Living Hope!

A person without hope is the saddest person in the world. I know, for I’ve been on the doorstep of that bleak house. In the mid-1990’s, I battled with severe depression. I experienced the terrible blackness that descends when it appears that there is no tomorrow, no reason for a new day to dawn. For several months at that time, I awakened each morning with an awful sense of futility shrouding every thought. The question – ‘why go on living? was never far from my conscious thoughts. There were two faint glimmers of light that flickered into that dark time – the promises of God and the love of my family. I clung, desperately to the truth of Scripture, though a part of my mind insisted that I was unworthy – that others might experience His loving grace – but not me. My family held onto me, loving me when I was silent, patiently waiting for their husband and father to reappear. Who knows the ‘why’ of depression? Was it brain chemicals out of balance, spiritual attacks waged to destroy me, or the result of disappointment in life? Probably there is some combination of those factors, but I experienced it as a time of almost total loss of hope. And, I thank God for allowing me to walk that road, for it changed me for the better, in every way.

It need not be clinical depression that causes the loss of hope. Chronic illness, accumulated disappointments in life, financial ruin, rejection of those we love – are but a few reasons that hope fades, replaced with resignation and/or despair. For the Believer, however, the great hope of life is set outside of this world, beyond the circumstances of the moment. Peter writes this amazingly wonderful passage of promise. Read it thoughtfully – “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:3-7, NIV)

The promise of eternal life, of a glorious existence in the Presence of God, is our living hope! This hope cannot be stolen from us for we are protected by the strength of God, which we own now by faith. “Yes,” Peter, acknowledges, “there will be grief and trials along the way. But even these are reasons for hopefulness. They are refining our relationship with Jesus and causing those who see us standing strong to realize that Jesus Christ is worthy of praise!” Out of this gift of faith, comes an amazing result. “Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy.” (1 Peter 1:8, NLT) Believer, when we set our hope on Heaven, when we make success in life, money, safety, health, and reputation secondary to faith in Jesus Christ – real joy grows in our hearts. Paul overcame the difficulties of his life with this quality of faith. He declared, “If God is on our side, can anyone be against us? God did not keep back his own Son, but he gave him for us. If God did this, won’t he freely give us everything else?” (Romans 8:31-32, CEV)

Are you fighting with despair? Are you attempting to soothe the ache in your heart with something of this earth – sex, food, pleasure, diversion? These things can be fun – for a moment. Sin is gratifying at the time in which we plunge into it. But, ultimately, sin only deepens despair! When the music goes silent, when we sober up, when the affair is over – shame and guilt come to collect their terrible payment.

Believer, seek God!

Make the choice that Moses made – “He chose to share the oppression of God’s people instead of enjoying the fleeting pleasures of sin. He thought it was better to suffer for the sake of Christ than to own the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to his great reward.” (Hebrews 11:25-26, NLT)

Learn from the Lord Jesus “who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls! “ (Hebrews 12:2-3, The Message)

May you find a living hope through faith.

What a Friend

Dennis Kozlowski was born in a poor neighborhood in Newark, NJ. With a combination of amazing ambition and incredible opportunity, he climbed the corporate ladder becoming the Chief Executive Officer of Tyco, International. His drive turned a small, unknown company into a profitable multi-national one, that made money for a lot of people. Along the way, Dennis lost his way! Making over $100 million a year, he became a symbol of greed and excess. There was a $60 million private yacht, a $2 million birthday party, the mansions in Boca Raton, Colorado, and New York, and private jets on call. Convicted of wrongfully using his company’s funds and tax evasion, he now occupies a small cell in a New York State Prison. The money is almost all gone, and, he is mostly alone! His wife, Karen, on whom he lavished gifts, divorced him. His friends disappeared. In an interview with 60 Minutes (CBS News) he sadly admitted that they didn’t care for Dennis, but rather for Dennis’ money.

