Use Your Gifts UNSELFISHLY


There are beautifully wrapped gifts under our Christmas tree. We look at them and our boys wonder which ones are for whom. (Bev uses a number code so the recipient is unknown until Christmas morning.) Until we distribute, unwrap, assemble, and take them into our hands they are just for show! About 48 hours from now, they will become useful to us. I hope that they will be useful for other people, too.
God has resourced you, too. Are you taking the gifts He provides and using them to make this world a better place? Are you Christ-focused in their use? The Word says, “The end of the world is coming soon. Therefore, be earnest and disciplined in your prayers. Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins. Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay. God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.” (1 Peter 4:7-10, NLT)  Broaden your understanding of the concept of a ‘spiritual gift.’ As this passage teaches, gifts include more than preaching, singing, or praying in an unknown tongue!  Buying a friend a cup of coffee can become a spiritual gift, if it is an occasion to encourage her in the things of the Lord. Serving a meal to family can be an occasion of spiritual ministry, too.
Recently the Lord has called me to give gifts of love with no hope of reciprocal effort, to provide and serve without expectation of a word of thanks. I am surprised at how difficult it can be to offer myself to those who feel so entitled that they believe what I do for them is unworthy of any appreciation. My own self love has been revealed to me! Had you asked me a year ago if I were a selfish person, I would have denied it. Now I know better and I realize, in a much deeper way, how much I need the Cross to bring death to Self so that I will offer my gifts with joy and with focus on His reward rather than the thanks of those I ‘serve.’  The Holy Spirit has shown me that gifts offered with even a small influence of Self are quickly corrupted. Our service, if touched with the smallest bit of self-interest, becomes manipulative or even an occasion for bitterness when the expectations we attach to it go unrealized.
In this Season of gifts and giving, I want to encourage you to think of what you receive (from God and others) as resources for service, not simply as things to enrich yourself. “God has given each of you a gift… use it well!”  And, I urge you to submit your service to Him, first! Ask for a pure heart, for a willingness to operate in secret, joyful in the work, not seeking reward or recognition. Is this not how Jesus served us? How humbling to realize that He loved and served us when we were ignoring and offending Him!
I offer this benediction to you today, as this will be my last CoffeeBreak column until the New Year. Thank you for giving me the privilege of sharing my thoughts and His Word with you each day. Receive this word from the Word and live in the promise of spiritual power it contains.
“I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”
(Ephesians 3:14-21, NIV)

“Seasoned with salt”


There was a knock on my door in the early evening. When I answered it, I found two well-dressed young men. Their badges identified them as elders in the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) doing missionary work. I was not interested in their message, but I admire their determination! In our time, I do not think that knocking on doors looking to have a discussion about religion is a very effective way to share the Gospel. But, God requires that everyone of us engage in the work of representing Christ Jesus. Let me ask a pointed question. When was the last time you had a real conversation about Christ with someone outside of church?
This work need not be forced or artificial.  If I met you on the street and you knew I had been to Washington, DC to have lunch with the President the previous day, what would be the first thing you would ask?  You would want to know what kind of man he is, what he said, if I met his wife; wouldn’t you?  If we are living intimately with Christ, with a fresh experience of His goodness, there will be a noticeable quality to our lives that will invite conversations about Him! The Bible says, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:4-6, NIV)  Make your daily talk lively and attractive! That’s what the metaphor ‘seasoned with salt’ means. Don’t fall into the habit of gossip and griping! Don’t get lost in idle chatter about nothing. Let Christ so fill your being that others are drawn to the spark of life.
The work of evangelism is not about ‘fixing’ other people nor is it about turning others into a “Jesus” project. It is not about judging behaviors, judging who is lost or saved, or adding notches to our Gospel gun belt! Our high calling is to represent the Lord Jesus in such a winsome way that we invite people to get to know the Father from whom they are estranged. “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”(2 Corinthians 5:20, NIV)
Last Sunday I had the opportunity to talk with a young couple who recently gave their lives to Christ and were baptized. Their joy is infectious, overflowing, and compelling. The circumstances of life that caused them pain in the past are still there, but now they have resources to cope with them. Their marriage is better, their hearts full of hope. It is not a ‘new religion’ that has brought such change; it is a new relationship! Anyone can see there is a difference.
Disciple, here is a direct challenge. What is the state of your life in the Spirit? Is it fresh, joyful, and causing others to wonder why you’re different? Or have you gone stale, stuck a rut of religion? Is your relationship with Christ Jesus about something that happened years ago or about knowing His grace for this day? “Through thick and thin, keep your hearts at attention, in adoration before Christ, your Master. Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you’re living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy. Keep a clear conscience before God so that when people throw mud at you, none of it will stick. They’ll end up realizing that they’re the ones who need a bath.” (1 Peter 3:15-16, The Message)
May we be alert to the holy opportunities around us, ready to share the very best Gift – the hope of life and love that can be found in Christ Jesus.

