We Must be Better Lovers

In the chapel service yesterday at our Christian school, I talked about love. Ever try to talk about love to 120 children without giggles and nudges? Yet, in spite of all the self-consciousness that the word creates, even a little child understands real love and hungers for the affirmation that is found in receiving affection. Sincere love says, “You matter to me!” Though we hunger deeply for it, enjoy giving and receiving it, genuine Love is actually quite rare. Because love is so wonderful, the enemy of God and good works hard to obscure the real thing, to divert us from knowing love and being loving by offering ‘false loves’ to take the place of the love that is “of God.”

At the top of the list of love substitutes would be sex. Our present American culture has so entangled sex and love that the terms are almost indistinguishable. Erotic attraction is a gift of God even though it is much abused and the source of many destructive temptations, but this love is not the highest or the most lasting kind of love.
Amazingly, religious zeal about the very Source of Love is quite effective in destroying love. How quickly we fall into loving our creed and/or ritual more than God Himself! Somehow we begin to believe that pursuing the love of God is about knowing ‘right’ things about Him. And tragically, love dies when Christians confuse being ‘right’ with knowing the life of the Spirit. Love perishes on the altar of orthodoxy so often, orthodox being defined as whatever ‘we’ believe to be true and right – Baptist, Pentecostal, Calvinist, Catholic, Sacramental, Charismatic. Paul wrote to his spiritual son, Timothy, encouraging him not to get side-tracked into being ‘right’ at the expense of being loving. “Don’t let people waste time in endless speculation over myths and spiritual pedigrees. For these things only cause arguments; they don’t help people live a life of faith in God. The purpose of my instruction is that all the Christians there would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and sincere faith. But some teachers have missed this whole point. They have turned away from these things and spend their time arguing and talking foolishness. They want to be known as teachers of the law of Moses, but they don’t know what they are talking about, even though they seem so confident.” (1 Timothy 1:4- 7, NLT)

Ego can step in to frustrate the expression of love. There is an innate love of self that is healthy. Even Jesus tells us to “love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ If we come to despise ourselves, we become broken people, unhealthy emotionally and spiritually. But, self-love can never replace the love that is of God.
Believer, we can become better LOVERS and we must. God, in Christ Jesus, has loved us and from that ‘first cause’ has sparked in us the ability to love Him and others with abandon. Our high and holy calling, which also becomes a source of great purpose and peace is found in this word from the Word. Read it thoughtfully even though it may be familiar to you.

“My dear friends, we must love each other.
Love comes from God, and when we love each other, it shows that we have been given new life.
We are now God’s children, and we know him. God is love, and anyone who doesn’t love others has never known him.
God showed his love for us when he sent his only Son into the world to give us life.
Real love isn’t our love for God, but his love for us.
God sent his Son to be the sacrifice by which our sins are forgiven.
Dear friends, since God loved us this much, we must love each other.”
(1 John 4:7-11, CEV)

Are you struggling with feelings of worthlessness today?
Are you tempted to try to find love’s affirmation in sex, expressions of ego, or fanatical religious practice?

Those things cannot heal your heart and secure your soul. Let God love you deeply today. By faith, receive the declaration that He loves you, not for your performance or pedigree, but because you are. Ask Him to help you to love someone else in that same way; not for their attractiveness or their usefulness or there intellect – but just because they are. Pay attention to a little child for a few moments. That will make your heart glad! Listen intently to a lonely elderly person in the supermarket aisle. Take on a volunteer task that makes someone’s world a little brighter. In these ways, and hundreds more, we become lovers like God.

“There are three things that will endure-faith, hope, and love-and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13, NLT)

_________________

O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean
In its fullness over me!
Underneath me, all around me,
Is the current of Thy love,
Leading onward, leading homeward,
To my glorious rest above!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
Spread His praise from shore to shore!
How He loveth, ever loveth,
Changeth never, nevermore!
How He watches o’er His loved ones,
Died to call them all His own;
How for them He intercedeth,
Watcheth o’er them from the throne!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
Love of ev’ry love the best!
‘Tis an ocean full of blessing,
‘Tis a haven giving rest!
O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
‘Tis a heav’n of heav’ns to me;
And it lifts me up to glory,
For it lifts me up to Thee!
Amen.
O The Deep Deep Love Of Jesus
Francis, Samuel Trevor / Williams, Thomas J.
© Public Domain

Make me like Jonathan!

