Leadership or Follower-ship?

“This moment will look much different two years from now,” I told the person who was torn by emotion, confronted with a difficult decision. I spoke from experience, knowing that with time’s passing, our choices and God’s leading find a context within the big picture of life.

As I approach my 54th birthday and look back over 3 decades of adulthood, I see moments where He changed my course and moments where I was headstrong and took detours from His will. Most amazing to me is His grace that has made me who I am today. In my reading in the Word this morning, I perused the story of Abraham’s dispatch of his servant to get a wife for Isaac. As the servant comes to a well, he meets a beautiful young woman. When circumstances bring him to the conclusion that he has found the woman for Isaac, the Bible says “the man bowed down and worshiped the Lord, saying, ‘Praise be to the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not abandoned his kindness and faithfulness to my master. As for me, the Lord has led me on the journey.’” (Genesis 24:26-27, NIV) With that servant, I too, say – The Lord has led me on the journey!

When I ‘take charge’ and begin to lead, mistakes get made, people get hurt, and I live to regret it! Been there too often. When my heart is humble and my mind submitted to Him, I am led by the Spirit. What a difference when I am led and not leading. Most of the moments when I’ve seized control, it has been because a sense of urgency makes me feel that must not wait, that there is no time to pray and see what God will do or what He wants done. I always regret the results that emerge from those ill-considered choices. But, when I let Him lead and bring His plan to maturity in His time: Oh, what a difference!

I am not making a case for passivity or indecisiveness, disciple. We must choose, make decisions, move on with life – but, we do so as those who are led. Much is made of leadership today, but I am learning ‘follower-ship.’ When a situation requires me to lead, I have learned first to be led. Until I have wrestled with the choice in the Presence of God, sought His counsel, and applied the principles of His Word, I am not ready to choose wisely. And, I have learned the value of making decisions within the context of the counsel of trusted confidants.

The Scripture urges us to realize the privilege of being led by God. “God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go! This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?”” (Romans 8:14-15, The Message) God does not lead us like slaves, beating us, driving us, robbing life from us. Rather He leads us like sons are guided by a wise father; sometimes sternly, sometimes with rebuke, sometimes with encouragement – and always to what is best.

Meditate on this promise. Don’t rush ahead or lag behind. Let God lead you as you listen for the Spirit’s voice.
“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15, NIV)
“When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” (John 16:13, NIV)

Some day life’s journey will be o’er,
And I shall reach that distant shore,
I’ll sing while ent’ring heaven’s door,
“Jesus led me all the way.”

If God should let me there review,
The winding paths of earth I knew,
It would be proven clear and true,
“Jesus led me all the way.”

Jesus led me all the way,
Led me step by step each day;
I will tell the saints and angels,
As I lay my burdens down,
“Jesus led me all the way.”

Jesus Led Me All The Way
Peterson, John W.
© 1954. Renewed 1982 John W. Peterson Music Company
CCLI License No. 810055

A Hut or a Mansion – You Choose, I’ll be happy!

When I was a kid, when there was a missionary speaker at our church, we often sang a song with these words – “I go where you want me to go, dear Lord; I’ll say what you want me to say, I be what you want me to be…” For me it wasn’t a good song! It created visions of going to live in a hut in a jungle, far from people I loved, living miserably on a terrible diet. Even as I sang, I was doing deals with God in my mind… “Sure, Lord, I want to be an obedient son – but- pulllleeeeeze- don’t ask me to go there!” That childish response makes me chuckle now, even as I recall the very real emotions of that time.

In my immaturity, I did not understand the will of God was the gateway to fulfillment, that the purpose of God is the way of joy. My relationship with God (if one could call it that) was shaped by fear, not by love. I was ONLY willing to consider God’s will because I was certain something terrible would happen to me if I didn’t. Curiously, somehow I thought that ‘doing God’s will’ always meant misery, but a person did it so they would avoid greater miseries of perpetual poverty, cancer, or zits! As I matured in faith, I found out that the will of God is not some miserable duty that the Potentate of Heaven presents to us just to see if we’re humble enough to take it! He is not toying with us just to exercise His authority. He desires to work out His will in us and through us in the world.

