Are you a fraud?

As I walked past the jewelry counter, I saw the sparkle of what I thought were diamonds. Even from a couple of feet away I could not tell that they were not real. Bending over to look I realized that I was looking at ‘beautiful cubic zirconia’ – fakes! Faux ‘diamonds’ have many of the qualities of a genuine gem but the critical thing, value, is not there. The ultimate test is pressure. A real diamond is many times more durable than a man-made one. Are you a genuine Christian? Let’s be specific, the reference is not to being a ‘Church-ian,’ nor is it about simple morality. It is about receiving God’s grace by faith and loving Jesus Christ in a way that makes Him the Center of our life. It is possible to settle for a fake religion, an experience that looks very much like a genuine faith. But, when pressure is applied, the real disciple will stand, while those who are frauds will fold!

The Word contrasts faux religion with genuine faith in this passage.
“If with Christ you’ve put all that pretentious and infantile religion behind you, why do you let yourselves be bullied by it? “Don’t touch this! Don’t taste that! Don’t go near this!” Do you think things that are here today and gone tomorrow are worth that kind of attention? Such things sound impressive if said in a deep enough voice. They even give the illusion of being pious and humble and ascetic. But they’re just another way of showing off, making yourselves look important.

So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.” (Colossians 2:20-3:2, The Message)

Religion is all about ‘me.’ Christianity is all about Him! As that passage explains, a person who is taken by a fraudulent religion will work hard at piety. They will create all kinds of prohibitions in an attempt to keep sin in check. But without the reality of the Spirit, without the resurrection power of Christ, all they have is a system of behavior modification. Dallas Willard calls this fake religion ‘the Gospel of Sin Management.’ –The Divine Conspiracy

The focus is constantly on keeping Self from leading us to greed, lust, or selfishness. The heart’s desire does not really change, it is simply put on a leash, often a tether of fear! The implied motivation is ‘if you want God to treat you well, you better be good!’ Or, it is ‘if you want to be respected as real Christian, you must always look good.’ Such religiosity is an exercise in missing the point!

A genuine conversion experience is exactly that, an infusion of a quality of life that begins a transformation that starts at the core of our being. We read this promise: “All of us who have had that veil (the spiritual blindness of religion, my comment) removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.” (2 Corinthians 3:18, NLT) The restraint on sinful behavior comes from an inner quality of life, not from externally imposed controls. An observer often cannot tell the difference.

The fake and the real appear the same. But, apply some pressure and the person who is working hard at ‘being good,’ will crack! The real disciple will stand; indeed, he will flourish for the pressure will squeeze the sweet fragrance of Christ’s life from him.

Many well-meaning people work hard at trying to act like a Christian. Truth is, you can only be what you are! Apart from being born of God, given a new nature by the Holy Spirit, there is no possibility of knowing the joy of the Lord. But, when we are possessed by Him, when we invite Him to become our Life and our Lord, the evidence of His life in us grows as surely as an apple tree produces apples. “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” (Galatians 5:16, NIV) “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23, NIV)
_____________

In the presence of a holy God,
There’s new meaning now to grace;
You took all my sins upon Yourself,
I can only stand amazed.

And I cry holy, holy, holy God,
How awesome is Your name,
Holy, holy, holy God,
How majestic is Your reign;
And I am changed
In the presence of a holy God.

In The Presence
Altrogge, Mark
Integrity Music, Inc. / Integrity Music, Inc.
© 1989 Integrity’s Praise! Music (c/o Integrity Music, Inc.) / PDI Praise
(Admin. by Integrity’s Praise! Music)
CCLI License No. 810055

When You’ve Just Had Enough!

I preached my heart out yesterday! It was a sermon on the coming Judgment, not a favorite topic of mine. That kind of preaching makes demands – emotionally, spiritually, even physically – that I do not completely understand, but I feel the result: Exhaustion. The next day, I am vulnerable to feelings of worthlessness and/or discouragement. In those moments, I know how easily I could slip into the “Elijah” complex. What is that?

