A Baby and A King!

During the 1970’s, the Second Coming dominated life in evangelical and Pentecostal churches. “Rapture” fever infected most of the Believers I knew. Remember those awful movies – “Thief in the Night” and “Distant Thunder”? They scared the sin out of Christians for at least a week every time we saw one of them! We didn’t want to be left behind to face the horrors of the Anti-Christ. Prophecy preachers saw signs of the Return of Christ in every newspaper article and painted fantastic pictures of a world in flames which awaited anyone not ‘ready for the coming of the Lord!’

The book of the Revelation became a kind of horror movie, mesmerizing but awful, at the same time. I still am not certain if it was my twisted perception or generally skewed presentations- but the “Blessed Hope,” was anything but blessed or hopeful for most of us. The mentality was escapist and a ‘get those sinners, God!’ race to judgement. It should not be so!

The season of Advent is our annual reminder that Jesus Christ came into the world as its Savior and that He will come again as its King! The story of a baby born in Bethlehem and laid in a manger, the incarnate Deity, is like a brilliant flash of lightning whose rolling thunder still echoes through time two millennia after the Event. This season is full of the songs that declare that we are not alone, scrabbling to make a life on this planet by our own wits. God stepped over the threshold of eternity and into time, humbling Himself to become a man. The Christmas story is a declaration to us that our purpose here goes beyond the propagation of our DNA.
Advent’s most wonderful message is the Blessed Hope. In your prayers and ponderings today think on this:
“Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen.” (Revelation 1:7, NIV)

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”

Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.”  (Revelation 21:4-7, NIV)

Join the conspiracy that changes not only perspective but life! This Advent worship the King! Connect the Incarnation and the Revelation; the Baby and the King of Glory. Advent will take on new meaning – not only of remembering a baby’s birth, but of hope of the King’s coronation.

_______

Joy to the world,
the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King!
Let ev’ry heart prepare Him room,
and Heav’n and nature sing,
and Heav’n and nature sing,
and Heav’n and Heav’n and nature sing!

Isaac Watts, public domain

A strange kind of relief

About 6 weeks ago, I learned that there was some abnormality in my body that needed further exploration. Yesterday the doctor told me that my biopsy results were all good, no cancer. I am deeply grateful, praising God. I should be elated, and in a sense I am. But in another part of my mind, I am dealing with a new sense of the inevitability of aging and illness, with this episode being a clear reminder that no day of the rest of my life should be wasted. Is it fear that is creating this urgency? Is it a normal reaction to what I perceive as a kind of ‘near miss’ with serious illness? I don’t really know.

Like many of us who have to keep up with life and responsibilities while we deal with our personal crises, I shelved my emotions. After learning the good news, I thought I could just go merrily on my way. An hour after hearing the doctor’s verdict, an emotional tidal wave hit, from which I am still trying to recover. Have you ever had a nightmare in which tragedy overtakes you, your family perishes or something equally horrible happens? Then, you wake up, and shaking off sleep, you feel a mixture of lingering fear and tremendous relief that it was only a dream! That is my state of mind today.

Why did the Lord allow me to walk this road? To claim to know all of His mind would be wrong, but I know this: He is reminding me to be about the business of the Kingdom of Heaven now. This is not the time to slack off, to get distracted with the temporal things of life. This is His Word to me and my prayer is that it will be renewed to you as well. “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” (Ephesians 5:14-17, NIV)
Thank you for praying for me in this time. CoffeeBreak will be back next Monday.

________________

May the Lord’s Presence be part of your Thanksgiving.

“Hallelujah!
Praise God in his holy house of worship,
praise him under the open skies;
Praise him for his acts of power,
praise him for his magnificent greatness;
Praise with a blast on the trumpet,
praise by strumming soft strings;
Praise him with castanets and dance,
praise him with banjo and flute;
Praise him with cymbals and a big bass drum,
praise him with fiddles and mandolin.
Let every living, breathing creature praise God!
Hallelujah!”