The Will of God is the path of life. His will envelopes our experiences, our spiritual gifts, our opportunities, and our personality. He knows EXACTLY how to maximize our potential, even if His plan is not what we might initially desire for our life. He asks us to trust His wisdom. While He is not interested, in the least, in granting our every fantasy, He does love us deeply. Even in circumstances that appear miserable to someone looking in from the outside, He can keep us joyful and at rest. The Lord’s idea of success is far different because He factors in eternity! He will make us into a Heavenly success story, which does not mean we will live a life of ease, enjoy access to great wealth, or gain the respect of millions! But, in the center of His will we find intimacy with God, a blessing that knows no equal!

Jesus tells us “If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love. “I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature.” (John 15:10-11, The Message)

Some are called to serve Him in obscurity, some in fame. Some are sent to the far side of the globe, others to their hometown. Some are given great responsibility, others serve but a few. There is no need to compare, for our service is by His sovereign will! Paul illustrates this for a young pastor named Timothy. Take a look.
“In a wealthy home some utensils are made of gold and silver, and some are made of wood and clay. The expensive utensils are used for special occasions, and the cheap ones are for everyday use. If you keep yourself pure, you will be a utensil God can use for his purpose. Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work.” 2 Timothy 2:20-21 In God’s household, we are all valuable — prepared for a purpose. We serve nobly whether we are a fine crystal goblet or an ordinary water glass, whether we are a golden tray on display or a wooden cutting board on a corner of the kitchen counter! IF we allow envy to take up residence, the joy and the effectiveness that might have been ours will be lost to endless days of complaining and/or comparisons.

So, disciple, are you still trying to ‘serve God’ while holding onto your own plans?
Are you trying to play a sophisticated game of “Let’s Make A Deal” with Him, setting limits on where, what, or with whom you will serve?

Here’s an invitation from Him. Prayerfully ask the Spirit of God to make these words live for you as He draws you into His will and shows you His plan for this day.

“Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. … You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.” (John 15:4-5, 16 NIV)

It may not be on the mountain’s height
Or over the stormy sea,
It may not be at the battle’s front
My Lord will have need of me;
But if by a still, small voice He calls
To paths I do not know,
I’ll answer, dear Lord, with my hand in Thine,
I’ll go where You want me to go.

I’ll go where You want me to go, dear Lord.
Over mountain or plain or sea.
I’ll say what You want me to say, dear Lord,
I’ll be what You want me to be.

There’s surely somewhere a lowly place
In earth’s harvest fields so wide,
Where I may labor through life’s short day
for Jesus the crucified;
So, trusting my all unto Thy care,
I know Thou lovest me;
I’ll do Thy will with a heart sincere,
I’ll be what You want me to be.

I’ll go where You want me to go, dear Lord.
Over mountain or plain or sea.
I’ll say what You want me to say, dear Lord,
I’ll be what You want me to be.

I’ll Go Where You Want Me To Go –
Mary Brown /Charles E. Prior /Carrie E. Rounsefell
© Public Domain

Blessed with a dog

“It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to the Most High. It is good to proclaim your unfailing love in the morning, your faithfulness in the evening.” (Psalm 92:1-2, NLT) Today, I give thanks for Sam, the Irish Setter, who came to our home in early April. She has brought me much joy! My brother gave Sam to our Dad for Christmas, bringing great delight to him during his illness. When Dad died in February, Mom came to realize that an energetic setter was too much dog for her to handle. I asked if I could adopt her. I’ve wanted to own a ‘real dog’ for a long time. Now, thanks to the generosity of my Mom and my brother, I do! But, I also believe God blessed me with a dog!

I am convinced that the Lord cares about the longings of our heart, that He is the giver of good gifts. To think that He is only the stern Judge, or the disciplinary Father, is to miss much of Who He is. If we only praise Him for the wonderful Cross, for beautiful sunrises, and for majestic mountains, we will soon lose sight that He is our ‘Abba,’ our Heavenly Daddy who delights in us, who knows us by name. Sam makes me laugh, gets me off of my computer and outside for walks, awakens me at 5 am, and goes with me to my office every day. In terms of world need, those things are trivial. In terms of my needs, God gave me a gift that is making a difference in my quality of life!

As much as I love the Truth of the Gospel, I have a deep need to personally and immediately experience the love of Jesus Christ, to sense the Presence of the God who knows me. One way that happens is when He blesses me in ways that are personal, that fulfill my desires. When He does, it is imperative that I give thanks, that I return to bless Him with my gratitude and praise. One of my earthly Dad’s favorite lines from the Psalms was -“Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” (Psalm 37:4, KJV) I heard him quote a thousand times, as he pointed out blessings – great and small – for which he thanked God.

