All grown up!

Each time we see our kids these days, it becomes more real that they are all grown up! The youngest is 25, and they have all been out of our house for 5 years or more, so perhaps I’m just slow to recognize the obvious. What I mean is that they are fully into their own lives, with their own circle of friends, financially independent of their parents, pursuing their dreams, with their own opinions and ideas about the world. And here’s the best part – I am thrilled for them! Sure, I miss the days when they came home from school and filled the house with noise. Sometimes I get lonely and wish they were closer to home. I worry about some of their choices, too. What parent doesn’t? But, they are all grown up just as we wanted them to be. We worked to get them to maturity, to help them become independent adults, because we knew that is how they would make their own contribution to the world and the kingdom of God. Jay, Sean, Chrissie, and Maribel will always be our kids, but they are no longer our dependent children – and that is as it should be.

Some parents ‘hover.’ They are so afraid to let their offspring experience disappointment or pain, so worried about a ‘wrong choice’ that they stay inappropriately involved in their kids’ lives. They keep on making decisions for their child, long after the time when that growing person should be choosing his own road. They provide too much support which perpetuates unhealthy dependence and stunts both emotional and spiritual growth. They remain in full parental roles long after their child should have become self-sufficient.

Did you know that our Heavenly Father wants us to grow up? Several passages in the Word refer to the importance of spiritual maturity.

Ephesians tells us that we should grow up in Christ so we are not subject to being misled by frauds who claim to be spiritual, but who are just out to take advantage of us. “We will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” (Ephesians 4:14-15, NIV) Tragically, some Believers won’t grow up. They remain totally dependent on spiritual leaders to tell what to do, how to live, where to go, how to serve. This place of perpetual spiritual infancy is sometimes created by pastors and teachers who want to stay in control. Sometimes is the result of Believers refusing the responsibility that come with maturity. God says, “grow up in Christ and learn to discern!” Interestingly, that same passage in Ephesians says that maturity has a most desirable by-product: unity in the Body. People who are mature know how to get along, how to blend their gifts and abilities into the Church, for the benefit of all. Dependence becomes independence which matures into inter-dependence.

Hebrews urges maturity in our spiritual experience that moves us beyond the basics. “For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong. So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds and placing our faith in God.” (Hebrews 5:13-6:1, NLT) Believers need to move into a Kingdom life. Some just come to Christ as Savior, and think that is it, the whole experience. They never deal with their sinful nature, never do the work of applying spiritual principles to their lives which allow them to become holy adults. Instead, they fall into a ‘sin, repent’ cycle; for they are unwilling to really deal with the sinful habits that cripple them. They do not want to mature with the help of the Spirit bringing about the end of childish ways. Mature Believers are not sinless, but they are increasingly spiritual! They grow ‘from glory to glory,’ learning to live in the Spirit, learning to use the gifts of the Spirit, and becoming productive in God’s work.

James observes that maturity brings ‘completeness.’ “You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.” (James 1:3-4, The Message) That is so practical, isn’t it? There is no easy road to being an ‘all grown up’ Christian! We walk out our faith and step into places where we experience pressure, disappointment, and even confusion. But, there in that kind of stress, we also discover what real faith is. As we work with God, pray and persevere, a completeness of character and faith emerges. We are ready to serve Him in an effective and productive way.

Are you a mature Believer, or are you still a spiritual infant?
Part of that answer will be determined by when you came to Christ. If you become a Believer last week, we stand ready to encourage you, to help you, to care for you as you grow. If you came to faith a decade ago, you should be well on your way – growing in Christ – and making a Kingdom difference.

Here’s a word from the Psalms about the quality of life that the spiritually mature enjoy. Let it speak to your life today.
” Blessed is the man (mature person)
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;

But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.


He shall be like a tree
Planted by the rivers of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.” (Psalm 1:1-3, NKJV)

Amen

The best you can be

Over the years I’ve read dozens of self-help books- how to be visionary, how to be a good parent, how to lead a church, how to be a better spouse, etc. Many rehash the obvious. Others are one person’s experience re-packaged. A few are truly helpful. Covey’s book, 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, is one that comes to mind. His simple principles, things like “Think Win-Win,” or “Seek first to Understand, then to be Understood,” have stayed with me. What I’ve known for a long time is that being the best person I can be will never be the result of ‘self-help’ alone! In fact, the brokenness of my human nature goes so deep that despite my best and highest intentions, I fail to reach the lofty goals to which I aspire. I needed an intervention and God stepped in!