Friend. On my Facebook account there are 474 friends listed. Many of those are more like acquaintances, people I know professionally or from a distance. Some are more than acquaintances, but not actually what I would call a real friend. Some are close to my heart, people that I know well, with whom I share a mutual love and concern. The designer of Facebook was clever when he (or was it a team?) decided to call the connections made on the site ‘friending.’ When someone requests ‘friend’ status, it is a good feeling. Why? Because having friends is a good thing.

The story of David includes a sub-plot built around a prince named Jonathan, who was the son of King Saul, the expected crown prince of Israel. God decided to replace Saul’s family with a new dynasty beginning with David, but that did not bother Jonathan. The Bible tells us that from the first David and Jonathan an ‘immediate bond’ existed. (1 Samuel 18:1) Through the years, David greatly benefited from the kindness and protection of his friend.

When the king sought David’s death, Jonathan made an impassioned defense of his friend. “Let not the king do wrong to his servant David; he has not wronged you, and what he has done has benefited you greatly. He took his life in his hands when he killed the Philistine. The Lord won a great victory for all Israel, and you saw it and were glad. Why then would you do wrong to an innocent man like David by killing him for no reason?” (1 Samuel 19:4-5, NIV) David reciprocated Jonathan’s love by promising to care for his family when he took the throne, this in a time when the custom was to kill any surviving members of a previous ruling family to protect yourself from rebels!

What kind of friend are you?
Are you altruistic, caring even when it costs?
Are you an opportunistic friend, only befriending those who can bring some benefit to you in the moment?
Are you a loyal friend who speaks up in defense of another when gossip arises?
Are you a friend for all times, equally faithful when your friend is up or down?

Solomon cynically announces what we all know, “Wealth brings many friends, but a poor man’s friend deserts him.” (Proverbs 19:4, NIV) What a contrast to the true friendship we are blessed to give and to find. A true friend “loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” (Proverbs 17:17, NIV)
Has a friend failed you?
Have a group of friends missed your expectations, not come through for you in the way you had hoped? Don’t give up on people! Don’t turn inward. It will sour your soul, make you miserable, and ultimately reduce the quality of your life. Instead, keep loving!

There’s a Jonathan for you! Finding that friend requires risk, openness, and giving friendship. And never forget the most loyal, true Friend – Jesus Christ! He knows you best and loves you most. Anchor your heart in that love. Be secure in Him and it will make you a better friend to others.

_________________

Who am I that You are mindful of me,
That You hear me,
When I call?
Is it true that You are thinking of me?
How You love me,
It’s amazing!

I am a friend of God!
I am a friend of God!
I am a friend of God!
He calls me friend.

God Almighty,
Lord of glory,
You have called me friend!

Friend Of God
© 2003 Integrity’s Praise! Music
Vertical Worship Songs
(Admin. by Integrity Music, Inc.)

Israel Houghton
Michael Gungor

The Great Revelation

We live in what is often called “the Information Age.” An torrent of words flow our way everyday from multiple sources. You are reading “CoffeeBreak” which indicates you are ‘wired,’ a part of the most amazing information development in human history – the Internet. It allows me to influence the thoughts of people far beyond the physical location of the pulpit from which I speak on Sunday. CoffeeBreak has subscribers in Italy, the Far East, Australia, and most of the USA. I don’t write that to boast, but to illustrate a point. Many of those readers have no way to know what kind of person I am. They cannot evaluate the authenticity of my life to know if I really live the words I write.

