Together, not alone!

As I knelt in prayer, I felt two hands press on my shoulders and heard voices lifted to the Father on my behalf. It was a rich gift! Yes, that was yesterday in our Pastor’s Prayer Fellowship. In the days following the formal rites marking my Dad’s death, a mild depression has thrown itself over me. I know the signs – broken sleep patterns, irritability, lack of focus at work, a sense of futility. Meaningful prayer is difficult right now for me. So having these two brothers in Christ pray for me was like a medicine. Where my faith is weakened by life’s trials, Chris and Tim stepped in to hold me up!

How thankful I am for the Christian community. We must do all we can to form friendships that allow for the kind of support I received yesterday. We simply cannot allow ourselves to be just a weekly gathering for a seminar or a sing-a-long! We are family. Perhaps we oughta sing the Barney song (from the preschooler’s TV show featuring a big purple creature by that name) at every service. Just in case you don’t know the words, the song says, “I love you, you love me, we’re a happy family. With a great big hug and a kiss from me to you, won’t you say you love me, too?” Seriously, we have to find ways to turn our words about the love of Jesus and being the Body of Christ into genuine connection and affection for one another.

Jesus reminds us that what will distinguish His people in this world is not doctrinal purity, though it important. It is not sacred rituals, though we find those comforting. It is love. “By this will all men know you are my disciples, if you love one another!” John 13:35 He isn’t just talking about some sloppy sentiment that gets stirred up when the mood is right! He’s talking about caring for those who are hard to love, including the dysfunctional in our circle of friends. Jesus urges us to love everybody. Take a look. “When you put on a luncheon or a banquet,” he said, “don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward. Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.” (Luke 14:12-15, NLT)

Right now, life is hard for many, many people. Uncertainty over the future is an epidemic. Let’s draw together, refusing to be alone! Forget the “Lone Ranger” ideal. It’s idiotic, anyway; a sure way to ultimately fail, to die alone after a miserable existence. Love extravagantly. Take time to listen, to care, to empathize, to share what you have – as little as that might be. Others will see Jesus in you!

Wes Stafford tells about a visit to Haiti and his interaction with Jean Pierre, a little street kid. The lad sought him out and sincerelyl asked, “Mister, are you Jesus?” Wes tried to figure out where the question came from, what prompted it. Then he remembered seeing the boy shadowing him through the afternoon. Wes bought a bag of roasted peanuts from a street vendor and walked off leaving the change with her. On the next block he gave the peanuts to a beggar. Four or five times through the day, he had his shoes shined, as an excuse to engage in conversations with the invisible street people. He had his car ‘washed’ with filthy street water several time by children. He then admired their industry and offered profuse thanks and a generous tip. Jean Pierre watched it all and concluded that anyone who lived like that must be Jesus! – Hope Lives, Group Publishing, 2008

Go and love somebody today – in the name of Jesus!
Sometimes it’s hard for me to understand
Why we pull away from each other so easily,
Even though we’re all walking the same road.
Yet we build dividing walls
Between our brothers and ourselves.

The day will come when we will be as one,
And with a mighty voice together,
We’ll all proclaim
That Jesus, Jesus Christ is King.
It will echo through the earth;
It will shake the nations,
And the world will see,
See that you’re my brother, you’re my sister,
So take me by the hand.
Together we will work until He comes.
There’s no foe that can defeat us
When we’re walking side by side.
As long as there is love,
We will stand.

We Will Stand
Taff, Russ / Taff, Tori / Hollihan, James
© 1983 Word Music, Inc. (a div. of Word Music Group, Inc.)
CCLI License No. 810055

Take Jesus at His Word!

The topic at the School of the Bible last night was trusting God, taking Him at His Word. We read a story from John’s Gospel in which a man came to Jesus to ask Him to heal His son who was in a village miles away. “The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus replied, “You may go. Your son will live.” The man took Jesus at his word and departed.” (John 4:49-50, NIV)

Taking Jesus at His word is a noble aspiration, but it is not always an easy thing to do. Several complications arise.
What, exactly, is He saying to me?
Am I hearing Him clearly?
Am I projecting my wishes and desires in a way that is causing me to ‘hear’ what I want to hear?
Am I rejecting the whole of His words, picking and choosing only what I want?

The promise of divine healing is one of those areas where a Christian can and should exercise great faith coupled with wisdom! In Exodus 15 where there is the revelation of God where His Name is given as – “Yahweh Rapha”- the Lord, our Healer. Too often we understand that only in terms of miracles of divine healing, but God wants us to take Him at His word in an even deeper way. God made a great promise to His people saying, “If you listen carefully to the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you.”

