It all comes down to…

Joanna’s funeral was a tearful occasion for me and I had only a passing acquaintance with her! She never headed any national ministries, coordinated city-wide efforts, or wrote trendy books. She had no money! But, she was rich. Proverbs 31 came alive at that little church in Kearny, NJ for an hour yesterday. “Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.” (Proverbs 31:28, NIV) After an encounter with tragedy in 1970 when one of her children died in infancy, Joanna’s life took a turn. She dedicated herself to loving all God’s children and became mother to all; a foster parent to uncounted numbers, a Sunday School teacher, a grandma celebrated in song, a Mom to adults she believed to be in need of advice, both solicited and unsolicited. Don’t read me wrong today. It was no maudlin affair. It was a celebration of an authentic person, of a life well-lived.

What a contrast to another funeral I attended this same month. At that gathering a handful of people remembered a person who lived life on his own terms. Jim (not his real name) was described as a ‘self-made man.’ His only legacy was a small business that consumed him until his passing. He had no time for God, no desire for self-sacrifice, little that made his life memorable beyond the wealth he had accumulated for his family. It was a truly sad occasion.

It all comes down to what and/or who we love.

  • Do I love God and therefore let the things of the Spirit guide me?
  • Or, am I focused on now, gaining all my hands can hold?

Jesus said it is the most basic choice and from that choice our life takes its direction. “You can’t worship two gods at once. Loving one god, you’ll end up hating the other. Adoration of one feeds contempt for the other. You can’t worship God and Money both. “If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body.” (Matthew 6:24-25, The Message)

If we “love the Lord God with all (our) passion and prayer and intelligence and energy,” (Mark 12:30, The Message) our whole life will be changed, radically re-oriented from Self to Spirit, from scrambling to own to generously sharing, from dread of death to anticipation of life, from fear to faith! There is a persistent lie that loving God will limit life, that such a life means being locked into a constricting set of religious rules. How sad. In Him, we find liberation from the things that make us small people!

Just for today, I challenge you to ask yourself just one question throughout the day:
At this moment, am I facing towards God, the Spirit, guided by love?
It sounds much more simple than it is in practice. You’ll find yourself more courteous on the road, less inclined to speak poorly of another, unwilling to take advantage of someone, generous, kind, and hopeful. Life is lived one day at time. So, if the love of God guides you today, then tomorrow, and then the day after that – you will find this prayer bearing abundant fruit for God’s glory.

Here’s my prayer today, for you and for myself:
“I keep asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God.
I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—His holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance.
I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.”

(Ephesians 1:17-20, NLT)
______________

Take my life, and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
Take my moments and my days;
Let them flow in ceaseless praise.

Take my hands, and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love.
Take my feet, and let them be
Swift and beautiful for Thee.

Take my voice, and let me sing
Always and only for my King.
Take my lips, and let them be
Filled with messages from Thee.

Take my silver and my gold;
Not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect, and use
Every power as Thou shalt choose.

Take my will, and make it Thine;
It shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is Thine own;
It shall be Thy royal throne.

Take my love; my Lord, I pour
At Thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself, and I will be
Ever, only, all for Thee.
Ever, only, all for Thee.

Take My Life And Let It Be Consecrated

Havergal, Frances R. / Cox, Joe / Lindh, Jody W.
Public Domain

Church! Who needs it?

The members of Washington Assembly came together for the Annual Meeting last night. What many people see as just a legal necessity required by our church’s constitution was a holy time of inspiration. Various ministries within the church reported their efforts. I wish critics of the church could have listened in. Our little church is an active force in this community working to do what Jesus told His Church to do here in our corner of the world.
Pat reported that about a half ton of food passes through our food pantry to feed 35-40 families a week!
Lisa reported on our cooperative work with Family Promise, when about once every 10 weeks, we turn the lower level of our Family Fellowship Center into a home for the homeless, loving them, feeding them, keeping them safe for Christ’s sake.
Cindy reported on the 165 children that find a home away from home in our schools, a place to be nurtured in God’s ways while learning their academic lessons.
Bob’s work in keeping our grounds attractive was noted, too. And, is that not spiritual work, too? Yes, of course, we do the ‘normal’ church work of coming together to worship. From that place, we go out to do the work of God’s kingdom!

