Nothing, Nada, Zip!

I tend to cry much more often these days. It usually has nothing to do with being sad! I am just so humbled by what God does around me, with me, and for me. I received a cell phone call yesterday while shopping in Wal-Mart and felt foolish when my eyes glistened with tears as I heard a young man telling me about how the Lord answered his prayer- in a way that was immediate and amazing. While I listened to his wonder, hearing him describe his search to know God, I sensed the Spirit right there with me…. yes, even in Wal-Mart! In part my emotional overflow was a reflection of my own amazement at His great grace. I often sing the words to this song – “Why me, Lord? What have I ever done to deserve even one of the pleasures I’ve known?” (Kris Kristofferson) I ask Him that question so many times even though I know so well that He loves me because of His grace, not because I am smart enough, ‘Christian’ enough, or perfect enough to deserve His favor.

The Adversary wants you and me to get so focused on being ‘good enough’ for God, to start to believe that our goodness is producing the blessing of God (or conversely, that our hard times are the result of His punishment) so we lose the joy of being close to our Father. The fact is that He blesses because He is good. True, we suffer when we sin, but not because God curses us, but because of the ancient law of seed and harvest. We harvest the crop we plant. If we plant rebellion, resistance to God’s will, and selfishness, then we will find our lives full of misery. If we invite God to teach us to be gardeners in life that plant seeds to produce spiritual fruit, we will know a peace that supersedes the day to day circumstances of life. The Word says, “The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:8, NIV)

The key to doing spiritual work effectively isn’t our own strength, cleverness, or skills. It is humble obedience and reliance on the Lord. Every day we simply present ourselves to the Lord, thanking Him for His love, and asking the Spirit to guide us, to help us say a ready ‘yes, Lord!’ when He speaks to us. And, He will! The Bible says, “For in him you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge— because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.” (1 Corinthians 1:5-7, NIV) Yes, we must recognize that the ‘you’ that is the subject of this verse is a collective describing the Church. But, you and I am ‘in the Church’ and we can claim the promise of being empowered for a life of wholeness and holiness personally! Do you?

When I am on the edge of being overwhelmed by my fears and think that because I am so human that failure is just a step away, there is but one thing that can restore serenity to my soul. It is the assurance of the Scripture that “It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the Lord Almighty.” (Zechariah 4:6, NLT)

What strengths did God see in you and me? Nothing, nada, zip! But He called us and said, “I will enrich you in every way!” That is why we must confess our weakness and claim His strength.

Here’s a Word to take with you today… God “chose these “nobodies” to expose the hollow pretensions of the “somebodies”? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. That’s why we have the saying, “If you’re going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God.” (1 Corinthians 1:28-31, The Message)

The war of two natures

There are two distinct Jerry’s – in me! Now some of you are concerned. Relax, good friend. I am not suffering from a schizophrenic illness or a dissociative personality disorder. I am a normal human being with a spiritual nature, made alive to God by the Holy Spirit, and a natural man, with an active sinful nature. The spiritual nature in me loves God, is empowered by faith, loves others, lives to serve eternal purposes, is gentle and kind. The sinful nature, with which I was born, loves the things of this present world, is prone to fear, and is resistant to the will of God.

Without receiving the life of Jesus Christ, by faith, we are incapable of overcoming our innate sinfulness. We are cut off from the power of God, a state that the Bible describes starkly as being ‘dead in sin.’ Don’t read that to mean that without knowing Jesus we will all be social predators, rapists, murderers, and thieves. What the Bible teaches is that apart from Christ, we cannot live in faith, cannot respond to the Holy Spirit’s direction, and when pressed by problems- we will revert to our instinctive self-preserving behaviors. Through Christ, we come alive to God, receiving the Spirit of God, who creates in us the possibility of living in a way that is responsive to the purposes of our Creator. When we make that choice, our lives will be characterized by the evidence of the “God-life,” – “…the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23, NLT)

Dear believer, know this! The sinful nature does not die easily, nor is its defeat automatic. Too many times, preachers imply that with some religious experience, or through some program, or by some ritual means a person can become instantly and eternally holy. How I would like for that to be true, but it isn’t. It is a deception that leads to disillusionment and despair in the lives of many who hunger for true holiness. The truth is that the sinful nature is overcome – day by day – by learning the Truth and by ‘breathing in’ the life of the Spirit.