(Psalm 150, The Message)

God on the margins

Connie Schultz writes a column that appears in my local newspaper. She is a persuasive and provocative feminist. Today, she loosed her verbs on members of Congress who wish to restrict the use tax dollars to fund abortion. Schultz adopts the argument that respect for life is rooted in religion and therefore has no place in public policy. In so many words she says that God is irrelevant to the world in which we live, that belief is a hobby for fools and the self-deluded. We are a nation now governed by an elite that sides with the likes of Schultz. Most of our legislators, judges, and intellectuals continue to profess religious belief. They do so, however, as a sentimental custom, not as a life-shaping commitment. God, if He exists at all, is relegated to the margins of life. Of course, that kind of God is no god at all!

I cannot do much about Connie Schultz’s opinions, but I can examine my own life for the same kind of thinking.

Am I pushing God to the edges of my life, refusing His will or wisdom in favor of my own convenience?

Am I living on my own terms even though they contradict what the Scripture reveals to be the mind of God in the matter?

How can we claim to love and serve God if we try to wall off parts of our lives from Him? Jesus confronts us with this question: “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46, NIV) Perfectly aligning life with God’s will is the true disciple’s desire. Yes, I have inconsistencies in my life that anyone will find should they delve into my actions. I do not perfectly practice what I preach. I confess that with sorrow and with the hope that I am not a rebel, just ignorant! It is one thing to not know the will of God and thus to fail to do it. It is quite another to know what He commands and yet to ignore Him. The Bible reminds us that we sin as much by omission as we do by commission. “You are full of your grandiose selves. All such vaunting self-importance is evil. In fact, if you know the right thing to do and don’t do it, that, for you, is evil.” (James 4:16-17, The Message)

Ms. Schultz probably does not realize that when she shakes her fist at moral absolutes, she is breaking the first of the Ten Commandments: “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3, NIV) That does not simply prohibit worshipping a small clay idol, or adopting the gods of a foreign religion! It is a call to humility of Self, to submission of our minds and hearts to the One True God. The stark and simple fact is that unless one has settled the issue of the primacy of God in all things, life will be disordered and increasing chaos will result. “Lord, you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee.” – St. Augustine

Disciple, I urge you to place yourself – every attitude, every assumption, every value – at the Throne of God. Invite the Holy Spirit to make known to you any part of you that is not yielded to His mastery. Pray that prayer which David prayed in humble confession; “What you’re after is truth from the inside out. Enter me, then; conceive a new, true life. … Going through the motions doesn’t please you, a flawless performance is nothing to you.” (Psalm 51:6, 16, The Message)

___________
All to Jesus I surrender,
All to Him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust Him,
In His presence daily live.

All to Jesus I surrender,
Humbly at His feet I bow,
Worldly pleasures all forsaken,
Take me Jesus take me now.

All to Jesus I surrender,
Make me Savior wholly Thine;
Let me feel the Holy Spirit,
Truly know that Thou art mine.

All to Jesus I surrender,
Lord I give myself to Thee.
Fill me with Thy love and power;
Let Thy blessings fall on me.

I surrender all,
I surrender all.
All to Thee my blessed Savior,
I surrender all.

I Surrender All
Van De Venter, Judson / Weeden, Winfield S.
© Public Domain

God, vindicate me!

The vise of government bureaucracy tightened around the little family. False accusations, broken promises, and abused power destroyed their home, brought financial ruin, driving them to the edge of sanity. As we talked the woman asked, “Why would people do this to us? Is there any justice?” Their story of abuse at the hands of the powerful is not unique. It’s been repeatedly billions of times in history!

David, the shepherd boy from Bethlehem, was called into the service of King Saul. He did his best, serving the king with skill and faithfulness. The people came to love the young man for his leadership and praised him in the streets singing of his exploits. Jealousy took root in Saul’s heart and gradually drove the old king into madness. Again and again, he attempted to kill David. There was no justice, no reason for Saul’s fears. In one of the dramatic stories of the Bible, we learn that David had an opportunity to settle the score. Take a look.