There is a passage that describes what happened to me (and to millions more!) by the grace of God. Here are excerpts. “You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. … By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else. But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that … he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) … So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus. God saved you by his grace when you believed. … For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:1-10, NLT)

We can be the best person possible only when we are loved by God and love Him in return. Do not confuse that with being religious or church-going. Plenty of miserable people, who are living far below their God-given potential, sit through church services week after week, year after year – untouched by the majesty of the message of Christ! Do not mistakenly think that loving God equates with becoming a religious fanatic who spouts Bible verses endlessly, either. We love God by surrendering ourselves to Him and accepting Christ’s love and mercy by faith, by pondering His mighty works worshipfully, and by allowing the Spirit to move deeply in us, transforming us – over time- from sinners to saints.

There is nothing in this world that brings out the best in us like the love of God. Being spiritual healthy as a result of receiving God’s grace work and practicing the disciplines of the Spirit as taught in the Scripture opens the door to maximum living, the best you can be! Because of Christ, you can be a forgiving, gentle, loving parent and spouse. In Christ, you will find hope to overcome the sense of futility that often turns others into cynics. In Christ, you are connected to the Creator of the Universe, inspired to come up with creative solutions to the challenges of life that abound on this broken planet. In Christ, you have the ability to say “no,” to a life of endless consumption to satisfy sensual appetites and “yes” to the Spirit’s way of giving more than you take.

In the Word, there is this prayer that Pastor Paul offered up for those he loved in the church in Ephesus. Receive this prayer for yourself today-

“I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength— that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in.
And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.”
(Ephesians 3:16-19, The Message)

Begin to thank God for the potential He’s given you. Ask Him to inspire you to be the best you can be in His grace. Never just settle for what is easy, or natural! Let God create a masterpiece of humanity in you. Then others will say, “Thank God!” and the world will be improved by your existence. Is there anything truly better than that?

"Why bother? Who will even notice?"

Philip Yancey’s use of words on the printed page is a thing of wonder. Bill Hybels’ creativity in leadership is enviable. Dallas Willard’s insights on Christian discipleship are so deep! Billy Graham’s influence for Christ is amazing. Were I to focus on the gifts these men bring to the work of Jesus in the world, comparing myself to them, I would be unable to continue in my own work. Why? Because, in terms of results, what I do for God is inconsequential by comparison to what they accomplish. But God has not called me to fill their place; He has given me a place of my own. Someday when I stand before Jesus for the great and final performance review, He will not measure me against anyone else- great or small. He will evaluate my faithfulness to use the gifts and abilities He invested in me in the place to which He called me.

Why am telling you that? Because, I know that there are Believers who are doing little or nothing for God because they are convinced they have to be a super-saint in order to be of value to the Lord. They do not contribute anything, thinking that what they could do is meaningless. They are sidelined by a lie. Those who are not doing what they could do, are leaving gaps in the work of the Kingdom! In addition, they never realize their full potential because they will not start a small work!

When Judah was destroyed by invaders, the city of Jerusalem, along with the Temple of God, was reduced to rubble. Many said it would not, indeed, it could not, be rebuilt! A man named Zerubbabel committed himself to the task and many mocked his starting efforts, small as they were. But God’s spokesman told them, “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.” (Zechariah 4:10, NLT) The Lord promised Zerubbabel that the work would be finished, but not because he was strong or smart! Rather, his true strength came from the Lord. “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.” (Zechariah 4:6, NIV)

Believer, God has a place in which you can serve. Look around you. See the opportunities to do what you can do, then do just do it. (apologies to Nike!) Forget about the size of the crowd. Forget about how many will notice or even if anyone notices. Just ask God, “what do you want me to do?” If you sense that He is commissioning you to the work, then do for Him. His approval makes the most obscure act of service into something of worth.

