Before you turn the page

Prior to arrival of personal computers and online banking that make keeping a checking account in order so much simpler, I remember the end of the month chore called ‘balancing the checkbook.’ It seemed that there was always at least one check that was entered incorrectly, or some charge forgotten, that kept my balance from agreeing with that of the bank statement. I would go through my check register – line by line – looking for the error. If I didn’t do the work each month, the job of reconciliation became a monster!

In a few hours 2008 will be in the rear view mirror as we speed on down the road of life. Before it’s completely history, we would do well to take some time to make sure we close the books on this year with things in balance, with all accounts reconciled. Some questions that should be prayerfully and thoughtfully considered could include:

*Who needs to be forgiven, thanked, loved, accepted?

*What habits are helping to make me a better person and therefore should be cultivated, and, which ones are a drag on me spiritually or emotionally and need to be eliminated? *Are there gaps in my character that need to be addressed with discipline?

*What gifts has the Spirit given to me for which I should be thankful and that I must use for His glory?

*How did I succeed? … or fail? … and by whose measure?

If we refuse to engage in reflection and contemplative prayer (that which allows God to speak to us, rather than us speaking to Him) we will get stuck in patterns that quickly can become deep ruts that trap us. Remember that movie, “Groundhog Day?” (1993) In it, we are introduced to Phil Connors, (Bill Murray) a self-absorbed weatherman who finds himself re-living Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, PA over and over again. At first, he gives himself to selfish hedonism, but those choices soon cause him to be consumed with despair. Then, he starts to use his ‘curse’ to gain the skills he needs to help out others. He becomes a genuine hero.

Life can sometimes seem a lot like that film story! One day runs into the next, many seeming like a re-run of the day that went before. But, if we make the most of our opportunities and let God shape us with His hand, we drive away despair and begin to live with hope and joy as He promised.

Here’s a word from the Word for us on the last day of 2008. May the Lord give us insight and wisdom to embrace the calling that is urged on us in it.
“I count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith;… Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:8-9, 13-14, NKJV) ___________________

Father, I am thankful for all that You have allowed to be part of life.
I thank you for forgiveness for my sin,
for the power and life of the Spirit that changes me,
and for the promise of the prize of life in your home.

As this year closes, I pray for the gift of insight;
that I will see my life through Your eyes.

Now, Lord, as we turn the page into 2009,
I pray that You will lead me to the choices that will make my life count,
that will cause me to be a blessing to this world,
and most importantly,
that will allow me to hear Your commendation.

These things I ask in the Name of Jesus Christ,
my Savior, my Lord. Amen.

How many apples are in that seed?

The topic that you hear discussed everywhere is the state of our American economy. The DOW has declined about 30% in the last 6 weeks. Major corporations like GM and Chrysler are weeks from bankruptcy. Right across the street from my house sits a house that is in foreclosure. One does not have to be an analyst to realize that these are tough times. I lead an organization that relies on the generosity of others for operating funds. Though we are a relatively small church with a lean and trimmed budget, we still need to take in about $8000 a week to continue to serve our community as we presently do. When I look at our very limited cash reserves, I pray for wisdom in the decisions that are made about spending the Lord’s money and sometimes (I hate to admit this) I get afraid for the future!

In those moments, I hear the whisper of a spirit that I know is not the Holy Spirit urging me to cut ministries and/or trim missionary support so that we can “conserve the core.” That is exactly the wrong choice to make for it comes from fear and reveals a way of thinking called: a ‘scarcity mentality.’ When a person lets a scarcity mentality take over, he begins measuring the quality of his life by what he thinks he lacks rather than by what he has available to him. The perception of lack is born out of fear and where fear takes over, hoarding quickly follows.

