Two lives at the finish line

Ed Thomas, high school football coach from Parkersburg, IA, was shot and killed on Wednesday morning by a man who formerly played on his team. Thomas, 58, was a family man, a phenomenal coach who sent several guys into the pros, and a Christian man deeply respected in Parkersburg, where he invested 37 years coaching and helping out anyone in distress. When the little town was destroyed by a tornado last year, Thomas was at the forefront of efforts to rebuild the community. Hundreds gathered to remember him at a memorial at the football field.
Michael Jackson, 50, the “king of pop music,” died yesterday at his home in Los Angeles from sudden cardiac arrest. Billions (literally!) spoke his name as news traveled ‘round the world. Major networks gave hours to coverage of his death and remembering his art. Amazingly gifted as an entertainer, his personal life was tragic, and to all appearances, he was a very lonely, troubled individual.

The contrast of these two lives occupied my mind for quite a while. One was rich, the other was not. One was famous, the other was not. Both enjoyed a kind of success, but of a very different nature. One was loved for himself, the other loved for his art. One was fulfilled and at peace with his life, the other on an endless quest for what God only knows.

Jesus asks us a pointed question. “What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for? ” (Mark 8:36-37, The Message)

Jackson was inarguably a man who lived an amazing life, who gained most everything that many crave. He had wealth and recognition, some saying he was known by more people around the world than other person. But, what does he leave and where did he go? He lived for this world and died a spiritual pauper.

“He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often and loved much;
who has enjoyed the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children;
who has filled his niche and accomplished his task;
who has left the world better than he found it,
whether by an improved flower, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul;
who has never lacked appreciation of Earth`s beauty or failed to express it;
who has always looked for the best in others and
given them the best he had;
whose life was an inspiration; whose memory a benediction.”
by Betty Anderson Stanley

Here’s a word from the Word. It is my prayer today. Will you make it yours?
“Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
(Psalm 90:12, NIV)


I’m taking a couple of days off next week. CoffeeBreak will be back on Weds., 7/1.

Got what it takes?

It was reported that Judge Sotomayor, the recent nominee to the Supreme Court, has moments when she feels a sense of inadequacy for her work as a Federal Judge, not because she lacks credentials, but because she feels so human, so ordinary. This woman, born in a working class neighborhood of New York City, is not, to all appearances, in love with herself, unimpressed by her rise in power. She called herself, “an ordinary person blessed with extraordinary opportunities.”

Do you ever wonder if you’ve got what it takes to live your calling?
Does the challenge of living the life of a Christian seem impossible when you consider your capabilities?
When you compare yourself to another disciple, do you feel like a fraud, wondering if you’re even in the same league?

Left on our own, we will not live in a way that consistently honors our God and reflects His goodness to others. To those who insist on the innate goodness of human beings, I present this indictment: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, NIV) David, praying for forgiveness after plotting the death of his friend and taking Bathsheba in adultery cries out to the Lord, “I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night. … For I was born a sinner— yes, from the moment my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:3,5, NLT)

Before we can experience genuine spiritual transformation, we need to allow the Holy Spirit to bring crushing conviction of our sinfulness. Old revivalist churches had a ‘mourner’s bench.’ It was the place where those who were broken by their sins wept in contrition, made their confession, received the grace of Jesus Christ, and experienced the new birth of the Spirit. We don’t have those today! Instead we have the “boasting couch,” where we brag about our sins, to the world! “I’m OK, you’re OK,” we insist while we comfort each other in our lust, greed, and addictions. I’m all for compassion for sinners! I am one apart from God’s saving grace. I’m all for authenticity! It’s a hallmark of my ministry and I pray I’ll never forget ‘the pit from which He pulled me.’ BUT, I don’t want to leave people in their sins nor do I want to stay there!