Discussing this duality, the Scripture says – “Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.” (Ephesians 4:20-24, NLT)

We can come away from a ‘mountain top’ experience- a spiritual retreat, a great worship service, a week’s vacation – and feel so full of God that we imagine that temptation will never touch us again. “The sinful is gone, forever!” We are filled up with love, suffused with joyful peace, overflowing in faith in those times. That is a good thing. Times of refreshing are exactly that – seasons in life. But we cannot live on the mountain all of the time. God calls us to serve Him in our neighborhoods, the office where we work, amidst the trials of daily life. And, we are drained, wearied; yes, even bruised and bloodied, by the power of sin and darkness which we encounter, sometimes in intensity approaching warfare. Does that mean we did not really meet God? Not at all. All it means is that we are not home in Heaven, yet! We are not victims. We are not helpless. We are not defeated. Why? Because, in Christ, we can overcome.

Believer, put on the new nature, created to be like God today. Let the truth of God change your way of thinking. In prayer, breathe in the life of the Spirit, which renews your hope and gives vision. Take up the cross of Christ, which is the high and holy calling of all who follow Him, and suffer the death of Self gladly.

“And that about wraps it up.
God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way.

This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels. Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own.

Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon.

In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.” (Ephesians 6:10-18, The Message)

Amen

God still speaks!

Bev and I went to see the movie, “Evan Almighty.” It’s a predictable, clichéd story about a man elected to Congress whom God tells to build an ark in suburban Virginia in order to save his family from a pending flood. Humor in the movie is not sophisticated, i.e., the Biblical command to Noah is “build the ark from gopherwood.” Evan Baxter notes that the the delivery truck that supplies materials for his ark is from 1-800- Go-4-Wood. Ouch! (My recommendation? Save your money and see it when the DVD is released.)

There are some good scenes with loads of cute animal shots. It is fun family entertainment – aside from the fact that kids might get a warped concept about the true nature of God. (He is Spirit and not a man who looks like Morgan Freeman.) Here’s what stuck with me. Why do we have such a hard time accepting that God speaks to people today? In the middle of the movie, I leaned over to Bev and whispered, ‘why do people nearly universally assume that if someone claims to hear from God, they must be mentally unhinged?’ Every character in the film assumes that when Evan Baxter claims to hear God speaking, he must have lost his sanity. I understand that grandiosity and hearing voices is often a sign of mental illness, but I also read the Bible and note that the Scripture is full of accounts in which people converse with God, are told to do impossible and amazing things, and who consequentially endure censure from friends and family.

I am certain that the work of God today is greatly hindered by our cultural assumptions about the ‘reality’ of hearing the voice of God. I wonder how many of us actually expect God to speak, or take time to listen for His voice, when we present Him with our prayerful petitions? There is a scene in “Evan Almighty” where “God” (ala Mr. Freeman) gives a great lesson to a doubter. He asks Evan’s fearful wife how she expects prayer to be answered. “If you ask for courage,” He says, ” shouldn’t you expect situations to present themselves that require you to be brave? If you ask for patience, shouldn’t you expect circumstances that demand some endurance?” Take that point, which is true, a step further. IF we ask to be used by God to do His work in the world, and that is the point of being a follower of Jesus, then shouldn’t we expect Him to lead into places of service?

Yes, if someone you know claims that God stopped by for a cup of coffee at breakfast time and gave them numbers to play in the lottery, or if they are saying that God has exempted them from the moral imperatives of Scripture so they can abandon responsibility for their family, or divorce their wife to marry the younger woman at the office, or buy a Lamborghini when they cannot afford the car they have- urge them to seek help! But, if they tell you that they have been hearing the whisper of the Spirit urging them to take a new course in life – such as leaving a lucrative career to serve in a ministry to those in need, or to sell their big house and invest themselves more deeply in spiritual matters – encourage them! Many will think they are just ‘having a crisis’ but I believe God still speaks!

