Good vibes for me, Jesus!

Christians expect to have an experience of the Presence of the Holy Spirit. This is both good and right for the Lord is an active Person in our lives. Yet, there is real danger in defining our discipleship around ‘spiritual experience.’  Seeking an experience can set us up for manipulation by unscrupulous leaders who play on our emotions.  If some subjective experience defines faith, we may well despair of real transformation when we fail to feel the right mix of emotions.
When I was a teen-age Christian, full of earnest desire to become a true follower of Christ, I attended meetings that offered me an experience. At the end of a stirring talk, we gathered “around the altar” at the front of the church where loud prayers and songs opened our hearts. A particularly effective means of touching our hearts was the ‘testimony,’ the personal story of someone whose exciting experience of God’s power was held up for us to emulate. The weakness of the system was demonstrated by the fact that 99% of us who made genuine commitments during those moments of ‘spiritual experience,’ found our resolve to live holy lives waning before the dawning of the next day! It’s not that ‘altar’ experience was useless. It was incomplete.  We needed to be taught and encouraged in the spiritual disciplines  – things such as regular worship, generous giving of time and resources, study, service, living in community, meditation, and contemplative prayer – that allowed God’s Spirit to make us into true saints on Monday morning at school and work whose actions matched our altar aspirations. It wasn’t nearly as exciting to faithfully commit to discipline as it was to stand with friends in the holy huddle in the highly charged atmosphere of the ‘altar service.’
Many who would follow Jesus as adults are, in fact, chasing a ‘spiritual experience.’ They want Jesus to give them good vibes in their soul, but they don’t want to practice the disciplines that are absolutely required of those who would become mature, productive, and fruitful disciples. The Bible is clear that an emotion based Christianity will make us “infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.” (Ephesians 4:14, NIV)  
Paul expressed the kind of rock solid faith that will keep us when spiritually dry times overtake us,  when experience fails us. He said, I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.” (2 Timothy 1:12, NIV) “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39, NIV)  He did not trust his fickle feelings, nor did he chase good vibrations! His hope rested fully in Christ Jesus.
I pray that you will commit to faithful disciplines that open your mind and heart to the transforming work of the Spirit. Build your hope of eternal life, yes, and a rich and full life here, not on some spiritual experience, but on the Truth of Christ Jesus.
____________
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
When darkness seems to hide His face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.
His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.
When He shall come with trumpet sound,
O may I then in Him be found!
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne!
On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand.
All other ground is sinking sand.
The Solid Rock
Mote, Edward / Bradbury, William B.
© Public Domain

How to Get a Better Pastor

Sometimes I feel a little like the Wizard of Oz, a man who lives behind a curtain of misperceptions. One little girl saw me in the grocery store and said, “Mommy, God left the church.” That’s not good! Yet, even many adults do not really understand the reality of the daily life of ministers. Many perceive that pastors enjoy a relaxed lifestyle. In fact, a pastor is always a pastor wherever he goes. It’s not a job, it’s a way of life.

He (Could well be a ‘she’ too, but I’m writing from my point of view.) awakens in the middle of the night with people’s hurts on his mind, and lifts them to God in prayer. He must negotiate rapid shifts from emotional highs to lows; visiting a nursery and a funeral home on the same day, congratulating someone’s achievement and sharing another grief on the same Sunday morning. Pastors provide the equivalent of spiritual and emotional Emergency Room care for their congregants. He must remain a student of Scripture and his world throughout his lifetime so that when he stands before the congregation to preach he is able to provide spiritual nourishment that connects with the people of God. And, he must deliver a message every Sunday – regardless of his personal state of mind or circumstances. And, he loves every minute of this life to which God has called him!

Yet, he is susceptible to becoming ineffective for many and various reasons.

So, how can you help to make your Pastor’s better in his work?

1. Pray for him, everyday. – Spiritual leaders are front-line targets in the battle with evil, as they encourage people to stand with God. If a pastor falls, there is devastating fall-out suffered in many lives. Some even lose faith. Others conclude that Christianity is a fraud. Many lose their trust in pastors because they think all preachers are like the one whose sin was exposed. And even where there is no moral compromise, pastors know the attack of the Enemy through discouragement. So, pray for your Pastor – not for an easy life, but rather that God will keep and protect him, that he will be disciplined and courageous, and that he will finish the race well.

