or demand it from others, we create an impossible standard and become angry and discouraged. Why?  Because, we are all works in progress! We know that maturity results from a process called growth.  What a foolish Grandfather I would be if I demanded that little Gio (age 4) act like a self-sufficient adult.  If I did not understand his crying when he’s tired, or his failure to pick up after himself, criticizing him for ‘lack of maturity’ you would wonder about my grasp of reality. We realize that maturity arrives slowly, over time, as we instruct and train, while experience is reshaping behaviors.

In a similar way, Christians grow through life. I sometimes ask the Lord, “How long will it take for me to overcome this thing in my life?”  Sometimes I find myself wondering “Why is she still acting that way? When will they change?”  The pattern is growth, not perfection! Yes, I know that Jesus told us “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48, NIV)  His words are misunderstood to mean ‘flawless’ when it fact the intent is more about ‘becoming whole, reaching full maturity.’  The work in the original NT language (Greek) is telios.  The word has nothing to do with impeccable behavior. It is about the process that leads to completion.

God desires that we give ourselves to a life-long process of growth in the Spirit which only ends when we finally are ‘perfected,’ by our transition into eternal life. In 1 Corinthians 13 we read of the ongoing work which leads us to God’s Presence – “Now we know only a little, and even the gift of prophecy reveals little! But when the end comes, these special gifts will all disappear. It’s like this: When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child does. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly as in a poor mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God knows me now.” (1 Corinthians 13:9-12, NLT)

What peace we can know if we patiently let the process be worked out – in others and in ourselves.  Ask any parent about the need for that kind of patience. Who doesn’t say, “Oh, I wish he would just grow up,” as she deals with the tantrums and messes of a toddler!  Who doesn’t occasionally tire of working out the implications of God’s salvation?

Mastering the lessons of the Spirit-filled life can be a tedious process involving instruction, experience, and discipline. Paul found himself frustrated and said, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” expressing exasperation with the sins that marked his daily experience. If we look at the work in progress too critically, demanding too much too soon, we will give up. James encourages us “let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:4, NKJV) The meaning comes through more clearly in The Message where we read, “don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.”

Are you searching for perfection?  Just make sure that what you’re aiming at is growth, not flawlessness.  God wants us to become mature Christians, people who can endure disappointment, who are developing the spiritual gifts He has placed in us, who are overcoming the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the Devil. He desires productive and effective people who are ‘in process’ to become mature; like Jesus before the world.

Remember, it is a process; in you and in others. While we are working it out, here’s good advice, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins (times when we miss the bull’s eye on the target).” (1 Peter 4:8, NIV)

Here’s a word from the Word for your meditation. “But you, friends, are well-warned. Be on guard lest you lose your footing and get swept off your feet by these lawless and loose-talking teachers. Grow in grace and understanding of our Master and Savior, Jesus Christ. Glory to the Master, now and forever!” (2 Peter 3:17-18, The Message)
_______
Reckless Love

(a beautiful celebration of God’s patient love)

Before I spoke a word You were singing over me
You have been so so good to me
Before I took a breath You breathed Your life in me
You have been so so kind to me

  (And) O the overwhelming never-ending reckless
Love of God
O it chases me down fights ’til I’m found
Leaves the ninety-nine
I couldn’t earn it I don’t deserve it
Still You give Yourself away
O the overwhelming never-ending reckless
Love of God yeah

 When I was Your foe still Your love fought for me
You have been so so good to me
When I felt no worth You paid it all for me
You have been so so kind to me

 There’s no shadow You won’t light up
Mountain You won’t climb up
Coming after me
There’s no wall You won’t kick down
Lie You won’t tear down
Coming after me

 Caleb Culver | Cory Asbury | Ran Jackson© 2017 Richmond Park Publishing (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC) Watershed Publishing Group (Admin. by Watershed Music Group) Bethel Music Publishing

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Look! Experience Awe

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Bev, standing in a meadow high in the Rocky Mountains, July, 2010

At dinner last night the conversation included some memories of a cross country trip in 2010, when we drove from Los Angeles to Washington, DC.  The amazing reds and oranges of the Utah desert blazed in our minds while we talked. The stunning vistas at the Continental Divide in Colorado filled our thoughts, remembering the meadows of the summer day, the breeze, the wonder of the Rocky Mountains.

Last week I stood at the edge of the vast ocean, looking out at the sun’s reflections dancing across the restless waves, the ceaseless sound of the surf washing over me. What a world God has made for us.

