Don’t be deceived!

“The church has nothing to offer me.”
“My needs are not addressed by the church so I’ll form my own fellowship.”
“I don’t need the church to serve Christ.”
“He’s my personal Savior.”

Statements like those are evidence of a misplaced focus that has deceived Americans almost completely. We are individualists, who seek personalized service, and who want the freedom to ‘do our own thing,’ but our radical commitment to Self is destroying our community structures – government, neighborhood, and Church. Individualism is not a bad thing when it comes to buying a car that reflects our personality or ordering a sandwich to satisfy our tastes; but it is terribly destructive when we buy into the assumption that “the world owes me happiness.” That attitude is especially destructive to the Christian church. The Word requires that as Christians we set aside our own needs, that we dethrone Self, and that we become servants of all, readily accepting a place in the Body that is assigned to us by the Spirit. But that is not a popular instruction among Believers in this culture!

Many Believers are quite willing to move from church to church for no better reason than – “My needs were not being taken care of in that fellowship.” Pastors feel tremendous pressure to provide individualized care, specialized ministry, and a comfortable environment in order to keep people in the building. This Pastor knows too well the pain of that comes when a family picks up and moves down the road, not for valid reasons such as genuine doctrinal differences or the call of God to another place of service, but because ‘their youth program has a better leader,’ or ‘ the music fits my preferences,’ or ‘the sermons are shorter.’

Brian McLaren, in a recent lecture delivered at Moravian Seminary in Bethlehem, PA, observed that he believes that many Christians have bought into a ‘gospel of self-enhancement.’ They have turned the Bible’s declaration that “God loves the world,” into “God loves ME!” While it is true that God loves each of us individually, He did not send Jesus into the world to give us the ability to become self-actualized – more healthy, more wealthy, and more happy than our neighbors – despite much preaching that would imply that to be true. Christ came to restore us, individually, to the image of God; calls us into the Church, and from a place in the Church, requires that we find ways to link to other Believers to lovingly serve the wide world around us. This is the message of Rick Warren’s bestseller – The Purpose Driven Life. The whisper of the Spirit, deep within us, is insistent that we exist for some reason greater than piling up lots of stuff to play with or carving out a place of comfort where we can live out our days in self-indulgence. We were created for mission – to know and serve God- called into the Body, the Church. Jesus says that if we embrace self-sacrifice, only then do we truly find life! His word challenge us – “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for me, you will find true life. And how do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose or forfeit your own soul in the process?” (Luke 9:23-25, NLT)

The deception of self-service is subtle. Outright selfishness is usually awfully obvious, even to ourselves. I quickly realize when I’m being a selfish baby demanding that others ‘serve me, coddle me, comfort me.’ But I don’t always see how I’m manipulating others so that they will meet my ego needs. Criticism of another person that is rooted in my own discomfort is easily masked behind spiritual language. Resistance to leadership which is really just about my desire to be first, is often wrapped in a supposed concern for the greater good of the organization. Jesus draws the line starkly. “No one,” He says, “can serve two masters!” We can’t love Self and Christ equally.

Meditate on this passage for a time today. As you do, invite the Holy Spirit to reveal to you the joy that you can find in humble service to God, expressed in serving others.

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself.

He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges.

Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that: a crucifixion.Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father. – Philippians 2:5-11 (The Message)

A Great Life?

So, how would you define a great life?
Being wealthy enough to buy all the ‘toys’ your heart desires?
Being healthy ’til the day you die?
Being famous, applauded by people?
Being able to go fishing at least two days a week and catching your legal limit every time? Hitting 715 homeruns in your baseball career? Two kids, a wife, and a house with a white picket fence? The list could go on!

Jim Collins, in a book entitled Good to Great (Harper Collins, 2001), written about American companies and why some of them grow, writes this-
“It is impossible to have a great life unless it is a meaningful life; and it very difficult to have a meaningful life without meaningful work. Only then can you have the tranquility that comes from knowing you’ve had a hand in creating something of intrinsic excellence that makes a contribution. Indeed, you might even gain the deepest of all satisfactions: knowing that your short time here on earth has been well spent, and that it mattered.”

I don’t know what Mr. Collins’ spiritual background is, but that paragraph points to a great life! A great life is not attained by accumulating power, money, or other symbols of ‘success.’ Nor is a great life reached by self-indulgence, creating a life that is packed with pleasure and ‘fun’- though for many, perhaps most, Americans that is the apparent goal of life. A great life is one that is focused on creating excellence, making a genuine difference in the world, for the 7 or 8 decades in which we are privileged to breath the air of this planet.