Solomon observed that “Wealth makes many “friends”; poverty drives them all away.” (Proverbs 19:4, NLT) Jesus told a story about a young man who took his inheritance and went off to the big city where he “wasted all his money in wild living.” (Luke 15:13, NLT) He ended up alone, working for a pig farmer, and thinking about home. Who wanted to hang out with a guy who was broke and homesick? That’s the universal human experience. When we are winning at life, full of laughter, and going strong – everybody wants to be a friend. When the bad times come, sometimes as a result of our sinful and/or stupid choices and sometimes for reasons we cannot begin to understand, many of our ‘friends’ disappear. In those moments we discover who really loves us, don’t we?

A person who invests himself in building a network of real friends, not just party associates, is a wise man! One of my goals as a Believer is to love others authentically, not just the beautiful, the whole, and the happy, but all those that are part of God’s great big wonderful family. I want to filled with the heart of Jesus who loved the broken and cared about the hurting. The religious elite in Jesus’ time hurled this ‘accusation’ at Him – “he is a friend of sinners.” Those that they considered the outcasts of society, were not beneath Jesus’ friendship. I know about that because- He loves me! At the point in my life when I was most broken, spiritually and emotionally, He was there. That’s the kind of man I want to be for those who are my friends, a true friend for all times.

Acceptance should be the mark of the true Christian. Jesus said that our love for each other would distinguish us from the rest of the world. What kind of love? Certainly not the highly conditional kind that is withdrawn at the moment of failure, sickness, or misfortune! The quality of love that marks us is modeled on His love, a love that cost Him His life which He gave on our behalf while we were still rejecting Him, doing our own thing. His love for us is powerful. “First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first. If anyone boasts, “I love God,” and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both.” (1 John 4:19-21, The Message)

Know somebody who needs a friend? Be a friend to them! Make the measure of the quality of your friendship, the friendship you have received from God.
____________________

What a friend I’ve found,
Closer than a brother;
I have felt Your touch,
More intimate that lovers.

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,Friend forever.

What a hope I’ve found,
More faithful than a mother;
It would break my heart
To ever lose each other.

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,Friend forever.

What a Friend© Martin Smith 1996 Curious? Music UK (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing) CCLI License No. 810055

Have you considered the outcome?

Bill Mason is an intelligent man. He was on the road to a successful life. Financially, he was doing well. He was happily married. A property manager by day, he became a jewel thief by night, and a very good one at that. He loved the thrill of finding a rich prospect, casing the apartment where the person lived, making a plan, getting in, and grabbing the jewelry. He stole gems worth millions of dollars from the wealthy, the famous, and celebrities. Then, he got caught.

The first time around he caught a big break, got immunity in exchange for his testimony, and was slapped on the wrist by the justice system. Did he learn his lesson? No! Within two years, he was back at it, addicted to the thrill and the easy money. He got caught again, did several years in prison, was divorced by his wife, and destroyed his life. Now older and seemingly wiser, he wonders he would be living today if he had thought of the future, instead of chasing the thrill of the moment; if he would be successful, still with his first wife, whom he loved?

Most of us won’t become thieves or criminals like Bill Mason, but a lot of us will look for shortcuts through life, for the easy way to ‘success,’ however we define that. Solomon wryly observed – “There’s a way of life that looks harmless enough; look again—it leads straight to hell. ” (Proverbs 14:12, The Message) Whether it is personal integrity, spiritual maturity, financial success, or building a solid marriage; this is the truth – it takes wisdom to see beyond today and requires sustained effort!

God teaches us about the law of planting and harvest and it is not just true about what we put in our gardens! It is true in everyway. We must keep in mind that what we plant is what we will harvest; that we will harvest more than we planted; and that we will harvest only after we plant seeds!

Hosea preached to God’s people urging them to plant for a good harvest.
“Plant the good seeds of righteousness, and you will harvest a crop of love. Plow up the hard ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the Lord, that he may come and shower righteousness upon you.’

“But you have cultivated wickedness and harvested a thriving crop of sins. You have eaten the fruit of lies…” (Hosea 10:12-13, NLT)

One reason some give in to the temptation of the quick and easy way is that the results are so immediate! A person without integrity buys a degree online, exaggerates her experience, and maybe gets the job she wants. It looks so easy! But, then when she is exposed as a fraud, she loses it all! A person with integrity who wants to prepare for a long career put years in the classroom getting her degrees, takes the entry level job, deals with boring, miserable situations so that she can ultimately own the dream God put in her heart.

