An open door!

How my will and God’s will intersect is not always crystal clear for me. Bev and I were talking about some life-changing decisions we’ve made in the past; accepting new positions, relocating to a different church. What part did God’s will play in those choices and what part did we play? Even the two of us who shared in those decisions saw them differently. At various times one of us saw God leading, while the other viewed the choice as human will in operation! One move from long ago she labeled ‘impulsive,’ on my part, while I called it an obedient response to God’s leading. To a degree, we both are right. How can I say that? Because I am convinced that both of the following statements are true despite the apparent contradiction: God rules the affairs of my life; and I have the freedom to cooperate or resist His will.

The story of Mary, mother of Jesus, illustrates the point. God sends his messenger to tell her of His plan that she should bear the Savior of the world. Could she have refused this calling? The Scripture implies that she had that power. Here’s an excerpt of the story. “The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” … the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.” (Luke 1:28-31, NIV) “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.” (Luke 1:38, NIV)

God opened the door to an impossibility; Mary stepped through it. Her obedience to the plan of the Lord was difficult and raised questions for which she had no answer. When her Son was born and shepherds showed up to tell of angels’ in the skies announcing that a “Savior has been born to you,: she heard them and “kept thinking about all this and wondering what it meant.” (Luke 2:19, CEV)

Believer, if we wait until we have all the answers, until we have plotted the whole course from start to finish, before we engage ourselves to do the will of God, we will accomplish little for Him in this life! Sometimes all He gives us is the promise of His Presence to guide and an open door! Like Mary, we need to humbly say, “I am the Lord’s servant!” and step through the door. Some will say we have been impulsive. Others will see us as bold. Some will call us foolish, while others will praise God for our vision! All of that matters little if we are living in humble obedience, seeking to know and do His will from day to day. Are you?

The life of the Spirit-led individual is an adventure. I am not advocating stupidity, arrogance, or irresponsibility. I am not suggesting that any of us should refuse to be accountable to those who offer wise counsel to us. But, we must be ready to hear Heaven’s call and to respond readily. Humility is the key. If we detect even the tiniest amount of grandiosity, even the smallest amount of an attitude that says, “I’ll show you,” we need to throw on the brakes and get our heart right before God. Mary had no need to become famous, no need to be the Messiah’s mother, no need to try to impress God. She was just a peasant girl in Nazareth when God came to her and opened a door of unbelievable opportunity and she said, “Yes!”

Here’s a word from the Word to ponder today.
“These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” (Revelation 3:7-8, NIV)
_______________

I’ve a yearning in my heart
that cannot be denied.
It’s a longing that has never yet
been satisfied.
I want the world to know
the One who loves them so,
Like a flame it’s burning
deep inside.

To be used of God,
to sing, to speak, to pray.
To be used of God,
to show someone the Way.I long so much,
to feel the touch
of His consuming fire.

To be used of God
is my desire.

When I think about the shortness
of my earthly years.
I remember all the wasted days,
the wasted tears.I long to preach the Word,
to those who’ve never heard,
of the One who can dispel all fears.

To Be Used of God
Audrey Meier© 1954 Manna Music, Inc.
ARR UBP of Manna Music, Inc. (35255 Brooten Road, Pacific City, OR 97135)
CCLI License No. 810055

Where is the Church?

In the Nov./Dec. 2007 issue of Worship Leader, Bebo Norman writes about Gary Haugen, founder of IJM (Int’l Justice Mission), an organization that fights injustice among the poorest of the world. This Christian group grapples with human depravity at its worst. Human slavery and sex trafficking of children are just two of the ugly practices they try to end in the name of Jesus. Back in 1994, Haugen was asked to part of the United Nations inquiry in Rwanda. Haugen’s assignment was grim. In a nation where more than a million people were hacked to death by their neighbors using machetes, he was asked to dig up mass graves and sort through piles of body parts in stadiums around that nation to try to arrive at an accurate estimate of the number of deaths that resulted from this outpouring of hatred! Most of us would collapse under the weight of such an horrific assignment, probably whining and blaming God by asking, “Where were You?” Gary Haugen asks an entirely different, and much more useful, question: “Where were God’s people?”

