Stuck in a rut?

I am not the man today I was 25 years ago and I am thankful for that fact! I am no longer ruled by my temper, full of self-righteousness, quick to judge others, and proud of my puny achievements. I don’t hate those who wrong me, fear those who attack me, or seek to destroy my enemies. I regularly experience the Holy Spirit’s ” love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23, NLT) Please don’t read this as prideful. Only God could do what is being done in me! And, don’t think I am deceived about having attained goodness by my own efforts!

I am a long, long way from perfect, but I am growing in grace. Temptation stills worms its way into my heart and mind. Too often I allow ungodly thoughts, words, and actions to be my choice but I rejoice in the process described in the Word as being ” transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory!” (2 Corinthians 3:18, NIV) Praise God I am not who I was and I look forward to who I will be under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit! Religion didn’t do this for me! Immersing myself in church culture and work did not change my heart. The transformation is gradual, the Truth of God replacing the deceptions of evil, the Spirit working to bring understanding, and repentance bringing change. I am unwilling to resign to life and say, “I am what I am.” To do so, would be to get stuck in a rut!

One of the more pathetic sights in this world is a person who has stopped developing emotionally and spiritually. That 45 year old man who is still trying to wear his high school football jacket, who is trying to make what hair he has left look cool, and who is still working to impress ‘chicks,’ is a joke to everyone but himself. Being a teenager is fun, but unless we grow out of that stage we look and act increasingly foolish! Same principle applies to a Christian who refuses to grow in Christ, to develop character, deal with his hang-ups, and move forward. Disciple, if you’re making the same arguments and fighting the same battles today that you fought 20 years ago, I urge you to go to your knees and ask God to rock your world! Engage in a fast, dig into the Scripture, find a spiritual director and; for God’s sake – grow up!

Perhaps all this sounds like too much emphasis on ‘works religion’ and not enough reliance on God’s grace. Let’s be clear. This is not about perfecting one’s self with guilt, psychological tricks, or thumb screws! This is about pursuing God whole-heartedly. Genuine spiritual depth is not about superficially looking better, nor is it about mastery of Scripture trivia! It is about walking with God, being more and more His intimate friend, giving larger and larger chunks of Self over to His mastery. He leads, we follow! To be sure, such intimacy will not just happen to us. He will bring us into situations where we come face to face with some part of ourselves and give us the choice – live to Me or choose to live for Self. By the Power of the Spirit we say, “Yes,” and grow on… to the next challenge point. And so it goes. The Light of Christ shines into the dark places of our lives and we discover the pain of our sinfulness. But, with genuine repentance, we also find the incredible joy of forgiveness and serenity of walking with God. The result is a beautiful holiness that others sense is heart deep, not just a pious affectation that we adopt for certain situations.

Here’s how Paul described the process of spiritual maturation. Ask God to help you to choose this Way and together, let’s make His Name glorious. Take a few moments to soak in his testimony and be challenged by it.

“Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith.

I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead! I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection (read – completeness or maturity) for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. (Simply put – I am growing up!)

No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting
the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”
(Philippians 3:8-14, NLT)
___________

He gave me beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise
For the spirit of heaviness,
That we might be trees of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord,
That He might be glorified.

Beauty for Ashes
Robert Manzano © 1976, 1979, 1983 Maranatha! Music (Admin. by The Copyright Company)
CCLI License No. 810055

It just isn’t natural!

“Nobody ever comes through for me. I am so lonely. My only friend isn’t even human.” The words were sad, pathetic even. While I understood the person’s genuine emotional pain, after just a few minutes of conversation it was clear that he had wrapped himself so tightly in self-pity that no one could get through to him. Even sincere offers friendship were seen through a distorted lens that caused him to sabotage relationships. “Nobody will ever love me,” was an accurate, self-fulfilling prophecy!

