Hurricanes and tthe Spirit’s Power


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When Irene blew through on Sunday at 4 am the house appliances suddenly went dead still.  As I awakened the  only sound was the wind whipping the trees and the rain lashing the windows. Power was gone. Who thinks of the joy of flipping a light switch? Who remembers the pleasure of running water?  Our power was restored in 8 hours. Some of my friends are told they will wait 8 days for their electricity to be restored. Our lives demand the continuity of those copper strands that carry the juice to our pumps, refrigerators, stoves, and computers.
A man in the Bible lost power, too. For twenty years, he walked in the power of the Spirit, leading the people of the Lord, doing mighty exploits. Over time, he started to take the power for granted, assuming it would always be there. Increasingly, he walked in selfishness, abusing the call of God and the vows taken for him. Samson laid his head in the lap of a gorgeous pagan woman; captivated by her shining black hair, her dark brown eyes. He knew he should be back in Israel, but the women there just did not seem to share the beauty of the Philistine women. Delilah’s hands caressed Samson’s long hair, the sign of his Nazarite vows that set him in a unique group of men belonging exclusively to the LORD. “Why won’t you tell me the source of your power?” she whined. Finally, he gave in, shared the story of his vows. As he slept she cut off his hair. The next few verses are arresting! “And she said, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And he awoke out of his sleep, and said, I will go out as at other times before, and shake myself. And he wist not that the LORD was departed from him. But the Philistines took him, and put out his eyes, and brought him down to Gaza, and bound him with fetters of brass; and he did grind in the prison house.” (Judges 16:20-21, KJV)
And he wist not that the LORD was departed.”  He didn’t know that God had said enough, shut off the power of the Spirit, and withdrew His anointing.
Disciple, are you taking the Spirit’s Presence and power seriously?  Have you lived so long in the blessing of the Lord, with the assurance of life, with the ability to pray, that you have become completely unaware of the Spirit who empowers you?  Have you grown casual about obedience, lax in prayer, and lazy about the disciplines of the Spirit that allow renewal of your strength?  You could one day wake up to silence, alone, drifting beyond the fellowship of the Spirit. As evil approaches you will only then realize that God’s Presence is gone and feel the terror of the ‘fetters of brass’ slapped on your soul as the Devil puts you to work in his terrible prison.
The Scripture urges us to walk near to the Lord, not because we are in terror of being abandoned, but because we love His powerful Presence. “We must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away from it. …  what makes us think we can escape if we ignore this great salvation that was first announced by the Lord Jesus himself and then delivered to us by those who heard him speak?” (Hebrews 2:1-4, NLT)
The one who trusts in the LORD, whose heart is renewed in faith everyday, never awakens to silence. He may awaken to the sound of a hurricane of testing and trial. He may walk in the dark of the storm, but he never suddenly feels alone for he loves and follows the One who promised to walk with us.
Here’s a word from the Word. May you find new reason to stay faithful, to walk in the power of the Spirit.  “So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised. “For in just a little while, the Coming One will come and not delay. And my righteous ones will live by faith. But I will take no pleasure in anyone who turns away.” (Hebrews 10:35-38, NLT)

