You’ll never see me in that church again!

Proverbs says “An offended friend is harder to win back than a fortified city. Arguments separate friends like a gate locked with bars.” (Proverbs 18:19, NLT)  Have you ever taken offense? I am talking about a time when you really dug into an angry posture of self-defense, when you fed a grudge against another by remembering it day and night, when you told anybody that would listen how badly you had been treated? It can be exhausting to keep that kind of thing going. Yet, so many of us do it.

American folklore includes the story of the Hatfields and the McCoys, two families that lived just across the river from each other on the Kentucky – West Virginia border. The feud was a real one that stretched out over 13 years from 1878 – 1891!  Nobody knows exactly what started it, but it probably was lingering difference over the Civil War, since one family had Confederate sympathies, the other was pro-Union. It escalated when a pig belonging to the McCoy’s wandered onto the land of the Hatfields and they claimed it as their own. 13 men were shot and killed during this ongoing feud!

A feuding Christian is a contradiction in terms! Jesus tells us that we cannot hang onto a grudge refusing to forgive and claim to be filled with the Spirit of God. It’s not negotiable, nor open for debate. In His model prayer, He teaches us to ask that God will “forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.” (Matthew 6:12, NLT) When you offend Him with your disobedience, do you want to be treated the same that you treat those who hurt or reject you? That’s the prayer’s intent.  Jesus won’t let us excuse our refusal to give up our offense. He goes on to say: “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15, NIV)

I feel such sorrow when I hear that someone has alienated himself from his family or his church over hurt feelings. Because of some difference over a decision, or a failure to remember a significant event, or somebody’s insensitive comment I have known people to say – “You’ll never see me in that church again.” Or, they cut themselves off from family gatherings, refusing invitations to events like holiday dinners. Nobody wins in those circumstances. There is only lingering pain and often the one who suffers most is the one who refuses to reconcile himself.

“Let it go” is wise counsel. Ask Christ to de-throne Self, to enlarge your heart, to increase grace in you. Trust Him for justice and give up all demands for fairness. Too hard, too much to ask? Not if God is our Father. Our true security and sense of well-being is found in His love, not in having our way or even in being treated as we think we deserve.

Here’s the word from the Word – “Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you. Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents.” (Ephesians 4:32-5:1, The Message)

 Will you let it go? Really, you can and you should; for God’s sake.

A person, not just a problem

I went to a meeting thinking I was going to take care of a ‘problem,’ but I left the room praying for a person! Before I spent time with him, he was only a name on paper, his situation just another one of those issues that needed to be cleared from my calendar. We need to remember that behind all the descriptive words we use, there is a person whose life is a tapestry of successes and failures. That rich dude, poor soul, smart gal, tall kid, black man, white guy has a name, a background, an experience, and real value as a person whom God loves.

If we desire to love as Jesus teaches, it will demand that we give names to faces, that we care about people more than programs, that we let ourselves be touched. It so easy to thunder against some sin in theory, but what a difference when that ‘sin’ is attached to a person in pain. For example, the Scripture is clear that God loves life and as the Creator gives dignity to every person including the unborn. That conviction makes me solidly against the practice of abortion. However, you will never find me screaming at a young woman outside of a clinic. Why? Because she is not just an object aborting a baby, she is a person in crisis. Does that make her choice less sinful? No! But, it demands a different response from me, a willingness to reach out with care, not condemnation.

On Sunday nights on CBS there’s a program named, “Undercover Boss.” A high level executive in a large company, often the owner or founder, takes an assumed identity and spends a week working at the front line level. Often the executive is moved to tears when he realizes how company policies are making life difficult, how little changes could make a real different for the people who are doing the job. He cares when he gets to know the real people that were just numbers on a spreadsheet in his office.

So, disciple, it’s time to meet people! You matter to God. How much? Jesus said “the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” (Luke 12:7, NIV) What? He’s just saying, God knows you very well! And, He loves you. So, do others matter to you? Do you love them enough to make them people about whom you will care, with whom you will become involved?