John Maxwell writes that ‘a major cause of poor mental health is self-absorption. Selfishness ultimately hurts not only the people around a self-focused person, but also the selfish person himself. … That is the reason that Dr. Karl Menninger (renowned psychiatrist) responded the way he did when someone asked, ‘What would advise a person to do if he felt a nervous breakdown coming on?’ Most people expected him reply, ‘consult a psychiatrist.’ To their astonishment, he said, ‘Lock up your house, go across the railroad tracks, find someone in need, and do something to help that person.’” – Failing Forward, Nelson, 2000

A young husband wept as he talked with me. “How could I have been so dumb?” In counseling, a year ago, his wife had begged him for attention, asked him to be tender, and to take an interest in her. Stupidly, he responded ‘just deal with life. I am who I am and don’t plan to change.’ Months later, with a broken heart, she walked out on their marriage. Only then, did he realize how selfish he was; too late! If he had been willing to learn to give, to forget his need to ‘hang out’ with his friends, his wife would surely have met him half-way. But, he wanted to live on his own terms and now he could, alone.

The wisest Counselor said – “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed?” (Luke 9:24-25, NLT)

Gain by giving. Win by losing. Forget yourself, find yourself!
It just isn’t natural!

Perhaps not, but, it’s the truth!

In these troubled times, most of us will struggle with the instinct to protect ourselves, to hoard our resources, to feed Self first. Take the way of Jesus Christ Who said, “Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity.” (Luke 6:38, The Message)
___________

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!

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

Copyright – Bill Gaither

I’ll take one portion of ‘Jesus’

Americans are consumers! We buy stuff to make ourselves feel better, to enhance our status, to make life easier, and just because everybody else is buying it! We are self-centered, our selfishness fed by a whole economic system that depends on creating a sense of entitlement and want so we will spend more to get the things that somebody else says we must have in order to be happy. That’s an issue bigger than I want to tackle today. What’s bugging me is that we bring our consumerism to our spirituality. The practice of Christianity has been hugely changed by responding to consumer demands. “Give me a Jesus Who works for me, makes my life better right now, and promises me customer satisfaction.” While few actually say these words, aren’t they usually just below the surface of our conscious thoughts?

In an article “Jesus Is Not a Brand” published in Christianity Today, January 2009, Tyler Wigg-Stephenson responds to that idea. He writes, “This attitude inhibits the disciple’s growth into living God-centered, neighbor-focused life. Yes, the Christian life brings fulfillment beyond imagination, but such fulfillment is strangely elusive if it is your main priority as a Christian. Indeed it only comes when we seek God instead of ourselves. Those who come to the Church expecting to find brand satisfaction or seeking to save their lives will find neither. … How do we convince people who are dedicated to self-creation that life is really about the grace and power of God?”

It requires a major overall of perspective that can only be accomplished by the Spirit. The Bible calls it conversion and I am convinced that few of us have experienced that in fullness! We love Jesus, but more for the practical things we believe He can do for us (think – “Does it work for me?”); than for the simple delight of knowing Him! Perhaps the current economic crisis in America may prove a boon for disciples by breaking us from our love of stuff and self and driving us into the arms of Jesus.

Then, too, Christianity cannot be all God wants it to be for us, if we are unwilling to radically love others! Over this past year, my travels to central Pennsylvania to care for my Dad, brings me into contact with a culture that rejects consumerism, that is committed to communal living, and that uses material goods less to pursue illusory happiness, than to simply live. Who are these people? The Amish! They have no need for dozens of shoes or outfits. They dress the same- for market, for church, and at home! Nobody impresses their neighbor with a designer name brand. They have no need to buy a new something because it’s fashionable, for fashion is a meaningless concept to them.

Meaning in life for the Amish is not about ‘things’ at all! It is about people. If their neighbor’s barn burns down (as one did recently) the whole community gathers resources, comes together, and rebuilds the barn in days, making a celebration of getting their brother back in business. In Amish culture (admittedly I have a limited understanding) it’s seldom about ‘me’ and always about ‘we.’