The two passages quoted above do not end by bemoaning depravity! They also celebrate the goodness of God and His power to save! “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7-8, NIV)
“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. … Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” (Psalm 51:10, 12, NIV)

The 2nd chapter of Ephesians reminds us that because of Christ and the Spirit, being captives of sin and Self, is a past tense experience for disciples.
“It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. … It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. … He picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah. … 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! … 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 2:1-10, The Message) WOW!

Disciple, make your prayer like the prayer that Jesus prayed on the night of His betrayal – “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. … I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” (John 17:1,4, NIV) “Glorify” is a word that means to give splendor, to make radiant. We need to be concerned that our lives are radiant, marked by the ‘glow’ of God, so that we bring glory to God! Can you or I do that on our own? To even think we can is laughable! But, God, the Holy Spirit, will live in us and His brilliance, His light will shine through us.

Let’s make it our goal to live in the promise. Here’s a word from the Word. I pray it both challenges and encourages you to live up to your calling today – not by your strength, but in His wonderful power! “Whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:16-18, NIV)

In Him, we are all ‘ordinary people blessed with extraordinary opportunities,’ to participate in the Divine Conspiracy to save the world!

Lord, the light of Your love is shining
In the midst of the darkness shining;
Jesus, Light of the World, shine upon us;
Set us free by the truth You now bring us.
Shine on me, shine on me.

Lord, I come to Your awesome presence.
From the shadows into Your radiance;
By the blood I may enter Your brightness,
Search me, try me, consume all my darkness.
Shine on me, shine on me.

As we gaze on Your kingly brightness,
So our faces display Your likeness;
Ever changing from glory to glory,
Mirror’d here, may our lives tell Your story.
Shine on me, shine on me.

Shine, Jesus, shine.
Fill this land
With the Father’s glory;
Blaze, Spirit, blaze.
Set our hearts on fire.
Flow, river, flow.
Flood the nations
With grace and mercy;
Send forth Your Word,
Lord, and let there be light.

Shine, Jesus, Shine

Kendrick, Graham© 1987 Make Way Music (Admin. by Music Services)
CCLI License No. 810055

Throw Your Hat Over the Wall

There’s an old story (it exists in many forms on the Internet!) about two friends were walking together when they came to a high wall. It stretched into the hills on both horizons. “So, Freddy,” Pete said, “I think we’ll have to turn around. We have reached the end of our road!”
Freddy grabbed Pete’s hat, a treasure he never let out of his sight, and threw it over the wall.
Pete flung himself to the ground in despair, angrily asking, “Why did you do that? That is my favorite hat! I’ll never see it again!” “Ah, I knew it was your favorite and that is why I threw it over the wall,” Fred said, “Now we will have to find a way to get over the wall.”

More than a few times in life I have thrown my hat over a wall, creating new challenges for myself, and then wondered why! The truth is I hope I never willingly abandon my journey simply because there is a high wall that appears to block the way. Part of me hates the difficulty of new circumstances, but another part of me knows that to surrender to them is to fail! Life is not trouble-free, but often, our ‘troubles’ become the soil in which God grows new opportunities!

18 months ago, I had no idea of the journey into sickness that my Dad was about to take, nor how his journey would involve me up until he died four months ago. But, when the situation called for it, I threw my hat over the wall and found a way to go after it! I’m so glad I did. I grew to know my Dad and my Heavenly Father in very new ways in that darkness!

When I was called to pastor my present church, I found many challenges. The easiest course of
action would have been to say, “I must have got this wrong. It’s impossible for me to serve here.” But, I knew that where God leads, God provides; that God is a way-maker!

The Word says, “The Lord protects the simplehearted; when I was in great need, he saved me. Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.” (Psalm 116:6-7, NIV) That word, “simplehearted” is about having a child-like faith, something akin to naivete; the willingness to attempt the impossible because it appears one doesn’t know any better! Is your faith in God so deep and strong that you will follow where He leads even when you look like a fool doing it?

