A day to celebrate LIFE!

This past weekend, a movie called “Saw III” was the number one money-maker in American theaters. The movie is one of a genre called slasher films and features copious amounts of terror, blood, and torture. (No, I have not seen it. I read the website!) For reasons I’ve never understood, some of us get a kick out of being scared to death by watching psychopaths destroy human beings on film. Of course, I know that what is on the screen is not real. But, why make ‘art’ out of the horrors that actually do take place in hidden corners of our world? Which brings me to this day, not one of my favorite days on the calendar; the day of little witches at the front door, fake blood, destruction of property, and all things ugly!

Yes, it is Halloween, the time for fright and “fun.” But, I’m going to pass on it, as I usually do. Unlike some Believers, my reason for passing up the celebration of Halloween is not fear of demons or worry about being tainted by evil. The power of the Resurrected Christ and the Spirit of God in me has removed fear of the occult from my life. For me there’s enough evil, horror, and tragedy in the daily news. I just don’t need to have a day to mark the ever-present death and sorrow that stalks our world. My calling as a follower of Jesus Christ is a to be a person who gives life, light, hope, and joy to those in my world.

No, I’m not a crank. I’ll meet the kids at the front door this evening with a sugary treat. But, throughout this day, I will be praying for the blessings of God to come to this broken, fallen world were there is so much suffering and sadness coming from deceived sinful people and from the schemes of the Evil One. I will be looking for ways to be a person who gives those blessings – in my words, in my attitudes, and in my actions. You see, I want to be known for being a person who is ‘for’ something, not for what I’m against, don’t you? I’m not against celebrating Halloween, despite the occult and evil themes that are woven into the day. I’m for Jesus and for goodness! I believe we who are His followers should be noted for the rich and full lives we enjoy as a result of His love, rather than being known as cranky people who are always ‘against’ this or that.

I am a rich man because of knowing Christ as Savior and Lord. From Him, I gain purpose for my life. I am part of a grand plan that God Himself created for the world! From Him, I gain hope. Even death, the great enemy of us all, loses the power to terrify me because in Him I live eternally. From Him, I learn to love because I am loved. No longer must I fight to keep my place in this world, for He has secured me as His own child. From Him, I gain the ability to over-rule the sinful nature that drives others to self-destruction, for the Spirit in me teaches me to “turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. … and to “live in this evil world with self-control, right conduct, and devotion to God!” (Titus 2:12, NLT)

Do you know Him? Have you received the gift of His life?
Then celebrate it! Do not give in to the Pharisees in the church that find every occasion to criticize, condemn, and carp on the sins of the world.
Sing a new song! Make it about the glory of being one of God’s own people.

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

All I once held dear,
Built my life upon,
All this world reveres,
And wars to own,
All I once thought gain
I have counted loss;
Spent and worthless now,
Compared to this.

Knowing You, Jesus,
knowing You,
There is no greater thing.
You’re my all,
You’re the best,
You’re my joy,
my righteousness,
And I love You, Lord.

Now my heart’s desire
Is to know You more,
To be found in You,
And known as Yours,
To possess by faith
What I could not earn;
All surpassing gift of righteousness.

Oh to know the power of
Your risen life,
And to know You in Your sufferings,
To become like You
In Your death, my Lord;
So with You to live, and never die.

Knowing You, Jesus,
knowing You,
There is no greater thing.
You’re my all,
You’re the best,
You’re my joy,
my righteousness,
And I love You, Lord.

Knowing You – Kendrick, Graham
Copyright: 1993 Make Way Music (Admin. by Music Services)

Your work is appreciated!

Yesterday, members of the congregation I that I serve as Pastor said, “thank you!” It was an observance of Pastor’s Appreciation Day. I have difficulty accepting affirmation. Since I am the privileged one who gets to do what he loves to do in life, I’m always more than a little embarrassed by an event organized in which people thank me for just doing what I love and what God has called me to do! After all, what could be more rewarding than having the trust of people who allow me to teach them God’s Word, week by week? I feel like I have a family numbering in the hundreds – complete with kids to love, fights to settle, sorrows to share, and significant milestones to celebrate. Most days I love being a Pastor. (Yes, there days when I complain, but don’t we all?)

Today, I want to keep TFTD simple. I want to encourage you to be an encourager.
Brighten somebody’s day with a word of genuine encouragement.