“Saul chose 3,000 elite troops from all Israel and went to search for David and his men near the rocks of the wild goats. At the place where the road passes some sheepfolds, Saul went into a cave to relieve himself. But as it happened, David and his men were hiding farther back in that very cave! “Now’s your opportunity!” David’s men whispered to him. “Today the Lord is telling you, ‘I will certainly put your enemy into your power, to do with as you wish.’ ” So David crept forward and cut off a piece of the hem of Saul’s robe.” (1 Samuel 24:2-4, NLT)
With that piece of the king’s robe in his hand, David waited until Saul had started to move on, then he stepped out and challenged the king saying, “This very day you can see with your own eyes it isn’t true. For the Lord placed you at my mercy back there in the cave. Some of my men told me to kill you, but I spared you. For I said, ‘I will never harm the king—he is the Lord’s anointed one.’” (1 Samuel 24:10, NLT)
It’s is David’s prayer that we need to memorize for it reveals a heart fully trusting in God’s appointed time of justice. “Let’s decide which of us is in the right. God may avenge me, but it is in his hands, not mine. ….God is our judge. He’ll decide who is right. Oh, that he would look down right now, decide right now—and set me free of you!” (1 Samuel 24:15,The Message)
Are you waiting for justice?
Has some cruel person made your life a nightmare, visiting their crazy worldview on you, trying to destroy you without cause?

Cry out to your Advocate! Plead with Him for justice!
But, be careful about taking matters into your own hands. Our hearts are prone to sin and even though we may feel justified in settling the score, we risk sinning ourselves if we let ourselves go down that road. Better to let God judge! When He decided, it is perfect justice. Until then, we must be guided by our Lord’s instructions.“You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. … But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.” (Matthew 5:44-45, NLT)
Waiting for God’s justice gives us great freedom. It allows us to live without fear, trusting the One who knows for our security and vindication. Will you choose to live in faith today?

Superman, anyone?

Yesterday I wanted to be Superman! Just for a day or two I would enjoy having his unique qualities. Forget the flying. It would be fun, but basically useless. It’s the ability to work fast, to be unstoppable, and invincibility that appeals to me. There are a few challenges sitting on the periphery of my life which I’d like to wipe away with a single swing of super strength. Yes, I know, it’s just a story, but we all slip into daydreams occasionally. Since this Clark Kent isn’t going to be a super-hero, I chose another guy for inspiration today, Eleazar, son of Dodai. Never heard of him? He gets a couple of lines in the Bible that are memorable to me. In the book of 2 Samuel, there is a review of the ‘mighty men’ that stood with David, Israel’s warrior king. One of the men of renown is the aforesaid Eleazar. His big moment in life is included in the list. “Next to him was Eleazar son of Dodai the Ahohite. As one of the three mighty men, he was with David when they taunted the Philistines gathered at Pas Dammim for battle. Then the men of Israel retreated, but he stood his ground and struck down the Philistines ‘till his hand grew tired and froze to the sword.” (2 Samuel 23:9-10, NIV)

That’s quite a line, froze to the sword! The other soldiers retreated as the Philistines advanced, but Eleazar stood his ground, unwilling to give an inch, swinging his sword in deadly arcs that continued, over and over, until a pile of dead and wounded enemies lay around him. As the din of battle subsided when the Philistines finally broke and ran, the Israeli warriors crept back to see their friend standing there exhausted and bloody. Most remarkably, he was unable to release his grip on his sword! He had fought with such ferocity that his tendons were locked. His fellow warriors gathered around him and pried open his fingers, one by one, until the sword fell to the ground and Eleazar finally knew it was over! It’s not my intent to glorify the violence, but rather to let his tenacity inspire us. He wouldn’t give up.

It’s silly to dream about being Superman, but I can aspire to be an Eleazar. Even if those who stand alongside of me retreat from the battle of life, the struggle for that which is of God, it is my aspiration to keep swinging the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:17, NIV) I want to finish with my grip on His Truth intact, my love for His will the overarching notable quality of my life. How about you?
Challenges will keep coming. When we beat back one temptation, another arises. When we solve one problem, another appears. Master a skill and new demands will require yet more adaptation. That’s the nature of life! We have only a brief respite to savor the victories, before the next wave rolls toward us. There is a promise for would-be Eleazars. God, the Spirit, never leaves us on our own. We need not try to stand in our strength. The Word says that He will “strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:16-19, NIV)

As I dealt with my Superman fantasy yesterday, I knelt to pray and took the offer of His strength, thanking Him that HE would not let me fall, asking Him for level ground and steady endurance. If you’re weary, let me encourage you to do the same. Thank Him, renew your appreciation of His grace, breathe in the life and love of Christ, then stand ‘til your hand freezes to the sword!

_______________________

Day by day, and with each passing moment,
Strength I find to meet my trials here;
Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,
I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.
He, whose heart is kind beyond all measure,
Gives unto each day what He deems best,
Lovingly its part of pain and pleasure,
Mingling toil with peace and rest.