Rubbing shoulders, Eating Dinner – Being the people of God

When I was a young preacher, long on zeal and short on experience, the Lord arranged through circumstances too detailed to talk about now, for me to meet another seasoned Pastor. He lovingly accepted me – for who I was. He took me under his wing. For a year, David and I rubbed shoulders, exchanged ideas, and my life was changed in a big way. I don’t remember a single sermon he preached, but I remember our time together; talks over a table at the coffee shop. It’s just one chapter in my life, but the effect of that year in 1977 is evident in my life to this day.
The Bible says “to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.” (Ephesians 4:7, NIV) Christ calls us to know Him and gives us the gift of the Spirit, but not just to enrich us individually! The passage from which that phrase comes is all about the importance of being part of the Church. The Spirit urges us to “keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit.” Individually blessed with a spiritual gift, we are called into the church, the ‘ekklesia,‘ God’s gathering.  
Do you think of the Church community only functionally, only about doing the work of God together? Ephesians 4, quoted above, says that every Christian fits into God’s Church and that the Holy Spirit gives each one a way to make a unique contribution to the work of God, but this goes way beyond ‘function!’  In the Church, you are valuable, not only for ‘what you do.’ Even more important is ‘who you are!’ Your very presence among the people of the Lord will most certainly have an effect on those with whom you rub shoulders. Only together can we make Christ known, shining as bright lights in a dark world!
Eugene Petersen, a pastor of many years, best known for his work in bringing us the Bible translation – The Message – writes about the way we best influence those around for God and good. “Jesus didn’t drop pearls (of wisdom) around Galilee for people as clues to find their way to God. … He ate meals with them. And you can do what Jesus did.” (The Pastor: A Memoir, HarperCollins, 2011) We think we change the life of another with by correcting or instructing. Really, we lead by loving!
Are you connected? Petersen asks, “Is it possible to live in this increasingly inhospitable world in a hospitable way? Is it possible to do something focused and intentional about what is wrong in our society without turning the wrong-doers into the enemy?” (ibid) His answer; gather people at the table for a meal and invite them to the table of Christ!
Here is a word from the Word. I hope we will take it seriously and get intentional about rubbing shoulders, eating dinner, as we are God’s people. “Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!” (Hebrews 13:2, NLT)

So sophisticated, aren’t they?

Worldly sophistication; it is so seductive. You own it by cultivating the right look, the right tastes in fashion and music, the right kind of attitude- slightly bored, ever cynical. But the glitter is superficial for sophisticates do not have the richness of character that belongs to the wise. A few moments with one truly wise makes a person feel like he’s reached solid ground, found a treasure.  Sophistication is to wisdom what pyrites are to gold. Pyrites are a brass-colored mineral commonly called ‘fool’s gold.’ Though it gleams, it is essentially worthless. It can deceive those looking for the real thing at first. Just a little bit of heat quickly reveals the difference between real gold and iron pyrites! The authenticity of the character of the wise is revealed in the fiery tests of life.

The Bible points us down the road of wisdom. It does not necessarily run through Princeton’s portals! The Word says that ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom!” Here’s the context of that statement.
“Wisdom has built her spacious house with seven pillars. She has prepared a great banquet, mixed the wines, and set the table. She has sent her servants to invite everyone to come. She calls out from the heights overlooking the city. “Come home with me,” she urges the simple. To those without good judgment, she says, “Come, eat my food, and drink the wine I have mixed. Leave your foolish ways behind, and begin to live; learn how to be wise.” Anyone who rebukes a mocker will get a smart retort. Anyone who rebukes the wicked will get hurt. So don’t bother rebuking mockers; they will only hate you. But the wise, when rebuked, will love you all the more. Teach the wise, and they will be wiser. Teach the righteous, and they will learn more. Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
Knowledge of the Holy One results in understanding. Wisdom will multiply your days and add years to your life. If you become wise, you will be the one to benefit. If you scorn wisdom, you will be the one to suffer.” (Proverbs 9:1-12, NLT)

God invites us to His counsel. He says, “live with humility, with integrity, with obedience. This is wisdom.” Sophisticates learn how to project their power, to shrewdly navigate legalities that protect their profit, to work at being submissive to no one.  Those who are ‘wise in their own eyes’ mock their counselors. Sophisticates appear often to be ‘winning’ at life!

In the 73rd Psalm, the writer opens his song with a lament over the apparent success of those who are wise to the ways of the world. “Pretentious with arrogance, they wear the latest fashions in violence, Pampered and overfed, decked out in silk bows of silliness. They jeer, using words to kill; they bully their way with words. They’re full of hot air, loudmouths disturbing the peace. People actually listen to them—can you believe it? Like thirsty puppies, they lap up their words.” (Psalm 73:6-10, The Message)
As he settles himself in prayer, considering the promises and eternal values of God, he discerns that true wisdom is better than momentary acclaim. “When I was beleaguered and bitter, totally consumed by envy, I was totally ignorant, a dumb ox in your very presence. I’m still in your presence, but you’ve taken my hand. You wisely and tenderly lead me, and then you bless me. You’re all I want in heaven! You’re all I want on earth!” (Psalm 73:21-25, The Message)

Do you desire wisdom? Then, invite the Holy Spirit to lead you to His table. Open the Word and let the counsel of God transform your mind with wisdom. Though some may regard you with contempt because you do not adopt the superficial pretensions of the wisdom of the age, do not be deterred. “Wisdom will multiply your days!