For that service person, a sincere, “Thank you,” along with a generous tip will do it. For someone who has gone the extra mile with you, a note of appreciation is in order. Keep it honest and, where possible, make it specific. As I read through the cards yesterday, there was one that I could not finish because of the tears of joy that blocked my vision. A father thanked me – in a specific way – for expressing affection to his kids, which he realized was meaningful to them and made them understand that they are people who matter in an often impersonal world. His specific word of thanks made me feel great!

The Word tells us to “speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you’ll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11, The Message) Look for creative ways to do that! In few weeks, we will celebrate Thanksgiving. Why not turn the day into a whole month of ‘thanks-living?’ Purposefully seek out ways to cultivate gratitude. When you find a complaint forming in your mind, and you’re getting ready to be a critic, turn it into a compliment or an opportunity for affirmation!

“Ah, Jerry, life’s not always rosy. People fail, don’t do their job, are sometimes lazy, and take advantage of me.” You are right! We’re all sinners and we offend each other in a hundred ways – intentionally and thoughtlessly. There are most certainly times when we must correct wrong behavior, when we must speak honestly to another’s failure, but must we do that all the time? Is there so little to praise that we feel compelled to be miserable critics, growling our way through the day? I think not!

Truthfully, most of us will respond to affirmation, we will be drawn along to change by genuine praise, much more quickly and effectively than we are driven by criticism.
So, go spread joy today. Give up your need to be ‘right,’ or ‘comfortable,’ and encourage. What you give, you’ll get, so make it good!
_________________________

Gather ’round me, everybody!
Gather ’round me while I’m preachin’ !
Feel a sermon comin’ on me –
The topic will be sin and that’s what I’m ag’in’
If you wanna hear my story,
then settle back and just sit tight,
While I start reviewin’ the attitude of doin’ right!


You’ve got to accentuate the positive!
Eliminate the negative!Latch
on to the affirmative,
don’t mess with Mister In-Between!


You’ve got to spread joy up to the maximum!
Bring gloom down to the minimum!
Have faith or pandemonium’s
liable to walk upon the scene.

– Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer

An Upward orientation?

The clergyman at the funeral was saying the right kinds of words, but – for me, at least – it was flat, dry, and devoid of the Spirit. I didn’t get the feeling that he thought of God as present in the room or that his intent was to connect those of us in the congregation with the Spirit. I came away from that service yesterday, empty and sad. In what should have been a holy place, a church dedicated to the worship of Christ, I found only a human performance, someone who appeared to be ‘going through the motions.’ Admittedly, such a conclusion is subjective, but it caused me to think about living my own life with an upward orientation. I asked myself, “Jerry, do you keep your own heart and mind in tune with the Spirit? Are you living your life primarily to please other people or to honor your God? Are you a holy man in whom the Spirit is at home?”

Those are hard questions. I cannot say that I meet those goals anywhere near even most of the time, but I want to! Paul’s simple directive – “Pray continually!” (1 Thes. 5:17) is aimed at the same goal. He is not asking each of us to enter a monastic order where we can spend our days in a prayer cell hidden from the pursuits of life. Instead, he teaches us to become God aware, so that all our life is addressed to the Lord. The classic by the 17th century Brother Lawrence “Practicing the Presence of God” is about living in this way. Lawrence was a simple man whose primary duties in his order were not ‘spiritual.’ Yet, in his kitchen work, he found that he could live with an upward orientation, experiencing the Presence of God.

Paul says that the Believer who lives his life with an upward orientation, who is filled with the Holy Spirit, has a unique quality that is like an expensive fragrance. “Through us, he (God) brings knowledge of Christ. Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation—an aroma redolent with life. But those on the way to destruction treat us more like the stench from a rotting corpse. This is a terrific responsibility. Is anyone competent to take it on? No—but at least we don’t take God’s Word, water it down, and then take it to the streets to sell it cheap. We stand in Christ’s presence when we speak; God looks us in the face. We get what we say straight from God and say it as honestly as we can.” (2 Corinthians 2:14-17, The Message)

When I first dated my wife Bev, 32 years ago, she wore a fragrance called WindSong. From that moment, whenever I detect that same fragrance, I think of her because the fragrance brings back a memory. The Word says that when we put on Christ, He creates a quality of life in us that is undeniable. We must live so as to turn others attention to God- and for some that will be a life enhancing moment; for others, a reminder that they are dead to God!