Do you see the interaction of God and His people? God is the Healer, but His people have a responsibility to live in a way that facilitates health. We enjoy God’s healing, in part anyway, as a result of our obedience to His Word. He understands how we are made and teaches us how to live so that we can enjoy a better quality of life. So we find that healing is not just about a ‘miraculous intervention,’ but also, perhaps even primarily, about living the Word!

I belong to a national group of Christians that provides an alternative to standard health insurance. In Christian Medi-Share, about 35,000 Christian families join together to share medical bills. We pledge to observe a healthy lifestyle. To qualify for membership a person cannot use tobacco products, must avoid alcohol abuse, and must sexually active only within marriage. In addition, we are encouraged by those who direct the group to healthier diets and regular exercise programs, the goal being to conquer obesity, America’s number one health issue. Because we choose to live in ways that promote better overall health, instead of paying $800/$1000 month for health care coverage, Bev and I pay about $400, even at our age! This is a very practical illustration of the Scripture’s principle: living a holy life helps promote a healthy body.

Part of taking the Lord at His Word includes this unpleasant fact. God can and does allow some to suffer and/or to grow ill if they choose to live sinfully. In John 5, Jesus healed a man at the pool of Bethesda, and then gave the man this stern warning. “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” (John 5:14, NIV) Have you listened to the text that is so often read at the celebration of the Lord’s Supper? “For if you eat the bread or drink the cup unworthily, not honoring the body of Christ, you are eating and drinking God’s judgment upon yourself. That is why many of you are weak and sick and some have even died.” (1 Cor. 11:29-30, NLT) Even a superficial reading clearly reminds us that when we take the Bread and Cup as God’s people, we accept a responsibility to live God-honoring lives. If we don’t, we invite God to discipline us with sickness and even to take our lives! Are you willing to take the Lord at His Word when it is so hard?

Be careful about jumping to a judgment of those who suffer! Is sickness always the sign of God’s displeasure or a lack of self-discipline? No! It is easy to reach a snap conclusion based on the ‘facts,’ in the process getting it all wrong. Jesus’ disciples did exactly that. One day they saw something fairly common in their time- a blind man. They asked Jesus, (John 9:2) “Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?” Their smug assumption of moral failure is one that is all too commonly shared even today. Christians who have chronic illnesses not only have to deal with the suffering of their disease, but they must cope with other Believers who too readily conclude they ‘must have done something to be punished.”

Jesus’ reply to His disciples requires tremendous faith to accept! “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins, he was born blind so the power of God could be seen in him.” John 9:3 Sometimes suffering serves to bring about the purposes of God, to redirect attention to Himself! Can you take God at His word in that situation? Oh, we all want the promises, what what if He asks us to walk a road of suffering or pain? God can use suffering to shape and mold us into the likeness of Christ. He uses these things to call the whole and healthy to compassion and self-forgetful service. And, He even uses these things for a display of His healing power.

Disciple, let me encourage you to ‘take Jesus at His Word!’ Eagerly embrace His promise and His commands. Through obedience that is childlike, discover the joy of living near to His heart, comforted by His Presence. It will allow you to live for the glory of God with grace in times of prosperity and in times of want; through sickness and health, in tests and in blessings. Here’s a promise about eternity that I love! It speaks of that wonderful place where God’s Word is clear, where His provisions for us are fully realized, and where sorrow is banished. Oh, what a glorious experience. Take hold of these words and believe them, won’t you?

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.
They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night.
They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign forever and ever.”
— Revelation 22:1-5 NIV

“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.”

It’s got to get to your heart!

One of the more puzzling things about Christianity is how the same set of beliefs effects those who profess to believe so differently. One person receives Christ Jesus by faith and is totally changed becoming loving, hopeful; a genuinely delightful whole person. Another also comes to faith but remains a bitter, self-centered, critical soul that nobody wants to be around. These two persons sit in the same church, hear the same sermons, say the same prayers- so how can this be?

In a wonderful little book titled, Faith and Doubt, (Zondervan, 2008) John Ortberg suggests that we ‘believe’ on three levels and that the depth of belief has a lot to do with how much our lives are changed, our character transformed.

First, we all have public convictions, things “that I want other people to think I believe, even though I may not really believe them.” In our world of politics this is called ‘spin.’ The public’s perception of what the politician thinks is more important even than what is true. By way of example of public conviction, consider that Christians universally claim to believe in life after death. It’s a basic part of the faith, but the evidence of the way we live shows that for many of us, words about having a home in Heaven are just that- words. We want others to think that we accept this doctrine so we say it.