Jesus urges us to live with an ‘abundance mentality!’ In this story He commends generosity that comes from faith that believes that God will provide. “Sitting across from the offering box, he was observing how the crowd tossed money in for the collection. Many of the rich were making large contributions. One poor widow came up and put in two small coins—a measly two cents. Jesus called his disciples over and said, “The truth is that this poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together. All the others gave what they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford—she gave her all.” (Mark 12:41-44, The Message)

Nowhere in the Bible will you read anything about scarcity of resources! God designed the world to be full, rich, and replenishing! I don’t know who said it first, but it bears repeating: “Anybody can count the seeds in an apple, but only God knows how many apples are in a seed!” The key to peace in these troubled times is a mind that thinks God-thoughts. Jesus promises to meet our needs; not our wants, not even what we think we need, but what He knows that we need. He says, “Why be like the pagans (those who do not know God – my edit) who are so deeply concerned about these things? Your heavenly Father already knows all your needs, and he will give you all you need from day to day if you live for him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern.” (Matthew 6:32-33, NLT) God promises to meet our needs and directs us to be generous, not from our abundance, but from what we have in our hand right at this moment.

By the way, a scarcity vs. generosity mentality is not just about money! We apply God’s promise of provision to our love, to forgiveness, to mercy – yes, to all of life. Make God your resource. Put Him first, and learn to give it away.
_________

Now, he was working in his garden when I happened by.
He waved me over with that look in his eye
and started breaking off some ears of corn.
He said, “Here, boy, today, this corn is just right.
“Boil it up for your supper tonight
’cause I’ve learned it’s true what my pappy used to say.
Nothing’s quite as good until you give it away.”

If you want more happy than your heart will hold,
If you want to stand taller, if the truth were told,
take whatever you have and give it away.
If you want less lonely and lot more fun
and deep satisfaction when the day is done,
throw your heart wide open and give it away

There are two kind of folks, There’s takers and givers.
There’s gripers and complainers and big-hearted liv’rs.
It depends on how we choose to spend our days.
‘Cause we can hoard up all we´ve got or give it all away!

Copyright – Bill Gaither

On the Lord’s side?

People were everywhere in our house for the last few days. A pile of shoes, large and small, was just inside our front door. Every room overflowed with bags, clothes, and coats. Who were these people? Our family! They came from their places to be at the home of Mom and Dad to celebrate Christmas together. As the years passed, my kids moved far apart – geographically and in their experiences, each one uniquely gifted; and yet, they are still ‘part of the family.’ We argue with each other, even criticize decisions others have made, but we are still ‘family,’ and those ties are strong! There is a tremendous sense of security that comes from being connected and knowing who stands alongside of us in ‘the family!’

This morning in my meditation in the Word, I spent some time with a passage in the Psalms. It speaks of ‘the LORD who is on my side’ and the security that comes from knowing to Whom we belong. Take a look. “If the Lord had not been on our side— let Israel say— if the Lord had not been on our side when men attacked us, when their anger flared against us, they would have swallowed us alive; the flood would have engulfed us, the torrent would have swept over us, the raging waters would have swept us away. … Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (Psalm 124:8, NIV)

The Heavenly Father calls us into His family and there we find a home, an identity, security, and Someone who is ‘on our side.’ To attempt to buy His favor is a big mistake. To even think of earning a place at His table is an affront to Him! He is on our side because He loves us. We have only to receive His favor by faith! Genuine faith produces real life change and we become holy sons and daughters who love Him and live close to Him. The Word tells us that because we are ‘in the family’ even in times of trouble we are steady. “Since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of highest privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory. We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us—they help us learn to endure. And endurance develops strength of character in us, and character strengthens our confident expectation of salvation.” (Romans 5:1-4, NLT)

Christian, as I look in 2009, I see some rough water ahead for us! The simmering resentments in the world are ready to explode into more violence. The economic outlook is dark for America. Many of us face personal challenges and difficulties, too. Let us not forget that the “LORD is on our side!”