I opened our meeting with a reminder of the importance of ALL the work, the ‘up front’ stuff and the hidden services in His Name. In speaking of the Church and those who part of it, the Word says, “Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people!” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7, The Message)

Bill Hybels, pastor Willow Creek Church, Barrington, Ill., writes, “Imagine a church where leaders lead, educators educate, worshippers worship, singers sing, givers give.” I don’t have to try to imagine. I see it every day! Last night I did not sense a lot of competing to be the ‘greatest.’ Nor did I sense a room where people were burnt-out by doing things for which they have no calling or passion.

As I went to bed, thinking and praying about the reports and those who presented them, the Spirit reminded me that there is no way this side of Heaven to grasp the full impact of the work that is being done for Jesus Christ. We simply cannot know which of those who received a bag of groceries was also touched by Christ’s compassion. We cannot know which boy that Rangers took on a wilderness experience met God in the woods in a way that kept him from drifting into delinquency. We cannot know at what moment, in our Christian school, a child was profoundly influenced by a godly teacher to become a true disciple of Jesus.

But God knows! And His rewards for those who use the gifts of the Spirit He has given to the Church will find a wonderful reward in eternity. The Word tells us that “God doesn’t miss anything. He knows perfectly well all the love you’ve shown him by helping needy Christians, and that you keep at it. And now I want each of you to extend that same intensity toward a full-bodied hope, and keep at it till the finish. Don’t drag your feet. Be like those who stay the course with committed faith and then get everything promised to them. “
(Hebrews 6:10-12, The Message)

Do YOU know the joy of service?
Are you finding opportunities to feed the hungry, care for the sick (physically, emotionally, spiritually), help someone who is hurt, teach someone the Way, point someone to Christ, say a word that reflects the love of Christ?

Then you share in the inheritance that is set aside for those who serve the Master. Steady on, disciple: Not for fame, nor earthly glory, but for the eternal prize that will never fade.
When Paul was imprisoned in Rome and facing his execution, he sent this benediction to Timothy, a young pastor he had trained for service. His reminder is a call to faithful service.
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—
and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”
(2 Timothy 4:7-9, NIV)
___________________________________

For a glimpse of Washington Assembly at work, see our websites:
http://www.washingtonag.com/ and

http://www.gscacademy.com/

An unruly heart

The intensity of my reaction took me by surprise. There on my PC screen I saw the picture of an old foe. My breathing quickened. My stomach churned with nausea. Perspiration formed on my forehead and my muscles tensed. All this swirl of emotions set off by a picture! No, really it was the memory of the year spent in battle after battle! Doctors call what I experienced the primitive “fight or flight” response. One physician describes it this way: “Sequences of nerve cell firing occur and chemicals like adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol are released into our bloodstream. … this causes our body to undergo a series of very dramatic changes. Our respiratory rate increases. Blood is shunted away from our digestive tract and directed into our muscles and limbs, which require extra energy and fuel for running and fighting. … Our sight sharpens. Our impulses quicken. Our perception of pain diminishes. Our immune system mobilizes with increased activation. We become prepared—physically and psychologically—for fight or flight.” – Neil F. Neimark, M.D.

Just as quickly as I felt the emotional response, my mind, which is informed by God’s will and wisdom, kicked in to assert itself! I experienced an internal dialogue that takes longer to read than it took to actually process. Reason took charge of my unruly heart as I thought: “There is no threat here. This person is no longer a problem, can no longer hurt you. You have already dealt with this with forgiveness.” My mind stabilized more quickly than my body which took several minutes to relax!

Do you realize that you are ‘in charge’ of your emotions, impulses, appetites, and desires? The wisdom of the Word reminds us that “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” (Proverbs 16:32, NKJV) Over and over, Paul calls on disciples of Jesus Christ to exercise self-control. In one passage packed with meaning, he speaks with Spirit conviction. “You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:5-9, NIV) We must not live in a sleepy state in which our emotions run riot in our lives! We live in the full light of day, fully aware of what’s going on inside of us, around us in this world, and even aware of the spiritual forces that seek our destruction. This allows us to live in self-control, with our hearts protected by love and faith, and our thoughts guided by the promise of our eternal home with God!

Don’t give yourself an excuse when temptations or emotional passions arise, even when they shake you like a ragdoll, like that anger shook me last night. You’re in charge of your emotions, your responses. Peter says, “make every effort!” Yes, he says this against the backdrop of this reminder of our source of power to overcome- “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life.” (2 Peter 1:3, NLT) Emotions enrich our lives but if we let them lead us, only disaster will follow.