Here’s the word from the Word. It’s familiar, but take time to read it thoughtfully. Then, go love that person that yesterday was just a problem!

“See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him. Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is.” (1 John 3:1-2, NLT) “If we love our Christian brothers and sisters, it proves that we have passed from death to life. But a person who has no love is still dead.” (1 John 3:14, NLT)

“Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.” (1 John 3:18, NLT)

_______________

Using Things And Loving People

Using things and loving people
That’s the way it’s got to be
Using things and loving people
Look around and you can see
That loving things and using people
Only leads to misery
Using things and loving people
That’s the way it’s got to be

Being loved is in the giving
All we have is what we share
Loving life is for the living
You have to have a heart to care
And loving things and using people
Only leads to misery
Using things and loving people
That’s the way it’s got to be

So put your hand inside my hand
I don’t know where the road will lead
We may not find the things we want
But we will find the things we need
And all we need is love

Using things and loving people
Brings you happiness I’ve found
Using things and loving people
Not the other way around
‘Cause loving things and using people
Only leads to misery
Using things and loving people
That’s the way it’s got to be
For you and me

Written by: Hal David & Archie P. Jordan

Extending hospitality to the Devil?

On our cross-country drive from California to Maryland last August, we drove right through Las Vegas. I’d never been there so we pulled off the Interstate and onto the main drive where beautiful buildings stand shoulder to shoulder. Almost immediately, I felt a terrible sense of foreboding, a kind of repulsion that went deeper than a mere emotional response. There is a spiritual darkness that grips that city. It is a demon’s playground. The Holy Spirit living in me reacted to the spirit of ‘sin city.’ After just a few moments we turned around and got back on the road! The same reaction occurs in me when I meet a hate-filled person or enter a home where a TV is spewing vile content into the living room.

The Bible says that our actions can ‘grieve the Spirit of God.’ (Eph. 4:30) The Word goes on to explain that we make choices that extend hospitality to the Spirit or that makes Him feel unwelcome! “Do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. … Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:30-32, NLT) Another passage warns of giving ourselves over to violent anger which, if held onto, provides ‘the Devil with a foothold in your life.’

Do you take the spirit realm seriously?
Do you unwittingly extend hospitality to the Devil, inviting his demons to take up residence in your home, to work through your life?

Many years ago, when my children were teenagers, I distinctly remember praying for them to be kept from lives of sin and being impressed by the Holy Spirit about the importance of making our home a place of wholeness and holiness. Perhaps that sounds overly pious to you, but don’t misunderstand. We laughed a lot. We were not a monastery by a long shot. But, we were a holy house. We didn’t invite profanity to fill the air. We didn’t leave conflict unresolved. The music that filled our home glorified God. We consciously invited the Spirit. Many, many times people, even those who had no faith, remarked how peaceful they felt when they spent time in our home. Why? They sensed His Presence!

Disciple, does your life invite the Spirit of the Lord to ‘at home?’ Are you filled with the Spirit?

Jesus told a story that makes me shudder when I think of the implications. Read it thoughtfully, prayerfully. Then, if necessary, do some house cleaning. Make some priority decisions about what kind of music you will store in your Ipod, what kind of TV shows will play in your living rooms, what you will do about that old grudge, how you will deal with that habit that once troubled your conscience, but that is now ‘just me.’ Make your heart a home to Christ and you’ll never be at risk for what Jesus describes in this teaching.

“When a defiling evil spirit is expelled from someone, it drifts along through the desert looking for an oasis, some unsuspecting soul it can bedevil.
When it doesn’t find anyone, it says, ‘I’ll go back to my old haunt.’

On return it finds the person spotlessly clean, but vacant. It then runs out and rounds up seven other spirits more evil than itself and they all move in, whooping it up.