Achieving that mark demands one more step – receiving Jesus Christ as Lord – and then; finding and living in the purpose for which He created you.

The Bible says, “God has given each of us the ability to do certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out when you have faith that God is speaking through you. If your gift is that of serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, do a good job of teaching. If your gift is to encourage others, do it! If you have money, share it generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.” (Romans 12:6-8, NLT) Some of you just read that as ‘church speak’ disconnected from your ‘real’ life in the world. That is wrong, and I want to urge you to go back and re-read it as a way to live in every part of your life. Go back – read it again!

God has put certain gifts at your disposal, spiritual endowments that you uniquely can use, and He expects that you will use those gifts to make a difference – not just in your church a couple of hours each week – but everywhere, all the time. Greatness, in God’s eyes, is not reserved for a few privileged people. It is available to every man and woman who submits his or her life to Christ. “Anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be great in the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 5:19, NLT) Great people see each day as a sacred trust, and find ways to add value wherever they are!

Perhaps you’re on the ‘Mommy track’ right now and think that your life is one of obscure servitude, as you wipe noses, deliver kids to school and Little League practice, and pick up after your thoughtless husband. You can do those things with gritted teeth, resenting each day, or you can add value – becoming a great Mom and a discovering opportunities to build character in the lives you influence in hundreds of ways each day.

Maybe you’re stuck in a job that seems pointless, where you have little freedom to be creative. You can find meaning as you invest yourself in the people around you. You’re thinking – “Come on, Jerry, get real! They hate this place as much as I do.” – aren’t you? If the Word is true, you are different from the inside out, so add value to your workplace by taking Christ with you to that office. Don’t let the darkness envelop you; break it up by being light. No matter how vast the darkness, it cannot overcome the smallest light. Darkness is a void which is always filled with Light!

Do you attend a church marked by mediocrity, full of people who like low accountability and who do what they do without any passion for God; a church full of people who criticize and resist excellence? There’s a place to become great! I mean it. Instead of joining in with those who suck life out of the air, become a person who asks God, the Spirit, to radiate His life and joy from you. Determine to become the best (you’ll be attacked) at what you do for God there. Determine to hit the mark of excellence, even though it earns you scorn or even outright rejection. You will inspire a few, and gradually the few will become a majority with God’s help, turning a ‘hopeless’ situation into a thing of God’s glory.

Choose greatness. Pursue it with all of your heart, mind, and strength.

“We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish. He was willing to die a shameful death on the cross because of the joy he knew would be his afterward.
Now he is seated in the place of highest honor beside God’s throne in heaven
.”
(Hebrews 12:2, NLT)

Memory – Precious, short, and subject to revision.

I close my eyes and . . . without leaving my chair, I can visit the beaches of Nags Head, NC where our family had some great vacations! The sounds – waves rolling onto the beach, sea gulls calling as they soar overhead, children laughing; the smells, the faces are stored in my memory. It can be fun to relive some of them, horrifying to remember others. We all know that the good things get better and the bad things get worse as they age in our memories! That’s one reason we write the best and/or important memories down, preserving them for posterity.

The Bible tells us about some people who remembered… and found encouragement in celebrating the goodness of the Lord and those who served Him. “Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord listened and heard them; so a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who meditate on His name. ” (Malachi 3:16, NKJV) Jesus commanded that His followers to remember. We call it Communion, or the Lord’s Supper. Every time we reverently move through the rite- it becomes an occasion to refresh the wonder of our salvation and His sacrifice – “The Master, Jesus, on the night of his betrayal, took bread. Having given thanks, he broke it and said, This is my body, broken for you. Do this to remember me. After supper, he did the same thing with the cup: This cup is my blood, my new covenant with you. Each time you drink this cup, remember me.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-25, The Message)

Today is Memorial Day. It began after the Civil War that torn these United States apart. People were urged to go and decorate the graves of those whose lives were taken by that terrible, blood-soaked conflict. Decoration Day became a time to remember those who died in all of our nation’s wars, and today is called Memorial Day. For many of us, it is kind of an unofficial first day of Summer, with picnics and cook-outs, pool parties, and perhaps a parade.

