Playing to win?

Many of us live as though life is a contest-a competition to win. As we race through our days, we’re looking around; measuring, checking, determining if we are out in front. One definition of success is simply having more- money, power, respect. I watched some little children at a picnic yesterday and was amused at the evidence of this trait even in those 6 or 7 years of age. Though they were not hungry in the least, each wanted to make sure he got the same amount (or more when it came to the ice cream!) than the others! It’s not just kids or people in need who compete, either. One of the Rockefellers (one of America’s wealthiest families) was asked how much money he wanted to to make. He said, “One more dollar!” His millions were not enough as long as there was more to own.

A generous spirit and a competitive heart cannot co-exist. As Believers we are commanded by our Lord to be giving, generously sharing our love, our resources, our encouragement, our hope with a world in need; but giving away our resources runs counter-intuitive to the natural desire to acquire. In the Scripture there is stern warning about the consequences of allowing a spirit of competition to rule your life. “… if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” (James 3:14-16, NIV)

Let me take something as simple as driving your car as an illustration. Do you drive across town like you’re in the Indy 500, tailing the car in front of you, pushing through yellow lights, dodging down side streets looking to find a quicker way? How do you feel when you arrive at your destination? Tired, often irritated, right? It’s because you’ve have turned the experience into a competition, measuring yourself by ‘winning’ a speedier trip. Will you arrive any more quickly at your destination? Perhaps, by a few moments, but what has that ‘win’ cost you emotionally?

When we are pushing to win, we always pay a high price, alienating others and even hurting those we say that we love. Again the Scripture’s wisdom challenges us-“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want.” (James 4:1-2, NIV)

The way to break this need to succeed, this desire to acquire, is to realize that God has all that you need available to you! In the follow-up line to the verse quoted above we read this –“You do not have, because you do not ask God.” God is our True Source and He has promised to supply all that we need, if only we ask. Stephen Covey, one of my favorite writers, calls this having an “abundance mentality.” He says that we can break out of the competitive life by learning that life is a ‘cornucopia of ever enlarging opportunity, resources, and wealth. You don’t compare yourself to others and are genuinely happy for their successes.’ (The 8th Habit, page 150) If God is our Source, then we don’t have to grab our slice of an ever diminishing pie. Instead, we accept according to our need even as we witness God doing the miracle of multiplication, enlarging the pie to meet the need of all who ask!

If you doubt Covey’s insight, then take a lesson from Jesus Christ! “If you give, you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full measure, pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, and running over. Whatever measure you use in giving—large or small—it will be used to measure what is given back to you.” (Luke 6:38, NLT) Don’t misunderstand the lesson there. Many twist the principle into a selfish thing — “I give so I can get!” Wrong conclusion! Generosity results when we learn that life is not a competition, that we are not measured by what we own, the title on our door, or the size of our front yard. We give ourselves away and discover that God provides all we need. Paradoxically, the less we ‘need’ to own the love of others, the more is given to us.

Let’s live generously as we look to God for what we need, accepting what He provides as sufficient for every need of our lives. Then, let’s share the wealth- giving away. There is joy waiting to be found when we quit playing the ‘success’ game!

Memorials for a greater purpose

Today, we remember – lives, mostly of those far too young, taken by bullets and bombs on battlefields around the globe. And we should remember in graphic detail, so that the cost of war is never a light consideration as we allow our political leaders to undertake military missions in the name of ‘the people.’ In a CNN Presents program aired last night (5/29/05), the first President George Bush mused that his conduct of the Gulf War was affected by his memories of his own war experiences in the Pacific during WW2. He said he could never forget the high cost in suffering to the soldiers and sailors as he ordered our armed services to begin waging war.

Andy Rooney, commentator and curmudgeon, who saw WW2 up close as a war correspondent, observed so wisely on 60 Minutes last night- There is more bravery at war than in peace, and it seems wrong that we have so often saved this virtue to use for our least noble activity – war. The goal of war is to cause death to other people. He went on to say that we speak of our warriors giving their lives when, in reality, their lives are taken from them! So, he concluded, we must never forget – more for our own sake, than for the sake of the dead. We must remember, with honor, those who have died in wars – and we must let their lost lives and their sorrowing kin cause us to seek new ways of resolving human conflict!