Do you ask God for only great things?
Are you reluctant to present all of your requests to Him, to share your heart’s desires with Him?

Tim Keller, in The Prodigal God, reminds us that Jesus’ first recorded miracle was turning several jars of water into wine for a wedding! He was enabling a family to celebrate life, giving a gift of love, and making festive joy possible. He goes on to write that “Jesus’ salvation is a feast, and therefore when we believe in and rest in His work for us, through the Holy Spirit, He becomes real to our hearts. His love is like honey, or like wine. Rather than only believing that He is loving, we can come to sense the reality, the beauty, the power of His love. His love can become more real to you than the love of anyone else. It can delight, galvanize, and console you. That will lift you up and free you from fear like nothing else.” (pg.108)

You may disagree, but I believe that if He would make wine for a wedding, He could give a preacher a dog! So, I am giving thanks for being blessed with a dog.

Here’s a word from the Word. Take it to heart and present all your requests to Abba, and receive His good gifts with gratitude.
“Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away. Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.”
(Psalm 37:1-6, NIV)

Come, we that love the Lord,
And let our joys be known;
Join in a song with sweet accord,
And thus surround the throne.

Let those refuse to sing,
Who never knew our God;
But children of the heavenly King,
May speak their joys abroad.

The hill of Zion yields
A thousand sacred sweets,
Before we reach the heavenly fields,
Or walk the golden streets.

Then let our songs abound,
And every tear be dry;
We’re marching thru Emmanuel’s ground,
To fairer worlds on high.

Come We That Love The Lord
Watts, Isaac / Williams, Aaron© Public Domain

Brain food!

Rick (not his real name) and I enjoyed a picnic with our families yesterday. Conversation drifted into politics. As he expounded on his disdain for the current administration and the policies now shaping the nation, it was obvious he believed America was headed in the wrong direction. His daughter interrupted him to explain, “He watches Fox News all day!” He later added that he thinks Rush Limbaugh is, despite his bombast, (his word, not mine!) a man who speaks truth. He loves Sean Hannity. Rick’s views are totally consistent with his source of information. My point here is not to argue with Rick’s politics (nor yours, thanks!) but rather to observe that what he is choosing as brain food has an obvious effect on his view of the world!

Most of us are aware that diet is a big part of the general health of our body. Constant consumption of foods that are loaded with saturated fats will not only increase our likelihood of becoming overweight, it also increases, exponentially, our risk of heart disease. We know that. We also have been taught that good health requires a balanced diet including carbs, proteins, fruits, and vegetables – and some of us have reached the age where we realize the value of fiber, too.

But, I fear we are much less aware of the quality of food that we feed to our mind and spirit! We are foolish if we believe we can consume a steady diet of ‘junk’ and remain spiritually healthy. Disciple, if you’re spending 3 or 4 a day watching the usual television programming that glorifies casual sex, materialism, and violence – it will affect your life! No question about it. What plays as the background music in your home or office, will most certainly enter your brain and change your thoughts. How many times have you found yourself singing a line from a song almost unconsciously, only to realize it just played on the radio or from your PC?

A basic life principle is this: Right thinking always precedes right living. Jesus alludes to that fact when He observes that “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6: 43, 45-46, NIV) We will think clearly, with a view of life that is godly and true only if we choose the right brain food. And, if we are deceived in our thinking, we will not live in a way that leads to an abundant, Spiritually fruitful life.

Change takes time. If potato chips, hotdogs, fries, and cheeseburgers are a person’s steady diet for 25 years, there will be a discernible effect on their physical health. Turning things around will require re-training their taste to appreciate healthier fare, so they will continue to consume a diet that is balanced and full of healthful foods. A week on a good diet won’t change a thing! Only a real, sustained commitment produces weight loss, lower cholesterol levels, and better energy. Likewise, in our spiritual lives, a burst of concern lasting only a few days or weeks, will not produce the desired effect! A holy life, filled with the fruit of the Spirit, will only emerge as we continue to strengthen our heart and mind with the Truth over time.

Here’s a word from the Word that points the way to peace (that is, soundness and wholeness) with God. “Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.”
(Philippians 4:8-9, The Message)

Fill all my vision, Savior divine.
‘Til with Thy glory, my Spirit shall shine.
Fill all my vision that all may see,
Thy holy image reflected in me.