If you lack knowledge, go to school.
If you lack wisdom, get on your knees!
Knowledge is not wisdom.

Wisdom is the proper use of knowledge.
    – Vance Havner
Here’s a word from the Word, May this passage increase your hunger for wisdom.
“Choose my instruction instead of silver, knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her. “I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence; I possess knowledge and discretion. To fear the Lord is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech. Counsel and sound judgment are mine; I have understanding and power. … by me princes govern, and all nobles who rule on earth. I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me. With me are riches and honor, enduring wealth and prosperity.”
(Proverbs 8:10-14; 16-18, NIV)

Cursing the Hard Times

The tough times are the growth times! I don’t like them, you don’t either, but without them we would be shallow people. So, you’re saying “That’s just fine with me. If I am shallow and don’t know it, what’s the harm in that?”  Do you really want to be a person who spends hours on his hair and the shine on his car, who looks at women as a collection of body parts, and who thinks the good life is getting drunk while watching sports on TV? Is that really all right with you?

Desperate times can free us from our preoccupation with sex, food, and stuff;  forcing us to reach out to actually love somebody, making us consider the claims of God on our lives. And, yes, I am convinced that hard times can wean us from our love of this present world, helping us to yearn for Heaven as our true home.

Here’s the wisdom of a man who knew suffering well. “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-6, NLT)  Paul wrote that after enduring terrible persecution for preaching the Gospel. It was so bad he reported that “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.” (2 Corinthians 1:8, NIV) 

Suffering does not always ennoble a person! Those who do not receive it with faith, who will not allow the Spirit of God to work in them with grace, turn into mean, miserable people. The difference is hope. Suffering that is tempered with hope is transformational. When met with despair, suffering destroys the human spirit. In the middle of the deadly persecution, Paul said that he made a decision to truth the Lord. “Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us.” (2 Corinthians 1:9-10, NKJV) 

Are you going through something hard?  Rejection, illness, misunderstanding, journeying in a dry desert spiritually, financial struggles, feelings of worthlessness – are common human experiences. How will you meet this moment? Will you rail at the darkness, curse God for not doing what you think He ought to do? Or, will you pray for faith and wait patiently on God? It will not be easy, it will not be without pain, it will not produce instant results. But, from hopeful faith a deeper, more beautiful, tender life is born, one that looks like Jesus.
Here’s a word from the Word. Pray it! “Prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do.” (1 Peter 1:13-15, NIV)
_____________

I’m trading my sorrows.
I’m trading my shame.
I’m laying them down
For the joy of the Lord.
I’m trading my sickness.
I’m trading my pain.
I’m laying them down
For the joy of the Lord.
Yes, Lord, yes, Lord,
Yes, yes, Lord.
Yes, Lord, yes, Lord,
Yes, yes, Lord.
Yes, Lord, yes, Lord,
Yes, yes, Lord, amen.

I am pressed but not crushed,
Persecuted, not abandoned,
Struck down but not destroyed.
I am blessed beyond the curse
For His promise will endure,
That His joy’s gonna be my strength.

Though the sorrow
May last for the night,
His joy comes
With the morning.

Trading My Sorrows

Evans, Darrell
© 1998 Integrity’s Hosanna! Music (c/o Integrity Music, Inc.)
CCLI License No. 810055

Earthquake!