That person ends up far worse off than if he’d never gotten cleaned up in the first place. “That’s what this generation is like: You may think you have cleaned out the junk from your lives and gotten ready for God, but you weren’t hospitable to my kingdom message, and now all the devils are moving back in.” (Matthew 12:43-45, The Message)

____________________

“Become complete. Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.” (2 Corinthians 13:11, NKJV)

Protecting Me!

The speaker was blunt – “We are selfish. We want to be loved.” He talked of couples who get married pledging to love always ‘until death do us part,’ who are earnest in their declarations. Underlying those claims of love there are expectations built around self: “He will always be kind and make me feel special.” “She will be supportive and give me affection.” Unconsciously, those young lovers let self-love affect their concept of real love. That what sin does to us. It causes us to change the focus from God and others to Self. Even our best and most noble actions are generally tainted by some level of self-interest.

Our only hope of transformation is in the work of God. “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19, NIV) The Spirit moves on us, allowing us to glimpse the love of God, stirring faith. When we respond with obedience, we experience His love and it breaks us. For the first time we start to understand our basic selfishness. Then comes the challenge to let it go, to love radically and to trust God to take care of us. Our original nature, that part of us that is broken by sin’s Curse, is fearful. We know what God wants of us, but will we do it? Or, will Self be allowed to turn us inward? It comes down to answering the question, how big is God? If our God is small or remote or uncaring, we will most certainly need to be our own protector.

The ancient story of Abraham is about a man we call the ‘father of the faithful.’ Why? Because he believed God enough to let Him lead. He left all that was naturally safe, to own what was only a promise! When Abraham was focused on loving God, he was amazing! When he let his own instincts guide, he was a small man. This is no more clearly seen than the story of his abandonment of his wife to the Pharaoh’s harem to save his own skin! Read this little account for the lesson. “When Abram arrived in Egypt, everyone spoke of Sarai’s beauty. When the palace officials saw her, they sang her praises to Pharaoh, their king, and Sarai was taken into his palace. Then Pharaoh gave Abram many gifts because of her—sheep, goats, cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels. But the Lord sent terrible plagues upon Pharaoh and his household because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. So Pharaoh summoned Abram and accused him sharply. “What have you done to me?” he demanded. “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ and allow me to take her as my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and get out of here!” Pharaoh ordered some of his men to escort them, and he sent Abram out of the country, along with his wife and all his possessions.” (Genesis 12:14-20, NLT)

Before you condemn Abe, think of those moments in your own faith walk when you have chosen the route of self-protection that seemed expedient over the route of obedience to which Love pointed you. Every one of us has moments when we let fear replace faith, when the priority choice is ‘protecting me!’ The only way to live a consistently godly life is to be enveloped in His love. This allows us to abandon ourselves to the pursuit of God, to trust Him explicitly, and to obey Him radically.

Here is a word from the Word. As you read it, ask yourself – ‘Whose child am I?’

“Brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” (Romans 8:12-16, NIV)

________________

Abba, (Dad) I pray that Your Spirit will whisper of Your love
To my heart once again.
Many things conspire to cause me to fear for my safety.
Critics, circumstances I cannot understand, disappointments and missed expectations
Argue that You are far away, that I am forgotten; left to care for myself.
Tell me again, that You love me.
Show me the Cross and help me to hang onto the love of Christ Jesus
Which was shown there.
And, as You love me, I will love You with obedience.
Jesus, I thank you for grace and mercy. Amen.

“Will I find faith on the earth?” – Jesus

A study released this week predicted that Christianity would be ‘extinct’ in New Zealand, Australia, Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Switzerland when this generation dies off. One of the talking heads on cable TV spent much of two recent programs ranting against the truthfulness of the Bible claiming that it is a work of fiction that ‘no sane person would believe in its entirety.’ Several books written by atheists declaring the end of faith and the rise of reason have gained wider audiences suggesting a new popular interest in godlessness. Even Evangelical preachers in America seem intent on committing a kind of suicide, as they pull out their guns on their blogs and blaze away at each other over a recent book that suggests that we ought to re-examine our penchant for sending people to Hell given the Gospel’s great message of salvation through the Cross.