Fill all my vision, Savior I pray.
Let me see only Jesus today,
Though thro’ the valley Thou leadest me,
Give me Thy glory and beauty to see.

Fill all my vision,
Every desire keep for Thy glory.
My soul inspire with Thy perfection,
Thy holy love flooding my pathway
With light from above.

Fill all my vision, let naught of sin.
Shadow the brightness, shining within.
Let me see only Thy blessed face,
Feasting my soul on Thy infinite grace.

Fill All My Vision
Christiansen, Avis B. / Hammontree, Homer
© 1940 John T. Benson Publishing Company (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc., 741 Coolsprings Blvd., Franklin TN 37067)
CCLI License No. 810055

Ducks, Rabbits, Eagles, and me!

There is a fable that goes like this. I first heard it told by Chuck Swindoll.

Once upon a time, the animals decided they should do something meaningful to meet the problems of the new world. So they organized a school. They adopted an activity curriculum of running, climbing, swimming, and flying. To make it easier to administer the curriculum, all the animals took all of the subjects.

Now, the duck, she was excellent in swimming. In fact, she was better than her instructor. But she made only passing grades in flying and she flunked running altogether. She was so bad at running, her instructors made her drop swimming and stay after school to practice running. This caused her web feet to be badly worn, so that she became only average in swimming. But average was quite acceptable, so nobody worried about that – except, of course, the duck.

The rabbit started at the top of his running class, but he developed a nervous twitch in his leg muscles because of so much make-up work in swimming. The squirrel was excellent in climbing, but she encountered constant frustration in flying class because her teacher made her start from the ground up instead of from the treetop down. She developed charley horses from overexertion, and so she only got a C in climbing and a D in running. Now the eagle was a real problem child. He was constantly being disciplined for being a nonconformist. In climbing class, he beat all the others to the top of the tree, but he insisted on using his own way to get there.

Are you living outside of the purpose for your life that God intends? Are you trying to find fulfillment or even attempting to live for God in ways that only serve to deepen your frustration and sense of meaningless?

Many of us are doing what we do not so much ‘on purpose,’ but because our parents pressured us into a career, or necessity demanded we take a job we hate, or even because we somehow came to the conclusion that God wanted us there! All kinds of things – peer pressure, expectations, fear, and even pride – keep us from living as God intends. One of Satan’s effective conspiracies to keep us from joy is to keep us from living on purpose!

  • Has God called you to a quiet life of prayer? Then you will be miserable and ineffective if you attempt to become a director of a large ministry.
  • Has God gifted you with compassion, causing you to desire to serve those who are needy and the oppressed? Then why are you trying to lead a Bible class?
  • Has the Spirit given you insight into the Word so that you can help others understand His will? Then why are you focusing your time and energy on a ministry focused on raising funds for a missions outreach?

ALL of the ways of serving God just mentioned are good and worthy. But we are not all called to serve in each one of those good and worthy ministries! God has shaped you and me for a service where we will ‘fit’ and where we can find deep satisfaction in serving Him obediently. One of the reasons there are so many unhappy, unfulfilled, critical, and ineffective disciples is that they are serving in places to which they are not called, for which they are not equipped, while wearing a yoke that chafes and binds them. It takes a lot of courage to admit that to ourselves and others. If we begin to extricate ourselves from some service because we have come to realize that God has not called us to it, we will be judged!

Let me be clear about one thing! Even if we are in the center of God’s will, doing exactly what God has called us to be; we will work, sweat, feel fatigue, and get discouraged. Ministry is demanding. Just consider Paul’s life! Despite being at the center of the will of God, he went through hard times! He says, “I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. Then, besides all this, I have the daily burden of my concern for all the churches.” (2 Corinthians 11:23-28, NLT)

So much for confusing ‘easy,’ with ‘called.’ There is a reason that Jesus invites us to put on the yoke! There is work to be done and a devil who does his best to frustrate God’s purposes being worked out in my life and yours. However, we can be sure of this: We will be renewed when we do what He is calling us and gifting us to do. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would be right there alongside of us. He promised us that He would resource us, answer our prayers, and never leave us orphaned in this world.

Are you a duck trying to climb trees, or a rabbit trying to swim?
OR, are you right where God wants you to be, but attempting to live without relying on Him and the empowering Spirit?