2. Readily accept his ministry with the spiritual gifts God has given to him. – Pastors are not equally adept at all kinds of ministry service. You bless your pastor if you appreciate and encourage him in his unique strengths. Understand that God has equipped him to minister in a way that will not be exactly like the ministry of your favorite preacher or that father-figure pastor who introduced you to Christ. He knows the gaps in his skills and gifts better than you do, but it will be a waste of his strengths if he is constantly pressed to ‘fix’ his perceived deficits rather than being encouraged in what he does best in God’s service.

3. If you must criticize him, and no pastor is above correction or criticism, do it honestly, directly, and person to person. – Every pastor deals with “Mr. They Say” in his church. This mystery man whom few know, but everyone quotes, is ubiquitous! A good pastor will never respond to anonymous criticism because he has no context for it. Still, he wonders, “Does it mean that a majority feels this way, or is this just the opinion of the same two people who are never satisfied with anything I attempt?”

If you have an issue with your pastor, be mature about it. Don’t play games, hinting at the difficulty. Know what you really want and be courageous to state it. If you think he’s missed the mark, tell him first; not after you have told a dozen of your best friends. If he’s wise, he’ll listen and evaluate. He may have an explanation for the decision with which you disagree or he may have a higher priority than making you happy due to his principles, convictions, or demands of leadership of Christ’s church.

Many people get angry with the pastor and fail to understand that they are actually angry at God! If you’re mad at the Lord and admit it, your pastor can help you with your doubt or confusion but it will be doubly difficult for you both, if you’re misdirecting your anger at him.

4. Don’t idolize or idealize him. – Pastors are disciples of Christ, who are human. They are raising kids who don’t always do what they’re taught, just like you. Their marriage hit rough spots, just like yours. They have real emotions and fight temptation – just like you. Yes, you should expect him to live what he teaches, but not flawlessly because, like you, he’s a sinner who is working out the implications of God’s grace each day. If you make him into idol, you sin because only God is worthy of your worship and devotion. If you idealize him, thinking he’s more or better than he is really is, you set yourself up for disappointment. You may then mistakenly transfer your disappointment to Christ which would be doubly tragic. When you put a minister on a pedestal, remember that you make his ability to serve you faithfully all the more difficult. He teaches you best, not from some lofty place far removed from your life, but as he is allowed to demonstrate, in ordinary circumstances, a living faith in a loving Lord.

Here’s a word from the Word. “Appreciate your pastoral leaders who gave you the Word of God. Take a good look at the way they live, and let their faithfulness instruct you, as well as their truthfulness. There should be a consistency that runs through us all…. Be responsive to your pastoral leaders. Listen to their counsel. They are alert to the condition of your lives and work under the strict supervision of God. Contribute to the joy of their leadership, not its drudgery. Why would you want to make things harder for them?” (Hebrews 13:7, 17 The Message)
“Elders who do their work well should be paid well, especially those who work hard at both preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “Do not keep an ox from eating as it treads out the grain.” And in another place, “Those who work deserve their pay!” Do not listen to complaints against an elder unless there are two or three witnesses to accuse him.” (1 Timothy 5:17-19, NLT)

(Some of these thoughts are original, some borrowed from authors and speakers I’ve long forgotten.)

______________________

Dangerous Blessings

My life has been filled with good things – a rich spiritual heritage, food, health care, shelter, and creature comforts more than I need, a wonderful wife, and great children. I get to go to work everyday in a profession I love. I know peace with God and, because of His grace, I am assured of eternal life in the Presence of Jesus. What more could a person desire? Sad to say – Plenty! Contentment eludes me too often.

How easily we are convinced that the good things that bless us are a reward for our goodness, that we have earned them, and even that we deserve more! Even McDonald’s played to our sense of entitlement with a wildly successful advertising campaign built on the slogan – “You deserve a break today!”