Elijah, God’s faithful man in Israel during a terribly evil time, stood up to an evil duo that ruled at the time, Ahab and Jezebel. They tried to thwart his work and even take his life! God gave Elijah the dubious honor of announcing judgment! God told him to tell the nation that they were facing a long drought. Many suffered and died during that time. This man of God was not an admired figure. People hated him. Finally, after years of struggle and maximum effort, Elijah ran away! Alone under a tree in the wilderness, he sighed, “I have had enough, Lord. Take my life.” (1 Kings 19.4)

The prophet traveled deep into wilds, ending up in a cave. There we catch a glimpse of his discouragement and fatigue as we listen in on his prayerful lament: “I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I alone am left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.” (1 Kings 19:10)

Can you identify with his heart? Have you ever poured yourself into some great effort for the Lord, or put your heart into something only to descend into discouragement when it was over: overwhelmed by feelings of isolation, futility, or hopelessness?

Here’s the good news! God didn’t kick him while he was down. God didn’t say, “Well, what a weakling my prophet turned out to be. I’ll just let him die and find someone else to do my work.” The Lord showed up to restore Elijah! It’s a dramatic scene! The mountain where Elijah was holed up was torn by a powerful wind, then shaken by an earthquake. After that, a blaze of fire swept the face of the mountain. The prophet discerned that God’s Presence was not in the BIG, NOISY, and IMPRESSIVE displays!

Then came a gentle whisper- God’s revelation of Himself. The prophet was reminded that he was not alone. “There are 7000 in Israel who have not joined the idol worshippers!” And, he was directed to go find Elisha and start to mentor him. Today the Spirit whispers to me: “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.” (Zechariah 4:6) I’d love to have my work validated by all the marks of success, but that may not happen. Faithfulness is enough!

As people under the command of Another, we must be faithful and entrust the results to our Lord, who by the Spirit and truth of His eternal Word, will bring about His plans in His time.

Have you given your best and came up ‘way short of what you hoped for in terms of results? Does it seem that God has ‘failed’ you? There is no sin in feeling disappointment or even in asking questions. But, if you do, make sure you listen for the answer. Likely God’s answer to you will come in a quiet whisper that calls for you to set aside your demands for immediate results and faithfulness to wait out His purposes. You are NOT alone! Stay involved with those who love you and share your love of God.

And hear this Word that assures us that HE knows what’s up, even when we do not. . . Romans 8:25-26 — The Message

Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.
____________

Sometimes I feel discouraged,
And think my life in vain.
I’m tempted then to murmur,
And of my lot complain.
But when I think of Jesus,
And all He’s done for me,
Then I cry, O Rock of Ages,
Hide Thou me.

O Rock of Ages, hide Thou me.
No other refuge have I but Thee.
When life’s dark vale I wander,
Far, far from Thee.
Then I cry, O Rock of Ages,
Hide Thou me.

Sometimes it seems I dare not,
Go one step farther on.
And from my heart all courage
Has slipped away and gone.
But I remember Jesus,
And all His love for me.
Then I cry, O Rock of Ages
Hide Thou me.

Hide Thou Me
Thoro Harris © 1926. Renewed 1953 Singspiration Music (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc., 741 Coolsprings Blvd., Franklin TN 37067)CCLI License No. 810055

More of Thee, less of Me!

When I feel on top of my game, how easily I get in God’s way! The line between confidence and arrogance is a fine one, isn’t it? It is impossible to fulfill God’s purposes for our lives if we are curled up in a protective ball, hiding out from the challenges of daily living. The person who is in the grip of fear retreats behind walls of self-protection, reads situations wrongly, and is always reactionary. Those who are confident wade into life, dealing with the hard things, and letting the hits and criticism go because they have a greater mission than just being ‘safe.’ They are drawn on by a passionate desire to make a difference where they live! (Yes, I am!) But, with a few wins under our belts, we risk becoming deceived, thinking that our education, or our intelligence, or …. whatever – has made us indispensable to the local work of the Kingdom of God. Think again.