Living ‘on purpose’ requires that we know the calling of God and that we remain reliant on Him.

Take this word from Jesus with you today and meditate on it:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion?
Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.
I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me–watch how I do it.
Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill- fitting on you.
Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Matthew 11:28-30 The Message

Jesus shall reign wherever the sun
Does its successive journeys run;
His kingdom spread from shore to shore,
‘Til moons shall wax and wane no more.

Blessings abound wherever He reigns,
The prisoner leaps to loose His chains;
The weary come home and find their rest,
And all the sons of want are blessed.

People and realms from every tongue
Dwell on His love with sweetest song;
Voices of children shall proclaim
Their early blessings on His name.

Let every creature rise and bring
Honor and praises to our King;
Angels descend with songs again,
And earth repeats a loud “Amen.”

Jesus Shall Reign
Isaac Watts – public domain

The Elder Brother Syndrome

Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, wrote a masterful little book, The Prodigal God, about one of the most famous stories that Jesus told. Chapter 4 in the book, which he titles, “Redefining Lostness” is an arresting essay. As we say, “It hit me right between the eyes!” Keller reminds us that there are two sinners in the story!

Jesus story is recorded in Luke 15. It is about 2 sons and their father. The younger son arrogantly tells his dad, in so many words, to drop dead and give him his inheritance money. Dad liquidates some of his assets and hands a fortune over to this son, who promptly heads off for the city where he wastes it all on ‘riotous living!’ In short order, he is destitute, broken, and in despair. Meanwhile, the older son stays home and keeps working, an admirable person of morality and devotion. Dad defies common expectations and continues to love his lost younger son, looking and hoping for the day when he might return home. Over time, the elder brother grows contemptuous of his father in his own way, each day feeding his pride about what a good son he is compared to that worthless piece of humanity who caused Dad so much pain. He hopes that his father will forget about his brother and reward him for all of his goodness! What he increasingly fails to understand is the meaning of love!

When the younger brother finally shows up, his Dad throws a grand welcome party. The elder brother goes crazy with rage. “He stalked off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. The son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!’ “ (Luke 15:28-30, The Message) In that moment, his own alienation from his father, carefully concealed for years, becomes evident.

Keller points out several traits of elder brother syndrome.

First is entitlement. “I deserve to be blessed,” they think. “Elders brothers expect their goodness to pay off, and if it doesn’t, there is confusion and rage.”

Second is superiority. Keller observes, “Elder brothers base their self-image on being hard working, or moral, or extremely smart and savvy. … they fall into a self-salvation project … and believe that God favors them because of their doctrine, ethical behavior, or ways of worship.”

Third is a joyless, fear-based compliance. They are obedient, but not for delight. The ‘slavish, joyless drudgery’ becomes a fastidious commitment to the letter of the law. Keller writes: “Elders brothers do good to others but not out of delight in the deeds themselves or for the love of people or the pleasure of God. They are not really feeding the hungry and clothing the poor, they are feeding and clothing themselves.”

Fourth is lack of assurance. Keller points out that, “There is no dancing or festiveness about the elder brother’s relationship to his father.” Applying the truth to us, he goes on to say: “As long as you are trying to earn your salvation by controlling God through goodness, you will never be sure you have been good enough for Him. You simply aren’t sure God loves and delights in you.”

The Elder Brother Syndrome is a hazard of religiosity! The devil cares little whether our self-love is expressed through contempt for God’s will that leads us to wild living in the world or through carefully controlled lives in which we take great pride, creating a self-salvation that eliminate our appreciation of our Father’s love and grace. Either way, the Deceiver has achieved his desire of cutting us off from our Father’s outrageous love!

Are you afflicted with the sin of the elder brother?
Do you recognize the lostness of the prodigal son but fail to see the lostness of the ‘good son’ whose pride is equally sinful?

The elder brother refused his Dad’s invitation to the party, preferring to sulk outside the house, nursing his offended sense of propriety. “It just isn’t fair,” he whined. And, so he missed the opportunity to experience his father’s love. Will you… will I prefer to sit in the darkness of our own religiosity while the son we judge enjoy Dad’s wonderful love? That is a question worth pondering! True grace is scandalous. God reserves the right to love as He chooses, not as we expect Him to.