One of the Devil’s great deceptions is the way he deceives humanity to glorify war! The ‘great heroes’ in our history books are too often warriors whose greatness is written in blood, ruthless men who were willing to send millions of young soldiers to kill and destroy to advance their agenda of power and conquest. War is never glorious. It is a terrible business with awful goals. I cannot, in this short thought, speak to the issues of the morality of war, or whether war is sometimes a justified response to evil. Greater minds than mine have explored that subject in depth. But I can say, with great conviction, that the Christian should always be prejudiced to peace!

Jesus commended those who seek peace, calling them ‘children of God.
Peter urges us to ‘seek peace and pursue it.’
Hebrews, recognizing the limits of peace-making in a world filled with evil, never the less, calls on us to ‘make every effort to live in peace with all men.’
In one of his most compelling statement, Jesus says, ‘Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. … If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:39-44, NIV)

We do not dishonor those who have fallen in war by using their deaths as an appeal to peace-making. Those who seek peace whole-heartedly will be mocked as weak or cowardly, but truthfully – who is more brave than the one who stands facing another with a gun and prays for him? What is more courageous than offering forgiveness and absorbing the cost of loss for the sake of destroying hatred?

Today – remember and honor, and pray for peace. Ultimately, peace will come with a new King, who Kingdom is one of perfect justice, equity, and love. How I long for His kingdom, and so I pray, often and with tears – “May your kingdom come and your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.”

Broken hearts

The Lord saw fit to lead me to several people with broken hearts this week. Brave smiles hid great sorrow. When I expressed compassion, the smiles disappeared and tears slid down their faces in silent testimony to the inner pain. The sources of their sorrow were greatly varied – but each had to do, in one way or another, with disappointment with God or others! Time was that I would have felt compelled to manage their pain, to try to ‘fix’ them up quickly. But no longer. “But, Jerry, isn’t it your job to help people feel better?” I once thought so. Now I realize that if I attempt to make people feel better, I will almost certainly short-circuit God’s holy work in their life, or I will insult them by trivializing their pain and/or problems with solutions that miss the need or for which they are not prepared.

Compassion does not always mean that we relieve people of their pain. It means that we come along side of them to help them carry the burden, offering our love, praying with them, encouraging them to do the hard work of seeing beyond the presenting symptoms to the source of the pain, and pointing them to Christ Jesus- the Healer of Broken Hearts. At the inauguration of His ministry, He quoted Isaiah’s prophecy as the explanation of His mission. “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, because the Lord has appointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to announce that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed. He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” Isaiah 61:1-2 (NLT)

God’s prescription for broken hearts is not just relieving the ache, but working a genuine healing of the person! Tragically we are tempted deal with the pain of the soul in the same way we deal with our headaches! Got a headache? Take an aspirin! Never mind that the headache could be the signal of fatigue, allergies, or something serious. Just get rid of the pain. Similarly, there are many temporary pain-relievers for our aching hearts- diversions in pleasure, fanatical religious experiences, sex, drugs, alcohol, buying things…. but none of these really heal. God does heal us. Sometimes He does that by removing the source of the pain, but more often He does an even greater work, changing the one who hurts. C.S. Lewis in his essay, The Problem of Pain, includes this wonderfully provocative thought: Pain insists upon being attended to, God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

Got a broken heart this morning?
Does it hurt really badly, so terribly that you think you cannot stand another day?

Know this – God cares! Oh, I know – that makes you want to scream, doesn’t it? You want to say, “If God cares, then why does He allow me to feel such an ache in my soul?” Trust me when I say that He is a good God, that your pain has not escaped His attention. The Word tells us that “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. A righteous man may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all.” (Psalm 34:18-19, NIV)

Let me encourage you to two things today –
first, ask God to bring a friend, wise and compassionate, to your side to help bear the burden; and
second, weep hopefully and faithfully, asking Him for the grace to work with Him towards the healing of the whole person.