Don’t let all this noise get to you, disciple. The study about Christianity dying out ignores the astonishing increases of numbers of Christians in China, on the continent of Africa, and in Korea. The TV ranter reveals his ignorance about how to read the Bible. No real student of Scripture reads Revelation in the same way they read the Gospels! One is an allegory, the other history. Both are true, in their own genre. Atheism hangs on but only among a single digit percentage. Truthfully those who claim to be Christian but living unholy and uncommitted lives are much more of a concern to me than those who publish angry screeds fighting with a God they claim does not exist.

Jesus teaches His followers to stay steady through it all. “Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’ ” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:1-8, NIV)

Faith is neither simple, nor easy. It is a precious gift from God that must be nourished by obedience. Studying from the book of Exodus and the sins of the Israelites who God delivered from slavery in Egypt and called to become His own holy people, we need to learn a radical kind of dependence, a willingness to look past our cravings for self-satisfaction to find and live in the will of our Father. Failure and subsequent falls into sin always begin with unbelief! God does not ask us to suspend reason, nor does He demand that we enter a world of madness where we live in silly superstition. That is not faith.

The Lord offers us an assurance of His salvation, a destiny in His eternal home, and a life that is marked by purpose but only if we will let Him lead us. “Trust Me,” He says. That phrase is genuinely frightening when it comes from someone who motives and intentions are unknown. When God invites us to trust Him we need not fear, at all. He is good. He is loving. He cannot fail. So, will you let faith flourish?

Even when the world is shaking (and it literally has been doing that recently) and the opponents of faith are screaming, let’s go to the Father and renew our hope. “Will not God bring about justice for His chosen ones?” Yes, but will we remain faithful until it comes? That’s the question.

_______________

Let Your Glory Fall

Father of creation
Unfold Your sov’reign plan
Raise up a chosen generation
That will march through the land
All of creation is longing
For Your unveiling of pow’r
Would You release Your anointing
Oh God let this be the hour

Ruler of the nations
The world has yet to see
The full release of Your promise
The church in victory
Turn to us Lord and touch us
Make us strong in Your might
Overcome our weakness
That we could stand up and fight

Let Your glory fall
In this room
Let it go forth from here
To the nations
Let Your fragrance rest
In this place
As we gather to seek Your face

© 1992 Mercy / Vineyard Publishing (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)
David Ruis
CCLI License No. 810055

To a woman of excellence

Today is my wife’s birthday. Were you to guess which one after seeing her, you would probably miss it by at least a decade. God and DNA have been much kinder to Bev than me but I don’t mind, not even a little bit. She is a gift from the Lord to me, more treasured with each passing year, my complement in every sense of the word! I sang “Happy Birthday” softly to her in the darkness this morning and reminded her that we are a team, inseparable, stronger together by far than we could ever be apart. In that moment, all was right with my world: God in His Heaven, my love at my side.

To watch her in her work- be it teaching her first graders, leading a chapel worship session, or conducting a woman’s Bible class – is to see grace in action. Her diligence is phenomenal in every season, no matter what’s going on in her life. She loves me quietly with steady affection. She’s not one to hang all over me in a crowd, but she will rise to my defense like a lioness. She prays for her family and is my able advocate before the Lord. She offers counsel to me that comes from a place of reflection and submission to the Spirit. And, she’s beautiful.

The familiar passage in Proverbs describes her accurately. It says, “She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future. When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness. She carefully watches everything in her household and suffers nothing from laziness. Her children stand and bless her. Her husband praises her: “There are many virtuous and capable women in the world, but you surpass them all!” Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised. Reward her for all she has done. Let her deeds publicly declare her praise.” (Proverbs 31:25-32, NLT)

She’s tender, still given to tears when overwhelmed by life’s sorrows; and she’s tough, resilient in the face of critics and the stormy times that blow through every life. She’s sometimes thought to be fragile, but she’s actually quite strong like steel covered with velvet. She’s not perfect, but she knows her weaknesses and let’s God work in those very places. I am blessed and thankful that the Lord gave me this gift and today I say, “Happy Birthday. The world was blessed when you were born!”