Every day the Lord Himself is near me,
With a special mercy for each hour;
All my cares He fain would bear and cheer me,
He whose name is Counsellor and Pow’r.
The protection of His child and treasure
Is a charge that on Himself He laid;
“As thy days, thy strength shall be in measure,”
This the pledge to me He made.

Help me then, in every tribulation,
So to trust Thy promises, O Lord,
That I lose not faith’s sweet consolation,
Offered me within Thy holy Word.
Help me, Lord, when toil and trouble meeting,
E’er to take, as from a father’s hand,
One by one, the days, the moments fleeting,
‘Till with Christ the Lord I stand.

Lina Sandell
Public Domain

The why of the what

Do you ever forget why you do what you do?

On Monday, while my urologist was working on me doing the biopsy, I asked him why he chose his particular specialty. He laughed and said, “Because I like to sleep through the night and enjoy my weekends. There aren’t many urological emergencies!” Good answer and one that an obstetrician could not give! Both kinds of physicians offer needed care, but for very different reasons. Why do you do what you do? The short answer might be: to pay the bills, or it’s the first job I was offered, or I married into the company, or I couldn’t afford college and ended up doing this job. Others might remember a passion for children that led them to education, or a desire to make money that pulled them towards a career they saw as lucrative, a love of music that drew them to perform, or a calling from God that was irresistible.

With time’s passing, many might say, “I stopped asking why a long time ago! I just have to keep making the donuts now because the luxury of choice is in the past.” That’s what too many think. Obligations can cause us to lose sight of why we started out doing what we do. When that happens, a kind of desperation lurks that can drive a person to many a foolish decision! Think about ‘why’ beyond your job or career.

In all of life, it is important to stay aware of the ‘why’ that shapes the ‘what.’ Why did you get married? Why do you stay married? Why do you go to the church you attend, relate to others the way you do, do the ministry you do, act the way you do towards others? It’s easy to slide into passivity, to let circumstances and experiences define us, settling into a rut of routine. We will not live the adventure that is possible for those full of faith in God if we are living by default instead by intention! The Bible says, “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” (Romans 12:2, The Message)

A marriage kept intact ‘for the kids’ cannot know the deepening intimacy of one nurtured by unselfish love.
A job done ‘just for the money,’ will not be done with the same quality as one done ‘as unto Christ.’ (Eph. 6.5)
A ministry done to gain recognition or for self-fulfillment will never have the same sweetness or pure results as one done for God’s glory alone!

As we ask ourselves ‘why’ we might conclude that the only answer is to abandon responsibility or to up end our lives with some radical choice for self-fulfillment. In truth, we have woven webs of obligation to family, church, community, and God that we must not break simply because we have become unhappy or dissatisfied. It is possible to redefine the ‘why’ of our present circumstances by bringing God into our situation and seeking His will. He makes ‘all things new.’ He can give us a new vision that changes us in place and allows us to begin to redefine the way we act. The so-called ‘geographical cure’ for life’s problems, that old lie that promises happiness if only we can find some new place, never works precisely because our greatest problem travels with us! That is ourselves. Without inner transformation, we almost always recreate the same problems that plagued us in the past even when we change spouses, jobs, or locations.

Change the storyline you’re telling yourself! Even a fable starts to sound true if it is told long enough. Ask the Lord to give you courage to face the truth, for the insight to know yourself, for the creativity to re-tell the story of your life in the way that honors His purposes.

“God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you’re ready for anything and everything,
more than just ready to do what needs to be done. …
This most generous God who gives seed to the farmer that becomes bread for your meals is more than extravagant with you.
He gives you something you can then give away,  which grows into full-formed lives, robust in God,
wealthy in every way, so that you can be generous in every way, producing with us great praise to God.”  (2 Corinthians 9:8-11, The Message)

So, you’re talking about me behind my back?

Good health, overall, has been one of God’s ways of blessing me. Mostly, I have avoided hospitals and physicians. The few times I had to deal with medical tests or pain were quickly forgotten. Several weeks ago, a routine screening brought new knowledge of my physical body’s weakness and mortality. Yesterday I went through a prostate biopsy, a procedure I tremendously dreaded! And now, I have to wait for the determination. Is it cancer or not? (Results will be given to me next Monday.) Anytime the possibility of cancer exists, we shudder, don’t we? No matter the statistics, the advances in treatments, and the assurances of medical personnel, that word is still ominous.