John, the Baptist, was given a high and holy calling – the forerunner of the Christ! God sent him to preach repentance, to prepare the hearts of the people to hear the Good News that the Kingdom of Heaven was now among them, that the long awaiting Anointed One had come to them. A lesser man might have fallen in love with the crowds, the attention; with being the center of attention. John did not! Look at how he explains the trajectory of his mission and let his words instruct you about humility.
“No one can receive anything unless God gives it from heaven. You yourselves know how plainly I told you, ‘I am not the Messiah. I am only here to prepare the way for him.’ It is the bridegroom who marries the bride, and the best man is simply glad to stand with him and hear his vows. Therefore, I am filled with joy at his success. He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.” (John 3:27-30, NLT)

By external measures, John failed. He started big and ended up, from a human point of view miscalculating his influence. By preaching against his immorality, John offended King Herod and lost his head, literally. He died alone and wondering about his life’s work, believe it or not. However, in God’s estimation, he succeeded wonderfully, doing exactly what he was called to do – prepare the way of the Lord. Of him Jesus said, “Let me lay it out for you as plainly as I can: No one in history surpasses John the Baptizer.” (Luke 7:28, The Message)

The familiar line about God looking for faithfulness, not success, is really true. With each of us, one thing must be true – there must be more of Thee, less of me. Over time, no matter how competent we may become, we can only complete God’s work if we are prepared to fade into the background allowing Him to shine through us, work in us, and demonstrate that “our competence comes from God.” (2 Corinthians 3:5, NIV)

If we fail to hand off the vision, to raise up others to take our place, we miss the high mark. If we believe that no one can fill our shoes, we are deceived. The greatest disciple is the one who is able to empower and teach others to take up the calling.

Who is mentoring you? That’s not the only question. Who are you mentoring? To whom are you calling disciples – to yourself or to the Lord of Glory? Sobering questions, aren’t they?

Lord, I pray for more of Thee and less of me. Amen.

______________________________

Be Thou my vision,
O Lord of my heart;
All else be naught to me,
Save that Thou art.
Be my best thought
Both by day and by night,
Waking or sleeping,
Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my wisdom,
And be my true word,
I ever with Thee
And Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Savior,
Thine own may I be,
Thou in me dwelling,
And I one with Thee.

High King of heaven,
And heaven’s bright Sun,
Grant me its joys
When my journey is done;
Heart of my heart, Lord,
Whatever befall,
Still be my vision,
O Ruler of all.

Be Thou My Vision
Landis, Keith / Byrne, Mary / Hull, Eleanor / Young, Carlton © 1964, 1994 Selah Publishing Company, Inc. / Abingdon Press
CCLI License No. 810055

YOU… make me … so ….

If someone says to me, “You make me so mad!” I am not inclined to ask why. Instead I feel threatened. Blame creates a barrier. However, if someone honestly says, “I am so angry!” I am more ready to try to help find an answer. We have all experienced that not so great moment when somebody sticks his index finger in our face and blames us for his misery, problems, or pain. “YOU….” they accuse.

That approach, whether it is our kid, our spouse, or our boss, creates instant defensiveness in us, doesn’t it? Our instinct for self-defense kicks in immediately.

Those of you who are as old as I am will remember the comedy sketch of Flip Wilson when he played ‘Geraldine.’ She would say some outrageous statement or spend too much money only to toss off the line that got a laugh every time- “The Devil made me do it.” Why is that funny? Because we know it’s an excuse, mis-placed blame.

When we sin, many of us are quick to blame the Devil, our boss, our spouse, our parents rather than taking responsibility for our choices. Here’s the truth: as long as we are pointing to another to as the ’cause’ of our pain or problems, we will be incapable of real constructive change. And, we will isolate ourselves from the people who could work with us to make the situation better.

King David romanced another man’s wife, got her pregnant, then arranged for the man to be killed so he could take Bathsheba as his own. He thought he had cleverly covered his tracks and hidden his sin, until Nathan the prophet exposed him. Oh, that we would respond like he did. Take a look. “Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins. Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin. For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night. Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight. You will be proved right in what you say, and your judgment against me is just. For I was born a sinner— yes, from the moment my mother conceived me. …
The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.”
(Psalm 51:1-5, 17, NLT)

He owned his sin! “I have sinned, I have done evil!” And God, just as He promised, forgave him.

Disciple, if we want to know real holiness, real fellowship with God, we need to ‘man up’ to our failures without excuses or blaming others. Take this great passage with you today and live in the promise.

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”
(1 John 1:7-2:2, NIV)
_______________

In the presence of a holy God,
There’s new meaning now to grace;
You took all my sins upon Yourself,
I can only stand amazed.