Meditate on this passage today –
“I said to myself, “This is it. I’m finished. God is a lost cause.”
I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness, the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed. I remember it all—oh, how well I remember— the feeling of hitting the bottom.
But there’s one other thing I remember, and remembering, I keep a grip on hope: God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning.How great your faithfulness!
I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over). He’s all I’ve got left. God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits, to the woman who diligently seeks. It’s a good thing to quietly hope, quietly hope for help from God.” (Lamentations 3:18-26, The Message)

"Bible speak"

Do you ever take note of how Christian friends so easily fall into “Bible speak?” We sometimes avoid dealing with hard stuff, sidestep being authentic. It is a real problem among all Believers.

Often it is spiritual pride that causes us to say the right things even when our lives are a mess. Who among us wants to admit that he isn’t really feeling all that loving today, or that the God he is trying to serve seems a million miles away, or that he is clueless about the will of God for his life? We would much rather just say, “Praise the Lord, I’m trusting Jesus, holding onto His Word” which may be true enough, but when used as “Bible speak” to hide fear, doubt, or confusion, it is almost like profanity!

Sometimes it is a mistaken idea about faith that causes people to cover up their real feelings or disappointments by quoting Scripture. They have been taught, wrongly, that admission of fear, doubt, or uncertainty is ‘not of faith.’ Yes, it is true that we gain strength by reminding ourselves of the eternal Truth of God’s Word, but we don’t have to lie to ourselves or others in the process! Owning up to who we are is the first step to real change.

Then, too – sometimes we just say the right things because we know, deep down inside, that those in our circle of Believing friends don’t want to be troubled with our fears, doubts, or problems; preferring the bland company of the comfortable, to the messy fellowship of the committed! The superficial, light-hearted conversation that skims life surface keeps the ugly stuff from seeing the light of day. So, many of us are desperate, walking alone in the dark, wondering if we are just really bad Christians since no one else appears to be struggling with the same kind of stuff.

None other than Paul, the apostle, illustrates the kind of honesty to which we should aspire. In a letter to a church he once led as a pastor, he wrote about a terrible time in his life and said, “I think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and completely overwhelmed, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we learned not to rely on ourselves, but on God who can raise the dead.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9, NLT)

Where did we ever come up with the idea that real Christians always have ‘happily ever after’ endings to all their life-stories? Paul thought he was as good as dead- not a very positive note of faith, was it? Truth is, his life was very tragic. After spending long hard years on the road, being criticized, imprisoned, and rejected – he died a martyr’s death in Rome! What sustained him? I can assure you it wasn’t “Bible speak.” His faith went deeper than a verse he learned at camp. His life was oriented to Truth – and by the Spirit – he transcended the emotions that might have derailed him, setting his sights on serving God – come Hell or high water.

And he was transparent in the process! Look at some of the phrases he uses to describe himself or his experience:
“chief among sinners,”
“out of my mind to talk this way,”
“weak,”
“wretched man that I am!”

And, through all the trials, troubles and triumphs — Paul realized it wasn’t about him, but about Christ Jesus, his Lord! “Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the priceless gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I may have Christ” (Philippians 3:8, NLT) That was no idle statement, but a testimony of the way he lived. Reputation, comfort, religious heritage, wealth, home — all worthless by comparison to the treasure of knowing Christ authentically, deeply.

I am not suggesting that the only way to authentic Christianity is to wallow in our individual or collective misery! Let’s be honest – rejoicing together in our victories, weeping in our failures – leaving the world of “Bible speak” behind us. And, in this kind of real fellowship, love will flourish that is unmistakably a supernatural work of God’s Spirit who lives in us! To the glory of God!

As appetizing as a cup of lukewarm coffee!

I visited with a pastor from a church in Belgium over lunch yesterday. As we talked about the challenges of ministry in Europe, Jerry observed that generally Europeans think they are too intellectual to really need God. Though the country is nominally Catholic and observes Christian holidays, very few show any regard for the Bible or for church teaching. A person who lives with an active faith in God who attempts to integrate that faith into daily life, he said, is regarded as intellectually inferior or weak.

