Descent Into Darkness

We all see things coming in our life that we dread, experiences that we know will be difficult. Last month, I faced surgery. I did not want to submit myself to the knife! I dreaded the pain, the dependence on others, the limits that came with the procedure; but it had to be done. So, I willingly set aside my preferences. I made the choice to take the pain to own my healing! Think of the choices you make to go through a time of difficulty to own a better outcome.
This is Holy Week, the time we remember, with gratitude, the Lord Jesus’ willing to descend into darkness that was incomparably worse than any choice we make. He told His friends, “As you know, Passover begins in two days, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” (Matthew 26:2, NLT) He knew it would be terrible, and He was filled with dread, so much so, that He prayed, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (Matthew 26:39, NLT) As surely as He knew the Cross was His destiny, He knew the Resurrection was His hope. But, even with that hope, it was hard to go through the pain, the alienation from His Father that came with bearing my sin to reconcile me to my Father!

I want to encourage you to think long and deeply about His sacrifice, that it was not forced on Him, that He willingly embraced it for me, for you, because of love. (We will stand before the Cross on Good Friday evening in our Communion worship. You’re invited to join us at 7 PM.) He made the choice to descend into the darkness, not for Himself, but for us. His loss was our gain. His obedience bought our salvation from sin, death, and Hell! He bridged the chasm that sin had carved between the Father and His Creation. Oh, praise Him! The Cross is ugly, but we must not rush past it to get to the Empty Tomb! The glory of the Resurrection morning only is meaningful because of Good Friday’s horror.

Take encouragement from this, disciple. It may be that you are confronted with some very difficult choice in your life. You know the will of God leads against your desires. You know that the way He would lead you will take you through pain of self-denial, even death to Self. Will you do it? Will you willingly descend into the dark of that situation, so that He can lead you into the Light of His purposes?

The Word encourages us with this pattern.
“Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2, NIV)

Look past the pain to the Glory! Grasp the promise of abundant life – presently and eternally – and present yourself as a ‘living sacrifice.’ My prayer for you is this:
“May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20-21, NIV)
_______________

Jesus Christ,
I think upon Your sacrifice,
You became nothing,
Poured out to death.
Many times I’ve wondered
At Your gift of life,
And I’m in that place once again.
I’m in that place once again.

And once again
I look upon the cross
Where You died,
I’m humbled by Your mercy
And I’m broken inside.
Once again I thank You,
Once again I pour out my life.
Thank You for the cross,
Thank You for the cross,
Thank You for the cross, my Friend.

Now You are exalted
To the highest place,
King of the heavens,
Where one day I’ll bow.
But for now,
I marvel at this saving grace,
And I’m full of praise once again.
I’m full of praise once again.

Once Again

Redman, Matt

EMI Christian Music Publishing

© 1995 Kingsway’s Thankyou Music (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)CCLI License No. 810055

Doing the right things

Yesterday’s news brought the story of the arrest of a small band of men in Michigan who were planning to kill a police officer, then to engage in more violence at the funeral of the officer that would kill many law enforcement personnel. All this, they hoped, would spark a national revolution. They were reputed to be thinking this was part of the return of Christ, that they were, in their violence, preparing to be a part of His army of the Apocalypse. Whether the media got it right is always an open question, but the word, “Christian” figured prominently in every story. This comes hard on the heels of the ongoing headlines about the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests and the failure of church leaders to act decisively to stop it. How sad I am that the foolishness of sinful men darkens the glory of the Lord!

Let’s make it our prayer that nothing in what we say or do disgraces the Name of Jesus! The Hutaree (that what’s the men in Michigan called themselves) missed the message of hope in the Gospel in a big way. They ignored the clear call to feed the hungry and clothe the naked that is the true work of those who are in the Lord’s ‘army’ of righteousness. (See Matthew 25:34) My guess is that they let fear take over as the changing times made them feel insecure. So, instead of trusting God, they bought guns! What a tragedy in so many ways. I’m guessing that many of those priests who abused kids for their own gratification, somehow justified their perversion by calling it ‘love.’ Too often Church bishops covered up the sins of those pedophiles because they, too, thought it was the expedient choice.