Like Paul, I am daunted by this responsibility for as I’ve already admitted, I fall short of representing Him well to my world too often. Yes, on my own, I cannot consistently live with an upward orientation. Only the Spirit of God, living in me, overcomes my weaknesses and flaws, my sins and my failures. Jesus taught this using a different illustration. “I am the Vine, you are the branches. Those who remain in Me, and I in them, will produce much fruit!” (John 15) We are connected and from Him draw life.

As you venture into your life today, take Him with you.
Right now, take a moment to become ‘God aware.’
Now, ask the Spirit to make Himself known – to your thoughts, in your words- so that others, even those who are without faith in God, will say, “When he comes around, God comes with him.”
________________________

Father, we step onto the merry-go-round of life and it often gets hectic.
Our phones ring, deadlines come, fatigue sets in.
Please keep us in a place where we are aware of the Spirit.
Don’t let us live profanely, grieving You, pushing You to the edge of our mind and heart.

When we start to perform for others, thinking only of pleasing them,
remind us that You are the One we live for, that Your applause and approval
is what really matters. Protect us from empty religion, or even from spiritual acts done
to impress other people. Center our devotion on You.
This we pray in Christ’s Name. Amen.

Break the cycle!


In the book of Judges (not one of my favorite Bible books) there are stories that reveal a spiritual cycle that the people of God lived generation after generation.


They enjoyed God’s blessings and in the flush of prosperity became apathetic towards Him.
Then, they turned to other gods and the Lord withdrew His blessing from them.
As a consequence, they were unable to stand up to those who attacked them, and they were oppressed by foreign rulers.
In their distress, they cried out to God who, because of His gracious mercy, sent a them leaders that brought them back to Him.
When they returned to faithfulness to their God, they were delivered from oppression into renewed blessings!


This same cycle can happen to us in our own lifetime; and it is common across the generations. I am not talking about the rise and fall of our spiritual emotions, the highs and lows that come to each one. In the course of our walk with God we will traverse mountaintops- from which we enjoy wonderful vistas of faith and bask in the beauty of God’s Presence- and we will descend into valleys where we cling to His hand though we cannot see beyond the moment. That is normal Christian life!


Andrae Crouch wrote a song that includes these lines about that:
So I thank God for the mountains,
And I thank Him for the valleys.
I thank Him for the storms He’s brought me through;
’cause if I never had a problem,
I wouldn’t know that He could solve them,
I wouldn’t know what faith in God could do! – Through It All



Of concern to us should be the tendency that we have to drift away from consistent faithfulness in the practice of spiritual disciplines. If we allow our commitment to cool, compromise creeps in, and we find ourselves far from God. Both Moses and Joshua challenged Israel to keep the faith! Moses told them to talk about the Lord at home, on the road, at work, in the morning, in the evening. (Deut. 6:4-8) His point was that they should never let a day pass without renewing their awareness of God’s presence. A generation later Joshua said, “Choose today, whom you will serve! As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!” (Joshua 24:14-16) He, too, was urging them to renew their commitment on a daily basis.


You and I must do this, too.

As life grows busy, it is so easy to become slaves of the urgent matters, leading us to neglect the important things! In times of blessings, we tend to put our spiritual lives on cruise control – leaving our Bibles unopened, our prayers unspoken, and times of corporate worship fewer and farther between. When troubles come, if we have not tended the fire of faith, we tend to blame God rather than run to Him. Our failure to stay near to His heart leads us to being afraid of the very One that is our Hope and Strength.


Here’s a challenge from the Word.
Meditate on it for a few moments today as you pray- “Lord, keep my faith fresh, alive- my commitment strong. For Your glory, Amen.”


“Let us go right into the presence of God, with true hearts fully trusting him.
For our evil consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.

Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise.
Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds.
And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near.
” (Hebrews 10:22-25, NLT)

What is different about you?




When Dean trusted Christ as Savior and Lord, he changed- really changed. A coworker who missed his risqué jokes and other things that were part of the ‘old man,’ said, “What’s wrong with you?” I think it might be better phrased, “What’s right with you?” Genuine Christianity is about personal transformation. We throw that word around loosely much of the time not actually getting to the real meaning of spiritual transformation.


In Revolution, George Barna writes – “Spiritual transformation is any significant and lasting transition in your life wherein you switch from one substantial practice or perspective to something wholly different that alters you at a basic level. Switching from a Methodist church to a Presbyterian church is not transformational; determining to live in accordance with a Biblical worldview is. Attending Sunday School after years of absence is not transformational; identifying one’s spiritual gifts, and grasping the call to use those gifts for the Kingdom’s outcomes, and initiating a lifestyle of service to others is….. Transformation is a significant spiritual breakthrough… and you are never the same.. it redefines you.”