Are you living a life of self-control, pursuing excellence of character, so that your words and actions will consistently turn the attention of people around you to God and His goodness? Here is a word from the Word. Own it and live it today. Take charge of your unruly heart.

“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. … you … participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. … make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.
For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
(2 Peter 1:3-9, NIV)
________________

Be still, my soul;
The Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross
Of grief or pain;
Leave to thy God
To order and provide.
In ev’ry change
He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul;
Thy best, Thy heavenly Friend
Thro’ thorny ways
Leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul;
Thy God doth undertake
To guide the future
As He has the past.
Thy hope, Thy confidence
Let nothing shake;
All now mysterious
Shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul;
The waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them
While He dwelt below.

Be Still My Soul

Von Schlegal, Katharina / Borthwick, Jane L. / Sibelius, Jean
© Public Domain

Success and Self-control

In 1968, a social scientist at Stanford, devised a test to determine a 4 year-old child’s ability to exercise self-control. Walter Mischel explained that he would reward the child with a second treat if he did not eat the marshmallow placed in front of him until told to do so. Then, he left the child alone and observed from a one-way mirror. Some children were able to divert their attention from the tempting treat – singing songs, covering their eyes, playing games, etc. The resolve of others evaporated quickly and they ate the marshmallow unwilling to wait to earn a second one.

What’s really interesting is information about follow-up to that study. The test was a dramatic predictor of future success! Those who waited to win the second marshmallow scored, on average, 200 points higher on their SAT tests in high school. They ranked high in skills that allowed them to succeed in life; things like confidence, persistence, and the ability to overcome frustration. The kids who had wolfed the marshmallow followed the same pattern into adulthood. They continued to struggle with tendencies to follow immediate impulses which blocked their long-range goals. The Bible teaches us that one of the evidences of the Spirit’s life in us is self-control, and that fruit is more important today THAN ever! In front of you and me are a wide range of opportunities. We have abundant food, including tons of junk. We have access to junk TV, outright filth and foolishness, with a click of our remote. Our PC’s wire us into a world where we can waste hours doing nothing, but feeling like we’re doing something. Our society has abandoned shame and approves self-fulfillment as one of the highest values, so if we run off with another woman, get pregnant without being married, or get fired from our job for being lazy – we don’t have to suffer too much because ‘everybody does it!’

Judging from indicators like the collective increase in the size of our girth, the decrease in our productivity, and the rise in divorce rates- apparently we are NOT doing very well in the self-control department. We are reaping the harvest of our indulgence. Productivity in America is slip sliding away rapidly. 54% of us believe that our kids will not have a life as good as the one we enjoy. We are the very first generation of Americans where a majority believe that! The generation now arriving on the cusp of adulthood is, on the whole, confused about what to do with their lives, unfocused, and content to continue to accept parental support as they age well into their 20’s. We blame them for not getting on into adulthood, but in reality, they are the largely the product of our own undisciplined lives.

Disciple, a core part of being an effective, Christ-honoring, world-class Christian is self-control, which allows us the ability to say “Yes” to God’s purposes as a priority choice so that we can say “No” to the temptations that come our way every day. If we are incapable of or unwilling to accept some level of discomfort in this present life in order to gain the ‘prize of the high calling’ we simply will not consistently do the will of God. Paul, inspired by the Spirit, challenges us to reach higher!
“I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14, NIV)

Are you in the grip of your whims?
Do you have real difficulty making God and His kingdom a priority?
Ask the Spirit to discipline you, to teach you self-control. He will, it just won’t be a lot of fun, but self-control pays rich dividends. Here’s what the Word says.

“So don’t feel sorry for yourselves. Or have you forgotten how good parents treat children, and that God regards you as his children? My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline, but don’t be crushed by it either. It’s the child he loves that he disciplines; the child he embraces, he also corrects. God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children.

This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children. Only irresponsible parents leave children to fend for themselves. Would you prefer an irresponsible God? We respect our own parents for training and not spoiling us, so why not embrace God’s training so we can truly live?

