So now, go!

Share your dream, especially one involving significant change, and you will run into nay-sayers. The first will probably be you! More than once I have talked myself out of even trying to do something that, at first thought, sounded like a great idea. Why does doubt, fear, and negativity come so easily to us? Why are faith, courage, and positive attitudes so scarce? To answer that, consider the story of the call of Moses.

God, in His sovereign purposes, decided that the time had come to return the descendants of Abraham to the Promised Land from slavery in Egypt. The tiny clan that went to Egypt to avoid starvation during a famine had grown, over several centuries’ time, into a nation-sized population that was suffering terribly under the heavy hand of oppression. Now, the Lord needed a man to lead them, a deliverer! “Oh, Moses. Where are you?” The erstwhile price of Egypt had been off ‘on the far side of the desert’ tending Jethro’s sheep for 40 years. He had put his dreams away and settled down so God had to get his attention with a burning bush; more accurately a bush that appeared to be on fire but which was not actually burning up. When Moses went over to check it out, God spoke his name. He tells Moses that He is ready to move, that He has a plan, and then He says – “So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:10, NIV)

Does Moses stand, salute, and pack up? Not at all. Instead, he argues with God, making excuses about why he should not, could not, and would not do this great thing. “I’m unworthy.” Good one, Moses. A little false humility might work, except this is God you’re dealing with. God brushes that off by reminding him that He knows he’s nothing, so He will go with him! So Moses says, I do not really know Who You are and so I cannot speak with authority.” To that the LORD says, “Just tell them that “I AM” sent you, for “I AM THAT I AM.” In other words, “Moses, you want to know my Name? Here it is, “I AM the SELF-EXISTENT ONE, ONE WHO HAS NO FIRST CAUSE.” And yes, it is in all capitals in the Bible, too.

Moses is still not sufficiently awe-stricken, so he tries this lame excuse: “What if they do not listen to me?” So, God patiently gives him three impressive signs; turning his shepherd’s staff into a snake and back again, turning his hand white with leprosy and healing it again, and telling him that if he pours Nile River water on the ground it will turn to blood! Now, Moses is ready to go, right? No! Moses tries once more to get out of the assignment. “I am slow of speech.” Does he really think that speeches are going to get this job done? God by this time is angry with the faithless man and replies by telling him to get his brother Aaron to be his spokesman. And, finally Moses answers the call.

Laugh, if you will, at that man’s bad excuses, but the truth is, God is calling you, too! He says, “So now, go!” to your family, to your neighbors, to the people with whom you work, to your city, to the world. You have work to do for Him that only you can do. Stop stammering your excuses! All of God’s children are called to serve in ministry; perhaps not as members of the clergy, but as representatives of Jesus Christ. The Bible says, “Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people!” (1 Corinthians 12:7, The Message)

As we purpose to obey, Self and others will rise us to tell why we cannot or should not do this. The enemy of God and good wants us to live safe, insignificant lives that are focused on minimal risk. So, is your dream really to work only as much as as required to keep your job, watch as much TV as you can stand, and die safe in your warm bed?

I want to be all that He wants me to be, to do all He wants me to do, to risk it all for the glory of God. I know I will not always get it right. My history proves that too true. I know I am not perfect (I heard that loud “Amen!”) I know that I will fail for reasons that are sometimes my fault and sometimes beyond my comprehension. But I also know this – God is greater than my flaws, has promised to never leave me to fight alone, and has a rich reward in reserve for me when I finish the race obediently. The results are in His hands. Obedience is my responsibility!

Meditate on this passage today. Ask the Spirit to cause it to inspire you to respond with a ready, “Yes, Lord,” when He says, “So now, go!”

“This is the Message I’ve been set apart to proclaim as preacher, emissary, and teacher. It’s also the cause of all this trouble I’m in. But I have no regrets.
I couldn’t be more sure of my ground—
the One I’ve trusted in can take care of what he’s trusted me to do right to the end.
So keep at your work, this faith and love rooted in Christ, exactly as I set it out for you. It’s as sound as the day you first heard it from me. Guard this precious thing placed in your custody by the Holy Spirit who works in us.”
(2 Timothy 1:11-14, The Message)
_______________________

Truehearted, wholehearted, faithful and loyal,
King of our lives, by Thy grace we will be;
Under the standard exalted and royal,
Strong in Thy strength we will battle for Thee.

Peal out the watchword!
Silence it never!
Song of our spirits, rejoicing and free;
Peal out the watchword!
Loyal forever!
King of our lives,
by Thy grace we will be.

Wholehearted! Savior beloved and glorious,
Take Thy great power and reign Thou alone,
Over our wills and affections victorious—
Freely surrendered and wholly Thine own.