Disciple, we must humble ourselves before the Lord, again and again. Nothing can replace transparency before God and others. If we are afraid, we need to acknowledge our fear, even if it makes us tremble and cry. In our weakness, we will find ourselves comforted, not by our own control, but by His promise. If we are struggling with temptation, we need not stuff our urges into some dark corner of our mind. Rather, we confess them to our Savior and a trusted confessor. In naming them, they lose power to overtake us. When we sin, and we will, we quickly repent and God promises that “he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. … My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous.” (1 John 1:9, 2:1, NLT)

And, we must choose to do right things! No disciple can be passive. We are called to be passionate people in the service of the Lord. A person who actively engages in caring for others, who worships whole-heartedly, who is growing in faith; will be drawn into the beauty of holiness and thus, reflect the glory of Christ into the wider world.
Here are words from the Word. May they call you to do the right things, for God’s sake, today.
“If you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.” (1 Peter 2:20, NIV)
“You must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ.” (1 Peter 3:15-16, NLT)
“It’s judgment time for God’s own family. We’re first in line. If it starts with us, think what it’s going to be like for those who refuse God’s Message! … So if you find life difficult because you’re doing what God said, take it in stride. Trust him. He knows what he’s doing, and he’ll keep on doing it.” (1 Peter 4:17, 19 The Message)

__________________

Oh Lord, You’re beautiful,
Your face is all I seek,
For when Your eyes are on this child,
Your grace abounds to me.

Oh Lord, please light the fire,
That once burned bright and clear.
Replace the lamp of my first love,
That burns with holy fear.

I wanna take Your Word
And shine it all around.
First help me just to live it, Lord!
And when I’m doing well,
Help me to never seek a crown,
For my reward is giving glory to You.

Oh Lord You’re Beautiful

Green, Keith

© 1980 Birdwing Music (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing; Admin. by BMG Music Publishing) / BMG Songs, Inc. (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing; Admin. by BMG Music Publishing) CCLI License No. 810055

"Just Do It!"

Sometimes when kids are told to do something they ask, “why?” And sometimes a parent answers, “Because I said so!” That’s not a great parenting style all the time, but there are situations where that’s all you can say. Explanations won’t work, the situation is urgent, or reasoning would require more information than the parent can give, so they just give an order with the expectation of obedience. Blessed is the child who will accept that and do what is asked of them. Blessed is the parent of such a child, too!

Sometimes our Father in Heaven says, “just do it!” He expects we will obey. The Israelites had two of those kinds of experiences as they were entering the Promised Land after their long wander through the wilderness. First, they came to the crossing of the Jordan River. God told them to ready themselves for the crossing. They could see the river was at flood stage! How was this going to work out? But, they prepared to cross. “As soon as the feet of the priests who were carrying the Ark touched the water at the river’s edge, the water above that point began backing up a great distance away at a town called Adam, which is near Zarethan. And the water below that point flowed on to the Dead Sea until the riverbed was dry. Then all the people crossed over near the town of Jericho.” (Joshua 3:15-16, NLT) The whole nation walked across the dry riverbed and into their new home! A test of faith, to be sure, but God was faithful.
The first fortified town they encountered was Jericho. “Now Jericho was tightly shut up because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in.” (Joshua 6:1, NIV) There, too, God issued a command that was without explanation. “Go and march around the town once each morning for a whole week, then on the seventh day, march around it seven times, and blow the trumpets! When you hear the trumpets, shout the victory shout.” I wonder if that sounded as silly to those people as it does to us? And yet, they did it! “When the people heard the sound of the rams’ horns, they shouted as loud as they could. Suddenly, the walls of Jericho collapsed, and the Israelites charged straight into the town and captured it.” (Joshua 6:20, NLT)

Disciple, we are wise to obey the Lord’s directive even when we want to whine, “But, why?”
He says, “Forgive those who offend you,” we must just do it.
He says, “Put me first in your use of resources,” and we must just do it.
He says, “Love your enemies,” and we must just do it.
He says, “Stop fretting about tomorrow,” and we must choose to trust and obey.

The nation of Israel was not always as obedient as they were in the examples I used a moment ago. Often in their long history, they resisted the Lord, argued against His will, and even ignored Him. Their long history reveals that when they choose short-term self-interest over long-term obedience, there were always negative consequences. When they were willing to ‘just do it,’ they discovered the goodness of the Lord in unanticipated ways. The key was faith to believe God, even when it made no sense in the moment!
Take one of the Bible’s shortest prayers with you today. When you struggle to obey, just breathe this one line prayer. It was first prayed by a father who was in terrible distress over his son’s terrible condition. He brought the boy to Jesus. Take a look.
“If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
” ‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.”
Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed,
“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit.
“You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”“(Mark 9:22-25, NIV)

The gift of faith that comes in response to our humble entreaty creates a heart ready to radically obey. Let’s just do it!