Mark tells us about a woman found Jesus at dinner in the home of Simon. As the men ate, she approached Jesus and broke open an expensive alabaster jar of perfume, which she poured on his head. The men at the gathering were annoyed and criticized her for her ‘foolish waste’ of a thing of so great a cost. “Why,” they said, “she could have sold it and fed a lot of hungry people.” But Jesus saw it differently! He commended her act of love and reminded the men that as foolish as it seemed to them, “She did what she could. …. I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (Mark 14:8-9, NIV)

If you want to please God, serve! Don’t wait for the BIG moment, for the opportunities to change the world. You will die waiting. See the need that exists, right where you are. Present yourself to the Lord, as a servant, and prepare to let Him use you. Be faithful, even when few notice, fewer still express thanks, and even fewer results are measurable. Ignore the critics. Pray for the strength of the Spirit. Receive God’s gifts and do everything you are able to do to become as skillful as you are equipped to be. And, God will reward your faithful work. That’s guaranteed by His promise!
_________________________

Does the place you’re called to labor
Seem so small and little known?
It is great if God is in it
And He’ll not forget His own.

Little is much when God is in it,
Labor not for wealth or fame;
There’s a crown and you can win it,
If you go in Jesus’ name.

When the conflict here is ended
And our race on earth is run;
He will say if we are faithful,
Welcome home, My child, well done!

Little Is Much When God Is In It
© 1969 Stamps – Baxter Music (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc., 741 Coolsprings Blvd., Franklin TN 37067)CCLI License No. 810055

Oxygen for my soul

Without oxygen our bodies begin to die in minutes. If our air supply is cut off, within seconds, our brain notifies us to remedy the situation for, in a very short time, unconsciousness and death will follow. Remember when you went swimming as a kid and each kid attempted to be the one who could stay underwater the longest? That was a game I always lost! The need to breathe was far more important to me than the need to win. After 20 or 30 seconds, I was headed to the surface, gasping for air. In the Summer of 2005, when we vacationed in Colorado, we drove to the summit of Pike’s Peak. There, at 14000 feet above sea level, the air is crisp, clean, and thin! I felt light-headed. If I had attempted to run a distance in that atmosphere, I would have probably fainted. Just walking made me aware that my body was having a problem getting the oxygen it needed.

My soul needs the Spirit, like my body needs oxygen. Serving God with strength, living fruitfully, wholly, and holy demands a fresh, recurring supply of the air of the Spirit in my life. In the Bible, one of the descriptive words used for the Holy Spirit is “pneuma,” a Greek word which means “air” or “breath.” The Breath of God makes us spiritually alive! But, we can cut off the Supply!

A tragic figure in the Scripture is a flawed leader named Samson. He was called by God at an early age, but did not treasure the call or the gifts of God that came with that call. He mixed great service with low living, winning victories for the people of God while living with prostitutes from their enemies! God was patient with him for a long time, but then Samson went too far. His final love from the Philistines was a beauty named Delilah. Night after night, he lay his head in her lap, knowing that he was breaking the law of God. She pressed him for the secret of his strength, why he could defeat her people in battle time and time again. After playing games with her, he finally told her that his strength came from the Lord, that he was a man called and gifted by God, and that his hair was a symbol of that calling. After he had fallen asleep, she cut off his hair and God, seeing Samson’s willingness to profane the holy calling, withdrew His Spirit from him, leaving him just an ordinary man. The King James Version of the Bible uses a quaint phrase — “And she said, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And he awoke out of his sleep, and said, I will go out as at other times before, and shake myself. And he wist not that the LORD was departed from him.” (Judges 16:20, KJV) The breathe of the Spirit was taken from Samson and he was then weak, subject to the enemies of Israel, made a slave to the Philistines for years. Until he got up to fight them off, like he had always done in the past, he did not realize that his Supply of Breath had been cut off by his disobedience.

Believer, we can become weak, gasping for the Breath of Life, if we cut off the flow of the Spirit with our disobedience, too. It need not be some flagrant act of moral failure. Just ignoring Him, covering His voice with the loud music of daily life is enough to cause Him to withdraw His fellowship from us. When He lifts from us, we are weakened – and we suffer. The Word says, “do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (Ephesians 4:30, NIV) Do not cause the Spirit to lift from your by treating Him with casual contempt! When He speaks to you about some behavior that needs to change, when He calls on you to give yourself in some specific service, when He says “don’t” or “do,” respond with obedience. “Don’t grieve God. Don’t break his heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself. Don’t take such a gift for granted. “ (Ephesians 4:30, The Message)

Breathe deeply of the Breath of God.
Be strengthened.
Let the Pneuma fill you with vitality today, as you live closely, intimately with Him.
______________________

This is the air I breathe,
This is the air I breathe,
Your holy presence living in me.
This is my daily bread,
This is my daily bread,
Your very word spoken to me.
And I, I’m desp’rate for You.
And I, I’m lost without You.