So, what wall have you run into, disciple?
– Is your marriage a joyless one, with high walls standing in the way of rediscovery of your love? Will you quit or throw your hat over the wall?
– Is your faith barren of life, with high walls of doubt or fear blocking your experience of God’s presence? Again, I ask, will you quit or throw your hat over the wall?
– Is it a wall that keeps you from parenting well, from serving God with your spiritual gifts, that keeps you from giving to His work, that prevents you from regular practice of spiritual disciplines, …

There is a temptation to think that by turning away, life will become easier. It may- for a while- but then you’ll run into yet another wall! If you keep running, turning back from every challenge, the walls will close in on you! You will find yourself hemmed in by troubles, trials, doubts, and fears – perhaps even enslaved by sin – if you have refused to look for a way over that wall that stands between you and God’s highway of holiness.

The ancient Isrealites were led by God to the door of the Promised Land, but once there they believed the majority report of the scouts who told them that
“The land we traveled through and explored will devour anyone who goes to live there. All the people we saw were huge. We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak. Next to them we felt like grasshoppers, and that’s what they thought, too!” Then the whole community began weeping aloud, and they cried all night.” (Numbers 13:32-14:1, NLT) They refused to throw their hat over the wall and God let them wander for 40 years in the Sinai wilderness ‘til they died!

The next time they came to that moment of decision, they were inspired by the faithfilled leadership of Joshua who heard God tell him to throw his hat over the wall! “Be strong and courageous, for you are the one who will lead these people to possess all the land I swore to their ancestors I would give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you. Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do. Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.” (Joshua 1:6-8, NLT) And they saw the Promise fulfilled!

“Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. … And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.” (Hebrews 11:1, 6, NLT)

My Lord knows the way
Thro’ the wilderness;
All I have to do is follow.

Strength for today
is mine always
And all I need
for tomorrow!
My Lord knows the way
Thro’ the wilderness
All I have to do is follow.

My Lord Knows The Way
Cox, Sidney E.© 1951. Renewed 1979 Singspiration Music (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc., 741 Coolsprings Blvd., Franklin TN 37067)
CCLI License No. 810055

The K.I.S.S. Principle

It just all got to me today. Church ministry budgets that don’t balance, human needs for which I have no quick fix, a crazy mixed up world that seems to be getting more upside down recently – these things pressed in on me. “Why can’t it just be easy?” I whined to myself. Then the Spirit whispered, “Jerry, come back to your center. Simplify!” That center? “I am a beloved son of the Heavenly Father and with Him on my side, nothing is too hard.”

Do you know the K.I.S.S. principle? I’m not sure where it originated, but the concept is a GREAT! It’s abrupt, maybe even rude. But, what the Spirit whispered to me was an expression of the that principle. K.I.S.S.

Keep It Simple, Stupid!

Our Christian life gets awfully confused if we turn it into long debates about doctrines, slogs through philosophical ideas, or doing enough for God in ministry, whatever that is.
Am belittling doctrine or wrestling with ideas to find the truth? Not at all.
Am I saying that serving God faithfully in our ministry for His kingdom is unnecessary? No, again!

I am reminding you and me that that the heart of the Christ life is relationship — with God and with others. I have that on the best authority! Jesus Himself said, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’” (Matthew 22:36-39, The Message)

The Beatles (anybody remember them these days?) wrote a simple song, one their earliest, that proclaimed, “All you need is love!” They were on to something. I wonder if John Lennon, who penned those lyrics, ever read the Gospels? The song was a hit, but it only touched one plane of love – people’s love for people – which quickly fails without the primary love – loving and being loved by God!

The writer of the book of Hebrews spends 12 chapters presenting the superiority of the Gospel with carefully reasoned arguments and then under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he circles ‘round to to the K.I.S.S. principle in the last chapter: (13.1) “Keep on loving each other!” All our fine theology must change the way we live from selfishness to love. If we reduce our Christian faith to a set of ideas that conform to orthodoxy, but fail to love- it’s all a waste! 1 Corinthians 13 reminds us, “Without love, your preaching is as edifying as a gong or noisy cymbal. The ability to speak lofty theology, the insight to grasp spiritual mysteries, even a mountain-moving faith — is worthless!”