I fear many of us have asked God for easy assignments, far from the front lines. God’s people are often missing in action at critical moments when evil might be turned aside, when sin threatens to overwhelm yet another life, neighborhood, or nation! How many pray or, at least think, something like this – “I will serve you, Lord, but only where it requires minimal inconvenience and little sacrifice in terms of my autonomy and lifestyle.”
Have you ever considered any of the following….
…Going to live in an urban center of America that are torn apart by violence, drugs, and poverty to be a light for Christ and His Gospel?
…Staffing a missions outreach in lonely, hard post in a developing nations?
…Taking on a ministry call to teach kids, feed the poor, visit those who are elderly and lonely, or lead a prison Bible Study?
…Getting up regularly to pray for the world at 4:30 AM?
…Encouraging your kids to accept a call to full-time Christian ministry as a pastor or teacher despite the sacrifice that comes with that vocation?
If not, why not?
Have you preserved your own comfort and offered to serve, but only at your convenience?

Jesus issued an ‘in your face’ challenge, words that we usually either ignore or soften, but that deserve our full attention. He said, “If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross and follow me. If you want to save your life, you will destroy it. But if you give up your life for me, you will find it. What will you gain, if you own the whole world but destroy yourself? What would you give to get back your soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26, CEV) That’s not Mommy-talk! That’s drill sergeant growl! The Lord of Glory wants us to realize that the stakes are huge. The destiny of your family, your church, your town, your nation; yes, the world – depends on the Church (you and me) standing up and reporting for duty.

Andy Stanley teaches that real and passionate visions develop in four stages:
1. Defining the Problem.
2. Outlining a Solution.
3. Determining the Reason something must be done.
4. Deciding to do something now!

The problem is that evil is on the rampage, destroying lives, and deluding people to march straight for Hell.
The solution is the message of the Gospel, that Christ Jesus has defeated evil and opened the way to eternal life.
If we don’t step up, a generation will be lost, our generation!
So, “knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.” (Romans 13:11, NKJV)

When you decide to answer the call, watch out that you’re not diverted into the sub-culture of evangelical Christianity that is so consumed with preserving a certain kind of lifestyle! Jesus did not die on the Cross to make us all Republicans so we could pay lower taxes and fight bloated government spending! Our mission is one of justice, mercy, and compassion. We are advocates of the poor, liberators of those enslaved by sin, and priests of the living God who are sent to bring healing to the nations.

Get desperate! Get serious! Let’s show up and, by the power of the Spirit, let’s make a difference in our generation.
____________________________

Who said it should be easy?

People with purpose commit themselves to a way of life that goes against the flow! Things left to themselves quickly deteriorate, don’t they? As I write, I’m looking out on my little half acre lawn. It requires constant attention to be kept attractive. Today there are leaves scattered across the grass, waiting for me to rake and mulch them. Come Springtime, weeds will invade if I do not put down the proper herbicides. Then, the grass will need a weekly mowing. It’s not just the lawn that needs to be maintained. Organizations fall into ineffectiveness without constant leadership. The church that I lead presents new challenges for my pastoral leadership almost everyday! Our President called together leaders from Middle East nations yesterday. Why? Peace, or what passes for it in that hotspot of the world, requires nurturing, arm-twisting, and negotiation under pressure. Even nations left to the natural course of things do not tend to peaceful relations, but rather to the chaos of war!

Why is the course of nature towards disintegration without intervention and work? The Bible explains it with these words in Genesis. God said, “Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat, the ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it. It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains. By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat until you return to the ground from which you were made.” (Genesis 3:17-19, NLT)

Evil is a virus infecting every relationship, every organization, everything in this Creation. Unchecked evil destroys the best and causes the worst to emerge.

Why does a good God allow evil to continue to wreak havoc in this world? That is the question of the ages, for which we have only incomplete answers. But this we know: He calls people to Himself through Christ, gives them the power and gifts of the Spirit, and commissions them to do the work of reversing the Curse of evil! Wherever Believers faithfully do the work of God, good follows. The suffering of sin is defeated by the proclamation of the Good News that Christ is Lord of all, by the diligence of those who throw themselves into the battle against evil in all of its awful expressions.

It is no easy task, nor is it done once. Only the work of the Cross is finished, complete for all time. The work of setting the world right is ongoing, a task in which we renew our efforts daily. Yesterday’s victories are challenged by new demons, new conflicts, new weeds growing in our world today.