Later in the day, I pulled the most recent issue of US News from my mailbox (5/30/2005) and found it contained an article headlined: European, not Christian. That article confirmed Jerry Foster’s analysis. I quote: “An aggressive form of secularism- what the British religion writer Karen Armstrong calls ‘secular fundamentalism’- is afoot in Europe. Numerous analysts suggest that the spreading ‘Christianophobia’ is tied to a Europe-wide spiritual malaise that is pushing the Continent towards broad cultural and economic decline.” The article asserts that Christianity failed toward the end of the 19th century as it was reduced from a robust faith that gave guidance to make moral decisions that stood in judgment of the modern world, to become a bland, tepid spirituality without an appeal to Truth. The resulting “humanism lay behind the rise of the worst ideologies of the 20th century, fascism and communism. All were testimony to a failure of moral reason in the very culture that gave the world the very concept of moral reason.” The author writes that “there is an inadequacy in tepid, comfortable religiosity.”

Christianity robbed of Truth is disgusting, like a cup of lukewarm coffee!
What do I mean -robbed of Truth?

Let’s start at the beginning.

If we reject the Bible’s opening premise that the world is God’s creation, believing instead that the universe sprang out of nothing, we lose any sense of accountability to the Creator. The ‘rest of the story’ is just myth and legend.

If there is no First Cause, no Intelligent Person giving our lives purpose, then we become gods in charge of our lives as much as anyone else. The meaning of life is not attached to pleasing God through love; rather it becomes to survive, to gain power, to satiate our appetites.

If Jesus is made to be just a teacher of morality, we may well aspire to live nobly in his way, but we will generally fail, because of the broad streak of selfishness that we cannot defeat on our own. Christianity without the Cross is nothing more than a romantic ideal.

If the Holy Spirit is rejected as a Presence that is immediate, available to us now, then we have no sense of God apart from some vague emotional stirring we may feel in fleeting moments when the mood, music, and lighting are right!

The things I have just described is what happened to Christianity at the end of the 19th century especially in Europe. Darwin ‘explained’ the earth’s origins in a way that seemed to dismiss the Creator! Enlightenment argued away divine love as a romantic notion, substituting the ideal of the ‘will to power’ of Nietzsche who needed no god to find meaning or purpose. The divinity of Christ Jesus was ridiculed as so much superstitious nonsense and the Cross turned into the tragic result of the political mistakes of a itinerant rabbi who offended those in power. The Resurrection was, at best, made into an idea that the ‘spirit of Jesus’ survived his death, in the hearts of his followers.

The result is starkly clear. ‘Christianity’ without a powerful God, a Savior. and a Present Holy Spirit is nothing. It is discarded as the worthless cultural relic that it is. We need a robust faith, one that informs us about life, teaches us how to live, and calls us to accountability.

Meditate on this passage today — asking yourself, “am I drifting from the Truth into a tepid, powerless religion?”
So we must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away from it. The message God delivered through angels has always proved true, and the people were punished for every violation of the law and every act of disobedience. What makes us think that we can escape if we are indifferent to this great salvation that was announced by the Lord Jesus himself? It was passed on to us by those who heard him speak, and God verified the message by signs and wonders and various miracles and by giving gifts of the Holy Spirit whenever he chose to do so.” (Hebrews 2:1-4, NLT)
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The Love Of God-Lehman, Frederick M.

The love of God is greater far,
Than tongue or pen can ever tell,
It goes beyond the highest star
And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled
And pardoned from his sin.

O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure,
The saints’ and angels’ song.

When years of time shall pass away
And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall,
When men, who here refuse to pray,
On rocks and hills and mountains call;
God’s love so sure shall still endure,
All measureless and strong;
Redeeming grace to Adam’s race
The saints’ and angels’ song.

Could we with ink the ocean fill
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were ev’ry stalk on earth a quill
And ev’ry man a scribe by trade.
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Tho stretched from sky to sky.

© Public Domain CCLI License No. 810055

Jerry D. Scott, Pastor
http://www.washingtonag.net/
908-689-7777
33 Brass Castle Road
Washington, NJ 07882

Get real!

wan·na·be Informal
One who aspires to a role or position.
One who imitates the behavior, customs, or dress of an admired person or group.