The unregulated and largely unfiltered flow of words requires real wisdom and a measuring stick of truth. Disciple, our standard of Truth is the Holy Scripture. Are you a good student of the Bible, a person who genuinely loves the Word of God and reads it for all it’s worth. Paul encouraged Timothy to remember the value of the Scriptures and he wrote: “Why, you took in the sacred Scriptures with your mother’s milk! There’s nothing like the written Word of God for showing you the way to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.” (2 Timothy 3:15-17, The Message)

“God-breathed” is a curious construction, isn’t it? In many translations the word is “inspired.” The Bible didn’t fall down from the sky on parchment written by angelic scribes! Peter tells us that the human authors were “moved by the Spirit.” They breathed the Breath of God and, in their stories and words, recorded His wisdom for us. To recognize the human means of receiving the Word does not, in any way, diminish its power in my life, but it does make it study a bit more complex. For example, to fully understand Paul’s teaching letters we need to know something about the disciples to whom he first wrote his letters. Galatians, that wonderful letter about Christian freedom from religious regulations, was written to a church he had founded that had fallen under the spell of false teachers who were stealing the richness of Christ’s grace from them. We can feel Paul’s passion still after 2000 years as he asks, “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.” (Galatians 3:1, NIV)

The way that we commonly hear the Bible used may actually diminish our ability to understand it. We hear a snippet here and a proof text there, little lines taken from their rich context and turned into a kind of pithy proverb to make a point. Yes, it is the common way the Bible is read and preached and used – even here in CoffeeBreak. It is true that we can excerpt passages and study them, we may even quote a phrase to underscore a point, but the best way to let the Scripture become the Gift of Truth to us which God intends – is to read it with understanding of context, with grasp of the story line, and with deep love for the One whose Breath makes the Words alive!

Let me encourage you to read the Bible as ‘God’s-story’! Don’t read it to ‘get something’ out of it. Don’t go looking for a proof-text to vindicate your pre-conceived idea. Don’t just grab for a passage to support your latest idea about doctrine. Read the Word with an open heart and discerning mind, with an invitation to the Holy Spirit to make it the ‘living Word.’ Be cautious about reducing it to mere nouns and verbs to be parsed. Keep a real heart of wonder at the revelations in it and a deep humility to accept them as instructive for life here and now. God will use those ancient texts to create wisdom in you, to shape your life in a way that pleases Him, as you come to love Him for the amazing, complex, Being He reveals.
Read your Bible again- for the first time!

_______________________

Are you hungry?

There are few things that stir up more happy memories for me than suppertime! In our house that is 5 PM, has been for years, and probably always will be. The smell of dinner cooking invites those at home to get ready to pull up a chair and enjoy a meal. If I have not eaten much throughout the day I look forward to supper even more with a real appetite.

Suppertime is associated in my mind with reconnecting with the family and swapping stories about the day. It was and is a bright spot in the day. There are, however, moments when suppertime is not inviting. If I’m having a disagreement with my wife, sitting down across from her is not what I want to do. If I had a large meal at lunch with a colleague, I have no appetite even for my favorite foods.

Jesus invites us to supper. Are you hungry? “I stand at the door. I knock. If you hear me call and open the door, I’ll come right in and sit down to supper with you.” (Revelation 3:20, The Message) Getting together with the Lord to be fed by the Word and nourished by worship, both with the church and individually, can be one of the best parts of our day or week. When we share the things that weigh us down with Him in prayer, it eases the burden, and changes us so we can meet the challenges. When we offer up worshipful adoration, it renews our hope and helps us to remember why we exist. When we meditate on the Scripture, we are made wise and filled up with soul food that keeps us strong for the journey.

But, some of us have no appetite for supper with Christ Jesus because we have filled our souls with other things or we have become a stranger to Him and thus unable to enter into a conversation. The Bible warns against allowing “your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life. ” (Luke 21:34, KJV) Maybe it will make more sense from The Message: “Don’t let the sharp edge of your expectation get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping.” (Luke 21:34, The Message) Soul hunger is universal! Just as our bodies require constant nourishment and develop an appetite daily, our spirits hunger, too. In the same way that we can temporarily satisfy our hunger with empty calories, and some do to such an extent that they lose their taste for meat and vegetables, we can fill up our spirits with endless pursuit of pleasure, games, and even more sensual satisfaction until our spiritual appetite for the true Food of Heaven is gone.