Let’s THINK about that


After I suggested a solution to a minor problem somebody said, “That’s why they pay him the big bucks.” We all laughed! There are no ‘big bucks’ and what I offered required no particular knowledge or skill. But, there are times when it is helpful to have somebody outside of the situation help with the process of thinking. The consulting business is huge for that reason. Consultants can bring a fresh perspective and offer insight. How easy it is to react to life instead of taking time to think deeply enough to choose a new way.
Jesus came into the world to teach us a whole new way of living! In Matthew 5-7, a passage we call the ‘Sermon on the Mount,’ repeatedly Jesus used this presentation: “You have heard it said, … but I tell you.”  He challenged those who followed Him to stop chasing power, pleasure, and perks. “True life,’ He said, “is found in serving, loving, and giving.”  One by one, He took on their assumptions.

·         You think that adultery is just climbing into bed with someone? Think again. Adultery begins with your fantasies! 
·         You think that murder is taking somebody’s life? Think again. Murder begins with contempt for another person.
·         You think that an ‘eye for an eye’ is justice? Think again. Real love absorbs the hurt and changes the world with self-sacrifice.
·         You think scrupulous religious acts that others can admire also please God? Think again. When you truly want to please Him, forget about making sure others notice.
·         You think that worrying about things solves problems? Think again. “Seek first the kingdom of God and He’ll take care of the things that others fret about.
For many, Christmas will be another occasion to indulge in Self. They will hear the Story but miss the message. Jesus’ birth and the Gospel will get turned inside out and somehow, some way will become about getting fatter and happier, with more things in our already crowded closets. Let’s think about that! He did say  “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10, NIV) And, He re-defined what fullness is. We gain by giving, win by losing, and find righteousness with God by giving up on our own goodness.
Luke’s record of Jesus’ birth includes this little line tucked into the corner: “But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19, NKJV) Shepherds appearing at her baby’s makeshift bed with stories of angels singing in the skies made her wonder at this boy child’s true identity. For nine months, her life had been turned upside down by an angel’s announcement of her pregnancy. It was all strange and wonderful, promising and painful; so she pondered! Thirty-three years later, it would all come together one terrible weekend as she would watch Him die a terrible death and then, just when all hope was gone, come back from the grave, the Resurrected Lord. But, on that first Christmas, all she could do was ponder the mystery.
Are you working with some challenge in your life today?  Invite the Spirit of God to give you insight. Even if you do not understand everything He says take Mary’s example to heart and ponder… listen … think.
Here’s the word from the Word. “We live by faith, not by sight. … So we make it our goal to please him.” (2 Corinthians 5:9, NIV)
__________________
O come all ye faithful
Joyful and triumphant
O come ye O come ye to Bethlehem
Come and behold Him
Born the King of angels
Yea Lord we greet Thee
Born this happy morning
Jesus to Thee be all glory giv’n
Word of the Father
Now in flesh appearing
O come let us adore Him
O come let us adore Him
O come let us adore Him
Christ the Lord
O Come All Ye Faithful
© Public Domain

“I hate this Season.”