It is easy to begin to believe that God owes us more and when He does not give us what we want, we start to complain, often bitterly. Ancient Israel is an example for the modern Church. After their miraculous deliverance from slavery in Egypt, God provided for their every need. Most amazingly, every morning they went out of their tents and found manna on the ground, angel food that the Lord gave them to sustain them in the wilderness. Did they appreciate it? For a few weeks, then they started to feel entitled to more. The Bible says, “The riff-raff among the people had a craving and soon they had the People of Israel whining, “Why can’t we have meat? We ate fish in Egypt-and got it free!-to say nothing of the cucumbers and melons, the leeks and onions and garlic. But nothing tastes good out here; all we get is manna, manna, manna.” (Numbers 11:4-6, The Message) Time and again, when God gave them something, they tired of it and wanted more.

Have you failed the gratitude test, believing that you deserve more?

Here are some suggestions for recovery of thankfulness as a way of life.
First, practice the discipline of giving, generously and sacrificially!
I am convinced that tithing (giving 10% of our earnings) is a God- directed discipline that opens our lives to greater blessings. We need to go beyond giving as a emotional response to sad stories, or because we feel pressure from a preacher. Never buy into the ‘seed faith’ nonsense which is self-centered, a ‘give to get’ scheme that prosperity teachers use to manipulate us. Disciples give of resources – time, money, love – purposefully, like an investor uses his money. We please God when we invest ourselves in worthy ministries, well run charities, and individual people that we can help onto their feet. Sacrificial giving helps us to grasp that what we have is not because we are more deserving than someone else, but because we are God-blessed.

Second, worship deeply, regularly, and from the heart!
True worship restores proper perspective. Taking a significant amount of time each day and on a special day each week to give adoration to God keeps us focused on eternal matters! Worship teaches us to listen more intently to His instructions. Worship is not about ME, but about Him; not about getting anything, but giving everything.

Third, we need to express our gratitude!
Cultivating a habit of thankfulness helps us to avoid a ‘me centered’ life. We keep in sight the ways that God has blessed us. We realize how much those around contribute to our well-being. Thanksgiving should not be just a day on the calendar for Christ’s followers. It should be a way of life.

Here’s a word from the Word. It is an excerpt from the ‘song of Moses,’ which he recited for the people of Israel when he was advanced in age and near the end of his time of service. In this passage he warns them of the danger of blessings. He warned that as they ‘grew fat’ they would be tempted to forget the true Source of their blessings. I pray that these ancient words of warning will find a place in our hearts and minds today, so that we will give glory to God.

“For the people of Israel belong to the Lord; Jacob is his special possession. He found them in a desert land, in an empty, howling wasteland. He surrounded them and watched over them; he guarded them as his most precious possession. Like an eagle that rouses her chicks and hovers over her young, so he spread his wings to take them in and carried them aloft on his pinions.
The Lord alone guided them; they lived without any foreign gods. He made them ride over the highlands; he let them feast on the crops of the fields. He nourished them with honey from the cliffs, with olive oil from the hard rock. He fed them curds from the herd and milk from the flock, together with the fat of lambs and goats. He gave them choice rams and goats from Bashan, together with the choicest wheat. You drank the finest wine, made from the juice of grapes.

But Israel soon became fat and unruly; the people grew heavy, plump, and stuffed! Then they abandoned the God who had made them; they made light of the Rock of their salvation.” -(Deuteronomy 32:9-15, NLT)
Happy Thanksgiving!
As God blesses you, I pray it will make you rich in good deeds, full of gratefulness, and a reason for others to say – “What a God he serves; a good, loving, and wonderful Lord.”

_______________

Thanks to God for my Redeemer,
Thanks for all Thou dost provide!
Thanks for times now but a memory,
Thanks for Jesus by my side!
Thanks for pleasant, balmy springtime,
Thanks for dark and dreary fall!
Thanks for tears by now forgotten,
Thanks for peace within my soul!

Thanks for prayers that Thou hast answered,
Thanks for what Thou dost deny!
Thanks for storms that I have weathered,
Thanks for all Thou dost supply!
Thanks for pain and thanks for pleasure,
Thanks for comfort in despair!
Thanks for grace that none can measure,
Thanks for love beyond compare!