“So humble yourselves before God. Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. Draw close to God, and God will draw close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, you hypocrites. Let there be tears for the wrong things you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. … When you bow down before the Lord and admit your dependence on him, he will lift you up and give you honor.” (James 4:7-10, NLT)
______________

Who is on the Lord’s side? Who will serve the King?
Who will be His helpers, other lives to bring?
Who will leave the world’s side? Who will face the foe?
Who is on the Lord’s side? Who for Him will go?
By Thy call of mercy, By Thy grace divine,
We are on the Lord’s side, Savior, we are Thine.

Who Is On The Lord’s Side
Havergal, Frances R. / Reichardt, C. Luise © Public Domain

How will you feel on December 26th?

Reading that title line you’re likely thinking, ‘what the rush? Let’s just enjoy the holiday.’ You’re right. But, living ‘in the moment’ has a limit and we all need to keep in mind that today forms tomorrow’s foundation. How you act over the next 72 hours will surely affect the way that you feel on 12/26! So lay a foundation for joy. How?

First of all, deal with your expectations of Christmas! It’s just a day. No, I’m not Ebenezer Scrooge. I am as excited as I can be about having my children back home for a few days, playing with my grandsons, swapping old stories, having a table full of conversation! But when the party’s over, life will resume. If we put too many expectations on the day, the 26th will dawn with disappointment. Better to simply enjoy life as it unfolds and thank God for the serendipitous moments that find you. If you overload the day with great expectations, even one disappointment can obscure a hundred blessings.

Second, keep the focus where it belongs. This is Jesus’ birthday party. If we get trapped by a misplaced emphasis on the external stuff of Christmas and, in the process of getting our various ‘to-do’ lists checked off, we will live right through the holiday and miss the meaning. It’s a ‘Holy-day’ primarily. Yep, Americans made it into a festival of consumption… too much food, too much fun, too much spending. The fat guy in a red suit has mostly eclipsed the Babe in the manger. Don’t get me wrong! I like Santa Claus. The jolly old man is a myth that captivates me even now. Who doesn’t yearn for somebody to magically bring happiness, if even for a day, to all the kids of the world? But, even more, there is Wonder in the story of God giving the Gift of Himself to a broken world, changing sinners to saints, bringing alienated sons and daughters of God back home!

Third, be wise – financially, emotionally, spiritually. Holidays always create stresses. Old family issues surface as we rub shoulders with people we do not see the rest of the year. Obligations at home, work, and church pile up. Most of us will feel some need to try to settle old debts or to balance the scales; especially the emotional ones. There is a heart that beats in each of us that picks up on the longing for love and we’ll try almost anything to feel the magic. Parties can set us up for mistakes. So, we will need insight, gentleness, and courage to navigate our way through these challenges successfully. If we don’t, we may well wake up on the 26th missing the joy, with an aching head and a maxxed out credit card.

Keep LOVE in focus. Put people first. That is, after all, the meaning of Christmas! “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it.” (John 3:16-17, NLT)

The Spirit of God is here, near, right now. Pray to be in a place where He can touch your life with Light. Set times of prayer and contemplation at regular intervals, moments when your soul can breathe in the Breath of God.

… And you will surely know more joy on the 26th!

I pray that the LORD will bless your life today – with peace, with joy, with wholeness. Thank you for reading along each day.
CWTW will be back next week… sometime. Merry Christmas!
______________

O come, O come Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel,
Shall come to thee, O Israel!

O come, thou Wisdom from on high,
And order all things far and nigh;
To us the path of knowledge show
And cause us in her ways to go.

O come, thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home.
The captives from their prison free,
And conquer death’s deep misery.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel,
Shall come to thee, O Israel!

John Neale, Henry S. Coffin
© Public Domain

Tourists or Residents?

I visited Israel a few years ago, spending 10 days there. But, I’ll be the first to tell you that despite having a marginally better understanding of that complex country, I really don’t know much about it at all. I saw much of the country, talked with a few of the people, and sampled the cuisine, but I’m no expert on Israeli society, culture, or politics just because I visited there once upon a time. Tourists are an interesting lot of people. They visit a region, eat in the best restaurants, see the most interesting sites, talk with a guide who is paid to tell them stories, and go home thinking they know the place. Residents know their country differently. Ask me about Northwest Jersey or Western Massachusetts! After spending much of my life in those two places, I know the kind of people who live there, the attitudes, ideals, politics.