Sometimes they’re funny, sometimes pathetic, and sometimes down-right annoying. Wannabe’s, at first glance, are often indistinguishable from the authentic. The difference quickly becomes obvious when the wannabe has to actually produce like the real person. The wannabe, because he hasn’t put in the time learning the skills, getting the education, and developing the art, is unable to come through in the crunch.

I understand when a teenager is a wannabe! In fact, being a teen-age wannabe is often the first step to becoming the authentic article. One little guy in the congregation I lead is a pastor wannabe. He carefully watches my mannerisms and even how I dress because I’m his model. (That is a sobering thought.) This little guy may well discover that God has given him the vocation of being a church’s pastor as he matures. If He has, then he will need to go to school, learn the necessary skills, become an intern – and eventually – he will no longer be a wannabe, he will be a real servant of the Lord in the church. The pathetic thing is a middle aged guy who thinks that mimicking the mannerisms of some pastor, saying the same kind of phrases, in the same tone of voice, while wearing the same kind of clothing, really makes him a pastor. That is beyond sad!

Being a wannabe is frustrating because, essentially, it is a fraudulent life. The lack of substance and/or accomplishment causes the pretender to live a lie, which erodes any real sense of integrity. The wannabe knows another tragic result – he never finds out who he really is or what he is really capable of doing. By focusing on trying to be somebody else, he misses the joy of being who God created him to be, joyfully filling the place in this world his gifts, experiences, and opportunities create for him.

Here’s the direct question – are you a ‘for real’ Christian or a ‘wannabe?’
Have you submitted your life to Christ in full surrender, allowing for a complete transformation of heart and mind OR are you just trying to imitate the lifestyle of a Believer you admire?

The Bible says – “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is. As God’s messenger, I give each of you this warning: Be honest in your estimate of yourselves, measuring your value by how much faith God has given you.” (Romans 12:2-3, NLT)

God loves YOU, friend. Yes, it is absolutely true. He won’t love you more if you learn to imitate Mother Theresa or Billy Graham. Truth is, if you take that route, you will offend Him! He wants you to be you, a unique person with unique preparations to fill a unique place in this world.

Self-acceptance can be difficult. Looking in the mirror- physically and spiritually – reveals reality which isn’t always pretty. But, we are worthless to God and ourselves until we face the facts. That doesn’t mean we are stuck with what we see! We can take the imperfections and sins to God and He will work on us, transforming us by giving us the Holy Spirit to work in us. God doesn’t do ‘make-overs.’ He does transformations. That’s right – you can be an authentic saint! God can take the raw material that is you and do amazing things to create a person full of love, of the beauty of Jesus Christ. Why not start the transformation process right now?

In your own words admit to the embarrassment of being a fraud, a pretender. Tell God that you regret mistaking imitation for the real thing. Give him yourself- body and spirit – and ask Him to forgive you for the mistakes, the wrongs that have marred your life and displeased Him. Then, accept His transformational power. The change will begin in that moment!

Remember, there is a process. This transformational process is called sanctification. That just a big word for ‘becoming Christ-like.’ There are spiritual disciplines to learn that help the process along. There are mentors and teachers that help us in our understanding. There will be blunders along the way, but – if we are committed to Him and to being authentic- we can be sure that His promise – “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NKJV)- will be true!

Live authentically today!

Trusting Pharaoh!

Sleep didn’t come readily to me last night. My mind would not stop working; racing from subject to subject, reviewing yesterday’s conversations, making plans for this week, reaching for solutions to challenges at the church, praying for needs that came to my attention, etc. After too long, I finally said, “Lord, help me to trust You. Give me the courage to keep on doing what needs to done and the faith to trust You to give me resources and wisdom that are required.” That simple prayer was the last conscious thought before I heard the radio click on in the morning!

Life challenges everyone. That’s the way of this world since sin destroyed the perfect equilibrium in which the Creator made it. Thanks to Adam’s rebellion our efforts at life are complicated by weeds in the garden! Genesis explains the problems of life this way — 3:17-19 (NLT) God said, “I have placed a curse on the ground. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it. It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains. All your life you will sweat to produce food, until your dying day.” Paradise lost!