While we were children, our parents did what seemed best to them. But God is doing what is best for us, training us to live God’s holy best. At the time, discipline isn’t much fun. It always feels like it’s going against the grain. Later, of course, it pays off handsomely, for it’s the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God. So don’t sit around on your hands! No more dragging your feet!” (Hebrews 12:5-12, The Message)

Investor or Spender?

We honored Pastor Mike at a meeting of area ministers last night. He has served his congregation for 50 years! He built the church – literally – from the ground up. He was employed outside of ministry for many of the early years to support his family. After working a full day in construction, he took up the work of preaching, teaching, loving, and leading in what amounted to a second full-time job. We all laughed, albeit respectfully, when minutes from a board meeting in 1963 revealed that his salary went from $10/week to $12.50/week. That little fact proves he wasn’t in it for earthly rewards! What faithfulness we saw in his lifework.

Oswald Sanders makes this arresting statement. “We must aim to put more into life than we take out of it!” (Spiritual Leadership)

Are you investing or just spending your days?

An investor always considers return. Before buying into a company, the astute investor considers the value, the stability, the probability of long-term productivity, the quality of the leadership of the company, among other things. Foolish investors look only at immediate returns. Spenders waste their days, chase fantasies, play games, and create nothing of value. They use up resources, burn through relationships, and ‘kill time.’

A life committed to Christ Jesus is wisely invested! Those who love always, who offer encouragement, who find ways to serve others, who give of their resources generously, Jesus says, are investing for long-term reward. His investment advice? “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? For the Son of Man will come with his angels in the glory of his Father and will judge all people according to their deeds.” (Matthew 16:25-27, NLT)

Are you questioning the value of standing by that person who tries your patience, who just can’t seem to ‘get it together?’ It’s time to invest!

Are you ready to quit your ministry because it requires so much time? It’s time to invest!

Are you tempted to sin in some way, attracted by the possibility some new diversion from the difficulty of life? It’s time to invest!

In Heaven’s prospectus, we have this promise of return, made by God Himself. “So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.
“For in just a little while, the Coming One will come and not delay. And my righteous ones will live by faith.” (Hebrews 10:35-38, NLT)

Here’s a word from the Word. Ponder this investment advice today. May the Spirit of God make you wise.

Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.

He shall be like a tree
Planted by the rivers of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.

Psalm 1:1-3 (NKJV)

Givers and Takers

This morning I received an email notifying me of a deposit, my bi-weekly compensation from the church. Who doesn’t like deposits in their account? I also received an email notifying me that my October mortgage payment is due on the 5th. So, I’ll enjoy having those funds in my account for a few days before transferring them to Megabank Corporation! Those transactions made me think about the larger scheme of life, asking myself about how I interact with other people.
Am I a giver or a taker?
Do I make deposits of resources into their lives or take from them?
Do I leave people around me richer or poorer?

Givers bring encouraging words, help and cooperation, prayer, and even resources. We look forward to interactions with them, don’t we? Takers drain us. They whine, criticize, or shuffle their responsibilities onto our shoulders.

There are differing seasons in our lives when the balance tends to shift. In times of stress, illness, or temptation our net effect is often that of taking. We need to be able to draw from others, taking strength. But, when we are healthy – emotionally, physically, and spiritually – are we ready to defy the human tendency to hoard; ready to give from the resources that God invests in us?

The book of Acts introduces us to a man who was so generous, that the nickname given to him by church leaders became the name by which he was widely known. The first time we learn about him we read: “There was Joseph, the one the apostles nicknamed Barnabas (which means “Son of Encouragement”). He was from the tribe of Levi and came from the island of Cyprus. He sold a field he owned and brought the money to the apostles.” (Acts 4:36-37, NLT) Barnabas wasn’t known for his eloquence, his authority, or his deep spiritual insights. He was known for being an encourager! He was a man who was loyal to friends, and generous in every way. When the early church was skeptical about Paul’s new-found faith, Barney stood by him and vouched for the genuineness of his transformation. His great heart clearly made a positive difference wherever he went. One passage tells us that “When he arrived and saw this evidence of God’s blessing, he was filled with joy, and he encouraged the believers to stay true to the Lord. Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and strong in faith. And many people were brought to the Lord.” (Acts 11:23-25, NLT)

Jude, in his short letter, contrasts takers and givers, calling on us to share ourselves generously. Of those who are a negative draw, he has these strong words of warning: “They are like shameless shepherds who care only for themselves. They are like clouds blowing over the land without giving any rain. They are like trees in autumn that are doubly dead, for they bear no fruit and have been pulled up by the roots. …These people are grumblers and complainers, living only to satisfy their desires. They brag loudly about themselves, and they flatter others to get what they want.” (Jude 12, 16, NLT)

And, then he urges us to an entirely different kind of life: “But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life. In this way, you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love. And you must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering.” (Jude 20-22, NLT)

So, friend, which will you be today – a giver or a taker?