Some approach their Christianity as tourists. They go to one church, then another; following this preacher, taking in that revival, going to hear the newest speaker on the circuit, attending a conference. Today they are a charismatic, tomorrow they’ll be Reformed, the year after that they’ll be Episcopalian! They might think they know something about being a disciple of Christ, but mostly they’re after an experience to distract them from their otherwise mundane life.

Other Christians are genuine residents of the Kingdom of God! They are living the life of a disciple, serving the King by serving the needs of those around them. They are faithful to the Body of Christ through good times and bad; have endured bad preachers with grace, and know the meaning of walking in the Spirit even when they’re just struggling to put one foot in front of the other in life. They know that being a Christian isn’t just an experience. They desire so much more than a chill or a diversion, and so they seek to know the King and His people intimately.

Jesus Christ was a resident! The Bible says: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14, NIV) The Message makes it even more clear: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” (John 1:14, The Message) He knows us, understands us, cries with us, laughs with us, prays for us. Take your cue from Him, Christian. Move into His Kingdom. Dwell with His people! Only then will you know the full experience of discipleship and find the abundance of life He promised to those who follow Him wholeheartedly.

This week, as we celebrate Christmas, I pray that the wonder of “God in flesh” will captivate you. Let the story of a Baby in a manger, on a side street in a little town called Bethlehem, cause you to know the old yet always new truth of Immanuel, God with us.
_______________________

O come all ye faithful,
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him,
Born the King of angels.

Sing choirs of angels,
Sing in exultation,
O sing all ye bright
Hosts of heav’n above.
Glory to God,
All glory in the highest.

Yea, Lord, we greet Thee,
Born this happy morning;
Jesus to Thee be all glory giv’n.
Word of the Father
Now in flesh appearing.

O come let us adore Him,
O come let us adore Him,
O come let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

© Public Domain

Immanuel – What a Beautiful Name!

Yesterday, for about an hour, I was simply swallowed by grief. The pain of my own life coupled with the difficulties of so many in my pastoral care merged to become one big ache in my soul. And, I’ll admit, I wept. I got in my car and drove down the highway. (I find that being alone in the car is a great place to pray.) As I communed with the LORD through my tears, I experienced the miracle of Immanuel, “God with us!”

Think of me what you will, there are times in my life when nothing except God’s loving arms can comfort me! Challenges, disappointments, even weariness overwhelm me. “When can I meet God?” is the prayer of my heart. When the Holy Spirit embraces me – and in my spirit I hear the Voice of God say, “it’s all right now!” – sometimes I cannot hold back the tears, as the emotions that have been bottled up spill over in my heart. There was a time when I was ashamed of those tears, fearing that they were a sign of weakness in me, but now I understand that they are a language that God understands. Jesus wept, too!

The message of Christmas is that God is near- “Immanuel, God with us!” The Gospel writers make it abundantly clear that He is not just God for the ‘together,’ the rich, the beautiful, the brave, or the intelligent. Jesus Christ, is the God of the little, the forgotten, the weak, those bruised and broken by life.
• The Father chose a young girl from a hill town to bring His Son into this world.
• He was born in the animal shelter ‘out back,’ because the room ‘up front’ was full. Just maybe the kinsfolk of Joseph in Bethlehem had ‘no room’ specifically because they could count to nine, and knew that Mary’s pregnancy was a scandal.
• The royal family in Judah determined early on to kill Him, and Jesus’ family became fugitives for a time until Herod’s death.
• As He began His adult ministry, Mark tells us that His own family thought He was mentally unstable and tried to bring Him home to avoid embarrassment.
• At the end of His short life, He hung naked, pinned to a rough cross, bleeding to death, while passers-by hurled insults at Him. Pilate mocked Him – “The King of the Jews” read the sign ordered nailed above Him as He died, a cruel joke.
Yes, Immanuel is not just a Name. It’s a statement. He understands your weariness, your brokenness, your disappointment, your feelings of worthlessness… because He’s been there,too!
But, He offers more than sympathy. He is the Savior who is also the Lord of Glory. He is the embodiment of the Promise of the Great Reversal – who will make the last, first – who will exalt the humble!