I’ll always remember the song they were playing,
The first time we danced and I knew.
As we swayed to the music and held to each other,
I fell in love with you.


Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?
Would you be my partner, every night?
When we’re together it feels so right,
Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?


I’ll always remember that magic moment,
When I held you close to me.
As we moved together, I knew, forever,
You’re all I’ll ever need.


Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?
Would you be my partner, every night?
When we’re together it feels so right,
Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?

– Annie Murray

What can I do for God?

My phone rang at dinner time. A scared voice announced, ‘Me and my friends got no place to sleep tonight. Belvidere (the county welfare office) blew us off. Can you help us, father?’ I drove to where these young adults stood in the rain, cold and miserable, and took them to a local motel where I was able to secure a room for them. They had not eaten all day, so I bought them a couple of pizzas. Driving home I mused about their situation. Sure, they were warm and fed for one night, but they had greater needs for loving guidance, for help with life skills. I’ll probably spend some more time with them today to see if there is a way to point them in the right direction.

Cynics might say that getting involved with those that society has written off as ‘losers’ is a waste of time. I’m not naïve and know that I get ‘used’ by people looking for a quick fix to problems they have created for themselves by sinful or unwise decisions. But, my rule is one Jesus taught, “Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:30-31, NIV) To me, this is ministry that is just as important as preaching the sermon in church on Sunday morning. It is a point where the Gospel of Christ becomes more than an idea! It happens because I am available and willing to participate in His work.

The one question I am asked by God’s people more than any other is “what can I do for God?” Further conversation usually reveals that the inquirer is looking for a ministry role, something to do in church work. I am so very thankful that they want to help with teaching or music ministry or leadership. However, ‘doing for God’ doesn’t need my blessing, nor does it require holding a position in the church’s structure of ministries. We all can do His work and will have plenty to do, if we open our eyes, pay attention to the people around us, and are willing to love. One day, after He had engaged a sinful woman at a well in Samaria, bringing her to a moment of heart change, Jesus urged his friends to change their perspective. Instead of thinking God’s time and God’s work was in another time and place, He said, “I’m telling you to open your eyes and take a good look at what’s right in front of you. These Samaritan fields are ripe. It’s harvest time!” (John 4:35, The Message)

Want to do God’s work? His only requirement is availability. That’s not as easy as it sounds! It’s not an activity for the occasional evening. It’s a way of life birthed in a prayer that says, “Lord, here I am. Use me.” He won’t wait until it’s convenient to call on us. He won’t let us only do His work when we have time, or wait until we have ‘enough’ (whatever that is), or choose to work in the way that we think is fun or attractive to our personality. He calls us to serve, with no reserve.

There is no joy that is greater than becoming a participant in the work of the Lord, right where you are. Having the privilege of praying with someone whose heart is broken, of giving a meal to someone who is hungry, of sharing the hope of new life in Christ with someone who is hopeless – is to feel the smile of your Father in Heaven. What compares with His favor?

Here’s a word from the Word. May it inspire us.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:31-40, NIV)
_____________

True Religion

You came for the lost the sick and the blind,
With salvation and hope You gave to us free.
So, what will we do with this treasure we hold?

Let justice roll on like a river!
Let mercy shine bright as the sun!
Take care of the orphan and widow,
Take care of our own flesh and blood.



‘Cause this is the way that You’ve call us to love,
To share what we have with the hungry and poor,
Put clothes on the naked,
And heal up the broken and torn;
True religion!

© 2008 Mercy / Vineyard Publishing (Admin. by Music Services)
Ryan Delmore
CCLI License No. 810055

Can you see Him in me?