In the presence of Your infinite might,
I’m so small and frail and weak;
When I see Your pow’r and wisdom, Lord,
I have no words left to speak.

In the presence of Your glory,
All my crowns lie in the dust;
You are righteous in Your judgments, Lord,
You are faithful, true, and just.

And I cry holy, holy, holy God,
How awesome is Your name,
Holy, holy, holy God,
How majestic is Your reign;
And I am changed
In the presence of a holy God.

In The Presence
Altrogge, Mark
Integrity Music, Inc. / Integrity Music, Inc.
© 1989 Integrity’s Praise! Music (c/o Integrity Music, Inc.) / PDI Praise (Admin. by Integrity’s Praise! Music)
CCLI License No. 810055

One generation from now, what then?

Will my grandchildren walk with Jesus? That question haunts me! In Judges 2:10-11 I read this passage: “Eventually that entire generation died and was buried. Then another generation grew up that didn’t know anything of God or the work he had done for Israel. The People of Israel did evil in God’s sight.” (The Message) To set it in context, Israel had finally settled into the Promised Land and driven off the majority of her enemies. Joshua, the old general who led them, died. And, within one generation, they were ignorant of Who brought them into the land that flowed with milk and honey!

It’s an old sociological fact called ‘redeem, lift, abandon!

Out of extreme need family or generation turns to God. They cry out to Him and He saves them from their sins, restores their heart, and gives spiritual life. What happens? They adopt a way of life that God promises will create stable homes, work ethic, and genuine community life. And, what emerges from that? Prosperity! Those once poor and enslaved by sins are free through the Spirit and live in God’s blessings. Their kids know the story and continue the traditions of faith. But, their grandkids only know the ‘good life,’ nothing of the struggle, nothing of how God saved their grandparents’ generation. The increased prosperity also loosens ties to church and commitment to spiritual disciplines. And, that third generation abandons the faith that brought them blessings! It’s a cycle as old as Israel!

This passage makes me shudder: “They offered sacrifices to demons, which are not God, to gods they had not known before, to new gods only recently arrived, to gods their ancestors had never feared. You neglected the Rock who had fathered you; you forgot the God who had given you birth. “The Lord saw this and drew back, provoked to anger by his own sons and daughters. He said, ‘I will abandon them; then see what becomes of them. For they are a twisted generation, children without integrity.” (Deuteronomy 32:17-20, NLT)

So, how do we keep faith alive?

“Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.
And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today.
Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders.”
(Deuteronomy 6:4-8, NLT)

1. Love God and let it show!
2. Don’t make religion just a lot of talk, really live it!
3. Keep telling the stories!
4. Make it real by putting in the context of today, not just yesterday!
5. And, pray for the Spirit’s Living Water to flow from you to the next generation.
______________

Lord, I pray for the next generation.
Let them see a genuine faith, a real relationship, the love of God and life the Spirit in me!Lord, help me to be patient enough to learn their ‘language’ so I can contextualize the Gospel in a way they can comprehend.
Jesus Christ, call them. Amen!

God is in the house!

I am reading a book written by two pastors about their work ostensibly to encourage others to aspire to greatness. These men go into detail about the myriad ways they are changing their cities, about the hundreds of people who work in the enterprises run by their churches, and all the dollars they are bringing to their local economies. They are not liars! The churches they lead are amazing engines for good, but I wonder about all this trumpeting of their accomplishments. Pride is a terribly deceptive sin, creeping into our lives behind great efforts to do good things.

Sexual sins always get the headlines, but far more ministries have gone down in ruins because of pride than because of sexual misconduct! The second that a ministry becomes a way to feel valuable, to make a name for one’s self, or to create a place in this world – corruption enters. The focus shifts from the Lord and His glory to Self. In that situation, we may continue to mouth the words “all for God’s glory,” but the truth is that our reputation matters most to us. What to know when pride has found a foothold in ministry? Some signs include: craving praise, fishing for affirming words, and feelings of competition instead of cooperation.

John, the bishop of Ephesus, wrote these tragic words. “I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us. Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church. Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God.” (3 John 9-11, NKJV) Disciple, do you love ‘to have the preeminence?’ Another translation says, “He loves to be first!”