To whom will we turn for help in overcoming the challenges that sin and Satan introduce to our existence? That is the question that I answer again and again! My constant temptation, and I’m not alone in this, is to turn to self-sufficiency, to attempt to live on my own terms. No, it’s not that I become a total rebel, resisting God at every turn. It is much more subtle than that. When it appears that God isn’t moving quickly enough or that He isn’t paying attention, I take responsibility for the work – worrying, reaching for answers, seeking resources beyond those He’s provided. The people of God have always struggled with this. Remember Abraham, the father of faith? He decided that God needed help giving him the son of promise, so he had a child with his wife’s servant, Hagar. If even Abe concluded ‘God needs help,’ I guess it’s a fairly normal thing to do.

Reading the history of Israel and Judah, we find that time and again, they made alliances with pagan kings rather than trusting God to defend them. Isaiah, who saw the king’s response to the threat of the northern armies, wrote these words: 30:2-3 (NLT) For without consulting me, you have gone down to Egypt to find help. You have put your trust in Pharaoh for his protection. But in trusting Pharaoh, you will be humiliated and disgraced. Trusting Pharaoh! It was a natural, even reasonable thing to do. The threat of the powerful armies from the north would be offset with a treaty of mutual support from the powerful Pharaoh to the south: good reasoning, but not God’s plan. And Isaiah’s godly insight was true. Pharaoh didn’t lift a finger to defend God’s people. He took their treaty money and then abandoned them in their time of need. They were doubly deceived!

Are you trying to serve God by your own resources? It will lead only to frustration, sleepless nights, and fatigue! The Bible reminds us that… “The Lord is a shelter for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. Those who know your name (who really understand who You are!) trust in you, for you, O Lord, have never abandoned anyone who searches for you.” (Psalm 9:9-10, NLT)

What’s your challenge today?

Marriage in trouble? God can change you and her, if you’ll trust Him.
Financial troubles? God is your Source, the One who can provide all you need, including the wisdom to know what you need and what you want.
Tempted by sin? God is greater than the world, the sinful nature, and the demon hordes of Hell and will help you overcome.
Filled with fear? God is peace, and provides peace that ‘passes human understanding’ to those who fully trust in Him.Begin, don’t end, with prayer.

Make faith your first resource, not your last resort!

“Get insurance with God and do a good deed, settle down and stick to your last.Keep company with God, get in on the best.
Open up before God, keep nothing back; he’ll do whatever needs to be done:
He’ll validate your life in the clear light of day and stamp you with approval at high noon.” (Psalm 37:3-6, The Message)

Accountable- we all are!

“I’ll hold you accountable for this decision.” How do you feel when you know that your actions are going to be evaluated? When the day for your annual review approaches, do you feel anxious about a failure to follow through or confident that you’ve done your best?

On the final episode of The Apprentice the final two applicants for a place in the Trump organization were subjected to an accountability session on national live television last night. The words and actions of one of the applicants in her final task during the show were criticized and dissected! Trump was honest and even attempted to be congratulatory, yet it was still painful to have to see Tana squirm as her failings were put on display for all to see. Conversely, it was great to see Kendra beam as her exemplary performance was recognized and rewarded.

The Bible reveals a fact that should make us think about the way we speak, act, and invest our resources. Here it is. Read it carefully. “As I live, says the Lord, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:11-12, NKJV) Do not misunderstand this. No one who trusts in Christ Jesus as Savior will find himself unable to enter into Heaven because of a lack of ‘good works.’ We have been judged with regard to sin already in Him and have been given the gift of righteousness before God. Right standing with God comes by faith alone! However, how we live will be evaluated by the Lord! We will be held accountable by the One who eyes see the hidden things, who knows our truest motives.

Paul describes this accountability session as a ‘trial by fire.’ Read it thoughtfully today-
“I have laid the foundation like an expert builder. Now others are building on it. But whoever is building on this foundation must be very careful. For no one can lay any other foundation than the one we already have—Jesus Christ. Now anyone who builds on that foundation may use gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw.
But there is going to come a time of testing at the judgment day to see what kind of work each builder has done. Everyone’s work will be put through the fire to see whether or not it keeps its value. If the work survives the fire, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builders themselves will be saved, but like someone escaping through a wall of flames.”
(1 Corinthians 3:10-15, NLT)
For some, that will be an awful moment of terrible loss; but for others it will be a wonderful day when the service they have offered to the Lord and others will finally be given the recognition and reward that faithfulness deserves!