Breathe © 1995 Mercy / Vineyard Publishing (Admin. by Music Services)
CCLI License No. 810055

Gotta love ’em!

There is somebody who sets your teeth on edge, just the sound of their voice as grating as finger nails dragged on a blackboard! Human relationships are complex. Some people, for reasons beyond our ability to fully understand, just push our buttons. When they appear, our blood pressure goes up along with feelings of anxiety or anger. Maybe it’s a neighbor who leaves his yard unkempt and piles of junk in his driveway. Maybe it is a demanding co-worker who expects everybody else on the team to carry the load while she keeps on whining about how hard life is for her. Maybe it is that person who is the perpetual ‘star’ in her own show, always needing – no, make that demanding – to stand in the spotlight of recognition. Maybe it’s your in-laws who always ‘know’ how you should be raising your kids. Maybe it is that guy who thinks he’s charming, but who is really an insensitive bore.

So, what’s the natural way to deal with irritating people? Shut them out, right? Just ignore them and hope they go away. If you see their number on caller ID, let the voicemail take the call. Build a fence so you can’t see their junk. Or move three states from your family to prevent them from meddling in your life more than once a year. These all work fairly well, if our goal is to protect ourselves. But, are they the Christ-like way?

What would Jesus do?

We don’t have to guess. He told us exactly how we are to relate to others, even the difficult people in this world. Take a look.“To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person. If someone slaps you in the face, stand there and take it. If someone grabs your shirt, gift-wrap your best coat and make a present of it. If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.

“Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them! If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal? Garden-variety sinners do that. If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that’s charity? The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that. “I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind. ” (Luke 6:27-36, The Message)

Tough words, aren’t they? He does not give us much of an excuse to be unkind, critical, or even neutral! Jesus demands that we take active steps to love those people we naturally would avoid. He shows us how to start- with prayer! No, not the ‘get’em God’ prayers that we are tempted to pray, but the “Lord, help me to understand them, to know how to meet their needs, to have the right words that help them grow in grace, to be a loving friend to them today.” Truthfully, it is next to impossible to continue to hate someone for whom you are actively praying everyday. The Lord continues in that passage by reminding us that difficult people provide us with an opportunity to be a servant. Yes, they serve God’s purposes in our lives by teaching us to surrender our rights, drop our defenses, and do what needs to be done for others. “Well, if I do that, they will just keep on being the way they are.” Perhaps that is true.

But it is also true that genuine love (not the fake air kisses variety that pretends politeness while thinking, ‘drop dead!’) is life’s most powerful change agent. God loved you and me to wholeness while we were still rejecting Him, doing our own thing, and ignoring His offer of grace. Can we do less for others?

Are you feeling anger or even outright hostility towards another person? How about confessing that feeling to God, without excuse or justification right now?

Tell Him how you feel and ask Him to change your heart. Then, take that step of praying for that person you really do not like. Keep at it.

In time, you will discover that the best change happened in you!

_________________________

“We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him. “ (Romans 5:7-8, The Message)

Do you really accept God’s Amazing Grace?

In our Bible class last night, we surveyed the book of Grace. Never heard of it? It is usually called the Epistles to the Galatians. What a letter it is. A key phrase is this – “I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.” (Galatians 2:21, NLT) We are made right with God, not because we are good, moral, or keep a set of religious rules. We are made right with God by faith in Christ alone! While most evangelical Christians nod in agreement with this, and few are in danger of taking on the practices of the Law of Moses, a different kind of law frequently creeps into the Gospel presentation. It showed up in our class last night. After a 45 minute study of grace, one man called me over and asked, “But what about all those people who claim to be Christians who still do….” and he added the old familiar recitation of ‘prohibited’ behaviors.