Does that all sound exhausting? It can be if we attempt to wage the war in our own strength and by our own wits! That is why the Scripture reminds us to suit up for battle. “God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way…. Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet.” (Ephesians 6:10-11, 13, The Message)

Taking up the call of God is not for cowards, lazy people, or those looking for an easy road. It is a way of struggle and sacrifice. And, it is a high and holy calling that brings rich reward in this world and in the age to come. God needs a few good men. (That term, dear sisters, is generic!) Will you be one of His mighty men, one of those who resists evil and builds the kingdom of righteousness?

Here’s a word of encouragement from the Word. “…you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.” (1 Corinthians 1:7-9, NIV)
_______________________

What this dying world could use,
Is a willing man of God.
Who dares to go against the grain,
And work without applause.
A man who’ll raise the shield of faith,
Protecting what is pure.
Whose love is tough and gentle,
A man whose word is sure.

Men full of compassion,
Who laugh and love and cry.
Men who’ll face eternity,
And aren’t afraid to die.
Men who’ll fight for freedom,
And honor once again.
He just needs a few good men.

God doesn’t need an orator,
Who knows just what to say.
He doesn’t need authorities,
To reason Him away.
He doesn’t need an army,
To guarantee a win;
He just needs a few good men.

A Few Good Men
Jennings © 1990 Townsend and Warbucks Music ARR UBP of Gaither Copyright Management
CCLI License No. 810055

A Redeemer Kinsman?

The question is an obsession for me: “How does a Christian maintain a distinctly God-honoring life while being effective in his calling to influence his friends, family, and community?”

Some Believers I know are so immersed in their world and culture, that their Christianity is all but invisible! They are materialistic consumers, obsessed with their status and things, doing little (at least that I can see) to advance the cause of Christ. They can sing all the current tunes and discuss the latest movie, but have little to say about what the Spirit is saying to them through the Scripture, of which they know little or nothing. Others choose to live so separately, that they are out of touch and irrelevant, incapable of having a meaningful conversation with anyone who is not ‘on the inside’ with them! They can win a Bible Trivia quiz anytime, but they don’t build any bridges from the Church to the world and fail miserably as articulate communicators of the Gospel. Each side claims its own proof texts from the Bible. Those who are ‘relevant,’ point to Jesus’ words about being ‘salt and light,’ and not putting a covering over their light so it can shine. Those who are separatists point to the verse that says, “Touch no unclean thing… come out from among them and be holy!”

As usual in my moderate stance, I am in the middle! Those who completely withdraw from the world of which they are a part miss out on many opportunities to do God’s work in that world. Without recognizing it, they become hypocritical. They take advantage of the education, the technologies, and the medical knowledge that others who they look down on as less ‘spiritual’ produce; but refuse to make their own contribution to the processes that bring those advances. Those who are engaged with their world, risk being swallowed by it! Many who have stepped outside of the safety of the ‘church’ culture in an attempt to bring Christ to the world lose their footing and fall headlong into the muck they hoped to clean up.

My early Christian experience was primarily expressed in a separatist mode. My attitude towards ‘the world’ was one of contempt. I regarded it as destined for destruction and said, “It’s all gonna burn, so let it go to Hell.” In one sense I was right. The Scripture is very clear about the temporary nature of the present order of things teaching us that “the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment.” (2 Peter 3:10, NLT) Repeatedly the Bible warns about being seduced by the world that is passing away, about loving things that we cannot carry into Eternity.

However, (you knew that was coming, didn’t you?)…. the Believer is to be redemptive, not dismissive, in his stance towards the world! That word, redemptive, comes from the institution of slavery. A person who fell into debt because of mismanagement or misfortune, could be seized, along with his family, and forced into servitude to his creditors. A wretched existence resulted. But the extended family could gather resources to satisfy the creditors claims and ‘redeem’ their kinsman from servitude, restoring his freedom. That person was called a redeemer kinsman. (For a wonderful story about this, see the short book of Ruth. Boaz became her redeemer kinsman!)

Our model in our relationship with the world around us is Jesus Christ Himself, “who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:14, NIV) In this Season of Advent, we remember that He was willing to leave His place in Heaven, to become fully human, to suffer temptation, deprivation, and rejection to — yes, become our Redeemer! His death on the Cross was not for His benefit, but for ours. His Incarnation was not for His own reputation, but so that He could become our Priest, creating a bridge from God to fallen humanity.

