50 years from now, what will they say about you?

About 75 years ago, Walter Scott walked down the sawdust trail at a tent revival in Truesdale, Iowa to accept Christ. A Danish immigrant who was fond of his liquor and quick to swing a fist, he was changed! His conversion was solidified a few years later when a terrible automobile accident left him unable to care for his farm. Members of the local Assembly helped out  while he healed. Their concern for him drew into faithful Christian service and he became part of a little country church that changed my life!  Grandpa Scott’s example pointed my Dad toward Christ.  Dad responded to the Spirit and made his own decision to embrace Christ as Lord.  Dad and Mom were Christians, first, all else second. So, I was raised in a home where I was led to love God. As a child I obeyed the Spirit and received Christ as Lord. My children received the Word, taught the knowledge of the Holy One, and each has made a decision to trust Christ.  They are pursuing His will in their lives. And now… my grandchildren are being trained to pray, to trust, to look to eternity.
The long line of influence ripples through time, across miles, and into eternity because of the decision made by  a man that my children never knew, Walter Scott!
What effect will ripple through time from your life? Positive, joyful, encouraging, life giving actions? Critical, embittering, crippling choices? Uniting or dividing words? We do not live without influence, though we sometimes have no idea who will be influenced by what we say and/or do!
Influence that ripples out into the lives of others does not require that we shout our message or overwhelm the world! Jesus says we influence others like  salt and light.”  “You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it useful again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless. You are the light of the world—like a city on a mountain, glowing in the night for all to see. Don’t hide your light under a basket! Instead, put it on a stand and let it shine for all. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” (Matthew 5:13-16, NLT) Salt is a critically importance ingredient in so much of our food, but it doesn’t take much! Light is a powerful influence. Put a brightly colored rug in front of a sunlight filled door. It will fade quickly! Plants bend toward the source of light.
I bless Walter Scott’s memory!  In the mystery of the will of God and the response of man, he played a critical part in changing my destiny, and hopefully, through me, the destinies of many others. Will my grandchildren bless my memory, remembering me as salt that preserved their lives from the rot of evil and light that dispelled their darkness?  I pray I am answering that question with daily decisions of faithfulness to God and His will!
Pray this prayer with me today:
“Heavenly Father, may a ripple of grace follow me today.
Let my conversation be full of grace,
my life marked by compassion.
Create a wholeness in me that
lifts the hearts of those come through my life this day.
I thank you for the faithfulness of those who influence me.
Make me a salty saint, a bearer of the Light, as I
give you honor and worship in my thoughts, words, and actions.
I pray in the Holy Name of Jesus Christ.”  Amen
____________
I would be true,
For there are those who trust me;
I would be pure,
For there are those who care;
I would be strong,
For there is much to suffer;
I would be brave,
For there is much to dare!
I would be friend of all,
The foe, the friendless;
I would be giving,
And forget the gift;
I would be humble,
For I know my weakness;
I would look up, and laugh,
And love, and lift!
I Would Be True
Walter, Howard Arnold / Peek, Joseph Yates © Public Domain

So, you want to be spiritual?


Eugene Peterson, best known for his work in bringing us the paraphrase of the Bible called The Message, was a pastor of a small church in Maryland for 3 decades. He observed, “The people who give me the most distress are those who come asking, “Pastor, how can I be spiritual?” Forget about being spiritual. How about loving your husband? Now that’s a good place to start. But that’s not what they’re interested in. How about learning to love your kids, accept them the way they are?” (Christianity Today, March, 2005)

In my years of ministry, there have been those who questioned whether I was truly spiritual because I don’t speak in deep reverential tones in my sermons. When I pray in church I feel no need to address a two syllable “Gaa-awd!” I love to laugh, play a practical joke, and eat bean burritos with all the consequences that go with them. I confess that I don’t spend hours each day on my knees in the church’s sanctuary. I like country music and enjoy a good action flick. Does that mean I am not spiritual? To some, perhaps. Spirituality often gets confused with quietness, introspection, and pious acts.  Is that what it is all about?