Here’s a word from the Word.
“God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. As the Scriptures say, “They share freely and give generously to the poor. Their good deeds will be remembered forever.” For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you. Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous. And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God.” (2 Corinthians 9:8-11, NLT)

Lord, impress it on us and as we receive your gifts, let us give ourselves away. Amen.

All neatly wrapped, no loose ends

Good fiction writers draw us into their stories by creating tension. They set up a conflict, some situation that needs to be resolved. Then they take us through the details, building suspense, until finally they close the loop and reveal to us how it all works out. In the final pages or the closing scenes, we put together the pieces complete the storyline. Childhood fairy tales have that tag, “And they all lived happily ever after.”

Our lives are a story! We make plans, only to find that circumstances change, and our strategies must be adjusted to the new reality. Millions of Americans who had plans for retirement found their playbook re-written by the near collapse of the national economy last year. In weeks many found their net worth cut in half! The man leading our men’s meeting last night talked about the ways in which the plans for his life and marriage were rewritten by the birth of a profoundly disabled daughter. Her needs changed all the plans! He pointed out ways in which God’s purposes are accomplished through his daughter’s disability, but one question remains for him, “Lord, wasn’t there another way for Your will to be done?” I’ve asked the same question hundreds of times about developments in my life and the lives of people in my pastoral care. Situations involving suffering and loss like these plead for resolution. We ask, “Why is this happening? When do the various threads get pulled together so that it all gets neatly wrapped up with no loose ends?” The real answer – “Perhaps not until Heaven!” This is why faith is so critically important, disciple.

In 2 Corinthians, we read about the struggles of life. “While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh!” (2 Corinthians 5:4, NLT) Isn’t that the truth? In that same passage, we are reminded that eternal life awaits, new bodies given to us after the Resurrection that are not subject to any of the limitations or frustrations of this present world! “For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. … God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 5:1,5, NLT) Then comes this line – “We live by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7, NIV)

There are things in this life that will never be tied up with a pretty bow of neat explanations! It is faith in the unseen, as yet unrealized promises of God, that carries us and keeps us. It is not a fairytale that we will ‘live happily ever after!’ In the book of the Revelation, we are assured that there is a Rest for the faithful!
“Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:16-17, NIV) The soothing hand of our Father will caress our face, and when we share His eternal wisdom, our broken hearts will find peace, every question then finally answered! Lord, give eyes of faith that see beyond today.

Disciple, take the word of the ancient prophet with you today. He spoke them to the people of God who were going into a 70 year long captivity in a foreign land. Many said that Judah would never rise again. But, God assured them of different facts, based in His reality, not theirs.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” (Jeremiah 29:11-14, NIV)

Stay faithful. He has a plan and He will bring us from this exile to our Eternal Home!
______________

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

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

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

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

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

When We All Get To Heaven

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

Saint Jerry?

I really want to be a saint! St. Jerry has such a cool sound to it. Don’t you agree? Forget the Rev. thing. Just make me a saint. You think I’m joking? I’m totally serious. Actually sainthood is not so farfetched. In fact, as a disciple of Jesus Christ, that status is available to me.

Sainthood is not about comparison with other people. Using that measure, we can all find those much worse, think mass murderers, etc.; alongside of which we all come off as really nice people! But measure my alongside of that of Mother Theresa and my star dims considerably.

Sainthood is not about earning kudos from others, either. I think I could find at least 4 people who would write a letter on my behalf. (I have 4 kids who love me!) But then, I suppose, there would those who I have offended along the way who would be compelled to write and set the record straight!

Sainthood is not about compiling a record of good works or holy deeds. OK, now you’re stumped right? Didn’t you think this saint thing was exactly that? Well, it is, kind of. Saints do those kind of things, but it is because they are saints, not what makes them saints. Ministering to people in need creates a real positive buzz. Saints ought to do things like volunteer to serve in the local fire department, go visit those who confined in sick beds, offer to coach Little League, give of their resources to church and charity, join the Peace Corp, be kind to children, adopt a dog from the local animal shelter… are you exhausted yet? But, if you could earn a ‘saint’ certificate the question becomes, when do you reach the point of getting the award?