Here’s a passage to take with you through this day. Let the truth of this word from the Word sink deep, washing out both the sin of rebellion and the sin of religious pride, drawing you near to the Father’s heart where there is love, joy, and peace in amazing measure.
“Immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah. Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus.
Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving.
He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing “
(Ephesians 2:4-10, The Message)

How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure,
That He should give His only Son,
To make a wretch His treasure!
How great the pain of searing loss,
The Father turns His face away,
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory.

Behold the man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders.
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers.
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished.
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished.

I will not boast in anything;
No gifts, no power, no wisdom.
But I will boast in Jesus Christ;
His death and resurrection!
Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer.
But this I know with all my heart,
His wounds have paid my ransom!

How Deep The Father’s Love For Us
Stuart Townsend Copyright 1995 Thankyou Music (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)

Loving Just One

Little Danielle spent the first seven years of her life alone on a filthy mattress in a hot Florida room, surviving on milk, dressed only in a filthy diaper, surrounded by roaches and maggots. She had never seen the sun, never had a lullaby sung to her, never been hugged nor held! Medical tests of her hearing, vision, and brain functions revealed nothing wrong, yet the little girl could not walk, talk, or communicate. When she looked at you, it wasn’t really to connect; she just looked through you. Experts said she had been deprived of basic love for so long, her brain had not developed during the critical first five years of her life. They held little hope that Danielle would ever progress or learn, at all.

Enter Bernie and Diane, a couple in their late 40’s, he a carpenter, she a house cleaner. They had grown children and one son at home and hearts full of the love of God. And, despite the warnings of the difficulties, they took Danielle into their home, adopting her as their daughter on Easter weekend in 2007. It’s been difficult beyond description! Tears and fatigue are part of this love story in huge measures. And yet, the love of God is there and where He is invited, there is “life abundant!” Today Dani eats by herself, responds to words, goes to church, and knows what love is. Is she whole? Not by a long way, but she is loved and despite the dire predictions is making progress.

See a gallery of photos of Dani and her new family by clicking on this line.

Disciple, do you understand the power of love- given and received? Are you ready to love radically, to give away the safety and comfort of your life to embrace others, to care enough to go beyond polite exchanges of pleasantries?

Here’s a word from the Word. Ponder it in the light of Dani’s story. Then ask, “Lord, love through me – specifically, deeply, freely, sacrificially!” Such love will change everything.

“If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine.

If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it. “Anyone who receives you receives me, and anyone who receives me receives the Father who sent me. If you receive a prophet as one who speaks for God, you will be given the same reward as a prophet. And if you receive righteous people because of their righteousness, you will be given a reward like theirs.

And if you give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of my followers, you will surely be rewarded.”(Matthew 10:37-42, NLT)

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Cussin’ Christians?

I’m not talking about disciples who drop the F__ bomb! Foul language is not my focus today. There is another way to misuse the gift of words, turning the blessings into a curse. I call it – “Bible speak.” Do you ever indulge in “Bible speak?” We sometimes avoid dealing with hard stuff, sidestep being authentic by using the Bible as a kind anesthetic drug! It is a real problem among all Believers. More than once I have been drawn into the weirdness of it in conversations that go a little like this:

“How are you, John?”
“Praise God, ‘I can do all things through Christ!’”
“Well, that’s true, but how are you?”
“Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever, bless the Name.”
“Yes, of course He is, and how are you today?”
“The Lord is my Shepherd and He leads me to green pastures.”

Often it is spiritual pride that causes us to say the right things even when our lives are a mess. Who among us wants to admit that he woke up on the wrong side of the bed and mad at the world? Who likes admitting that it feels like God is a million miles away and that he feels like his prayers are bouncing off the ceiling? It’s just easier to say, “Praise the Lord, I’m trusting Jesus, holding onto His Word” which may be true enough, but when used as “Bible speak” to hide fear, doubt, or confusion, it is almost like profanity, a terrible misuse of the gift of speech and the Word of God!

Sometimes it is mistaken concepts about faith that causes people to cover up their doubts or disappointments by mindlessly quoting Scripture. They have been taught, wrongly, that admission of troubles is ‘not of faith.’ We can and we should strengthen ourselves by reminding ourselves of the promises we find in the Bible, but we don’t have to lie to ourselves or others in the process! Getting real about life, about fears, our sins and failures is always the very first step to real change! Then, too – sometimes we just say the right things because we know, deep down inside, that those in our circle of Believing friends don’t want to be troubled with our problems; preferring the bland company of the comfortable, to the messy fellowship of the committed! The superficial, light-hearted conversation that skims life surface keeps the ugly stuff from seeing the light of day. So, many of us are desperate, walking alone in the dark, wondering if we are just really bad Christians since no one else appears to be struggling with the same kind of stuff.