Then, there is the intricacy of our bodies. What a wonder we.  The heart pumps, moving blood through a network that carries nutrients and oxygen to every cell, sweeping away the waste.  Nerves flash signals to our brain, muscles respond. Our eyes take in light and color. And, for most of us, until there is some breakdown, there is virtually no awareness of just what a wonderfully complex organism we are.

Paul says that all this wonder is prime evidence of the existence of God, pulling us towards knowing Him.  “For the truth about God is known to them instinctively. God has put this knowledge in their hearts. From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky and all that God made. They can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse whatsoever for not knowing God. Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. The result was that their minds became dark and confused.” (Romans 1:19-21, NLT)

One of the tragedies of our time is the collision of faith and reason, making these gifts to us into enemies rather than seeing them as complementary. At the end of our understanding, there is mystery. Even as we delve into those mysteries, uncovering the patterns and plans, the design in all of it, we find cause to believe. True science does not destroy faith, it increases it! The universe should fill us with awe, cause us to place our arrogant sense of control to the side and humbly acknowledge that there is Someone, the First Cause, the Designer of it all.

Elizabeth Barret Browning is poetic in her recognition of the failure of awe.
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
   and every common bush aflame with God.
But only those who see take off their shoes;
   the rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

Have you become like a worker bee, so taken up with the tasks of life, your eyes seeing only your own circumstances, your ears full of the buzz of the small circle that surrounds you?  You need to take a wonder break, a time to look beyond, to think more widely, to allow yourself to experience wonder once again. Wonder will set the stage of our lives for worship. Instead of trying to reduce everything to the small bits that you think you need for understanding and control, let the immensity weigh on you, the mystery envelope you, and surrender to the confession – God is!

C.S. Lewis wrote of his own surrender. A young atheist teaching philosophy and literature, he resisted the idea of the Divine. But, God pursued him. In Surprised By Joy  he says “You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me.”

Yes, God does not abandon us and hope that we might somehow find our way to Him. He draws us, paints the wonder of life around us, sometimes squeezes us with discomfort. Why? That we will, at last, allow Him in.  Lewis so poignantly reveals the moment of his conversion to faith. “In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms.”

Look, experience awe! He is there, will we perceive His Presence?

Here is a word from the Word.
“O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
From the lips of children and infants
you have ordained praise because of your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.

 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?

 You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and
crowned him with glory and honor.
You made him ruler over the works of your hands;
you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds,
and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air,
and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.

 O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”  (Psalm 8, NIV)

________________

God Of Wonders

(an older song of worship, but still full of truth)

Lord of all creation
Of water earth and sky
The heavens are Your tabernacle
Glory to the Lord on high

 God of wonders beyond our galaxy
You are holy holy
The universe declares Your majesty
You are holy holy
Lord of heaven and earth
Lord of heaven and earth

 Early in the morning
I will celebrate the light
When I stumble in the darkness
I will call Your name by night

 Hallelujah (to the Lord of heaven and earth)
Hallelujah (to the Lord of heaven and earth)
Hallelujah (to the Lord of heaven and earth)
You are holy

 God of wonders beyond our galaxy
You are holy holy
Precious Lord reveal Your heart to me
Father hold me hold me
The universe declares Your majesty
You are holy holy holy holy

 God of wonders beyond our galaxy
You are holy holy
Precious Lord reveal Your heart to me
Father hold me hold me

 Hallelujah (to the Lord of heaven and earth)
Hallelujah (to the Lord of heaven and earth)
Hallelujah (to the Lord of heaven and earth)
Hallelujah (to the Lord of heaven and earth)

Marc Byrd | Steve Hindalong

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Not For Sale

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The discussion was about how we become right with God, assured of His love and, ultimately, of our home in Heaven. As talk flowed around the table there was quite a contrast in experiences, some being taught the obligations of their faith and the ‘rules’ they learned about ‘’sin.”  I stated my conviction that a person receives grace only through faith in Jesus, that no amount of good deeds or religious practice can merit it. One man wryly observed that I (as a pastor) was then at a disadvantage to get people to do the right things, to give, and to serve. He was joking, but it’s true!  Religious guilt can be quite effective in producing donations and compelling church attendance.  But, the Truth is that salvation is not for sale, period.

 Paul explains “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (Romans 1:17-18, NIV)  What a grand proclamation is this scandalous grace of God.  From our earliest years we learn how to please others.  The love and acceptance we experience in our human relationships is often transactional and conditional. “You do what I want you to do and I’ll like you.”