No one satisfies our soul hunger like Jesus Christ! The Word says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6, NIV) “You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.” (Matthew 5:6, The Message) If you lost your appetite for worship and the Word, if you longer love the Presence of Jesus, a fast is in order. Nothing sharpens the appetite like a simple water and fruit diet for a few days! When we have tasted the goodness of the Lord once, we can renew our hunger for Him by laying off the ‘junk food’ that has stolen our appetite.

“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters;
and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.


Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me; hear me,
that your soul may live.” (Isaiah 55:1-3, NIV)

________________

Jesus has a table spread
Where the saints of God are fed,
He invites His chosen people,
“Come and dine”;
With His manna He doth feed
And supplies our every need:
Oh, ’tis sweet to sup with
Jesus all the time!

“Come and dine,” the Master calleth,
“Come and dine”;
You may feast at Jesus’ table
all the time;
He Who fed the multitude,
turned the water into wine,
To the hungry calleth now,
“Come and dine.”

The disciples came to land,
Thus obeying Christ’s command,
For the Master called unto them,
“Come and dine”;
There they found their heart’s desire,
Bread and fish upon the fire;
Thus He satisfies the hungry every time.

Soon the Lamb will take His bride
To be ever at His side,
All the host of heaven will assembled be;
Oh, ’twill be a glorious sight,
All the saints in spotless white;
And with Jesus they will feast eternally.
– Charles Widmeyer, Public Domain

Simmering with resentment?

Just a few moments into the conversation, it was clear that she had been hurt and was now simmering with resentment. Her tense face and quick responses revealed the anger she was trying keep under control, but you did not need a psychology degree to read her agitated state of mind. Her simmering emotions were moving toward a full boil!

My dictionary defines resentment as “feeling displeasure or indignation at (a person, act, remark, etc.) from a sense of injury or insult.” It’s not a pleasant emotional state nor does it generally lead to a good end. A resentful person often becomes hypersensitive and perceives harmless remarks as offensive, innocent people as adversaries. Resentment eats at our heart and unless we deal with it will have a detrimental effect on all of our relationships, by turning us into an angry, lonely person.

I have seen resentment build up and destroy a marriage turning a once loving couple into rivals competing for respect and power in their relationship. “He will never treat like that again,” she declares in her wounded state. He angrily declares, “I won’t be ignored for one more day!” I have spoken with employees who are sabotaging their relationship with their boss because they were passed over for recognition or promotion. Their resentment blinds them to the destruction they are bringing on themselves by continuing their grudge match with their supervisor. I have seen Pastors ruin their ministry at a local church because after working hard on a project that goes unappreciated they allow an offended heart to become full of resentment.

Disciple, are you dealing with an offense?
Has someone failed to show you the respect you think you deserve?
Has someone you care deeply about not reciprocated your love creating a simmering resentment?
Have you been discriminated against, held back, or passed over because of age, sex, or race?

The wisdom of the Word runs counter to most conventional advice on such matters. In His model prayer, Jesus taught us the importance of letting go of our offense: “Forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.” (Matthew 6:12, NLT)
This directive comes to all of us, “Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:32, NLT)
In one of His most challenging words to us, Jesus says that we must “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” (Luke 6:27-30, NIV) He makes no excuses or rationalization for resentment in our hearts, does He?

Let God become your defender. Give yourself to Him for vindication and recognition. He sees it all, knows it all, and promises justice; in His own time. We can take our disappointment, our broken heart, our indignation to Him; and we should! And, we leave it all there, with Him, asking Him to create a tender, gentle, loving heart in us. This is the paradox created by that choice of faith; with surrender of our desire to be right, we find greater peace. Is that difficult? Yes, it requires death to Self, silencing the screaming insistence of our mind that says, “I want my respect!”
Don’t let simmering resentment boil into full rage. Here’s a word from the Word. Meditate on it and let the beauty of His wisdom own your heart today.
“Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls. But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.” (James 1:20-22, NLT)

T.E.A.M.