He has spoken in His Word. That is the gold standard of Truth. No, He won’t create new doctrines or contradict His moral law. To claim ‘new revelation or new light’ is a dangerous thing that leads people over the cliff of self-destruction. Every cult on the planet started when someone claimed that God had shown them new truth! That is not the direction I am urging you to go today. I do believe He speaks to us, to guide us and direct us day by day, by the voice of the Spirit. So, pray that the Spirit will speak to you about things like how you can better show love to your family, about the places in your life where you have grown careless about His purpose, about the things you have come to love more than you love Him, about who He wants to love through you, etc.!

“. . .the Holy Spirit says, Today, please listen; don’t turn a deaf ear
. . . So watch your step, friends.
Make sure there’s no evil unbelief lying around that will trip you up and throw you off course, diverting you from the living God. For as long as it’s still God’s Today, keep each other on your toes so sin doesn’t slow down your reflexes.”
(Hebrews 3:7-13, The Message)

Complex world; simple faith

My life is organized around my confession of faith. God, the Creator, governs the world. I can know Him because of Jesus Christ, His Son, who is my Lord and Savior. The Holy Spirit lives in me, empowering me to serve His purposes. It is a simple faith, but not an easy one! The complexity of life challenges my faith almost daily. Things like Katrina (the hurricane that devastated SE United States), cancer, and human cruelty in all its various forms, beg me to question God’s power and presence. But, the choice is made – I belong to God and, by His grace, I will continue to love and serve Him for the rest of my days.

There was a time in my life when my faith involved many threads, clauses, and reservations. At that time, faith was more like a complicated contract than a simple statement! I struggled to make it ‘fit’ the complexity of the world around me, wrestling to explain all of the things that I observed in my daily experience within the framework of the faith I professed. Many prayers were offered up around the question – ‘why?’ A few of those questions have been answered over time, but most remain. What has changed is that I now enjoy a deep abiding sense of God’s Presence in this world. It is not that my life has become simpler! If anything, it is even more complex now than ever. I carry a greater load of responsibility for more people and a larger organization than I have at any time in my 52 years. Decisions that I make or in which I am a participant have a direct effect on the lives of others. That is, at least partially, why I have come to a faith that is more distilled around this core truth- Jesus cares and loves me, therefore, I can love and care for others.

This simpler faith has freed me from the need to negotiate with God, to beg His favor. I am more convinced that “God is for me, not against me.” I live in the confidence that nothing that comes my way is too big for Him, will surprise Him, or can overcome His gracious love. No, I am not a simpleton who lacks a grasp of the possibilities for pain or disappointment that exist all around me. I am still very much part of this world which is, in the words of Martin Luther, ‘with devils filled and threatens to undo us!’ But I am a subject of the King whose power has triumphed over sin, Hell, and death. So, with Paul, I set my hope in Christ Jesus. “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day. What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” (2 Timothy 1:12-14, NIV)

Let me urge you to choose simple faith. From the Word, understand the core Truth of God’s eternal nature, of the triumph of Christ, and of the Spirit’s power – and place those things at the center of your life. Ask the Lord to teach you to respond in faith to the issues of your life, choosing the way of the faithful consistently. And, you will find rock-like stability in a confusing, complex world! James reminds us of the importance of simple faith.

If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father.
He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it.
Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought.
People who “worry their prayers” are like wind-whipped waves.
Don’t think you’re going to get anything from the Master that way, adrift at sea, keeping all your options open.”
(James 1:5-8, The Message)

There are still many complex questions around the ‘what, when, where, why, and how’ of life! But, knowing Who holds the answers to those questions in His eternal mind is my rock of assurance. Do you know Him? Is He really Lord? Then, trust Him!
______________________________________

Under His wings I am safely abiding,
Tho the night deepens, And tempest are wild;
Still I can trust Him I know He will keep me,
He has redeemed me, And I am His child.

Under His wings, Under His wings
Who from His love can sever?
Under His wings my soul shall abide,
Safely abide forever.

Under His wings, What a refuge in sorrow!
How the heart yearningly turns to His rest!
Often when earth has no balm for my healing,
There I find comfort and there I am blest.