The disciples in the Church in the city of Corinth got all excited about being ‘spiritual,’ and they thought they were quite impressive because they spoke at length in tongues, prophesied, and had meeting that were chock full of Holy Spirit manifestations. Paul wrote a long corrective letter them that all those who aspire to spirituality need to read. Imagine the shock they felt when they heard his letter and he said, “Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in the Christian life.” (1 Corinthians 3:1, NLT)

He went on to point out that despite their all their spiritual gifts, their lives were a mess! They fought with each other. They lacked love. They would not serve each other. They sued each other in the courts. They would not deal with open sin in their own congregation. They were proud of their knowledge of spiritual freedom and cared little if their actions caused someone less mature in faith to be offended.  Pastor Paul told them, “You think you’re so spiritual, but you’re really not very deep in God, at all! You have not even grasped the basics!” Throughout his letter, he reminds them that true spirituality will produce a transformation of character, that being spiritual is always show by a deep and consistent love for God and others. Note the underlying attitude of loving service that informs his instruction about their ‘spiritual’ worship. “What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.” (1 Corinthians 14:26, NIV)

True spirituality does not really grow out of mastery of church doctrine, or the ability to speak in tongues, or learning to pray in 16th century Elizabethan language, or from following forced practices of external piety.  Genuine spirituality is about two things. I have that on the best authority!  Jesus Christ Himself said that all God’s requirements for our lives are summed up in two statement – “Love God and love others!”  Want to grow in grace, to develop a great soul?  Get serious about repentance when you sin against God, about choosing daily to die to our need to be first or to have your efforts recognized by others.  Choose to give yourself; body, soul, and spirit, to the Lord.

A by-product of self-made ‘spirituality’ is arrogance, something Paul called being ‘puffed up.’  He reminded the Corinthian Christians who were so ready to proclaim their spirituality “… you have become arrogant … I will come—and soon—if the Lord will let me, and then I’ll find out whether these arrogant people are just big talkers or whether they really have God’s power. For the Kingdom of God is not just fancy talk; it is living by God’s power.”(1 Corinthians 4:18-21, NLT)  If we try to make others think of us as ‘spiritual,’ we will become actors and looking good will replace being good!

I pray those who interact with me today will see Jesus in me. I hope that they will find in me a loving heart full of real concern for the world around me.  I pray that in all I say and do the desire to do His will be self-evident.  If I am living to honor the One Whom I call, “Lord” with integrity; I will be ‘spiritual’ without the forced behavior or pious pretenses.

Here’s a word from the Word. I pray it will lead us to truer spirituality today! “Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For the Scriptures say, ” ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will confess and give praise to God.’ ” Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God. So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.” … So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.” (Romans 14:10-13, 19)

I won’t get caught

Ed and I were talking about his choices. “There are two ways to look at your behavior,” I said. “You can make me act like a policeman to monitor you, or you can choose wisely for yourself, for the sake of your integrity.”  He’s 11, so I do not know how much of that he understands.  I face the same decision every day. Will I choose to do what I know is right even though I know that the chance of being caught is non-existent?  Will I keep my marriage vows? Will I fulfill my obligations to others? Will I speak truthfully?   
Once erosion of character starts, it is hard to stop. A little compromise turns into major sin.  Hidden sin eats away inside of us like termites eat away the supporting structure of a home. On the outside all looks well, but the beams are weakened as their cores are eaten away.  Unless stopped, there will be a catastrophic collapse!  James describes the process of sin this way:  “each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, … enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” James 1:14-15 (NIV)
Integrity is a treasure!  We are wise to guard it. What is it?
Dictionary.com defines it:
1. adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.
2. the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished: to preserve the integrity of the empire.
3. an, unimpaired, or perfect condition: the integrity of a ship’s hull.   
After Pilate questioned Jesus he returned to report, “I find no cause for charges in this man.”  That’s the way I want people to talk about me.  What about you?  A person’s integrity becomes a safeguard.  Many years ago, during a meeting in which another man’s dishonest dealings were revealed  someone wondered if I were also involved.  Another said of me, “We knew he was not interested.”  Those who were in on the scheme had not even offered money to me. Why? Because my honesty was obvious.  Thank the Lord for the gift of integrity that protected me even from being tempted! “May integrity and honesty protect me, for I put my hope in you.” Psalm 25:21 (NLT)
Does your reality match your image?  Are you the same inside as out?
Integrity comes from a genuine respect for and awe of the Lord. When we are made right with Him through Christ and the Cross, we must not turn again to living only in the fear of man.  God offers wholeness to us.  He sees us as we are and loves us! But, He will not overlook our willful sins.  Knowing this we pray as Jesus taught, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”   Nehemiah saw this quality in his brother and rewarded it.  I put in charge of Jerusalem my brother Hanani, along with Hananiah the commander of the citadel, because he was a man of integrity and feared God more than most men do.”  Nehemiah 7:2 I
Immaturity says “I won’t get caught.”  A person of character says, “I will walk in integrity.”  That one knows peace with God and others. He enjoys trust.
Here’s a word from the Word. “The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out.” (Proverbs 10:9, NIV)