Thanks To God For My Redeemer

Storm, August Ludvig / Hultman, John A.
© Public Domain

I deserve better

One of America’s great struggles over the next five years will be with government’s so-called ‘entitlement’ programs. With spending out of control and mountains of debt threatening to break our national economy, courageous politicians will have to make hard choices about raising the age of when a person can take a Social Security pension, about spending on education and health care, and about how much we will support various special interest groups. There will be much hand-wringing and screaming!

Entitlement is not just a government thing, either. I do not like to admit it, but there are moments when I allow myself to feel entitled! Thoughts form around this idea – “I’m a good guy. They owe me.” Isn’t that ugly? It sure is. When I fall into that dark hole, the results are not good, with depression and anger soon to follow. Why? Because, in that moment, life becomes a very small bundle of ME. Gratitude becomes impossible.

Entitlement is really ugly when it enters our relationship with God. When we begin to love Self so much that we allow ourselves to say or think, “He owes me,” things have gone seriously awry. He is God, I am not. I owe Him my life and love, for “who has given Him so much that he needs to pay it back? For everything comes from Him and exists by His power and is intended for His glory. All glory to Him forever! Amen.” (Romans 11:35-37, NLT) Cultivating a true attitude of gratitude lays a foundation for faith and worship. Consistently offering thanks to God, not in a perfunctory way, but from the heart, breaks the mesmerizing hold of Self. This births a new humility in which we willingly trust and obey the Lord.

From the opening pages of Scripture, disobedience was fed by the root of ‘me-ism,’ the insistence that Self must be served above all things – the welfare of others and even God Himself.

  • Eve sinned because she wanted to indulge her desire.
  • Moses sinned when he allowed himself to be fed up with serving the ever-demanding Israelites.
  • David sinned when he thought he just had to have Bathsheba, and his lust fed an escalating series of sins that led to proxy murder!
  • God, through the prophets, sharply rebuked those who fed Self by oppressing the poor and the weak. “Here it is, bluntly spoken: Because you run roughshod over the poor and take the bread right out of their mouths, You’re never going to move into the luxury homes you have built … You bully right-living people, taking bribes right and left and kicking the poor when they’re down. Justice is a lost cause. Evil is epidemic. Decent people throw up their hands. Protest and rebuke are useless, a waste of breath. ” (Amos 5:11-13, The Message)

This Thanksgiving, will you choose gratitude?

Perhaps you are in a hard place; struggling to make it in our tough economy, dealing with disappointment in a broken relationship, or facing a crisis in your body’s health. It might be that as you see things right now, life is not fair. Choose to thank God for His goodness anyway. Tear down the throne of Self, and invite Christ to be Lord of your life, even your very attitudes. The Bible calls this a “sacrifice of praise to God,” and urges us to offer this sacrifice “continually, … the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.” (Hebrews 13:15, KJV)

God will not bless those who think of themselves as entitled! But, to the humble, who are full of gratitude, He shows abundant mercies.
_________________

Give thanks
With a grateful heart,
Give thanks to the Holy One;
Give thanks because He’s given
Jesus Christ, His Son.

And now let the weak say,
“I am strong.”
Let the poor say,
“I am rich”
Because of what
The Lord has done for us.
And now let the weak say,
“I am strong.”
Let the poor say,
“I am rich”
Because of what
The Lord has done for us.
Give thanks.

Give Thanks
Smith, Henry
© 1978 Integrity’s Hosanna! Music (c/o Integrity Music, Inc.)
CCLI License No. 810055

Not quite dead . . .

Last week, headlines of reports implied that “marriage is dying in America.” Well, not quite. Despite the best efforts to convince us otherwise, most Americans still believe in the institution as a man and woman and the they hold onto the ideal of life-long commitment. Many things around the house have changed. In just 50 years, women have reached a place of making nearly as much money as men, and are surpassing men in gaining formal education. This has led to redefined roles within households. Men are much more likely to take a more active role in child care and household chores. Still, 2/3rds of Americans say that the number one qualification for male marriage readiness is ‘being able to provide for his family.’

