Don’t go it alone

If know me, you know this – I love my family! We love and bicker when we’re together. We cheer and critique each other. Nobody can get under my skin more quickly, nobody can hurt me more deeply and nothing gives me more joy than my families! Yes, I have two families; those with whom I am connected by blood relations and those who are part of my spiritual family. This means I enjoy a double blessing.

Yesterday, after the pastoral prayer at church, I was emotionally wrecked. The sorrow of my Mom’s critical illness and a few other stresses left me ready to crumble. As I walked from the pulpit, big Nate opened his arms and pulled me into his chest as if I were a little boy. His daughter and daughter in law extended their arms, too, and I found myself in an embrace of loving concern. I’m not the really ‘touchy feely’ kind of person! But, I found that embrace a precious gift; a non-verbal expression that spoke love to me. Prior to the service, Garry and Phil joined me in my office to pray with me and for me, offering support. For the rest of the day, I was comforted by the knowledge that I had a family, a community, that cares.

The Scripture uses familial language to describe the Church. In Ephesians we read that God “predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—” (1:5, NIV) Before time began, He purposed and planned a new community and called us to be part of it. Jesus told us that our deep love for one another would be the distinguishing mark that would uniquely identify us as His people. John calls us ‘brothers and sisters’ repeatedly and says that our love for one another grows out of God’s love for us. What a powerful truth. I observe it in people all the time. Those who are loved and given secure relationships as children become trusting loving adults who are able to form attachments to others that are mutually enriching. Those who are raised in insecurity are wounded, suspicious, and quick to offense and defense!
I pray that our church, just one small part of His Church, will continue to develop as a real family. Yes, the process can be messy. Misunderstanding arise. Different expectations stress the ties that bind us together. Dysfunctional people pour their pain into the family and without great grace we can be split apart. Then, too, we must be aware of the Evil one is always working to divide, to turn secondary issues into major ones, to fan the flames of jealousy into a bonfire of destruction. But, the Father of love is greater. The Word calls us to enter actively into the family!
“What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it—we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are.” (1 John 3:1, The Message)
“For this is the original message we heard: We should love each other. We must not be like Cain, who joined the Evil One and then killed his brother. And why did he kill him? Because he was deep in the practice of evil, while the acts of his brother were righteous. So don’t be surprised, friends, when the world hates you. This has been going on a long time. The way we know we’ve been transferred from death to life is that we love our brothers and sisters. Anyone who doesn’t love is as good as dead.” (1 John 3:11-14, The Message)
Don’t go life alone. Cherish the community called – the church. Invest the time required to make it a real family. You’ll be blessed and a blessing.

Here’s the word from the Word, a prayer for His family.
“When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.


And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.


Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.

Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:14-21, NLT)

________________

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.

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

© Public Domain

Dying safe?

Are you spending so much time avoiding risk that you’re failing to experience life at it’s best? I’m not talking about being stupid. Yes, it is prudent to wear your seat-belt when you drive. But, it’s tragic if you won’t drive more than 100 miles from home! It’s a good idea to floss your teeth and eat a balanced diet. It’s sad if you never allow yourself a piece of chocolate or a cheeseburger. Does every decision have to be driven by fear? I know people in their 50’s who won’t go out to dinner or take a vacation because they are afraid they won’t have enough money set aside for retirement. Some never let themselves fall in love because they are afraid of getting their heart broken. Others never have children because they are afraid their kids might turn out to be criminals. Each of these choices are ‘safe,’ but also limit the experience of a rich life.

If you choose to live as a totally committed follower of Jesus Christ, you will have to let go of the safety ropes! A life of faith involves a kind of risk. “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1, NIV) Use your imagination as you read these words: “As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him.” (Matthew 4:18-20, NIV) “At once” these men responded. They did not question the compensation package. They did not talk it over with their advisers. They heard the Call, responded in faith, and ignored the cost.

Let’s be clear. Their decision opened up possibilities they could not have imagined, but it did not lead them into endless days of bliss. The faith choice did not exempt them from discouragement, from difficult moments, from struggle, or even from sorrow. In fact, every one of them found a life of much more danger than they would have known if they had remained with their fishing boats in Galilee! AND, they found life to the full, eternal life, living in the center of the will of God.