Under His Wings, Ira Sankey© Public Domain
CCLI License No. 810055

God’s rest or earth’s temporary diversion – you choose!

Life is not always what I think it should be. Sometimes the sun shines brightly and troubles seem far away. Then, there are those days when the Curse of the earth seems like it is focused exclusively on me – when nothing goes right! On those days, temptation rises in me. A little voice whispers – “Seek relief! Buy this! Go there! Do this or that!” Instead of going to a quiet place and waiting for the Spirit to bring the true rest that God alone provides, I want a quick fix for my aching heart. Temptation is especially seductive when we are tired or under pressure, isn’t it? What are you chasing today? What’s always in the back of your mind- getting a new car, finding a different job, taking a vacation? Why is that thought ‘stuck’ there? Do you want relief from something that is weighing heavily on you?

In those moments, we need to bring to mind the experience of God’s people as written in the Word. “Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us. And the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled.” (Romans 15:4, NLT) Consider the Israelite people and their temptation in the desert. With miraculous power God brought them out of Egypt. The trip through the wilderness, however, was hard! They were under pressure, dealing with a completely different life than they had known back in Egypt. And, they craved relief! Despite the fact that God, in great love provided all they NEEDED including daily rations which they only had to go out and pick up from the ground, a perfect food called manna, they yearned for something else. The Bible tells us that “the children of Israel also wept again, and said, Who shall give us flesh to eat? We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick: But now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes.” (Numbers 11:4-6 KJV)

What a terrible state of deception. “We ate freely…” was how they remembered when actually their food was purchased with their LIVES as slaves of the Pharaoh! “Nothing but manna…” they despised the special creation of food from Heaven’s kitchen! In Psalm 106:13-15 KJV we read this commentary on those actions: “They soon forgat his works; they waited not for his counsel: But lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert. And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul.” God allowed Israel to be ‘satisfied’ with stuff other than His manna, but their choice led them to spiritual poverty! Giving in to the temptation to seek diversion rather than receive rest came at high cost to their souls.

The same spirit that led them to obsess on the gourmet delights of Egypt led them to crave the gods of Egypt and to demand the creation of the golden calf idol which caused the death and destruction of many. The same spirit also caused them to miss the promise of the Lord God and to spend years wandering, literally in circles, in the remote areas of the Sinai waiting to die!

It can be difficult to stay contented with God’s Presence and provisions while we live in a world that batters us with messages of selfish pleasure and false heavens! If we are not renewed in worship that is infused with Word and Spirit, we will quickly find the ersatz ‘heaven’ offered in the ad for a Caribbean cruise drawing us away from the true Heaven of His Presence. Paul reminds us of the seduction of worldly wealth and pleasure and then points the way to LIFE — “Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself. But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.” (1 Timothy 6:5-7 KJV)

There is rest for your soul!
Let God meet the need you have today.

When temptation offers you a temporary diversion, a quick fix for your aching soul, turn quickly to the Spirit of God, and pray for wisdom and strength to wait for His answer.

__________________

Only in God, is my soul at rest.
In Him comes my salvation.
Only in God, is my soul at rest.
In Him comes my salvation.
He only is my Rock,
My strength and my salvation.

My stronghold, my Savior,
I shall not be afraid at all.
My stronghold, my Savior,
I shall not be moved.

Only in God is found safety,
When my enemy pursues me.
Only in God is found glory,
When I am found meek and found lowly.

Only in God,
John Michael Talbot © 1980 Birdwing Music (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing; Admin. by BMG Music Publishing) / BMG Songs, Inc. (Mech) (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing; Admin. by BMG Music Publishing)
CCLI License No. 810055

Be careful – it’s powerful!

I love the Truth. When I hear someone being something other than truthful – either through ignorance or willful dishonesty – it stirs up strong emotions in me. Why? Because terrible things are done under the cover of deception by those who choose to live a lie. For example, I remember the whole Watergate mess which someone has said was a ‘third rate burglary turned into a first class conspiracy.’ What brought down President Nixon was not just the work of a few men who broke into political offices under the cover of night. It was culture of manipulation and dishonesty that rotted his administration from the inside out. Eventually when the lies caught up to him, Nixon was forced to resign. A generation later, President Clinton nearly met the same fate. Why? Because he refused to tell the truth! Caught in a sordid infidelity, he tried to weasel his way out and forever more will be known as the President who wondered what ‘is’ is!