Do you ever get worn out, weary, and ready to quit? I think I heard that chuckle. Occasionally, we all do. Why? Because, a life that is goal oriented and purposeful requires continual effort. Lawns, homes, and hearts must be maintained or they go to ruin; and honestly, that work is tiring. That is why the disciplined have an advantage. If we step up to do what needs to be done today, the work is manageable. But, if today’s chore gets thrown onto tomorrow, right along with the tasks of that day, in short order a little procrastination can create a monstrous mess!

God gave Nehemiah the job of leading the Jewish people in an effort to take a pile of rubble that was once Jerusalem and to turn it back into a beautiful city. He was miraculously given all the resources he needed. But, Nehemiah had to provide the sweat! He planned the work, enlisted the laborers, and resisted his critics. Then, his work force started to tire. With their fatigue came demoralization. “Soon word was going around in Judah, The builders are pooped, the rubbish piles up; We’re in over our heads, we can’t build this wall. And all this time our enemies were saying, “They won’t know what hit them. Before they know it we’ll be at their throats, killing them right and left. That will put a stop to the work!” The Jews who were their neighbors kept reporting, “They have us surrounded; they’re going to attack!” If we heard it once, we heard it ten times.” (Nehemiah 4:10-12, The Message) The people were worn out and ready to quit! This godly leader responded by addressing their concerns about security, renewing their understanding about why they were working so hard, and reminding them of the Lord’s promise and provision. What a man!

There’s a lesson in his story for us. It’s relatively easy to deal with the opposition that comes at us from outside ourselves. We learn to ignore critics and overcome unanticipated setbacks. But, when our strength gives out and we feel like we’re falling apart on the inside, it’s much more difficult to rally to the task. “What’s the use in going on?” we’re tempted to think. “It’s a thankless, hopeless, miserable mess that I can’t deal with any longer.” If that’s where you’re at today, reach out to somebody NOW. Yes, of course, you should pray and ask the Spirit of God to renew your strength, but you also need a Nehemiah, somebody who can help you to reclaim your sense of purpose, who can restore your connection to others who can give support. Wisely, Nehemiah said, “Don’t be afraid of the enemy! Remember the Lord, who is great and glorious, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes!” (Nehemiah 4:14, NLT)
God calls us to be part of a community because He knows life must be shared. “Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down.” (Romans 12:15, The Message) Alone, we are quickly overwhelmed. Together, we can stand. It is not only for ourselves that we work; it is for our brothers, sons, daughters, wives, and homes.
An acronym that I remember often is based on the word-
TEAM: Together Everyone Accomplishes More!

Don’t forget that when you’re tired and ready to quit. Instead; reconnect, refocus, and find renewal.

__________________

Sometimes it’s hard for me to understand
Why we pull away from each other so easily,
Even though we’re all walking the same road.
Yet we build dividing walls
Between our brothers and ourselves.

The day will come when we will be as one,
And with a mighty voice together,
We’ll all proclaim
That Jesus, Jesus Christ is King.
It will echo through the earth;
It will shake the nations,
And the world will see,
See that…

You’re my brother, you’re my sister,
So take me by the hand.
Together we will work until He comes.
There’s no foe that can defeat us
When we’re walking side by side.
As long as there is love,
We will stand.

We Will Stand
Taff, Russ / Taff, Tori / Hollihan, James
Word Music Group, Inc.
© 1983 Word Music, Inc. (a div. of Word Music Group, Inc.)
CCLI License No. 810055

See Russ sing this song…   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=narXOiZP2U4

Facing Goliath? What do you see?