Jesus urges us to do our work without need of fanfare, to humbly serve those that God brings our way, doing our best for Him, with no need or desire for applause or recognition. The discipline of service helps to create humility. Choosing to do what needs to be done without waiting to be told to do it breaks our pride!

Think again today of these familiar words from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Ask the Spirit to show you anywhere that pride has replaced Christ as the motivation for ministry.

“Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding. “When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself. … When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.” (Matthew 6:1-4, The Message)
______________

“Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchmen stand guard in vain.
In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to those he loves.” (Psalm 127:1-2, NIV)

Jesus laughed, too!

There is an artist’s depiction of Jesus Christ that shows His head tipped back in laughter. It is such a contrast to the usual renditions of a somber Man. It makes me ask, did He really laugh? I believe He did! He was invited to eat with prostitutes and ‘sinners’ (those rejected by the good guys) and was accused by His critics of being a lush! Somehow, I don’t think a humorless man would find much friendship among that crowd. Then, too, He told jokes. We don’t get most of them, but His original audiences did! He poked fun at the Pharisees hypocrisy, used absurd illustrations “camel through the eye of a needle,” and made people laugh. And, then there is this: His first sign miracle was turning 30 gallons of water into fine wine for a wedding!

For some reason, joy is one of the least valued characteristics of the Spirit-filled life. However, in the catalog of the evidences of the life of the Spirit in us, joy is number two on the list, right after love. (Gal. 5:22) It is a different kind of joy than the laugh track humor found on TV sit-coms. It isn’t the kind of happiness that finds us on those days when people are nice, the sun is shining, and our endorphins are surging. Joy, of which the Bible speaks, is found in a right relationship with God and others. It is not a passing emotion. It is a state of being. That is why the Scripture can direct us to “be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4, NLT) Again, let me emphasize that this is not a command to ‘look on the bright side!’ That would be a good choice, but this is something else. To experience the joy of the Lord, we must leave our sin with Him, take our life from Him, and refuse to let sin or selfishness reign over us.

I experienced the ‘joy of the Lord’ many times over the last year as I had the privilege of ministering to my Dad while he was living with cancer. In those long nights at his bedside, my body sometimes ached for sleep and my heart broke for his suffering, but as we listened to the same hymns again and again, or as I committed Dad and myself to the Lord in silent prayer, there was a curious peace and a sense of wholeness which allowed me to experience joy despite my tears. It was a joy that came from God. Yesterday, during worship, the joy of the Lord washed over me as the congregation sang, “Friend of sinners, Lord of Truth, I am falling in love with You… Jesus, I love Your Name, the Name by which we’re saved.” (Matt Redman, copyright 1994) I was full of joy knowing that the One who knows me best, loves me most.

If you’re not experiencing JOY, I want to encourage you to take a look at your heart.

Are you hanging onto some sin that keeps you from experiencing the refreshing flow of the Spirit’s fellowship? Are you holding tightly to a grudge against another, stroking your ego by rehearsing real and/or imagined slights?
Are you looking around and comparing your life with that of another, instead of looking up and giving thanks for His promise to be all that you need?

A disciple who is filled with the Spirit today will experience joy!

“Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights.”
(Habakkuk 3:17-19, NLT)
________________

Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee,
God of glory Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flow’rs before Thee,
Opening to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness;
Drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness,
Fill us with the light of day!

All Thy works with joy surround Thee,
Earth and heaven reflect Thy rays;
Stars and angels sing around Thee,
Center of unbroken praise.
Field and forest, vale and mountain,
Flowery meadow, flashing sea,
Chanting bird and flowing fountain,
Call us to rejoice in Thee.

Mortals join the mighty chorus,
Which the Morning Stars began.
Father love is reigning o’er us,
Brother love binds man to man.
Ever singing, march we onward,
Victors in the midst of strife;
Joyful music lifts us sunward,
In the triumph song of life.

© Public Domain

How do I feel about that?

Are you ruled by your emotions? Many people are! I hope you have matured to the point where you are working to use your feelings to enrich your life while never letting them be ‘in charge.’ I am facing a full day of responsibilities. At this moment, I feel like picking up a good book and staying home all day, but I won’t because I choose not to follow the impulse of my emotions. Some days I feel crazy in love with Bev, some days, not so much! I am equally married to her regardless of the emotion of the moment.