Christians who served God in obscurity, unthanked and uncelebrated, will be lauded by the Lord of Heaven and Earth. There is no greater reward than to receive His commendation! This day of accounting will not just celebrate those of ‘great’ accomplishments, those who left institutions, big buildings, and/or masses of people with improved lives. It is not the quantity of the work that receives the reward. It is the quality! Those with few gifts and little opportunity will receive the same word of praise as those who were multi-talented and access to wide influence. What will matter before the Judgment Seat of Jesus will be faithfulness and motive, more than anything. All the rights things done for all the wrong reasons will disappear under his fiery gaze.

An old chorus we sang was a prayer that had the day of accounting in sight. In its simplicity it reveals how we can have confidence as we think of our eternal review. It goes like this:
With eternity’s values in view, Lord,
with eternity’s values in view.
May I do each day’s work for Jesus,
with eternity’s values in view.

Are you living for the moment or for eternity, choosing short term happiness or eternal joy?
When you make those big choices, keep in mind that before the Bema (the judgment seat of Christ Jesus) He will ask for an accounting. Then, live so that you will stand before Him joyfully and confident that you’ve done your best as you were guided by the Spirit of God- faithful day by day to the end.
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Spirit of God, descend upon my heart;
wean it from earth, through all its pulses move.
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as Thou art,
and make me love Thee as I ought to love.

Hast Thou not bid us love Thee, God and King?
All, all Thine own – soul, heart, and strength and mind!
I see the Cross, there teach my heart to cling,
O let me seek Thee and O let me find.

Teach me to love Thee, as Thine angels love;
one holy passion filling all my frame.
The baptism of the Heaven descended Dove,
my heart an altar and Thy love the flame.

God’s Open Letter

Every morning as I look through the Easton Express-Times, one stop I make is on the editorial page. In addition to the syndicated columnists, I read the letters to the editor sent by local people. There I find some fascinating glimpses into the minds of other people- open letters that reveal both brilliance and stupidity, insight and ignorance! Some are angry diatribes, others laud some person or program. Some rail on religion. Some are written just to make a point that somebody feels isn’t being made in the press. Perhaps I read them with such interest because, for years, I was a regular ‘letter to the editor’ writer!

The Bible says that our lives, Believer, are an open letter to the world! The Living God writes His message on our hearts and sends us out before an unbelieving world where His message can be read. Isn’t that just amazing? God, the Omnipotent Creator, chooses to make Himself known through the lives of common folk, ordinary flawed people.

Here’s the way it reads: “Clearly, you are a letter from Christ prepared by us. It is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. It is carved not on stone, but on human hearts. We are confident of all this because of our great trust in God through Christ. It is not that we think we can do anything of lasting value by ourselves. Our only power and success come from God. He is the one who has enabled us to represent his new covenant. This is a covenant, not of written laws, but of the Spirit. The old way ends in death; in the new way, the Holy Spirit gives life.” [2 Cor. 3:3-6 NLT] Paul weaves several thoughts into that paragraph but the one on which I am focused today is the one about the Spirit’s writing the Message on our hearts!

What does this really mean? It means that as the Holy Spirit of God works a transformational process in us, the results are visible.

By way of example, we see the Spirit changes a selfish man into a loving one, a greedy person into a generous one, a fearful woman into a faith-filled one. In my work as a Pastor, there is nothing that gives me more joy than seeing a person begin to respond to God’s work in their mind and heart. Last week, a woman who has just been through a divorce wrote to me about her fear as the breakup developed. At the time she was just beginning to open her life to God’s work in new ways. (I have her permission to share this!) She said, “So, I did all I could do – I prayed. I told God that I didn’t understand why this was happening but to please give me the strength to do all the right things. I told Him that I am just lying in His arms. Soon thereafter I had the overwhelming feeling that I should just forgive F. (her former husband) and let it go. I understood that he was a lost soul with nothing that really mattered. My anger and resentment just went away. With that came a peace and comfort that I never experienced before.” Later in that note, she relates the way that he saw God’s work in her. “He told me that he really sees how Jesus has effected my life, how peaceful I seem.”