We cannot take just enough “Jesus” to make life work! We cannot hold onto our selves and cling to Him at the same time. Ponder these words of Jesus, familiar though they are. Really think about them. They will rock your world.

“You can’t worship two gods at once. Loving one god, you’ll end up hating the other. Adoration of one feeds contempt for the other. You can’t worship God and Money both.

“If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds. “Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference?

Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them. “If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you?

What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.”
(Matthew 6:24-33, The Message)

Do Only Perfect People Go to Heaven?

The answer to the question in the title is ‘yes!’ Our Holy God will not tolerate sin, will not let Heaven be tainted with the anything short of His perfection. I do not know anybody that is perfect, do you? We both have known a few who thought they were perfect or that worked hard to create the impression of being ‘perfect’ but once we really get to know them, there are no illusions, are there? Each of us is sadly aware of our sins and failures. We readily identify with David who mourned his sinfulness saying, “I know how bad I’ve been; my sins are staring me down. … I’ve been out of step with you for a long time, in the wrong since before I was born.” (Psalm 51:2,5 The Message) Our own life story has more than a few blots on the pages, doesn’t it? Depravity is the universal condition of humanity. Scriptures inescapable indictment is brief and clear: “For all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” (Romans 3:23)

So, is Heaven a place we dream of, but where only God and the angels dwell?
Can we, should we, hope for a home with the Lord, or is that just a dream, beyond our reach?

Only those who are perfect live with God, but reaching that blessed state is not the result of our effort! “God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.” (Romans 3:24, The Message) In the opening of the letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes of the amazingly stupendous love of God for you and me. Then in chapter 2, he seems to abruptly change tone. “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins… All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.” (Ephesians 2:3, NIV)

Then, he writes, “But, God…” There is the Divine Exception, the Immanuel Intervention, that makes our hope of a home in Heaven (and a life in His Presence right here, right now) possible! “But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so very much, that even while we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. … God saved you by his special favor when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” –Ephesians 2:3-10 NLT

The Perfect God did not take the “Grandpa” route in dealing with our sins. When my grandsons disobey I’m a marshmallow – “Ah, come on. Let it go,” I tell their dad. I’m not charged with forming their character, with helping them become better. I just get to love on them! God is our Father, not our Grandpa. He cannot look at our sinfulness and brush it off, overlook it, or excuse it. But, He can offer a sacrifice that forgives us, an atonement for our guilt debt, and the power of the Spirit that changes us from sinner to saint. That is exactly what He’s done for us.

Disciple, do not abuse His grace. Do not mistake His mercy for approval of sin. Rather, let Him lead you through the tests and trials that perfect your faith, that bring you to maturity in the Way. Invite the Spirit to work deeply in you to produce the ‘beauty of holiness in you’ which will honor your Savior. This ‘perfection’ thing is a process – a work of our Deliverer and the disciplines of the Spirit.

Take this thought as your statement of purpose– “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” — Phil. 3:12-14
____________

Sing the wondrous love of Jesus,
Sing His mercy and His grace;
In the mansions bright and blessed,
He’ll prepare for us a place.

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

While we walk the pilgrim pathway,
Clouds will overspread the sky;
But when traveling days are over,
Not a shadow, not a sigh.

Let us then be true and faithful,
Trusting, serving every day;
Just one glimpse of Him in glory
Will the toils of life repay.

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

When We All Get To Heaven

Hewitt, Eliza E. / Wilson, Emily D.© Public Domain

The Last Enemy

For just over one year, mortality has met me just about every Monday when I visit Dad’s sick room! On January 10, 2008 my Dad went through surgery for a blocked intestine, which revealed a mesenteric carcinoma that was well advanced. And, in the year that passed, he has gone from thin, to weak, and for the last several months to confinement in his bed. His dignity and independence has been taken away, little by little; and now he requires ‘round the clock care like an infant, dependent on others to meet even his most basic needs. Even as I write this, I am sitting at his side, getting sips of water, replacing the comforter that he keeps pulling off. This experience, though new to me, is a common road for as the Bible says, “man is destined to die.”