I understood his question because my Christian background was one that mixed moralistic law and the grace of Christ, too. There was always a list of ‘do’s and don’ts’ that qualified a person’s claim to be a Christian. The ‘do’ part always included church attendance, tithing, and reading the Bible. In my teen years the ‘don’t’ list included drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, and popular entertainment including movies and most TV shows. Of course, there were a lot of rules about sex, too, but at least most of those had some Biblical basis! The terrible tragedy is that keeping these rules became more important in the minds of many than truly knowing God and being filled with His Spirit. So many who find Jesus Christ and receive a new relationship with God through His grace subsequently turn to the Galatian error. “Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?” (Galatians 3:2-3, NLT) It seems we are almost incurably religious!

This impulse arises from a desire to be holy, which is commendable. God wants us to belong to Him. He teaches us that we are to leave behind the filthiness of sin and to be remarkably different from those who are not filled with the Holy Spirit. But such holiness does not come from learning the rules and then putting ourselves under terrible pressure to squeeze into the ‘Christian’ lifestyle, while inwardly hating every minute of it. Near the end of the book of Grace, there is the often quoted passage that is equally misunderstood. “The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!” (Galatians 5:22-23, NLT) What is the source of this new kind of way to live? The Spirit! We cannot consistently produce this quality of life by learning behavior modification techniques, by applying accountability principles, or through rigid self-discipline. It is ‘fruit,’ that is, evidence of God’s life at work in us, flowing out our faith connection to Jesus Christ. No fruit, no life!

For years I walked past an apple tree that stood in our front yard. Every year it produced a crop of red apples, but I never once heard it straining to create an apple, fretting about being around more apple trees, or saw another tree scolding it for failing to be ‘apple-ish’ enough. It produced apples because it was alive and living apple trees produce fruit. If a person is alive through faith in Christ Jesus and is opening his heart and mind to the Spirit’s Presence, he will produce fruit. If he is not fruitful, then the only conclusion is that he is not alive in Christ. Jesus says – “Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me. “I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant.” (John 15:4-5, The Message)

Grace is amazing, start to finish. We must not steal the splendor of God’s promise by adding our well-intentioned, but unproductive religious ideas to what He has started and finished in Christ. Look to Jesus and accept, day after day, His work of grace in your life. Let Him lead you to maturity. Yes, there will be hard moments, choices that require death to Self. But, if they come because you are following Him and obeying the Spirit, you will also know the grace to see it through. He never leads us into any place, and then abandons us there. We may run ahead of Him and find ourselves without comfort, but if we are listening and following, we have this absolute assurance – “Since He says, ‘I’ll never let you down, never walk off and leave you,’ we can boldly quote, God is there, ready to help; I’m fearless no matter what. Who or what can get to me? “ (Hebrews 13:5-6, The Message)

Turn to Galatians, the book of Grace, and read it again – as though for the first time! Don’t say, “Yes, but….” Just agree with the Word and receive, by faith, full and wonderful life that pleases God.
______________________

Grace, grace; God’s grace.
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within.
Grace, grace; God’s grace.
Grace that is greater than all my sin!

Freed by the truth!

On Friday evening, I attended a special presentation at a local church. A 4 year-old girl who knows me from Good Shepherd Christian Academy saw me there and came to sit with me. Since she had seen the program before, she kept me briefed about what was coming next, much to my delight. She made herself comfortable on my lap. At one point she looked me directly in the eye and asked, “Did you brush your teeth?” “Yes,” I answered, curious about the turn in conversation. She then proceeded to innocently and honestly tell me that I had bad breath! I was so amused, that I almost had to walk outside to regain my composure How many other people had I chased away that evening with halitosis? But, Kiarra, with her childish honesty, was free to tell me the truth, with no concern about offending me, at all. And her truthfulness provided me with important information so I could put a mint in my mouth and take care of a problem. I, too, benefited from the truth.

Do you grapple with the truth or do you prefer to live in ignorance? Some of us seem to prefer our fantasies and perceptions over the truth, don’t we? Many go to great lengths to avoid facing life’s realities. If we tell ourselves the truth about this world and ourselves, we are compelled to do something about what we know. Mortality is one of the facts that many work hard to deny or avoid. There is the cliché of mid-life crisis, that time ’round 45-50, when men begin to see the signs of age and buy a sports car or have an affair. It’s about avoiding the truth! There are those people who cannot face the emptiness of the life they have built around things, money, and image who keep up the illusion of significance by inflating their stories, desperate to avoid the truth that they have wasted life.