Truth is important in another sense, too; what we believe is true and thus, becomes the foundation upon which we build our lives. I know a person who is totally convinced that no one should be trusted, that everyone is a adversary against whom she must defend herself. Her whole life has a fortress mentality, is lived defensively and from behind locked doors. Her ‘truth’ shapes her life. By contrast I know another person who knows that God loves him, that God actively cares and provides for him. He lives joyfully, despite many difficult experiences. He loves and cares for others with a child-like openness supported by his trust in his heavenly Father.

For the Believer, there is a primary source of truth. It is the Holy Scripture that teaches Who God is, What He has done, and How we can please Him. It is powerful! That is why we are cautioned – “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly.” (2 Timothy 2:15-16, NIV) Correctly handle the Word of Truth! Do you study, know, understand, and apply the truth of the Scripture to your life, Believer? God gave us the Scripture to bring us to life, godliness, and wholeness. The Psalmist says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” (Psalm 119:105, NIV)

I am deeply concerned that many Believers have a superficial knowledge of the Bible – a few verses plucked from favorite passages, but no real grasp of the magnificent wisdom for life found in it. In part this is due to shallow teaching from preachers who are more concerned with drawing a crowd than creating disciples! It is also the result of poor interpretative skill regarding the Bible. John MacArthur, pastor and author, recently published a book called The Truth War. In it he creates a case (overly harsh in my opinion) for adopting a militant stand for the Truth of the Word. In one telling passage, he relates the story of a preacher who mangled the meaning and intent of the Bible to create a sermon that had no basis in Biblical truth. “A preacher preached a sermon from Mark 2, which tells about some men who brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus, lowering him through the roof so he could be healed. Mark 2.4 says, “They could not come nigh unto him for the press.” (KJV) This man took that phrase as his text and … sermonized for more than half an hour about how the press – the news media – are still keeping people from Jesus even to this day! But that verse has nothing to do with the news media. “The press” in that context is talking about the dense crowd.” – The Truth War, MacArthur, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2007

It is easy (I hope!) to laugh at such an egregious mis-use of the holy text, but it is really no laughing matter. Some Believers who heard that sermon were convinced to become adversaries of the media because of a wholly dishonest presentation masquerading as the Truth! The Truth of the Bible is powerful, life-changing, pointing us to God and eternal life with Him. Let’s respect it, learn it, and study it skillfully and with inspiration; for Jesus promised, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free!”
___________________________

O Lord our Lord,
How majestic is Your name.
Your words are true,
Your mercy does not change.
All Your promises are precious,
Reviving our faith.
Every one of themWill be fulfilled one day.

Oh, all Your promises
Are “Yes” and “Amen” in Jesus.
Your promises are true.
All Your promises
Are “Yes” and “Amen”
Lord Jesus,
We’ll keep running after You.

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

Does faithfulness matter?

Americans love BIG, RICH, and IMPORTANT, don’t we? If we are not doing what we do for many people or on a world stage, the temptation is to begin to believe that it is unimportant and/or that we can slack off on from a high level of performance. Think again! George O. Wood, who serves our national church as her General Secretary, wrote an essay that helped me to think again about faithfulness. What follows is derived from a letter he sent to pastors last week.

Name the 5 wealthiest people in the world.
Name the last 5 winners of the Heisman trophy.
Name the last 5 women to hold the title – “Miss America.”
Name any 10 people who have won either a Nobel or Pulitzer prize.
Name the last 10 teams to win the World Series.

I totally struck out. I can only recall a couple of those names! None of us can remember the headlines even from yesterday. These were the best in their field, but the applause soon dies, the awards tarnish, the achievements are forgotten. Certificates get buried with their owners.

Now, take a different approach.