So, Jude tells us to “Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.” (Jude 22-23, NIV) And how do we do this without losing ourselves to the world?

Answer that as you ponder this word from the Word today.
“But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life…. To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.” (Jude 20-21, 24-25, NIV)

Go, in the power of the Spirit, and be REDEMPTIVE to someone today!

You Gotta Have Heart

The marriage was in trouble. She was finished, she said, no longer willing to play second fiddle to his car, his friends, his sports, the TV, the kids, and his job. As we talked I found that he never forgot their anniversary, showed up with flowers from time to time, and paid the bills. But through her tears she explained that she could not recall a conversation about their shared dreams, about their hopes, about what love meant to him. “I feel,” she said, “like another of his investments!” Many is the husband who is mystified by that kind statement. “What does she want?” he asks angrily. “I pay the bills, provide well for our family. Isn’t that enough?” If a couple wants a marriage with intimacy, that goes the distance, and is fresh and alive well into old age, it isn’t!

Great marriages include the heart, too! We all want to be loved for more than for what do. We want to be desired, to be valued for who we are! In my own marriage, I want that kind of love with Bev, too. Sure, I appreciate her part in making our home function, but I also want that kind of connection that lets our eyes meet from opposite sides of a room full of people and communicate “I love you!” I want to know her well enough be able to finish her thoughts.

Jesus wants us to love Him in that way, too. He wants more than our tithe, more than our regular attendance at church, more than our dutiful Bible reading, or ‘Lord, bless my day,’ functional prayers. He wants our hearts, to be the Center of Life. Heartless Christianity is all too common in my opinion. Sincere Believers do all the right things and have an orthodox confession, but their hearts are full of the ‘other stuff’ of life. You may find His words harsh, but they are true. Take a look. “…at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.’ And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.’ ” (Matthew 7:22-23, The Message)

The prophet Isaiah indicted the people of God with a similar judgment. “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.” (Isaiah 29:13, NIV)

So, what does ‘heart’ look like? Maybe you’re like that husband who wondered, “What more does she want anyway?” You point to the things you do for God, or at least you think you’re doing them for Him. Consider that you may, in fact, be acting from very selfish motives! Your ‘acts of worship’ may be more about keeping up appearances or staying on God’s good side than real passion!

Heart deep devotion to God is a love that informs daily choices, that draws us into prayerful reflection often through the day, and that gives us eyes that see God at work, even in the small things. It keeps us from chasing the illusions of happiness that the Tempter dangle in front of us. It makes us authentic and preserves us from shallow religion. If we love the Lord with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength we will take great care not to offend Him with careless or sinful choices, not just to avoid judgment, but because causing Him to be disappointed brings us terrible pain. Keeping this love alive requires daily attentiveness just like keeping a marriage fresh requires constant communication. If we want to love Him from the heart, we will have to wrestle with Him, seeking to know His will, listening to discover His plan, and working through the surprises that make us wonder if He cares! Yes, even those who love Jesus Christ with their whole heart find themselves angry and/or disappointed from time to time. But, they don’t turn to another lover in that moment. Instead, they pursue Him, wait on Him.

Passionate Christianity will produce a person of amazing depth of character. The Bible says that they will have the fruit of the Spirit in abundant evidence – that being, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23, NIV) Don’t confuse great works, big ministries, or long, windy prayers with passion for Jesus. Don’t confuse effusive emotionalism with love for Him, either.

Look for love’s evidence. “If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal…. Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance…. Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13, NLT)
________________________

My eyes are dry, my faith is old,
My heart is hard, my prayers are cold;
And I know how I ought to be:
Alive to You and dead to me.

But what can be done
With an old heart like mine?
Soften it up with oil and wine!

The oil is You, the Spirit of love.
Please wash me anew
In the wine of Your blood.

My Eyes Are Dry
Keith Green © 1978 Birdwing Music
(Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing; Admin. by BMG Music Publishing) / Ears To Hear ü / BMG Songs, Inc.
(Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing; Admin. by BMG Music Publishing)CCLI License No. 810055

I don’t deserve it!