__________________

“Be of good courage”,
God spake unto Joshua.
When o’er the river
God pointed the way;
Jordan uncrossable!
Things seemed impossible,
Waters divide
As they march and obey.

Battles to win!
They would meet
With their obstacles.
Jericho’s walls too
Must fall to the ground;
God never failed
He stood back of His promises.
Walls had to crumble
As they marched around.

God is the same
And His Word is dependable.
He’ll make a way
Thru the waters for you;
Life’s situations
By Him are amendable.
Mountains and hills,
He will part for you too.

Got any rivers
You think are uncrossable?
Got any mountains
You can’t tunnel through?
God specializes in
Things tho’t impossible.
He does the things
Others cannot do.
Got Any Rivers
Eliason, Oscar C.
Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc. © 1945, 1973 Oscar C. Eliason.

Assigned Singspiration Music (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc., 741 Coolsprings Blvd., Franklin TN 37067)

CCLI License No. 810055

Fresh, but not new!

There is an obsession among some Christians about making the Gospel “new.” Many are caught up in a pursuit of re-discovery of Jesus’ true message and identity. Most of the things we accept about Who He was and what He taught are being questioned by somebody, somewhere; well, at least that how it seems to me. It leads to a lot of speculative nonsense finding its way onto paper, into blogs, and being published in books. Most of it will be forgotten in a year or two. Four years ago it was “The DaVinci Code” that had the headlines. Does anybody really remember the controversies raised by “The Last Temptation of Christ,” or “The Passover Plot”? Huh? Exactly!

The stories recorded in the inspired texts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John have stood the test of time, telling us about a Man who is also God, who lived, died, and rose again. He really walked the pathways of a dusty, out-of-the-way place called Palestine 2 millennia ago. His timeless story has inspired people from primitive cultures in the Amazonian jungles and in luxury Manhattan apartments. The simple and the intellectual are moved by His sacrificial love which is displayed in His willingness to die on the Cross. The young and the old are thrilled by the miracles that attest to His uniqueness.

It is not wrong to carefully study the ways in which the ancient Gospel applies to our lives and times. Seeing the old truth in fresh ways is not wrong. One of the most amazing things about Him is that He doesn’t fall ‘out of style.’ His Gospel works in Bombay and Los Angeles and Zambia addressing the basic human needs shared by every culture. From time to time we need to re-examine our understanding of the Gospel texts. Why? Because, ideas not found in the text get attached to it that corrupt it.

So, make it fresh, but don’t re-write the Bible. Find Him, but don’t try to do a “Jesus make over” that robs Him of His majesty and message. Jesus is a controversial and shocking Individual. He makes claims that are stupendous! He provokes and prods, demanding our attention and devotion. We don’t do Him or the Gospel a service by trying to round off the edges. He meant to challenge the status quo. He meant to call us to change, to tell us that there was a new Way back to God opening up through Him.

In his book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis says it best: “I am trying here to prevent anyone from saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him [Jesus Christ]: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with a man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse …. You can shut him up for fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that option open to us. He did not intend to.”
Here’s a word from the Word. Believer, it may be familiar to you and therefore you’ll be tempted to let your eyes quickly run through it… but don’t! Ponder it, meditate on it, believe it – and the testimony it makes about Him.

“He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:10-14, NKJV)
_____________________

Jesus! What a friend for sinners!
Jesus lover of my soul!
Friends may fail me, foes assail me;
He, my Savior, makes me whole.
Jesus! What a strength in weakness!
Let me hide myself in Him;
Tempted tried and sometimes failing,
He, my strength my victory wins.
Jesus! I do now receive Him;
More than all in Him I find.
He hath granted me forgiveness;
I am His and He is mine.
Hallelujah what a Savior.
Hallelujah what a Friend.
Saving, helping, keeping, loving,
He is with me to the end.
Our Great Savior
Chapman, J. Wilbur / Prichard, Rowland H.- Copyright:
Public Domain

The Formula for Success

This was posted on Facebook: “Success is the place where preparation, courage, and opportunity meet.” (Scott Wilson) Hmm. Really? What kind of success is that? I used to read a lot of the ‘success’ literature. Each author had a different way of presenting the formulas but all shared common ingredients. Hard work, boldness, vision, getting the right education all figured prominently. A few were forthright in saying, “Be like me and you will succeed!” Their definition of success was invariably about growing your organization into a larger one, gaining a wider sphere of influence, and increasing your control of resources. That is a kind of success, but it is not the only way to measure life.