There are those who are refreshing honest with themselves and the world. They are, in a phrase, ‘at home in their own skin.’
These blessed people have learned to be who they are not pretending to be who they want to be.
They are content (not apathetic) with the place and opportunities of life as it is, not as someone says it ought to be.
They live above fashion, care little for popular opinion, and choose to do what is right because it is right, not because it will bring applause.
They have a good understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, about where they can make the best contribution to their world.
They don’t crave approval and are unfazed by the ebb and flow of human accolades, because they know and do God’s will, which gives them the ability to remain steady through it all!
Those who live truthfully are liberated to live their own life, free from pressure and opinion. Their authenticity makes them people we all love to be around because we don’t have to play any games and we know that we can trust them.

The Bible says – “Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like. But whoever catches a glimpse of the revealed counsel of God—the free life!—even out of the corner of his eye, and sticks with it, is no distracted scatterbrain but a man or woman of action. That person will find delight and affirmation in the action.” (James 1:23-25, The Message)
Isn’t that rich? People who hear the Word of God but don’t obey it, are as foolish as the man who sees his reflection in a mirror and observes his dirty face, but does not wash it and goes out to dinner thinking he looks great, even though he is, in fact, disgusting! People who look intently into the mirror of the Word and then respond to the Truth it reflects, are transformed, made holy, and set right. They gain the delight of being a person of whom God approves.

Jesus says it simply – “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32, NIV) Let’s be compelled by the Truth. As we hear and see it, let’s believe it and receive it. Then we will do the Father’s will.

Here’s a story Jesus told. Ponder it today, as you ask yourself, am I really committed to the truth and to obedience, or just saying the right words?

“A man had two sons. He went up to the first and said, ‘Son, go out for the day and work in the vineyard.’ “The son answered, ‘I don’t want to.’ Later on he thought better of it and went.
“The father gave the same command to the second son.

He answered, ‘Sure, glad to.’ But he never went. “Which of the two sons did what the father asked?” They said, “The first.”

Jesus said, “Yes, and I tell you that crooks and whores are going to precede you into God’s kingdom. John came to you showing you the right road. You turned up your noses at him, but the crooks and whores believed him. Even when you saw their changed lives, you didn’t care enough to change and believe him.” (Matthew 21:28-32, The Message)

And I know, yes, I know!

When I was 25, I was certain about many things. Making a quick decision was simpler then, not as complicated by nuance. With regret, I now understand that my certainties were often born more of ignorance than information! Life is shaded in more grays now that I am twice as old. I am much less convinced that I own the truth about many things than I was back then. Two decades ago, I would argue many doctrinal points strenuously, insisting that the Scripture was ‘absolutely clear’ on issues such as the prophetic timeline of the ‘End Times,’ or the role of women in ministry. So, have I lost my convictions and gone ‘wobbly,’ on the truth? Not at all. More than ever, I am convinced of the importance of knowing the Scriptures in a way that allows the Word to speak into our lives. I know there is no substitute for having a Christ-centered world view. I am unyielding in my embrace of the fact that God created us to know and do His will in this world. And this is the best thing I know: that Jesus loves you and me!

The Truth is much debated in our world, isn’t it? Some insist that Truth is something that is fluid, that each of one constructs his own truth out of our world view. In one sense they are right! The world looks very different through the eyes of people of different cultures and religions. But perspective is not necessarily truth. Some object, “but it is true to me!” Believing something to be true and the actual truth are not at all the same. I know a man that insists that men never walked on the moon, that the lunar missions of NASA were a great hoax that the American government put over on the world. He is convinced of this ‘truth.’ And he’s wrong! His sincerity is admirable, but the facts simply do not support his assertions.

The Truth is grounded in God. He cannot lie, does not deceive, and is the Truth. Those who would know and live in truth must start with this statement – “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1.1) Eugene Peterson writes about that with these profound insights: “First, God. God is the subject of life. God is foundational for living. If we don’t have a sense of the primacy of God, we will never get it right, get life right, get our lives right. Not God at the margins; not God as an option; not God on the weekends. God at center and circumference; God first and last; God, God, God.” (2002, The Message, Colorado Springs, Colo.: NavPress.)