In many funerals, while standing next to a casket holding a lifeless body, I have observed that death leaves us with an abandoned house. I point out that an empty house quickly loses its glory, that it falls to ruin, leaving us to wonder what it was like when it was a home to a family that tended the lawn, planted flowers, and fixed the fence! At death, the spirit leaves the body, and we are left with a shell, nothing more! Death is ugly- both in the process and its apparent finality. And yet… Oh, how thankful I am that death is not the End!

The Bible says, “So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. … And the last enemy to be destroyed is death. … It is the same way with the resurrection of the dead. Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength.” (1 Corinthians 15:22, 26, 42-44, NLT) This is the wonder of our Christian faith. My Dad’s body is broken, his physical life ebbing away. But, our hope is strong, for we see Jesus Christ once dead, now alive. He is our Prototype, His experience promised to be our experience.

Again from the Bible: “The first man, Adam, became a living person.” But the last Adam—that is, Christ—is a life-giving Spirit. … Just as we are now like the earthly man, we will someday be like the heavenly man. What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever.” (1 Corinthians 15: 45, 49-50, NLT)

Do I understand how all this happens? No! It is faith-based. How can such an ugly process lead to such a glorious triumph? Only God knows. “But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:57, NLT) My hope today is not shaped by science, though I value the knowledge it brings me. My hope does not grow from philosophical systems that explain mysteries to me, though I appreciate the importance of wisdom! I trust in God!

Here’s a word from the Word. It gives me courage to face this last enemy – death – and I pray it will encourage you, too. Jesus gave this Promise to His disciples the night before He went to the Cross. “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.” (John 14:1-3, NLT)
_____________

The kingdom of our God is here,
Heaven is in my heart.
The presence of His majesty,
Heaven is in my heart.
And in His presence joy abounds,
Heaven is in my heart.
The light of holiness surrounds,
Heaven is in my heart.

His precious life on me He spent,
Heaven is in my heart.
To give me life without an end,
Heaven is in my heart.
In Christ is all my confidence,
Heaven is in my heart.
The hope of my inheritance,
Heaven is in my heart.

We are a temple for His throne,
Heaven is in my heart.
And Christ is the foundation stone,
Heaven is in my heart.
He will return to take us home,
Heaven is in my heart.
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come!”
Heaven is in my heart.

Heaven Is In My Heart

Kendrick, Graham© 1991 Make Way Music (Admin. by Music Services)
CCLI License No. 810055

America’s most common gathering

Gallup reports that around 40% of Americans surveyed reported attending a house of worship in the previous seven days. Barna Research studies in 2005 reported that 45% of adults said they attended worship in the previous week. Many feel that figure is inflated, the more accurate number being closer to 25%. Using that range, we know that at least 75 millions and perhaps as many as 120 million Americans attend worship each week, more than the total combined annual attendance at sports events!

Mega-churches get most of the TV exposure, leading us to believe that people go to church for big, expensive programs, great preaching, and concert quality music. Wrong! The large majority of those millions of worshippers are attending neighborhood churches with an average attendance less than 100 people where the preaching is often mediocre and the music something less than superb! And yet we go – again and again – week after week!

While people think they go to church for a program, in actuality they go for a Person!

Eugene Peterson points out three factors that pull people to worship.
1. Worship gives life a working structure.
2. Worship nurtures our need for a relationship with God.
3. Worship centers our attention on the wisdom of God. – Life at Its Best, Zondervan, 2006

When we pause from the commerce of daily life, we have the opportunity to regain a sense of what/who we were created to be. Regardless of the style of our church’s liturgy – from rigidly formal to charismatically chaotic – behind it all is the Spirit reminding us that we are small and He is big! Worship gives us a language for loving God. When we worship our heart expresses our sometimes unconscious longing to know Him. The very act of gathering with others for the purpose of worship says, “I’m reaching out to You.” Worship includes hearing the Word of God. The Bible is read, the preacher opens the Text and speaks from it. That very Word shapes us – from the inside out – and comforts us too.