Marriage has come under severe attack in recent decades. Jim Daly, President of Focus on the Family, observes “even the most casual observer or critic of marriage would acknowledge that the institution is too often held in very low cultural esteem. From television to movies to music, the bonds of matrimony are often lampooned as chains that bind and confine as opposed to the great anchor of stability God intended them to be.” (Christianity Today, Nov. 2010) As a pastor, I find that many times even Christians adopt this line of thinking. They allow the dysfunctional relationships that they see causing so much pain to define their perception of marriage instead of extolling the joys that a long-term, stable, loving marriage brings. The Bible tells that we should “Give honor to marriage, and remain faithful to one another in marriage. God will surely judge people who are immoral and those who commit adultery.” (Hebrews 13:4, NLT)

Before He brought government into being, before there were social organizations, God made man and woman to be one. The family is His plan. Marriage is a laboratory in which the Lord brings us to maturity in character and spiritual development. If we unwilling to do the work of loving our spouse wholly and without reserve, we will not love our God well, either. If we are self-serving, petty, or incapable of reaching for real intimacy (more than sex!) with our spouse; we will almost assuredly be deficient in our love of the Lord, too. “It’s the person who loves brother and sister (We can add, spouse, here, can’t we?) who dwells in God’s light.” (1 John 2:10-11, The Message)

The American family is experiencing terrific stress at the present. Changing roles and expectations, cultural ideals about personal happiness, lives that separate partners for days at a time, and less support from extended family are but a few of those stressors. A misunderstanding of the purpose and meaning of marriage causes many to choose their partner unwisely, as well. Sexual attractiveness is a poor substitute for emotional and spiritual compatibility. But, since marriage is of God’s design, we can pray for the Spirit to help us to stand up to these stresses wisely. We make even need to make radical decisions about the ways we live in order to preserve our homes.

Disciple, are you married?
Are you tending your marriage, serving and loving your partner in a way that honors the Lord?
Are you working to grow stronger together adapting to the new demands of each season of life?
Not only does a strong marriage bring joy and health to the husband and wife who share in it, it also blesses and strengthens the world of which they are part.

Here’s the word from the Word. Though it is familiar, invite the Holy Spirit to make it soul food for you today.

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.

For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church. And we are members of his body.

As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” (Ephesians 5:21-33, NLT)

Does God care about what I eat?

“Would Jesus eat cheese doodles and lime jello at the church potluck dinner?” was the question posed by Leslie Fields in a provocative article in Christianity Today magazine, November, 2010. (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/november/9.22.html)

It was enough to get my attention. Initially, I was ready to dismiss her as another tree-hugging, nut-eating goof who is completely out of touch with the real world, but her thoughts made a lot of sense! While we don’t worship our food, nor do we think that we can somehow become more acceptable to God by keeping dietary laws, how and what we eat is connected to our stewardship of the earth and our bodies. Both of those issues are of real concern to the Lord as a part of our discipleship!

Many Christians are very sensitive about using alcohol and tobacco, as we should be, yet they think eating a ton of sugary, fatty foods is of no consequence to the Lord. If the true issue is maintaining our bodies as ‘temples of the Holy Spirit’ then eating ourselves to death ought to concern us as much as drink or smokes. Then yesterday, my assistant pastor sent along a article with the title – Pastor, you’re probably fat. 6 things to do about it. (http://theresurgence.com/2010/04/16/pastor-youre-probably-fat-6-things-to-do-about-it)
After reading that, I realized that the Lord was trying to get my attention. (Did I tell you that I am one of His slower children?) Isn’t it amazing that we can be so blind in certain areas of our lives?

As Fields points out with clarity, Christians must not fall into the ‘food as righteousness’ cult that has become the obsession of many Americans. She writes, “We have become mindful and puritanical about food, and mindless and licentious about sex.” In another insight, she says, “Perhaps in no other time has our culture so widely absorbed the largely Eastern concept that physical, mental, and spiritual purity can be derived from food—and that we earn our virtue through vigilance over fork and plate … this approach can lead to myopic self-absorption and legalism.”

Paul’s instructions need to be taken more seriously by those who be Christ’s disciples. “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. … So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:26, 31, NIV) We eat the way we do, in part, because our schedules are so over-full that we grab fast food on the run, allowing little time to prepare or consume healthful foods and to enjoy the relationships that are built by humans over shared bread! Ask my adult children about their best memories, about the altar at which they received holy instruction. They won’t talk about church. They will tell you about our family table and dinner time.