List several teachers that helped you in your education.
Name 3 friends who were there for you in time of crisis or need.
Name 5 people from whom you learned something worthwhile.
List a few people that have made you feel special and/or appreciated.
Think of 5 people with whom you want to spend more time.

Not so hard, is it? We can rattle off those names fairly quickly. The people who make a real difference in our lives are not always those with credentials, money, or awards. They are the people who care, who show us that they love us.

From time to time, I’ll admit that pride tiptoes up on me and whispers, “Who cares what you do? Who cares if you show up, do your best?” Truth is, outside of a small circle of friends and family, I am unknown! When God calls me home, I fairly certain that no flags will be lowered to half-staff. So what? Does that mean my life does not count? Not at all. God has given me a place to fill, people to love, lives to touch. He knows exactly how much I am capable of doing, and He has given me gifts of the Spirit that perfectly equip me to fulfill His will perfectly. Will I? That answer is up to me and depends, not so much on numbers, but on faithfulness.

Be faithful, friend, wherever God puts you. Grow where you’re planted!

“As slaves of Christ, do the will of God with all your heart. Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will reward each one of us for the good we do.” (Ephesians 6:6-8, NLT)

Our Blessed Hope

No matter how relentlessly optimistic a person may try to be, there are days when the skies are dark! When the forecast is gloomy and the news headlines are all bad, it can hard to hold onto hope. Ever have those days? Sure you have, because we all do at one time or another!

Sometimes it is the state of the world that makes us think that there is no reason for hope in the future. Some scientists point to the rise in the globe’s temperature as evidence that the existence of humanity is at stake. Wars continue, fed by religious hatred, political feuds, and economic issues. Sometimes the source of discouragement is much closer to home. We experience sorrow when a family member contracts a debilitating disease, or when divorce tears up a home, or when a once secure job evaporates when the company folds. Sometimes the darkness is inside of us – a recurring depression, a sinful habit that threatens to overwhelm us, or fear of some undefined nature.

A dark mood often yields to encouragement from a friend who helps us to set it all in a better perspective. Taking a break and giving ourselves a few days to rest can be amazingly restorative for our emotions. Learning to master our emotions, using them to make our life rich but refusing to allow them to govern us, is important, too. There is a source of hope that is more effective in dealing with despair than a cheerful song, a couple days at the beach, or self-talk. What is it? God’s truth!

Those who belong to Christ will be concerned about the suffering and difficulties of life. They will go through the disappointments that all people endure – war, disease, temptation – included. However, they can rise above the despair that such things bring, because they know, by faith, that they are God’s own, held in His hand. John reminds us “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4, NIV)

This week I’ve been reading through 1 Thessalonians, the inspired letter that Paul wrote to a young church. It is short, just 5 chapters, but it is upbeat! What is the reason for the hopeful tone of the letter? Each chapter closes with a reference to the promise of Christ’s return. The apostle tells us to stay hopeful because our Lord has not left us to fate. He is working out His will in us, building His kingdom through us, and will come for us in the moment chosen in the will of God, the Father. Paul does not see the return of Christ as a reason for fear or dread at all! He takes great hope from that promise. “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. So encourage each other with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18, NLT)

Unlike some Believers who choose to use the promise of the return of Jesus as a reason to escape life’s troubles, Paul urges us to take hope from the promise and then to dig in to make a difference here on earth for God’s sake! The Blessed Hope infuses us with courage, keeps us steady, and gives us reason to serve and love in Christ’s name. Why? Because we know that even death itself cannot steal our reward. Our destiny is not a grave. Though our voice may fall silent here on this earth in death, we will shout with the saints when we are gathered ’round the Throne of God!

So, take hold of your hope – a hope based not on wealth, health, or sunshine – but rather on the Promise of the Lord. Pray for wisdom in dealing with the challenges, for restored perspective on current events, for the power of the Spirit to overcome the Enemy, and for faith to remain faithful! And may what Paul wrote of the Believers in the letter also be said of us: “The word has gotten around. Your lives are echoing the Master’s Word, not only in the provinces but all over the place. The news of your faith in God is out. We don’t even have to say anything anymore—you’re the message! People come up and tell us how you received us with open arms, how you deserted the dead idols of your old life so you could embrace and serve God, the true God. They marvel at how expectantly you await the arrival of his Son, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescued us from certain doom.” (1 Thessalonians 1:7-10, The Message)
____________________________

A parade began at Calvary,
And the saints of all the ages fill its ranks.
O’er the sands of time they’re marching
To their King’s great coronation.
And this could be the dawning of that day.