In the ‘faith chapter’ – Hebrews 11 – Moses is an example. We read that “By faith, Moses, when grown, refused the privileges of the Egyptian royal house. He chose a hard life with God’s people rather than an opportunistic soft life of sin with the oppressors. He valued suffering in the Messiah’s camp far greater than Egyptian wealth because he was looking ahead, anticipating the payoff.” (Hebrews 11:24-27, The Message)

Fear is life’s worst motivator! Don’t let your decisions be formed by ‘what-if’ and ‘could be’ and ‘limiting exposure to risk!’ Listen for the call of God. Love with your whole heart. Get out of the house and do something creative today. Any attempt to live by faith includes the risk of failure. You might get it wrong if you try. You might go broke, fall on your face, and have to endure some ridicule. But, you will have really lived in the process.

There is an important footnote to all of this. I am not writing about selfishness or ‘just being yourself!’ Ignoring the cost of your actions to others, causing pain to your friends and/or family by your foolish desire to break all the rules or fulfill all your fantasies, is not at all what the fore-going words were intended to encourage. I am writing about a life of total submission! Yes, it is not unfettered Self that leads to the best life, but complete surrender to the mastery of Jesus Christ, letting Him lead. That choice is never safe, but always wise!

I want to leave you with this thought –
“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”
Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the Unites States

Wise, or just smart?

Watching my daughter parent her two little ones during their visit in our home has been a delight. Maribel is focusing on teaching Devin and Adelina about character. It’s the little things she does – like reminding them to be thankful, causing them to understand the importance of respect, encouraging them to take care of themselves and their surroundings. She is laying the foundation of life for them by training them in something one author calls “intellectual virtue.” Michael Austin (Wise Stewards) says that intellectual virtue is an excellence of the mind that “enables a person to reason well for the purpose of living well.” (CT, January, 2010)

I believe that a major failure of American parents is that they seek to make their children smart by providing them the best education while ignoring the virtues that are the basis of true wisdom which governs the way of life. The emphasis is too often placed on what our children are able to do rather than on who they are equipped to become. Bereft of the ability to understand the real meaning of their existence because they are trained to think Scripturally, with God and His will as the roadmap for life, they chase after fulfillment in job titles, beauty, fame, celebrity, or materialism. In truth, genuine joy in life is much less related to what a person owns or his place in this world than it is in who he is on the inside. Even that cannot be accomplished simply by stuffing a little head with Bible verses! He must be turned toward the Son, his mind opened to the Spirit, from Whom he will receive Light and Life.

Moses directed the people of the Lord to parent with a view to more than future salary or success. “Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-8, NLT) Let me summarize that passage – “Love the Lord and integrate that love into your everyday life!”

If you’re a parent, I encourage you to make ‘intellectual virtue’ a primary goal. And that’s not just for kids, either!

Let me ask you, disciple: Are you just smart or are you truly wise? Are you simply equipped with facts but lacking the wisdom to make choices that produce the best long-term results, the highest joys, and ultimately will allow you to receive the Lord’s commendation: “Well done, good and faithful servant!”? Be you 4, 40, or 84 – it’s never too late to turn your heart and mind to obedience to the Lord. As you kneel at the Cross, there is salvation, transformation, and restoration to full destiny available in Christ’s great grace.

Here’s a word from the Word. Meditate on the truth of it.

“I’m single-minded in pursuit of you; don’t let me miss the road signs you’ve posted.
I’ve banked your promises in the vault of my heart so I won’t sin myself bankrupt.” (Psalm 119:10-11, The Message)

“By your words I can see where I’m going; they throw a beam of light on my dark path.” (Psalm 119:105, The Message)

_____________

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

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

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

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

Be Thou My Vision
Hull, Eleanor / Byrne, Mary E.

© Public Domain

Scarecrow in a melon patch

Today there is one organizing principle that stands way above every other thing in my life: the will of my God! It is the standard by which I will measure everything else. You will do it, too. Everybody does. We choose to buy this, to say that, to go there, to stay here – not as randomly as we might think. We are serving something or somebody. The question is not ‘will I serve my God?’ for we are designed for that purpose and fulfill it. The primary inquiry should be – Who is my God? The worshipper takes on the character of his god.