If a church abandons the pursuit of God and becomes a gathering focused on anything or anyone other than the Lord, it will die for the real, if unconscious, needs of the worshippers will not be nurtured. If the Word is stripped from worship, replaced by poetry or prose of man, the worshippers will starve and that church will die. The upward focus on the Eternal, Unfathomable, Transcendent God is what sets worship gatherings apart from all other human events!

Make gathering for worship a consistent part of each week! The very act will improve your life, perhaps not the first week, but most certainly over time. Deal with the consumer expectations that can poison your worship experience. Instead of focusing on how you feel, what you think you need, or who spoke kindly to you – just go to present yourself to God! Show up a few minutes early and let your soul catch up with your body so you can fully worship. Attend with your heart and mind as well as your body! In other words, pay attention and participate. Sing! Pray! Listen! Respond!

And like the Psalmist, you too will sing, “I rejoiced with those who said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” (Psalm 122:1, NIV)

______________

Light of the world You stepped down into darkness,
opened my eyes, let me see;
Beauty that made this heart adore You,
Hope of a life spent with You.

King of all days, oh so highly exalted.
glorious in Heaven above!
Humbly You came to earth You created,
All for love’s sake became poor.

Here I am to worship! Here I am to bow down!
Here I am to say that You’re my God.
You’re altogether lovely, altogether worthy,
Altogether wonderful to me.

Here I Am To WorshipTim Hughes © 2000 Kingsway Music
CCLI License No. 810055

Driving forward looking in the rearview mirror?

The tearful woman on my phone was mourning the loss of a familiar life. Her husband retired and they moved to a new community. After years of long days of work, community involvement, and activities she found herself depressed because she had nothing to do! “My life is over,” she said; and she was serious. I encouraged her to take advantage of her new circumstances. “You can’t go forward staring in the rear view mirror,” I reminded her. “Yesterday might have been wonderful, but it’s history. Learn from the mistakes, celebrate the successes but, always, keep living in the present.”

People who spend too much time in either yesterday or tomorrow will lose today. The consequence is a wasted life, doing nothing of meaning! Productive or not, yesterday’s gone! Got plans for tomorrow? Good. Planning is important, but tomorrow may never arrive for some of us.

Today is God’s gift to you. Make it count.

Moses prayed, “… teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12, NKJV) “Number?” Interesting way to put it. He was asking God to impress on us the need to keep our days ordered so that our lives do not descend into confusion and chaos. Ever notice how things go to ruin, how messes develop, so quickly? In just a few days my office collects clutter, the back seat of my car fills up with ‘stuff.’ I’m forever picking up the stuff that accumulates in the hallways of the church! Where does that stuff come from? Unless I take steps to impose order today, I will find chaos has developed by next week!

Many years ago, in a management training session, I learned a valuable little lesson – “Whenever possible, finish the task you’ve started.” The man leading the course said, “Handle paper once!” He was teaching us to be decisive, to make a decision, if possible, and finish the job.
Unproductive people live in the middle of unfinished tasks that they sincerely plan to finish but never do – because they are paralyzed by the chaos their disorganization has created. I know that I must set aside blocks of time that are dedicated to specific tasks and work at them until they’re done. It works! A job as simple as paying bills or sorting mail becomes much easier if I focus on it, don’t do anything else, until I finish. That way there is no leftover clutter laying around adding to the mess.

People live in amazing messes– unfinished business, undone laundry, unpaid bills, emotional debts, half-done projects, unfulfilled dreams, unmet expectations — in large part because they don’t just do something today. Today’s tasks, half done, get added to the pile of yesterday’s regrets. Very quickly the whole thing becomes an unmanageable collection of chaotic confusion.