Today – as you enjoy a day off – remember those who lives were cut short by a bullet or a bomb. Give thanks to God for this wonderful nation and the freedoms we enjoy from tyranny because of those who were willing to defend our liberties. Ask Him for wisdom to use the freedoms and opportunities in a way that is honorable, that makes their sacrifice noble.

And, as you remember, pray for the coming of the Prince of Peace and for the Kingdom of Peace which the Bible describes.
“Many nations will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the Temple of the God of Israel.
There he will teach us his ways, so that we may obey him.”
For in those days the Lord’s teaching and his word will go out from Jerusalem.
The Lord will settle international disputes.
All the nations will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
All wars will stop, and military training will come to an end. Come, people of Israel, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” (Isaiah 2:3-5, NLT)

Live well!

I awakened this morning thinking of death. Very cheery, isn’t it? Just before going to bed I received a call that an acquaintance had died on Wednesday afternoon in a freaky accident. His death was tragic enough, but the years that preceded it were also tragic, marked by failure, at least to all external appearances. The man, who was about my age, lived with a lot of disappointment in his last decade of life. He left behind relationships without resolution, and a record that would be, at best, marked- incomplete. I don’t want to imply that he was a bad man. He was an unfinished work, a man who appeared to fail to meet his potential in so many ways. The news that he was now in God’s hands sobered me, made me think about the way I’m living today.

When I step into the Presence of my Lord – be it today, tomorrow, or 35 years from now – there are two things that I desire.

First and most important, I desire that Jesus, my Lord, will find my life complete and welcome me home with this greeting, “Well done, Jerry, enter the joy of my Presence.”

Second, I desire that I leave behind a legacy of finished business – all relationships up to date and obligations met.

Achieving those goals requires that I live TODAY with purpose, not deferring the hard choices, the tough stuff, to another day! It demands selflessness, focus, and determination. The Bible talks about a life lived well this way – “You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally. I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! I’m staying alert and in top condition. I’m not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself. “ (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, The Message)

Believer, are you giving yourself to living well? Please do not answer that by saying, “I’m not doing anything that is terribly wrong.” That’s not enough!

Are you doing what is right, what is good, what is Christ-honoring?
Are you giving life your best efforts or just floating along on the currents of the stream?

Take a few moments to add it all up. Ask yourself, while inviting the Spirit of God to bring clarity to your thoughts, “if I were to die today, would there be a lot of dangling threads, disappointed people, words unspoken, obligations unmet?” Perhaps that strikes you as morbid. That’s not my intention, but I know that mortality is 100%! The Bible is stark – “man is destined to die and then to face judgment.”

Live well! How? “Love God totally… love others selflessly!” That’s the whole thing in a phrase.
_______________________

Here’s a thought to ponder today –

“He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often and loved much;
who has enjoyed the trust of pure women,
the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children;
who has filled his niche and accomplished his task;
who has left the world better than he found it,
whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul;
who has never lacked appreciation of Earth`s beauty or failed to express it;
who has always looked for the best in others and given them the best he had;
whose life was an inspiration; whose memory a benediction.”-
Anonymous

Quick fixes, easy solutions

I’m not much on Christian television. I find most of the religious TV programs worse than offensive. The very things that makes TV work – being bland, inoffensive, appealing to the widest audience, promising immediate gratification – are things that are incompatible with Biblical Christianity. The message of Jesus is one that challenges us, pierces us to the heart, and demands real change for our whole lifetime. Becoming a mature, effective, Spirit-filled Christian isn’t accomplished in 3 easy steps, outlined by a preacher who proclaims, through the tears in her mascara, how God raised her up from the trailer park to a mansion. Following Christ is a life-long commitment, worked out in close community, through good and bad months; in moments of tremendous joy and heart-crushing sorrow; on the mountain top and deep in the dark valley.

But we Americans aren’t much for process, are we? Phil Cooke, in an article in the June, 2006 issue of Charisma, writes: “We’ve created a generation of Christians who look for a magic bullet. That’s why people travel thousands of miles, from conference to conference, just to ‘get a word,’ find ‘fresh oil,’ get ‘the glory,’ or ‘catch the blessing.’ … After WW2, we experienced a time of real miracles in this country. We had amazing prefab houses, miracle drugs, fast food, and space-age appliances – instant satisfaction was everywhere. It changed everything. … 50 years later we are still addicted to the feeling.” We like quick fixes. Want to become a happy Believer? Tune into your favorite TV evangelist and order his ‘gimmick,’ – miracle seeds, prayer clothes, holy oil, vials of water from Jerusalem – and instantly life will be easier and better. No discipline is involved, just a credit card to place the order. How can we be so gullible?

“Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him; … those who wait on the Lord, They shall inherit the earth. “ (Psalm 37:7, 9 NKJV) That work, “patiently,” in the Hebrew text of the Psalms is a word that has the connotation of writhing in pain, like a woman in childbirth! What an appropriate image for the Believer’s experience. New life is being birthed in us by the Spirit’s work. As the new man emerges, there will be times when we simply have to go through the pain. We won’t be able to sidestep it, to go over it, or avoid it. It’s just part of the process. Are you irritated by that statement? Do you think that I’ve become some masochistic kind of person who seeks pain for it’s own sake? Think again. I hate pain and tears and conflict. I’d like nothing better than to live in perpetual happiness. But, the call of Christ on my life is to faithfulness, not happiness!

Of course there is joy, and truthfully, there is a lot of joy in my life. But, the times of growth, when my character is being shaped to be Christ-like, often involve sorrow and/or pain. It will be true for you, too, Believer friend. That is why the Scripture says,

“Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God.

When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls! In this all-out match against sin, others have suffered far worse than you, to say nothing of what Jesus went through—all that bloodshed!

So don’t feel sorry for yourselves. Or have you forgotten how good parents treat children, and that God regards you as his children? My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline, but don’t be crushed by it either. It’s the child he loves that he disciplines; the child he embraces, he also corrects. God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training,” (Hebrews 12:2-7, The Message)

There’s a goal – to be like Jesus!
There’s a home – in the Eternal Presence of God.
There’s a reward – the commendation of the Lord of Life!

Keep those things in mind, all the time. Then engage with the struggle, dig in. Commit yourself to making a real Kingdom difference, not just to carving out a spot of greater ease or comfort for yourself. It will be worth it all – when we see Jesus!
_________________________

Jesus, what can I give,
What can I bring to so faithful a friend,

To so loving a King? Savior, what can be said,
What can be sung as a praise of Your name
For the things You have done?

Oh, my words could not tell, Not even in part,
Of the debt of love that is owed by this thankful heart.

I will offer up my life in spirit and truth,
Pouring out the oil of love as my worship to You.
In surrender I must give my ev’ry part;
Lord, receive the sacrifice of a broken heart.

You deserve my every breath for You’ve paid the great cost.
Giving up Your life to death, Even death on a cross.
You took all my shame away, There defeated my sin,
Opened up the gates of heaven, And have beckoned me in.

© 1994 Kingsway’s Thankyou Music (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing) CCLI License No. 810055

Patiently – getting it right

I’m an American Idol fan. The TV program is created around a great premise. Find people in America with vocal talent; bring them together to compete, and turn the winner into an instant celebrity with name recognition all over the United States. Just about everybody knows about McPhee and Hicks today. Who’s going to be this season’s winner? I say Taylor Hicks, but we’ll know tonight. Randy Jackson, one of the judges of the competition, sometimes tells one of the performers, “It was a rough start, dog, but you worked it out!” What does he mean? The performer kept going when the song was falling apart, when the pitch was off, when he missed a few words. And, as he kept singing, he fixed the mistakes, adjusted pitch, got better – until he found his way to a big finish and wild applause.

I find that there are a lot of days in my life when I have to just keep going, praying that the Lord will help me to get things worked out, how about you? There are mornings when I wake up feeling like staying in bed. I stumble over my sinful nature getting angry, letting myself go negative, wandering into greed or doubt or self-pity or laziness. I go to work and waste the first half of the day in meaningless stuff. I start the week on a bad note and wake up on Thursday, still singing off-key. Or, somebody decides to try to make my life miserable and no matter what I say or do, they just won’t quit. Does that ever happen to you? Sometimes I think to myself, ‘wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were no battles, internal or external?’ But that’s not life in the real world. From the first gasp to the last wheeze, if we want to live the way God plans, we will be working it out – patiently dealing with the sins, the obstacles, the disappointments, the temptations, the tests, the people who provoke… with the help of the Holy Spirit.