Too often faith is almost totally dependent on feelings. For many Believers a good worship experience means that their emotions were stirred. “God was with us today” means “I shed some tears and my heart was touched.” Please do not misunderstand my intent. It is wonderful to be stirred by the testimony of another, to be moved to tears or laughter by a song or a story, but this is not the heart of worship, nor is such a flimsy foundation sufficient for Christian faith! Eugene Peterson, one of my favorite authors, writes: “My feelings tell me next to nothing about God or my relationship to Him. My security comes from who God is, not from how I feel. Discipleship is a decision to live by what I know about God, not by what I feel about Him or myself or my neighbors.” (A Long Obedience)

Look at this declaration!
“Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.” (Psalm 62:5-8, NIV) Rock, fortress, refuge! Those are strong words, expressing faith that is not here today and gone under the stress that comes tomorrow!

I am convinced that those who enjoy the best of Christ are those who choose daily to practice the disciplines that open both their heart and their mind to the Truth of God and the work of the Spirit.
They set God above all other parts of their lives – higher than family, higher than demands at work, higher than their desires, higher than diversions; and yes, higher than their emotions.
They faithfully open the Scripture to learn. They regularly offer prayer and listen in meditation.
They make gathering with other disciples a priority choice.
They serve others.
They give time and resources to the work of God first, not last.

“But, Jerry, that sounds like duty, even legalism.” It could be if the doing of such things was to earn the favor of God or man! But, if this choices and more, are made from a desire to honor God, done simply because they are right to do, then they are an expression of our worship, which pleases Him!

Interestingly, the person who makes the choice to do what God desires of him – regardless of his feelings – almost certainly will develop a deeper, richer intimacy with God over time! He learns what it means to ‘walk with God’ and knows that He is equally present in the dark valley and the mountaintop.

Disciple, exercise the God-given ability to choose! Don’t float with the current. You’ll drift away from God, never to Him. Don’t walk with the crowd. They will never lead you to the King of Glory! Take Joshua’s challenge – “Choose today whom you will serve!”

“Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do. But not the wicked! They are like worthless chaff, scattered by the wind. They will be condemned at the time of judgment. Sinners will have no place among the godly.
For the Lord watches over the path of the godly, but the path of the wicked leads to destruction.”
(Psalm 1, NLT)

_________________

He’s my Rock, my Sword, my Shield!
He’s my Wheel in the middle of the wheel!
He’s my Lily of the Valley,
He’s my Bright and Morning Star!
Makes no difference what you say,
I’m going on my knees and pray,
I’m gonna wait right here for Jesus ‘till He comes.
– Public domain

The whole Truth, nothing but the Truth

A conversation about the age of the earth became intense and the next query was, “don’t you believe in absolute truth?” Now that is a question that requires careful thought. Yes, I believe in absolute truth. Establishing that Truth is the tricky part. Remember Pilate’s question of Jesus? When the Lord told him that He was sent into the world to “testify to the truth,” the Roman governor cynically asked Him, “What is truth?” (John 18:37)

I grew up in a church that told me the world was a place of right and wrong, black and white, with no grey areas. As I matured I found that there was an additional category – “things we don’t talk about!” Many of the difficult issues got pushed into that category and, if a question was raised, you got a lecture about the importance of ‘just trusting God,’ which I later figured out was code for ‘we don’t know how to answer that and stick with our system of truth!’ I also learned that there were some things that were declared true that were simply preferences of the leaders or traditions of the church. It was all terribly confusing to a teenager trying to hang onto to his faith.

The temptation that came from all that was to discard faith, but God was there. He revealed (an important word in the discussion about Truth) Himself in the created world, through the love of wonderful Spirit-filled people, by the work of the Spirit, and in the Scripture. I learned that honesty in dealing with Truth did not require me to have an answer for all questions; that I could and should say, “I do not know,” and leave it at that. I also learned to live with mystery – with the fact that God and His Truth are just too big to fit entirely inside of my head. Some things He choose to let me comprehend, some He asks me to discover with careful study, and some remain in the ‘to be continued’ category.