Take a lesson from the garden – weeds grow without cultivation. They grow quickly but they produce no fruit! If someone offers you a way that is ‘too good to be true,’ it is! If an opportunity appears that looks like a shortcut to the top, it will almost certainly lead to disaster.

Offer yourself to the Lord today. Ask Him to give you the courage, the wisdom, the patience to plant for a good harvest. Here’s a word from the Word to meditate on today. It’s familiar, but do not rush through it. Read with understanding, asking God to plant it deep in your heart.

“Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.” (Galatians 6:7-9, NLT)

Faith shows its true colors!

Yesterday I felt a lot of heartache. My friend, Joe, was having surgery to determine the extent of his colon cancer. I called his daughter to pray with her and found myself in tears as we talked to the Lord about her Dad. Another couple emailed to tell me that despite our fervent and hopeful prayers, they were not pregnant. I cried again, I think as much in frustration with the apparent silence of God in that situation as over disappointment. Another call came telling me of a man who is compounding his pain with one bad decision piled on another. I cried again, saddened by his blindness, praying for the Light to dawn on him. By noontime, I got in my car and drove away from the church thinking – “No more tears today.” But those who were suffering went with me, carried in my mind and heart. I remained prayerfully broken-hearted for much of the day. Is that a bad thing? Not really.

Providentially, my study of the Scripture for the day was ‘on point’ as we say. Here’s the text – “Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors.” (James 1:2-3, The Message) That is quite true! Normally on a Wednesday morning, I would busy myself with finishing notes for the evening’s Bible study class, answering phone calls, making contacts, writing letters; the stuff a Pastor does. Not yesterday! Several times during the morning, my heart became so heavy for those I love that I pushed away from my desk to walk into the hallway and breath a prayer; more like sigh really. Yes, indeed, my faith-life was forced into the open, my dependence on the Lord more obvious. The demand for prayer persisted even into the wee hours of this morning, when I spent time with the Lord- called from sleep by the urgency of lifting those who suffer to Him.

We’re so enthralled with the beautiful, the whole, and the happy that we sometimes deliberately close our eyes to the presence of the disfigured, the broken, and the sad. “Don’t worry, be happy!” goes the catchy tune which describes what many want as the ideal life – one with unclouded skies and endless laughter. But the Bible reminds us that there is something about those who are ‘not perfect’ (are any of us perfect, really?) that God can use to help us become kinder, gentler, and more loving people – if we let ourselves be touched by true need. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not asking for cancer, nor am I romanticizing the pain of deformity or sickness! But I am believing what the Bible teaches – that suffering plays a role in pulling me to Christ, in making me a better person than I likely would be if I never encountered a tough situation or shed a tear.

Stan Guthrie deals with moderate cerebral palsy. In an article contained in July, ’07 issue of Christianity Today, he talks about ‘stumbling after Jesus,’ describing how his disability creates opportunity for God’s grace to be made known in the world. From that unique perspective his words about suffering carry a powerful authority.
“I worry about our society’s desire to engineer trials out of existence. …
The Christian life was never meant to be a cakewalk, discipleship requires suffering, and spiritual victory presupposes struggle. …
Carrying the burdensome cross on the way to his execution, Jesus publicly stumbled and fell – a humiliation many of who are ‘differently abled’ are all too familiar with. …
We must not come to abhor those who suffer nor fear the trials that inevitably come our way. They are, to borrow an old phrase, means of grace. Only through suffering, disappointment, and death – and the rude remarks of children – are we weaned from the love of this world. There’s more to life than happiness.”

Beware of those who claim that Jesus Christ exempts the faithful from all sadness. Reject the twisted doctrine that teaches that with enough faith you can erase all disappointment, claim your prosperity, and make God do your bidding! He is God, and I am not. His ways, are higher than our ways. Yes, we work to build His kingdom and defeat the Curse of sin and suffering through Christ Jesus- but along the way to Heaven we will encounter plenty of it; and God will use it to mature us, to grow us deep in faith, and to release His grace into our lives, which will make something beautiful of our lives, beyond what we could ever be apart from His grace transformations. A broken heart can be like a prism which breaks white light into a rainbow of brilliant colors. As the Light of Christ shines through us we will refract the colors of faith before our world.