None other than Paul, the apostle, illustrates an authenticity in life that is my model. In a letter to a church he once led as a pastor, he wrote about a terrible time in his life and said, “I think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and completely overwhelmed, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we learned not to rely on ourselves, but on God who can raise the dead.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9, NLT) How unlike the happy cussin’ that is featured in so many ministry reports!

Where did we ever come up with the idea that real Christians always have ‘happily ever after’ endings to all their life-stories? Paul thought he was as good as dead- not a very positive note of faith, was it? Truth is, there were long stretches of terrible suffering for the cause of Christ that made his life tragic. After spending long hard years on the road, being criticized, imprisoned, and rejected – he died a martyr’s death in Rome! What sustained him? I can assure you it wasn’t “Bible speak.” His faith went deeper than a verse he learned at camp. His life was oriented to Truth – and by the Spirit – he transcended the emotions that might have derailed him, setting his sights on serving God – come Hell or high water.

And he was transparent in the process! Look at some of the phrases he uses to describe himself or his experience:
“chief among sinners,” “out of my mind to talk this way,” “weak,” “wretched man that I am!” Through all the trials, troubles and triumphs — Paul realized it wasn’t about him, but about the Kingdom of God and about belonging to Christ Jesus, his Lord! “Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the priceless gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I may have Christ” (Philippians 3:8, NLT) That was no idle statement, but a testimony of the way he lived. Reputation, comfort, religious heritage, wealth, home — all worthless by comparison to the treasure of knowing Christ authentically, deeply. Paul already had set his heart on the promise of Eternal Life. He was able to look life in the eye – pain and all – because he could see past the ‘light and momentary troubles,” to the glory that was waiting for him.

I am not suggesting that the only way to authentic Christianity is to wallow in our individual or collective misery! Let’s be honest – rejoicing together in our victories, weeping in our failures – leaving the world of cussin’ Christians who engage in the vanity of “Bible speak” behind us. In this kind of real fellowship, love will flourish. Instead of a phony triumphalism, we will experience intimate community that keeps us whole in a broken world. We will free the Spirit who lives in us to transform us as we really deal with sin – in us and in our world! To the glory of God!

Bitter and cynical?

People will disappoint you, accept it! Friends will prove fickle. Partners will sometimes turn out to be parasites. Many leaders will be short-sighted, self-centered fools. Yes, you discovered at age 10, more or less, that Santa Claus was a fraud. Now get over it and get on with life. If we will not forgive others and ourselves our failures and short-comings, if we will not accept that no one can perfectly meet our expectations, we will grow bitter and cynical, as we age. Henry Ward Beecher, a well known pastor of the 19th century, said, “The cynic is one who never sees a good quality in a man and never fails to see a bad one. He is the human owl, vigilant in darkness and blind to light, mousing for vermin, and never seeing noble game. The cynic puts all human actions into two classes — openly bad and secretly bad.”

Some people use the failures of others as an excuse for cynicism and bitterness, even hatred. For others failure of their fellows becomes a reason to love!

Disciples of Christ are called to the latter response following in the footsteps of their Lord who “came to seek and to save those who are lost!” (Luke 19:10) That summation closes a story of a little man named Zacchaeus. Zee was a Jewish man who turned on his own people and worked for the Romans as a tax collector. He wasn’t above adding more than his legal commission to the bill and his dishonesty had made him wealthy. And, for all his wealth, he was an outcast in his town. When he heard that the traveling rabbi named Jesus was coming to Jericho, he wanted to see him. Of course, due to his lack of social stature, he had no hope that a respected man would entertain an offer of hospitality at his house. Because of his literal lack of stature, he couldn’t see over the crowd, so Zee decided to climb a tree to get a glimpse of the Man. Jesus saw him on that branch and said, “Let’s do lunch together, at your place!” The cynics went crazy! “He’s going to be the guest of a sinner!” What a conversation they enjoyed. Jesus offered him acceptance he had not felt lin years. He pointed him to the real purpose of his existence and this little man returned to the God of his fathers, getting his life right in the process.