But, God tells us that He loves us.  Yes, that is a complete sentence.  He does not love us if we go to church often enough, if we give more in the offering, if we say our prayers or read our Bibles, or are kind to our neighbors, or  …    The truth is that “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, no one is likely to die for a good person, though someone might be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” (Romans 5:6-8, NLT)

Like my friend in last night’s conversation, you may be wondering if there is any need then to be good, to pursue holiness, to desire the will of God for your life? Can a person just believe and then ‘sin and grin?’  When we truly receive Christ’s love, by faith, those questions become moot, meaningless to us. Why?  Because grace experienced brings us a new heart, one that is alive to the Holy Spirit, that knows Him and desires Him.

Augustine’s famous line is this: “Love God and do what you will.”  It is much misunderstood. Some believe that what he is saying is that if we love God we need no other instruction, that we will automatically do the right things, living ethically. Not quite!  Others read him as giving us liberty to live as we desire without fear of consequence. Certainly that is not the whole counsel of the Scripture.  Augustine’s intent is to turn us to a radical faith, a full acceptance of God’s transformative love that will cause us to change, inside out.

The Christian’s hope rests solidly on God’s grace, shown in Christ Jesus, offered to all who will respond to His invitation with humble faith.  From that place, we practice the disciplines of the Spirit, not to merit His continuing blessings, but to learn His wonderful ways and to open our heart and mind to the work of the Holy Spirit.

Are you trying to buy your salvation?
Are you attempting to find peace with God by being ‘good enough?’
He  does not offer eternal life for sale at any price. Grace is priceless. Salvation was fully purchased at great cost by Jesus.

Now, believe and receive. Be loved and live!

Here is the word from the Word today. “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! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.” (1 John 3:1-3, NIV)

____

Abba, I am so thankful for Your amazing love for me.
You know me best and You love me most.
I am humbled, brought to silence by the astounding, scandalous love of Jesus.
When I am tempted to revert to the old ways of making deals with You,
call me again to faith.

If I grow proud of whatever growth in my spiritual life that You have made possible,
speak insistently to my heart to return to trusting You and Your Son.
May we walk with You, letting Your light shine through us,
For the glory of Jesus,
Until that day when You welcome us into Your eternal home.

Amen

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The old and grand Story

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In all my years of ministry, there is nothing that compares to that moment when a person accepts the Gospel and is ‘born again,’ a child of God. For some the shift is full of drama, coming out of addiction, finding renewal from a seriously broken life.  For others it is the dawn of new understanding, discovery of love, the possession of a previously unknown love and purpose.  Who cannot love an authentic testimony, a person who makes the ancient hymn new – “I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind but now I see!”

Do you believe the Gospel? In the secret of your own thoughts, are there memories of words spoken, actions taken, that cause a reflex of shame?  Truth is we ALL have some cringe-worthy moments in our history – selfish acts, moments of rage, indulgence of pleasure – things we hope are forgotten.  Guilt and shame can serve a valuable purpose of motivating change, sometimes.  Frequently, they hinder us, making us feel unworthy or turning us into constant strivers who are trying to prove ourselves as we attempt to outrun the negative emotions that swirl around in our head!

God has a healing for our shame, a release from our guilt. Thankfully, He does not just tell us to ‘live with it,’ or ‘everybody does that kind of thing.’  He gives us the Gospel of Christ. Paul writes to us to teach us that  “in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17, NIV)  “Righteous” is not an everyday word. It is an important one. Universally, we are ‘dead in sin,’ destined for darkness, less than God made us to be, prone to chase after things that leave us unsatisfied. Not a great description of life, is it?  That is why millions bury feelings of unworthiness, feelings of guilt and shame. How can we face the terrible truth that we know we should be different, but fail to change?  Some work very hard, doing much good. Others play hard, trying to forget. Some drug themselves.

God’s “Good News,” the “Gospel” that is the heart of Christianity, is that God has set us right with Himself, eradicating our guilt, and releasing us from the grip of shame. No one is too anything to be beyond God’s forgiveness.  The pages of the Bible tell the stories of real people- once far from God, then changed to love Him.

  • Paul persecuted Christians, even seeking their deaths, but he became an apostle of the Gospel.
  • David murdered a friend so he could marry the man’s wife, but he became the author of worship songs in the Bible (the Psalms).
  • Peter swore he did not know Jesus at the very moment his Friend was being tried, but he became the leader of the Church in the early years of Christianity.

The Gospel is about Jesus Christ, who brought a message that God loves broken people, and Who made the sacrifice that settles the debt of the sins of the word. We are invited to Believe and Receive! Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.” (Romans 5:1, NLT) “And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory.” (Romans 8:30, NLT)  I hope you did not hurry through those words.  God says “Shame be gone!”