When I was around 40 years of age, I attended a conference in Boston, MA led by a man named Bob Buford who had enjoyed the kind of success that is measured by dollars and a big office. Then, after going through the crisis of losing his son and a deep self-evaluation, he shifted focus. Bob described the shift from success to significance. His book, Halftime, explored the shift that many make around mid-life from chasing titles and money to fulfillment, to becoming a person of character who seeks the purpose for which he was created by God. Better, I think.

The Bible makes an arresting statement that supersedes all the success literature as our guide to the best life! “The Lord is your life… Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. They are not just idle words for you—they are your life. By them you will live long … ” (Deuteronomy 30:20, 32:46-47, NIV)


The Lord is your life
! What a phrase. The Hebrew word translated as “life,” is one that bursts with energy. It is translated in other places in the Bible as green (like vegetation), animal, running, flowing (as a stream of water), and renew (as in springtime). In our relationship with our God, we find that kind of active life-force. Paul, preaching in Athens, declared that “In Him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28, NIV)

Whether we live in a palace or a cabin, drive a new car or a clunker, wear the latest fashion or blue jeans from the thrift store, have a 401(k) for retirement or just a hope that our kids will give us a room – we will be a success IF we have shaped our lives around the will and Word of the One who is our Life. Is that hard? Sometimes it is so difficult that the Bible describes the process as ‘dying to Self!’ It is not a ‘once and done’ moment. Each day there are two paths that diverge before us. Jesus described them as the “Broadway that leads to destruction,” and “the Narrow way that leads to life eternal.” One offers immediate gratification of our baser desires; the other the long-term reward that comes from faithful love, service to others, and obedience.

Much of the “Christian” success literature is not universal! It claims to be “godly truth,” but is really just the American dream re-packaged. God’s success formula is equally true in Bangladesh and New York City! It works for the bright and beautiful and the those who are not so fortunate. “The Lord is your life,” is accessible to us all – if we will accept it by faith and pursue loving and serving Him whole-heartedly. Which kind of success are you chasing, friend? From which fountain are you trying to draw life’s sustenance? May the Spirit guide you to the life that is truly life, to success that survives the end of your journey on this globe.
Here’s a word from the Word to ponder today. Is it describing your deepest aspirations?

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.
And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge,

will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing.”  (2 Timothy 4:7-8, NLT)

Now, that is real success, isn’t it?

Are you ‘God-aware?’

There are people who bumble their way through the day with no idea about what is going on around them, about how they are being perceived, unaware of how they affect others. They lack self-awareness. They are sometimes offensive but have no idea why others react to them negatively. They are frequently lonely but fail to understand that their own behavior or lack of manners is the reason. They are missing the social feedback sensors that others have which allows us to adjust ourselves to the situation. The person who lacks self-awareness talks too loudly in public, answers her cell phone and talks at length when it is clearly disturbing others, says things that are inappropriate, and generally misses social cues. The good news is that a person can learn this skill! If they desire to gain better relational skills, they can be coached to become self-aware.

There is another awareness that is critically important in the disciple’s daily life, one that the rush of the day can rob from us: God-awareness. A person who ‘forgets’ God, who fails acknowledge His Presence, becomes irreverent, profane, and often- insecure! It is a wonderfully assuring steadying blessing to know that He is near. Moses urged the Israelites to cultivate their God-awareness. He said, “Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other.” (Deuteronomy 4:39, NIV)

When Hagar, the maidservant of Abraham’s wife, Sarah, was badly mistreated and sent away with her child, in the wilderness He met her and she gave Him a new name: El Roi – “The God who sees me!” “An angel of God found her beside a spring in the desert; it was the spring on the road to Shur. …She answered God by name, praying to the God who spoke to her, “You’re the God who sees me! “Yes! He saw me; and then I saw him!” “ (Genesis 16:7, 13, The Message)

Each morning my first act upon awakening is to offer thanks and praise to the Lord. It only takes a few seconds, but it is a habit that helps me to be God-aware. From time to time through the day, I pause to look up (emotionally and mentally, more than physically) to thank Him. Why? To keep myself aware that He is the “God who sees me!” This is not for God’s benefit, but for mine! When I fail to remember that He is with me, it is but a short trip to anxiety or needless cares or even to sin.