There is one thing that sustained me yesterday: prayer! Hundreds of people from California to Massachusetts talked about me behind my back – to the Lord. Notes that told me about it were amazingly comforting. This past Sunday, several church leaders gathered ‘round me, laying their hands on me in prayer and I wept; in part from love I felt, and in part because the safety of that moment allowed the very real fear I held inside to leak out! I have no idea how many people I have prayed for in my lifetime, but it has to be thousands! I can only hope that my prayers were as comforting to them as the prayers offered on my behalf are to me at this time.

Prayer is more than emotionally therapeutic. It is powerful!

The Bible tells us to “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed. The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with.” (James 5:16, The Message) I cannot explain all the reasons that an All-knowing, All-powerful Purposeful God wants us to pray, but He does. The Bible make that abundantly clear. Personal prayer involves listening that allows Him to direct us. That’s not all there is to prayer, however. There is a Biblically mandated prayer of petition that we cannot and must not ignore. “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7, NLT)
The Word urges us to ask boldly, ask faithfully, and trust Him radically. Know this! Faith is important, a God-focused faith. He doesn’t answer prayers just because we’re good enough, loud enough, eloquent, or even earnest. He hears our pleas when they are offered in the attitude like that of a child who asks favor from a loving father. No good Dad gives his son everything he asks for because his wisdom knows that not all things desires are the best. Our Father does what is best for us.

Disciple, we need to pray for one another – not just from a distance – but in person. This must be a regular practice that does not wait for a crisis time. Go ahead and talk about me behind my back, to God. You can even criticize me to Him! You can, and should, ask Him to change me, to correct me. I’ll do the same for you! And God will put it all in the right perspective and use our prayers to accomplish His will and purposes. When we pray for each other, we must go beyond – “Lord, bless Pete, Sally, and Sam.” Let’s get specific, praying for financial provision, for specific guidance, for restoration of love in marriages, and for all those things that real people experience. I asked people to pray specifically for me to have courage and peace as I went through yesterday’s procedure. I know their prayers were specifically answered! I did not feel stressed, had no adverse reactions. In fact, I fell asleep in the waiting room and my wife had to wake me up. Thanks be to Jesus for His wonderful peace.

Let me pray for you now borrowing Paul’s amazing prayer for the Ephesians, a prayer that is one of my favorite passages in the Word.
“When I heard of the solid trust you have in the Master Jesus
and your outpouring of love to all the followers of Jesus,
I couldn’t stop thanking God for you—
every time I prayed, I’d think of you and give thanks.
But I do more than thank.

I ask—ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—
to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally,
your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do,
grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers,
oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—endless energy, boundless strength!” (Ephesians 1:15-19, The Message)

To the praise and honor of our wonderful Lord. Amen!
_________________

I have a Savior,
He’s pleading in glory,
A dear, loving Savior,
Though earth friends be few;
And now He is watching
In tenderness o’er me,
And oh, that my Savior
Were your Savior, too!

I have a Father:
To me He has given
A hope for eternity,
Blessed and true;
And soon will He call me
To meet Him in heaven,
But oh, that He’d let me
Bring you with me, too!

For you I am praying,
For you I am praying,
For you I am praying,
I’m praying for you.

I have a peace:
It is calm as a river,
A peace that the friends
Of this world never knew:
My Savior alone is
Its author and giver,
And, oh, could I know
It was given for you!

For you I am praying,
For you I am praying,
For you I am praying,
I’m praying for you.

I Am Praying For You

Cluff, Samuel O’Malley / Sankey, Ira D.
© Public Domain

Real guts!

Men were standing around the room after an event, talking. A commotion caught my attention, just in time to see two grown men one near 40, the other 10 years younger, grab each other in what looked like a desperate confrontation! Seconds later they were on the floor. Grunting with exertion they rolled under a table, tipping it over as they wrestled. They mixed it up, testing each other’s strength for about a minute, then they got up, smoothed their clothes and shook hands. One had blood coming from his nose, the other from his lip. And, they were laughing! “A friendly fight” they called it! They weren’t angry, just men acting like boys. I’ve never been one of those men who liked to fight for the fun of it.