Mary’s song captures the joy we can know because of the Christmas promise. Read it thoughtfully today. Note the triumph in the words, spoken prophetically, and with great hope. It is a poem written from the safety of the Divine Parent’s embrace.

“Oh, how I praise the Lord. How I rejoice in God my Savior! For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and now generation after generation will call me blessed. For he, the Mighty One, is holy, and he has done great things for me.

His mercy goes on from generation to generation, to all who fear him. His mighty arm does tremendous things! How he scatters the proud and haughty ones! He has taken princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly.

He has satisfied the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands. And how he has helped his servant Israel! He has not forgotten his promise to be merciful. For he promised our ancestors-Abraham and his children- to be merciful to them forever.”
(Luke 1:46-55, NLT)

“He embraced his chosen child, Israel; He remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.” – The Message
Are you tired, confused, sad, broken, forsaken? Retreat for a while to the quiet, but don’t focus on your pain. Instead, wait for Immanuel to come. Invite Him to soothe your soul with His Presence. We can endure, indeed; we can recover our joy when He embraces us with Grace.
____________________

One sat alone beside the highway begging,
His eyes were blind, the light he could not see.
He clutched his rags and shivered in the shadows
Then Jesus came and bade his darkness flee.

When Jesus comes, the tempter’s power is broken;
When Jesus comes, the tears are wiped away,
He takes the gloom and fills the life with glory,
For all is changed when Jesus comes to stay.

So men today have found the Savior able,
They could not conquer passion, lust and sin;
Their broken hearts had left them sad and lonely,
Then Jesus came and dwelt, Himself, within.

When Jesus Comes
Homer Rodehaver

Half-truths about the LORD

A few days ago I met a family while they were shopping in a local store. Their third grader, a pretty blonde, spotted a DVD she wanted and announced, “I want that.” Her father smiled at her and said, “You’ll have to ask your Mom if you can have it.” He then looked at me and said with a smile, “I give her whatever she wants. I have a hard time saying no to her.” As the father of two daughters, I understand! Dads hate the disappointed look, the tears that sometimes flow when they say ‘no,’ so mostly to protect their own feelings they say, ‘yes,’ even when they know they shouldn’t.

“God loves you unconditionally!” is a phrase repeated by this pastor and from thousands of pulpits. It’s only half-true! Yes, God loves us; deeply, passionately, but not unconditionally. Too many of us treat Him like an overly indulgent Father. Despite knowing what’s right, we do what we want to do. “He will not really do anything about it,” we tell ourselves. But he will! Unlike Dad’s who can’t say no to pretty little girls, our Heavenly Father always acts in ultimate love and within the bounds of His holiness and justice. The Scripture reminds us that our choices will always have a consequence.
“Don’t be misled. Remember that you can’t ignore God and get away with it. You will always reap what you sow! Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful desires will harvest the consequences of decay and death. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So don’t get tired of doing what is good. Don’t get discouraged and give up, for we will reap a harvest of blessing at the appropriate time.” (Galatians 6:7-9 NLT)

He is patient Father and deals with us gently, which too often we confuse with leniency. Just because we do not feel the heavy hand of judgment the day after we willingly ignore His Word should not be interpreted as a sign He really doesn’t care. He wants to spare us, so He convicts, convinces, warns, and draws us back to Himself. Oh, how thankful I am for His mercy, but I am terrified of His Majesty! One without the other creates an image of the LORD that is only half-true. The Psalmist sings of the mercy of the LORD and assures us that His love is rich because He knows we are frail and weak. Read ALL of this passage.