Standing 9 feet tall, carrying a spear that was 12 feet long with an iron tip weighing 15 lbs, his body encased in a leather wrap that was covered with metal scales, Goliath lumbered to the front line and roared his challenge at the army of Israel. “Why are you all coming out to fight?” he called. “I am the Philistine champion, but you are only the servants of Saul. Choose one man to come down here and fight me! If he kills me, then we will be your slaves. But if I kill him, you will be our slaves!” (1 Samuel 17:8-9, NLT) Every day it was the same; he taunted and the men of Israel cowered. After all, who could meet such a freak of nature on the field of battle and succeed? It was an impossibility, or so it appeared to every reasonable man with military experience!

Jesse of Bethlehem woke up his youngest son and told him to take bread and cheese down to his three oldest brothers in the army. He arrived in the morning, as the army was assembling on the lines and just as Goliath came out to terrify them. Only David did not simply see a big man in armor. He saw and heard an insult to the Lord God of Israel. Faith rose up in him and he started asking questions. “Who is this pagan Philistine anyway, that he is allowed to defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Samuel 17:26, NLT) His oldest brother, Eliab, tried to silence him, calling him an arrogant pup, a know-nothing kid.

But, you know the rest of the familiar story. David’s faith was contagious and King Saul agreed to send it out to meet Goliath. Even the giant mocked the shepherd boy until he felt smooth stone from the slingshot connect with his forehead and his last conscious thought must have been, ‘what happened?’

Disciple, perspective is important! David saw the same giant as a thousand other men, but he saw him through eyes of faith. Others saw a champion they could not defeat. David saw a man challenging God. God has a purpose for everyone of us. What’s yours? When we hear the Spirit’s commission, we can be sure that someone or something will show up to taunt us; “Do you really think that you can do this? You’re naïve, foolish, too young, too inexperienced, too …. (just fill in the blank).” Will we cower or conquer? That largely depends on our perspective, and whether it is informed by faith that flows from a daily conversation with God and truth of the Scripture. Pray often, “Open my eyes to see the wonderful truths in your instructions.” (Psalm 119:18, NLT)
Is your vision limited by the possible as natural life defines it, or do you see with eyes that are faithful to the supernatural work of a living God? We can only see as God sees when we are living near to Him, walking in holiness, and listening intently to the voice of the Spirit.

Here’s a word from the Word. I pray it will bring faith to you so that you will be prepared to meet the Goliath in your life with supernatural sight! “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit. And we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us.” (1 Corinthians 2:9-12, NLT)
____________________

Open the eyes of my heart, Lord,
Open the eyes of my heart;
I want to see You, I want to see You.
Open the eyes of my heart, Lord,
Open the eyes of my heart;
I want to see You, I want to see You.

To see You high and lifted up,
Shining in the light of Your glory.
Pour out Your pow’r and love;
As we sing holy, holy, holy.

High and lifted up,
Shining in the light of Your glory.
Pour out Your pow’r and love;
As we sing holy, holy, holy.

Holy, holy, holy,
Holy, holy, holy;
Holy, holy, holy,
I want to see You.

Open The Eyes Of My Heart
Baloche, Paul

© 1997 Integrity’s Hosanna! Music (c/o Integrity Music, Inc.)

CCLI License No. 810055

When you’ve had enough

I’m a fairly strong individual, generally resilient, awakening each morning prepared for the challenges of the day. But the maelstrom that is ‘life’ these days is wearing me down! It feels like a I am swimming against the current, trying to hang onto hope while each day brings another announcement of more bad news. Friends send word of serious ailments. A couple of months ago, I had my own experience of hospitalization and recovery. The economic reports are gloomy and it’s not just ‘out there’ in some other region. People I care for are losing their jobs, even their homes. The endless political strife that fills the media is wearing on my mind, causing me to wonder if my country has a future.