As Dean discovered, transformation – like all real change – is disturbing. It upsets the status quo and makes people uncomfortable. Jesus was radical about it! Read His shocking words: “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”” (Luke 12:51-53, NIV) Tepid religion that makes nice does not do that! Spiritual transformation does!


A person who has met God, who has confronted his sins and in whom the Spirit now resides, becomes a fanatic about loving God. His life, even more than his words, is a rebuke to those who are living for lesser things. His passion for justice, for holiness, for Christ is so overwhelming that those who do not know God often want the transformed person to go away and take “Jesus” with him. Let’s not get the wrong idea here. Some people are just obnoxiously religious! They rudely shove their religion in other’s faces, become the office Ayatollah who judges everyone else. That’s not the offense of the Cross. That’s just being ignorant and rude.

Genuinely spiritual transformed people often say little, but their life is so changed, that their very presence brings others to the realization of their own spiritual bankruptcy. In a story recorded in Acts 4, Peter and John go to the Temple for prayer. On their way they saw a man who could not walk and he asked them for some change. Having no money, Peter and John shared the power of God with him, and he was healed. They got arrested for it! Dragged before the religious council, they spoke passionately and eloquently about Jesus. The transformation from rough Galilee peasants to powerful men of God caused that council to take note that “these men had been with Jesus.”

Believer, are you being transformed by ‘being with Jesus’ or just reformed by religion?

Is your life totally re-oriented around a core love of God or are you just making adjustments, on the edges, in an attempt to be a marginally better person?

If we are seeking God, if we are in a daily conversation with the Holy Spirit, the Bible says that He will “…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.” (Romans 12:2, NLT)

Meditate on that challenge today! Pray, “Lord Jesus, change me – from the inside out!”

It’s no simple makeover, it’s a radical life change – a revolution.

_________________________

Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me.
All His wonderful passion and purity;
May His spirit divine, all my being refine
Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me.

copied – public doman

A missionary – 9 miles from home.

There are hundreds of opportunities to do God’s work right where you live. With more available resources, many Believers are taking trips to the far sides of the globe to teach kids, build churches, and share the good news of Jesus Christ in street outreaches. And that’s a good thing! Cross cultural short-term ministry in locations far from home can be exciting – exhilarating even. But, there’s a mission field right outside your front door! I ‘re-discovered’ that fact for myself yesterday.

I received a call from a woman requesting that I lead a memorial service for a man she loved for 31 years who had died last week. at a relatively young age of 55. At first, it seemed an odd request. The deceased man was a Buddhist! Initially I was inclined to refuse the request, but after listening to her, I felt compelled to do the service. I made certain she knew that I would speak of Jesus Christ and from the Bible. She said that would not be a problem. Arriving at the hall where there would be a brunch after remarks, I found a group of about 25 gathered. They listened quietly, politely, but without visible reaction, to the Scripture, the words, the prayers, and then I sat down, thinking to myself, “Why I am here? That surely didn’t go well!” I was at a table with four men, his buddies from work, all in their 50’s; men who showed the marks of labor, dressed in work clothes, whose words were rough despite their best efforts to honor the presence of the preacher at their table. As we ate, there was a strained silence for a time so I asked questions about their late friend. “What did he like to do? Tell me a story about him.” Gradually they opened up with recollections of the man. Then, out of the quiet, a man sitting at the table said, “I don’t hold much with religion. But, I guess he knows now what we’re all gonna find out sooner or later.” General agreement was mumbled and nodded all around and then they all looked at me! On reflection, I am not all that certain that I said anything all that profound, but when I stood to leave, they thanked me for coming to spend some time with them in their time of grief.

On my drive back home, I realized that I had just made a missions trip,’ though I’d only traveled 9 miles! I had, for a few moments, stepped into another world that exists virtually outside of my front door. I pray that something I said or did reflected the Light of my Savior to those who were living in spiritual darkness.

We must let ourselves think, even for a moment, that real needs exist only across an ocean or in a land far away. Spiritual needs and opportunities to love others in the name of our Lord are all around us.