O this could be the dawning
Of that grand and glorious day,
When the face of Jesus we behold.
Dreams and hopes of all the ages,
Are awaiting His returning.
And this could be the dawning of that day.

All the saints are getting restless,
O, what glorious expectation fills each face.
Dreams and hopes of all the ages
Are awaiting His returning.
And this could be the dawning of that day.

This Could Be the Dawning© 1971 William J. Gaither, Inc. ARR UBP of Gaither Copyright ManagementCCLI License No. 810055

Saved and Sanctified

My mom tells an old story about a pastor’s wife she knew years ago whose son was always in trouble. When challenged by church members about her son’s seeming lack of Christian fruit, the dear lady sighed – “The boy is saved, but he’s not sanctified yet.” In case that’s just a little too much ‘church talk’ for you, let me explain. When a person turns to Jesus Christ and, in faith, accepts His offering of grace through the Cross, that one is ‘saved,’ yes, rescued from the judgment of God! On the other side of that experience, there should be an ongoing transformation of character, a change of behavior, which is called ‘sanctification,’ becoming useful to God with a life worthy of His high calling. A theologian of a century ago, A.H. Strong, illustrates it like this: “The steamship whose machinery is broken may be brought into port and made fast to the dock. She is then safe, but not sound. Repairs may last a long time. Christ designs to make us both safe and sound. Justification gives us the first- safety; and sanctification gives us the second – soundness.”
as quoted in Revolution of Character, Navpress, 2005

Of concern to me is the apparent desire of many Believers to enjoy the benefit of God’s grace through Christ without the transformation of heart and life! Some, it seems, want to be ‘saved’ and have the hope of Heaven on the horizon of life, but at the same time, wish to reserve the right to live their lives without constraint of the will of God. How wonderful it is to know Jesus as Savior – to find the relief of guilt through His forgiveness! Equally wonderful is the joy of letting the Spirit transform us, as we cooperate with Him, into people whose lives are marked by the ‘beauty of holiness!’ But many are duped by a diabolical lie believing that a holy life must be a dull, joyless, colorless life of religious acts and constant suffering. The sentiment printed on a T-shirt I saw last week reflects that deception. It read – “See no evil. Hear no evil. Speak no evil. – Have no fun!” This is nothing new! It is a repeat of the ancient deception of Eden where Eve became convinced that she could only know happiness if she discarded the Word of God. “You will be like God, knowing good and evil,” the serpent whispered to her, goading her to throw away her perfect relationship with her Father Creator.

Believer, there is joy in sanctification! That disciple of Jesus, who follows Him closely, who chooses to respond quickly with obedience; lives with serenity, enjoys tremendous authority over sin and evil, and is spared the fruit of disobedience which is always bitter after the initial illusion of sweet satisfaction.
He is transparent, knowing no need to hide any part of his life from the scrutiny of others.
His worship is genuine, not needing to be forced past the guilt of his hidden deeds.
He experiences daily guidance for he hears the voice of the Spirit more clearly, and thus, lives purposefully.
His life lends light to the world where he walks, helping others to see their way out of confusion.
His integrity grows for he is not ‘this way today, and that way tomorrow,’ for he is consistently God’s man wherever he goes.
He is trusted by the weak, sought out by the strong, and is a ‘friend of sinners’ without becoming a participant in their ways.

You may be thinking, “That’s not me, for that person seems perfect.” No, even the sanctified experience an ongoing insurgency of the sinful nature. There are moments of lapse when unholy thoughts, words, or actions break through. What then? The person who knows he belongs to God, repents, finds forgiveness, and makes no excuse for his sin. He accepts responsibility, makes restitution, and moves into a new day!