I conducted the funeral of an old saint yesterday who stepped into eternity after 93 years journey here on earth. Standing to one side of the room, prior to the service, listening to an hymn playing over the sound system, I filled up with gratitude, amazed that God would choose to use me to bring His Word and comfort to those who mourned. “Why me, Lord?” I asked Him. There is nothing about me that qualifies me to enjoy such trust, to have this privilege of being a shepherd to His flock. It is a grace gift – start to finish. Then, after the service, there was another ‘gift.’ A young girl, part of the family and from the congregation I serve, rode with me from the funeral home to the cemetery. Our time in that short ride was a gift to this Pastor. I so enjoyed talking with her about her life, her plans, her dreams. And again, I asked the Lord, “Why do I enjoy these kinds of blessings?”

Do you feel entitled to different circumstances, greater joy, more respect? If you allow that attitude, you will miss the joy of the moment! The entitlement mentality creeps up on us stealthily and becomes a blot of darkness in us. When we don’t get what we feel that we are entitled to receive, we become miserable. When I start to think that I should be treated differently, given more of this or that, have a bigger place in life – I get ugly. I cut myself off from the love of others and the peace of God by focusing on myself, my perceived needs, my desires. The Spirit withdraws His fellowship and others stay away; and why not? A person wrapped up in himself is a very small and unattractive package!

Do you believe that God owes you – blessings, healing, salvation, peace, joy? Many Christians do! They twist God’s rich and wonderful promises into entitlement contracts and their prayers are more like legal briefs thatpresent demands for actions than conversations with a Friend. These Believers turn faith into a ‘gimme’ system that says, “God, you promised; now, pay up!” How tragic, how misguided. Our Father in Heaven loves tobless and He does, but He owes you and me NOTHING. His gifts are based in grace, not merit.

One day Jesus was traveling and came upon ten men who suffered one of the worst fates in that time. They were lepers. When leprosy became evident on a person’s skin, he was immediately separated from the community, as a means of keeping the spread of the disease to a minimum- no more living in his home, no more meals with his family, none of life’s pleasures were available. Instead, the wretch lived as a beggar outside of town, usuallynear the dump from which he scavenged the scraps that kept him alive! When the ten lepers realized who was approaching, they yelled – “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” He looked at them and said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, their leprosy disappeared. Luke 17:14 (NLT) Imagine their joy when they saw their skin clearing, all evidence of their leprous condition gone, given the desperate situation that they lived in because of it! Now, here’s the part of the story that I want to emphasize today. “One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God, I’m healed!” He fell face down on the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine?” (Luke 17:15-17, NLT)

If we think that we are entitled to the blessing of God, we will not even think of thankfulness! Instead, we’ll simply believe that God paid up, made good on the deal. The downside of that line of thinking is that when things go badly, when life falls apart, we will beat ourselves up wondering what we did that brought such grief on our heads. The Psalmist reminds us – “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:9-14, NIV)

Are you grateful today?
Does thankfulness overflow from you?
Or is God asking, “where is the gratitude, where is the recognition of My mercy?”
Let’s not be found wanting when it comes to returning thanks.

Here’s a word from the Word. Note the benefit of waiting on God with thanksgiving!
“Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.” (Philippians 4:6-7, The Message)

This Thanksgiving, check your heart for areas where entitlement has taken up residence. Get rid of it and realize, anew, the gifts of kindness and mercy that come your way. Then, liberally give thanks – to God, to friends, to family.
___________________

Why me Lord?
What have I ever done,
To deserve even one
Of the Pleasures I’ve known?
Tell me Lord?
What did I ever do
That was worth loving you,
Or the Kindness you’ve shown?

Lord help me Jesus,
I’ve wasted it so,
Help me, Jesus, I know what I am.
Now that I know that
I’ve needed you so,
Help me Jesus,
my soul’s in your Hand.

Try me, Lord!
If you think there’s a Way
I can try to repay,
All I’ve taken from you
Maybe Lord, I can show someone else what
I’ve been through myself
On my way back to you.
Lord help me Jesus,
I’ve wasted it so,
Help me, Jesus, I know what I am.
Now that I know that
I’ve needed you so,
Help me Jesus, my soul’s in your Hand.
Amen
( Words And Music By Kris Kristofferson )

Living in Shame?

Tim Blixseth, a 57 year old billionaire, used the shame of his childhood poverty as motivation. As he sat in his French mansion surrounded by opulence, he recalled being 5 years old in the welfare lunch line at his school. He said that it was then and there he determined that he would do whatever he needed to do to get money and escape those feelings of inferiority. (20/20, abcnews.go.com)

Shame can serve a positive purpose. There is a place for shame in this world. When we are selfish, cruel, dishonest, or crude – we need to feel the sense of diminished worth, the pain of the soul, that signals a need for change. That is shame. If shame motivates to examine ourselves and work on becoming a better person, it serves a valuable purpose.