-Frances Havergal, Public Domain

Want to hear this hymn?
See http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/t/r/truehear.htm

In praise of routine

People who know me joke about my routines. The clock is my friend. I eat dinner just about the same time each evening. I go to my office at about the same time every morning. I am up scanning the daily newspaper and reading my Bible each morning at the same time. Vacations, while enjoyable, make me miss my regular routines and I am always very happy to resume them. Yes, I am boringly predictable not so much by nature, however, as by choice. My attention span is about 30 seconds long, and that is why I enforce regimen on my life. It prevents me from spinning into the chaos that would result if I allowed my impulses to take over. My commitment to the routine of steady service helps me to avoid becoming so enthralled with the new, the exciting, the ‘big’ things; that I miss the opportunities to do His work that exist right in front me in the tried, true, and familiar pathways of my life. I will not accomplish what God wants me to do where I am, if my eyes are always searching the horizon for a new home!

In that wing of Christianity in which I live, which emphasizes the work of the Holy Spirit, there is a wonderful expectation that God will come near, that He will touch our lives with His Presence and lead us. That is good. But, there is a weakness that makes many of us less effective than we should be. It is the love of the novel spiritual experience. In my adult Christian life, I have watched dozens of fads sweep through charismatic churches. Some evangelist or prophet writes a book that proclaims – “God is doing a new thing.” A couple of years later the whole thing blows over with not much other than a lot of hype to show for all the effort. Some Believers tend to get ‘bored’ with a steady diet of solid Biblical teaching. They drift from church to church, about every 2 or 3 years, looking for a ‘new’ message, seeking a ‘new’ touch, wanting a ‘deeper’ experience of Pentecost. As a consequence, they are largely useless to the Kingdom. Without roots, they are not committed to any service that is greater than themselves. They fail to appreciate the solid results that come from faithfulness and steady effort in the service of Jesus Christ, that their talents and lives are to be eclipsed by the glory of Christ!

I want to suggest that routine can be a blessing, that most people could benefit from developing some holy habits! Oswald Chambers, whose writings in My Utmost for His Highest, have helped millions of Believers, said “Routine is God’s way of saving us between moments of inspiration. We are not to expect Him to give us His thrilling minutes always.” He observes, “The greatest hindrance of our spiritual life lies in looking for big things to do; Jesus Christ ‘took a towel…..’ We are not meant to be illuminated versions; we are meant to be the common stuff of ordinary human life exhibiting the marvel of the grace of God. The snare in the Christian life is looking for the gilt-edge moments, the thrilling times; there are times when there is no illumination and no thrill, when God’s angel is the routine of drudgery on the level of towels and washing feet.” Ah, friend, there is a lot of wisdom in that! Read it again.

There is a parable of Jesus that makes the same point. The passage is lengthy, but take the time to read it with thoughtfulness. “Be dressed for service and keep your lamps burning, as though you were waiting for your master to return from the wedding feast. Then you will be ready to open the door and let him in the moment he arrives and knocks. The servants who are ready and waiting for his return will be rewarded. I tell you the truth, he himself will seat them, put on an apron, and serve them as they sit and eat! He may come in the middle of the night or just before dawn. But whenever he comes, he will reward the servants who are ready. …
You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.” …
“A faithful, sensible servant is one to whom the master can give the responsibility of managing his other household servants and feeding them. If the master returns and finds that the servant has done a good job, there will be a reward.”
(Luke 12:35-43, NLT) The sum of His story is the lesson that we must be doing what God appoints us to do, for we do not know when He will show up to check on the work we are doing!

I am not making a case for locking into tradition to the point of being rigid, incapable of responding to the Spirit’s leading. I am not suggesting that God will never lead us into fields of new service, or give us times of refreshing! However, dear friend, I am urging you, as the Bible does, to ‘make the most of every opportunity’ (Ephesians 5.16) that exists today, right where you are. Do you think He is unaware of where you are, what circumstances are in which you find yourself? Do you think you wandered there without His knowledge? Of course not. So let Him use you there. Give Him yourself. Pick up the towel of an ordinary servant and accept that service with joy. And, you will be amazed at the results that will emerge as God gives you gifts, resources, and tools to do what He needs done – by you – in that place. For those who serve well, there is this promise. “The master said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’” (Matthew 25:23, NLT)
________________________

Make me a servant,
Humble and meek.
Lord, let me lift up
Those who are weak;
And may the pray’r
Of my heart always be.
Make me a servant.
Make me a servant.
Make me a servant today.

Kelly Willard© 1982 Maranatha! Music (Admin. by The Copyright Company) / Willing Heart Music (Maranatha! Music [Admin. by The Copyright Company]) CCLI License No. 810055

Safe am I!