Did you know that you could join a team and visit in a local jail for a Bible class and to be a friend once a week?
Did you realize that there are nursing homes that would welcome your presence an hour each week to read to someone, or even to conduct a worship service?
Did you know that Big Brothers and Big Sisters are always looking for volunteers to mentor a child?
Did you know that there are elderly people in our community who would consider a couple of hours a month to help with household maintenance a gift from Heaven?
Have you considered that the people at the lunch table at work might be your mission field?

“Come on, Jerry, my life is already full. I am busy.” I hear you! I am not interested in leading any guilt trips today. Perhaps you are already fully engaged in using your spiritual gifts (we all have them!) to accomplish God’s work. And yes, I know this too, we each have differing callings and opportunities. Just make sure you’re actually seeing the needs and stepping up in obedience to do what the Lord is asking you to do. Jesus led the disciples into the region of Samaria, to be among people that were ‘invisible’ to them. Then He challenged them as he would challenge you and me: “I’m telling you to open your eyes and take a good look at what’s right in front of you. These Samaritan fields are ripe. It’s harvest time! “The Harvester isn’t waiting. He’s taking his pay, gathering in this grain that’s ripe for eternal life. Now the Sower is arm in arm with the Harvester, triumphant.” (John 4:35-36, The Message)

Jesus told us that when God’s Spirit rested on us, the transformation of our lives would cause us to become living demonstrators of the Truth of His Gospel ‘in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ Are you only seeing the need that exists far away? Don’t overlook your home town as a place to do God’s work. For most of us, it is our mission field!
___________________________

Out in the highways and byways of life,
Many are weary and sad.
Carry the sunshine where darkness is rife,
Making the sorrowing glad.

Make me a blessing, Make me a blessing,
Out of my life may Jesus shine;
Make me a blessing, O Savior I pray,
Make me a blessing to someone today.

Tell the sweet story of Christ and His love;
Tell of His pow’r to forgive.
Others will trust Him if only you prove true
Every moment you live.

Give as ’twas given to you in your need;
Love as the Master loved you.
Be to the helpless a helper indeed;
Unto your mission be true.

Make me a blessing, Make me a blessing,
Out of my life may Jesus shine;
Make me a blessing, O Savior I pray,
Make me a blessing to someone today.

Ira Sankey © 1924. Renewed 1952 Word Music, Inc. (a div. of Word Music Group, Inc.) CCLI License No. 810055

Honest to God?

In mid-week, when I put on a necktie and jacket, Bev jokes with me about ‘putting on my armor!’ But she’s on the mark. It’s amazing what a little strip of silk around his neck and a dress shirt can do for a man’s image. If I put on my blue jeans, sneakers, a sweatshirt and a baseball cap, I find people responding to me entirely differently than when I put on a suit and tie. Why? Because each outfit ‘says’ something about ‘who I am’ in that moment. Those who really know me, relate to me the same way regardless of my clothing. But, the larger world takes their relational cue from my ‘image.’ That’s a rather harmless illustration of the power of external appearances.

The sad truth is that many of us are all about the external image. We live as though life is one big movie set where we take on one role after another and act it out. The tragedy of this is that in the middle of all the pretending and posing, we often lose touch with ourselves and reality. It takes some real effort and a lot of growing up to stop posing for life’s camera! Image building, once the fascination of actors and politicians, is now the obsession of many Americans. “How do I look?” is the key question asked by posers and pretenders. The reality of their life matters little as long as they ‘look good’ to the world. The superficiality that is rampant in America feeds whole industries that are designed to help us project whatever image we’ve chosen as our ideal.

So, what’s wrong with that? Much, in every way!

First of all there is the issue of integrity. If we choose to appear to be somebody that we are not, we lie! Lying offends God and is terribly destructive. Perpetuating even a little bit of fraud requires increasing effort and more fraud, creating dishonesty that grows with a snowball effect.

Second, projecting an image is all about pride. Image is about the big “I.” When we are treating others as a mirror in which we see our own reflection, we will not concern ourselves about their needs. We will not be able to listen well. We will not be capable of being present and attentive. Instead we will be posing and preening like a little girl playing dress up in front of Mommy’s mirror! Every watch that tableau? A four year old will try on all kinds of faces, adopt different voices amusing herself with her own reflection. It’s funny when it happens with a four year old and a full length mirror. It’s pitiful when it happens with a forty year old trying on different ‘images’ for the world.

Third, who we really are eventually emerges. Better to have been real all along, don’t you think? Supposedly President Abraham Lincoln, renowned as “Honest Abe” said, “You may fool all the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all the time.” To which I respond, then why not choose to live honestly, openly, and authentically from the start?