Second, we have private convictions, things that “I sincerely think I believe,” but that prove to be more illusory in real life. Peter, on the night of the Last Supper, heard Jesus speak of the coming defection of his friends. “You will all fall away,” He told. Peter thought he knew his convictions and replied, “Even if all fall away, I will not.” (Mark 14:29, NIV) He really believed that he was going to stick by the One he loved. But, Jesus knew otherwise. “Peter,” He said, “before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will have denied knowing me three times!” Jesus knew Peter better than he knew himself.

We may go years believing that we believe something, only to run head-long into some huge thing like a health crisis or a financial disaster, only to discover that the songs we’ve sung, the words we’ve said, are without an anchor deep inside of us. Such moments are great revealers of the true content of our mind and heart.

The third kind of conviction, the kind that produces life-changing spirituality is core conviction. Ortberg illustrates this by pointing to gravity! Nobody has to convince a rational person that gravity is real. We simply do not jump off cliffs or out of windows because we know that severe injury or death will result. We believe it to our core. When a person believes what the Bible says about God’s love and forgiveness, about judgment and salvation, about Christ and the Cross, about the life of the Spirit – and those beliefs work their way to the core of their being – their lives will inevitably change.

Our beliefs can change and, thank God, they do. How?

First – immersion in the Scripture! The Bible shows us who God is, how the world works, and what is true. Constant exposure to the stories, doctrines, and promises of the Word changes our core convictions.

Second – confession of sin and repentance! If we keep on living in ways we know are wrong, we slide into self-deception. We learn to rationalize and justify actions we once knew were wrong. As self-deception deepens, we are less conscious of hypocrisy. That is why we must own our failures and do what is necessary to turn from disobedience.

Third – intimacy with the Holy Spirit! Ortberg makes a funny statement but one that makes a lot of sense. “If your Mom was in the room, watching you all of the time, you would avoid all kinds of negative behavior.” How true! Don’t we believe that God, the Holy Spirit, is always in the room with us? Don’t we believe that He sees what we’re looking at on the TV, knows what we’re writing in our email, knows when we’re lying, etc.? Apparently, for many, that is not a core conviction, because they sin quite readily when no human is looking! However, when we invite the Spirit to live in us, when we cultivate a consciousness of His Presence through worship and prayerfulness, we are changed because He here now.

So, here’s the question: Disciple, what is your true creed?
The answer is not necessarily what you learned in Sunday School! The only way to really know what your core convictions are is to observe your life over the long term. The words you say at church, even the songs you sing to comfort yourself, are not always accurate revealers of what you really believe. What you do shows what you think! Jesus said that, not me. “A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. A tree is identified by its fruit. Figs are never gathered from thornbushes, and grapes are not picked from bramble bushes. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.” (Luke 6:43-45, NLT)

Walk with the King today, and be blessed!

Search me, O God,
And know my heart today;
Try me, O Savior,
Know my thoughts, I pray.
See if there be
Some wicked way in me;
Cleanse me from every sin
And set me free.

I praise Thee, Lord,
For cleansing me from sin;
Fulfill Thy Word,
And make me pure within.
Fill me with fire
Where once I burned with shame;
Grant my desire
To magnify Thy name.

Lord, take my life,
And make it wholly Thine;
Fill my poor heart
With Thy great love divine.
Take all my will,
My passion, self and pride;
I now surrender, Lord
In me abide.

Cleanse Me
Orr, J. Edwin© Public Domain

When Life gets tough; we get ‘tougher!’

Jesus said, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62, NLT) Serious words, aren’t they? Even Pastors think about quitting; well, at least changing churches. I’ll admit that when the budget is tight, when lots of ‘people needs’ pile up, when I’m staring at a blank computer screen wondering what to say on Sunday morning, when the pressure is on to produce bigger numbers for our reports – I sometimes daydream about another place, an easier assignment in life. It is an escapist thing, and I don’t linger long in that fantasy land, because it is a waste of time to do so! My son calls me ‘the finisher,’ because he says I don’t know how to quit! I hope he’s right.

In too many situations we too ready to call it quits these days.