“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. As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.

But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children
—” (Psalm 103:10-17, NIV)

Take time to meditate on this passage from the ancient prophet. Thank Him for His justice, then pray that the Spirit will help you to live obediently, squarely in the center of His favor.
” The Lord is slow to get angry, but his power is great, and he never lets the guilty go unpunished. He displays his power in the whirlwind and the storm. The billowing clouds are the dust beneath his feet…. Why are you scheming against the Lord? He will destroy you with one blow; he won’t need to strike twice!” (Nahum 1:2-3,9, NLT)

Yes, His love is amazing; and His holiness is awesome, or at least it ought to be. Don’t fall for half-truths about Him. It’s not only foolish, it’s downright dangerous.
_____________

Our God is an awesome God. He reigns from heaven above;
With wisdom, pow’r and love, Our God is an awesome God.

When He rolls up His sleeves, He ain’t just puttin’ on the ritz.
Our God is an awesome God.
There is thunder in His footsteps And lightning in His fists.
Our God is an awesome God.
And the Lord wasn’t jokin’ When He kicked ’em out of Eden.
It wasn’t for no reason That He shed His blood.
His return is very close, And so you better be believin’
That our God is an awesome God.

When the sky was starless in the void of the night,
Our God is an awesome God.
He spoke into the darkness and created the light,
Our God is an awesome God
The judgment and wrath He poured out on Sodom;
The mercy and grace He gave us at the cross.
I hope that we have not Too quickly forgotten
That our God is an awesome God.

Our God is an awesome God. He reigns from heaven above;
With wisdom, pow’r and love, Our God is an awesome God.


Awesome God
Rich Mullins © 1988 BMG Songs, Inc. (Admin. by BMG Music Publishing)
CCLI License No. 810055

It’s THEIR problem?

America’s biggest challenge today is not economic. It is spiritual! We are nation of irresponsible, pleasure loving, ‘live for today’ people who refuse to grow up and face the consequences of a four decade binge of self-indulgence. We insist that somebody rescue us from ourselves.

It’s a national illness. For example, public schools, which used to exist to educate our children, now are asked to be a second home- sort of like an institutional grandma’s house. Schools serve breakfast, lunch, and sometimes even dinner to kids whose parents are either too distracted or too lazy to care for the children they brought into the world. Families and churches used to rally ’round the sick and aged to care for them. Now we have vast government funded programs that pay people to do this. Businesses who have made poor decisions send representatives to Washington, DC to seek $billions to pay off their bad debts and we all say, “We can’t afford to let them go broke,” denying a fundamental part of our capitalistic system which is designed to reward those who make wise choices with profitability. Now, foolish executives blame their failures on somebody else. Everyone points to someone else and says, “It’s their problem! Rescue me.”

It’s personal, too. Marriages are collapsing at phenomenal rates. He blames her; she blames him. The truth is that in most situations both live childishly, refusing to discipline themselves, excusing their sin and selfishness saying; “It’s his/her problem!” People blame the banks and credit card companies for their crushing debt. Did Citi-card make us buy all that stuff we have in our house? Did GMAC force us to buy a car that we really could not afford to own? Who signed a mortgage that offered fairy tale terms that were literally too good to be true? But, the broke insist, “It’s their problem! Rescue me.” (Yes, I realize there are market forces that individuals cannot control that produce crisis, too. My point is to emphasize personal responsibility.)

Real change is not possible until a person stops hiding from the truth. A cornerstone of recovery from any problem is to first admit that it exists. Who can deal with that which they insist is not real? AA teaches those who become part of the group to say, “Hi, I am Jane and I am an alcoholic.” Is that hard? Sure is! But, when a person owes her problem, she is ready to change. I am not suggesting that we have the power to save ourselves – from addiction, from sin, or from the troubles of life. We need others desperately. That’s the core of the Christmas story. God saw a world in need and stepped into becoming our Immanuel, “God in flesh!” to be the one who ‘saves us from our sins!’ However, before He can be our Savior, we have to acknowledge; yes, we must own our sin without excuse.