Those unbalanced budgets are still there. Questions about my competence are still nagging at me. But, there is one certainty born of the K.I.S.S. principle: I love God and He loves me! From that centering Truth, I gain steady footing that lets me deal with my life, ministry, and the tests that will keep coming my way until I am received into His Presence for Eternity. Friend, if you know that, you, too, can deal with the rest of the stuff! So, keep it simple today, OK?

Jesus loves me this I know,
For the Bible tells me so,
Little ones (and big people, too) to Him belong,
when they are weak,
He is strong.

Yes, Jesus loves me,
Yes, Jesus loves me,
Yes, Jesus loves me,
The Bible (and the Spirit in my heart) tells me so!

Wimps for Jesus?

From certain points of view, a person could conclude that Christianity is a religion for wimps, that church is a gathering spot for the whiners and the weak. There are those congregations organized around bland programs that promote ‘nice,’ governed by committees of kind ladies whose life purpose is to have a nice church dinner with pretty centerpieces, and led by pastors whose highest goal is to find the lowest common denominator in pursuit of ‘non-offense’ in all proclamations. Prayers, if one could call them that, in that kind of church are all about Aunt Tilly’s infected toe and Uncle Joe’s latest bout with gout. Somewhere in that church, you will likely find that ubiquitous portrait of Jesus Christ that portrays Him as an effeminate man smiling wanly as if life is about to overwhelm Him.

Don’t get me wrong! Churches should promote harmony, be concerned with those marginalized by society, and care for the sick! But, that’s not all we do, nor does such a mission begin to define the true nature of the powerful faith given to us by Our Lord Jesus Christ! Your faith and mine is given to us for more than making us nice people who live quietly comfortable lives that intentionally avoid seeing the needs of the world, sated by endless pleasure seeking.

We are called into the service of the Lord of Heaven and Earth, commissioned to engage Evil, equipped with the armor of the Spirit and sent out to change the world by giving our lives for the Call. I’m not ready to die for a committee organizing church suppers, but I am ready to give myself to the One Who can use me to rescue men and women from death and Hell, that will stand up to tyrants, that will fight for those who are enslaved by the Devil and those who do his terrible work here.

We need to re-read the Gospels without our ‘gentle Jesus, meek and mild,’ filters in place. Yes, He was a loving Man, who blessed children, and fed multitudes. And, He was a powerful Man who compelled sinners to consider their ways, who took on the powerful hypocrites that had turned faith into a money-making scheme, who walked courageously to the Cross to offer Himself as the Sacrifice for the sins of the world. His prayers were not little poems to inspire. In them He met with God and wrestled with the Devil and sweat blood! He was not timidly suggesting that those who wanted to follow Him should set aside 15 minutes a day to think happy thoughts and gather, if it was convenient, once a week for an hour or so for a nice program!

He demanded that they give up their lives for Him. In fact, one day when He was explaining that He must give His life, Peter tried to speak up and earned this rebuke from the Master. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” He followed up with this challenge – that we need to hear again and again! Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:22-26, NIV)

Christianity is the hope of the world. For two millennia, this Gospel has transformed individuals and entire cultures wherever it was preached by fearless men and women who were captivated by the beauty of the Lord, whose love for Him was not romanticized, but deep and compelling. Wimps for Jesus will not have a voice in this present darkness. Only those prepared to die (perhaps not literally, but certainly to their own purposes and pleasures) will.

Rich Mullins penned the song, “Awesome God,” in which he captured something of the true nature of our God. May his words stir you today.

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

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

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

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

“Don’t frustrate your kids!”