I can hear some of you commenting: “Jerry, you don’t understand. I’m just not an organized person. I hate planning, prioritizing, and order.” That, my friend, is an excuse. If you will not discipline yourself to finish a task today, even a simple one, then prepare for chaos tomorrow! And, please, don’t complain about how others enjoy a productive life or a well-developed character because “they’re so lucky.”

One guy wryly observed, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” That could be prideful. We must not ignore the blessings of God. But, there is an element of truth in that comment. Ever since the curse of sin fell on Creation, both a Deliverer and diligence are always required to bring beauty out of the chaos of life. Jesus Christ is our Deliverer, but the diligence is left to us- today!

Want a sculpted body? Exercise!
Want a beautiful garden? Weed it regularly.
Want to enjoy friendships? Invest in others regularly.
Want to live intimately with God? Practice the spiritual disciplines!

Great work start with today’s work!

Peter points out the blessings of God’s gift of grace and reminds us that God has provided ALL we need to live productive lives today. Then, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he tells us that we have to make a decision NOW, to do something NOW, to work at ordering our lives NOW.

“So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus.

Without these qualities you can’t see what’s right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books.
So, friends, confirm God’s invitation to you, his choice of you. Don’t put it off; do it now. Do this, and you’ll have your life on a firm footing.” —
(2 Peter 1:5-10, The Message) ___________________________

Hold tight to the sound of the music of living,
Happy songs from the laughter of children at play;
Hold my hand as we run through the sweet fragrant meadows,
Making memories of what was today.

Tender words, gentle touch, and a good cup of coffee,
And someone that loves me and wants me to stay;
Hold them near while they’re here, and don’t wait for tomorrow
To look back and wish for today.

We have this moment to hold in our hands,
And to touch as it slips through our fingers like sand;
Yesterday’s gone, and tomorrow may never come,
But we have this moment today.

We Have This Moment Today
Bill and Gloria Gaither ©1975 by William J. Gaither

Authentic, Accepting, Accelerating <http://www.WashingtonAG.com>

Rick Warren’s Prayer

As our new President sits down in the Oval Office today, he will tackle a mountain of challenges. The expectations that are heaped on his shoulders are more than any mere man could ever fulfill. Believer, regardless of how you feel about his positions and politics, it is God’s will that we pray for him. The Bible says: “I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way (re-read the previous phrase!!) for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.” (1 Timothy 2:1-2, NLT)

If you want a great model for your prayers for President Obama, take Pastor Rick Warren’s prayer at the inaugural ceremony yesterday. It was not a speech! It is a real prayer, addressed to God, and it is full of meaning. Make it yours. Remember, God’s blessings on this man become beneficial to the whole nation. The text of that prayer follows.

“Almighty God, our Father, everything we see and everything we can’t see exists because of You alone. It all comes from You, it all belongs to You, it all exists for Your glory. History is your story. The Scripture tells us, ‘Hear, oh Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one’ and You are the compassionate and merciful one and You are loving to everyone You have made. Now today we rejoice not only in America’s peaceful transfer of power for the 43rd time, we celebrate a hinge-point of history with the inauguration of our first African American president of the United States. We are so grateful to live in this land, a land of unequaled possibility, where a a son of an African immigrant can rise to the highest level of our leadership. And we know today that Dr. King and a great cloud of witnesses are shouting in heaven.

Give to our new president, Barack Obama, the wisdom to lead us with humility, the courage to lead us with integrity,
the compassion to lead us with generosity.
Bless and protect him, his family, Vice President Biden, the Cabinet and every one of our freely elected leaders.

Help us, oh God, to remember that we are Americans. United not by race or religion or by blood, but to our commitment to freedom and justice for all. When we focus on ourselves, when we fight each other, when we forget You, forgive us. When we presume that our greatness and our prosperity is ours alone, forgive us. When we fail to treat our fellow human beings and all the earth with the respect that they deserve, forgive us. And as we face these difficult days ahead, may we have a new birth of clarity in our aims, responsibility in our actions, humility in our approaches and civility in our attitudes — even when we differ.