The Bible encourages us with these words from Jesus Christ- “I know all the things you do, and I have opened a door for you that no one can shut. You have little strength, yet you obeyed my word and did not deny me. … Because you have obeyed my command to persevere, I will protect you from the great time of testing that will come upon the whole world to test those who belong to this world. Look, I am coming quickly. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take away your crown.” (Revelation 3:8-11, NLT)

Few things in life that have significant value are accomplished without sustained effort, patience for the long haul. There is nowhere that is more true than in our Christianity. If we want to please God, we have to be willing to work it out! “Patient endurance is what you need now, so you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.” (Hebrews 10:36, NLT) Take a tip from Randy Jackson and just keep singing ’til you get it worked out. Keep asking God to help you win over that habit that you know grieves Him. Keep loving that teenager, that spouse, that neighbor – who makes your life so difficult. Keep serving others with the gifts that God has given you, even when it seems that nothing is being accomplished.

Here’s a word from the Word. Meditate on it for a few moments right now. Invite the Holy Spirit to use it to strengthen your resolve to remain faithful to Christ while you ‘work it out!’

… be careful to put into action God’s saving work in your lives, (work out your salvation – NIV) obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases him. In everything you do, stay away from complaining and arguing, so that no one can speak a word of blame against you. You are to live clean, innocent lives as children of God in a dark world full of crooked and perverse people. Let your lives shine brightly before them. Hold tightly to the word of life, so that when Christ returns, I will be proud that I did not lose the race and that my work was not useless.” (Philippians 2:12-16, NLT)

Plans to go to Heaven?

Most people who believe in an afterlife plan to live in Heaven! I’ve met a few fools who say, “I want to be in Hell. It’s where all my friends are!” Further discussion reveals their ignorance of the true nature of an eternity without God. There won’t be any wild parties in Hell, nothing of fun, joy, or pleasure. Jesus describes Hell as an awful place of torment. I think that there is ample reason to believe in a place apart from God where the greatest pain is not a physical one, nor one of burning torture; but rather as longing for fulfillment with absolutely no satisfaction. Hell will be, I believe, the ultimate realization of a life lived for selfish purposes, a life without love or worship.

One poll reports that when Americans were asked about eternity, 55% said they were certain they would go to Heaven. An additional 35% hoped that they would go there. Only 4% said they would be going to Hell and 6% said they didn’t believe in Heaven or Hell. It’s not my business to make the determination about who will spend eternity in God’s Presence! I am sure thankful for that. But, I am concerned that many who think they are going there are mistaken because they have not prepared properly.

They might take the this news note online as a little parable.
It made me laugh and it made me think about being prepared!

O’Brien Middle School in Reno, Nevada, lined up four buses to take its top students to Six Flags Marine World in Vallejo, California. It’s a four-hour bus ride from the school. The students arrived at the park on Monday only to find out the park was closed. A school district spokesman says, “It was pretty much a fiasco.” School officials are refunding the kids’ money, and the tour bus company says it will pick up the tab for the next trip. The principal says somebody should have checked. – RENO, Nev. (AP)

I wonder after a long life journey how many will find the way to Heaven closed because they never prepared, never paid attention to the Holy Spirit’s call? Tragically most Americans who claim to be Christians are woefully ignorant about what the Bible has to say about spending all of eternity with the Lord. They are living with false hope, unprepared for the most important transition of their entire lives!

When asked why they think they are going to Heaven, about 60% of us say, “Because I’m basically a good person.” The truth is that basically we are rebels, self-willed, who readily set aside God’s plans and purposes to do what we want to do. That doesn’t mean we’re all mass murderers, or wildly promiscuous, or big-time bad guys. We’re just ordinary sinners, people who are in the grip of fallen human natures, that love self more than God; who gossip, fight, grab stuff for ourselves, and live to satisfy our appetites. The declaration of the Word is, “All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.”

Another 10-15% of Americans think that they are going to Heaven because they are religious. They point to church attendance, or a good faith effort to keep the 10 Commandments, etc. as the reason that they will be in Heaven. Once again they are ignorant about what the Bible has to say. If religion is our hope, we embrace God’s standard – which is – absolute purity. Who among us can lay claim to perfection except those deep into self-deception? No amount of goodness can offset the sin that lurks in our hearts.

Here’s the Good News. We can know that we’re going to Heaven! We don’t have to wait for the Final Judgment, for some imaginary set of scales that weighs our ‘good’ and ‘bad’ deeds. We can anticipate an eternal home with God with certainty. God has made an agreement (the Bible calls it a covenant) that is based in His mercy, His gracious gift, not on our human efforts.