Slimed

Slimed!
Up until last week, much of the ground beef sold in these United States included an ingredient called, “finely textured lean beef.” It is made from the trimmings leftover after the more readily accessible cuts are removed. A nutritionist concerned about the process used to produce it nicknamed it ‘pink slime’ and the story went viral on the Internet, fanned by breathless reporting on ABC News! When it’s called “finely textured lean beef,” I might eat it. I find “pink slime” disgusting. Now that the hysteria has died down, we see that the pejorative name is not quite deserved. But, it’s too late for the 200 Americans out of job and a company that had to shut down production yesterday.  
My point is not to argue for or against this product. I want to point out the power of words.
Ever slimed anyone?
Ever been slimed?
With a little shift in tone or choice of adjectives we can turn a suspicion into an accusation. A reputation built over a lifetime can be destroyed overnight. A friendship can be ripped apart with just a phrase. A church can be sent into division with a couple of half-truths. Slimed!  
I wonder what kind of crisis inspired James, pastor of First Church in Jerusalem to write this? “A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything-or destroy it! It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell.” (The Message)
Our words are invested with great power for good, too. Listen to a loving mother murmur to her child and the words are like a caress, soothing. Listen to a leader with vision inspire, building a future for those who hear him with nothing but his words. Remember the encouragement that came your way at just the right moment that kept you going when you felt like quitting? The Proverb tells us that such words are like beautiful jewelry, “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” Proverbs 25:11 (NIV)  
Let’s not settle for simply being ‘nice‘ in our speech. As Christian disciple, the Spirit will fill us up. When His life is shaping our life, the overflow of our words will be a ‘river of living water!’ “Lord, make my words as refreshing as a clear mountain stream!” Even the hard truth can be healing if spoken with evident love.
Slimy words are full of self-interest, gossip, half-truths, innuendo, and death. Words that give life are full of truth, love, and hope. So this practical challenge is given to us, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Ephesians 4:29 NIV
So this is the word from the Word, a prayer for today. “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.” Psalm 19:14 (NIV)

Burger King’s philosophy- Have it your way

Burger King’s philosophy – have it your way!

People, including me, love to do things ‘our way.‘  Americans are consumers who like personalized service. All of this comes at a cost to cooperation, which leads to the destruction of our community structures – government, neighborhood, and Church. Individualism is not a bad thing when we are ordering a burger for lunch.

However, when we drag the assumption that “the world owes me happiness” into church, it is especially destructive. Selfless service is a fundamental expression of our discipleship!  Jesus, our Model,came to serve, not be served-and then to give away his life in exchange for the many who are held hostage.”  (Matt. 20:28)

Consumer Christians who are focused on ‘me, myself, and I’ say things like: 
“The church has nothing to offer me.”
“My needs are not addressed by the church so I’ll form my own fellowship.”
“I don’t need the church to serve Christ.”

  Brian McLaren observed that he believes that many Christians have bought into a ‘gospel of self-enhancement. They have turned the Bible’s declaration that “God loves the world,” into “God loves ME!” (lecture delivered at Moravian Seminary in Bethlehem, PA) Jesus did not come to give us the ability to become self-actualized – more healthy, more wealthy, and more happy than our neighbors. He came to restore us, individually, to the image of God; calls us into the Church, and from a place in the Church, requires that we find ways with other disciples to lovingly serve the wide world around us. 