God’s word calls you and me to humility. “…serve each other in humility, for “God sets himself against the proud, but he shows favor to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5, NLT) Jesus illustrated the quality of humility He desires from us on the night before His crucifixion. His disciples were pretending and posing, puffing and primping, as they fought over their relative importance in their little group. Full of themselves and in love with their images of self-importance, none of them would serve, so Jesus got up from the Passover meal and took up the servant’s towel and basin. He made His way from man to man, washing their filthy feet, in the custom of the hospitable household at that time. His choice to take the place of the lowest, though He was the Greatest, shocked and offended those men. Peter protested, “You will never wash my feet!” But Jesus did. “After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because it is true. And since I, the Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.” (John 13:12-15, NLT) I don’t think he meant we should have foot washing rituals! He spoke to much larger issues of serving each other without considering whether such service was in keeping with our image!

Friend, are you trapped in pretense and image-building?
Are you trying to be someone other than who you really are, trying to escape some past shame by covering it up, trying to compensate for some hole in your resume by claiming titles you have not earned? Know this – God loves you. Yes, it’s true. He knows exactly who you are, what you’ve done, how you think – and loves the real you. He can use you: not the pretender, not the poser- but the real you. He can forgive your sins, heal your hurts, and give you spiritual gifts that overcome your innate weaknesses. He will maximize your strengths. But the baseline requirement for being used by Him in the most effective way is to become ‘honest to God’ real.

Ponder this word from the Word today. — “Obey God’s message! Don’t fool yourselves by just listening to it. If you hear the message and don’t obey it, you are like people who stare at themselves in a mirror and forget what they look like as soon as they leave. But you must never stop looking at the perfect law that sets you free. God will bless you in everything you do, if you listen and obey, and don’t just hear and forget.” (James 1:21-25, CEV)

"I am with you."

Monday I discovered that my riding mower needed the blades changed. After propping it up (safely!) I found I couldn’t turn the wrench and hold the blade at the same time. My neighbor, Tom, was working in his yard, so I called out, “Would you help me, please?” An extra set of hands made the job much easier to complete. Could I taken the blades off of the mower deck alone? Probably, but with frustration and skinned knuckles!

One of the memories that brings a wide smile to my face is that of my daughter, Chrissie, when she was a little girl. She was fiercely independent. (I wonder who she got that trait from?) I remember a wintry day when she was perhaps 4 or so and we were preparing to go outside. There she stood in the back porch with her winter parka upside down, her foot in the hood, and she was attempting to put her arms in the sleeves. When I tried to assist she brushed off my offer – “I do it myself!” and then became more and more agitated as her efforts failed.

Maturity brings us the realization that living like the Lone Ranger, aloof and self-sufficient, is not an ideal to emulate, but a foolish fantasy. On TV, the Lone Ranger may appear a romantic figure, but in reality, people who choose that path are just lonely and ineffective. We need each other. Sharing our lives, joining with others in deep and meaningful relationships, is a source of joy and multiplies our effectiveness. One of the keys of a successful life is learning how to relate well to others, how to collaborate on tasks, how to contribute to others and how to receive from others. The best leaders are not those who try to do it all by themselves, or who want to be the star of the show; but rather those who know how to draw together people of disparate skills into teams and then to keep the team inspired and unified!

Believer, Jesus Christ has given you and me a big job to do. “Go, build the Kingdom.” I hope you realize that He wasn’t telling us to create power structures and wealth building schemes! His commission was that we should go into the world and shine the light that dispels confusion and fear; that we should bring love and compassion that would defeat hatred and apathy; that we should demonstrate the purposeful existence to which God calls us for those who are living without hope. And He promises this- “…be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20, NLT) We are not alone!

When we grow weary, especially after a time of high output, we are subject to falling into the ‘Elijah syndrome.’ That great prophet saw a great victory on Mt. Carmel with the defeat of the Baal gods. But the victory of Yahweh, the God of Israel, infuriated Jezebel who threatened Elijah with death. Exhausted, he ran off into the wilderness. In his isolation, he prayed a foolish prayer – “I’ve been working my heart out for the God-of-the-Angel-Armies,” said Elijah. “The people of Israel have abandoned your covenant, destroyed the places of worship, and murdered your prophets. I’m the only one left, and now they’re trying to kill me.”” (1 Kings 19:10, The Message) Doesn’t that just ooze self-pity? But God didn’t give up on the prophet. Instead, He gave him rest and sustenance and then reminded him that there were still 7000 other faithful Believers in Israel. Then, God told him to go find a man to work alongside of him, someone to whom he could hand off the prophetic responsibilities, and he found Elisha.