Jeremiah preached about the choice of gods sarcastically chastising his audience for their silly decision to serve idols.
“Do not learn the ways of the nations or be terrified by signs in the sky, though the nations are terrified by them. … Like a scarecrow in a melon patch, their idols cannot speak; they must be carried because they cannot walk. Do not fear them; they can do no harm nor can they do any good.”
No one is like you, O Lord; you are great, and your name is mighty in power. Who should not revere you, O King of the nations? This is your due. Among all the wise men of the nations and in all their kingdoms, there is no one like you. They are all senseless and foolish; they are taught by worthless wooden idols. …

But the Lord is the true God; he is the living God, the eternal King.” (Jeremiah 10:2-10, NIV)

“Your gods,” he mocks, “are like scarecrows – can’t walk, can’t talk; can’t hurt, can’t help!” He goes to point out that because they serve fraudulent gods, they are “senseless and foolish.” Now you might thinking, “Jerry, this doesn’t apply to me. I’m far beyond carving a god and carrying it around for good luck.” Probably true, but have you made a god of Chase Bank, or the US Government, or your best friend, or your Self? Gods come in many forms. If your hope for the future relies on an increase in your net worth- your god is money! Whatever you’re organizing your life around, giving your best energies and resources to, and drawing your security from – is your god!

A god of gold will make a worshipper of greed.
A god of sensual pleasure will make a worshipper of gluttony or lust.
A god of reputation will make a hypocrite obsessed with social conformity.
The Lord of Glory will make a worshipper of who is filled with “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23, NIV)

Jesus told us to carefully evaluate our words against our actions when it comes to declaring our God. Singing the right songs on Sunday does not make the Lord our God, He says. Getting involved with a missions project does not mean we love the Lord. Take a look. “Knowing the correct password—saying ‘Master, Master,’ for instance—isn’t going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience—doing what my Father wills. I can see it now—at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.’ And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.’ “ (Matthew 7:21-23, The Message)

Who is your God?
It’s an important question with consequence in this life and eternity.
“O Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done marvelous things, things planned long ago.” (Isaiah 25:1, NIV) “You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat. ” (Isaiah 25:4, NIV)

_______________________

You may be an ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

You may be a construction worker working on a home
You may be living in a mansion or you might live in a dome
You might own guns and you might even own tanks
You might be somebody’s landlord, you might even own banks

You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride
You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side
You may be workin’ in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair
You may be somebody’s mistress, may be somebody’s heir
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

Gotta Serve Somebody

Bob Dylan
Copyright © 1979 by Special Rider Music

Purity is not just for pruds!

Bev and I went to see “The King’s Speech” and sat through the preview for “No Strings Attached” a film about two single professional adults who are sleeping together as the title suggests without any obligation. Their immorality is a source of much hilarity according to the trailer. Also over the weekend, media reported on a new MTV show that has been an instant hit among teens called “Skins,” which celebrates the party culture, including uninhibited sexuality, of American urban high school students. All restraint is gone. Sex is god in our de-spiritualized culture.

Even Christian teens are heavily ‘sexualized.’ Most consume the media and entertainment of our culture with few filters. It should not be a source of amazement to us that our teens cannot understand the Bible’s call to sexual purity. The message of the culture obliterates the truth of the Word. It isn’t just teens that are effected, either. Pornography and sexually explicit material has invaded all of our lives. When I did computer consulting work from 1997-2000, I found evidence of pornography access on computers in every business to which I was called! Barna Research found that 38% of Christians in America think that there isn’t really anything wrong with pornography as long as it doesn’t involve children. Many call it ‘dirty’ but don’t think it’s really sinful. They fail to understand that pornography exacts a heavy price from ALL who become consumers. It is not a harmless diversion. Pornography drains away our wholeness – spiritual and emotional – one little bit at a time.