“Ah, Jerry,” you say, “you sound depressed.” No, I’m just tired from pulling against the current. And, I know I’m not the only one in this state of mind! Many disciples of Christ are telling me, “I do not know how much more I can stand. I have had enough.” Those who work hardest, who pour everything they have into building God’s church and serving His people can become burnt out. It’s an emotional state that we see in a prophet who gives it a name – the Elijah complex. Elijah valiantly stood for God, taking on the king, challenging false prophets, and praying for his people. The great spiritual conflict reached a peak at Mt. Carmel, where he had his famous encounter with 400 prophets of Baal. He built an altar and so did they. Then, each called on his god to send fire from Heaven. In the end, Elijah’s faith was vindicated, but the struggle left him worn out! The Bible sums up the story like this: “Then he went on alone into the wilderness, traveling all day. He sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life.” (1 Kings 19:4, NLT) God ministered to the worn prophet with food to strengthen him, rest to refresh him, and renewal of faith in Divine providence! The Lord did not sideline the man, nor did He chide him for his complaint. He met him in his need.

That’s what all tired Christians can expect from their loving God! We need food for our souls, rest that allows us to recharge physically and emotionally, and renewal of our grasp of the promises of the Lord. He will provide those things for us, if we accept them from His hand. One of the reasons that we are commanded to take a day each week for worship, a day when we stop working, is because God knows we need rest. In that worship, we can find the strength to carry on. Then, too, we must know how to look up, waiting on the Lord. There is a kind of prayer that is silent, that is not wrestling with God for an answer, that is not focused on holding up another in need to Him. In the prayer of meditation, we simply wait for Him- filling our minds with a word from the Word – so that He can breathe new strength into our spirit.
When you’ve just had enough, when you feel like the very ground on which you stand is crumbling away, make a choice that seems counter-intuitive. Do less! Grow quiet. Wait! Here’s a word from the Word on which to meditate in such times.

“But now, this is what the Lord says— he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.


For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (Isaiah 43:1-3, NIV)

_______________

I waited patiently for the Lord
He inclined and heard my cry
He lifts me up out of the pit
Out of the miry clay

He set my feet upon a rock
And made my footsteps firm
Many will see
Many will see and fear

I will sing – sing a new song
I will sing – sing a new song
How long to sing this song?
How long to sing this song?
How long? How long? How long?
How long to sing this song?

Oh Lord I wait, I wait on You
And I will sing, I’ll sing this song
Oh Lord I wait, I wait on You
And I will sing, I’ll sing this song

(from the 40th Psalm)

Forty (40)
Paul Hewson, Larry Mullen
CCLI License No. 810055

Safety in numbers

I love you, you love me, we’re a happy family.” Barney sings that line to the kids watching TV and we want it to be true. It’s a corny expression of the importance of ‘connectness,’ but… we do need each other. We can only be all that God wants us to be when we nurture strong and close ties to other disciples. That is why the Enemy of God and His people works so intently to destroy or diminish relationships. Yesterday, I quoted from 1 Corinthians 12 where the Spirit illustrates our connection to others with this statement: “The way that God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part.”

It not always easy to stay connected! Sometimes we just want to do our thing and go our own way, don’t we? I had a difference with a brother who some hard things to me and about me. I’d like to be able to tell you that my first impulse was to listen carefully, to sort through his words searching for the truth. It wasn’t! His criticism hurt, badly. His stinging words echoed over and over in my mind, like a looping tape. But, the Spirit of God is faithful, and helped me (eventually!) to work toward an honest consideration of what he had to say. As I gave up my need to be ‘right,’ God granted me peace. With that peace came the perspective that was necessary to evaluate his message, unpleasant as it was. Though this brother and I see the way God works with some difference, his perspective is important to me, and I hope mine is to him. We are both stronger for having each other ‘in the Body.’

The natural result of that kind of conflict is to pick up our toys and move on. That’s one reason in most American towns there are 20 different churches preaching nearly the same message. When difference arises, instead of doing the very difficult work of working through our disagreements and asking the Spirit of God to help us to remain ‘one’ in His love; we hit the road, off to do our own thing, learning little or nothing from conflict except how to avoid it, mask it, or worst of all – to employ tactics that allow us to ‘win at all costs,’ without realizing that we are destroying the work of God.
Never confuse the very real freedom in Christ that makes keeps us from being slaves to religious rules and regulations imposed on us by others with a libertarian attitude that says, ‘Nobody’s gonna tell me anything except the Holy Spirit!’ (Please re-read the previous sentence, thoughtfully.)