While looking for a book on the shelves in my office a couple of days ago, I came upon a book my son, Sean, prepared for me as gift at Christmas a couple of years ago. In it, he recalled events and moments from his childhood. Being the sentimental sap I am, tears stung my eyes as I read through it again. You know what stood out to me? The fact that he remembered little stuff- breakfast together on Saturday, getting to wear one of my crosses to church, getting bad hot chocolate at Pinky’s Café. (There’s a story there, but no time here to tell it!) I didn’t get to be a good Dad in his eyes by being Super-Dad one or two weeks each year. He didn’t put the trip to Disney in his book. He didn’t write about big, expensive gifts. What he remembered and celebrated was that I was there for him, consistently, fairly, all the time!

Because it will be Father’s Day this coming Sunday, I want to take this opportunity to encourage all those Dads who read “Coffeebreak” to embrace the challenge and high calling of fathering, and to do it in a way that honors God and blesses your kids. Being a good Dad will require constantly adjusting your schedule, re-setting priorities, and living with integrity! Nothing disillusions a child more than the dawning realization that Dad does not keep his word, that he talks a much better Christian game than he lives! More than a few times I’ve counseled a teenager through a rough time when they are ready to throw away their faith because they see the yawning gap that exists between the faith their father professes and the life he lives!

Dad, does that mean you have to be perfect? Not at all. It does mean that you have to work at growing in Christ. It also demands that when you get it wrong, you admit it – to the Lord first and then to your family. Real confession of our sins and failure, offered without excuse, demonstrates honesty and because it is so painful, helps to keep us from doing it again!

The Bible says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4, NIV) The Message says, “Fathers, don’t exasperate your children by coming down hard on them. Take them by the hand and lead them in the way of the Master.”

I will always be Dad, discipling my children even though the youngest is now 27 years of age and a continent away. I am no longer responsible for their discipline, but I am there for them, still offering advice, still blazing a trail for them to follow. My Dad blazed a trail for me and since his death I feel a keen loss. Another friend, who is my age, lost his Dad, too. As we were talking about Dad’s, Mark remarked, “You miss be able to call up the Captain and ask, ‘So, Dad, what do you think?” I miss that, too!

Now my aim is that as long as God gives me life, to be the kind of man, the kind of Christian, that causes my children to seek my friendship and wisdom. This will not happen in my life by sheer determination alone. I must be ‘fathered’ by the Great Father, led by God, inhabited by His Spirit. How I thank God for the promise that He will lead me, teach me, and empower me. Do you want to lead your children to Him?

Be a follower, first. Then you can say, “Imitate me, just as I imitate Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1, NLT)

Surrounded by so great
A cloud of witnesses,
Let us run the race
Not only for the prize,
But as those who’ve gone before us.
Let us leave to those behind us,
The heritage of faithfulness
Passed on thru godly lives.

After all our hopes and dreams
Have come and gone,
And our children sift thru all
We’ve left behind,
May the clues that they discover,
And the mem’ries they uncover,
Become the light that leads them,
To the road we each must find.

O may all who come behind us
Find us faithful,
May the fire of our devotion
Light their way.
May the footprints that we leave,
Lead them to believe,
And the lives we live
Inspire them to obey.
O may all who come behind us
Find us faithful.

Find Us Faithful

Mohr, Jon
© 1987 Jonathan Mark Music ARR UBP of Gaither Copyright Management / Birdwing Music (a div. of EMI Christian Music Publishing) CCLI License No. 810055

Serenity can be yours!

Anxiety is the epidemic of our age, isn’t it? We are stressed by time pressure, unmet expectations, a faltering economy, gloomy predictions for the future … and too many personal things to even begin to mention. For me, the current stressor is the budget for the church and her ministries. We are closing our fiscal year in a couple of weeks and planning for the coming year in this economic climate is not fun! But, I would be in sin if I failed acknowledge the way that the Lord and His people have provided so that the church’s work continued with enough resources through this present year. He has been Yahweh Yireh (The Lord, Our Provider; Genesis 22:14), and I am deeply grateful.