The Scripture speaks frequently about being a ‘saint.’ Here’s the deal, disciple. God declares you and me to be saints, not because we’re good enough, but because Christ Jesus imputes (gives us status we cannot earn) his perfect righteousness to us. In common terms, we are saints because of Who we know, not because of what we do! Yes, I really am St. Jerry, though the practical evidence of that status is still being worked out in my life. The Bible says we are, “beloved of God, called to be saints.” (Romans 1:7, NKJV) Repeatedly in his letters to the churches scattered across the Roman Empire, Paul addresses ‘the saints.’ Take a look. “The Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.” (Romans 8:27, NIV) He opens his letters often with this phrase: “to the saints… the faithful in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 1:1, NIV)

So, we ask, did that first century Church have a lot of very holy, especially wonderful, extraordinarily spiritually gifted people? Yes, and no. They were Christians just like you and me- some days very good and some days, not so holy at all – but always saints. Here’s what we must never forget: a saint is a person who is called to be one of God’s own people, whose sins are forgiven in Christ Jesus, and in whom the Spirit of God is presently at work! All those who are ‘in Christ’ are saints. Sainthood is “Not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship…”

Summing up I’d say, we aren’t saints because we’re better than someone else, or because some church nominates us for a special fraternity, or because we have checked off a certain number of boxes in the good works ledger! We are saints because He called us to be saints. Peter reminds us of the work of the Holy Trinity that is doing a transformational work in us. “I am writing to God’s chosen people [saints] . . . God the Father chose you long ago, and the Spirit has made you holy. As a result, you have obeyed Jesus Christ and are cleansed by his blood.” (1 Peter 1:1-2 NLT)

So, dear saint… yes, YOU… give thanks today for that high and holy calling. Focus on the faithfulness of the One who called you into His holy family. Then, make it your intent to conform your life to your true identity as one of God’s own saints. “I beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.” (Ephesians 4:1-3, NLT)

St. Jerry – I really like that!
_________________________

How firm a foundation,
Ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith
In His excellent word!
What more can He say
Than to you He hath said,
To you who for refuge
To Jesus have fled?

Fear not; I am with thee.
O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God,
I will still give thee aid.
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee,
And cause thee to stand,
Upheld by My gracious,
Omnipotent hand.

How Firm A Foundation
Keith, George / Steele, Anne / Rippon John / Funk, Joseph© Public Domain

By the way, saints belong in church on the Lord’s Day. If you’re in the Washington, NJ area – join us this Sunday at 10:15 AM!If you out of the area, you can join us via the web at our webcast link found at http://www.WashingtonAG.com

How to break Jesus’ heart

Heart breakers are people who build up expectations, make promises, say all the right things; and then, leave! Just about everyone knows heart break sometime in life. When my daughters were teenagers, I dreaded knowing that some boy would sweet talk them, promise them forever, and then two weeks later, walk off, leaving them with a broken heart! And, it happened. No matter how much love their Mom and I poured into them, it took time for them to recover, to realize that their life was not over at age 16! In my pastoral ministry, people in my care have brought a broken heart into my office because a spouse left for another. Men and women, alike, cry when love fails.

Did you know that we can break the heart of our Lord? It’s true! In the book of the Revelation, Christ Jesus speaks to seven churches about their successes and failures. The church in Ephesus was a good church. I think I would have really liked being their pastor! They were hard-working, didn’t give up with things got tough, knew their doctrine, and remained holy. Who wouldn’t like a church like that? But, despite all this good stuff, they broke the Lord’s heart! How? I quote His words: “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.” (Revelation 2:4, NIV) The passion was gone, the joy replaced by dutiful service! Jesus Christ wants more than our good works, more than our showing up in church, more than our paying our tithe! Who knew? He wants us to love Him!

There’s an old song that includes these lyrics: “You don’t bring me flowers. You don’t sing me love songs! You hardly talk to me anymore when you come through the door at the end of the day.” (Neil Diamond) It’s a song about heart break, not because the relationship was over, but because the passion had become a “used to be.” Have you allowed your love for the Lord to cool? Are you staying holy, going to church, reading your Bible – but failing to give Him time, failing to talk life over with Him in prayer, failing to seek His guidance for each day? Love demands TIME more than anything!