Here’s a word from the Word for your thoughts today:
“God opposes the proud but favors the humble.” So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.” (James 4:6-10, NLT)

Zealous, for what?

Ambition is one of those things that can be a blessing or a curse.

A person without ambition very likely will become a parasite who depends on others to keep him alive! Solomon’s proverbs refer to the man without ambition as a ‘sluggard,’ and observes “A sluggard does not plow in season; so at harvest time he looks but finds nothing.” (Proverbs 20:4, NIV) This man waits for life to happen, waits for easy money, big moments, and breaks. The consequence? A wasted life given to triviality.

At the other extreme, a person too full of ambition consumes everyone around him, turning people into objects to be used in his blind pursuit of fame, wealth, and power. This man is too busy chasing his dreams to be concerned with love, family, or loyalty. He’s all about ‘being somebody’ in this world.

The balance is found in being ambitious about doing what God has called you to do in the best way possible, but always for His glory. The Word urges us to “make the most of every opportunity.” (Col. 4.5) That is coupled with this admonition – “…whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31, NLT) Staying centered on that path, where we work hard and strive for excellence while keeping ego in check, requires a daily conversation with the Holy Spirit, regularly examining our heart asking Him to show us the smallest evidence of selfish ambition. Finding it, we must deal with it ruthlessly, or it will quickly corrupt everything we do. One way to know when ambition has gone wrong is to ask, “whose approval am I seeking?” If you’re asking – ‘what would the neighbors think of me now?’ or ‘how can I impress him/her?’ or ‘do I look good (and I’m not talking about your hair!)?’ – you’re aiming at the wrong goal. Somebody said we perform for an ‘audience of One.’ Our ambition is to please Him – always.

James says that selfish ambition, the way of the world, is devilishly destructive. Godly ambition will fill our lives with a harvest of good things!
He writes – “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.
But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.
” (James 3:13-18, NIV)

I want to make a difference in this world before God calls me home. That thought is never far from my conscious mind. “What are you doing today, Jerry, that is making the world in which you live a little better place?” But, I know it’s a loaded question that can be answered wrongly if I begin to measure making a difference in any way other than faithfully seeking and doing God’s will. I don’t always get it right, either! Too many nights as I lay my head on my pillow and review the day prayerfully, my true motives become clear and I realize that what I said, what I did, was aimed at securing my place in this world or shining the spotlight on my reputation. But, thank the Lord, He is ready to forgive and to change my heart. And then, too, there are those moments when I sense the Spirit of God offering approval when I have served Him and in some small way built up the Kingdom of God.

Don’t settle for drifting through life! Find out what God wants from you, then pursue it with your whole heart – always for the glory of God.

The worth of another – what measure?

Paris Hilton attracted a huge amount of attention recently when she was sent to county jail for a charge of driving with a suspended license. TV networks devoted hundreds of hours to covering the story that was basically meaningless. But then again, Paris always attracts attention, doesn’t she? You know who she is, don’t you? Why do people pay attention to her? It is not that she has changed the world by some great act of selfless service! It is not that she is brilliant and has made some discovery that will bring benefit to millions. She is young, pretty, and rich! On the same day that Paris was sent to jail, hundreds of other women were also locked up all over America but nobody cared for the majority of them because they were poor.

Wealth has always attracted the attention of others – as far back as we can track history! Money is a magnet. Access to resources gives a person power over others; the ability to buy services and influence.