Harry was in his late 70’s when I first met him. Despite 30 years difference in our ages, I eagerly anticipated times that we spent together. Harry represented Jesus wherever he went because he belonged to Him and loved Him more than life itself. He carried a little notebook which he would pull out from time to time and say, “let me tell you what the Lord and I have been discussing.” Then, he would share some insight he had gleaned from reading Scripture or meditation. Lest you think he was preachy or religious, let me quickly tell you that Harry was neither. Mostly, he was loving, encouraging to kids and octogenarians, men and women, sinners and saints. He was equally at home among the firefighters with whom he served and at a table of preachers. I cannot remember a visit with Harry that wasn’t challenging, or inspiring, or comforting! He was an ambassador for his King.

The Bible says, “We are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!”” (2 Corinthians 5:20, NLT) An ambassador gives up the right to speak his own mind when he accepts the privilege of representing his Sovereign. If he becomes too independent, if he confuses his own policies with those of the nation he represents, he will be recalled from service. Harry was a great ambassador of Christ! Are you?

When others spend time with you is it obvious that you have spent time with Jesus? Peter and John were hauled before the ruling council of Jerusalem and after a lengthy interrogation the council reaching this conclusion: “these men had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13) His love, wisdom, strength, and character had become theirs.

Just being sanctimonious or religious is not at all what we’re aiming for. I have had to spend time with people trying too hard to be like Jesus without actually having spent much time in His Presence. It came off as forced, phony; a weird and ugly parody of the Christian life. The words were right, but the tone was wrong. You can’t fake love; well, not for long anyway. I want to be an authentic disciple of Jesus who has been with Him in prayer at the beginning of each day so that He will be with me. It is important to humble myself before, to listen for His voice so that Self remains submitted to the Spirit. How quickly life becomes about our plans, our reputation, our feelings unless we are before His throne regularly and often. When I fail to take time to pray, the likeness of Christ is eclipsed by the ego of Jerry.

Ask a trusted, mature Christian: can you see Jesus in me?

Here’s a word from the Word that reveals the key to being a person like Harry, a real ambassador of Christ.
“I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn’t bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken.

“Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me.

“I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing.” (John 15:1-6, The Message)
_______________

Let the beauty of Jesus
Be seen in me;
All His wonderful passion
And purity.
O, Thou Spirit divine,
All my nature refine,
‘Til the beauty of Jesus
Be seen in me.

© 1943. Renewed 1970 Word Music, LLC
Albert Orsborn
Bentley DeForest Ackley
CCLI License No. 810055

Do Hard Things!

While looking over a landscape yesterday, I joked – “If this were my yard, I’d bring in a bulldozer.” What others might see as beauty, I view only as a ton of work in the sun, while perspiring, and having bugs buzzing around my eyes! I really dislike yard work. My aversion to perspiration has nothing to do with inability; it is not because I cannot; I simply will not. I simply refuse to do the hard thing. But, when my wife’s urging overcomes my reluctance, I enjoy a well-maintained landscape as much as anyone, and somehow when the job is done, I am glad I was pushed to do it!

A disciplined life has many rewards.
· A person who knows how to budget and control spending finds himself with more discretionary funds! Instead of always paying off his credit cards (and the awful interest that goes with poor stewardship practices) he is able to make more choices including more generosity.
· A person who regularly prays enjoys the benefit of current conversation with God. The Lord is a true Friend.
· A person who makes participation at his local church a priority even when the sun shines on the golf course builds great community that pays rich dividends when life goes suddenly into reverse (and it will, sooner or later).

Jesus urges us to take on challenges that are hard. He says:  “Forgive those who do you wrong! Love your enemies! Practice your generosity without telling anybody. Live for Heaven, not just for your next meal. Deal with your own sin before you try to deal with that of others. Follow me!” The Bible says- “Keep a tight rein on your words. Don’t use filthy speech. Trust God when it’s dark. Endure hardship. Give thanks always.” Are these hard things? Yes, they are.