As I wrote yesterday, our American love of independence mutates into a toxic virus when we bring it to church with us. That virus blinds us to the fact that we are interdependent by God’s design, which is to say, “we need each other.” The result of being a free-lance disciple with weak or non-existent commitment to the local church is that sins and weaknesses go unchallenged and thus, unchanged, in us.

People who have been Christians for decades are often still acting like infants because they will not consider any words that are unpleasant as possibly being true. Truth and love, they are in balance. That is why the Word teaches us to love the truth and to keep talking with each other about it! Notice the result of that extended conversation: “… we will hold to the truth in love, becoming more and more in every way like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. Under his direction, the whole body is fitted together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.”(Ephesians 4:15-16, NLT)
God means for us to enjoy the safety of numbers!
Proverbs pithy wisdom goes right to the core of the matter saying, “…victory depends on having many counselors.” (Proverbs 24:6, NLT)
Get connected, stay connected – through good and bad, pleasant and unpleasant. That’s God’s way of getting you and me to ‘grow up’ in Christ.

And remember, when you’re tempted to be offended, as I was, lighten up!
“Blessed are they who can laugh at themselves, for they shall never cease to be amused.”

It’s not just ‘Jesus and me.’

We Americans love our freedom. We get to choose where we live, where we go to school, with whom we associate, our political philosophy, where we worship. We believe that we are self-reliant, strong, and independent. We admire the stories of rugged frontiersmen who made a new nation. The cowboy on the lone prairie is admired by every little boy, and secretly by not a few grown men. In more modern tales, we like stories of those who fight their way out of obscurity, beating the odds like Rocky Balboa. Like many myths, it’s only partially true. No one achieves his highest potential by living alone or only connecting with others on his own terms. The best lives are not lived by those who are fiercely independent, but rather by those who weave large webs of relationships with others.

As a young man I was quick to insist on my independence, resisting what I called ‘fetters’ of memberships and associations. Then the Spirit revealed, over time and through difficulties, the truth of the Word about being ‘in the Body!’ “The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.” In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other.” (1 Corinthians 12:21-25, NLT) Is this just about my human body? No! The context makes is clear that the Lord is describing our mutual relationships in the church, our surrender to one another, our integral connections with each other.

No principle in the Word is more ignored than this one. In my three decades of Pastoral ministry I have felt the sting of disappointment too many times to count caused by people who drift through church after church. They bring amazing gifts and could be an incredible blessing but they won’t ‘marry’ the church. They hold themselves in reserve, resisting the kinds of relationships that would maximize ministry results and personal effectiveness. But, in contrast to these church wanderers, I have known some who have done exactly the opposite- staying with their local church through good times and bad. They endure misunderstandings that inevitably arise in all human interactions. They see leaders come and go and watch as their church shifts ministry and mission, all the while faithfully loving, praying, supporting, working. And, they become beloved people, steady as a rock, respected and admired by the community they have served! Instead of chasing the mirage of self-fulfillment, they choose to serve the Body, for Christ’s sake.

Steadiness is under-rated by those of us who live in a culture of novelty!

Disciple, have you been deceived by the myth of individuality?
Do you protect your ‘freedom’ and hold back your loyalty?
I would urge you to meditate at length on the 12th chapter of 1 Corinthians. You will find that a cherished cultural ideal is at odds with the Truth of God. Love the Lord and His Body, the church. Tell Him that you will serve faithfully, pray earnestly, give sacrificially, and love completely. Oh, yes, there will be a chorus of voices that will tell you that such commitment is foolish, dangerous, and a way to lose control of yourself. The Word says that those choices lead to a strong disciple, supported by a strong network of disciples, whose spiritual gifts find maximum effectiveness.

Here’s a word from the Word, full of revelation of the potential glory of His church. May the Lord, the Spirit, release fullness into our hearts and minds.
“And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences. … But that doesn’t mean you should all look and speak and act the same. Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us is given his own gift. … He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.” (Ephesians 4:2-3, 7, 16, The Message)