Believer – among God’s people things should be different. Are they? It’s a tough thing to face in ourselves – to admit that we are biased in favor of those who appear to have more wealth! But, apart from an ongoing transformational work of the Holy Spirit, we will value people differently based on the mere appearance that they have wealth. James, in his letter to Believers, addresses this issue. He says, “if you have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, you won’t treat some people better than others. Suppose a rich person wearing fancy clothes and a gold ring comes to one of your meetings. And suppose a poor person dressed in worn-out clothes also comes. You must not give the best seat to the one in fancy clothes and tell the one who is poor to stand at the side or sit on the floor. That is the same as saying that some people are better than others, and you would be acting like a crooked judge. My dear friends, pay attention. God has given a lot of faith to the poor people in this world. He has also promised them a share in his kingdom that he will give to everyone who loves him. . . . You will do all right, if you obey the most important law in the Scriptures. It is the law that commands us to love others as much as we love ourselves.” (James 2:1-8, CEV)

Today, let’s invite the Spirit to show us where subtle bias for the rich is creeping into our lives. Let’s ask the Lord to help us to show the same courtesy, to extend the same respect to the person who is poor as we would to the one with wealth. I want to have the Spirit’s view of people; that sees each person for his character, that is aware of the spiritual needs of others regardless of the way they are dressed. the home they occupy, or the car they drive! If we treat the rich differently, another sin will find a place to take root in our hearts, envy. James warns us about that, too. “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” (James 3:13-16, NIV)

Contrast that kind of life with the one that is satisfied with God and good. Then, may you choose to live God’s way! “True godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. . . . So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content. But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction.” (1 Timothy 6:6-10, NLT)

_________________

Father, thank you for the promise that
You will provide me with all that I need,
if I will trust You with my life.

Help me, Lord, to be contented with the things I have,
accepting of each blessing You allow me to enjoy
without wanting what another has.Protect me from the sins of prejudice and envy.

Show me any place where they have taken root in my heart,
and help me to dig them out, to become a man who loves others like Jesus did.
To the glory of Your Name, I pray.

Amen.

Point me in the right direction, Lord!

Do you ever deal with being anxious? At one time or another, we all do. Health issues, financial decisions, job choices, the future of our children’s lives, our businesses – are all potential sources of worry. On more than a few nights my eyes refuse to close in restful sleep while my mind does calculations about some personal challenge, a decision I need to make, or the demand to develop a strategy to address an upcoming change in the church which I serve. When I feel stress, I am often not as gentle and patient as I ought to be which, later on, makes me feel even more stress about the words or actions I used when under pressure! I could excuse my tendency to be anxious, my short-temperedness, or my lack of faith with a dismissive ‘that is just who I am.’ I could point out that I am wired as a “type A” leader who is action-oriented. Or, I can do the right thing and submit to Jesus, my Master and Lord, letting the Spirit change my heart. Thankfully, He has done and is doing this in me, to the glory of His Name.

The late Dr. Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, a ministry that became a major force in the work of the Lord in the last 40 years, had many reasons to be stressed. He was head of an organization that was huge, that was always in need of funds, and that had thousands of associates on hundreds of campuses around the world. But, Dr. Bright was consistently a man of cheerful temperament, relaxed, and apparently beyond worry. His son reports on the moment when he came to understand why his Dad was this way, even under pressure. It was an interview with a reporter from a Christian magazine.
“Dr. Bright,” the reporter asked, “share with us a problem from your life that the average Christian could relate to.”
“I don’t have any problems” Bright replied.
The reporter pressed, “Don’t over-spiritualize this. We all have problems.”

“Young man,” Bright replied, “you need to understand that I understand that I am a slave of Jesus. A slave doesn’t have any problems. The only thing a slave has to do is what his master tells him to do. He doesn’t have to be successful. When you really understand that, all the of the sudden, you don’t have any problems anymore. All you have are opportunities to see God work.” – quoted in REV. Magazine, July/August, 2007

Anxiety is an expression of ego, a revelation that we assume we are ‘in charge.’ Faith that is deep and wide, causes us to surrender our illusions of mastery of our lives and to live at peace in the Presence of God. Now, we must be consistent in that faith. If we run ahead of the Lord and make decisions in our own wisdom: creating debt, taking on too much responsibility, etc. – it is immature and irresponsible to decide, only after the fact, to throw it all on the Lord and expect that He should painlessly lead us out of the problems that we created for ourselves! The kind of faith that allowed Dr. Bright to live with serenity started before he made decisions. He let God lead – from the beginning. Does that mean we can’t ask the Lord to help us with situations we created in ignorance or through willful expression of ego? No, of course not. He loves us even when we’re dumb or sinful. But we need to acknowledge our sins of presumption, first!

Today – at the beginning of a new week – take a few moments to give yourself anew to the Lord. Say it out loud – “Lord God, I am your servant. I exist to do Your will, to fulfill your expectations, to carry out your purposes.” Sum up the things that are making you impatient, that are keeping you awake at night, that make you weary from worry – write the list down – and lay it before the Lord and pray – “Lord, these are my concerns. I want to meet them in the way that You desire, for You know all my tomorrows, and You know what is best for me in the light of eternity.” And then, leave them there. You can find peace – no matter the situation.

Here’s a word from the Word to take with you today.
“. . . serve each other in humility, for “God opposes the proud but favors the humble.” So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor.

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.

Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your Christian brothers and sisters all over the world are going through the same kind of suffering you are. In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation.” (
1 Peter 5:5-10, NLT)

Watch out for ‘worldliness!’

Believer, as a result of knowing Jesus, our lives are to be distinctly different from the lives of those who do not yet know the Lord! Thank God for the difference. Because the Holy Spirit has restored our relationship to God and brought us life, we no longer are captives of lust, greed, and hatred. We are to be people of love, contentment, and joy. But, there are choices to be made – everyday – that allows the work of God to be accomplished in us. Let me illustrate with a little story. I enjoy country music and this week while I was driving to the hospital to encourage a friend, had Cat Country 96 on my radio. All at once I really began hearing what was coming out of the speakers! It was Trace Atkins singing about a middle-aged man in a bar who watching a young woman dressed in tight jeans dancing. The Holy Spirit whispered to me – “Jerry, is this song helping you to purely love the young women in your pastoral care?” It took me 2 seconds to change the station!! Laugh if you want to, but I’m OK with having a different moral standard for the Lord’s sake.

Here’s another example. Believers have recognized the importance of clean speech, ridding themselves of foul and profane expressions. Then a couple of years ago along came Donald Miller’s book, Blue Like Jazz, (overall I enjoyed it, by the way) which included a passage celebrating the so-called ‘cussing pastor’ of a church in Seattle who sprinkles his sermons with profanity in an attempt to be relevant to his culture. Being relevant is a good motive. Choosing to use profanity to do it is the wrong choice. I wonder how many Christians read Miller’s book and took that chapter as an excuse to keep dropping the ‘F’ word when they were upset?

Even as I write these words, I know there is a distinct possibility that some will make the same mistake that I made in my youth when I confused the guidelines for holy living with the reality of the Christian life! I thought I was a Christian because I scrupulously observed a code that did not allow for any ‘worldly’ entertainment, profanity, use of alcoholic beverages or tobacco products, etc. I got things out of order, thinking that my hard work at being good, at least according to the rules I had been taught, was what made me a Christian. The Word taught me that being ‘in Christ’ was what made holy living possible. Peter urges those who are filled with God’s Spirit to let His life fully develop. “Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world.” (1 Peter 2:11-12, NLT)

The difference in the lives of those who are filled with the Holy Spirit is a beautiful difference called holiness. It is expressed in big and small ways in our daily lives. And, when we choose to listen to the Spirit’s direction, holiness creates greater intimacy. Take a look at this passage – “…we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” “Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:15-18, NIV)

There is a balance between living ‘in the world,’ and being ‘of the world.’ Believers cannot share Christ with the people around if they close themselves into holy huddles that exclude everyone they perceive as ‘not one of us.’ But, if we are so full of the culture, the values, and the ways of the world – we will lose the intimacy with God that makes us distinct and that allows us to know those qualities that make Christianity a thing to be desired.

Here’s a word from the Word to ponder today.
“Do not love the world or anything in the world.
If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—
comes not from the Father but from the world.
The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.”
(1 John 2:15-17, NIV)

At rest in Him, filled with confidence

When I bought my car last year, there was a ‘bumper to bumper’ warranty that came with it for the first 36,000 miles or 3 years. Recently the leather on the driver’s seat started to crack and tear, so when I had in for service, I asked the service manager about it. Later when I picked it up, he said, “There’s a flaw in that and we’re ordering a new one for you which we will install at no charge to you, Jerry.” It’s great to know that at least until August, 2009 – there will be no auto repair costs in my budget. There is a kind of ‘rest’ that is produced by the guarantee and confidence that comes from my experience with a dealership that backs it up. I enjoy another kind of confidence, a real sense of settled peace, in an area of my life that is much more important.

My soul is at rest and I am full of confidence in God’s promise to save and keep me in His grace! This was not always so. When I was still a school age kid, there were days when I was not ‘good,’ and because of an immature understanding of the salvation that is ours through Christ, I reasoned that my lack of goodness was cause for fear. I heard a lot about Jesus’ returning at any moment for those who loved Him. “Rapture fever” was everywhere in the 1970’s! On those days when I knew I had done wrong, I would get off of the bus and run all the way to the house, throw open the door, and yell, “Mom!” If she answered, a great flood of relief would come over me. I figured my Mom was the most righteous person I knew, so if she was still around, then Jesus had not returned and I was not ‘left behind.’

Thankfully, since then I have found His grace is greater than my sin and that there is reason for confidence in His saving work. In His grace, there is rest; a real and settled peace for our souls. Here is how the writer of Hebrews explains it: “. . . there is a special rest still waiting for the people of God. For all who have entered into God’s rest have rested from their labors, just as God did after creating the world.” (Hebrews 4:9-10, NLT) “So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” (Hebrews 4:14-16, NLT)

The writer of Hebrews warns, again and again, about the possibility of turning away from the living God. “Make every effort….” is a phrase that is used repeatedly in Hebrews to encourage us to press on, to grow in holiness. The Word asserts that apostasy (rejecting the truth that saves us) is a distinct possibility. But, the warning is not a cause for terror! When we grasp the dimensions of the grace that is found in Christ Jesus, when don’t have to run and hide like Adam and Eve did when they sinned. As the Scripture quoted above teaches, when we fail, when temptation rises up and we make the wrong choice, we are invited to ‘come boldly to the throne… and receive mercy.” The greater our grasp of grace, the deeper will be our commitment. When we understand that Jesus Christ is a priest who really understands the temptations we experience, we will be authentic, transparent before Him, and thus find the Spirit’s power to overcome. If we believe, even a little bit, that we are capable of ‘saving ourselves’ by being good, serving well, or through some great sacrifice, we will never be at rest in Him.

In chapter 9 of Hebrews, we are reminded that once people had to bring the blood of animals to God for the covering of their sins. The writer reasons with us saying, if the blood of bulls and goats could take away the penalty of sin before God, “think how much more the blood of Christ cleans up our whole lives, inside and out. Through the Spirit, Christ offered himself as an unblemished sacrifice, freeing us from all those dead-end efforts to make ourselves respectable, so that we can live all out for God. ” (Hebrews 9:14-15, The Message)

Don’t let yourself live in fear, in an ‘up and down’ kind of Christianity that focuses on good works as the source of confidence! Look to the Cross of Christ. Come boldly to the throne of a gracious God and take the grace provided fully by Christ, whose offering for sin is complete. Be at rest in Him, and thus, filled with confidence that allows you to live a holy life that is heart-deep, truly authentic. From a place of blessed assurance, go and do great work, motivated not by fear, but by love and gratefulness.
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Do dogs go to Heaven?

The promise of Heaven is sweet! If your concept of heaven is drawn from movies and pop songs you really don’t have a clue! Heaven is not earth minus sorrow and sickness. Heaven is a whole new, wonderful existence in the Presence of God. I get amused when I am drawn into discussions about pets being in Heaven or romantic ideas about big family reunions, but I understand why we desire that. That dog who gives us so much happiness, those moments of good feelings that come out of big family gatherings, are high points in life, so we assume that if Heaven is about joy, then these kinds of things must be it. If your mental image of Heaven is a lot of people in robes, strumming harps, and floating around on clouds, no wonder you don’t look forward to going there.

Kevin Miller illustrates the difficulty that we have grasping the joy of Heaven in this way. “Let’s imagine that I tell my four-year-old son,
“Andrew, when you grow up, if you get married, your honeymoon will be one of the most delightful and wonderful times of your life.”
He says, “Oh, you mean I can take my toy dinosaurs along?”
“Uh, no . . . you probably won’t want to. But you’ll still have a fantastic time.”