There is an old song that says, “Under His wings, I am safely abiding, though the night deepens, and tempests are wild.” It’s a good thought, but is it true? Last month, I read Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. In it she tells the horrific story of the grief she experienced when both her beloved husband and her daughter died quite unexpectedly. The title comes from her attempts to keep them “alive,” by refusing to face the truth. In that she is not so uncommon. But it is the last line in the book that breaks my heart – “No eye is on the sparrow.” She concludes that our attempts to make sense of life with faith, that believing in God’s care, are just choices we make to avoid sliding into despair; nice, but untrue, mere magical thinking.

In one sense, Ms. Didion is right. Even some Christians indulge in magical thinking and call it- faith. If we think that God will give us a pass from the sorrows of life, that we will somehow miss the inevitable appointment with death, or that we will not experience the ravages of aging with the passing of time, we are deluded! The fact is that your body is not immortal nor invincible. It is being destroyed, day by day. Time is passing quickly, at least in the way we measure it here on this earth. (Aren’t you happy you are reading this?) But what Ms. Didion does not grasp is that God is greater than our life experience and even time itself. Apparently she does not understand how genuine faith allows us to trust Him with the not-so-great developments as well as to thank Him for those days when all things are bright and beautiful.

Many Believers sing songs like the one quoted in the opening line of this thought and wrongly conclude that God will not let them be sad, grow old, experience disappointment, or go through temptation! He does not say we will waltz our way to Heaven! He says that we must go through the fiery trials for the maturing of our faith and He says that we will never walk alone! I am safely abiding, at rest, if I let God be God in my life, by surrendering my delusions of control. The book of Ecclesiastes reflects the disillusionment of the person who can only view life from this side of eternity! “For the wise man, like the fool, will not be long remembered; in days to come both will be forgotten. Like the fool, the wise man too must die! So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the work into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 2:16-20, NIV)

True saints who are full of genuine faith reach out to take hold of the eternal rule of God and their lives become links that allow eternity to flow into time. Heaven in their hearts give life the meaning and purpose that the Bible promises. Such saints are at rest even in the middle of the storm. They are not angry at the Lord for permitting their pain. Instead they pray He will break their stubborn will and make them useful for His Kingdom, right here, right now. Such surrender does not lead to resignation or apathy! It empowers them to go bravely into each new day, defying death and Hell. They are, at once, angry enough to resist the Devil and his attempts to wreck the works of God, and joyful enough to avoid cynicism.

Take a look at Paul’s affirmation of God’s purpose, even as he was growing through a time of terrible difficulty as a result of his ministry. “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us…. We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead.” (2 Corinthians 1:2-4, 8-9, NLT)

Those are words to live by! They are not ‘magical thinking.’ They are Truth that allows us to face days, good and bad, head on; take strength from the Lord Jesus Christ, and make a Kingdom difference. Let’s stop asking God for easy, stop whining about how hard life is, and thank Him for giving us the privilege of making His glorious goodness known by putting “this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7, NIV)

Beyond Optimism

“The sun will come out tomorrow, bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there’ll be sun.” sings Annie. In spite of her sorrows she hopes for a better day, a day of sunshine. She is the prime optimist. Who doesn’t love an optimist? Those who choose to see the silver lining on every cloud are a gift to the rest of us! My appeal to you today, Believer, is that you do not confuse optimism with faith. They may appear the same from a distance but they are not. Optimism, as encouraging as it may be, cannot change the reality of life. Yes, the person with the sunny outlook may weather the storms a little better than others, they may find more friends to travel life’s roads with them, but they still must deal with falling Dow averages, broken hearts, disease, and death.

Optimism is built on the hope that greater effort can produce a positive outcome and around the potential of human will. Faith that is genuine rests squarely on the Person and Promise of God. Faith always trust in a purposeful God and looks much like optimism in that it believes the Biblical truth that He is working in all things to accomplish something for the good of those who love Him! (Romans 8:28) We can easily get confused and think we are expressing faith when we make bold assertions about what we think God will do about situations we want changed. “God will heal me, I am sure of it,” a person claims. Is that an optimistic statement or a declaration of faith? One cannot tell just from the words. If it just an expression of general hope, it is mere optimism. If it an expression of what that person believes the Spirit has whispered into her soul, it is a statement of faith!

Some Believers mistakenly think that if they say positive things and force themselves to ‘believe’ in them with conviction, God will be obligated to do what they demand. This, they claim, is faith. They are sadly mistaken, headed for a collision with reality.