What if Jesus had joined the cynics in the belief that Zee could not or would not change? What if He had stopped under that tree and bitterly railed on the little man’s sins and failures? The crowd would have been pleased, but the redemptive work of God would have gone undone!

Disciple, let the love of God wash bitterness and cynicism from your life. Confess it as the sin it is! Let the Lord of Love make you tender, forgiving, and full of hope. A cynic may appear to be sophisticated, but he will never accomplish the work of God in this world.

Here’s a word from the Word. Invite the Holy Spirit to seed it deep into your heart and mind, today!
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.
It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, NLT)

O Master, let me walk with Thee
In lowly paths of service free;
Tell me Thy secret;
Help me bear the strain of toil,
The fret of care.

Help me the slow of heart to move
By some clear, winning word of love;
Teach me the wayward feet to stay,
And guide them in the homeward way.

Teach me Thy patience still with Thee
In closer, dearer company,
In work that keeps faith sweet and strong,
In trust that triumphs over wrong.

O Master Let Me Walk With Thee
Gladden, Smith © Public Domain


I watch “Survivor” the CBS TV ‘reality’ show and this season features a true ‘wannabe!’ A 37 year old man who goes by the name of ‘Coach’ has told wild tales of his supposed exploits in the Amazon, claimed to have esoteric spiritual knowledge, and uses the moniker – “DragonSlayer.” He’s a hoot, an obvious ‘wannabe.’ He desperately wants to be somebody, but he is ‘all hat and no cattle,’ as they say in Texas.

The dictionary says that a ‘wannabe’ is “a person who aspires to a role or position, who imitates the behavior, customs, or dress of an admired person or group.” Sometimes they’re funny, sometimes pathetic, and sometimes down- right annoying. Usually wannabe’s, at first glance, are often indistinguishable from the authentic. The difference quickly becomes obvious when the wannabe has to actually produce like the real person. The wannabe, because he hasn’t put in the time learning the skills, getting the education, and developing the art, is unable to come through in the crunch.

During teenage years being a wannabe is common! It is often the first step to becoming the
authentic article. One boy in the congregation I lead is a pastor wannabe. He carefully watches my mannerisms and even how I dress because I’m his model. (That is a sobering thought.) This lad may discover God’s calling to vocational ministry as he matures. If He has, then he will need to go to school, learn the necessary skills, become an intern – and eventually – he will no longer be a ‘wannabe!’ He will be a real servant of the Lord in the church. A pathetic sight is a middle aged guy who thinks that mimicking the mannerisms of some pastor, saying the same kind of phrases, in the same tone of voice, while wearing the same kind of clothing, really makes him a pastor. That is beyond sad!

Being a wannabe is essentially a fraudulent life. The lack of substance and/or accomplishment causes the pretender to live a lie, which erodes his integrity and steals his credibility. The wannabe knows another tragic result – he never finds out who he really is or what he is really capable of doing. Focused on trying to be somebody else, he misses the joy of being who God created him to be, joyfully filling the place in this world that God, through spiritual gifts, experiences, and opportunities, creates just for him.

Here’s the direct question – are you a ‘for real’ Christian or a ‘wannabe?’
Have you submitted your life to Christ in full surrender, allowing for a complete transformation of heart and mind OR are you just trying to imitate the lifestyle of a Believer you admire?

The Bible says – “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is. As God’s messenger, I give each of you this warning: Be honest in your estimate of yourselves, measuring your value by how much faith God has given you.” (Romans 12:2-3, NLT)

God loves YOU, friend. Yes, it is absolutely true. He won’t love you more if you learn to imitate Mother Theresa or Billy Graham. Truth is, if you take that route, you will offend Him! He wants
you to be you, a unique person with unique preparations to fill a unique place in this world. Self-acceptance can be difficult. Looking in the mirror- physically and spiritually – reveals reality
which isn’t always pretty. But, we are worthless to God and ourselves until we face the facts. We can take the imperfections and sins to God and He will transform us by giving us the Holy Spirit to work in us. God doesn’t do ‘make-overs.’ He does transformations. That’s right – you can be an authentic saint!

This transformational process is called sanctification. That just a big word for ‘becoming like Christ’ through the school of the Spirit! There will be blunders along the way, but – if we are committed to Him and to being authentic- we can be sure that His promise – “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NKJV)- will be true!

Live authentically today!