But, shame can be toxic, too.

A woman who feels worthless because her appearance does not match the idealized cultural standard of beauty and consequently develops an eating disorder is not helped by shame!

A man who struggles with sexual desire and who hides his feelings, becoming more and more enslaved by his lust, is not helped by his shame.

A Believer who wrestles with some habitual sin and who chooses, because of shame, to conceal his behavior is increasingly enslaved.

Parents who use shaming as a primary disciplinary tool are making a grave mistake! Holding a child up to ridicule, carping on a character flaw, or criticizing behavior in a way that diminishes his sense of self-worth is very destructive. If you tell a little person he is worthless long enough, he will learn to believe it and most likely will treat himself like a piece of junk! I counseled with a woman several years ago who hated anything that made her feel attractive. As we explored the roots of those feelings, she told about her adolescence, as her body began to develop. She liked being pretty, but her father seeing her beauty, repeatedly called her a whore or a filthy tramp. Most likely he was projecting his own feelings of shame about his sexuality onto her. His tirades left deep emotional scars.

A constant feeling of shame and/or inferiority leads to all kinds of dysfunctional behavior; yes, even to sinful and self-destructive choices. The glory of the Gospel of Christ is that in Him, we find a true release from shame! It is tragic when Christianity is turned inside out and made into a tool of shaming and condemning. When the Bible is used like a club to beat sinners with guilt and to drive them deeper into despair, it makes me furious. Jesus Christ came into a world that was full of darkness and sin, and became the Light of True Righteousness. No longer did the shamed guilty person feel that his only choice was to hide his sin, to pretend, or to cover over his sins with good works, pleasure, or gaining notoriety. He could be forgiven and set free! Jesus came to find the sinful and to offer forgiveness for our sins, and to give us the Spirit who sets us free to live a new life! “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” (John 8:12, NLT)

Can you see the old way of shame contrasted with His way in this story?
“The religion scholars and Pharisees led in a woman who had been caught in an act of adultery. They stood her in plain sight of everyone and said, “Teacher, this woman was caught red-handed in the act of adultery. Moses, in the Law, gives orders to stone such persons. What do you say?”
They were trying to trap him into saying something incriminating so they could bring charges against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger in the dirt. They kept at him, badgering him. He straightened up and said, “The sinless one among you, go first: Throw the stone.” Bending down again, he wrote some more in the dirt. Hearing that, they walked away, one after another, beginning with the oldest. The woman was left alone. Jesus stood up and spoke to her. “Woman, where are they? Does no one condemn you?” “No one, Master.” “Neither do I,” said Jesus. “Go on your way. From now on, don’t sin.”
(John 8:3-11, The Message)

And this is the same Jesus who loves you and me, Believer! He sees us not just for what we have done, but for who we can become in Him. He does not excuse our sins and failures, He forgives them and sends us off to live a wholly new life. The Cross is for us both a symbol of terrible shame and tremendous glory, for there the worst of sin met the amazing grace of God. The Scripture tells us “You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-15, NLT)

Are you living in shame?
There is no need to stay there any longer.
The One who knows you best, loves you most!
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On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross;
The emblem of suffering and shame.
And I love that old cross where the dearest and best,
For a world of lost sinners was slain.

So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it some day for a crown.

Oh, that old rugged cross, So despised by the world,
Has a wondrous attraction for me;
For the dear Lamb of God, Left His glory above,
To bear it to dark Calvary.

In the old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,
A wondrous beauty I see;
For ’twas on that old cross, Jesus suffered and died,
To pardon and sanctify me.

The Old Rugged Cross
George Bennard © Public Domain / 1913 George Bennard Renewed 1941 The Rodeheaver Company
CCLI License No. 810055

A favored son

Nobody likes making mistakes publicly. When I am in front of the church on Sunday morning, it is my desire to be prepared so as to help the worship experience to be seamless for those who are in the congregation. Yesterday, that was not happening! The PowerPoint slides were in wrong order. My words seemed to trip over each other. The message was somewhat disjointed. It was a great reminder – “Hey, Jerry, you’re not perfect!” My natural tendency after such Sunday mornings is to feel worthless because I don’t ‘get it exactly right.’ Yes, I am something of a perfectionist. When I fail in more important ways such as being loveless in words or actions, allowing myself to be envious, or some other sin; I am even harder on myself. But, I have learned to turn quickly to the Lord. When I sin, I seek forgiveness. When I just don’t get it right like yesterday morning, I refocus my attention from a self-defeating attitude that says, “I am no good,” to thank Him for using me in His work in spite of my imperfections.