  • Too many marriages end, not because of terrible abuse or infidelity which are reasons to dissolve the covenant, but just because two people will not stick with each other and work through the inevitable conflicts that arise in life.
  • Too many people change jobs when their boss is overbearing, or they are passed over for a promotion, or they get bored. When they do say, “I quit,” they bring financial hardship on themselves and/or their families. The pursuit of ‘better’ leads to one start after another, and often to a life lived far below the person’s potential.
  • Too often Joe and Sally Christian quit their church because of a difference with a leader or a dry stretch in the Pastor’s ministry. If they would stick it out, they could find a blessing. Their lack of commitment frequently has unintended consequences, too. For example, Last week a young woman who has been spiritually wandering for about 5 years told me, “It started when my parent’s pulled me out of the church where I had a spiritual home just because they were unhappy. I lost my roots, my anchor, and then my way.” I wonder how many other kids would say the same, if they could?

One of the key traits of a mature disciple of Jesus Christ is perseverance. In the Scripture there are several synonyms for this word: patience, endurance, and longsuffering. James tells us to “Take the old prophets as your mentors. They put up with anything, went through everything, and never once quit, all the time honoring God. What a gift life is to those who stay the course! You’ve heard, of course, of Job’s staying power, and you know how God brought it all together for him at the end. That’s because God cares, cares right down to the last detail.” (James 5:10-11, The Message)

The kingdom of God needs more finishers, people who show up even when they don’t feel like it, who do what they’re called and equipped to do even when they’re bored or tired. We need steady men and women who are willing to say: “I know that God has called me. My feelings are secondary to my commitment. I’ll serve, I’ll stay, I’ll love – so help me God!” Those kind of disciples are key players, incredibly valuable, and the ones who get things done for God, often quietly and without accolades – but it matters little, for they serve for the joy of obedience, not for applause or even self-fulfillment. (Yes, I know that paragraph reads like heresy to the average ‘happy hungry’ American who can’t imagine doing anything hard for any length of time.)

Here’s some of the best encouragement you will ever get on the subject of commitment and endurance. “Since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.” (Hebrews 12:1-2, NLT)

Duty is not a bad word, disciple.
Are you considering quitting- your covenant with your spouse, dealing with that teenage rebel, your ministry, a relationship that is hard, your church? Pray about it! Tell God how you feel. Your emotions are real, so don’t deny them. Then, listen carefully for the Spirit’s counsel. “Run with endurance!”

And remember this glorious promise for the weary, the battered, the bruised who remain faithful to the Lord: “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, “they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:14-17, NIV)

Am I a soldier of the cross,
A follower of the Lamb.
And shall I fear to own His cause,
Or blush to speak His name?

Sure I must fight if I would reign,
Increase my courage, Lord:
I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain,
Supported by Thy Word.

And when the battle’s over We shall wear a crown!
Yes, we shall wear a crown! Yes, we shall wear a crown.
And when the battle’s over, We shall wear a crown
In the new Jerusalem.

When The Battle’s Over
Watts, Isaac / Waters, Harriette / Lind, A.E.© Public Domain

What’s it all mean, if anything?

It is quite natural to think more deeply about the meaning of one’s life when death visits nearby! Such has been the content of many of my waking thoughts recently. Burying one’s father, at least for any thinking person, will bring the issues of purpose and significance into sharp focus. If the spiritual dimension is taken away, the outlook is grim, the only conclusion – despair. I am not the first to acknowledge this. Poets write of the futility of life. The timeless words of Shakespeare echo in my mind. His pessimism is never clearer than in these words he put in the mouth of Macbeth at the death of his wife: “Out, out brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Men wise in the ways of the world, accomplished in letters, find grappling with life’s purpose, difficult, too. Bertrand Russell, atheist philosopher from the 20th century, describes human significance, or more accurately, human insignificance, this way: “In the visible world, the Milky Way is a tiny fragment. Within this tiny fragment the solar system is an infinitesimal speck, and within the speck our planet Earth is a microscopic dot. On this dot, tiny lumps of carbon and water crawl about for a few years until they are dissolved back into the elements from which they are compounded.” (as quoted by John Ortberg, Faith and Doubt, Zondervan, 2008) Wow, doesn’t that make you want to jump with joy?

Even David, the poet king of ancient Israel, observed the vastness of the sky and wondered, “What is man?” But, he did not stop with despair or at the natural conclusion of the futility of life. Instead, he looked beyond the natural world and, in faith, connected the naturally inconsequential man with the One who created him and sang this song. “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8:3-10, NIV)

Life’s ultimate meaning is not gained by our achievements! Meaning is a gift granted by the Creator who ‘crowns us with glory!’ Anything that you or I may do in this world – be it invention, artistic work, or accumulation of goods – cannot provide meaning beyond the moment. Eventually, likely even before we die, someone will do what we do better, faster, or with greater skill! The things we acquire through diligence will, in the words of Jesus, eventually be eaten by moths or rust or perhaps stolen away! But that which we do for God, those choices that flow out of obedience to His general and specific will for our individual lives, are eternal, surviving even when our body is laid in the ground!