“So, Jerry,” you’re thinking, “don’t you believe that prayer changes people’s lives?” Sure do, friend. Both my understanding of the Bible and my personal experience give me reason to pray with hope and faith. God has given me many wonderful gifts over the years in response to prayer. I have experienced miraculous healing, provision for financial needs, forgiveness, and amazing opportunities – when I and others have prayed! However, faith-filled prayers are not those that demand that God act in a specific way. We are urged in the Scripture to pray boldly, to pray about anything and everything, to ask our Father for His favor – but always with humility, always remembering who is God and who is not!

Did Job suffer as he did because he did not pray with faith? No! He suffered according to the will of God for purposes that he did not know and could not grasp, and yet that faithful man did not turn on the Lord. Yes, he questioned. Yes, he even challenged God to explain Himself, but he quickly became humble and confessed that God was Lord of all saying, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” (Job 13:15, NKJV) Did Paul go through hard times because he lacked faith? To suggest that is absurd. He reminds us that the sufferings he endured actually served to bring him to greater dependence on God! Peter tells us “those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” (1 Peter 4:19, NIV)

Do not settle for mere optimism. Build great faith! How?

Get to know God – in prayer, through meditation, from the pages of the Scripture, in worship. Go beyond having a god (small ‘g’ intended!) that you keep around like a good luck charm, a deity you bring out to ward off ‘bad luck.’ That’s the stuff of religion, the empty tradition of human based ‘worship.’ Give your life over to Him. Tell Him that you are delighted simply to belong to Him, to be used by Him, to serve His sovereign purpose. Does that sound frightening? It should, for He is an awesome (in the sense of ‘fear and trembling’) God! But He is also good. Faith allows us to go from good to great in His service. Faith lets us abandon our plans and demands to discover the adventure of being part of what God is doing.

Let me pray a Scriptural prayer for you today. As you read it, let it form faith in you.
“I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. 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 3:14-21, NLT)

How do you love Him?

Read the Song of Solomon lately? It can make you blush! One of the more ‘tame’ passages reads like this- “You have captured my heart, my treasure, my bride. You hold it hostage with one glance of your eyes, with a single jewel of your necklace. Your love delights me, my treasure, my bride. Your love is better than wine, your perfume more fragrant than spices. Your lips are as sweet as nectar, my bride. Honey and milk are under your tongue. Your clothes are scented like the cedars of Lebanon.” (Song of Solomon 4:9-11, NLT) Yes, that’s right. The Bible has a whole book that celebrates the intense physical passion that draws Solomon and a young woman together. Some of it is hard for us to understand, for it is written in metaphor and allusions that are from another era and culture, but even then, we get it. This couple really, really were into each other!

So is that book in the Bible included just to tell us about a couple’s attraction to each other, which, by the way, is God’s design? I think not. There’s another application that goes beyond that first and obvious one.

In the Old Testament Israel is called God’s wife! “For your Creator will be your husband; the Lord of Heaven’s Armies is his name! He is your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, the God of all the earth.” (Isaiah 54:5, NLT) Nuptial imagery is often used to describe His love for his people. When they follow other gods, He calls them adulteresses, and He speaks to them in the voice of a broken-hearted husband of an unfaithful wife; at once both angry and longing. “The Lord said also to me in the days of Josiah the king: “Have you seen what backsliding Israel has done? She has gone up on every high mountain and under every green tree, and there played the harlot. And I said, after she had done all these things, ‘Return to Me.’ But she did not return. And her treacherous sister Judah saw it. Then I saw that for all the causes for which backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a certificate of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but went and played the harlot also.” (Jeremiah 3:6-8, NKJV)

In the New Testament, the Church is called the Bride of Christ. Christ’s love for His people is a model for spousal love. “Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her.” (Ephesians 5:25-26, The Message)

So, since this is the way God sees us – as His love, His wife – I think we can read the passionate poetry of Solomon’s Song with a secondary understanding about loving our God and Christ; with real passion, intense longing for Him, emotional and tender. {Yes, guys that can be stretch for us, at first, but you can come ’round to it.} For many 21st Christians the core of their religion is an intellectual exercise. Knowing God is about learning doctrines, working out a creed, and knowing the history of the Bible. They can argue about interpretive models for Genesis, and how Scriptural principles shape a humanitarian philosophy of life. And, all that is good, but that is not all that there is! We can love God with our hearts, too. Jesus, quoting Deuteronomy, says, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30, NKJV) In addition to our intellect, we be passionate in our love and worship of the Lord, our God.

How does that look?
We ought to let the things that break His heart break ours, too.
We need to feel His grief when we spurn His love for other lovers of this present world.
We should expect that He will come near to us, wait for Him to comfort us, earnestly desire that He should guide us as our loving Husband!
And, we should pray that His Presence will satisfy us even more deeply than any earthly lover could!