Help us to share, to serve and to seek the common good of all. May all people of good will today join together to work for a more just, a more healthy and a more prosperous nation and a peaceful planet. And may we never forget that one day, all nations, all people will stand accountable before You. We now commit our new president and his wife Michelle and his daughters, Malia and Sasha, into your loving care.

I humbly ask this in the name of the one who changed my life — Yeshua, Esa, Jesus, Jesus — who taught us to pray: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
________

God of our fathers, whose Almighty hand
Leads forth in beauty all the starry band
Of shining worlds in splendor through the skies,
Our grateful songs before Thy throne arise.

Thy love divine hath led us in the past.
In this free land by Thee our lot is cast.
Be Thou our Ruler, Guardian, Guide, and Stay,
Thy word our law, Thy paths our chosen way.

From war’s alarms, from deadly pestilence,
Be Thy strong arm our ever sure defense.
Thy true religion in our hearts increase;
Thy bounteous goodness nourish us in peace.

Refresh Thy people on their toilsome way.
Lead us from night to never ending day.
Fill all our lives with love and grace divine;
And glory, laud, and praise be ever Thine.

God Of Our Fathers
Roberts, Daniel C. / Warren, George© Public Domain

Help from the hills

Undoubtedly, our lives are more complex these days despite technology and multiple ‘labor saving’ devices that are supposed to make it all easier to manage! We have more things to keep in working order, a wider circle of relationships to tend, and multiple demands on our time. In this busy world, I’ll be first to admit that it takes a lot of effort to keep our hearts in tune with God, to nurture our marriages, to raise our kids to revere the things of God- in short, to order our lives in a God-pleasing way that really works.

Life doesn’t always ‘work’ the way we think it should, does it? The more desperate we become, the more we search for sources of solace. But, where will we turn? We love our self-help sources! Prevention magazine promises us that we can live forever if we follow the advice of the various gurus. The church of Oprah meets daily and from her pulpit she dispenses wisdom to millions who are ready to drink up her advice about everything from politics to sex. WebMD allows us to doctor ourselves.

Many people turn to faith in God in times of crisis. She walks out the door and suddenly he wants to go to church. The teenage daughter announces she is pregnant and her parents decide that it’s time to reorder weekend priorities to include worship. The mistaken idea is that with faith comes magic answers, instant solutions, and a return to happy land. That’s all fine, but it doesn’t work! God is the God of miracles but He’s not our Magician, nor is He our household Butler who shows up after our party to clean up the messes!

One of my favorite Psalms is also one of the most misunderstood passages in the Bible. Here’s the song:
I lift up my eyes to the hills- where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

Those who first sang this song in Israel understood the opening line better than we do. We think the Psalmist is rhapsodizing about the glory of the hills that turns our thoughts to God! No, that’s not it, at all. The hilltops of ancient Israel were places of idolatry, where shrines stood to the various gods. Want to assure a better crop in the Springtime? Go to the fertility shrine on the hilltop. Need protection from drought? Go to the hilltop where the sun-god could be appeased. The gods (Baals – literally “lords”) were notoriously fickle. They were thought to fall asleep on the job! The priests claimed they could awaken them if the right offerings were presented. They forgot to send rain, make the fields grow, and to protect from evil demons.
Only if a person went to the hills regularly to offer their sacrifices, could they hope to keep things in order. The gods needed the people they supposedly cared for. But, it didn’t work! The priests were frauds, the orgies in worship of the fertility gods just a distraction from the grim realities of daily life!

Thus, the followers of the One True God, Yahweh, did not look for help from the gods worshipped at the hilltop shrines. They looked to the Maker of the hills. How was He different from the Baals?

The promises that follow make it plain.
“He will not let your foot slip- he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you-
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm- he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”

(Psalm 121, NIV)

Does this mean that faithful Christians will never turn their ankles, never get cancer, never find their marriages troubled? Can we expect that He will exempt us from the up’s and down’s of the economy? No, and if we read it that way, we may eventually lose faith, concluding that God is fraud, or at least, ignoring us. Or, we may think that we need to dance faster, give more, or raise the volume of our prayers to attract His attention.