She spat the words out with passion – “I hate this Season! It takes a month to recover from all the stuff I have to do.”  I guess I judged her, but my conclusion was that she was seeing all the wrong things. Are you? On December 26th will you be relieved or renewed?  Christmas promises much. Often we find little! What kind of choices can make the difference?

First of all, make people your priority! It’s a cliché yet say it over and over again – people, not programs! Resist the pressures to rush, to be hurried, to ‘get the program’ completed. Truly take time to enjoy the opportunity to be with friends and family. Focus less on perfect decoration and more on the state of your heart. A dinner cooked to perfection, a home full of beautiful holiday decor will be soon forgotten, but an evening of meaningful conversation and interaction creates a lasting memory that renews us again and again.

Second, include worship! Most Americans will spend far more time in the mall than in worship and reflection during the next seven days! This imbalance in the use of our time and money reveals the identity of our true god. Keeping Christ in Christmas isn’t about putting up a crèche on the lawn at City Hall. It’s about building an altar in our heart and honoring the One whose life is the cause for the celebration. If you will set aside 30 minutes a day for meditation, prayer, and to read the stories of Jesus’ nativity from Matthew and Luke from now to Christmas Day; it will make a difference.  “O come, let us adore Him… Christ, the Lord!”

Third, give yourself away! In Acts 20:35 (The Message) we read, “I have demonstrated to you how necessary it is to work on behalf of the weak and not exploit them. You’ll not likely go wrong here if you keep remembering that our Master said, ‘You’re far happier giving than getting.’ ” It’s not just stuff that is given at Christmas. Give forgiveness. Give love. Give time. Give away your expectations.

Lastly, recover wonder!  Read the Christmas story and instead of asking, “How could this be?” let story speak to you about the depth of God’s love. Instead of complaining about that same music on the radio, just enjoy it. Instead of grousing about all the stuff you have to do, thank God for what you get to do. Let the pseudo-sophisticates pretend to be bored by the holiday. Choose to be child-like (not childish!) in your wonder.

With these choices, you will come to New Year’s Day, with a renewed heart!  You may be tired in body, but you will have received Christ Jesus anew, and He brings life. Here’s a word from the Word to take with you as you begin this Christmas week-  “The Word became human and lived here on earth among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the only Son of the Father. …We have all benefited from the rich blessings he brought to us—one gracious blessing after another.” (John 1:14, 16, NLT)

Joy to the world,
The Lord is come.
Let earth receive her King.
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heav’n and nature sing,
And Heav’n and nature sing,
And Heav’n, and Heav’n, and nature sing!