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Earthquake!
Californians are smiling at us here in the Northeast United States. A 5.9 quake hit on Tuesday just before 2 in the afternoon. We emptied out of buildings, clogged phone lines, and literally got ‘all shook up!’  I’ll own up to my fear. When the pictures on my office walls started tapping, the building groaned with stress, and my chair moved without any hand touching it, it was unlike anything I have ever experienced. The ‘solid ground’ was jelly for a few seconds. That’s frightening. Interestingly, several of my Christian friends asked if this strange experience was a harbinger of the ‘last days.’ My secretary called her elderly Italian grandmother who lapsed into her native tongue speaking of the ‘apocalisse.’
The strangely awesome experience speaks to me about my small place in the world. It shook me free, yet again, from my illusions of control. It was my first earthquake, but certainly not the first shaking of my world. Periodically, things happen that are beyond my ability to manage and I hear the voice of the Spirit say, “I am God and you are not.”  The prophet boldly declares, “The LORD also shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake: but the LORD will be the hope of his people, and the strength of the children of Israel.” (Joel 3:16, KJV)
Disciple, is your hope resting squarely on the immoveable Rock of our salvation?  
Is His Word the truth around which you make your daily choices?
We loudly sing, “On Christ the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand,” but live as though life will go on forever, building our houses on the sandy soil of this world. We gather treasure, scurry about working feverishly, anxiously fretting about our place in this world. I am guilty as charged!  Too often my work as a Pastor is much more about managing the business of a religious organization than it is about shepherding the flock of God. I am way too concerned about how many are in the pew and how much is in the offering plate. When those metrics are not reaching expectations, my first impulse is to re-double my efforts, to work harder than I already do, as if making a bigger cloud of dust will somehow assure my ‘success’ in life.  Then comes the earthquake.
10 minutes after the ‘quake, I walked through the sanctuary and realized that if the earth had shaken just a bit harder or for a few more seconds, the building I so carefully tend probably would have crumbled! Later, in my prayerful reflection, it became clearer to me that if the American economy collapses, and it is fragile needing only a tremor or two to come tumbling down, the enterprise I lead will lose the funds I so carefully manage. “The Lord will be the HOPE of His people!” 
I renew my hope in Him. May my life be defined, not by what I own, who I know, or what I have done. My prayer is to be His servant, so that no matter the scale of the ‘quake I stand secure in eternal hope.  Here’s a word from the Word. Lord, challenge and comfort us with Your Truth. Amen.
“For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.” (1 Corinthians 15:22-24, NIV)  “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58, NIV)
______________
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.
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

What kind of love is that?


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In his book, The Pastor, Eugene Petersen has a chapter about his Uncle Sven, a man he never knew except through the stories his mother told. Sven was her favorite brother, 20 years older than she was. She told about a dashing, charismatic man that everybody loved. As an adult Eugene discovered that there was another side to the man. He was murdered by his wife after he came in drunk and sullen, abusing her yet again. A jury refused to convict her calling her choice to shoot him “justifiable homicide.”  Which picture was an accurate portrayal of Uncle Sven? In fact, he was both – a charming man and a cruel, drunken lout. Like all of us, he did not fit neatly into a little box of definitions.
The Bible has a story about a man who was called “a man after God’s own heart,” who was capable of stealing a trusted friend’s wife, plotting his murder, and trying to keep it quiet. This same man penned many of the most beautiful songs of the Scripture including the one that opens with the phrase, “The Lord is my shepherd.”  Was David a saint or a rogue? Both!  His sins were spectacular, his repentance heartfelt. Many of would likely refuse to be a friend with David if he attended our church or lived in our neighborhood. We probably would say, “why doesn’t he pull his act together?”
Life and the people living it are incredibly complex and that is why Jesus urges us to deep love which the Bible says “covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8, NIV) We are not being told to sweep it all under the rug! We live a life of patient love that allows grace to mature, full of a love that “is not easily angered, keeps no record of wrongs. … always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:5-7, NIV)
Some churches choose to create a culture of superficial ‘holiness.’  It is simple to understand – do this, don’t do that- dealing in stark black and white. It makes clear who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out.’  It tolerates no ambiguity of human nature. A first glance finds a church like that neat and tidy, no messed up people to deal with, no struggles apparent. But, all is not what it seems. Life refuses our quick fixes. People are not healed with formulas of behavior. My point today is not to excuse sin or justify hypocrisy. I simply want to remind myself and you that it is a fool’s game to think that people are simple to understand or that everything can be explained in simple terms. Some think the world would be easier to navigate if life were starkly black and white, no shades of gray. There would be good people and bad people, right choices and wrong ones. Doing good things would always bring good in return and nice guys would really finish first. But, it is simply not so.  Peterson quotes H. L. Mencken: “For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”
The true life of the Spirit is one of patience, one that understands that God judges none of us based on the actions of a simple moment. Amazingly and wonderfully, He sees us in the totality of our experience. He alone is capable of tracing the threads of today’s thought back through the tangles of yesterday and the yesterdays before that. That is sobering, too, for it leaves us without excuse when He offers us grace and leads us to change. We cannot hide behind any rationale, person, or hypocrisy. In a word that sobers and comforts, we find this assurance. “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:12-13, NIV)
May the Lord help us to pursue holiness, matched with love, and patiently wait for the completion of His work in us and our brothers.