“Prove that, Jerry! How do you know that what you’ve just written is true?” I cannot prove it. It is a choice of faith. Mine is not an irrational faith, nor is it a fantasy. I choose faith in a loving God because there is sufficient evidence for His existence written into the world in which I walk. From time to time, I sense His Presence, glimpse the outlines of Someone greater than time and space into which I am locked for the moment. Therefore, I serve Him. The life He gives to me as I exercise faith and practice obedience is meaningful. Ultimately, I ask myself, “So if you have chosen wrongly, what have you lost? Nothing! If those who reject faith and live only for themselves have chosen wrongly what have they gained? Nothing!

“Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when full understanding comes, these partial things will become useless. When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.
All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:9-13, NLT)

Shot through the heart

For a year I watched the arrow of death’s sorrow coming at me in slow motion, yet I could not dodge it! I thought was prepared for the impact, but when Dad died two weeks ago, a pain unlike any other sliced through me. A bleeding wound remains. Sometimes I forget about it for a while, then a memory is triggered and the stabbing hurt re-surfaces. There have been no tears since his memorial, though I wish I could cry! It is difficult to focus and even when I try I feel as though I am living in fog, seeing familiar outlines but there are no defined edges.

Most of my life I have managed my emotions, experiencing them, but not allowing them to rule me. Now my heart full of turbulence. Sorrow refuses to be contained and intrudes on my life at unexpected moments. My grief shows up in other strange ways, too. Earlier in the week, I realized I was trying to ‘fix’ everything around me, straightening up my desk, cleaning up messes, obsessing over details at work, etc. It was clear that I was trying to set things right. Anger flashes out of me at inappropriate moments, too. Hopefully, I won’t do too much damage to others before this thunderstorm in my heart subsides.

Interaction with people, normally not hard for me, is very difficult right now, too. I can feel their uncertainty. Do they acknowledge the obvious and attempt an expression of comfort, “Sorry for your loss,” which reminds me of my pain or do they try for normal, “Hi, how ya doing? Nice day, isn’t it?” and risk appearing insensitive? I feel badly for them because I’m not sure which is best at any given moment, either. The most intuitive person I’ve met was a young teenage boy who saw me coming and hugged me as he said, “Life sucks for you right now, doesn’t it?” What a kid! (Forgive his slang. For the young that word doesn’t have the connotations it carries for those of us over 45. Sucks is just a synonym for bad!)

Most adults try hard to empathize and only end up making me say things I don’t want to say yet again. “Well, his suffering is over.” True enough, but I would still like him with us! “He’s home in Heaven now.” Yes, I believe that, too, but it doesn’t do a whole lot for my sense of loss! Truthfully, explanations are unnecessary. Empathy is enough.

There are two things that are clearer to me since Dad died.

First is that life is really short! We need not be morbid about our mortality, but we are fools to attempt to ignore it. Solomon’s wisdom is compelling. “Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator. Honor him in your youth before you grow old and say, “Life is not pleasant anymore.” … Yes, remember your Creator now while you are young, before the silver cord of life snaps and the golden bowl is broken. Don’t wait until the water jar is smashed at the spring and the pulley is broken at the well. For then the dust will return to the earth, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.” … “That’s the whole story. Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty. God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad.” (Ecclesiastes 12:1, 6-7, 13-14, NLT)

Second is that friends matter! Being with people, even though interactions are sometimes strained, lets me experience love. That teenage kid loved me in his unique kid way and it was healing. Life goes on and seeing others functioning, hearing them laugh, listening to the superficial chatter of daily life, carries me forward, too. Again Solomon wisdom is good. “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, NIV)

Jesus Christ taught us that life boils down to two things:
“Love God wholeheartedly; and love others like you love yourself.” How true! If our life course is set by those two boundaries, the big stuff will work out.

Again, I want to thank you for letting me walk my journey with you! Last week, many of you wrote to tell me that sharing my thoughts about this was no burden, so I did it again today. God bless you, friends.

As I journey thro’ the land, singing as I go,
Pointing souls to Calvary—to the crimson flow,
Many arrows pierce my soul from without, within;
But my Lord leads me on, thro’ Him I must win.