The person who refuses to accept God as the First Cause, as the Source, will descend into deception. Here’s what Paul asserts about those who turn from the Living God. “God’s eternal power and character cannot be seen. But from the beginning of creation, God has shown what these are like by all he has made. That’s why those people don’t have any excuse. They know about God, but they don’t honor him or even thank him. Their thoughts are useless, and their stupid minds are in the dark. They claim to be wise, but they are fools.” (Romans 1:20-22, CEV) The Psalmist declares, “The fool says in his heart, “there is no God!” (14.1)

From the assertion that God is the Creator, the Scripture moves to the assertion that Christ is the Full Revelation of God! John writes, “The Word became a human being and lived here with us. We saw his true glory, the glory of the only Son of the Father. From him all the kindness and all the truth of God have come down to us.” (John 1:14, CEV)

Do you know the Truth?
Have you received Jesus Christ, who is Truth personified, as the way, the truth, and the life?

Meditate on this word from the Word today.
“(People) perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness. But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.” (2 Thessalonians 2:10-15, NIV)

Humbly thank God for the Truth. Trust Christ. Admit what you do not know, yes cannot know by inquiry alone. Then, invite the Spirit to open your mind to the Truth that God loves you through Christ. From that foundation, you will live in Truth, and through all the changes of life, the shifts in human knowledge, you will be able to say, “I know Whom I have believed, that He is able to keep that which I have entrusted to Him for that Day!” Amen.

A Perfume; A Stench!

When, as a Pastor, I am invited into another’s life to bring comfort in times of sadness or stress, I consider it a privilege. When I have the opportunity to help a family cope with loss, or to offer hope to a person who has lost sight of tomorrow, I am most thankful for the call of God to pastoral service. The moments I enjoy least are those when, as a Preacher, confrontation becomes necessary, when unsolicited correction must be given to someone who is wandering from the Way. It is hard to say, ‘this needs to change!’ Most of the time such confrontation is met with defensiveness or even outright hostility. But I know that my call involves being both pastor and prophet; that is, being a shepherd and a proclaimer.

Jesus’ ministry had two sides. Little children climbed onto His lap indicating He was a warm and approachable Man. A adulterous woman who was dragged before Him by men seeking judgment heard only the kindest words of restoration and forgiveness. A father whose daughter had died watched in amazed wonder as Jesus entered the dead girl’s room and raised her to life! What a ministry! Who wouldn’t want to love little kids, restore those broken by harsh judgment, and speak life-giving words? But this same Jesus was also the One who entered the Temple and, with a whip in his hand, drove out those who were making a profit from selling sacrificial animals- yelling “You have made this house of prayer into a den of thieves!” He was the One who looked a materialistic young man in the eye and said, “Go sell all your stuff, then come and follow me!” He was the One who said, “No one can serve two masters… you can’t love God and Money.” He was both a Shepherd and a Prophet!

So what does that have to do with you?
Believer, in this world we all are called to the work of Christ, which involves both comfort and confrontation! Love and Truth must find a counter-balance in our lives. If we only love, we lose the ability to call others to repentance, to conform their lives to the will of God. If we are only concerned with truth-telling, we lose the ability to lift up the broken, to make the truth that entrusted to us the Gospel – “Good news!”

Paul describes this two-sided mission in this interesting way. “God continues to lead us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume. Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing. To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume.” (2 Corinthians 2:14-16, NLT) A Believer who is filled with the Spirit of God, who is doing and saying exactly God leads him to do, will be – at the very same time – a sweet fragrance and a stench!

I feel like Paul who goes on to ask, “who is adequate for such a task as this?” – don’t you?
How can we fulfill our calling in a way that represents the Lord and His kingdom faithfully and with the proper balance of Love and Truth?