Might we start to recover spiritual health by weaning ourselves from the quick, easy to eat, empty diets that also rob us of time to appreciate all that the Lord has given us? Jesus never wanted us to fall into the trap of thinking we could make ourselves acceptable to God by what we eat. The kingdom of heaven is not a matter of eating and drinking. Yet, like so many parts of our lives, the Lordship of Christ will extend to our consumption habits, both to what we eat, how we eat it, and how much we eat.

Now, what are we going to do about it?

Taken off the farm

Self-anointed, self appointed prophets are annoying and bring disgrace on the name of Christ Jesus. Remember the crank in Florida a couple of months ago whose cockeyed scheme to burn the Quran caused such a tempest? It’s since been reported that this wasn’t his first publicity stunt. Seems that he enjoys the spotlight a little too much. Amos, the prophet to Israel, whose sermons form a small book of the Bible, got under the skin of the priest in Bethel. Amaziah told him to shut up and go home. “Get out of here, you prophet! Go on back to the land of Judah, and earn your living by prophesying there! Don’t bother us with your prophecies here in Bethel. This is the king’s sanctuary and the national place of worship!” (Amos 7:12-13, NLT) Amaziah concluded that Amos was a nobody, from nowhere, who had appointed himself a gadfly in Israel.

But, the humble prophet offers this defense for his messages that stabbed the conscience of that nation.
“I was neither a prophet nor a prophet’s son, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’” (Amos 7:14-15, NIV) The Lord took me off the farm! Amos had not chosen the job, nor was it a family thing. The Spirit of the Lord seized him and sent him to a job he would rather have left to another – bringing a word of warning of God’s impending judgment to Israel.

If you’re a genuine Christian, you have been called off the farm and sent with a message! “Who me?” you ask? “But I’m just a project manager, a teacher, a mom, a sales representative …. ! How could I possibly have anything to say to anyone about God’s work?” When God calls us, He equips us with abilities that come from the Spirit. It is a mistaken notion that only the pastors can represent Jesus Christ before the world. In fact, you have a unique audience that no preacher will ever get in his church. Disciple, your life is a sermon. What does it say about the Lord to those among whom you work and live?

The Spirit of God lives in you if you belong to Christ. He will use you if you’re willing, if you’re devoted. The key is not to become a grandstanding publicity hound, a person who enjoys attracting attention. When we do that, the issue becomes us, not God’s Word! Jesus calls us ‘salt and light,’ our lives serving as a preservative in a corrupt society, with a radiance that shows others the Way to go in a very dark world! Find that calling daunting? Me, too! Here’s the promise. This word from the Word is lengthy, but take the time to read it, believe it, and thank God for the privilege of being called off of the farm and into His world.

“He uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume. Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing. To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume. And who is adequate for such a task as this? You see, we are not like the many hucksters who preach for personal profit. We preach the word of God with sincerity and with Christ’s authority, knowing that God is watching us.” (2 Corinthians 2:14-17, NLT)

“We are confident of all this because of our great trust in God through Christ. It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own. Our qualification comes from God. He has enabled us to be ministers of his new covenant. This is a covenant not of written laws, but of the Spirit. The old written covenant ends in death; but under the new covenant, the Spirit gives life.” (2 Corinthians 3:4-6, NLT)

_________________

Father, thank you for calling me off of the farm.
Though I may feel unqualified by human standards
to do holy work, You have promised to equip me
with the powerful gifts of Your Holy Spirit.

I humbly present myself for holy work.
Eclipse my personality with Your radiance.
Clean me up, washing away my sins,
and make my life a quiet and convincing sermon,
an illustration of God’s grace that is offered
to those who are hungry for Him.

Fill me, Lord, with holy boldness that lets me
live fearlessly, relentlessly pursuing Your purpose.
In Jesus’ Name, I pray. Amen.

Knock me off my feet!