When in service for my Lord dark may be the night,
But I’ll cling more close to Him, He will give me light;
Satan’s snares may vex my soul, turn my tho’ts aside;
But my Lord goes ahead, leads whate’er betide.

When in valleys low I look tow’rd the mountain height,
And behold my Savior there, leading in the fight,
With a tender hand outstretched tow’rd the valley low,
Guiding me, I can see, as I onward go.

Oh, I want to see Him, look upon His face,
There to sing forever of His saving grace;
On the streets of glory let me lift my voice,
Cares all past, home at last, ever to rejoice.

Rufus Cornelius
Public Domain

Dollar’s Fall Gives Rise to Anti-christ’s Mark?

Watching the economic chaos engulf the world and observing the leaders of nations working valiantly to keep our financial systems from total collapse, I remember those scary sermons about “End Times” that were a staple of my growing up years. We were warned that the Lord’s return would be preceded by the unveiling of a “World Government” that would gain its power primarily through economic control. The head of that government, nicknamed ‘the Anti-Christ,’ would insist on his mark being fixed on our right hand or forehead and any who aligned themselves with his demonic schemes would be doomed. The whole scenario seemed awfully far-fetched at the time. Now, not so much! Here in these United States, we are ceding huge chunks of our personal liberties to the ‘government’ as long as the President promises to make us safe and secure. The whole country – citizens, towns, states, institutions – is so dependent on Washington’s largesse we gladly allow our leaders to do things unthinkable even a decade ago as long as they promise to protect our way of life.

The world is a community like never before. Europe has become a defacto state with the various nations sharing a common currency, a common constitution, and a common justice system. A hiccup in Asia reverberates in London! A terrorist sheik holed up in a cave in remote mountains in Pakistan has held the United States in mesmerized fear now for nearly ten years! We are inter-connected in ways that even futurists of the 1960’s could not foresee. Without being overly dramatic, I can more readily conceive a not-so-distant day when the nations of this world would readily accept the authority of a world leader if he could promise to restore economic stability, settle ancient disputes, and produce an era of prosperity.

Revelation speaks of that day. John writes, “Then I saw a beast (Anti-Christ) rising up out of the sea. (a Biblical metaphor for the nations) It had seven heads and ten horns, with ten crowns on its horns. And written on each head were names that blasphemed God. … The whole world worshiped the dragon (The Devil) for giving the beast such power, and they also worshiped the beast. “Who is as great as the beast?” they exclaimed. “Who is able to fight against him?” Then the beast was allowed to speak great blasphemies against God. And he was given authority to do whatever he wanted for forty-two months. … And the beast was allowed to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them. And he was given authority to rule over every tribe and people and language and nation. … This means that God’s holy people must endure persecution patiently and remain faithful. …

He required everyone-small and great, rich and poor, free and slave-to be given a mark on the right hand or on the forehead. And no one could buy or sell anything without that mark, which was either the name of the beast or the number representing his name. Wisdom is needed here. Let the one with understanding solve the meaning of the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. His number is 666.” (Revelation 13, NLT)

“Jerry, you’re freaking me out!”
Disciple, do not fear. God is greater than world systems, greater than persecution, greater than anything Evil can bring against us. I’ve read the end of the book, too. The promises are wonderful, all encompassing, and sure.

“Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for he judges fairly and wages a righteous war. His eyes were like flames of fire, and on his head were many crowns.” (Revelation 19:11-12, NLT) Jesus Christ is not defeated. He will come to reign and His power will prevail.

“Then I saw the beast and the kings of the world and their armies gathered together to fight against the one sitting on the horse and his army. And the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who did mighty miracles on behalf of the beast-miracles that deceived all who had accepted the mark of the beast and who worshiped his statue. Both the beast and his false prophet were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur.” (Revelation 19:19-20, NLT)

Here’s a word from the Word. Let it’s wonder saturate your mind and heart so you will be bold in the work of God. Ponder it prayerfully today.

“On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. (Remember that Biblical metaphor for the nations?) Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.
(Luke 21:25-28, NIV)

I am glad I am a child of the King. Aren’t you glad you know Him, too?

More than an expert!