One size fits all?


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One size fits all?
I appreciate clothing that fits well. I’m not much on style, preferring boring earth tones and plain dress, but when the fit is wrong, it irritates me. So, on those occasions when some article is advertised as ‘one size fits all,’ I smile and pass it by!  Some Christians bring that same idea to their practice of the faith. Their presentation of the Gospel never adapts to the person, place, or culture. What worked in one place or time becomes ‘the way it’s done.’ That’s not only foolish, it ignores the examples of the Scripture.
Paul said “When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ. When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings.” (1 Corinthians 9:21-23, NLT)  His personal preference, his place of comfort was squarely in the center of the Jewish traditions that had shaped his life from his childhood, but he was willing and able to step outside of those ways to reach out to Greeks and Romans to communicate Christ’s love in a manner they could understand.
Yes, some use that passage as an excuse to dive into the murky waters of sin. Paul was not suggesting we join the party and get drunk, that we sit down at the table of those who scheme to oppress the poor and endorse their greed, or that we adopt the profanity of the street to reach those who live there. But, he did not share the separatist ideas of the Pharisees among whom he had once walked either, men who openly showed their sense of disdain for those they considered sinners too far gone for the mercy of God, who prayed: ”I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else.” (Luke 18:11, NLT)
We cannot truly reach people with the Gospel IF we regard them as ‘those people’ with condescension! Increasingly, over the years, the Lord has worked in my life to help me to understand and identify with ‘the others’ that I once thought were beyond my reach. Often He has done this by breaking me, by bringing me into circumstances that revealed that in spite of superficial differences, I share a common human experience with those of varying background, race, education, and economic status. And the Gospel of Christ finds application to each one, in a very different way despite being an unchanging Truth!
Disciple, we are all called to the work of taking the Good News of God’s love and eternal life in Christ to our world. Jesus’ mission statement is not for some elite squad of super-Christians. It’s our mission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.” (Matthew 28:19-20, NKJV) But, one size does not fit all. Let the Spirit teach you how to love people where they are, how to identify with them at their point of need, how to communicate in a way they can understand.
Jude offers this which the word from the Word.  May it warn and inform us for this day. “Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.” (Jude 21-23, NIV)
______________
Out in the highways and byways of life,
Many are weary and sad.
Carry the sunshine where darkness is rife,
Making the sorrowing glad.
Tell the sweet story of Christ and His love;
Tell of His pow’r to forgive.
Others will trust Him if only you prove true
Every moment you live.
Make me a blessing, Make me a blessing,
Out of my life may Jesus shine;
Make me a blessing, O Savior I pray,
Make me a blessing to someone today.
Make Me A Blessing
Wilson, Ira B. / Schuler, George S.
© 1924. Renewed 1952 Word Music, Inc. (a div. of Word Music Group, Inc.)
CCLI License No. 810055

Too Weak to Take Jericho?



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Vital Christianity is not for the faint of heart!  George Wood, who heads the Assemblies of God, recounted the story of a missionary family who went to Burkina Faso decades ago. A young couple with a newborn baby boy, the Halls, took their call to Africa in an age of slow ships and limited communications. Once in the village to which they felt God was sending them, they struggled. Their little son fell ill and, after several days, died. A weak commitment might have allowed them to quit and take their broken hearts home, but instead they buried the child, and stayed! The people, almost all of whom had buried babies due to various illnesses, felt a new relationship with the missionaries. In 2011, more than a million people in that nation are part of the Assemblies of God ministries. Strength and courage planted a seed that God made grow.
There is a myth that persists among Christians that the call of God always means He will part the waters, calm the tempest, and send the sun to shine. Many are convinced that living in the power of the Holy Spirit, which is the birthright of the children of God, creates a zone of exemption from hard times. This lie produces one of two terrible results. A devout Christian believing that lie who encounters difficulties may conclude that his faith is faulty and feel himself a failure; or worse, he may conclude that the promises of God are untrue and retreat from his high and holy calling into a life of fear.
Jesus Christ commissions us to ‘go into all the world’ with the Good News of His salvation, planting the flag of His Kingdom, so to speak. Our advance was foreshadowed by the experience of the people of God who were called out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. As they came to the borders of Canaan for the second time, the Lord came to the man who had replaced Moses as head of the nation. The first message is this: “No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live. For I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will not fail you or abandon you.” (Joshua 1:5, NLT)  Does that not imply that they will just waltz in and take over?  But the next line warns of the pending battle to possess the Promise. The land would be theirs, but not without struggle! Again and again in the opening lines of Joshua, there is this command: “Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them.” (Joshua 1:6, NIV) The promise was secure, but taking possession demands a gutsy faith, a willingness to step into the water, to march around the city walls, to go to war against an entrenched enemy. It was costly but their victory assured.
Disciple, there is a life of promise for us. There is a rich relationship with the Father, the power of the Spirit, and the love of Christ Jesus that is ours through faith. But, living in the promise, will not exempt us from tough times. Paul and Barnabas realized the need to be men of courageous faith and told the new Christians “to stick with what they had begun to believe and not quit, making it clear to them that it wouldn’t be easy: “Anyone signing up for the kingdom of God has to go through plenty of hard times.”  (Acts 14:21-22, The Message) Our victory is certain, but it may not look like the one we expected.
The paradox of spiritual life is found in the Lord’s word to Paul when he prayed to be released from a severe testing time the details of which we do not know. I urge you to meditate on this passage, which is our word from the Word today. It’s a challenge to deeper faith requiring a submission to His will that only the courageous will choose.
“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, NIV)
We do our greatest work for the Kingdom of heaven when we have come to the end of our rope, given up on our clever schemes, and thrown ourselves in desperation on the promise of God. Perhaps today His will is to drive you into His arms, so ‘be strong and courageous’ and cross the Jordan to enter His Promised Land, knowing that no matter how fierce the battle, He holds your destiny secure in His hands.
Are you ready to march on Jericho? Are you strong and courageous because you “know in Whom you have believed and that He is able to keep that which you have committed to Him against that Day?” Let’s go!
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Hungry, I come to You
For I know You satisfy.
I am empty,
But I know Your love
Does not run dry.
And so I wait for You,
So I wait for You.

Broken, I run to You
For Your arms are open wide.
I am weary,
But I know Your touch
Restores my life.
And so I wait for You,
So I wait for You.
 
I’m falling on my knees
Offering all of me.
Jesus, You’re all
This heart is living for.

Hungry

Scott, Kathryn  © 1999 Vineyard Songs (UK/Eire) (Admin. by Mercy / Vineyard Publishing)
CCLI License No. 810055

 