The answer is not found in ourselves or in some technique or even in a program in our church. Here’s what the Scripture says – “We are God’s sincere messengers, and by the power of Christ we speak our message with God as our witness… We are sure about all this. Christ makes us sure in the very presence of God. We don’t have the right to claim that we have done anything on our own. God gives us what it takes to do all that we do. He makes us worthy to be the servants of his new agreement that comes from the Holy Spirit and not from a written Law. After all, the Law brings death, but the Spirit brings life.” (2 Corinthians 2:17; 3:4-6, CEV) We are Christ’s ambassadors, entrusted with a message of reconciliation as we invite others to receive God’s grace. We are called to comfort and confront. How can we do it well and in a way that honors Jesus? By staying in a place of humble relationship with our God, where we are filled with the Spirit, our own agenda replaced with God’s will. When we live in that place near to the heart of God, He will lead us and help us. Then, “speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” (Ephesians 4:15, NIV)

May God give you a heart of compassion that offers comfort in Jesus’ name, as well as the courage to stand for the Truth, confronting those who err so that they will find the Way to Life everlasting.
________________________

Father, I thank you for making me Your representative in this world.
I confess my sense of inadequacy,
my fear that my words and actions will reflect poorly on Jesus.

Holy Spirit, fill me with wisdom today. Let me see past the obvious.
Protect me from judging others out of my own prejudice.
Let me love in a way that comforts and confronts.

Make me gentle and fearless, ready to be a fragrance and a stench.
Let the beauty and truth of Jesus Christ be seen in me.
In the name of Jesus, I ask these things. Yes, and Amen!

A bowl of red soup, a cup of laughter

I belong to a group strangely named – P.I.P. – which stands for Pastors In Prayer. We gather a couple of times each month with no agenda other than to spend a couple of hours talking to each other and to the Lord. Most meetings are relatively small, just 4 to 8 middle-aged white male types who share a similar life experience and calling to pastoral ministry. Just like church, some meetings are better than others. Sometimes we just get together, pray rather perfunctory prayers, and go home. Sometimes are like yesterday’s meeting. We had a hard time ‘getting spiritual.’ I don’t know why, but we were in high spirits, making fun of each other’s foibles, laughing at the ‘stuff’ that each of us is dealing with in our lives. Harry called us to prayer and read us some Scripture. As I knelt, I felt God, the Spirit, come near. When Chris prayed for each of us, by name, it was sweet to be lifted up. Later, we decamped to Enzo’s for lunch. The company of friends and the cup of laughter made my bowl of red soup more satisfying than a full course meal.

Here’s a curious thing. Every other Thursday, right around 11 am, things come up which make me think, “Maybe I should skip the PIP meeting today and take care of that situation.” I am not much of a conspiracy theorist, but I am convinced that the Enemy of my soul tempts me to neglect this important gathering because he knows the strength and encouragement that I find in the company of other Pastors when we seek the Lord’s face together!

All Believers need other Believers in their lives who understand and accept them, who can poke holes in their pretensions, and pray for them with true empathy. We need to be able to laugh and retreat from the work that piles up around us, not just in solitary pursuits, but in the company of our brothers. There is something godly and worshipful about sharing life at that level and then taking our cares to the One who sits on Heaven’s Throne! That is why we read in the Word- “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of His return is drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25, NLT)

Something has gone wrong with a kind of Christianity that thinks that a nicely ordered, and often rather impersonal, worship service is it! Yes, the corporate worship experience is a valuable time to learn the Word, to sing and pray together. But, we need a little group where we don’t have to be polite and/or explain ourselves, where both our tears and our laughter are welcomed, where we are encouraged to stay in the race. Many of us are so committed to function and purpose, we fail to appreciate just how valuable it is to take time regularly to sit down and just be a brother or sister to somebody. The greater pressures in your life, the more stress you are dealing with, the more you need this kind of camaraderie. It doesn’t just happen, either. Fellowship (a much over used word) requires that we make getting together a priority. It means we endure some meetings where the “it” factor is missing, where nothing seems to happen. It means that we work at building trust, that we set aside our images and get transparent.

Believer, I am convinced that in addition to all the programs of church; genuine Christianity involves time for sharing a bowl of soup and a cup of laughter. May God draw us together in the love of Jesus.
___________________________

Making your way in the world today
takes everything you’ve got
Taking a break from all your worries,

sure would help a lot.
Wouldn’t you like to get away?

Sometimes you want to go where
everybody knows your name,
And they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,

our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where

everybody knows your name.

You wanna go where people know,
people are all the same,
You wanna go where

everybody knows your name.

Where Everybody Knows Your Name
– Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo