A Spirit thing

Anthony spills over with enthusiasm every time we talk. Not so long ago, he was a typical American man; focused on making money, getting the cute girl, and driving his Hummer to impress. But it wasn’t returning the happiness he wanted. He was like a man with a thirst who couldn’t find water! Then a woman who was suffering took note of his spiritual need, caught his attention, and simply told him to start praying. Jesus met him and the Spirit started to work in his life. Over a period of about six months everyone around him noticed a profound transformation taking place, a sense of serenity, a love for others, a hunger for God. Anthony is not quite a saint yet. By his own admission, he is a work in progress. The part of his story that captivates me is that he did not start down this path by learning 16 fundamental truths of a church or by joining a class that taught him Christian doctrines. He pursued a relationship with God, met Jesus, and is being changed by the Spirit.

Do we too often try to make converts by convincing others of our ‘truth,’ instead of introducing others to Jesus? Yes, let it be known that sound doctrine is important. Anthony realized that a few months into his journey and started searching for a church where he could be taught about serving the God he already had come to love so deeply! That’s how I met him when he started to attend the church with his girlfriend.

Friend, do you love Jesus or do you ‘love’ an idea?
Is your faith a true walk with God or is agreement with a set of truths and a set of behavioral values?

In the average American church this Sunday a ‘worshipper’ will encounter little in the way of the ‘mystery of faith!’ The wonder of knowing God has been screened out, replaced with rational, reasonable, and practical programs and talks designed to help people cope with life. Spirituality, as presented by most of our churches, is fixed around being morally upright citizens, respectable people who make token references to a Jesus that lives only in an ancient Book and/or in the pictures on the Sunday School walls. Instead of embracing the pain, the struggles, the doubts that make us desperate to know God, we carefully air brush those things out of our church lexicon and work out neat explanations for life which we ardently believe – until they don’t work anymore – and then we become churched agnostics. Genuine spirituality is messy, mysterious, and uncontrollable and that’s simply too risky to encourage!

The true Christian life is a Spirit thing!
Jesus described the work of the Spirit to a man hungry to know God this way; “Unless a person is born from above, it’s not possible to see what I’m pointing to—to God’s kingdom.” . . .
Unless a person submits to this original creation—the ‘wind-hovering-over-the-water’ creation, the invisible moving the visible, a baptism into a new life—it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom. . . . the person who takes shape within is formed by something you can’t see and touch—the Spirit—and becomes a living spirit. . . .
You know well enough how the wind blows this way and that. You hear it rustling through the trees, but you have no idea where it comes from or where it’s headed next. That’s the way it is with everyone ‘born from above’ by the wind of God, the Spirit of God.”
(John 3:3-9, The Message)

A couple of decades later, when there were Believers all over the Roman empire, men and women whose lives were wondrously changed by the Spirit, along came religious teachers who tried to kill the mystery and substitute their systems and rules. Amazingly, those who truly knew God, the Holy Spirit, often were deceived by the religious tone and seemingly rational presentations. This led Paul, the messenger of the Spirit, to something like rage! To one group of Believers who had traded their relationship with God for a religion he wrote —
“You crazy Galatians! Did someone put a hex on you? Have you taken leave of your senses? Something crazy has happened, for it’s obvious that you no longer have the crucified Jesus in clear focus in your lives. His sacrifice on the cross was certainly set before you clearly enough.
Let me put this question to you: How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God’s Message to you? Are you going to continue this craziness? For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God.
If you weren’t smart enough or strong enough to begin it, how do you suppose you could perfect it? Did you go through this whole painful learning process for nothing? It is not yet a total loss, but it certainly will be if you keep this up!” (Galatians 3:1-4, The Message)

It’s a Spirit thing. Our faith is first relational, then propositional; knowing Jesus by the Spirit, and then learning the foundational Truths about life from Him.

A Beloved son

One of the demons that I deal with on a regular basis is one that tries to make me feel worthless! My life is filled with good things. I work diligently at my call. I enjoy wonderful friendships and opportunities. Yet, I still often feel like junk! The thought process goes like this: “Pastor Smith’s church is really growing and people in his congregation are excited about serving the Lord. If you were a better pastor, the Assembly would be like his church.” Or, “If you had real self-discipline you would lose weight, but you’re too lazy to do it.” Or, “Did you notice that Sam didn’t talk to you today? He doesn’t like you because he thinks you’re stupid.” Or, “It’s all your fault!” IF I listen to those suggestions, my day goes sour very quickly and I really do become a miserable man. So, where do those things come from? Is it some broken part of my psyche or is it a messenger of the Evil One? I am not sure, but this I know – it is not the Spirit of God!

God tells me that I am a person of incredible worth, a beloved son, for whom He gave His Son. The intimate love with which God sees me is spoken of with a curious little phrase in the Old Testament. Numerous times God refers to those He loves as ‘the apple of my eye.’ Whatever does He mean? That expression, “apple of your eye,” in the Hebrew text is literally “little man of your eye” and refers to one’s reflection in the eye of another. It refers, then, to constant attentiveness and care. (New Geneva study Bible. 1997, Nashville: Thomas Nelson) God gazes at me and I am so close to Him that I become the little man reflected on the pupil of His eye!

In another passage, the Lord speaks of His love for us, with a very romantic turn of words.
“No more will anyone call you Rejected, and your country will no more be called Ruined. You’ll be called Hephzibah (My Delight), and your land Beulah (Married), Because God delights in you and your land will be like a wedding celebration. For as a young man marries his virgin bride, so your builder marries you, And as a bridegroom is happy in his bride, so your God is happy with you.” (Isaiah 62:4-5, The Message) God loves me like a groom loves his bride!

When I listen to that Truth, the feelings of worthlessness give way to joyfulness. My heart sings, “I am loved!” Nothing in the world makes a person feel better than being loved. Poets have written countless words to celebrate love. Songs are sung about being in love! Granted, most of those words are about human love, about romantic attraction, or about sexual stirrings of desire. God’s love is even better – of selfless quality, of great depth, and extended even when the one loved is still resisting His love.

Are you tempted to feel worthless, Believer?
Do you compare your situation with that of another and conclude that you are junk? Are you listening to the hiss of the father of lies?

Meditate on the word of the True Father, who is gazing on you with deep love – holding your reflection in His eye! When you believe that He loves you, you will be freed to love those around you, with an extravagant love that does not calculate, manipulate, or even seek reciprocal love.

Here’s the Word to take with you today….“God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other.” (1 John 4:9-11, NLT)
__________________

Lord, I come to You,
Let my heart be changed, renewed;
Flowing from the grace
That I’ve found in You;
And Lord, I’ve come to know,
The weaknesses I see in me,
Will be stripped away
By the pow’r of Your love.

Lord, unveil my eyes,
Let me see You face to face,
The knowledge of Your love
As You live in me.
Lord, renew my mind,
As Your will unfolds in my life,
In living ev’ry day
In the pow’r of Your love.

Hold me close,
Let Your love surround me;
Bring me near,
Draw me to Your side;
And as I wait,
I’ll rise up like the eagle,
And I will soar with You,
Your Spirit leads me on
In the pow’r of Your love.

Power of Your Love,
Geofff Bullock© 1992 Word Music, Inc.
(Admin. by Word Music Group, Inc.) / Maranatha! Music (Admin. by Word Music Group, Inc.)
CCLI License No. 810055

Greater than you

Nehemiah listened to the men tell about what they saw on their long trip to Jerusalem, or what remained of the city. He remembered the stories his mother told of the splendor of God’s Temple, of the shining city on the hill, which was called God’s own city! Now he heard of broken down walls, ruins where the temple had once stood in honor of God, and something deep inside of him stirred. The Bible says, “When I heard these things, I sat down and wept.” We know something else happened, too. Nehemiah was seized with a vision to rebuild Jerusalem. A man living in a foreign capital that was more than a month’s long travel from Jerusalem ‘saw’ a new city arising from the ruins. The rest of his life was consumed with making it happen. That’s what we call – vision!

We all get excited about a dream, don’t we? But we need to remember that dreams are usually, born out of great need and/or deep sorrow. Neither need nor sorrow are things we willingly experience. But, if we will not feel or see the pain that is around us, or even allow ourselves to experience our own sorrow, it is not likely we will dream large. Left to ourselves we will choose the safest route, the way that is well traveled, and take it! We need to be disturbed. In the upheaval, God finds an opening to plant the seed of a dream in us. A growing vision pulls us off the road into the pits of life. Vision makes us dangerous! And, vision is very costly. Nehemiah’s good life in the palace of King Artaxerxes was over the moment he started to dream about Jerusalem. He left a safe city to journey in the places where bandits roved, to work harder than he had ever worked before in his life. He exchanged good for great!

Are you in a situation that causes you great pain? Or is there some circumstance that you see, day after day, that breaks your heart?

Consider that from that very soil God may be wanting to grow a vision for transformation in you!

Joni Eareckson Tada was an athletic young women who dove into the Chesapeake Bay and broke her neck. She survived, but without use of her body due to paralysis! Surrounded by other people in similar circumstances, she hated what she had become and wished for death. But then God broke through and gave her a vision. She went on to become the founder of a national ministry of encouragement, has spoken to hundreds of thousands of people over the last 30 years, and written about knowing God’s hope in the middle of devastation!

Don’t be one of those people who focuses his dreams on Self: who looks for a way to escape ‘real life’ with some quick fix, instant access to money, a new lover, or something equally selfish! That is not at all what God wants for you. Instead, take the situations of your life – good and bad, desirable and not so wonderful, ‘hopeless’ and promising – and lay them out before God. With faith like that of a little child simply ask Him – “Lord, what can you do with all of this?” Declare Christ the Lord of all and start to serve Him, right where you are, doing the things you know are right. Love, serve, worship, give, pray, love more… and allow God to lead you into His purposes. If you’re looking for easy, don’t even start! Easy is not what God is about. Leave that to Staples!

Take to heart the words that Paul gave to his spiritual son, Timothy- “…fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you … For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:6-7, NLT) And expect Him to fulfill this promise: “Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.” (Ephesians 3:19-20, The Message)

Got problems? Start looking for that emerging vision that God can give, to make a change – first in you, then in your world!
_________________

Fill all my vision, Savior I pray.
Let me see only Jesus today,
Though thro’ the valley
Thou leadest me,
Give me Thy glory and beauty to see.

Fill all my vision, Savior divine.
‘Til with Thy glory, my Spirit shall shine.
Fill all my vision that all may see,
Thy holy image reflected in me.

Fill all my vision,
Every desire keep for Thy glory.
My soul inspire with Thy perfection,
Thy holy love flooding my pathway

Fill All My Vision
© 1940 John T. Benson Publishing Company (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc., 741 Coolsprings Blvd., Franklin TN 37067) CCLI License No. 810055

A Dream Realized!

Wow! At the end of the Lord’s Day last night, walking across the church’s parking lot, I raised my hands and my voice in praise. “God, You have blessed me beyond measure, poured good things in great abundance into my life, given me a place to serve You that is wonderful! Thank you!” It was, as you might conclude, the conclusion of a good day! We enjoyed good times of worship, shared in Communion, and dedicated the new cafe area last night. That last item is one reason I was praising Him. It isn’t really a big deal, but it was another God-given dreams realized. I wanted to create a place in our church building that would be inviting, where people could sit and talk, strengthening our sense of community. And after a couple of years, or more, the “We Believe Cafe” is finished.

If you’re a faithful reader, you know that I am long on duty, that I believe in pressing on, being faithful even when the going gets tough; but I am also dreamer. No, I do not waste time on the fantastic escapist dreams that some develop to avoid dealing with the gritty stuff of everyday life. God has set vision in me that I cannot push aside. He causes me to hope for changed lives, to see things that do not exist yet, and to work to bring them to reality. Many things conspire to keep those God-given dreams from being born – focus on my own resources instead of God’s promises, fatigue when others just ‘don’t get it,’ physical weaknesses, people who say ‘it can’t be done,’ and spiritual forces that are always working against God and good! And yet, in the course of life, as I remain faithful to Him, He has allowed me to birth so many of my dreams; and for that I praise Him.

Do you dream? Do you know that God dreams great and glorious plans for you, dreams that He wants to pour into your life? In Ephesians 1, Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, exults: “God thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans he took such delight in making. He set it all out before us in Christ, … It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, He had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.” (The Message)

Hebrews says that through Christ, it is God’s plan to “bring many sons to glory!” His plan includes a mature faith, deep devotion, developed spiritual gifts, and a fruitful life. It is a unique plan that uses your personality, your experiences, your situations along with the resources of Heaven to create a life that glorifies the Lord! And, His vision for you culminates with your reception into the Father’s house, where you will spend eternity enjoying His Presence and love.

In your times of prayer and meditation, invite the Lord to inspire (the word literally means ‘breathe into’) you with new vision! Pray that He will allow you to dream. People of the Spirit need two sets of eyes: one they are born with that sees the world as it is and another that are God-given that lets them see the world as God wants it to be! That, Believer, is vision! The prophet Joel spoke of the Lord’s work in our lives with these wonderful words of promise. “I will pour out my Spirit on every kind of people: Your sons will prophesy, also your daughters. Your old men will dream, your young men will see visions. I’ll even pour out my Spirit on the servants, men and women both.” (Joel 2:28-29, The Message)

Years ago, when my children were teenagers resisting the direction I was giving them, I would try to instill a vision in them of the kind of person I was trying to help them to become. They didn’t always ‘get it.’ My hope was that by helping them to see past the moment, they would be motivated to choose to engage with life instead of just drifting with the crowd, that they would choose to resist the temptation to live in sloth and self-indulgence and work toward building a life that glorified God. Inspiring vision was a part of my godly duty as their father. Our Father in Heaven asks us to look higher, too. If we can catch glimpses of the glory He’s planned for us, we will more readily say “yes, Lord” to the rigorous discipline that brings us to share in His purposes. Living to our full potential, becoming a child of glory, is not inevitable! ‘But,’ you say, ‘it is the plan of God!’ That is true, but He allows us the freedom to choose to embrace that plan.

Today, ask God to help you understand His purposes. Let Him paint a picture of the glory He’s planned for you. It will not likely be the ‘glory’ that an earth-focused life envisions – great wealth, fame, celebrity. It will the glory of a well-developed character like that of Christ. It will be the glory of a worthy life that honors Him, that is filled with the mature fruit of the Spirit including love, joy, and peace in abundance. Then, “God will rejoice over you!” And, you too will know greater joy as He takes the situations and circumstances of life where you are, and shows you how to make those things into something of worth and value – living the dream!
_________________

Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
All else be naught to me, Save that Thou art.
Be my best thought Both by day and by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my breastplate,my sword for the fight;
Be my whole armor, My source of true might;
Be my soul’s shelter And be my strong tower;
Heavenward raise me, O God of all power!

High King of heaven, And heaven’s bright Sun,
Grant me its joys When my journey is done;
Heart of my heart, Lord, Whatever befall,
Still be my vision, O Ruler of all.

Be Thou My Vision© 1964, 1994 Selah Publishing Company, Inc. / Abingdon Press
CCLI License No. 810055

Insurance or treasure?

In my safe box at home there are some documents that are of considerable valuable, but I never look at them, read them, or consider their worth. They are insurance policies! In the event of my death, Bev would present them to the companies that back them and collect funds that would insure her financial security. I am glad that I have the policies, but I do not really treasure them. Many Believers regard Christianity much the same way as I regard my life insurance, valued but not treasured! They are glad to know that they can pray when times get tough, glad to have the assurance that Heaven awaits when this journey is over – but meanwhile – they are chasing other dreams, spending their time and money to own trinkets of temporal value.

The Gospel message is frequently cheapened in our time. Jesus is reduced to Heavenly Buddy, instead of Lord of Glory. From some presentations of the “gospel” a person could conclude that knowing Jesus is accomplished by saying a little prayer that expresses regret for past misdeeds (we don’t even use the word ‘sin’ since it is so judgmental) and inviting “Jesus to come into my heart.” After that, the only thing to do is to show up in church sort of regularly and put some money in the offering plate. And that’s being a Christian! Jesus says otherwise! In a couple of short parables He declares that knowing Him and experiencing the life of the Kingdom requires sacrifice, effort, and commitment.

Read it for yourself. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:44-46, NIV)

I can hear you asking, “So, Jerry, are you saying that we ‘earn’ our salvation? Are you suggesting that the what Jesus did for us on the Cross is not sufficient to save us?” Not for a moment. We can do nothing to add to our salvation, which is fully and freely provided by God through Jesus Christ. But, the life that has the goal of intimately knowing Christ, being a valuable citizen of the Kingdom, is one that requires difficult choices, self-denial, and a focus on a different treasure than fame or wealth. When a person is pursuing the Kingdom as his treasure, every decision is made in the light of serving Him and of seeking His will. It does not allow us to ‘do what we want to do’ in any given situation. Rather, we do what He wants done – forgiving those who wrong us, loving those who do not love in return, giving away our resources without calculating benefit to ourselves, taking on responsibilities we would rather leave to another, and so on.

Jesus again makes it clear that grace is free, but not cheap, when He says, ” One day when large groups of people were walking along with him, Jesus turned and told them, “Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one’s own self!—can’t be my disciple. Anyone who won’t shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can’t be my disciple. ” (Luke 14:25-27, The Message) “Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can’t be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33, The Message)

Believer, ask the Holy Spirit to help you evaluate your life today.
Honestly ask yourself –
“Is knowing Jesus a matter of having insurance or is He my Treasure? Am I keeping Him handy for times of crisis, or loving Him with my whole soul, mind, heart, and strength?”

And, then choose to own the Pearl of Great Price, for there is nothing and no one to compare with Him!
________________________

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

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

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

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

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

Knowing You© 1993 Make Way Music (Admin. by Music Services)Graham Kendrick CCLI License No. 810055

Tie a knot and hang on!

Days come when I wake up, survey the choices that face me about some situation, and say, “There are no good choices in this!” How does one choose from options that range from unpleasant, to bad, and worse? Thankfully, I don’t face that kind of dilemma all that often, but they do come my way – and certainly yours too. When I feel boxed in like that, I think of an old phrase – ‘When you’re at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.’ And, truthfully, it works. God requires patience of us while He works out the details of our lives.

I remember a time when I accepted a call that led me to a place of ministry where there was no money, a pile of bills, little confidence in my leadership, and a demoralized core of people. For a while, I thrashed around like a miserable animal with one paw caught in a trap. I awoke each morning dreading another day. The temptation to walk away was always lurking. But, in my heart I knew that God had called me to that place, so I dug in and waited, and waited, and waited. He worked in me and around me creating new opportunities, bringing new resources, and teaching me yet another lesson of faith.

In the Gospel of Mark, there is a story of a young son who suffered terribly with convulsions and seizures which the text attributed to a demon that afflicted him. The boy’s father brought him to Jesus’ disciples but because of their inexperience and faithlessness they were unable to help. When Jesus came on the scene, He reveals an unusual flash of anger with His followers and then says, “Bring the boy to me!” Listen to the desperation of the father- “Since he was a little boy. The spirit often throws him into the fire or into water, trying to kill him. Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.” (Mark 9:21-22, NLT) Jesus answered the man with a challenge. “What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.” (Mark 9:23, NLT) Why didn’t Jesus just heal the boy? Why does He draw this thing out? The text does not tell us. But don’t you identify with that boy’s father? I sure do. He might have been thinking – “Just do something NOW!” As Jesus challenges him the man faces a choice. Will he turn away offended or will he hold on? His reply is a model for us when we are faced with situations that try our faith! The father cried, “Then I believe. Help me with my doubts!” (Mark 9:24, The Message)

I’ve borrowed his prayer many times, crying out: “Lord, help me to hang on, enduring the storms, overcoming my fears, standing steady despite the doubts that sweep over me.” Believer, remember faith is not the absence of doubt! Faith is a response of trust that chooses to wait on God. Even Abraham, the ‘father of the faithful,’ wavered! More than once he made a short-sighted choice when faith weakened. But, the overall course of his life reveals a man committed to the purposes of God. Listen to the mixture of anticipation and realization in this statement about his life – “It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going. And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith—for he was like a foreigner, living in tents. And so did Isaac and Jacob, who inherited the same promise. Abraham was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God.” (Hebrews 11:8-10, NLT) He left his ancestral home, without knowing his destination! Do you think that was tough? I do! He got to a land where he lived in tents, temporary dwellings, while he waited for God’s promise to make a great nation from his son- a son not yet born as Abraham reached old age! Do you think that he ever wondered if it would happen? He sure did, the Bible tells us so. So, how can we call him ‘faithful?’ Because, in the middle of his doubts, he tied a knot in the rope he had, and hung on for dear life.

If you’re struggling today, hang on. Here’s a word from the Word. Ponder it and trust Him – even as you pray, “Lord, I believe! Help me with my doubts!”

“So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised. “For in just a little while, the Coming One will come and not delay. And my righteous ones will live by faith. But I will take no pleasure in anyone who turns away.” (Hebrews 10:35-38, NLT)

I’m Yours, Lord

They were “Verizon” men! Their folders were emblazoned with the company’s logo. Their dark suits were conservative, their white shirts starched, their ties knotted perfectly. When they spoke, it was with a practiced courtesy. The two young men in the church office were company representatives who set aside their individualism, their personal preferences – to do the work of their employer. They were commissioned to check our phone records and to talk with us to determine if there were any ways that Verizon could improve the way our communications needs were being met. And all this, they did for a salary!

I am a “Jesus” man! I represent Him to my world- hopefully with even more dedication than those two Verizon guys who visited our offices a couple of weeks ago. He has called me to set aside my convenience, my comfort, to give my life for His cause. Many Believers do not understand the Christian life in that way, at all. The message is inverted in this culture so that many come to Christ Jesus with the idea that He will make their lives easier. Many of our complaints before God are related to that upside down concept. We demand that God serve us, coddle us, and take away the things in our lives that we find inconvenient; growing angry when He asks us to give up our money, our time, or our preferences to serve Him. Have we forgotten the Word’s instruction?

Jesus “came to serve, not be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for the many who are held hostage.” (Matthew 20:28, The Message)
“Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—… Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever.” (Philippians 2:4-9, The Message)

Such commitment is costly, no question about it. It requires that everything – family, reputation, money, freedom of expression – be put on the line for God. And, truthfully, few Believers are ready to do that! A couple of weeks ago, I was part of a commissioning service for missionaries who were being sent out by the Assemblies of God to represent the Lord and to take His Good News to the far corners of the earth. There were dozens of young couples, many with small children, preparing themselves to serve in foreign countries, often under adverse conditions, far from family and friends. For nearly the entire service, I was choking on a huge lump in my throat and wiping away tears in my eyes. My prayers that evening was for them and for me, that I would be willing to lay down my life for Him, without complaint! How quickly I pray for blessings. How easily the words that ask for greater amounts of goods come to my lips. “Lord, bless me,” is a prayer that needs no practice. I do not so quickly pray, “Lord, use me! Send me anywhere, ask anything. My answer will be a ready yes, for my delight and desire is to serve You.”

We must never forget that this present world is not our home. We can try to settle in, to build our mansion and our fortune, but all too quickly it will pass away – or we will! We are God’s own, “Jesus’ people.” To the extent that we understand that and abandon ourselves to His cause, we are promised a rich reward. Believer, consider carefully His call to service and embrace it, knowing that in faithful obedience, in selfless surrender, there is a different kind of delight -a joy that surpasses the joys of self-expression and self-fulfillment.

Here is a word from the Word to meditate on today.
“Peter said to him, “We’ve given up everything to follow you. What will we get?” Jesus replied, “I assure you that when the world is made new and the Son of Man sits upon his glorious throne, you who have been my followers will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life. But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.” (Matthew 19:27-30, NLT)

"Buying God?"

“God if You will get me out of this mess, I promise I’ll give You …” Have you ever prayed like that? Every person alive, at one time or another, has attempted to bargain with God! The more desperate the situation, the more likely we are to try to ‘buy’ His favor. But, such an approach to God reveals a basic misunderstanding of Who He is. He is not a Potentate who waits for us to bribe Him for His favor; He is our Father who invites us to ask for what we need. What makes us think we can make a debtor of God anyway? Paul asks, “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?” (Romans 11:35, NIV)

In the book of Judges, a book of history from the time of the birth of ancient Israel, comes this tragic story – which should be a lesson to us about attempting to make a deal with God. It’s a story of unintended consequences!
“At that time the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, and he went throughout the land of Gilead and Manasseh, including Mizpah in Gilead, and from there he led an army against the Ammonites. And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord. He said, “If you give me victory over the Ammonites, I will give to the Lord whatever comes out of my house to meet me when I return in triumph. I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.” So Jephthah led his army against the Ammonites, and the Lord gave him victory. …When Jephthah returned home to Mizpah, his daughter came out to meet him, playing on a tambourine and dancing for joy. She was his one and only child; he had no other sons or daughters. When he saw her, he tore his clothes in anguish. “Oh, my daughter!” he cried out. “You have completely destroyed me! You’ve brought disaster on me! For I have made a vow to the Lord, and I cannot take it back.”

And she said, “Father, if you have made a vow to the Lord, you must do to me what you have vowed, for the Lord has given you a great victory over your enemies, the Ammonites. But first let me do this one thing: Let me go up and roam in the hills and weep with my friends for two months, because I will die a virgin.”

… She and her friends went into the hills and wept because she would never have children. When she returned home, her father kept the vow he had made, and she died a virgin.” (Judges 11:26-40, NLT) Since human sacrifice was forbidden, it is likely that Jephthah did not actually kill his daughter, but rather put her in seclusion for the remainder of her life! That is still a horrific fate for a beautiful young woman.

Jesus taught us that when we come to the Lord – even in those moments of terrible stress – we come praying, “Our Father, … give us today our daily bread…. forgive us… lead us.” He explains that human fathers, though marred by sin and selfishness, desire to provide for their children. That being true, how much more does it stand to reason that a perfect Father will provide for us? There is this caveat: He acts in accordance with His will and purposes. That fact requires great faith, for sometimes He says, “No,” to our request, but not because we have not earned a “Yes,” but because His plans are different from ours.

So, are you tempted to try to strike a deal with God?
Don’t insult His grace! Vows made in desperation may have terrible consequences. Promises made to anyone, including God, are to be kept. Better not to make hasty vows than to live with regret. Religion leads us to try to bargain with God. Understanding His grace leads us to love Him and to receive full provision, for every need, from His hand.Here’s a better way to understand your relationship with Him. Read this word from the Word.

” 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) “And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him.” (Hebrews 10:19-22, NLT)

You want justice?

The caller to the well-known talk radio host began to rail on drug users basically saying they were useless human wrecks! I waited to see how the host would respond, knowing full well that just a few years ago he had been in rehab for his own addiction to prescription drugs. This man known for his bombast, his judgments of the foibles and failures of others, and calls for swift and painful justice- fell uncharacteristically quiet and quickly went to commercial break. The caller was gone when the show resumed. Our own failures and sins can – and should – produce a healthy humility in us and a genuine desire for mercy. Do they? Or, do we compartmentalize our own sins, excuse them, and continue to clamor for ‘justice’ for those on whom we look down from our pedestal?

Jesus told a series of stories about lost thing in the 15th chapter of Luke. There was a lost sheep that the shepherd went out and found. All the people rejoiced. Yeah! Little lamb is back safe and sound. There was a coin mislaid. The woman of the house turned it upside down until she found the coin. All the people rejoiced. Yeah! Her fortune is restored. There was a lost son, beloved by his father despite his sin and rebellion. Finally, the wayward one returned home. The father, who is overjoyed, throws a celebration. Jesus puts an ending that is very different in this story. Instead of the people rejoicing, there is an older brother, a good son who worked hard and took care of his Dad and the farm who sees the joy of his father over the return of his drunken, immoral brother and asks, “where is the justice in this?”

“The older brother stalked off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. The son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!’ ” (Luke 15:28-30, The Message)

That part of the story is painful for me to read because I see many of the traits of that older brother in myself and in many Believers. Instead of being welcoming, hoping for the return of those who have wandered from our Father’s house, we want justice visited on them. We are like Jesus’ own disciples who, when a village refused to show them hospitality, had a burst of faith and asked Him – “Lord, should we call down fire from heaven to burn them up?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them.” (Luke 9:54-55, NLT) It is amazing how quick we are to turn the fire of our condemnation on those we deem to be ‘sinners,’ and seeing our lack of love as an expression of righteousness!

Jesus reserved His strongest rebukes for those who were scrupulous about keeping the smallest details of the Law of God, but who failed to see the importance of grace, mercy, and love. His words are not softened or subtle! “You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You keep meticulous account books, tithing on every nickel and dime you get, but on the meat of God’s Law, things like fairness and compassion and commitment—the absolute basics!—you carelessly take it or leave it. Careful bookkeeping is commendable, but the basics are required.” (Matthew 23:23, The Message)

My appeal today is two-fold.

First, if you’re a wanderer- “come home!” The Father loves you and waits for your return. Your brothers may be a little slow to accept you, but that is the way it is with those who grow proud of their own goodness and blind to their hidden sins.

Second, if you’re one of those who are clamoring for justice to fall on ‘all those sinners’ in this world – let the scandal of God’s grace touch your heart anew. Weep for the erring one. Lift up the fallen. Open wide the door and invite them to experience God’s amazing grace – just as you have, time and time again.
________________________________

Red can’t explain the beauty of a rose
And white can’t tell the magic
In the air when it snows;
Marvelous can’t half convey
The grace of the King,
The only word for grace is amazing.

There’s no other word for grace but amazing,
No other explanation will do,
unmerited favor, the song that I sing,
There’s no other word for grace but amazing.

Now the Father looked beyond
All the failures I had made,
He never seemed to notice
All the times I did not obey;
He overlooked all the scars
Of sin I had in me,
But the grace that He showed
Still amazes me.

No Other Word for Grace but Amazing
Kirk Talley © 1982, 1988 Kirk Talley Music
(Admin. by Integrated Copyright Group, Inc.)

God and Gold

The financial picture on Wall St. is turning darker by the day, so it seems. In the last month, the Dow indicator is down by just over 8%- from an all time high of 14,000 in July. Is this just a ‘correction,’ or are we in for a tough time in the American economy? Nobody knows! The ‘experts’ are divided with some insisting that the dip in values is a normal fluctuation while others are pointing to big problems in the mortgage and real estate parts of our economy that they say will drag the rest of the economy into a recession. Do I worry about the up’s and down’s on Wall St.? No. Do I pay attention? Yes! It is one way that as a Follower of Jesus I am – ‘in the world, but not of the world.’

Maintaining the proper balance between providing for my family and future through sound fiscal management and,
ultimately keeping my trust set squarely in the promises of God is not as easy as it might seem.

Some decisions are simple.
I tithe (give the first 10% of my income to the church) regardless of the state of the economy. I believe that the first 10% belongs to the Lord and is not mine to spend on even those things that are ‘necessities.’
I am careful about creating debt in keeping with the Scriptural guideline that tells me not to count on tomorrow’s income to fund today’s desires. Who knows what may happen tomorrow? The only exceptions to that are for things that have enough enduring value to cover the debt created to own them – such as a mortgage.
I buy reasonable amounts of insurance, realizing that this is a prudent way to avoid financial ruin in the event of sickness or accident.

In a decision that is not as simple, I set aside a percentage of my income in savings, anticipating the day when I am, by reason of age or ill health, unable to produce the same level of income I have today. I also live on a budget, refusing to spend more than I make, saying “No,” to desires that tempt me when easy credit offers would make it possible to enjoy some consumer good by pushing off payment into the unknown future. Some believe that budgets and savings shows a ‘lack of faith.’ They insist – “God will provide!” I agree with that whole-heartedly and to this time of my life I can say that He has met my every need – in times of plenty and in leaner days, always providing for my daily bread and shelter. He also has given me insight, wisdom, and responsibility for the choices I make.

However, I know that despite my best efforts to prepare and to be wise, the world in which I live is unpredictable. The weather, the government, and things unseen – are beyond my control!
So, my mind must choose to trust these faith-building words from the Lord Jesus: “Look at the ravens. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for God feeds them. And you are far more valuable to him than any birds! Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And if worry can’t accomplish a little thing like that, what’s the use of worrying over bigger things? “Look at the lilies and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith? “And don’t be concerned about what to eat and what to drink. Don’t worry about such things. These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers all over the world, but your Father already knows your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need.” (Luke 12:24-31, NLT)

There are two lines that keep a Believer at peace when the economic storms threaten —
“He will certainly care for you,” and,
Seek the Kingdom above all else.”

Believer, where is your greater security – in God, or in gold?
If all you owned were swept away in flood or fire, would you still be a rich man?
If your wealth diminished in a recession, would you still be a peaceful man?

Here’s a word from the Word for your thoughts today —
“Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:33-34, NIV)