The whisper of the Spirit, deep within us, is insistent that we exist for some reason greater than piling up lots of stuff to play with or carving out a place of comfort where we can live out our days in self-indulgence. Jesus says that if we embrace self-sacrifice, only then do we truly find life! His word challenge us – “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for me, you will find true life. And how do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose or forfeit your own soul in the process?” (Luke 9:23-25, NLT)

Here’s a word from the Word. As you read pray that the Holy Spirit will let you appreciate the joy that can be found in humble service to God, expressed in serving others.

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself.
He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges.

Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death-and the worst kind of death at that: a crucifixion.Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth-even those long ago dead and buried-will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father. – Philippians 2:5-11 (The Message)

Do something for someone today for which you expect NO THANKS. It doesn’t have to be grand. Maybe it’s listening to somebody’s story, or washing your kid’s clothes, or picking up trash in the parking lot. Pray for the most miserable person you know, asking God’s blessing for them. No complaining, no angling for recognition. Be a servant for Jesus’ sake and let God bless you.

A Singer of Love Songs


Jeremiah had a problem. God gave him a message for His people, which he was taking faithfully to them. Those people werehearing it, but not the way they needed to listen. “As for you, son of man, your countrymen are talking together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, saying to each other, ‘Come and hear the message that has come from the Lord.’ My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice. “When all this comes true—and it surely will—then they will know that a prophet has been among them.” (Ezekiel 33:30-33, NIV)  Jeremiah had become a diversion, regarded as an entertainer.
Is going to church just a weekly diversion? Is your pastor’s message a kind of entertainment?  Do you evaluate the sermon based on how often you laughed, or if you cried? Do you listen to him (or her) like you listen to a love song on the radio, just for the emotional content of the moment?
From life-long experience, (It’s been my privilege to preach thousands of time) I can tell you that going for the quick audience response is very tempting. When the congregation laughs at my story, it feels good. When they’re drawn to tears by a compelling tale of human interest, I love it! But, drama can never replace solid teaching. Entertaining stories can never take the place of a real message from the Lord. My point is not to excuse boring preaching or poor communication skills. I’m asking each of us to examine what we expect in a message and to pray for understanding. Jesus says, “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.” (Revelation 2:29, NLT)
The Word gives this charge to preachers even as it warns us about going for the cheap, quick emotional response. “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:2-4, NIV)
Hear the Word! Hunger for it. Love it. Encourage your pastor to preach the Word! Don’t turn him into an entertainer, demanding laughs and clever speeches. Pray that he will be a prophet, a person whose heard from God and who is filled with the courage to say, “this is what the Lord says…”  
There is great reward when we receive the Word. May we live in the promise.
“The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry. It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.
You will live in joy and peace.
The mountains and hills will burst into song, and the trees of the field will clap their hands! Where once there were thorns, cypress trees will grow. Where nettles grew, myrtles will sprout up. These events will bring great honor to the Lord’s name; they will be an everlasting sign of his power and love.” (Isaiah 55:10-13, NLT)

Stop Talking Badly about God’s Wife

The man said, “I really do believe in God and Jesus, but I hate church.” The irony underlying the conversation hit me hard. How could I, a man who has spent his entire adult life working for a church, speak honestly about his statement?   I understood what he meant though, for I, too, have found myself despising parts of organized religion. I confess that there are days when I am seriously tempted to run away from religious enterprise to do something really ‘spiritual.’ Lots of people who believe in Jesus Christ are abandoning His Church.
They point to the politics that get mixed up with the Gospel. The platform of a party get tangled up in the proclamation of Christ’s Kingdom. I agree that making a political view a litmus test for ‘real’ Christianity is an error but, should not our deepest convictions about life find expression in the kind of nation we desire? The things Jesus talked about: compassion, justice, expressing the love of the Father to others; are connected to real life and will affect the way we vote. If we erect a high wall between our faith and our politics, as some would insist we should, our faith becomes worthless Sunday sentiment! As James says, “Faith without works is dead.” (2:26)
Some point to the conflict of science and the message of their church. Arrogance abounds on both sides of that issue! Those who insist on only one interpretation of the Genesis story are rigid and doctrinaire, but so are those who dismiss the Scripture’s story because of a scientific theory that becomes like Gospel to them. Humility will keep the dialogue going. True science has nothing to fear from faith, nor does real faith turn a blind eye to honest inquiry!
Others point to the money thing! “All the churches want is my money.” Yes, it’s true that churches need money, just like government, business, you, and me! It’s a cheap shot to focus on the few celebrity preachers who lives extravagantly at the expense of their congregation as the norm. Most people who serve in church ministries are compensated in a way that is far below what is common in the secular world. And, they do so gladly. Their reward is not earthly treasure, but changed lives.
Other canard hurled at the Church repeatedly is about the hypocrites that live in her. Do all Christians live their faith fully and authentically? Nope! And, I’m one of them. I fail to live up to my aspirations too often. I’m sometimes less than loving. I allow fear to overtake faith. I misjudge others. I become the victim of my own preconceived ideas. Does this make me a hypocrite? I don’t think so. Why? Because, I am, like all Christians, a ‘becomer,’ a work in progress, growing in Christ.