The Bible, front to finish, teaches a principle of accountability and responsibility. Before He will transform us, God asks us to face ourselves and tell the truth: to ourselves, to others, and to Him. Here’s how John says it.

“This, in essence, is the message we heard from Christ and are passing on to you: God is light, pure light; there’s not a trace of darkness in him. If we claim that we experience a shared life with him and continue to stumble around in the dark, we’re obviously lying through our teeth—we’re not living what we claim. But if we walk in the light, (seeing what God sees!) God himself being the light, we also experience a shared life with one another, as the sacrificed blood of Jesus, God’s Son, purges all our sin.
If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves. A claim like that is errant nonsense. On the other hand, if we admit our sins—make a clean breast of them—he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing. If we claim that we’ve never sinned, we out-and-out contradict God—make a liar out of him. A claim like that only shows off our ignorance of God.”
(1 John 1:5-10, The Message)

We can be saved – nationally and personally – but not until we start to live in the Light, exposed and vulnerable, confessing our sin. When we do, God will save us and then lead us into the discipline of the Spirit which produces a life of holiness, wholeness, and leads us to “a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory!” (2 Corinthians 4:17, NKJV) Here’s a prayer. Billy Graham closed thousands of meetings with George Beverly Shea’s rumbling voice leading people in singing it. It’s a prayerful song, we all need to pray – again and again. It reminds us that it’s not ‘their problem.’ When we pray it, we confess, “It’s my problem and Jesus can meet me in it to save and heal me.”

Just as I am, without one plea
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou biddest me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!

Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!

Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome pardon cleanse relieve.
Because Thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God I come I come.

Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind,
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need, in Thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!

Just As I Am
Elliott, Charlotte / Bradbury, William B.
© Public Domain

The Best Way to Give

This thought is one from the archives! As I was doing some Christmas shopping yesterday, I remembered this one and thought it would be appropriate to share it again with you. Each time I publish it, there are reader comments about it. I send it with a prayer that you will find the joy of receiving the Gift of God, Life in Jesus Christ! I also pray that each of us will a great gift-giver this Christmas season, motivated by love for those to whom we give.

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Christmas shopping? Have you finished your Christmas shopping yet? If you’re like a majority of Americans, even here just a week before Christmas Day, you still have people on your gift list without a matching present! We approach our Christmas shopping from a variety of angles.

There is the CHEAP shopper. He is driven by one goal – buying something, anything, that satisfies the imperative for gift giving – while spending as little money or energy as possible. My one question to this person is -“why bother?” You have missed the meaning of Christmas entirely. Save yourself the effort because the person who receives your ‘gift’ will only be obligated to write an insincere ‘thank you’ note!

There is the HURRIED shopper. With hummingbird-like rapidity, they dart from store to store, grabbing this and that and checking off the names on their list. Obligation, not love, is the primary drive behind their search.

There is the “PAY MY DEBTS” shopper. This person hopes that with one gift, usually that cost way too much, they can make up for their failures through the year. No gift can do this, and this shopper is sadly set up fordisappointment all ready!

There is the “I’D SURE LIKE THAT” shopper who buys gifts he would like to receive for others! His gifts are often very nice, but don’t ‘fit.’ Why? Because, at the heart, he’s selfish. His gifts are not thoughtfully chosenbecause he is too in love with himself to be aware of what really going on outside of his skin.

And there is the “BECAUSE I LOVE YOU” shopper. Finally, we find the heart of Christmas! This person thinks carefully about the tastes, the needs,the personality of the person for whom he is getting a gift and, after acareful search, prepares a gift that he presents with no strings attached.This is how God gave to us. In the Scripture, this very familiar text is also a precious one. We read that “God so loved ____________________ (insert your name here) that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NIV)

His Gift was rich,
prepared from eternity,
given to settle my debts,
based on my need, and
shaped by His love for me!