Holy Glow

The preacher talked about having ‘it.’ As he spoke I knew what he was talking about. In a worship gathering where ‘it’ is present, time flies by and you leave with your spirit lifted. People who have ‘it’ are influential, making a positive difference wherever they go. ‘It’ makes things beautiful. It is not it at all; it is He, the Holy Spirit of God!
When the People of God were liberated from slavery in Egypt and journeyed to the Promised Land, they were led by the Presence, which they saw as a “a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light.” (Exodus 13:21, NIV)  
When Moses built the Tabernacle, the center of worship, the Presence centered on that holy place “and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it.” (Exodus 40:34-35, NIV)
Centuries later, when Solomon dedicated the beautiful Temple in Jerusalem, the same thing happened. The Presence was so strong, the priests could not go into the courtyard of that place! “The priests could not enter the Temple of the Lord because the glorious presence of the Lord filled it. When all the people of Israel saw the fire coming down and the glorious presence of the Lord filling the Temple, they fell face down on the ground and worshiped and praised the Lord, saying, “He is good! His faithful love endures forever!” (2 Chronicles 7:2-3, NLT)  These buildings were made beautiful by an unearthly Presence, the Spirit of God.
In this time, those who belong to Christ Jesus are God’s temples. We are those who offer Him worship. The Spirit of God comes to live, not merely with us, but in us. This Presence should give us ‘it,’ a holy glow. Smile, if you want to. The phrase lends itself to humor, but it remains the truth! The Bible tells us that when Moses spent 40 days on the mountaintop with the Lord, he came down with his face aglow! The Holy Spirit can and will give us a similar glory! The Word says that “the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:17-18, NIV)
There is only one way to have ‘it’ and that is to spend time with Him! We must not confuse leadership skills, personal charisma, physical beauty, or remarkable accomplishments with the Holy Presence of His Spirit. He may use and bless those gifts, but they are not the same as the glory the Lord.
Let me leave you pondering this passage, which was spoken by Samuel to Saul at his anointing as the king of Israel. “The Spirit of the Lord will come upon you in power, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person.” (1 Samuel 10:5-6, NIV)  Invite the Lord to make you into a new, holy person; not of dour piety, but of holy Presence, which is full of glory and marked by exquisite joy!
__________
Oh The Glory Of His Presence
O the glory of Your presence
We Your temple give You rev’rence
Come and rise from Your rest
And be blessed by our praise
As we glory in Your embrace
As Your presence now fills this place
Jesus all-glorious
Create in us a temple
Called as living stones
Where You’re enthroned
As You rose from death in pow’r
So rise within our worship
Rise upon our praise
And let the hand that saw You raised
Clothe us in Your glory
Draw us by Your grace
Come and rise from Your rest
And be blessed by our praise
As we glory in Your embrace
As Your presence now fills this place
© 1983 Birdwing Music | BMG Songs, Inc. (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)ü(Admin. by BMG Music Publishing) | (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)ü(Admin. by BMG Music Publishing)
Steve Fry
CCLI License No. 810055

What he knows now

Christopher Hitchens died yesterday. He was a vocal atheist, taking on icons like Mother Theresa, debating religious leaders, and unflinching in his denouncements of religious faith as toxic superstition. His 2007 book was simply titled, “God Is Not Great.” Hitchens objected to belief in God as destructive to individual freedom. He was a brilliant man in many ways. Believing as I do in the eternal nature of life, I wonder what kind of essay he would write if he could send one last submission to Vanity Fair? He is wiser now realizing the truth that “Only fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” (Psalm 14:1, NLT)
I do not celebrate his death and hope that those who felt the lash of his words will not. There is nothing to like about contemplating a person entering a hopeless eternity, separated from God, light, and life forever by unbelief! It is a horror too terrible for me to contemplate for very long. Those who wish hell on any person obviously do not understand what it is! The caricatures that are created around the doctrine obscure the awesome realities. Jesus spoke of hell often. He told this story, one that I understand as illustrative of the suffering and alienation of those whose faithlessness leads them there.
“There was a certain rich man who was splendidly clothed in purple and fine linen and who lived each day in luxury. At his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus who was covered with sores. As Lazarus lay there longing for scraps from the rich man’s table, the dogs would come and lick his open sores. “Finally, the poor man died and was carried by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, and his soul went to the place of the dead. There, in torment, he saw Abraham in the far distance with Lazarus at his side. “The rich man shouted, ‘Father Abraham, have some pity! Send Lazarus over here to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue. I am in anguish in these flames.’
“But Abraham said to him, ‘Son, remember that during your lifetime you had everything you wanted, and Lazarus had nothing. So now he is here being comforted, and you are in anguish. And besides, there is a great chasm separating us. No one can cross over to you from here, and no one can cross over to us from there.’ “Then the rich man said, ‘Please, Father Abraham, at least send him to my father’s home. For I have five brothers, and I want him to warn them so they don’t end up in this place of torment.’
“But Abraham said, ‘Moses and the prophets have warned them. Your brothers can read what they wrote.’ “The rich man replied, ‘No, Father Abraham! But if someone is sent to them from the dead, then they will repent of their sins and turn to God.’ “But Abraham said, ‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t listen even if someone rises from the dead.’ (Luke 16:19-31, NLT)
God takes no delight in ‘sending people to Hell’ a phrase often used and very wrong. God’s desire is the restoration of His relationship to everyone. Christmas is the story of the extent to which He went to bring us back to Himself. But, what Hitchens and many others do not understand, He gives us the freedom to choose our own destruction. Far from taking our freedom, He gives us the power of life and death. Those who find themselves in Hell will have chosen to ignore His grace and goodness too long.
Here’s the word from the Word that gives me hope. It is not my goodness that assures me of an eternal home, but His grace which I receive by faith.
“We were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved.
And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.  
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:1-10, NIV)
Hallelujah, what a Savior!
I earnestly hope that somehow Hitchens chose to receive His grace before he entered into eternity.