My life is devoted to serving the Lord. His wisdom guides my life but I would be lying if I told you that He appears to me every day to chat about life. Do I know Him? Yes; yet He is not my Buddy and there is much about Him I cannot understand, even as what I know of Him gives me great comfort. Have you ever had to deal with a Christian who talks of God in overly familiar terms? “God told me to buy this car. God told me to wear this shirt.” Makes you wonder if your spirituality is deficient, doesn’t it? Could God tell them such things? Of course He could. Did He? Maybe He did, maybe they just had a feeling! We can sense the personal leading of the Holy Spirit, but we should be cautious about declaring that “God told me,” because our perception of His voice is sometimes flawed, especially when we go beyond what He has revealed in the Scripture as His will.

Reverence demands great humility from us when we lay claim to hearing God’s voice. Speaking for Him orclaiming His authority for what we say is so serious that the Decalogue addresses the issue: “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” (Exodus 20:7, NIV)

I am very skeptical of the veracity of claims many make to have ‘met God’ if they show no radical transformation of heart and/or character. In the Bible we learn that people who met the Lord, face to face, were left permanently changed by the encounter. Often they were literally knocked off their feet! Saul, later called Paul, met Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus. He was knocked down and was left speechless and blind for days! God’s glory was so intense that Moses was not allowed to gaze directly on Him, seeing only His ‘back parts.’ (Exodus 33:23) No passage describes the awesomeness of a Divine Encounter better than this one from Isaiah. “Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:2-5, NIV) His vision did not cause his to run out with happy chatter! He was shaken to the core of his being by a new sense of his sinfulness, which was only remedied by a gracious cleansing offered by the Lord.

Disciple, my prayer is “Lord, knock me off my feet!” I do not think I am praying that because I am looking for a thrill or for an experience to talk about to impress my friends. I desire a holy encounter that restores my perspective of Who He is, that causes me to serve Him faithfully and with fewer questions. I do not desire to tame Him, but I want to be transformed by the weight of His Majesty. Yes, true intimacy with God, our Father, will humble us and make us holy. False intimacy will only deepen self-deception.

Have you grown too familiar with the Lord of Glory?
Are you prone to speak as though He is your Buddy, not thinking much of the awesomeness of His Name? It is true that Jesus Christ is our Friend, that the Incarnate God showed us that He is approachable and loving. Yet, we must never forget that He is God, and we are not.

Here’s the word from the Word.
“I have heard all about you, Lord. I am filled with awe by your amazing works. In this time of our deep need, help us again as you did in years gone by. And in your anger, remember your mercy.” (Habakkuk 3:2, NLT)
“Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights. (For the choir director: This prayer is to be accompanied by stringed instruments.)” (Habakkuk 3:17-19, NLT)

__________

Holy, Holy, Holy
Lord God, Almighty!
All thy works
Shall praise Thy Name
In earth and sky and sea.
Holy, Holy, Holy,
Merciful and Mighty.
God in three Persons,
Blessed Trinity!
– Dykes and Heber, Public Domain

Too much, too soon?

China, home to a fifth of the earth’s human population, is an economic powerhouse. While it still is not even close to the USA in gross domestic product, it is coming on strong and fast! In a news report last night, the discipline of the people was noted as remarkable. Employees work long hours at high levels of production without complaint. Parents sacrifice hugely to help their children get an education. Hunger and want is a first-hand experience that fuels the drive to succeed. I believe that one of the reasons America is quickly slipping to second-rate status is that most have too much, too soon. Most of us have never experienced the kind of desperation that creates a ‘never again’ kind of mentality that makes us hard-working, productive, and thrifty citizens.

Let’s turn our thoughts to things spiritual.
Disciple, do we know a desperate hunger for the things of God, or have we created a little heaven right here on earth that keeps us satisfied?
Are we content to amuse ourselves with trinkets and games instead of pressing in with earnest desire to know the Lord of Glory?
Have we so tamed our faith that it is but a weekend diversion, a momentary pause in our Self serving ways?

The Scripture says “…it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the Lord. And it is good for people to submit at an early age to the yoke of his discipline: Let them sit alone in silence beneath the Lord’s demands.” (Lamentations 3:26-28, NLT) Before you nod in agreement, think about that. Who really wants to wait for anything? Who chooses to submit without complaining about the violation of his rights? Are we taught by our pastors to ask the Lord for His discipline? Do we teach those who we lead to Christ to willingly surrender their expectations of an easy road in this life?