The Word tells us “There’s more to sex than mere skin on skin. Sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact. As written in Scripture, “The two become one.” Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy, leaving us more lonely than ever—the kind of sex that can never “become one.” There is a sense in which sexual sins are different from all others.
In sexual sin we violate the sacredness of our own bodies, these bodies that were made for God-given and God-modeled love, for “becoming one” with another. Or didn’t you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:16-21, The Message)

The answer to the flood of sensuality that surrounds us is not a retreat into prudery where all sex is dirty and/or hidden away. Nor is the answer to impose dress codes that laud yesterday’s fashion. The answer is to know the truth about sex. Sex is God’s gift to us for pleasure and to bond us to our spouse for life in an intimacy that mirrors our love for Him! Sexuality is not something Christians should avoid like a sickness, it is something we should celebrate, lifting it out of the filth of the street by our celebration of this gift of God.

What messages about sex are filling your mind, your home?
Are you becoming a victim of the porn culture- unaware of the destruction it creates in your soul – like the proverbial ‘frog in the kettle?’

I strongly advise you to evaluate ALL of your entertainment consumption habits. Put filters in place that keep you sensitive to purity. Choose wisely what you consume! The fact that you’re reading this means you have Internet access. Are you computers monitored to protect the kids in your home? Are you monitoring your own online patterns? Offer yourself – including your sexuality – to God and pray that the wholeness that is found in His ways will make your life a light in a world of darkness.

Here’s a word from the Word. I pray you will conform your life to it today:
“You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the evil powers of this world. So why do you keep on following rules of the world, such as, “Don’t handle, don’t eat, don’t touch.” Such rules are mere human teaching about things that are gone as soon as we use them. These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, humility, and severe bodily discipline. But they have no effect when it comes to conquering a person’s evil thoughts and desires.


Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits at God’s right hand in the place of honor and power. …


Have nothing to do with sexual sin, impurity, lust, and shameful desires. …
now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. …for you have stripped off your old evil nature and all its wicked deeds.


In its place you have clothed yourselves with a brand-new nature that is continually being renewed as you learn more and more about Christ, who created this new nature within you. (Colossians 2:20- 3:10, NLT)

Who Do You Look Like?

I looked into the face of my grandson and saw the face of his Mom when she was 5! Her DNA was giving shape to that little face. In a sense, he bore her image. His relationship to her is unmistakable. Now let me ask, who do you look like? There’s a line in a Christmas carol that poetically describes the mission of the Christ: “Adam’s likeness now efface, stamp Thine image in its place.” God created us to bear His image. Think of that. He comes to our lives, broken and deformed by a sinful nature, heals us, infuses us with new Spirit-life, and transforms our appearance!

In ancient times, the king would set up an image (TSELEM) of himself in every corner of his empire so people would know whose kingdom they were in. Just in case you think we’re past that kind of thing, take note that politicians still hang their picture in public buildings! For the same reason that a king places images of himself around so people would know who was ruling, God wants to stamp His image in you and me to show Himself and His reign to this world! N.T. Wright observes that ‘God has placed his own image, human beings, into his world so that the world can see who its ruler is.’

This is what God reveals in Genesis when He inspired this passage: “Then God said, “let us make human beings in our image; in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish…” So God created human beings in his own image, In the image of God he created them; Male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27) This is single most world-changing truth about human dignity and equality ever recorded. Imagine what it did to the heart of peasants and slaves when they heard that not just kings but EVERY human being was made in the divine image.

The fact that you were made in the image of God tells you not just about your worth, but also about your destiny. The main point of ‘image of God’ language in scripture is not about some ability or trait we share with God, it is about the mission He has given us. God’s plan was to graciously share His power through Spirit-breathed little dust bunnies. Through our learning, our work, our culture, our relationships, technology, the arts, medicine; we are- with humility – to add goodness and beauty to families and societies and creation so that God’s whole project becomes a glorious delight to all who see it; “For the earth will be filled with the glory of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14) (Before you read on, go back and re-read that paragraph!)