We cannot save ourselves. Becoming right with God is solely the work of Christ Jesus and we are recipients of undeserved favor. Sanctification is both God’s work and ours! We must cooperate with the Holy Spirit on a daily basis in order to live a holy life. There are choices to be made – sometimes painful, sometimes difficult, sometimes provoking scorn from others – that allow the transformation to continue in us. True holiness (not its imitation – self-imposed piety!) is a thing of beauty. Invite the Lord to make you both safe and sound, won’t you?

Here’s a word from the Word. Think deeply and prayerfully about the application to your life today.
“But friends, you’re not in the dark, so how could you be taken off guard by any of this? You’re sons of Light, daughters of Day. We live under wide open skies and know where we stand. So let’s not sleepwalk through life like those others. Let’s keep our eyes open and be smart. People sleep at night and get drunk at night. But not us! Since we’re creatures of Day, let’s act like it. Walk out into the daylight sober, dressed up in faith, love, and the hope of salvation.” (1 Thessalonians 5:4-8, The Message)
Amen!

The rush to judgment

Mike Nifong, the North Carolina prosecutor who was relieved of his law license last week, made a mockery of the notion of justice. A woman accused some young athletes of the crime of rape. As he rightly should have done, he began an investigation. Very soon investigators attached to the case realized that the evidence was not supporting the woman’s allegations, but Mr. Nifong had already gone on the public record with harshly accusatory statements and he stubbornly chose to stick with his initial assumptions through the legal process. He made choices to withhold exculpatory evidence from the courts. Finally, justice caught up to this man who lacked the integrity to be a custodian of the law and he was officially disgraced! He failed in his role as a prosecutor because he made a premature decision about the guilt of the accused, instead of seeking the truth that the case would develop, and waiting for the judge and jury to form the judgment.

Some of the regrets in my life are centered around a tendency shared by a majority of human beings – to form a pre-mature judgment about the actions of another. More times than I want to remember, I have jumped to conclusions about what really happened or just assumed that I knew why someone was acting in a way that I thought wrong though I had no actual knowledge of their thought process. I did it with my kids when they were young! Sometimes I handed out discipline before I knew enough of the facts. Even today, I too often decide that I know the real problem, only to later I find out that my assumptions were faulty. One of the deacons who serves in the church of which I serve as pastor has warned me – “Keep your hands off the keyboard for at least 24 hours!” He knows the problems that can be created with a too-quick email response from a person who only thinks he has the facts straight. Often I find that where I thought I “knew” that the other person had some evil intent; in reality, they were afraid, or did not know of alternatives, or they were overcome by their situation. A person who is not making the right choices needs someone who will take time to listen, who will work with them, who is patient while they work their way to a place of wholeness. A rush to judgment precludes justice, shuts down dialogue, and potentially destroys relationships.

Why do we do it? Prejudice, ignorance, stupidity, arrogance; even my own fear, are several reasons I’ve done it. How about you?

Jesus instructs us with this warning –
“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged. “
And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own?
How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye?
Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.”
(Matthew 7:1-5, NLT)

Jesus is not telling us to suspend good sense, to drop all standards of right and wrong in favor of some fluffy notion of love and acceptance. We need discretion! Yes, there is a time to say to another, “We need to talk, because the choices you are making are not right. They do not please God. They are harmful to others and to yourself.” However, we must be exceedingly cautious about climbing into God’s seat of judgment from which we hand down our conclusions in the assumption that we have all knowledge about the motives and actions of others. And we need the heart of mercy and grace that moved God when He saw us in our need to come and save us from our sins! While He can choose destruction, He graciously offers us forgiveness and reconciliation; patiently works with us to make us like Jesus, and gives us His Spirit to live in us to work the new nature into maturity. “God is patient, because he wants everyone to turn from sin and no one to be lost.” (2 Peter 3:9, CEV)

May the Lord help us to be patient, too. If we must speak of judgment, let us do so, not with any sense of gloating or joy at the destruction of another, but with genuine sorrow that they refused the grace of God to their own loss. When you start to form an opinion, or voice a conclusion about another today – I pray that the Spirit will restrain you saying, “Are you sure about that? Do you have all the facts?” And I pray that we will understand the word from the Word that says, “…continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8, NLT)