Walking by Fate?

Yesterday, I was looking over some notes I had made some 14 months ago about dreams I had for the ministries of the church which I serve a pastor. As I prayed for guidance and the direction of the Spirit back then, I made note of some of my impressions. Reading through them last night was faith-building. Much of what was on that list has come into being at the church, not because I forced them into being, but because we walked in daily obedience. God used that moment to remind me that He knows the future. We walk in faith. 

I remember a time years ago, when I was ‘certain’ that I belonged on the staff of a church in a state far away. They were interested in me and offered a position I really felt I could fill. As we started to take steps to relocate, uneasiness grew in me. I even became physically sick! Finally, I gave up my dream and said, “yes,” to obedience.  About six months later, that church fell into a terrible time as a result of leadership failure. The Lord spared me from being drawn into that mess.
I do not believe in fate, but I am assured that when I keep step with the Spirit, He always leads ‘in paths of righteousness.’  The Word tells us that “If the LORD delights in a man’s way, he makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with his hand.” (Psalm 37:23-24, NIV) Beware of trusting your own instincts and wisdom.  
Peter loved Jesus and when he heard Him talking about going to the Cross, he “took him aside and began to rebuke him.” (Mark 8:32, NIV) Peter’s ‘wisdom’ could not accept that Jesus would die the death on a Roman cross, suffering in agony, and still be in the will of God!  What purpose could such a thing serve?   But the Cross was the plan of God!  Peter’s good intentions earned him a strong correction. “Turning and seeing his disciples wavering, wondering what to believe, Jesus confronted Peter. “Peter, get out of my way! Satan, get lost! You have no idea how God works.”  (Mark 8:33, The Message)  I hope never to hear that from my Lord.
Disciples need a heart that obeys without argument. We need not be paralyzed by a fear of walking out of the will of God!  He’s a big God who is perfectly capable of guiding and keeping us. However, stubbornness or a failure to listen carefully will cause us to wander from the path He has planned.  Our word from the Word is taken out of Psalm 37. 
“Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.
Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this:
He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.

Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.”
(Psalm 37:1-7, NIV)
________________

Father, I thank you for the promise that You will always guide us.
I am often tempted to walk by fate! Teach me to walk by faith!

Open my eyes to the possibilities that exist in Your purpose,
And keep me from seeing only the ‘obvious.’

My greatest joy is to do what You want me to do, to be where You desire me to be.
Make the way plain, Lord, and gently, yet firmly, keep me in the center of Your plan where there is
great joy, wonderful peace, and blessings for this life and eternity.

In Jesus’ Name, I ask this today.
Amen

Weakened through compromise?