God reveals Truth and requires us to discover it! An honest scientist and an honest theologian are in pursuit of the same thing (or One) – the Truth! And, the discovery of the truth – be it about physical laws of the universe or spiritual laws about pleasing God – brings great benefit to those who align themselves with it. As Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32, NIV)

Disciple, are you pursuing the Truth? Be a student of the Scripture and a person who loves God personally and intimately. Watch out for deception that comes from becoming intellectually lazy or spiritually tradition bound! Jesus’ most ardent enemies were men who thought of themselves as being pursuers of truth. But their ability to know the truth was corrupted by insistence on maintaining their accepted traditions, which led to their refusal to live in the Spirit, God’s Living Water. Jesus challenged them – “Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.” (John 7:24, NLT)

Here’s Truth to live by today. Meditate on it and take the deep assurance offered by the Word with you into a world full of uncertainty.

“Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,
which cannot be shaken but endures forever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore. …
“Do good, O Lord, to those who are good, to those who are upright in heart.”
(Psalm 125:1-2, 4, NIV)
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Change my heart, oh God,
Make it ever true.
Change my heart, oh God,
May I be like You.

You are the potter,
I am the clay.
Mold me and make me,
This is what I pray.

Change my Heart, Oh GodEddie Espinosa© 1982 Mercy / Vineyard Publishing (Admin. by Music Services)
CCLI License No. 810055

On God’s shoulders

Bev and I have four children, all adults now. But, I remember their childhood like yesterday. When they were little and I was strong, I would swing them to my shoulders effortlessly, their little legs straddling my neck, their hands wrapped in my hair. They loved seeing the world from ‘up there.’ I carried them on my shoulders when we were walking through snow or mud, or when we were in a crowd. Perched there, they were safe, fully in the care of their loving Dad. Both of us were delighted!

Take a look at what our Heavenly Father says He will do for you and me! “Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all you who remain of the house of Israel, you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth. Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. “To whom will you compare me or count me equal? To whom will you liken me that we may be compared?” Isn’t that rich? Tears of joy pour down my face as I write these worlds… thinking of my Father reaching down to swing me to His shoulders, to carry me through the mud today! Oh, what a thought of Glory. Such love.

But, many people are like the fools which Isaiah describes in the next lines. “Some pour out gold from their bags and weigh out silver on the scales; they hire a goldsmith to make it into a god, and they bow down and worship it. They lift it to their shoulders and carry it; they set it up in its place, and there it stands. From that spot it cannot move. Though one cries out to it, it does not answer; it cannot save him from his troubles. “Remember this, fix it in mind, take it to heart, you rebels.” (Isaiah 46:3-8, NIV) The false gods, the idols of materialism, prestige, sensuality, empty religion – these oppress the worshipper. These idols weigh us down and, for what? They cannot save!

I can no longer hoist my kids to my shoulders! The thought makes me chuckle: Sean at 6 foot, 2 inches on my shoulders! Oh, yes, I still can pick them up emotionally, can pray with them, can listen to them, but gradually my ability to father them is eroding. Our Heavenly Father never loses His strength. He says that He was there when we were infants and He be there when our hair is gray, constantly carrying us on His shoulders.

What’s your burden today, disciple?
What fear weighs you down?
Is there a dreaded situation that makes you feel small, something that you cannot get through alone?

Let Him carry you. Kneel and ask, “Father, would you lift me up to Your shoulders?”
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There is no problem so big,
God cannot solve it.
There is no mountain so tall,
He cannot move it.
There is no storm so dark,
God cannot calm it.
There is no sorrow so deep,
God cannot soothe it.

If He carried the weight of the world
Upon His shoulders,
I know my brother, that He will carry you.
If He carried the weight of the world
Upon His shoulder,
I know my brother, that He will carry you.

He Will Carry You
Scott Wesley Brown© 1982 Birdwing Music (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing; Admin. by BMG Music Publishing) / BMG Songs, Inc. (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing; Admin. by BMG Music Publishing)
CCLI License No. 810055
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This thought was inspired by little four line ‘A-ha’ email sent my way this morning by a good friend, Pastor Tim Hoff. Thanks, Tim.

CWTW will be back late next week. I’ll be taking a few days to unstring the bow, to let the Father carry me. If you would ask Him to renew my mind, refresh my heart, restore my soul – I would be deeply grateful!