For me, a real demonstration of strength involves integrity, doing the right thing even when it’s hard, making the right choice when fatigued or pressed. I am not all that impressed with the displays of testosterone that are offered up as a show of courage!
Being a disciple of Jesus Christ demands real guts! The world around us, the sinful nature in us, and the devil who opposes God and good will ‘bring it on’ from time to time. Sometimes our Adversary shows up as that ‘roaring lion’ and plants himself in our path. “You’ll fail. You’re weak,” he roars. Sometimes we just start to look around at others and we feel the pressure to cave in, to adopt their way of life, to work for those things that would make us successful by societal measures. And, worst of all, are those temptations that arise from our inner thoughts, that find a root in our fears, that poke at our most vulnerable spots.

Joshua’s charge to ancient Israel is one we need to hear. “Be very strong; be careful to obey all … without turning aside to the right or to the left. … But you are to hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have until now.” Joshua 23:6 (NIV) To state the obvious- one does not need to be heavily muscled, male, young, or an athlete to take up that charge. We will need courage, however. What passes for Christianity is often an ‘all you need is love,’ emotion-centered experience. Jesus Christ is given a feminine likeness. We unconsciously start to think of Him rather like our grandma who cajoled us with sweet words. Truth is that He is Lord, strong and mighty, who says unapologetically, “Take up your cross and follow Me!” I hear those words not in the wheedling tones of a Mommy speaking to a toddler, but in the command voice of a man leading a squad of soldiers!

Here’s a word from the Word that challenges us to a robust faith, full of courage. Meditate on it. “Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. … Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 2:1,3, NIV) Do you see the Source of our true strength? It is not our personality, our education, our innate intelligence, or our muscle! We are made strong by an infusion of Divine Goodness bought for us and made available to us by Jesus. It’s time to say, “I can stand because He gives me real guts. I can face the Devil and move forward to defeat him. I can resist pressure to conform to the norms of my world because He leads me along a different path. I will be courageous enough even to deal with my own weakness with discipline!”
“So we can say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?
” (Hebrews 13:6, NLT)

_______________

Am I a radical fanatic?

When the words ‘radical fanatic’ come up so does my level of caution! Immediately I think of those who blow themselves up with the hope of gaining Paradise as they kill the infidels or of those who moved to a jungle camp in Guyana with the insane preacher named Jim Jones. Why does complete commitment to God have to be confused with such insanity? Why do I not think of the amazing couple with three children who left the comfort of their American home to live out their lives among a remote tribe in Papua New Guinea to bring the Word of God, or the self-sacrifice of 5 young American missionaries on an Amazon River beach in 1956 while attempting to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ’s love to the Waorani, who were engaged in a destructive murderous civil war?

Christianity was never meant to be a life of moderation!

Our Savior and Lord calls us to total surrender of ourselves for and fanatical dedication to His Kingdom. How else can we read His words? “If you prefer father or mother over me, you don’t deserve me. If you prefer son or daughter over me, you don’t deserve me. If you don’t go all the way with me, through thick and thin, you don’t deserve me. If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me.” (Matthew 10:37-39, The Message)

John echoes that call. “Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.” (1 John 2:15-17, NLT)

What or who owns your life, disciple? That question cannot be answered only with words. It must include all parts of our daily lives.

In what do we seek security?
To what do we give the majority of our focused energies?
What are we teaching our children about values?

Jesus, were He to stand among His American followers today, would likely ask, “So why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say?” (Luke 6:46, NLT) A Christianity that is reduced to a system of ethics, a religious creed, and a morality that merely keeps us from the grossest sins is not at all aligned with the discipleship taught by the Word. The safe, moderate life that most of us live is barren of the Spirit’s life and Presence because we sense little or no need of His daily presence. We, not God, are ‘in charge.’ We only invite His with passionate prayers when circumstances arise that we cannot manage; things like sickness, financial reverses, or relational breakdown. Then, when normality returns so does our sense of self-sufficiency.

So how can we become radical without going insane?  Two choices are of prime importance:

– Anchor your choices to the Scripture with careful study that includes no private interpretations and consideration of the long tradition of the Church.
– Remain in community, not going off to do your own thing without counsel and advice of those who are mature.

Jesus Christ offers the most radical Way and it is not based in esoteric visions, strange rituals, or weird self-expression. As you read His words, take time to meditate on them. Carry them with you as you ask, “Am I a radical fanatic?”