Tempted to wrap myself in sackcloth of self reproach, I read again the amazing declaration of God’s favor that is directed to me, and towards all who are called to be ‘in Christ.’ Here it is. “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.” (Ephesians 1:4-8, NLT)

Did you take note of the verbs that describe God’s actions? “Loved, chose, decided!” God pursues us, not because we are perfect, or even because we are desirable. He chooses us because He is good and gracious. And, going beyond simply having pity for us in our sorry sinful state, He intervenes to change the way we live; to give us a new life, one marked by freedom and wisdom! No matter how badly you have failed someone or even God Himself, no matter how far you may have fallen, there is a Savior whose grace is greater. That is the good news. Believe it, receive it, and see what God can do with you!

Paul started out as Saul, the Pharisee, persecuting Christians, even seeking their death. He rejected the Lord of Glory and lived in an ugly parody of righteousness, centered on futile attempts to be good enough for God, that ignored the true state of his soul. Then, he met Jesus and was shown the depth of his deception and depravity. Saul, the man with the rich religious heritage, and sorry record of sinfulness, sees the truth that he is, despite his best efforts, ‘the worst of sinners.’ But, he does not live in that declaration. He lives in the grace of God. He says, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:15-16, NIV) A friend calls the past failures and sins, ‘the junk in the trunk.’ We can drag around that stuff, letting it weigh us down, hoping to keep the past hidden, convinced that though we are going to Heaven, that here on earth we are worthless to God! OR, we can let the Lord Jesus have the junk, forgive the sins, restore us from our failures – and become favored sons of God, in whom He shows off His amazing grace and ability to transform. Saul took a new name, Paul, and God made the one time sinner into an amazing saint.

At the start of this week of Thanksgiving, let God’s love pour over, right now. Thank Him for the Cross of Christ, where all your sins were fully forgiven! Thank Him for the grace that closes the gap between your good intentions and your human tendency to fail. Thank Him for loving an imperfect child like you. I thank Him for loving one like me, everyday.

Take this prayer with you this week — read it again and again, accepting what it says as true for you:
“I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.

And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully.

Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:16-21, NLT)
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Holy Confidence, Praying Man

Georgia is enduring a terrible drought, down to a few weeks of water reserves. Earlier this week, the governor of the state called a prayer meeting on the steps of the state capitol building. An atheist from Atlanta decried the governor’s action saying, “It’s make Georgians look stupid.” From a purely secular viewpoint, a group of people standing on a government buildings steps, with eyes closed, addressing an unseen God, is absurd, isn’t it? Yesterday, several friends of mine gathered and we, too, talked to the unseen Deity. We poured out our hearts, asking for healing, for guidance, for provision for our needs. We did so, not in an act of desperation, or as a last resort! We prayed with confidence. Do you?

Jesus says that Believers should pray confidently for this reason – “God is good!”
He says, “If your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.” (Matthew 7:9-11, NLT) Do you believe that is true? The enemy of God argues against His goodness and has done so since the beginning of human history.

The Genesis story of Eve and Adam becoming sinful centers around the question of God’s goodness! The Tempter implies that God is withholding something desirable from those He created! “The serpent told the Woman, “You won’t die. God knows that the moment you eat from that tree, you’ll see what’s really going on. You’ll be just like God, knowing everything, ranging all the way from good to evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5, The Message) With variations on that theme, the deceiver works at getting you and me to doubt God’s benevolence.

If we begin to believe that God is capricious, or uncaring, or remote, or cruel – our prayers become tentative or fearful; or they cease altogether! That is why we need to hear Jesus’ words about God’s goodness, again and again. “Your Heavenly Father will give good gifts to those who ask Him!” God’s goodness, His ultimate love, forms the basis of holy confidence and frees us to pray earnestly, honestly, and from our heart – trusting Him to do what is best- for us in keeping with His eternal purposes.