It is explained in Ephesians 2 where we read:
It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. . . . It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us.
Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ.

He did all this on his own, with no help from us! . . . Saving is all his idea, and all his work.
All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves.
God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.
Ephesians 2:1-10 (The Message)

The best part of all this isn’t some big house on a golden boulevard (as so many caricature Heaven because they misunderstand Biblical metaphors!) It is being in the Presence of God, able to know and love Him without hindrance, without the limitations that our present existence imposes on us. I am already enjoying Heaven! No, I haven’t died yet, but Heaven is implanted in my heart and mind. I commune with God, enjoying the fullness of life that the Spirit brings to me. In that I have a foretaste of heaven and I’m drawn to live a life that pleases God, so that when my eyes close in death, there will be no surprises, for my Savior will say, “Hi, friend. Welcome home, forever!”
________________________
O, heaven is in my heart,
O, heaven is in my heart.
The kingdom of our God is here,
Heaven is in my heart.

The presence of His majesty,
Heaven is in my heart.
And in His presence joy abounds,
Heaven is in my heart.

The light of holiness surrounds,
Heaven is in my heart.
His precious life on me He spent,
Heaven is in my heart.
To give me life without an end,
Heaven is in my heart.
In Christ is all my confidence,
Heaven is in my heart.

The hope of my inheritance,
Heaven is in my heart.
We are a temple for His throne,
Heaven is in my heart.
And Christ is the foundation stone,
Heaven is in my heart.
He will return to take us home,
Heaven is in my heart.

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come!”
Heaven is in my heart.

© 1991 Make Way Music
(Admin. by Music Services) Graham Kendrick CCLI License No. 810055
_____________________________________

Authority- God’s gift

In my rear-view mirror, I saw the red lights begin to rotate on the patrol car. Easing to the side of the road, I realized he was not going around me, but stopping behind me! The young patrolman informed me that I had squeezed the yellow light at the intersection a little too closely and that, as he saw it, I had broken the law by running a red light. I was very glad that after a word of warning, he sent me on my way. I don’t like getting an expensive traffic ticket! However, I’ve seen public roads in developing nations that don’t have traffic law enforcement and the chaos is dangerous. So, I am thankful for the men and women who enforce the law and help to keep me safe. I don’t choose to submit to the police because I like or even respect the individual officer. Some cops are even corrupt, some judges are crooked; but I recognize the importance of the system for order, so I submit to the rule of law.

Do you know that submission to those who are in authority is a spiritual issue?
The Bible teaches us that “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.”
(Romans 13:1-5, NIV)

Authority principles run through all of society – the family, the government, and even the church.
A family where the children do not recognize the authority of parents will be a family in chaos.
A citizenry that does not respect the governing authorities will become a terrible place, a dangerous place.
A church where those with spiritual authority are not allowed to lead will be a joyless, conflict filled place, too. It isn’t always the ‘followers’ that are at fault! Sometimes those entrusted with authority fail to lead! Why? Because providing leadership is a hard thing to do.
Ask any parent of teenagers how much fun it is to enforce necessary rules. It is hard to have our kids dislike us, resist us. They even think we’re being tyrants. So some parents abdicate their God-given authority! Those who provide leadership in a nation have to deal with resistance, too! I can’t think that reading opinion polls that show declining support is all that enjoyable for our elected officials. Pastors who are called to lead local churches know both the joy of cooperative congregations and the pain of those who refuse their leadership. The most tragic thing for those who rebel and resist leadership is not how the effect on the leader, but the effect on the church! When people pray for their spiritual leaders and follow them willingly, unity grows; relationships deepen, and amazing things happen in the Kingdom of God.

Authority (and many despise that word) is necessary. Authority comes from God and is not just an unpleasant necessity. Good authority is a gift from God. That is why we need to encourage those who lead us, pray for them, and help them to govern well. Consider the example of Israel following the exodus from Egypt. When they obeyed God and willingly submitted themselves to Moses’ leadership, they prospered and were at peace. When they grumbled, griped, and rebelled – they found themselves under the judgment of God, divided, and eventually dying. The Word makes this observation – “We respect our own parents for training and not spoiling us, so why not embrace God’s training so we can truly live?” (Hebrews 12:9, The Message)

Here’s a word from the Word to think on today – “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:17, NIV)

A real wise guy or really wise?