Your destiny is to be contribute more creative God-given goodness to the earth than you can currently imagine; and to offer more earthy joy and gratitude to God than you can currently contain. Tom Wright has a beautiful picture of the IMAGO DEI. “Imagine God up above, the earth below. In between them, human beings are set at a 45 degree angle with a mirror.” Our job, our destiny, is to reflect the holy reign of God down on to the earth-to care for all of creation and particularly human beings the way God would want you to; and then to gather up all the goodness and delight of the earth and put it into words and offer it to God in worship.

The Bibles’ language for this is: “you will be a king; you will be a priest.” Peter calls us ‘a royal priesthood… that you may declare the praises of Him who called you!’ This is not a solo act. We are to do this in community- a KINGDOM of PRIESTS.

• Are you letting the Holy Spirit do His work of the formation of the inner character—the spiritual formation— that lets the image of God (IMAGO DEI) be stamped in place of the sinful, broken likeness of Adam?

• Are you regularly and faithfully opening up your heart and mind to the Spirit in prayer, in Scripture intake, in worship (both solo and in church), in service to others, in meditation, in confession? We cannot make ourselves look like God, but we must be willing to let Him work deeply in us.

The ultimate destiny our Father has planned for us is revealed in this line from the Revelation: “The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the new city, and his servants will worship him…and they will reign forever and ever.” (22:3-5) And, we can start now, by leaving our old slave lives behind and letting Him raise us up to be seated in heavenly places.
(Today’s CoffeeBreak is a re-write of an article authored by John Ortberg, teaching pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church)
____________________
Make me more like You,
Jesus, make me more like You.
Give me a heart that filled with Love,
And make me more like You.

True assurance

When life gets downright gritty, down to the basics, on what will you stand? If you have not been there already, a time will come that tests everything you claim to believe. It may tragedy, it may success beyond your wildest dreams. It may be fiery criticism, it may be the applause of thousands. And, in the depth of your heart you will need an unshakeable assurance. What will it be? Some trust their intellect. Some trust their morality. Some trust their money, others their social status.

When the prophet Jeremiah delivered his sermons of judgment to God’s people warning them that God was done with their unfaithfulness, that He was going to let the armies of Assyria come down to reduce their cities to rubble, they responded with impatience, insisting that it could never happen to Jerusalem because it was the city of God, His symbolic dwelling place on the earth. Jeremiah said, “Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” (Jeremiah 7:4, NIV) History tells us that he was right! The city was destroyed, the Temple was razed!

Our Christian hope, our true foundation, is Christ Jesus and the salvation provided by His Cross and secured by His Resurrection! It is not our church membership. It is not the good vibes we feel in our worship experience. It is not our ministry or our service to others. In our humanity we like to hold onto tangible tokens that help us to feel secure. “Look at my good works!” we say, just like the Jews of old who pointed the Temple in the center of the city! “I’m indispensable to the work of God,” we think, “so how could He allow bad things into my life?” If this is what we think when everything shakes, when circumstances come that strip away our illusions and/or pretensions, we are stunned, left hopeless and dismayed. But, if our hope is in Christ alone, we stand secure though all crumbles around us.

Here’s how Jesus taught this Truth: “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.” (Matthew 7:24-28, NLT) Paul, a man with much of which to boast in terms of heritage and religion said that he tossed all that aside. In terms of assuring his relationship with God he said it had the same value as dung! And he writes, “God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14, NKJV)

Are you defined by the Love that Christ has for you?
When troubles come, when success beckons you sin in pride, are you holding only to the One who loves you?
That is true assurance.

_______________

In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song!
This Cornerstone, this solid Ground;
Firm, through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my All in All,
Here in the love of Christ I stand.

In Christ Alone

Townsend
© King’s Way – Thank You

CCLI License No. 810055

Backsliding?