A few weeks ago I had ongoing pain in my neck (really!) and it drove me to call the doctor’s office. The physician I like to consult was not available so they offered me an appointment with another. He came into the exam room, looked at me quickly, and asked about levels of stress in my life. When I mentioned the critical illness of my Dad he said, “That’s it. It’s stress.” He told me to stop by the pharmacy and pick up the prescription he was writing and he was gone. The entire interaction could not have taken more than 3 minutes! I suppose he is a fine doctor. The framed certificates on the wall gave testimony to his various degrees and expertise. Expert or not, he was, at least for me, a terrible healer! I needed more than a diagnosis and a pill. I needed an explanation about how he reached his conclusion and what I might do to avoid the pain in the future. A little genuine human compassion would have gone a long way that day. He did his job, but failed in his mission.

Disciple, are you a good healer, a compassionate Christian who demonstrates the love of Jesus, or are you just ‘an expert’ in soul matters? We may do our job as witnesses to the Truth and still miss the mission of bringing the Kingdom of God to others! There is an old phrase that bears repeating that says, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

As we interact with those around us who are fearful of the future, who are trying to cope with illness, who have a broken heart, who are wrestling with destructive habits; it is not enough to dispense a Bible verse or a quick prayer. Advice that is on the mark and Biblically based won’t help others all that much if it is not flowing from a compassionate heart. People need more than an expert. They need a friend who really cares.

Jesus told a story about a man who became the victim of muggers, who left him near death on the road. Two men, experts in religion, saw the man but had no time to assist him. Did they pray for him? Perhaps, but they did not touch him. The Samaritan who came along got down and lifted the man up, took him to a place to recover, and paid the bill! He ended His story with this challenge: “So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:36-37, NKJV) Among the many lessons from this story I take away this: there is no such thing as touchless healing! We have to be willing to get involved, to be dragged into the messy lives of others, and to walk alongside of those we want to help.

Do you want to see your extended family come to know Christ?
Get involved with their lives. Go to their gatherings. Be part of their celebrations and sorrows.
Are you concerned about the spiritual welfare of the people who live on your street or who work with you?
Forget being the ‘spiritual expert.’ Become human. Let yourself feel what they feel, and share life with them.

Here’s a word from the Word. “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:7-11, NIV)

Touch through me, Holy Spirit, Touch through me.
Let my hands reach out to others
Touch through me.
There’s a lonely soul somewhere
Needing just one friend to care.
Touch through me, Holy Spirit, Touch through me.

Flow through me, Holy Spirit, Flow through me.
Like a river in the desert,
Flow through me.
Springing fountain, healing stream,
Living water, pure and clean,
Flow through me, Holy Spirit, Flow through me.

My hands will be Your hands
Reaching out to others.
My lips will not be slothful, Lord, to speak.
I will be that good Samaritan
To someone else in need.
I will be Your house to dwell in live through me.

Touch Through Me
Rambo, Dottie © 1981 John T. Benson Publishing Company (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc., 741 Coolsprings Blvd., Franklin TN 37067)CCLI License No. 810055

An Impossible Quest?

The central desire of my life is unattainable by human means and out of my natural reach. What might that desire be? To be a righteous and holy man. I awaken each morning knowing full well that my commitment to the way of Christ will be tested by temptations that spring out of nowhere and/or by unexplainable (from this world’s perspective) events that seem to belie the existence of loving God.

As I write this, it is my sincere desire to be full of love towards all people today. Well experienced in real life, I know it is all but certain that I will fail in that quest, in some measure, before nightfall. I could react less than charitably, for example, when some driver of questionable skill makes me slam on my brakes to avoid a collision, or when someone takes up my time when I am trying to complete a task on a deadline; or when fatigue makes me more vulnerable to acting from emotional impulse. Similarly, it is my intent not to judge others, but I may lapse into cynical criticism of someone before the day is over. I truly want to make all choices in a way that puts God and His purposes in first place, but will I today? Literally, only God knows!

So, why engage in a quest so fraught with possibilities of failure? Why not lower my sights and be content with a lesser discipleship? Because I am commissioned and called to be holy. The Word tells me “just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:15-16, NIV) It is not a suggestion! It is a demand made by God, who sets an impossible standard for my holiness – that of His own righteousness.

“Jerry,” you may be thinking, “this is foolishness. No one can live under such pressure.” I would tell you that you are mistaken on two counts – the first being assuming that aspiring to a holy life creates pressure, and secondarily that it is foolishness to want to obey the Lord’s call! The paradox is that if I begin to believe that I can be loving, obedient to God, or a disciple through rational choice alone I will create pressure on myself that is unbearable. But, if I take up the call of the Way of the Cross with faith in His promise and Presence, I will find Jesus’ comfort and a soul rest that is not obtainable in any other way. He says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30, NIV)

Yoke is not a word generally associated with ease or comfort. A yoke was used for work, for bearing a load! When He calls us to be His disciples, the Lord is not inviting us to a life free of strain but He says if we come to Him and take HIS yoke, not one of our own making, the ‘fit’ will be right, not chafing. We will accomplish His work in ways that bring us soul-rest, a sense of significance and purpose. The work He asks of us may tire us, but it will not leave us feeling empty or hopeless. To be sure, days will come and go when we will only know obedience: without fulfillment, without knowing ‘why’ behind the ‘what.’