“Well, can Jeffrey from next door come along on my honeymoon?”
“No, sorry,” I tell him.
“I don’t know if I want to go on a honeymoon, Daddy. It doesn’t sound like any fun.”
“Trust me, Andrew: you will enjoy it, even though you can’t understand it right now.”

Heaven will give us incredible joy—but at a higher, richer level than we’ve ever experienced. It’s natural not to understand it all now.” Discipleship Journal : Issue 57. 1999

The Bible only sketches the outlines of what Heaven is like for that very reason! Even if the Lord tried to explain it all to us, we just wouldn’t get it. The writers of Scripture use the images and language available in their attempts to describe what God was showing them about things that defy description. So you have Isaiah, Zechariah, and John telling us about amazing creatures that circle a Throne, about smoke, and seas of glass. We must not doubt their word, but we are wise to understand that they are using earthly language to tell us about a completely unearthly place! Thus, we must not force the metaphors too literally. If we do, we may miss the true wonder of what God has planned for our eternal home.

What do we know about Heaven that brings us hope and keeps us on track while we wait to go there?

God is there! “Uh, Jerry, how about something I don’t know.” I mean it! The God we’ve loved from a distance, Whose purposes and plans sometimes confuse us, Who actions are beyond our figuring out, will be our Friend, will be accessible, and we will worship Him face to face. John attempts to show us the wonder of that moment and says, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” (Revelation 21:3-4, NLT)

The beauty of it is beyond imagination. John talks about dazzling splendor, streets of gold, and pearly gates! Once again, he’s using the language available to try to tell us about things for which there are no words. What I do know is that God is the Builder, the Architect, of the place where I will spend eternity. I can see what He’s made here on Earth, a place ultimately destined for destruction, a temporary home – so I can only try imagine what He’s done with the forever home He’s prepared for His people.

All things are made new- no rust, no death, no sin! “And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:5, NLT) If you know me, you are aware that I like automobiles. Mine always shines and I take pleasure (too much perhaps) when I get a new one. The one I drove off the lot last year is already showing the signs of use. There’s a crack in the front bumper where a chunk of ice hit it last Winter. There are scratches in the paint from stones in the road. The carpet has become soiled despite my efforts to keep it clean. That’s just life! Everything we know is subject to decay and all living things ultimately die. But, in Heaven, it’s different. How? I don’t know, but God promises all things new and no decay! Jesus urges us to “Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy…” (Matthew 6:20, NLT)

Joy will be complete! Life’s happiest moments are always tinged with sadness here on earth, aren’t they? I so enjoyed my grandsons visit for the last two weeks. When they snuggled up close with me, when we shared lunch at Hotdog Johnnie’s, when they played in the yard and I listened to their little voices full of delight at bugs and beetles – it was great, a wonderful feeling. But, I knew that they would grow up in a few years and Grandpa would be the old guy they saw at Christmas, more and more remote from their lives. Heaven knows nothing of that kind of thing. There only joy reigns. There no ends are anticipated, no sorrow invades, no disappointment lurks in the shadows.

So, what about that opening line about dogs in Heaven? It was just there to get your attention! I don’t know — and in light of the glories I do know about — I’m quite content to wait and see what God has planned about that little detail.

Are you prepared for Heaven? The only way to know, for sure, is to receive Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior today! If He is that to you, then this is your promise: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.” (Matthew 25:34, NLT) Believer, do not lose sight of Heaven. The promise keeps us on track when the Enemy tempts us with sin. Heaven;’s promise gives us hope when life’s challenges rise up and seem ready to crush us. And, Heaven is our inheritance.
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Sing the wondrous love of Jesus,
Sing His mercy and His grace;
In the mansions bright and blessed,
He’ll prepare for us a place.

When we all get to heaven,
What a day of rejoicing that will be!
When we all see Jesus,
We’ll sing and shout the victory.

Onward to the prize before us!
Soon His beauty we’ll behold;
Soon the pearly gates will open,
We shall tread the streets of gold.

When We All Get to Heaven© Public Domain CCLI License No. 810055