Disciple, be intentionally God-aware. It is true that when we are children of God, through faith in Christ Jesus, that the Holy Spirit lives in us, but He does so sometimes without our conscious knowledge. When this happens we tend to lose the nobility of holiness that comes from knowing we are children of God, that our Father is with us. Ask any child who has a great relationship with his father what the knowledge that ‘Dad is here’ does for him! Dad means safety. Dad’s affirmation brings encouragement. Dad’s discipline provides secure boundaries! We know that is true for children. Be reminded, it is true for children of the Heavenly Father, too.

Here is a word from the Word. May it be the prayer of the God-aware today.
“O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.” (Psalm 139:1-3, NIV)

“Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.” (Psalm 139:7-10, NIV)

______________

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God.
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.

Perfect submission, all is at rest.
I in my Savior am happy and blest.
Watching and waiting, looking above.
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.

This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.

Blessed Assurance

Crosby, Fanny J. / Knapp, Phoebe P. / Wagner, Dougles E.
© 1989 Lorenz Publishing Company (a div. of the Lorenz Corporation)

CCLI License No. 810055

Too blessed, perhaps?

Deep faith and abundant blessings should go together. Too many times, prosperity and peace only produce apathy about the things of God. A once deeply devout disciple develops a sense of independence based on the illusion that he can manage life quite well on his own, so long as he gives a nod in God’s direction every now and then. As a Pastor for many years, I have observed the pattern over and over again. Life falls apart and a man is left in ruins. For some, it is a divorce that destroys their family life. For others, it is financial loss that follows a job loss or disaster. Yet for others it is a time of sickness. In desperation this broken person remembers God. He finds that old friend that always talked about Jesus. As he looks to the Lord and sincerely seeks after Him, just as the Word promises, he finds Him to be a Friend and Savior. He loves worship, showing up every time the doors are open. He devours books that show him the ways of Christ.

As he grows in faith and walks in spiritual disciplines, his life takes on new ways. Destructive habits are replaced with responsibility. Godly ways are the fertile soil in which blessings grow. What will he do with his blessings? Sadly, many grow independent of the very God that blessed them! Financial independence allows diversions that lead away from faithfulness to the things of God. Ministries that once were the core of his life are side-lined as he pursues the hobbies he can now afford. Focus on family life is eroded by demands of his work. Because he has moved into a place of greater responsibilities and more compensation, his kids don’t see him pray except the formal kinds of prayer at dinner, because Dad really doesn’t pray that much at all. He doesn’t feel any real need to pray, to worship. Of course, if you ask him, he will thank God for the things he now enjoys, but his words and his true values are far apart.
Think that’s far-fetched? Take a look at the wisdom of the Word from two sources: Jesus spoke of the seed of the Word which was received with joy but then “the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.” (Mark 4:19, NIV)
As an old man near the end of his life, Moses warned Israel of the dangers of prosperity they would confront when they entered the Promised Land – “Jeshurun (God’s people) grew fat and kicked; filled with food, he became heavy and sleek. He abandoned the God who made him and rejected the Rock his Savior.” (Deuteronomy 32:15, NIV)

In what is, even in this time of economic downturn, the richest nation on earth, empty churches on Sunday morning are but one stark symbol of our lack of regard for the Lord and things of the Spirit. Entertainment has replaced worship as the central focus of the weekend. Sports, properly enjoyed as a diversion, are now gods that received the adoration of millions. Our kids are trained like professional athletes from the time they are 4 years of age, leaving little time for God, for church, for family prayer. Christian parents focus their children on attaining physical prowess or academic degrees with little more than formal acknowledgement that a life of real abundance lies in knowing and serving God.

How I pray that the price of real spiritual revival and continued spiritual fervency is not sorrow and deprivation. Here’s a prayer that the honest man will pray in sincerity, trusting God to keep him. “Give me neither poverty nor riches! Give me just enough to satisfy my needs. For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?” And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name.” (Proverbs 30:8-9, NLT)
Jesus said, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all.
Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you?” (Mark 8:34-36, The Message)

____________________________

Does it work for you?