This CoffeeBreak starts ugly. The US government estimates that around 20,000 young women and girls are brought into our country every year to be used by men for sex! Authorities estimate that about 100,000 juveniles are involved in prostitution in the United States right now! Craigslist (an online classified ad service) is a prime site for selling sex. Men haul young girls around the country from one airport hotel to another, from one truck stop parking lot to another, selling them for sex with 12-20 men a day. And my question is – where is the Church?
A tragic fact is that many Christians are incapable of raising their voice because they are participants in the darkness, consumers of pornography, leading double lives. In public they appear upright and God-fearing, but their computer screen is often full of sexually explicit images and their minds are corrupt by fantasies about sexual adventures. Some are silenced by guilt, others are no longer even able to see the evil in what is being done, robbed of discernment because their minds are twisted by sin’s deceit. Where there is compromise, there is weakness.
Integrity gives strength. Refusing sin, battling temptation with the power of the Spirit and conviction, allows us to speak up. Many years ago, before the internet brought pornography to our living rooms, a merchant of sex set up shop in the town where I was serving as a young pastor on a church staff. I had no qualms about taking issue with the establishment, even in public. I had no fear of being exposed as a hypocrite, no need to accommodate my own sins and failures, with muted messages of protest. I was able to call the videos and magazines for what they were – destructive and enslaving, filthy and abusive – because I had integrity, was faithful to my wife in thought and deed, and enjoyed the freedom provided by holiness. I was not a slave to sin, but a servant empowered by my relationship with Christ.
Holiness is abandoned by many Christians leaving them weak, double-minded, and without discernment. Some think that the cool disciples can do anything because they know the grace of Christ Jesus removes the penalty of their sin. To commit to a holy life that “abstains from all appearance of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22, KJV) is considered by some as a sign of spiritual immaturity or as an expression of legalistic religiosity. After all, it is reasoned, are we not free in Christ from the rules about food, drink and sex? From the rules of men? Yes! Free to indulge our every desire? No! This ancient error has crept into lives of disciples from the beginning.
In the first chapters of his letter to the Romans, Paul celebrates the amazing grace of Christ that removes the penalties of sin. His voice reaches a crescendo as he preaches “For if by the one man’s offense death reigned … much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:17, NKJV) In other words, Adam brought death to us all. Christ brings life!  “Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more.” (Romans 5:20, NKJV) That’s the wonder of God’s grace. The worst are not beyond its reach.  
But, some reason that if grace flourished in the presence of sin to conquer it, then the logical response would be to ‘sin all the more!’ Right?
The Scripture refutes that as the inspired Paul goes on to write: “Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2, NLT) “When he (Jesus) died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God. So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:10-11, NLT)
Holiness that comes from a close walk with God where even secret sin is challenged and conquered by the Cross lends great strength of conviction. It allows us to love those who are slaves of greed or lust without fear or loathing. Holiness centered in Christ gives a beauty and wholeness to life. Here’s the word from the Word. Let this be a personal call this day. “Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.” (1 Corinthians 15:34, KJV)
__________
Take time to be holy
Speak oft with thy Lord
Abide in Him always
And feed on His Word
Make friends with God’s children
Help those who are weak
Forgetting in nothing
His Blessing to seek
Take time to be holy
The world rushes on
Spend much time in secret
With Jesus alone
By looking to Jesus
Like Him thou shalt be
Thy friends in thy conduct
His Likeness shall see
Take Time To Be Holy
© Public Domain
George Coles Stebbins | William Dunn Longstaff

What do you buy for Dad?