Have you ever been guilty of ‘backsliding?’  It is exactly as it sounds, sliding backwards from some higher goal.  For example, I’ve backslidden on a dozen diets! With determination to shed that 20 pounds, I eliminate cakes, ice cream, and potato chips from my menu. I do my daily walk faithfully … for a couple of weeks. You know how it goes.  More seriously, there have been habits I know are not consistent with my love for God. In some moment of conviction, I swear that I will change; and I do…  for a few days or weeks. Alas, I confess that sometimes I slide back into the old ways. What then? Must I live in guilty fear, ashamed, loving God, but from a distance?
Let’s learn from an old story of amazing love! The Lord pled with His people to return to Him. “I thought to myself, ‘I would love to treat you as my own children!’ I wanted nothing more than to give you this beautiful land— the finest possession in the world. I looked forward to your calling me ‘Father,’ and I wanted you never to turn from me.
But you have been unfaithful to me, you people of Israel! You have been like a faithless wife who leaves her husband. I, the Lord, have spoken.”
Voices are heard high on the windswept mountains, the weeping and pleading of Israel’s people. For they have chosen crooked paths and have forgotten the Lord their God. “My wayward children,” says the Lord, “come back to me, and I will heal your wayward hearts.” “Yes, we’re coming,” the people reply, “for you are the Lord our God.” (Jeremiah 3:19-22, NLT)  
Again that final thought- Return, faithless people; I will cure you of backsliding.” “Yes, we will come to you, for you are the Lord our God.” (Jeremiah 3:22, NIV)
Spiritual fidelity cannot be sustained with raw determination or even behavior modification techniques. Every natural impulse tells us to get our act together and then to come and present ourselves to God. But, that is wrong. We bring our mess, our sin, our guilt, our shame to Him!  Yes, that is the way to be cured of backsliding. The Cross of Christ does not offer grace to the whole and holy. There God opened the way into His holy presence for sinners, even for backsliders. John’s familiar words are often addressed as though they were an invitation to those outside of the faith, but a closer reading shows them to be words for Believers, wonderful words of promise.
“If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves. A claim like that is errant nonsense. On the other hand, if we admit our sins—make a clean breast of them—he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing. If we claim that we’ve never sinned, we out-and-out contradict God—make a liar out of him. A claim like that only shows off our ignorance of God. I write this, dear children, to guide you out of sin. But if anyone does sin, we have a Priest-Friend in the presence of the Father: Jesus Christ, righteous Jesus. When he served as a sacrifice for our sins, he solved the sin problem for good—not only ours, but the whole world’s.” (1 John 1:8-2:2, The Message)
To whom does John write?  “We” meaning himself and those in the Church that would read his letter. It’s an offer to backsliders! “Come home. Own your failure.”  In that response of faith, the Spirit is given access to lead us forward. It’s so counter-intuitive to the way we normally attempt change, which is focused on trying harder. The Lord not only forgives, He coaches us into maturity and intimate love.  
Do not misunderstand. Our backsliding has consequence and invites the Lord’s judgment. One only has to read the prophecies of Jeremiah to know that sin brings judgment. However, He is a gracious God, who loves us.  God, the Master, The Holy of Israel, has this solemn counsel: “Your salvation requires you to turn back to me and stop your silly efforts to save yourselves. Your strength will come from settling down in complete dependence on me— The very thing you’ve been unwilling to do.” (Isaiah 30:15, The Message)
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Just as I am, without one plea
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou biddest me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!
Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!
Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome pardon cleanse relieve.
Because Thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God I come I come.
Just As I Am
Elliott, Charlotte / Bradbury, William B.

© Public Domain

Fool’s Gold

Pyrite is the classic “Fool’s Gold”. Pyrite is so common in the earth’s crust that it is found nearly everywhere. It’s golden look, however, has made more than a few people think they’ve stumbled onto a rich vein of gold! Iron sulfide is often found near actual gold deposits which compounded the confusion of early prospectors.

How easily we can be tricked by the fool’s gold of life! I’m not talking about the obvious glitter and glam of wealth or celebrity. God offers us a rich life, deeply satisfying; His gift to those who will walk in His ways and make Him their true God. Self offers us another kind of satisfaction when we make it our god. Feeding our desires can provide satisfaction, too; and often one that is more easily and quickly available than the satisfaction that comes from Christ. But like pyrite, what we think is worth our great effort, proves to be worthless. The great tragedy is that many do not realize that they are buying fool’s gold until their treasure is all spent.