I would have a hard time taking advice on nutrition from a guy with a large order of fries sitting on his desk next to his Hostess Twinkies®, or counsel about long-term health decisions from a physician who was grossly overweight and who had cigarette smoke on his breath. I’d like to think that the guy trying to sell me a Ford actually drives one. It’s one thing to know something. It is quite another to live it!

Disciple, does your life show real evidence of the truth you profess? Paul, writing about the importance of practicing what you preach, spoke to the hypocrisy of his Jewish brothers. “You, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who brag about the Law, do you dishonor God by breaking the Law? As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” (Romans 2:21-24, NIV) That last line challenges me. Do I, as a Christian, give others reason to doubt the reality of God’s love by my words or actions; or does the authenticity of my life’s alignment to the will of God cause others to desire to know Him, too?
We will never perfectly practice our faith. We fail! But, let’s not make our human imperfection an excuse for continuing to habitually sin, for leaving habits in place that we can change with the help of the Spirit of God. The Word challenges us as Spirit-filled people to ‘keep step with the Spirit.’ The Message brings that passage home for me. “Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives.” (Galatians 5:25, The Message)

When I think of disciples who have had the most influence in my life, I don’t think of those who were show-offs or who made the most noise. I remember those who went about doing good quietly, who were honest about themselves, contented to live out the call of God without needing applause. What does the Bible say is the evidence of the life of the Spirit? It isn’t the ability to recite long texts without flaw, or the mastery of details of doctrine. It is in our character! “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:22-24, NIV) If you want to know if your faith is coming across as authentic, ask a child! An adult will be too polite, too concerned about your feelings perhaps, to tell you the truth. A child will tell like it is. So, ask someone who is about 8 or 9 years of age, who knows you well, “Do you think that I love Jesus?” The answer may affirm you or devastate you!

Holiness, that is real, is a beautiful thing. It is how God designed us to live, whole, at rest in Him. A truly holy person is changed from the inside out, healed, and restored. Sanctimony is ugly, a superficial attempt to cover the flaws and scars of sin. Here’s what the Lord promises to those who seek and love Him. He will “will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory.” (Isaiah 61:3, NLT)
Father in Heaven, thank you for the promise of restored beauty.
Sin makes me ugly, turns my life into a pile of ashes!
But, You forgive, heal, and transform;
making me stand tall like an oak tree!

I confess my sinfulness and ask that the Spirit would work
deeply in me, that His life would take hold of my life.
Lord, let me see where there are holes in my profession,
where my claim to faith is not matched by a life of faith.

Give me courage to let you change my heart – even with pain –
so that the beauty of Jesus be seen in me,
that others will desire to know Him, to be His disciples.
This I pray in His Name, boldly and with full expectation.
AMEN

Celebration? What, why?

Yesterday some of my friends ate corned beef and cabbage, worn green, and spoke in strange tongues to mark St. Patrick’s Day. Shamrocks appeared. For me, without a drop of Irish blood, (that I know of) it is not a celebration of much consequence. July 4 is a day of significance to Americans. We remember our Independence and establishment as the United States of America with fireworks, parades, and displays of ‘red, white, and blue.’ July 4 in Mexico? No big deal; it’s just another day on the calendar. Here’s my point – special days and rituals help us to mark what we value, remind us of heritage, and unite people of common interest.

God directed the Israelites to keep a holy calendar that included a weekly day set apart, the Sabbath, and several holy feasts during the year. “These are the appointed feasts of God which you will decree as sacred assemblies for presenting Fire-Gifts to God: the Whole-Burnt-Offerings, Grain-Offerings, sacrifices, and Drink-Offerings assigned to each day.” (Leviticus 23:37, The Message) “Moses posted the calendar for the annual appointed feasts of God which Israel was to celebrate.” (Leviticus 23:44, The Message) Passover is perhaps the best known of the holy days, remembering their deliverance from Egypt and birth as a nation. The Day of Atonement is the most solemn, marking repentance for sin and renewal of their relationship with the LORD. God called His people to break from the routines of life to remember Him, to celebrate His work, and to renew their unique identity. In my reading in Leviticus 23 today, I was reminded that the Lord not only offered the days of celebration to His people; He commanded that they mark them faithfully!
Do you consciously celebrate your relationship with the Lord, your heritage in Christ?