If you really want to make a difference for God, maximizing both your joy and effectiveness, join a team! If you’re looking for a ‘perfect’ team, you will search for a long time, and should you find it and join it, your presence will ruin it. (’cause you’re not perfect, and neither am I.) Bring your strengths, your spiritual gifts, and your weaknesses! Let God use you as you are content to be who you are – no more, no less. And never forget what Jesus promises – “I am with you!”

Here’s a word from the Word to ponder today –

“You can easily enough see how this kind of thing works by looking no further than your own body. Your body has many parts—limbs, organs, cells—but no matter how many parts you can name, you’re still one body. It’s exactly the same with Christ….

If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance. You are Christ’s body—that’s who you are! You must never forget this. Only as you accept your part of that body does your “part” mean anything.” (1 Corinthians 12: 20, 26-27, The Message)

Choose!

Making a choice can be a liberating experience. All through the past Summer, I pursued replacement of my car. For three months I spent time on the Internet researching various models, visited showrooms to do test drives, and calculated the difference in costs between buying a used car and a new one. Only God knows (literally) how much time I used (wasted?) in the process of finding another car. Then one day at the end of August, I made a decision. Within an hour’s time, I had signed the contract. My choice liberated me from the ongoing search for new wheels.

When we were serving a church in Massachusetts, my daughters approached High School graduation dates and I knew in my heart that God would be sending me to another place of service. In early 1999, I began to pray that He would guide us in the new step. “Where do you want me to go, Lord?” I prayed about the possibility of missions. I considered various regions of the country. I evaluated the gifts He’s given me to use in His work. Then, in the Summer of 2000, an opportunity was presented to us and we prayerfully followed through. The choice to accept the pastorate of Washington Assembly in August was liberating. No more wondering, ‘where, how, what?’

Making a choice, committing ourselves to a course of action, allows us to move forward. But some of us will not choose, because we want to keep all our options open.

Joshua, at the end of his life, called the people of God together and presented a challenge of choice to them: “Fear God. Worship him in total commitment. . . . If you decide that it’s a bad thing to worship God, then choose a god you’d rather serve—and do it today. . . . As for me and my family, we’ll worship God.”” (Joshua 24:14-15, The Message)

Elijah, a few generations later, called the leaders of Israel together for a show-down and demanded a choice – “How long are you going to sit on the fence? If God is the real God, follow him; if it’s Baal, (the regional fertility god) follow him. Make up your minds!” (1 Kings 18:21, The Message)

Jesus came by the fishing boats of Peter and Andrew and said: “Come with me! I will teach you how to bring in people instead of fish.”” (Mark 1:17, CEV)

I believe that Holy Spirit is confronting us with the same question today! “Choose! Make up your minds. Come, follow me!” If we answer His call with a clear and unequivocal, “Yes!” we will find great freedom and new direction for life. The wondering and wandering will be over for us. Life will be purposeful. There will be moments of stress, times when we may wonder if we have taken the right way, but if we keep focused on Him, we will not fall or falter, for the choice is made.

To whom do you belong, friend? Is your choice made, or are you still ‘on the fence?’ Are you trying to protect all your options and as a consequence doing little or nothing for the Lord and His work? Are you miserable because you are trying to keep one foot in the things of this world and the other in the Kingdom of God? Choose! If you are not ready to make Him Lord of all, then do not attempt to make Him Lord at all! He is a jealous God and will not allow you to share your affections with other gods.

I believe that the single greatest reason people find their Christianity so unsatisfying is that they have not truly made the choice to follow Jesus. Many want Him to be their Savior. They want the assurance that God is there for them, that Heaven’s door will be open to them when the last act is played – but they want to hang onto their life, to live by their own desires, to say and do what they want, without seeking or submitting to the Lord God. In that double-mindedness, they are, as James says, “unstable in all their ways.” They cannot enjoy anything because they are trying to own everything.

So, choose today! If God is really God, then serve Him. Consider these words of Jesus and I pray that they will compel you to choose Him as Lord of life.
“Then another said, “I’m ready to follow you, Master, but first excuse me while I get things straightened out at home.” Jesus said, “No procrastination. No backward looks. You can’t put God’s kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day.” (Luke 9:61-62, The Message) ______________________

Jesus Is Lord Of All

All my possessions
And all my life,
Jesus is Lord of all.
All my tomorrows,
all my past,
Jesus is Lord of all.