“There’s trouble ahead when you live only for the approval of others, saying what flatters them, doing what indulges them. Popularity contests are not truth contests—look how many scoundrel preachers were approved by your ancestors! Your task is to be true, not popular.

“To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person. If someone slaps you in the face, stand there and take it. If someone grabs your shirt, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.

Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them!” (Luke 6:26-31, The Message)
The way of love – it is radical!

Full of doubts?

Not too long ago a good man stopped me and asked, “Do you have doubts?” He wanted to know if my Christian life included any uncertainties about what I claim to believe. He’s not the first to ask me that question! He wanted to know if I ever wondered about questions like: Does God care for me? Does He really take note of me? Is He active? Does He answer prayer? These are real questions and more common that we think. Many of us feel anxiety and even guilt about even having these thoughts. We are convinced that if we were a ‘better Christian’ all doubt would disappear and we would live in perpetual assurance. Think again. The deeper a person delves into faith, the more we choose (note that word) to walk in faith, the more we expose ourselves to the possibility of doubt. Why? Because the choice to live by faith leads us from the common, the safe, the tested and out into the realm of the impossible, the impractical, ‘walking in the Spirit.’

Faith needs to grow and gradually replace our doubts. But, doubt is not necessarily a bad thing. It can and should lead us to an examined and tested faith that is able to withstand the stormy times of life that will come to us all. Timothy Keller, author and pastor, says that “a faith without some doubt is like a human body without any antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic.” (Reason for God, Riverhead, 2008) I love that analogy to antibodies. We can live without them, but we are much more resistant to sickness because of them. Each time our bodies fight off some virus, we gain strength for the next assault.
Doubts are disturbing! But, they also can help us to clarify our beliefs which, in turn, deepens our ability to trust God. Doubt and faith need not be adversaries. Doubt can lead us to greater faith if we respond to it in ways that recognize our limitations. If we require iron-clad proofs that respond to our demand to see, touch, smell, or hear; then doubt will become destructive. If we are willing to admit that there are many things we simply cannot reduce to the simplicity of our own understanding, then we can come to a place where we are prepared to discard doubt and choose to trust God. I am convinced that we should not force that process to end prematurely, either in ourselves or in others.
In my life, doubt is ultimately defeated by building from the broad issues of faith to the more defined ones. Long ago, I chose to believe in the existence of God. The balance of evidence pointed to a Supreme Being, a Creator. Examination of the evidence and Scripture brought me to the choice to trust that God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to this world to reveal His grace and Himself to us thus; I am a Christian. Learning of the way of life He taught and seeing how genuine discipleship brought such benefit to this world, I chose to respond to His offer of grace and follow Him as a disciple. Do you see the pattern?
John closes his Gospel, which is a long argument for Christian faith, with a story of doubt overcome. As you read it, take note that Jesus did not condemn the doubter. Instead, he invited him to examine the evidence and make a choice!
“Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:27-31, NIV)

Are you doubting? Keep it honest.
Ask the questions, not as accusations but as real inquiries.
Allow for mystery.
Be a good student of the world, the Scripture, and yourself.
And, listen for the Spirit’s invitation to faith.
“The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. …


It’s impossible to please God apart from faith. And why? Because anyone who wants to approach God must believe both that he exists and that he cares enough to respond to those who seek him.
(Hebrews 11:1, 6, The Message)

___________________

My faith looks up to Thee,
Thou Lamb of Calvary,
Savior divine!
Now hear me while I pray;
Take all my guilt away.
Oh let me from this day
Be wholly Thine!

May Thy rich grace impart
Strength to my fainting heart,
My zeal inspire.
As Thou hast died for me,
Oh may my love to Thee
Pure, warm and changeless be,
A living fire.

While life’s dark maze I tread,
And grief around me spreads
Be Thou my Guide.
Bid darkness turn to day;
Wipe sorrow’s tears away;
Nor let me ever stray
From Thee aside!

When ends life’s transient dream,
When death’s cold sullen stream
Shall o’er me roll,
Blest Savior, then in love,
Fear and distrust remove.
Oh bear me safe above,
A ransomed soul.

My Faith Looks Up To Thee
Palmer, Ray / Mason, Lowell

© Public Domain