A recurrent Christmas puzzler for kids is how to get a gift for Dad. Dad generally has far more resources and supplies what he needs for himself. So, should buy him another shirt, a gadget for his car just to get him a gift?  Eventually we figure out that what Dad wants is our love and that cannot be bought at the shopping mall.  Those handmade cards made by 5 year-old girls who labor for hours to get it ‘just right’ are priceless. A few years ago, Sean presented me with a beautiful book of memories he had made. It ranks high on the list of memorable gifts in my life! I hate to admit it, but I know that there are dysfunctional Dads who teach their children conditional love by demanding ‘bribes’ in return for favor. The only word for that is tragic.
When you bring a gift to your heavenly Father is it offered from a heart filled with love or with the hope of gaining His favor? 
Do you think He wants you to bribe Him, or do you believe He cares for you and receives your gifts with delight?
Take a look at this Scripture.
“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?”  
“Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” (Romans 11:33-36, NIV)
Does that make you catch your breath, give you a solid foundation to trust Him for all things of your life? Mark Galli rightly observes that when we make God too small or misunderstand the depth of His love, we turn religion into something we do for God. But, when we accept the God revealed by the Bible we turn that upside down. “You start making religion about what God has done and is doing. You then wait around for Him to do something.” (Chaos and Grace, Baker, 2011)  If we allow ourselves to think that we can make things happen, that we can prove our worth to the Lord, that we can provoke His blessings; in a very short time we will lose the joy of faith and fall under the slavery of rule-keeping. We abandon the Gospel of Grace in Christ and return to the legalism of the Law.
Loving God is actually more difficult than working at ‘god’ stuff! Religion is something we can do on our own. A love relationship requires pursuit of the Holy One and is two-sided. He may make us wait, without explaining Himself, other than the reminder that His wisdom is beyond our comprehension.  Let’s not make the mistake of thinking we can buy His love. Let’s not allow ourselves to enter the delusion that we have done something for Him that will make Him reciprocate. Instead, let’s love extravagantly. That is what He desires from us.
Here’s a word from the Word. May it wrap you in grace, lift the load of religion, and release the joy of the Spirit. “Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession.” (James 1:17-18, NLT)

"Toxic Charity?"

“Toxic Charity” – what an idea! Robert Lupton, a man with four decades of experience in urban ministry, wrote a book that challenges our ideas of giving.  “Our self-centeredness contributes to the problem. We evaluate our giving,” Lupton argues, “by the rewards we receive through service, rather than the benefits received by the served.”  He asks us to think about the way we minister to the poor.  Are we focused on feeling good or bringing about the best result for the person in need? The answer is not as simple as we might think. A hand-out, whether from government or a church ministry, can steal a person’s dignity and perpetuate a cycle of dependency. (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/november/review-toxic-charity.html)
In Acts 3, we read the story of Peter and John going to the Temple to pray. On their way they passed a man “crippled from birth” who sat everyday at the gate begging. He asked for a coin to buy his dinner. Peter’s response to the man is a well-known text. “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”(Acts 3:6, NIV) Because they had no money, they had to pause to pray and God used their pennilessness to re-direct them from mere charity to miraculous intervention! This man now had an opportunity for a whole new life. We don’t know what happened to him, but I would guess he became part of the new church community, a place that could support him as he discovered a life with dignity and purpose.
Could it be that the wealth of the American church robs us of our true spiritual ministry and power? 
Is our ultra-productive, bottom-line focus on results keeping us from ‘inefficient’ love for others?
Think of modern healing ministry. A quick prayer, full of fire and faith, is offered up for the person who is suffering. Yet the word tells us “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” (James 5:14-16, NIV) James contextualizes healing in the person’s life and choices. A moment of ministry may bring some relief, but it takes time, wisdom, and the love of the Spirit working through us to bring about restoration of the purpose of God in a person’s life. Our aim in ministry must be to touch the whole person. We are often content to treat symptoms. Why, because ministering wholeness is much more difficult, time-consuming, and costly than offering up a prayer or giving a donation.

It’s so much easier to throw our money at a need than it is to give our time or invest our lives. By way of example, think of this. Christians give $millions to pro-life causes here in America each year. They pay for centers that counsel those who find themselves considering abortion. That’s all good, but would we consider opening our homes to a young woman whose pregnancy has alienated her from family or boyfriend? Yes, I know how disrupting that can be! Bev and I have extended hospitality to many people over the years. It’s not easy to do. Having someone in your home is much more costly that giving a monthly donation to a ministry!
This Christmas, will you give the best gifts?
Will you just give to feel good about your charity or will you give to meet the deepest need of another?
Here’s a word from the Word that describes how God gave. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NIV)
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