It isn’t a compliment to be labeled a ‘wise guy.’ It means to be arrogant, flippant, and a bit too sure of one’s self. ‘Wise guys’ aren’t wise at all. Truthfully, they are usually very much like the adolescent boys in 6th or 7th grade who think they know so much about life, yet who know so little. Their ignorance is apparent to all except their peers. The boasts, bravado, and banter cover up deep insecurities and uncertainties about their identities in this world. It makes me laugh to remember what a little wise guy I was at age 13! God delayed my growth, so I was the little guy in my group. Lacking physical strength, I compensated by developing verbal skills that I used as my ‘armor.’ I thought I was so witty, so clever… really, I was just obnoxious, a real ‘wise guy.’

Hopefully the experience of the passing years has caused me to become less a ‘wise guy’ and a man possessing true wisdom. Wisdom is a beautiful thing, a grace that creates confidence, that blesses both the one who possesses it and those with whom she walks in life. How I love spending time with a person who is wise, whose words impart life and health. When I am with someone in whom I perceive wisdom, I love to listen and learn.

The Bible lauds wisdom saying:
“Learn to be wise, and develop good judgment. Don’t forget or turn away from my words. Don’t turn your back on wisdom, for she will protect you. Love her, and she will guard you.
Getting wisdom is the most important thing you can do! And whatever else you do, get good judgment.

If you prize wisdom, she will exalt you. Embrace her and she will honor you. She will place a lovely wreath on your head; she will present you with a beautiful crown.” (Proverbs 4:5-9, NLT)

How do we get wisdom?

First, we submit ourselves to the Wisdom of the Ages! There is a worldly wisdom, a knowledge of the ways of the systems that we work with each day, that may help us ‘get ahead’ of the pack, gain wealth, hold onto position, and exert our influence. But all that cleverness is built on a foundation of sand and will collapse. “Hasn’t God exposed it all as pretentious nonsense?… to us who are personally called by God himself—both Jews and Greeks—Christ is God’s ultimate miracle and wisdom all wrapped up in one.” (1 Corinthians 1:20, 24, The Message) The true wisdom of God is not temporary, nor is it set aside by the changing times.

Second, we ask for the Spirit to give us wisdom! “If you need wisdom—if you want to know what God wants you to do—ask him, and he will gladly tell you. He will not resent your asking.” (James 1:5, NLT) If you pray for wisdom, prepare for class! That’s right. God seldom just opens up our head and pours in His wisdom. Instead, He sends us to school. With trials and tests, He shows us our limits and teaches us to rely on Him. Job entered God’s Wisdom University. He professed -“when he has tested me like gold in a fire, he will pronounce me innocent. “For I have stayed in God’s paths; I have followed his ways and not turned aside. I have not departed from his commands but have treasured his word in my heart.” (Job 23:10-12, NLT)

Third, we learn from the Word! “Your commands give me an edge on my enemies; they never become obsolete. I’ve even become smarter than my teachers since I’ve pondered and absorbed your counsel.” (Psalm 119:98-99, The Message) As we learn the Scripture, we are privileged to attend classes taught by Moses, David, Isaiah, Jesus, Luke, and Paul. What professors they are. The wisdom they give to us is not simply their own; they speak the inspired Truth of God.

Wisdom gives us the ability to discern. We have insight and can separate truth from error, mere image from reality. We know what is true food for our soul and what is just mental junk food.

Want to live well? Then, learn to live wisely! Let God take you from being a ‘wise guy’ to real wisdom. It will make your life a thing of beauty!

“If you want to live well, make sure you understand all of this. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll learn this inside and out. God’s paths get you where you want to go. Right-living people walk them easily; wrong-living people are always tripping and stumbling. “ (Hosea 14:9-12, The Message)

Spirit-led does not preclude using your head

Many years ago, one Summer afternoon, I picked up a copy of Time magazine and read an article about a town in Wyoming that was growing, booming. A sleepy cow town had sprouted overnight to become home to thousands of young workers in the coal mines of that region. As I read the article, I felt an inner compelling – “Jerry, take your wife and baby son to Gillette!” It didn’t go away and days later I approached my wife with the idea of tearing ourselves away from family, friends, and job to go to do ministry in that town. Late August, 1977, found us transversing these United States in an old school bus that was packed with our possessions. We had no job waiting, very little money to sustain, and a big dream pulling westward! Our trip was an exercise in hilarity, something I’ll write about some other time. The year that followed our decision to to to Wyoming was full of experiences we have never forgotten, lessons that shaped us, and people who influenced us to this very day. What many labeled a fool’s errand was God’s way of helping us to become more useful in His kingdom. I believe we were led there by the Spirit, but not for the purpose which I thought – establishing a ministry in Gillette, WY- but rather so He could mature us, preparing us for His work!