In the second half of John’s Gospel, we read an extended conversation between Jesus and His disciples over the final Passover meal as He prepared them for His imminent arrest and death. It’s a sober, yet at times almost comedic, exchange in which they just don’t get it. They are confused by His words, unable to grasp His promise of a new Comforter that will come to live in them, the Holy Spirit. Jesus does not sugarcoat the future. He warns them that they will be persecuted by the world who will not like them any more than they liked Him. He tells them that when they do good, they will be hated. He says that troubles will come their way. We need to hear those words!

A silly brand of Christianity is ballyhooed by thousands of preachers that implies that becoming a follower of Christ Jesus will bring bright skies, endless horizons, and days of bliss! Those who hear those false promises often conclude that they must be ‘bad’ or have ‘no faith,’ because trouble and trials continue to be part of life. Certainly, we do bring some trouble on our own heads by walking willfully, out of step with the Spirit. However, if we are deeply committed we will be up to our necks in difficulties! Why? Because we are called to serve in hard places, commissioned to live against the current, resisting the Devil and his evil works – even to the point of death!

But…. (don’t you love that conjunctive word?) peace is possible. Yes, serenity is God’s gift to us. Here’s what Jesus said at that supper to men who were confused and stressed by what He had told them about their future:
“Fix this firmly in your minds: You’re going to be in deep mourning while the godless world throws a party. You’ll be sad, very sad, but your sadness will develop into gladness. “When a woman gives birth, she has a hard time, there’s no getting around it. But when the baby is born, there is joy in the birth. This new life in the world wipes out memory of the pain. The sadness you have right now is similar to that pain, but the coming joy is also similar. When I see you again, you’ll be full of joy, and it will be a joy no one can rob from you. … I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.” (John 16:20-22, 33 The Message)

Those men were going to enter into a greater darkness than they had ever known, but in three days the Resurrection would let them put the puzzle together, give them the assurance they needed, and prepare them for the future.

Disciple, we must grasp the promise and the assurance that leads to serenity; to peace in the middle of the storms. “Take heart! I have overcome the world!” is still a promise for you and me. Jesus knows about the budgetary needs of my church, so I need to be as wise as possible, obedient to His leading, and trusting that come what may He still leads. Death, divorce, disappointment, temptation, unemployment, failure, missed expectations, overcoming addictions – there is serenity for those who give their lives into His care.

God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.


Original Serenity Prayer
by Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)

All In The Family

Good Shepherd Christian Academy, a ministry of the church I pastor, had graduation exercises for 8th grade last night. One theme glued the evening together- the sense of being a family! The attachments run deep, as evidenced by their tears, real tears that flowed copiously through the whole 90 minute program. Sure, they fight. What brothers and sisters don’t? Some of them have been GSCA students for their entire elementary education, others just for a year or two. Even at age 13 or 14, they know the value of ‘belonging.’

Oh, that each ministry and participant in our church would find and hold onto that kind of connection! Ours is a fragmented, broken society, with many lonely, isolated people. Large extended families in America are almost extinct, torn apart by our mobility and quest for prosperity; and yet, we need to belong! Few things are more critical to emotional and spiritual health than being part of a network of relationships that provides opportunities for service and support. But, it isn’t easy to build or maintain that kind of web, is it? Tragically, too often conflict is allowed to tear up families and churches! (I’m not throwing any stones on that point for I’ve been there, done that!) Somebody’s sin intrudes and because we don’t know how to deal with sin and dysfunction with bold, firm, loving discipline; everything blows up! Then, too, many of us hang onto an exaggerated sense of privacy and/or individualism that allows us a high level of autonomy but robs us of the joy of really loving and being loved.

A church that opens her doors and hearts to others will look very messy! Some expect their church to be like an army on parade, in neat uniforms, marching in lockstep. I have to disagree. A real church will resemble a family reunion, chaotic, relational, glued together not by rigid discipline but by profound love! A church family will have the full complement of characters – just like any other family. There will be the leaders and the followers, the stars and the silent workers, the cranks and the jokesters, the sages and the fools, the highly productive and the VNP’s (Very Needy People), the good and the bad, the whole and the broken, the joyful and the sad.