The Sabbath Law has been replaced by an invitation to weekly worship on the Lord’s Day. What a privilege we have to come together at our churches, to offer our praise, to pray for one another, to remember our calling to be the people of God in our world. Only as adult did I discover the ancient church calendar that reminds me of God’s work. The free church in which I was raised never mentioned Advent or the Lenten season. Pentecost mentioned, but not with celebration. Christmas and Easter were more secular than sacred, at least in terms of the way we celebrated.
I urge you to learn the Christian calendar, to mark the various seasons of the year, not just as rituals to keep; but with the goal of pleasing God by being reminded of the holy calling you share to be His very own! Take joy in remembering to Whom you belong, the identity that has been given to you through Christ Jesus. Remember that “ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light!” (1 Peter 2:9, KJV)

________________

The Church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord;
She is His new creation
By water and the word.
From heav’n He came and sought her
To be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her,
And for her life He died.

Elect from ev’ry nation,
Yet one o’er all the earth,
Her charter of salvation
One Lord, one faith, one birth;
One holy name she blesses;
Partakes one holy food,
And to one hope she presses,
With ev’ry grace endued.

‘Mid toil and tribulation
And tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation
Of peace forevermore;
Till with the vision glorious
Her longing eyes are blest,
And the great Church victorious,
Shall be the Church at rest.

The Church’s One Foundation
Stone, Samuel J. / Wesley, Samuel S.

© Public Domain

The Responsibility that Come with Privilege

From an early age, my late father frequently reminded me that those who are blessed with privilege must recognize the responsibility that comes with it. I saw that principle through the middle chapters of Leviticus which I read today. The Lord, through Moses, called on the Israelites, again and again, to be different from the people of Egypt among whom they had lived for 400 years! They were now to be known as the people belonging to the Lord, with the privilege of making Him known in the world. That required sexual purity, a commitment to justice, and a new social order.

God demanded that the whole of their lives be defined by their relationship to Him. He would not share them with lesser gods and He would not accept anything but their best sacrifices. If the people were faithful to Him, He promised to bless them. “The Lord will send rain at the proper time from his rich treasury in the heavens and will bless all the work you do. You will lend to many nations, but you will never need to borrow from them. If you listen to these commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today, and if you carefully obey them, the Lord will make you the head and not the tail, and you will always be on top and never at the bottom. You must not turn away from any of the commands I am giving you today, nor follow after other gods and worship them.” (Deuteronomy 28:12-14, NLT) Even receiving the promise, the people would honor their God, for others would see their blessings and know that the Lord was a good and powerful God!

I am reluctant to pursue this thought because I know it is so easily twisted into something it is not! So, please, read thoughtfully. Disciple, God calls us to the privileged place as His people. Through Christ, and the rebirth of the Spirit, we become the children of God, with the high privilege of bearing His Name before our world. Here’s how the Word explains it: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” (Ephesians 1:3-6, NIV) As I read those words, my heart fills with gratitude for His grace. But, soberly I also know that a sacred responsibility is ours. “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” (Ephesians 4:1, NIV)

Those who receive, by faith, the calling of the Father enjoy what Jesus called the ‘abundant life.’ We enjoy the joy of knowing the purpose for which we were made. We live in the center of His will. Our spirit are made alive and responsive to His Spirit. We are loved and learn to love wholly! We live peacefully under His care in this world and with confidence even in the presence of death because we are assured of eternal life. But, we must never believe that all this is simply our right or available to us just for our own benefit. God glorifies Himself by providing us such an inheritance.

Let’s live in the privilege and embrace the responsibility! Here’s a word from the Word.
“And now, dear children, remain in fellowship with Christ so that when he returns, you will be full of courage and not shrink back from him in shame. Since we know that Christ is righteous, we also know that all who do what is right are God’s children. See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him. Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is.” (1 John 2:28-3:2, NLT)

___________

Your love has captured me.
Your grace has set me free.
Your life, the air I breathe.
Be glorified in me.

You set my feet to dancing.
You set my heart on fire.
In the presence of a thousand kings
You are my one desire,
And I stand before You now
With trembling hands lifted high.
Be glorified.

Be glorified in me.
Be glorified in me.
Be glorified in me.
Be glorified.

Be Glorified

Tomlin, Chris / Giglio, Louie
EMI Christian Music Publishing
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