Part of the lexicon with which I am very familiar includes the line, “I feel led…” People use it to explain their choice to seek out a new church, to justify their purchase of a new car, to explain all kinds of important life choices. Most Believers who claim to ‘feel led’ by the Lord are quite sincere in their intent and motive. There are plenty of examples in the book of Acts to demonstrate that the Spirit-filled Christian can and should be led by the Spirit. Indeed, Paul says that “those who are led by the Spirit are children of God.” (Gal. 6.14) I am not taking issue with that concept. What I am speaking to today is the erroneous idea that being led by the Spirit is just a feeling, a hunch, an intuition!

Rick Nanez writes – “Waves of romanticism, relativism, individualism, and New Age teachings have unleashed a rising emphasis on feelings over thinking, emotions over doctrine, and experience over intellect. Wherever these find an inroad, it comes at the expense of casting away our rational rudders. In turn, this steers many Believers into the currents of waywardness – into the vast sea of subjectivity, where the drizzling clouds of mysticism dictate their spiritual journey. … the turbulent winds of half-truth blow these helpless castaways into the vicious crags of confusion and mindless spirituality.” – Full Gospel, Fractured Minds? Zondervan, 2005

Mature, stable, and effective Believers understand that they are whole people given both mind and heart and that God’s Spirit operates through both equally to bring about His purposes and will. The Bible invites us to “Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. Isaiah 1:18 (NIV) The word, ‘reason’ is a word meaning, “argue your case, talk it over, work it out!” God does not expect His Spirit-led people to live with a blind faith. Paul encourages us to “present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” Romans 12:1 (NKJV) Note the word, “reasonable.” In the original language of the Bible it is the word, logikos, from which we get our word, logical. As we serve God, we do so with reason intact.

Are you objecting, wondering -“Jerry, what of faith? Are we to be locked into rationalism, living only by what can be proven or tested by natural means?” No, friend, a hundred times no. Pure rationalism eliminates the possibility of revelation. We, as individual Believers and as the Church of Jesus Christ must be led by the Spirit, open to truth that is revealed by Him to us, in ways outside of the usual channels of discovery and learning. I fully recognize that claiming to hear from God, to know His voice, is regarded by many as loony, or as some sort of self-deception based in our psychological need to have a god. But, I am convinced – both by my experience and the testimony of the Scripture- that God speaks to His people, individually and collectively. There will be moments when His leading defies our natural reasoning powers, when what we believe God is asking of us flies in the face of the facts that surround us.

We do not offend God in those moments when we take time to evaluate what we believe He is saying to us. Asking God to give us discerning minds, to keep us from impulse or gullibility is not the same as refusing to follow His lead. It is a humble recognition that we are imperfect, that we can get it wrong. John tells us – “do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world.” 1 John 4:1 (NLT) The passage goes on to say that the primary test to determine who is a genuine ‘prophet’ – that is one who is claiming to hear from God and speak for God- is the way he conducts himself day to day. His life must be marked by overt evidence of submission to Jesus Christ as Lord. There is no one so dangerous to your spiritual health as the person who is a rebellious rogue, who submits to no authority but himself, who claims – “God speaks to me and I speak for Him.”

Let’s be people of the Spirit, led by Him into works of faith, using the wonderful powers of reason that He has given to us. By this God will be glorified and His kingdom built strong.
________________

Lavish love, abundant beauty,
gracious gifts for heart and hand,
Life that fills the soul and senses –
all burst forth at Your command.

Lord, our Lord, eternal Father,
Great Creator, God and Friend,
Boundless power gave full expression,
to Your love which knows no end.

I am Yours, eternal Father,
All my body, mind, and heart.
Take and use me to Your glory,
Form Yourself in every part.

Lord, Your love brings joy and gladness,
flowing from within my soul.
May my very breath and being,
rise to You, their source and goal.

Amen.

– Peter Ellis