Let me ask you a couple of questions today.
Are you part of a church?Are you helping her be a real family?Are you investing yourself in forming and maintaining close relationships that will return rich dividends to you and for the cause of Christ?

Ponder this passage from the Scripture that describes the Church in terms of the body. It’s a familiar passage, so I’ve used The Message to help you read it anew. As you read, invite the Holy Spirit to renew the family of God, to glue us together, to help us to love each other.

“What we have is one body with many parts, each its proper size and in its proper place. No part is important on its own. Can you imagine Eye telling Hand, “Get lost; I don’t need you”? Or, Head telling Foot, “You’re fired; your job has been phased out”? As a matter of fact, in practice it works the other way-the “lower” the part, the more basic, and therefore necessary. You can live without an eye, for instance, but not without a stomach. When it’s a part of your own body you are concerned with, it makes no difference whether the part is visible or clothed, higher or lower. You give it dignity and honor just as it is, without comparisons. If anything, you have more concern for the lower parts than the higher. If you had to choose, wouldn’t you prefer good digestion to full-bodied hair?

The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance. You are Christ’s body-that’s who you are! You must never forget this.

Only as you accept your part of that body does your “part” mean anything. You’re familiar with some of the parts that God has formed in his church, which is his “body”: apostles prophets teachers miracle workers healers helpers organizers those who pray in tongues. But it’s obvious by now, isn’t it, that Christ’s church is a complete Body and not a gigantic, unidimensional Part?
It’s not all Apostle, not all Prophet, not all Miracle Worker, not all Healer, not all Prayer in Tongues, not all Interpreter of Tongues.”

(1 Corinthians 12:20-30, The Message)


Welcome to the family,
We’re glad that you have come
To share your life with us,
As we grow in love
And may we always be to you,
What God would have us be,
A fam’ly always there,
To be strong and to lean on.

May we learn to love each other
More with each new day,
May words of love be on our lips
In ev’rything we say.
May the Spirit melt our hearts,
And teach us how to pray,
That we might be a true family.

Welcome To The Family
Rettino, Debby Kerner
© 1982 Rettino – Kerner Publishing (Admin. by Word Music Group, Inc.)
CCLI License No. 810055

Ambition in check

The voicemail message was a strange one, “Pastor, would you please pray that God gives me favor so that my worship ‘ministry’ goes world-wide?” I don’t know the person making that request. However, I know this: If his real desire is ministry, it won’t matter whether he is serving 10 or 10,000! It seems clear to me that the guy making that request has his priorities a little mixed up! His ambition is out of focus. I did not pray what he asked! I did ask pray; that his ministry would be God-honoring, marked by faithfulness, and that when he led worship he would become invisible as he led people into the Spirit’s presence.

Ambition gets out of focus easily enough. Last week a person sent me a note that praised my writing skills. I appreciate encouragement. We all do. However, I took that praise and got all puffed up. I imagined myself writing a book and speaking at conferences. It makes me laugh at myself when I think how quickly my sinful human nature can take a little affirmation and go on an extended ego trip! Managing ambition demands constant submission to the Spirit.

The Bible speaks of ambition and not always with condemnation! The Word is replete with examples of people who dreamed of accomplishing much for God, who desired to do amazing in His service. In far too many of their stories, their very success became their undoing. Remember Saul, the first king of Israel? Samuel found him full of pride and rebellious. He asked him to remember when he was nobody and God made him somebody! “Although you were once small in your own eyes, did you not become the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel.” (1 Samuel 15:17, NIV) In contrast there is the story of Joseph. A farm boy from nowhere, God gave him a dream! Through years of hard times he held onto that dream, serving God and men faithfully in small ways until God raised him to great prominence as the Prime Minister of Egypt. Joseph never forgot Who he served or why he was promoted.