The Plot Resolves


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Job asks a question we all ponder, “Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble… If a man dies, will he live again? All the days of my hard service I will wait for my renewal to come.” (Job 14:1, 14, NIV)  My life is a rich and wonderful one and yet I must still deal with pulling weeds that grow in the garden, resisting temptation that lures me from the pursuit of God, and a nagging sense of the futility of my existence. According to the Bible, our lives now, will find resolution and ultimate meaning in eternity. That does not suggest that we are to avoid the present reality with some escapist vision of Heaven. Instead, we need to connect with Heaven by faith now so that we live in God’s purpose, for His pleasure now.
I read a book during the evening that makes a winsome argument for Heaven, Heaven Is For Real. (Thomas Nelson Publisher, 2010) Todd Burpo, a pastor from Nebraska, tells the story of his little son, Colton, who had major surgery and nearly died. During the ordeal the little boy, just shy of 4 years of age, visited heaven. He met a sister his mother had miscarried before he was born, of whom he had never heard. He saw the timelessness of God’s plan unfold, the Throne of God, and discovered that “Jesus really loves children.”  It’s a simple story, one that defies our rationalism. It has become a bestseller. Does Colton Burpo’s story prove the existence of heaven? Of course not. Skeptics will find ways to explain the little guy’s words away. The faithful will find encouragement in them. For me, his stories about heaven just added a little ‘Aha’ to what I already believe based on the Bible’s testimony.
Disciple, keep Heaven in your heart! A strong hope of meeting Jesus face to face, the certainty that justice will prevail, the promise of a ‘room in the Father’s house,’ keeps us pointed in the right direction through sunshine and rain, blessings and misfortune.  The anemic Christianity of 21st century results, at least in part, from our failure to remember that Heaven is our true home. I’m not the first to say that.  In the faith chapter, Hebrews 11, there is this summary statement about those who held onto hope. “Each one of these people of faith died not yet having in hand what was promised, but still believing. How did they do it? They saw it way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world. People who live this way make it plain that they are looking for their true home. If they were homesick for the old country, they could have gone back any time they wanted.” (Hebrews 11:13-15, The Message)
Even more specific is the encouragement drawn from the life of Abraham, called the father of the faithful. “By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (Hebrews 11:9-10, NIV)
We are often tempted to try to make a little heaven on earth, to carve out a place where sorrow cannot enter, where death and disappointment cannot touch us. For a time, we may appear to succeed! Our wealth gives us the ability to sustain the illusion of being a god for quite some time, but then comes the storm we cannot control that wreaks havoc. If we have hope only in this life, despair follows. If our hope is in Heaven, we are able to press on, and not simply with grim determination, but with true hope, real joy.  Is Heaven in your heart? Have you set your hope in Christ and His cross, thus becoming part eternity, even while you make the journey through this world?
Here’s a word from the Word. Believe Him, receive it! “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:1-3, NIV)
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It will be worth it all,
When we see Jesus.
Life’s trials will seem so small,
When we see Christ.
One glimpse of His dear face,
All sorrow will erase.
So bravely run the race,
‘Till we see Christ.
When We See Christ
Rusthoi, Esther Kerr © 1940 Singspiration Music (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc., 741 Coolsprings Blvd., Franklin TN 37067)
CCLI License No. 810055

Bezalel’s Blessing

I often feel incompetent. I stand in awe of the rapid changes in the world around me and question my ability to keep up and stay relevant. There is a recurring temptation to compare myself to others who are experiencing a different kind of success. That produces either envy or discouragement.  And I know this: those thoughts do not come from God! They are an upside down expression of pride, a focus on me instead of Him! Do those thoughts ever seek a place to take root in your thinking? Then, read on.

The people of the Lord, newly freed from Egyptian slavery, were learning to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Moses was directed to build a Tabernacle.  So, he issued a call for all those who were ‘willing’ to give from ‘what they had’ for the project. The people responded with overwhelming generosity until Moses had to send out word, “Do not bring anymore gifts! We have more than enough to complete this project!” But there is another part of the story that captivates me. Here it is. “Moses said to the Israelites, “See, the LORD has chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts— to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of artistic craftsmanship.” (Exodus 35:29-33, NIV)

God gave the necessary skill, ability, and knowledge to Bezalel to design and train others to build this place of worship! God is still building His Church (not a building this time but a Body of people) and the Spirit is actively working to equip each one to fulfill their calling! “God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6, The Message)

If you’re spending time comparing yourself to another, or gazing with longing on the opportunities given to someone else, or putting yourself down with the claim that you have nothing to offer, you – not the Devil – will cheat yourself out of the most amazing, wonderful thing in the world. What is that? Participating in the work of God to bring about the defeat of evil and the revelation of His goodness. It’s not our intelligence, charisma, or attractiveness that makes us ‘successful’ in holy work. It is obedience and faithfulness. God’s own Messiah, the Savior, was not a man that impressed others! Isaiah says of Him: “My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot, like a root in dry ground. There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him. He was despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.” (Isaiah 53:2-4, NLT)

Jesus was overlooked, ignored, and thought to be ‘cursed of God’ and yet through His obedience, God saved the world! When you put yourself in the hands of God and say, “Lord, use me,” don’t look for recognition to affirm your calling. Look to the Spirit to equip. Let Him live in you, work through you.  Here’s a word from Word that is a key understanding. May it encourage you as it does me.

“By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. … So, dear brothers and sisters, work hard to prove that you really are among those God has called and chosen. Do these things, and you will never fall away. Then God will give you a grand entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:3, 10-11, NLT)

Let’s go build the Temple! And, as we do, let’s claim the Bezalel blessing — ‘skill, ability, and knowledge,’ to complete the work honorably and for the glory of God.
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