Our right standing with God is a gift, given by Christ to all those who call on His Name. A holy life emerges from a disciplined pursuit of the Lord, from our choices of priorities that make Him first, above all things. Jesus challenges those of us who have had a life where we gain too much, too soon. He asks us to think again about how we are spending our days. “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:35-36, NIV)

Today, I am asking myself, “Jerry, what do you really want from your life? What are your best efforts being expended to gain: the kingdom of God or the success of this world?” I pray that I have not taken too much, too soon. I pray that I will know the true hunger that turns my heart to the One who satisfies the best and deepest longings.

________________

All my lifelong I had panted,
For a draught from some cool spring
That I hoped would quench the burning
Of the thirst I felt within.
Poor I was and sought for riches,
Something that would satisfy;
But the dust I gathered round me
Only mocked my soul’s sad cry.

Hallelujah! I have found Him
Whom my soul so long has craved!
Jesus satisfies my longings;
Thro’ His blood I now am saved.

Satisfied
Williams, Clara Teare / Hudson, Ralph E.
© Public Domain

In love with a feeling?

Are you emotional? We all are. Some of us are more prone to display our emotions than others, but emotions are present in every man, woman, and child. God made us with the ability to know joy, to be able to feel afraid, to become anxious or to settle into a state of serenity. A person who has learned how to ‘deal with his emotions’ is richer for them. If feelings are put in charge that person is in at great risk. Where emotions rule, you find a person who is unstable and unproductive; yes, childish. We expect a toddler to plummet from giddy heights of laughter to stormy tumult of tears within 5 minutes. That same emotional roller coaster in an adult is cause for concern! At the opposite extreme, the person who represses emotions, who refuses to experience them, is bereft of true humanity.

Recently, as I prayed, I realized that I was chasing a feeling, that I was trying to find God through a certain state of mind. It became clear to me that I am much more likely to praise Him when I feel peace, when my emotions are running in a specific direction. Sensing the Presence of the Lord through our emotions is clearly a good thing. There are moments when I find myself so full of emotion that it spills over in tears or bursts out in a rolling laugh. But, Jesus taught us to love God more deeply than that. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’” (Mark 12:30, NIV) Our walk with the Lord is a combination of emotion and truth, of passion and discipline, of feeling and fact.

God’s love for us is not at the mercy of our emotions. He does not only love us when we feel all warm and fuzzy inside when they sing our favorite worship song in church! He is not just present when tears spill over in a particularly touching time of prayer. He is equally God on the bad days as He is in the good ones. He is still Lord when exhaustion steals our passion. He is Lord when anxiety about the future produces a temporary soul paralysis. Disciple, don’t fall in love with a feeling. Choose to love the Truth! If we build our salvation on a special state of mind, on emotional well-being, we are resting on a foundation of sand. Yes, we will find ourselves then chasing a feeling, looking for a religious high, running here and there wanting somebody to renew the excitement.

Zephaniah reminds the people of the Lord to trust the Truth! “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17, NIV) Jeremiah, a man who knew God through much suffering, urges us to be steady. “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23, NIV) Do you see the focus of that faith? It is not on the person, on finding a state of mind, even on doing something to provoke a response from the Lord. That person who would stay consistent in devotion focuses on God’s faithfulness!

______________________

Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible
Hid from our eyes;
Most blessed, most glorious,
The Ancient of Days;
Almighty, victorious,
Thy great name we praise.

Unresting, unhasting
And silent as light;
Nor wanting, nor wasting,
Thou rulest in might.
Thy justice, like mountains,
High soaring above;
Thy clouds, which are fountains
Of goodness and love.

To all, life Thou givest,
To both great and small;
In all, life Thou livest,
The true life of all;
We blossom and flourish
As leaves on the tree,
And wither and perish
But naught changeth Thee.

Great Father of glory,
Pure Father of light;
Thine angels adore Thee
All veiling their sight.
All praise we would render,
O help us to see
‘Tis only the splendor
Of light hideth Thee.

Immortal Invisible
Smith, Walter Chalmers / Robert, John

© Public Domain