Consider these words of the Psalms. They are full of emotion for God. Ponder them today, and pray that God will teach you to love Him – with your heart as well as your mind.

“How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of Heaven’s Armies. I long, yes, I faint with longing to enter the courts of the Lord. With my whole being, body and soul, I will shout joyfully to the living God. Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow builds her nest and raises her young at a place near your altar, O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, my King and my God! What joy for those who can live in your house, always singing your praises.”
“A single day in your courts is better than a thousand anywhere else! I would rather be a gatekeeper in the house of my God than live the good life in the homes of the wicked. For the Lord God is our sun and our shield. He gives us grace and glory. The Lord will withhold no good thing from those who do what is right.”
(Psalm 84:1-4, 10-11, NLT)
_________________________

My Home in Heaven

I used to scoff at ‘Heaven talk’ as so much escapism, a way to dodge the realities of life. I wondered, ‘why do those old Believers get all misty eyed and claim to want to be in a place where they have never been?’ Now, I am beginning to understand! I just needed to get a little nearer to home to feel the tug of Heaven.

OK, everybody relax. As far as know, I’m not dying, at least not today. I am not in despair. I have much to live for. But, Heaven is in my heart. A friend of mine stopped by my office yesterday. He was the best man at our wedding 33 years ago, so you get an idea just how far back we go. Jack and I talked about our families, our walk with the Lord, and life in general. As he was leaving, the conversation came around to the subject of eternity. We agreed that when we were younger, full of dreams and eager to change the world, that we thought very little of Heaven, but now it is more on our minds. I joked, “Jack, maybe God’s plan in aging us is to help us let go of the things of this earth and get ready to go home!” But, that’s really not a joke, is it?

African Americans, in the time of slavery, led hard lives, full of sorrow. So they sang of Heaven, of God’s sweet home. They sang of the comfort offered by God. Songs like “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “There is a Balm in Gilead” and “Marching Up the Heavenly Road” and “Gonna Shout All Over God’s Heaven” sustained their hearts with hope they could not find here in this world. My Pentecostal ancestors, people who were generally poor and struggling with difficult lives, often sang of Heaven, too. “When We all Get to Heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be, when we all see Jesus, we’ll sing and shout the victory” they sang out on Sunday morning; and they meant it!

Heaven is not just a dream. It’s not just a way to cope with life. It is home! The Bible says, “All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, (the coming of the Kingdom of God) but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:13-16, NLT) Peter tells us to keep our hearts set on our true Home. “Friends, this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it. Don’t indulge your ego at the expense of your soul. Live an exemplary life among the natives so that your actions will refute their prejudices. Then they’ll be won over to God’s side and be there to join in the celebration when he arrives.” (1 Peter 2:10-12, The Message)

Don’t worry about being ‘so Heavenly minded, you’re no earthly good!’ The truth is that a Believer who has set his heart on Heaven is the most effective servant of God here on earth. He is not pre-occupied with trying to hold onto what is slipping away from him. He is not trying to build a kingdom here. He is not fearful of what may come into his life. Why? Because he knows that he’s not home yet, and that his home is secure and ready for him.

So, take these words of Jesus with you. Memorize them. He promises, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:1-3, NIV)

___________________________

Some glad morning when this life is o’er.
I’ll fly away.
To a home on God’s celestial shore,
I’ll fly away.

I’ll fly away, O glory.
I’ll fly away.
When I die, hallelujah, by and by,
I’ll fly away.

When the shadows of this life have gone.
I’ll fly away.
Like a bird from prison bars has flown.
I’ll fly away.

Just a few more weary days and then
I’ll fly away.
To a land where joys shall never end.
I’ll fly away.

I’ll Fly AwayAlfred Brumley
© 1932 Hartford Music Company.
Renewed 1960 Albert E. Brumley And Sons (Admin. by Integrated Copyright Group, Inc.)
CCLI License No. 810055

Near to His Heart

Staying connected with others is a critically important part of spiritual, emotional, and even physical health! We are wired by God to be in community. A little boy I spoke with recently was crying softly. I asked him why and he said, “I hate going to school.” The conversation revealed that he is alone, teased for being different, unliked, disconnected. Without intervention, his life will probably become even more difficult in years ahead. He needs friends. One of the curses of the elderly is loneliness. When infirmity makes it more difficult to get out, as they are less able to participate in church and social events, their isolation produces depression. We must remember them and bring encouragement to those who are shut-in.

The comfort that friends provide was a real blessing in my own life last week. As my friends heard of my father’s surgery and illness, they reached out with emails, phone calls, and cards. So many repeated a similar theme – “Thinking of you, praying for you.” Those connections were a lifeline for me and from them I drew strength. I thank God for the network of support that He has given me, increasingly realizing the value of being ‘connected’ as I grow more mature.