King of kings,
Lord of lords,
Jesus is Lord of all!

I’ve quit my struggles,
Contentment at last,
Jesus is Lord of all.
All of my conflicts,
All my thoughts,
Jesus is Lord of all.

His love wins the battles
I could not have fought,
Jesus is Lord of all.

All of my longings,
All my dreams,
Jesus is Lord of all.

All of my failures
His power redeems,
Jesus is Lord of all.

King of kings,
Lord of lords,
Jesus is Lord of all!

© 1973 William J. Gaither, Inc. ARR UBP of Gaither Copyright Management CCLI License No. 810055

Step into the river!

Israel was at the door to the Promised Land once again. The second generation, the children of those who had left Egypt were now presented with the opportunity to take what God had promised them. Would they see the hardships and turn back as their parents had done? Would they allow fear to drive them to faithlessness? God said, “Be strong and courageous!” So spies were sent out on reconnaissance missions. Plans were made. The people were on the move. Then, they met their first obstacle- yep, there it was- a river that stretched along the entire border of Canaan, flowing at flood stage. What could they do? They turned to the God who made rivers and He said, “Step into the river and I’ll stop its flow!” In obedience to this seemingly impossible directive, Joshua placed the Ark of the Covenant on the shoulders of 12 priests and told them to walk into the river!

Joshua tells the story – “… as soon as the feet of the priests who were carrying the Ark touched the water at the river’s edge, the water began piling up at a town upstream called Adam, which is near Zarethan. And the water below that point flowed on to the Dead Sea until the riverbed was dry. Then all the people crossed over near the city of Jericho. Meanwhile, the priests who were carrying the Ark of the Lord’s covenant stood on dry ground in the middle of the riverbed as the people passed by them. They waited there until everyone had crossed the Jordan on dry ground.” (Joshua 3:15-17, NLT)

I’ve always wondered what it was like to be one of those priests. What did they think as they waded into that river? How long did it take before they saw the miracle start to happen? Did they hesitate, even for a moment? This story from Joshua reminds me that if I want to enjoy God’s providence I must be prepared to be obedient and take the step of faith before I see the result!

It’s not hard to jump on the bandwagon once we see the miracle in progress, is it? But, it is a real challenge to do what God tells us to do when all we have is a promise!

For example, I believe in the principle of tithing, that is, giving away the first 10% of my income for charity and the work of God in the world. I also believe that Jesus promised that God would bless the generous person who puts His work first in their finances. When my own financial needs were pressing, it was an act of faith to write those checks on the first of the month, giving away a substantial sum of money. But, I stepped into the river and throughout my life He’s always provided for my needs. Now, it’s not hard at all, because I’ve experienced His provisions.

The churches I’ve led through the years have come to moments of decision, when it was important to move forward in obedience, but when it seemed impossible to do so. At that moment, we had the choice of two roads – fearful retreat or faithful advance. Like the Israelis, my experience has been- to this day – that IF we’re moving in obedience to God’s directive, He does what needs to be done so that we can move ahead.

So, Believer, is there a river God wants you cross?
Then, stop talking about the decision and ‘step into the river?’

This principle applies in so many areas of our life in Christ.
Forgiveness is often a step of faith, offered when we just don’t think we can actually do it, and God gives us grace.
As I’ve mentioned, tithing is a step of faith.
Perhaps God is calling you to reduce your standard of living so you can spend more time doing ministry work. That’s a step of faith, isn’t it?
Has He called you to take on a new responsibility and you’re stalled, focused on the impossibilities? Step into the river!

The Bible says- “What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see .. So, you see, it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that there is a God and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.” (Hebrews 11:1,6 NLT)
_______________________

Step into the water,
Wade out a little bit deeper.
Wet your feet in the water of His love.
Step into the water,
Wade out a little bit deeper.
Come, join angels singing praises
To the Lamb of God.

There is vict’ry for the Christian
Who walks the narrow way.
There has been a prize appointed
For the soul who does not stray.
Oh, I want to live for Jesus,
Be all that I should be
So that I can rest with Him
Forever, live eternally.

© 1981 Homeward Bound Music. 1984 Assigned To Kirk Talley Music (Admin. by Integrated Copyright Group, Inc.) CCLI License No. 810055