Here’s what we must remember. Living the Christian life, while demanding discipline, is not just about gritting our teeth and doing what we hate to do.  It is about presenting ourselves to Christ and receiving the Holy Spirit. As He lives in us, He causes us to love godly things and, if only we’ll taste them, causes us to see the pleasure that is found in doing the will of God. The issue is making the faith choice. Will you do hard things believing God for the reward? Or, we you make an excuse why you can’t, and never discover what He’s planned for you to know?

Most of us have some ‘will nots’ in our lives. There are things we do not do because they are difficult or unpleasant. We could do them and even know, in many cases, we should be doing them, but we will not. God does not spare our feelings with regard to refusal to do hard things. He says that “Anyone who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” (James 4:17, NIV)

The Coach of Heaven (the Holy Spirit who lives in us) stands ready to help us succeed. Jesus said that the Spirit will speak to us, teaching us, leading us, comforting and calling us. Let’s encourage one another, too. “For as long as it’s still God’s Today, keep each other on your toes so sin doesn’t slow down your reflexes.” (Hebrews 3:13, The Message)

Here’s a word from the Word that will urge you on when you find yourself wanting to refuse God’s invitation to do the hard things. “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-25, NIV)

By the way, I won’t be getting that bulldozer. Pass me the hedge clippers, please!

A Monarch in name only?

As I continue my faith walk of which I wrote yesterday, the issue of letting God rule my life becomes the issue. There is the temptation to treat God much as England treats her royals, as a figure-head only. The actual power in the English government rests in Parliament and leadership belongs to the Prime Minister. The Queen shares the pomp given to kings of earlier eras, but unlike those monarchs she has no authority to unilaterally set the course of the nation. Spiritually, I claim that the Lord as King of my life. The question is whether my actions back up my rhetoric. Do I bow before Him in courteous display of fealty only to rise and do my own will?

Among the blessings of a 4 decade long walk with the Lord is that I have enough perspective to see how God has worked quietly and persistently; yes, sovereignly, to accomplish His will and bless me. Many years ago I had to leave a ministry position I loved due to strife caused in part by my own immaturity! The ministry to which I went was small, a struggling work. At that moment it appeared that God had put me on a side track, that He was finished with me. Some even bluntly told me that my failing had brought the judgment of the Lord on me. Hindsight reveals that God was using an apparent demotion for greater good. In that year of broken earthly dreams I learned much in the school of faith. The Lord used a place of lesser responsibility to do deep heart work in me, to bring new life to my marriage, and to make me a better father. 23 years after the event, I can see what He was doing clearly. At the time, I could only trust Him, and oh what a struggle it was in those dark moments. There were many days when my only prayer was borrowed from Jesus’ model: “let Your kingdom come, let Your will be done.”

The Word promises “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me.” That promise prompts this prayer; “Your love, O Lord, endures forever— do not abandon the works of your hands.” (Psalm 138:8, NIV) In our Bible study last night, this theme emerged – “Even when man fails, God’s will prevails.” It’s true! That is not a simple truth. To own it as a principle to live by demands the gift of faith and an active response of obedience. Amazingly, He does not abandon us when we fail. Instead He sovereignly takes those failures, when we confess them and place them in His hands, and weaves them into His declared purpose. What assurance, what wondrous peace comes from resting on His promise to fulfill His purposes in me.

Will you give up your demand to understand the ‘why’ of every situation, to kneel before your King and give Him the worship He deserves?
Will you trust Him enough to surrender your own will and embrace His?

Disciple, I am not writing about taking up a call to some faraway place or about beginning a new church, or establishing a great ministry. God’s sovereign will for you and me begins with things that are much more basic, things like; forgiveness for those who hurt us, love for our enemies, generosity over selfishness, service over being served. When He is Lord of those things, He can lead us into greater works!

Here’s a word from the Word. May we receive it with faith so that we might live in joy.

“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”

Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy.
When the Lord returns to Zion, they will see it with their own eyes.
Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem,
for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.


The Lord will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.”
(Isaiah 52:7-10, NIV)