The most important connection, however, is the one that does not depend on social grace, or involvement in church or civic organizations, or even on electronic communications. It is our connection to the Living Lord, the Spirit of God! He who knows us best, loves us most. He does not abandon us when we are cranky, in pain, or complaining. He does not move on when our resources are exhausted. He does not move away, or turn on us because of misunderstanding or miscommunication. He says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say: “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6, NKJV)

The Enemy of our soul knows the importance of being loved by God, so he tries to get us to focus on our sins so we feel alienated from the Lord. He attempts to make us see our difficult circumstances as evidence that God has abandoned us. One of his most effective assaults on the Believer in time of trial is a whisper – “God does not care. He is not there for you!” In Psalm 73, we read the prayer of a man who forgot, for a time, that God was near. He looked around and saw the wicked prospering. He saw injustice everywhere. He concluded that the Lord had taken a vacation, that He had abandoned His people. Then, he went to worship! “I entered the sanctuary of God, and I understood!” He re-connected with his Lord. His prayer continues: “I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.” (Psalm 73:22-25, NIV)

Believer, stay connected: with God’s people, and with the Lord Himself.

When life is going well, when things are great, the temptation to self-sufficiency is strong. But, the time will come when friendship with Jesus and others will be your life-line. Worship regularly and often; both on your own and with the congregation. Stay ‘in the Word.’ Make time to express love for others, in big and small ways. Someday you will be glad for the support you will enjoy when those you have loved, love you in return.

Should the Devil be hounding you today, trying to make you think God is far away, cling to the Word which declares you are near to His heart. Here’s a passage from Exodus. The simplicity of it is captivating. The descendants of Abraham had moved to Egypt. Over many years time, they had grown in numbers and been forced into slavery. It looked like God had forgotten His promises, but then He called a man named Moses to be the one who led them back to the Promised Land. Chapter 2 closes this way. Read it and then take the thought with you as a reminder that God is near!

“The Israelites groaned under their slavery and cried out.
Their cries for relief from their hard labor ascended to God:
God listened to their groanings.
God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.
God saw what was going on with Israel.
God understood. ” (Exodus 2:23-25, The Message)
________________________________

What a Friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry,
Everything to God in prayer.
Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh, what needless pain we bear.
All because we do not carry,
everything to God in prayer.

— Joseph Scriven

Wandering, wondering?

When questions in life outnumber answers, we are tempted to spend too much time in the labyrinths of ‘what might have been’ and ‘what possibly could happen.’ Wandering the lanes of either place is a not very productive way to live. We must act and decide while living in the now!

Ever found yourself in the darkness that comes when you try to push the rewind button of time? It doesn’t work. Marty McFly got to travel “Back to the Future.” We don’t. The lens of recall does funny things to memory and what we think we remember is about as close to reality as the reflections of the mirrors in the circus funhouse. Both the depths of failure and the heights of success tend to be exaggerated when we haul them out of our memory banks for review. The future is even less accessible than the past, having the substance like the fog of an early Springtime morning. No matter how hard we try to sculpt the future, the dawn of a new day brings its own challenges, many unforeseen. Jesus’ words recorded in the 6th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, urge us to walk with God today. He says we should entrust ourselves to God, inviting His Kingdom to come and His “will to be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” Our petition is one of a simple faith, “Give us our daily bread.”

To the extent that we try to re-do yesterday or seize control of tomorrow, we fail to simply ‘be’ in the present. Perhaps one of the reasons that we often look back at a time of terrible crisis with something akin to thanksgiving is that in such times we tend to live totally in the moment which allows us to know God’s gift of grace and peace.

Last week I spent four days so enveloped in the care of my Dad, so concerned about loving the family, so taken by immediate responsibilities, that I prayed simple faith-filled prayers to get through each day. I had no occasion to think about the past or the future at all! I did not worry about the state of the church, about presidential politics, about money, or even about the Devil’s schemes! The paradox is this – for those days at the peak of personal crisis, I experienced less anxiety than I have felt for weeks! Such is the grace one can experience when living in God’s Presence and ‘in the moment.’

So what can we do with memories of yesterday? Paul’s advice is “forgetting the past, I press on!” Our sins are forgiven when we give them to Jesus, and we must release the same kind of forgiveness to those who have sinned against us. The successes cannot be repeated either, so we stow them away, with thanksgiving, and move forward. Joshua urged the people he led, “Choose today whom you will serve.” The wisdom of his counsel is compelling. If we choose the right actions today, we strengthen the foundation of faith and hope on which tomorrow’s choices will be made.