What God corrects is selfish ambition.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3, NIV)
“For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” (James 3:16, NIV)

Nothing corrupts ministry more quickly than the need to be recognized, the desire to be first; ambition that is no longer submitted to the Spirit of the Lord.
When our ministry to God and His people, whatever it is that He has called and equipped us to do, becomes about numbers or reputation, it will no longer be ‘ministry.’

Here’s a word from the Word. May the Spirit use it to keep our selfish ambition in check and to encourage service that is focused on the One worthy.

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5-11, NIV)

Not ‘back’ to anything!

After I spoke on the fullness of the Spirit yesterday, somebody remarked, “Sounds like you think we need to get back to an old-fashioned Pentecost.” I didn’t respond but the comment lingers. I asked myself, “Am I, due to my age, longing for the past? Am I remembering days gone by with the soft rosy tint so often imparted by nostalgia?” No! I am eager to experience all that the Lord has for His Church and for me right now. I do not want to re-live any previous ‘glory days!’ I am convinced that there are new and wonderful things prepared in His purposes, that He is not just the God of my fathers, but the God of my grandsons!

After crying out in alarm over the terrible spiritual conditions in Israel, the prophet Joel used a plague of locusts that was devastating the land to illustrate a coming military invasion that would bring terrible destruction. “Sound the alarm in Jerusalem! Raise the battle cry on my holy mountain! Let everyone tremble in fear because the day of the Lord is upon us.” (Joel 2:1, NLT) But, Joel’s vision did not stop there! “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.” (Joel 2:28-31, NIV) Disciple, walking away from the Lord will invite His correction, but – praise Him – He does not abandon us forever. “His mercies are new every morning!”

I believe that He is holding out the offer of a new Renaissance to us if only we will invite the Spirit to give us new dreams, bigger than ourselves, greater than our personal prosperity. The Renaissance period in Europe, beginning in the 1400’s, which brought about the rebirth of culture and learning after the Dark Ages, brought a whole new way of thinking to the Western World. Many thought that Christianity was done, finished by the dawn of the Enlightenment! But, God’s voice spoke through all that tumult of that time to the heart of a German monk named Martin Luther. Through him, the Spirit gave us the Reformation, which not only changed the Church, but laid the foundation for Western democracy, and our entire way of life. Luther did not have a vision about going back to anything. God showed him a new way to worship, a new vision of the Cross of Christ, a new vision of grace.

His famed five ‘sola’s’ shaped the core principles of the rebirth of vital Christianity:
‘Sola Scriptura,’ only the Scripture;
‘Solus Christus’ – only Christ;
‘Sola Gratia’ – only grace;
‘Sola Fide’ – only faith –
‘Soli Deo Gloria’ – only for God’s glory.

These ideas may seem common, even familiar to us, but the Spirit birthed these visions of the core Truths of the Gospel when God revealed these things to Luther 500 years ago! They came to him in a time of terrible darkness and in great struggle.

Let’s believe God, the Spirit, for a new proclamation of the Gospel that engages our world. The Scripture remains! Christ is the same! Grace is the hope. Faith is the only means of receiving that grace. No matter the age, the purpose of our lives is found only in God’s glory. A backward look was the sin of Lot’s wife that led to her demise. So, if we spend our days longing for another era, gazing fondly backward, we will never experience the renaissance that God, the Holy Spirit, has prepared for us. Lift your eyes to Him.

Here’s a word from the Word. Jesus, speaking to His disciples and to us, urges us to receive the vision.
“Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together.” (John 4:35-36, NIV)

Spirit of God, descend upon my heart.
Wean it from earth, through all its pulses move.
Stoop to my weakness, Mighty as Thou art.
And make me love Thee, as I ought to love!

Hast Thou not bid us love Thee, God and King?
All, all Thine own, heart, soul, and strength, and mind!
I see Thy Cross, there teach my heart to cling,
O let me seek Thee and oh, let me find!

George Croly – public domain