Let me illustrate my point from my recent life experience. Over the six months, I spent many long nights spent tending to my father’s needs as he lay dying. I did not always feel joyous about not being able to sleep, nor did I always think of getting him a drink of water at 3 am as something desirable – in the moment. But last week my perspective changed. He died! Now, I treasure the memories of such moments of simple service and wonder why I did not more gladly do even more for him given the cost that was, in retrospect, so small?

Very similarly, when God draws certain seasons to a close in our lives, we begin to see our obedience in a different light and we gain delight in what He has allowed us to do in cooperating with His plans and purposes in our world. If we take the yoke of Jesus Christ and live in obedience, our joy will be perfectly complete when we enter His Presence and see all our lives as He saw them all along! Disciple, He does not ask us to walk alone, nor does He ask us to deal with the people and situations that test our holiness all by ourselves.

Take this Psalm of promise with you into the battle today. It will make you strong and keep you on your feet, even when you’re set back by some momentary lapse into sin or failure.

“A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem. A psalm of David.

What if the Lord had not been on our side?
Let all Israel repeat:
What if the Lord had not been on our side when people attacked us?
They would have swallowed us alive in their burning anger.
The waters would have engulfed us; a torrent would have overwhelmed us.
Yes, the raging waters of their fury would have overwhelmed our very lives.
Praise the Lord, who did not let their teeth tear us apart!
We escaped like a bird from a hunter’s trap.
The trap is broken, and we are free!

Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 124, NLT)

And He walks with me,
And He talks with me,
And He tells me that I am His own.
And the joy we share, as we tarry there,
None other has ever known! – public domain

Walking among lions, kicking cobras

An engaged life is not for wimps! It’s tough to love people enough to care about their problems. Committing oneself to the work of making the world a better place – however one is called and/or gifted to do that – can be exhausting. Creativity demands the application of one’s soul, heart, and mind to allow new ideas to emerge. Sadly many people choose to live without really engaging with their world. They drift along with the tide, making as few waves as possible, hiding themselves in their living rooms transfixed by the glow of their TV screen, avoiding anything that might be difficult or costly.

That life is not for me! I want to love with my whole heart, even when that means having it broken or disappointed time and again. I want to preach the best sermons I am capable of preaching, even if it means spending more time alone in preparation. I want to honor my God in my daily choices even though my sinful nature screams to be soothed by selfishness. I desire to meet the challenges of the world (godless power structures), the flesh (my sinful nature), and the Devil head-on, yielding no ground to any of them in pursuit of the will of God. My prayer is “Lord, first, make me more like You, and second; through me spread the influence and fragrance of Jesus everywhere!” When God calls me to His home, I want to arrive at Heaven’s door with hands dirtied by doing the work of Jesus Christ!

And this I know; such a life is impossible in my own strength. As much as I might admire those who appear self-sufficient and capable of meeting every adversary with their intellect or their fists, I know that the work of God can never be successfully done apart from the inner working of the Holy Spirit. Like the man who answered the impossible call to rebuild the destroyed city of Jerusalem I hear God saying, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.” (Zechariah 4:6, NIV)

What about you, disciple? Are you hiding out from life? Don’t waste the days, chasing pleasure and avoiding sacrifice. Jesus reminds us that “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 lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?”
(Matthew 16:25-26, NLT)

Here’s God’s promise for those who respond to His call. We never walk alone! It’s great! Read it with faith.
“Yes, because God’s your refuge, the High God your very own home, Evil can’t get close to you, harm can’t get through the door. He ordered his angels to guard you wherever you go.
If you stumble, they’ll catch you; their job is to keep you from falling. You’ll walk unharmed among lions and snakes, and kick young lions and serpents from the path.
“If you’ll hold on to me for dear life,” says God, “I’ll get you out of any trouble. I’ll give you the best of care if you’ll only get to know and trust me. Call me and I’ll answer, be at your side in bad times; I’ll rescue you, then throw you a party. I’ll give you a long life, give you a long drink of salvation!”
– (Psalm 91:9-16, The Message)