Are you wrestling with difficult decisions? Are you trying to fix something you did yesterday or working to meet some challenge you anticipate arising tomorrow?
Trust the Lord right now. Ask for His provision for this day, with thanksgiving. Walk in obedience today resisting temptation, giving yourself to the guidance of the Spirit.

Here’s the promise He makes to the faithful: “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)

___________________________
Day by day and with each passing moment,
Strength I find to meet my trials here;
Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,
I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.
He whose heart is kind beyond all measure,
Gives unto each day what He deems best;
Lovingly, its part of pain and pleasure,
Mingling toil with peace and rest.

Ev’ry day the Lord Himself is near me
With a special mercy for each hour;
All my cares He fain would bear and cheer me,
He whose name is Counselor and Pow’r.
The protection of His child and treasure,
Is a charge that on Himself He laid;
“As your days, your strength shall be in measure,”
This the pledge to me He made.

Help me then in ev’ry tribulation,
So to trust Your promises, O Lord;
That I lose not faith’s sweet consolation,
Offered me within Your holy Word.
Help me, Lord, when toil and trouble meeting,
E’er to take, as from a Father’s hand,
One by one, the days, the moments fleeting,
Till I reach the promised land.

Day By DayBerg, Ahnfelt, Skoog
© Public Domain
CCLI License No. 810055

Let’s win together!

A group of people who come together with a shared goal can do amazing things! The New England Patriots just completed a perfect season in their league going all the way without a single loss. Now they have only to win the Super Bowl to become a legendary team. That word is appropriate for those men. No single factor has produced their success. They have an outstanding quarterback in Brady, but who would he be without Moss or Faulk or Welker to carry the ball? They have a brilliant coach in Belichick, but he needs the cooperation of the men he leads. Bruschi, Seau, and Harrison lead a solid defense. Admire the individuals, but everyone acknowledges that their success belongs to the team.

Jesus Christ calls us to join His team – the Church. Believers who want to be most effective for God, who want to enjoy the best kind of Christianity, will not fall for the highly personalized “gotta do my own thing” experience that has captured so many. They will not go to church just to extract something for themselves. They will commit to a team that has a goal of building up God’s kingdom, learn their calling, perfect the gifts that God gives them for service, and celebrate the success of the church.

I have the privilege of observing a team of Believers everyday, people who inspire me by the way they serve together. At Good Shepherd Christian Academy, (http://www.gscacademy.com/) our local Christian school, there is a genuine team in place. The goal of creating a school where children can learn in an atmosphere of academic excellence, be taught the truth of the Scripture, and see the Lordship of Jesus modeled in everyday life has brought together a group of people who give of themselves in amazing ways. They are from at least 8 different local congregations and yet they function as a tightly knit, well coached team! Their love for the mission and ministry supersedes the need to be a star, to earn a big salary, or to enjoy individual recognition. Go team!

I see the team spirit modeled in our church’s music ministry. God has brought together skilled musicians and people who are passionate about music. None needs to shine individually. None insists on ‘doing it his way.’ They work together to create music that helps the people in the pews to open up their hearts to the Presence of God. As they give up their individuality, a symphony emerges; for the glory of God.

Teams will not function at a high level of effectiveness in an atmosphere of criticism or competitiveness. Those on the team must be individually motivated to give their best. They must desire the success of the team far more than their own glory. The old cliché says, “There is no ‘I’ in ‘team!'” and it is true.

The Word says, “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25, NIV) There are key truths wrapped up in those few words.

First is this – “Consider!” The word is about taking time to think it through. Team unity and effort must be intentional. It does not just happen. We have to purposefully seek to build a team.

Second is “Spur one another on.” That phrase is about getting the job done by calling each other to get with the program. We are not in a mutual admiration society where we only say nice things that cover mediocrity! Those who are on a team give each other a ‘kick in the behind’ when necessary, not because of selfishness, but to urge the highest level of participation!

Third is “Meet together.” We give priority to the group and to coming together to strengthen our ties to one another.

Fourth is “Encourage one another!” The word in the Bible’s original text is the same root word used as a title for the Holy Spirit, ‘the Advocate, the Comforter.’ We are to become advocates who offer cheers, support, and love to each other with the purpose of urging a maximum effort in the work of God.

And why do we do this?
Not for a Super Bowl ring or a trophy, not for a certificate of recognition. Peter says we do it to win an eternal “crown of glory that fadeth not away.”

The Kingdom of God, when built on His Lordship, shaped by the Gifts of the Spirit, and oiled by generous amounts of bold love, brings amazing blessings to humanity. Are you part of the team of Believers building who are seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness? Let’s win together!