The Gospel invites us to honest confession of what we’ve done, who we are, with the assurance that God will not leave us there. God’s gifts of love and grace silence the accusations of our conscience and the lies of the Evil One. Receive the righteousness that is perfect; that of the Savior.  What none of us can do on our own – living a holy life – is possible when the Spirit takes up residence in us. The paradox of the Cross-centered life is that God’s greatest glory is revealed at the point of our greatest shame!

Here’s a word from the Word.  Let it inspire you today; first to live without shame and then, to do live like the person He made you to be.

“This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it:“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners.

Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. All honor and glory to God forever and ever!  He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; he alone is God. Amen.”  – Paul   (1 Timothy 1:15-17, NLT)

_______

And Can It Be
(a beautiful Wesley hymn of grace)

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood
Died He for me who caused His pain
For me who Him to death pursued
Amazing love how can it be
That Thou my God shouldst die for me
Amazing love how can it be
That Thou my God shouldst die for me

 He left His Father’s throne above
So free so infinite His grace
Emptied Himself of all but love
And bled for Adam’s helpless race
‘Tis mercy all immense and free
For O my God it found out me
‘Tis mercy all immense and free
For O my God it found out me

 No condemnation now I dread
Jesus and all in Him is mine
Alive in Him my living Head
And clothed in righteousness divine
Bold I approach th’eternal throne
And claim the crown through Christ my own
Bold I approach th’eternal throne
And claim the crown through Christ my own

Charles Wesley © Words: Public Domain

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Why Did Paul write about all those people at the end of his letters?

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Yesterday, my grandson and I walked into a church neither of us has attended previously.  When you go into a new situation, do you size it up?  I do!  Do these people like being here? Are they happy, engaged?  Do they appear to like each other?  Without prompting, a few minutes after we arrived, Gavin, who’s 16, commented.  “I like this place, Grandpa. People are friendly.” And, so they were.  I could see that there was a real community developing as I saw many talking to others, standing to visit, looking into each other’s faces like friends do.

People matter and relationship are critical to our Christian faith and practice! It’s an old song, but we need to keep singing it so that we do not forget the message.

There is a part in Paul’s letters many of us read quickly, or even skip over thinking it says little to us today.  It is his closings in which he often mentions people by name, specifically mentioning their needs, their contributions, or even a correction. This passage is an example. “As soon as I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, because I have decided to winter there. Do everything you can to help Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way and see that they have everything they need. Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives. Everyone with me sends you greetings. Greet those who love us in the faith. Grace be with you all.” (Titus 3:12-15, NIV)   I don’t know much about Artemas or Zenas but they mattered to Paul and the Church!  These people were his friends, his compatriots in the work of Christ. He cared about them and his affection is written into Holy Scripture.

Are you connected to others significantly?
Are they getting written into your story of faith – people you care for, who care for you?
Are you creating cohorts that will stand with you when you’re down and celebrate the wins with you without envy?

I know that life is busy, way too busy with school events, job obligations, personal care, and the demands of keeping it all working.  It might be that you think that there is just no time to be part of a Life Group, or that you’re just ‘too different’ from ‘those people’ who sit alongside of you in your church.  Or perhaps you were involved and people being imperfect as we all are, you got wounded, overlooked, pushed to the side, or just ignored. There is no mystery to me why Jesus spoke so often about forgiveness. We need to forgive and be forgiven … a lot! But, we also need those people around us.

In case you believe the first century church was a paradise of loving relationships, read the 14th and 15th chapters of Paul’s letter to the Roman believers. He corrects and cajoles. “Stop fighting about secondary matters!” he says.  “Stop judging one another and accept each other!”  That letter ends with a lengthy testament to the people who mattered to him.  I’m going to use an excerpt from that passage as the word from the Word. It may strike you as irrelevant, full of names of people you don’t know, from another time.  But, as you read it, let it be a reminder to you to include others, to work actively to build relationships, to be the Body of Christ in more than words.

Please don’t skip over it. Read it slowly and give thanks for those that God has put in YOUR life to make you complete, whole, and blessed.

” I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many people, including me. Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Greet also the church that meets at their house.  

Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia. Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you. Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. Greet Ampliatus, whom I love in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys. Greet Apelles, tested and approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the household of Aristobulus. Greet Herodion, my relative. Greet those in the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord. Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord.

Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too. Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brothers with them. Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas and all the saints with them. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ send greetings.  

I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.” (Romans 16:1-20, NIV)
________________

Abba, bring Your people, Your Church, to beautiful unity.
Help us to love those with whom we live in your work,
even as they are imperfect, even when we are impatient.

Teach us the songs of love and worship that bind us as one
in Christ Jesus, Your Son, our Lord.

Take us beyond tolerating one another into places of
deep affection, writing our shared story in our hearts.

Amen

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