There it is! An open letter read clearly and proclaiming to all who read her life that God is a Living God, active in this world. I know some would argue that if God were really present, there would be no divorce, no suffering. Ah, that ignores the very real fact that He allows us to choose our own way! Even those of us in whom the Spirit is living and active have a responsibility to cooperate with His work. Sometimes God’s letter gets garbled by our willful disobedience! That is why we read this entreaty – {Eph 4:1 NLT} “I beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God.”

Our high calling is to live as an open letter, written by Christ by the transformational power of the Spirit. We cannot live this way by sheer will, by high aspiration, by training, or self-discipline. Those things certainly play a part, but the ‘writing’ is done by the finger of God in our heart! Let Him write large, bold letters on you today, won’t you? Let the Message be read by everyone who looks at you, so that they say – God lives!

Keep hope.

Ever been disappointed by another person’s actions? Who hasn’t?

A man visited with me a few days ago and talked bitterly about his pending divorce. “It’s that d___ computer,” he spat out the words. “We got it 3 years ago and she started spending time on it well into the night. Then, she claimed she fell in love with a guy; after 20 years of marriage.” He was clearly angry, puzzled, and sad in equal measures.

I remember when the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke over the Clinton presidency years ago. My mind knew that the President was human, but I was still shocked and disappointed that the man would abuse the trust of a young intern, his wife, and the nation. It was hard to watch him speak and not think about his lack of self-control.

A man that I loved as a brother, who served along side of me as an Elder of a church where I pastored, confessed that he was an adulterer, shattering my trust and destroying his marriage. After all these years I still can’t think of that day without feeling a deep sense of sadness and wondering what I might have done to help him resist the temptations that he allowed to ruin his life.

There are chapters in my life when I disappointed myself! Selfishness, rage, lack of empathy, laziness … they are part of my biography, too! I try to live in a better way and too often, I fail.

So, how do we deal with disappointment, with failures – our own, and those of others?

Bitterness is the choice of many people. Disappointment with people, circumstances, even God causes some to grow sour in spirit. The Bible says that this becomes a root from which all kinds of evil grows in a person’s life. [Hebrews 12:15 (NKJV)] speaks of a “…root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled.” We all know people who can’t find a nice thing to say about anyone, who are cynical, withdrawn, and poisonous!

Forgiveness
is the first part of God’s answer to disappointment. Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Matthew 18:21 (NKJV) Since the law only required 3 instances of forgiveness thought he was being big-hearted to offer to forgive seven times! But you remember the Lord’s response, don’t you? Jesus replied, “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.”

Forgiveness – does that mean we sweep away the other person’s offense as though what was done is without importance? Does that betrayed husband of whom I wrote in the opening paragraph just try to forget the deep wound to his spirit that his wife’s infidelity caused? Do I just look at my own sins that disappoint me and shrug, “I’m human”? No! That is not forgiveness as taught by the Scripture. Forgiveness is a choice to hand over the disappointment to God for His justice, to release the debt we feel is owed to us to Him. “Impossible,” you say. No, friend, it isn’t. Hard, yes – impossible, no.

Acceptance of reality is the second part of the answer to disappointment. We must give up our childish fantasy that life will always work out as planned, that people will always be good, do what we expect, or act in ways that are consistent. None of us is perfect! A measure of our maturity is the ability to deal with people as they are, discerning the good and the bad in others and in ourselves, and acting appropriately. I accept that there is a part of me that is quite capable of sin. I don’t deny it. That acceptance does not mean that I indulge my tendency to sin. Instead, I seek the Life of the Holy Spirit to help me to put that part of myself to death – daily! Likewise, accepting the reality that others are not perfect and may well fail- allows me to let the Love of the Spirit love them anyway!

Keep hope! The day of the defeat of evil is coming. Oh, how I look forward to that day, when sin’s power over us is completely destroyed, when disappointment is wiped away. Won’t it be a great day?

“May Your Kingdom come, Your will be done – on earth, as it is in Heaven!” Amen