Here’s a word from the Word. Think deeply on it today.
“If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead.” (Philippians 2:1-3, The Message)

Having something or becoming someone?

Thinking; I’ve been doing a lot of that this week. My Dad is hospitalized after major surgery. Mom takes the night shift and I spend each day with him at the hospital- monitoring his care, helping him with the necessary stuff, talking about life, and watching him sleep. Life has come to a kind of standstill – a time to wait. Usually I live at a fast pace all day long, with my mind in high gear, dealing with people needs, church management, and in preparation to speak or teach.

But, last Monday, I left that all behind for a week to focus on my Dad. “Lord,” I prayed, “I just want to offer him the gift of myself completely, my full attention, my love.” At first, I was bored. Then, I felt anxious about work going undone. Then, with God’s help I chose to relax ‘into’ the situation! I’m not in charge – of his illness, of his life, of the schedule; of much of anything this week. So, I think- mostly about God, life, choices, and mortality. Today I spent time while he napped pondering my value system. “Jerry, what are you spending your days to gain? When you’re the guy in the hospital bed, will you be looking for the rewind button, full of regrets or will you be at peace?”

The default setting for Americans is one that reads – ‘spend your life to get things.‘ We are programmed to get an education, choose a career, and start to work to create a stream of income so we can buy stuff. There is a promise implied in the “American Dream” that goes like this: “If you get more stuff, you will enjoy a better and happier life.” To a limited degree, it works. It’s nice to have enough money to buy the car we want, rather than just the one we need. Having a bigger house than we actually can live in is as American as apple pie! We heat and maintain 3,000 square feet of house and then actually spend 90% of our time in three rooms – kitchen, bedroom, and living room. The more stuff we have, the more money it takes to keep it all in good repair, insured, and safe. The bargain with the Devil is that now, as a result of our acquisitive ways, we have less time to enjoy the stuff we can afford; but, we keep buying. It’s a fool’s game. Many of us are certain that ‘if we had more,’ we would have a better life. I am not making a case for poverty here! God doesn’t either. He does tell us that life’s meaning can never be found in a bigger pile of stuff! “Life is not defined by what you have, even if you have a lot!” Luke 12.18 The Message

And, then there is this which has become a lot more clear to me this week: even if we do a great job in getting it, keeping it, and piling it higher – someday we will leave it all behind. The government and our kids will divide the pile and what nobody wants will end up at the Salvation Army or on the curb!

What if we focused on an entirely different goal – becoming somebody! No, not in the sense of fame or celebrity. What if we determined that the measure of a good day was not the size of the deal we closed, the hours we put on the clock for our paycheck, but by the ways we helped another person feel the love of God. That will not happen unless we radically accept God’s love for ourselves, becoming centered and satisfied in Him, made emotionally whole, forgiven of our sins, and freed from the tyranny of ego! That’s the sense in which I mention – becoming somebody. And, we continue – becoming – as God leads us on.

The most basic choice of this kind of life is one that goes against conventional wisdom. In the natural world being somebody means gaining influence, resources, and control. In God’s wisdom, becoming a real somebody requires surrender! John Ortberg writes that “surrender is not passivity nor abdication. It is saying yes to God and life each day. It is accepting the gifts He has given to me – my body, my mind, my biorhythms, my energy. It is letting go of my envy or desire for what He has given to someone else. It is letting go of outcomes… Surrender is accepting reality … the ultimate reality: I am a ceaseless being with an eternal destiny in God’s great universe.” {When the Game Is Over, It All Goes Back Into the Box, 2007, Zondervan} It is, he says, the profound realization that I am not master of the game, Another is.

The depth of our surrender to Him directly effects the extent to which He is able to use us in His purpose of building the Kingdom of God – here and for eternity. Jesus says it most succinctly – “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35, NLT)

What would life look like if instead of working to impress others, instead of building a network of power to defend our rights, instead of measuring ourselves by our ability to make situations fit into our expectations – we started each day by placing ourselves at God’s disposal with no expectation other than to find the joy of obedience?

Might it mean that we would be as eager to stop and talk to the lonely old man at Dunkin’ Donuts as we would be to try to capture the attention of an important man who passed by?

Might it mean that we took more of an interest in what our kids thought than the grades on their tests?

Might it mean that we would encourage our spouse to respond to God’s leading instead of worrying about whether we were getting enough of her attention?

Might it mean that in place of lists of our demands that He make our lives easier we would pray conversationally with God, all day long, waiting to discover His will?

I hope this week is one that God uses to chisel another piece of Christlikeness into my life! Surrender, letting go, discovering the adventure of His purposes. I want, by the grace of God and the help of the Spirit, to live as a becomer, for the glory of God.

How about you?