Jesus went on to call on those disciples to change. His prescription for them included three words: Remember! Repent! Repeat! “Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent, and do the things you did at first.” (Revelation 2:5, NIV) Have you settled for a religion? Are you content with orthodoxy, ritual, and discipline? They are all good things in their place. We need solid doctrine to keep us from falling into deception. We need ritual that comforts us and keeps us from being distracted by silly fads that come and go in our churches. We need discipline that sustains us when emotion ebbs. And, we need to stoke the fire of passion for Jesus Christ, to love Him with our “heart, soul, mind, and strength!”

I don’t want to be heart-breaker! So, I am going to – Remember! Repent! Repeat!

“The Lord protects all those who love him, but he destroys the wicked.” (Psalm 145:20, NLT)
_____________

I’m calling out to You;
There must something more,
some deeper place to find,
some secret place to hide,
where I’ve not gone before!

Where my soul is satisfied
and my sin is put to death;
and I can hear Your voice
and Your purpose is my choice,
as natural as a breath.

The Love I knew before,
when You first touched my life;
I need You to restore,
I want You to revive!

Could You place in my heart,
A passion for Jesus;
A hunger that seizes
my passion for You?
My one desire,
my greatest possession
My only confession,
my passion for You!

Passion for Jesus
Brian Houston
1999 Thankyou Music (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)
CCLI License No. 810055

A visionary or just a dreamer?

Driving long distances has one benefit for an easily distracted person like me: it allows time for focused thought! Yesterday I spent about 5 hours in my car alone. That’s a lot of thinking! I prayerfully thought about the direction and health of the church I pastor. What is God’s purpose for us? Which ministries are aligned to that purpose? Which exist simply because ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it?’ Where do we need to strengthen? Are there programs we should cut? The right answers to those questions depends on something called, vision; which is the ability to see a reality that is yet in the making. Some people are visionary and others are just dreamers! That is why I sincerely prayed: “Lord, protect me from simply dreaming up schemes and fill me with Your insight for this church.”

You need God’s vision for your life. Without one, you will drift with the currents of fads and fashion. Vision keeps a nation, a church, and yes; a life, on course. When I get discouraged one of the reasons I persevere is because of the vision God gave me about serving Him. A long time ago, when I just a teenage boy, He called me to serve Him in His church. I wasn’t too excited about this line of work! I knew that vocational ministry was a lifestyle more than a job, that the pay not all that great, and the burden of dealing with spiritual issues sometimes heavy. But, I also ‘saw’ the chance to help people discover God’s plans. God helped me to ‘see’ the intangible rewards, things like the joy that I would share when a life in ruins was restored by God’s love and grace expressed through me. That vision has kept me faithful to the Call.

God spoke to Habbakuk about vision and said,
“Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time; but at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.” (Habakkuk 2:2-3, NKJV) What He told the prophet remains important for us.

Vision needs to be refined and defined!
Vision must be preserved and shared.
Vision may not see fulfillment for a long time, but if it is from God,
you can count on it happening!

The Proverb is familiar and oh so true. “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” (Proverbs 29:18, KJV) It is even more plain as translated in The Message: “If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves; but when they attend to what he reveals, they are most blessed.” Some of God’s purposes for us are revealed in His Word; things like living with integrity in our work, fidelity to our marriage, making His kingdom authority our number one priority in life. And, then there is His promise to give us a vision and gifts of the Spirit to bring it to fulfillment.

So, what’s your purpose, God’s vision for your life?
There is no question that is more important. Are you asking it?

__________________

Be Thou my Vision,
O Lord of my heart;
Nought be all else to me,
Save that Thou art
Thou my best thought,
By day or by night,
Waking or sleeping,
Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my Wisdom,
And Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee
And Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father,
I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling,
And I with Thee one.

Riches I heed not,
Nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine inheritance,
Now and always:
Thou and Thou only,
First in my heart,
High King of heaven,
My Treasure Thou art.

High King of heaven,
My victory won,
May I reach heaven’s joys,
O bright heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart,
Whatever befall,
Still be my Vision,
O Ruler of all.

Be Thou My Vision

Hull, Eleanor / Byrne, Mary E.
© Public Domain