Jeremiah challenged God’s people to reflect on their lives. My people have exchanged their Glory for worthless idols. Be appalled at this, O heavens, and shudder with great horror,” declares the Lord. “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” (Jeremiah 2:11-14, NIV)
“Your wickedness will punish you; your backsliding will rebuke you. Consider then and realize how evil and bitter it is for you when you forsake the Lord your God and have no awe of me,” declares the Lord, the Lord Almighty.” (Jeremiah 2:19, NIV)

Think today.

Have you mistaken speaking positive words for genuine faith in God?

Do you think you can find peace with God through being morally upright and somewhat nicer than the average person instead of through receiving the grace of Jesus Christ?

Are you chasing after a ‘spiritual’ experience that is nothing more than an emotional high, confusing the work of the Spirit with mere exhilaration?

Have you allowed yourself to remake God in your image and likeness (fool’s gold!) or are you humbly inviting the Holy Spirit to work a transformation of character in you – though it cost you dearly of the things most valued by others?

Follow the way of Christ. It is true treasure.

“The payoff for meekness and Fear-of-God is plenty and honor and a satisfying life.” (Proverbs 22:4, The Message)

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Onward, Christian Soldiers

The Tucson tragedy of last Saturday fills the news. A loner who apparently lost touch with reality shot 20 people, 6 of whom died, including a sweet child. As happens with all of these tragedies, the blame game is being played out in the public square. Some point at the guy’s parents who failed. The Dems tried to make it about over-heated political rhetoric from the Repubs that drove the murderer to his desperation. Others have decried the lack of strict gun laws that let him buy a deadly weapon. What I know is that God weeps along with us. At the root of this tragedy is the same evil that causes a billion people to lie down in sorrow each night!

Evil is real, friend. We ignore it to our peril. When we fail to name sin and evil for what it is, when we think it can be defeated with more laws, more spending on government programs, more education or economic opportunity, we are only kidding ourselves. It is the Gospel of Christ that changes individual people from sinners to saints, and it is those saints who bring the rule of Christ to this world, pushing back the borders of evil with the power of the Spirit who fills us with love. If we turn the Church of Jesus Christ into a “bless-me” holy huddle, a kind of religious country club where we can be isolated from the ugly realities of the world, we are failing and are saying to our world, though perhaps unknowingly and unconsciously, “Go to Hell!”

In recent years, many have rejected the old militant songs like “Onward, Christian Soldiers.” Too war-like, they say. Perhaps we need a refresher course in Jesus’ words that are quite clear about the true nature of our mission – the defeat of evil by the establishment of His reign. His kingdom is one of love; but it is not a ‘soft lights, violin music’ kind of love! It’s a bold love that advances against evil. We don’t attack people. That’s wrong. We bring Light to dark places, we love the unlovely, we sacrifice Self to serve the least, the lost, and the lonely that they might come to know the One who cares for their soul. We teach a Biblical world view that runs directly counter to the materialism that shapes the thoughts of most. By telling The Story that we learn in the Scripture, we defeat the sensuality that is the spirit of the age. Where Christians do the work of Christ, evil is curbed.

Take time to re-read these familiar words. I pray that they will create a sense of mission in us, that the Church of Jesus Christ will renew her commitment to the true work of building His Kingdom, defeating the powers of evil.

“Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.” (Matthew 7:15-20, NLT)

“Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27, NLT)

Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20, NLT)

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Onward, Christian soldiers,
Marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus
Going on before!
Christ, the royal Master,
Leads against the foe;
Forward into battle,
See His banners go!

At the sign of triumph,
Satan’s host doth flee;
On, then, Christian soldiers,
On to victory!
Hell’s foundations quiver
At the shouts of praise;
Brothers, lift your voices,
Loud your anthems raise!

Like a mighty army
Moves the Church of God:
Brothers, we are treading
Where the Saints have trod.
We are not divided,
All one body we:
One in hope and doctrine,
One in charity.

Crowns and thrones may perish,
Kingdoms rise and wane,
But the church of Jesus
Constant will remain.
Gates of Hell can never
‘Gainst the church prevail;
We have Christ’s own promise,
And that cannot fail.

Onward, Christian soldiers,
Marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus
Going on before!

Onward Christian Soldiers
Baring-Gould, Sabine / Sullivan, Arthur Seymour

© Public Domain