What God promises in this Psalm is that even in our times of distress we can count on His Presence, lean on His wisdom, and expect His purposes to prevail! Unlike the fickle gods, He is an ever-watching, always active, and all Powerful Lord for all those who trust with their lives.

Don’t turn aside to the gods of the hills. No, of course, we don’t worship the Baals any longer, but we do worship Money, Government, Education, and many other gods who prove incapable of seeing us safely home. Look, instead, to the Creator, who is never caught napping. Trust Him now, even in the good times, so that you will know how to walk with Him when the storms come- and they will.
__________________

The beasts of the field,
The birds of the air
Are silent to call out Your name.
The earth has no voice
And I have no choice;
But to magnify God unashamed.
Let the rocks be kept silent
For one more day.
Let the whole world sing out.
Let the people say,

“Almighty, most Holy God;
Faithful through the ages.
Almighty, most Holy Lord;
Glorious, Almighty God.”


Well, time marches on
With innocence gone,
And a darkness has covered the earth;
But His Spirit still dwells;
He speaks, “It is well,”
And the hopeless still
Offered new birth.
He will break the leash of death;
It will have no sting.
Let the prisoner go free.
Join the dance and sing,

“Almighty, most Holy God;
Faithful through the ages.
Almighty, most Holy Lord;
Glorious, Almighty God.”

Almighty
Watson, Wayne© 1990 Material Music (Admin. by Word Music Group, Inc.) / Word Music, Inc. (a div. of Word Music Group, Inc.)CCLI License No. 810055

Something to celebrate!

Many Americans will have a holiday from work today. It is a day set aside to honor the work and memory of Martin Luther King, Jr. who stirred the nation’s conscience and led African Americans in peaceful protest to gain the rights promised to all of our citizens. This year, with the election of Barack Obama to the Presidency, the day takes on even more meaning. The fruit of Dr. King’s labors is readily evident as an African American prepares to take the oath of office. Regardless of our personal politics, this is something we can all celebrate, a watershed day in our national story. Does Obama’s election mean that racial divisions are gone? Of course not. Bigotry stills has a grip on millions in ways both conscious and unconscious!

Disciple, you and I are called by Christ Jesus to live without hatred, to let the Spirit root out the mistrust of those different from us. What did He say were the two basic demands of God for all of us: to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Those words roll so easily from our tongue. They just must be true, right, and compelling- and they are! Yet, the history of the Church has too many tragic chapters where hate was given the sanction of her leaders. The Scripture were and are abused to support suppression of human rights and dignity. Frequently ‘the way things have always been’ was confused with ‘the way things ought to be.’

We still have issues with which we wrestle. A couple of examples would be –

· How do we understand what the Bible says about homosexual behavior and apply that within the teaching of Jesus about the worth and dignity of every person? No simple answer there!
· How do we remain faithful to the basic teaching of the Scripture about the difference between male and female roles in the family and yet honor the New Testament reminder that “all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:27-28, NIV)? Not a simple answer there either!

We must not settle for just tolerance. That word annoys me! I have not honored Christ by just tolerating a person who is of a different race, religion, or color! I honor Him only if I genuinely love that person as I love myself. That, dear friend, requires more than I can muster up in myself. John says that “we love others because God loved us first!” The love of God for us should produce a profound sense of humility and obligation: humility that wonders ‘why me, Lord?’ and obligation that says I must share the love I have been given with those who need Him!

Today, I encourage you to take a few moments to pray for racial reconciliation here in these United States. Ask God to bring Light to the darkness of ignorance and hatred. Ask His blessing and protection for our President-elect for these are difficult times and if he is successful in office, he will need the wisdom of the Lord. Thank God for what has been accomplished and invite Him to make you a part of what remains to be done – for the praise of the Name of Jesus.