We must accept what God’s goodness means.
It does not mean He is nice like Grandpa! As a grandparent, I am not charged with training my grandsons like their father is. So, when they visit me, I can let some of the rules slide ’cause that what a Grandpa does. I put chocolate in their milk! I surreptitiously slide their peas onto my plate so they don’t have to eat them. Their Dad has to discipline them and he is good to them by enforcing disciplines that will shape their character. God doesn’t always give us chocolate milk, but He is still good! God’s goodness does not mean that He always makes our lives easy, pleasant, or pain-free! “For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.” (Hebrews 12:10-11, NLT)

Do not misplace your confidence, when praying, in your own goodness. Many Believers do. When we think we have been good in a moral kind of way we begin to think that we have built up some credit with God. Subtly, the lie ‘God, you owe me,’ slips into our mind. When we start to think thoughts like – “I tithed and even gave generously above my tithe, so You should give me what I want.” – we are no longer praying like beloved children of God. Instead, we have becoming dutiful servants, begging our case. Our true confidence in prayer focuses on His goodness, on the fact that even our entry into His Presence is an invitation of grace provided to us freely at His expense. The Word reminds us that it is “Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence.” (Ephesians 3:12, NLT)

So, here’s the word from the Word- “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7, NLT) Pray and receive from the Lord what is truly good for you. God’s invitation is –
“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters;
and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David
.” (Isaiah 55:1-3, NIV) Amen.

Testify!

The church I grew up in was big on testimony time in the Sunday night service. For the uninitiated, it was a kind of ‘open mic’ time when people stood to tell what God had done for them or at least what they attributed to God. We heard a lot about near misses while people were driving! I started to think that maybe Christians were really bad drivers. Sometimes the ‘testimonies’ sounded like plain old bragging to me especially when it focused on the award won by somebody’s son!

Sometimes an anecdote provoked laughter as it revealed an ordinary human foible in contrast with God’s greatness. Sometimes I was bored by the tales of faith that I heard over and over and over and over until I could almost tell them from memory even though they were not ‘my story!’ I was often mortified by the displays that people, who seemed so unsophisticated in their faith, (‘sophisticated faith’ – is that an oxymoron?) attached to their testimonies – tears, laughter, shouts, hands waving in the air, etc. It was hard for me, especially in the self-consciousness of my teen-age years, to see the value in the gritty spirituality that was so raw, so authentic. Today, nearly 50 years of age, I reflect on those services more charitably and with a different kind of appreciation.

While some crazy stuff happened when the mic got handed to people not used to having the floor, there was real value in sharing our spiritual journey, in “letting the redeemed of the Lord say” where and how they were experiencing His grace, His love, and His power in their lives! Occasionally testimony time was GREAT. Yes, there were moments when the message was nearly lost to mangled syntax or obscured by an overflow of uncontrolled emotion. But, there were those moments when the raw witness to God’s work was more powerful than a sermon.

Few church meetings stand out in my mind more vividly than those in which a missionary who was serving the Lord in Africa or Asia came to testify about how they were seeing God at work.

We don’t do testimony time much anymore, at least in our church services. Perhaps in our desire to avoid hearing Brother Jones long-winded and/or over- wrought presentations we have has robbed ourselves of a valuable part of our communal Christian experience- testimony time. We need a place to tell our stories and we need to hear them told, don’t we?

Psalm 107:1-2 says that we must —“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!His faithful love endures forever.Has the Lord redeemed you?Then speak out! Tell others he has saved you from your enemies.”

Let me encourage you, Believer, to take a few moments next week to have a ‘testimony time’ at your Thanksgiving mealtime. At the Assembly, on Thanksgiving Eve, we’re going to have an old-time testimony time, too! We’re going to encourage one another, not by letting our light shine, but letting His Light shine through us. We’re going to give the glory and honor to Jesus.
When you ‘testify’ whether in church, at your dinner table, or around the break table at work, do in a way that maximizes the effectiveness of the story.

Take some cues from a guy who’s sat through a lot of testimony services.

– Don’t brag, give God the glory.
– Don’t embellish, let the simple truth bear witness.
– Tell your own story, not a second-hand one you read in a book. Your story is more interesting and compelling even if it is not so dramatic.
– Don’t be afraid of real emotion. Tears aren’t toxic! Relax.
– Don’t preach, let the story pack it’s own punch.
– Keep it short and succinct.
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