In your gift-giving, make LOVE the reason.

Having trouble finding a gift for someone on your list? Relax and think about who they are, what they need, and how you can express love in a language they’ll understand. It will come to you! Perhaps the gift will not be some thing.

The best gifts are, like God’s gift to us, a gift of ourselves.
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Don’t forget to offer your best gift to the One who is the Reason for the Season. Find time to worship, to serve, to give of yourself in His Name. Let God love you, friend. His love changes everything and those who are loved by God become the best gift-givers in the world for they learn to give richly, with purpose, to meet the need of the recipient, and with love – just like their heavenly Dad!

“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.” (Ephesians 3:16-19, NLT)

On God’s ‘critically important’ list

“I don’t need church to worship God,” is a phrase often heard from sincere Believers. “I find the Spirit in _______” and that blank is filled in with myriad things. While I agree that worship certainly happens in many places outside of a church house, a disciple who brushes off the importance of going to church and being an active part of a congregation, is ignoring something that is on God’s ‘critically important’ list!

In a short book called Haggai, we find the LORD speaking to His people, urging them to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. He asks them a pointed question. “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?” Now this is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. …. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the LORD. “You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the LORD Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house.” (Haggai 1: 3-5, 8-9, NIV) The Lord took issue with their insistence that the Temple was not important to Him.

So, you might object that Haggai was writing to Jews whose practice included sacrifices offered in that Holy Place and that we no longer need such a place. Only in a partial sense would you be correct! There is no more single Holy Place, nor Altar where priests offer up sacrifices. Christ was the final sacrifice, offered up for the sins of the world. But the New Testament, while calling each one of us a ‘temple’ in which the Spirit dwells, also calls us together for worship! In Hebrews right alongside of a reference to the superior sacrifice of Christ, Christians are given this command: “let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And 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 10:22-25, NIV)

The church house in which we gather might be someone’s living room, a school gymnasium, a chapel by the roadside, a brick edifice, or a cathedral depending on the economy and function of the building. I have gathered with other Believers in all of the above and offered my praise and worship to the Living God. I once worshipped while sitting on a crude wooden bench in a former potato warehouse in India, singing accompanied only by the thump of a single drum! And I have worshipped among thousands, with orchestra and pipe organ, too. The house in which God’s people gather is not what is central to our faith practice. It is the act of gathering; coming together so that the Spirit can be among us! And Jesus assures us that “where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20, NIV)

  • If you’re church is not a good church, then earnestly pray for her; don’t abandon her! God may change the church or He may change you, but the act of loving His Church with prayer and support, is a choice of obedience that the Lord will always bless.
  • If your church is a good, healthy Body, give thanks for the work being accomplished and pray for those who lead her to keep vision renewed and fervor fresh. Nothing breeds complacency like ‘success’ however that may be defined.

As much as some may denigrate the church, there is nothing that will contribute to the stability and vitality of your faith in a greater way than your church over the course of your life. God says so! If the Church is important to Him, it must be important to those who claim to love and serve Him! You better believe it.

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The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord;
She is His new creation by water and the word.
From heav’n He came and sought her to be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her, and for her life He died.

Elect from ev’ry nation, yet one o’er all the earth,
Her charter of salvation- “One Lord, one faith, one birth;”
One holy name she blesses; partakes one holy food,
And to one hope she presses, with ev’ry grace endued.

Yet she on earth hath union with God the three in one,
And mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won;
O happy ones and holy! Lord, give us grace that we,
Like them, the meek and lowly, on high may dwell with Thee.

‘Mid toil and tribulation and tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation of peace forevermore;
‘Till with the vision glorious her longing eyes are blest,
And the great Church victorious, shall be the Church at rest.

Though with a scornful wonder men see her sore oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed:
Yet saints their watch are keeping, Their cry goes up, “how long?”
And soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song.

The Church’s One Foundation
Samuel Stone, Samuel Wesley© Public Domain