If you’re throwing stones at the ‘hypocrites’ in the church, watch out, because your own inconsistencies are likely to be revealed sooner or later. Yes, it is true that in some churches image has overtaken substance, tradition is worshipped on a higher level than God Himself, and where conformity to the accepted rule is king! But, don’t confusion failure to perfectly live the Christ-life with hypocrisy.

And, many claim that church is irrelevant to their life. What exactly does that mean?

We are called to Christ and that call can be difficult to accept, hard to understand, and require profound change in us! The message of the Church should not comfort us or fit neatly into our cultural norms. It should disturb us, irritate it, and compel us to become holy people, who will be seen as ‘irrelevant, out of touch’ by those who are not lovers of God. Too much accommodation of the culture destroys the distinctive quality of a Christian’s life. Our calling is to be ‘the salt of the earth.’ The Christian who has become ‘worldly’ no longer functions in that way.  

The church isn’t just about being relevant. God has given the Church (and Christians) a message of transformation that conflicts with the sins of whatever culture into which it is spoken! A church that is so compromised by a search for relevance has lost her voice to call people to live in love, in mercy, in justice.

Who needs to be a part of the church? Every Christian!   The Christian life is not a “Lone Ranger” one.   The highest and best spiritual life is not lived in isolation from other disciples. Christianity is a communal experience according to the will of God. We abandon His Church to our own peril and in defiance of His command ‘not to forsake the assembling of the saints.’

Here’s the word from the Word: “God has put all parts of our body together in the way that he decided is best. A body isn’t really a body, unless there is more than one part. It takes many parts to make a single body. That’s why the eyes cannot say they don’t need the hands. That’s also why the head cannot say it doesn’t need the feet.
In fact, we cannot get along without the parts of the body that seem to be the weakest. We take special care to dress up some parts of our bodies. We are modest about our personal parts, but we don’t have to be modest about other parts. God put our bodies together in such a way that even the parts that seem the least important are valuable. He did this to make all parts of the body work together smoothly, with each part caring about the others. If one part of our body hurts, we hurt all over. If one part of our body is honored, the whole body will be happy.
Together you are the body of Christ. Each one of you is part of his body.” (1 Corinthians 12:18-27, CEV)

Want to be the best Christian you can be? Commit yourself to the church Christ loves as His Bride. Stop talking badly about God’s wife! Work at it. Give your all, for God’s sake.

The Bible says that the results will be simply amazing: “we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ. No prolonged infancies among us, please. We’ll not tolerate babes in the woods, small children who are an easy mark for impostors. God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love-like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.” (Ephesians 4:13-16, The Message) 

Cowards and Confrontation

Cowards and Confrontation
“What do I say to my friend who is wandering spiritually?” Answers are much easier in the abstract than to practice in reality. What do you say to that fellow Christian who starts missing church every other week to sleep in? He says he needs the rest because of all the overtime. Do you speak up to that guy at lunch whose eyes constantly drift to stare at attractive women while you’re together? He thinks you’re unaware of his roving eye! Do you say anything about the profanity that slips out with increasing frequency? He thinks it’s proof of his spiritual liberty.
I confess that I have too often been a coward in this regard. My need to be liked, to not appear judgmental or rude, has sealed my lips. Consider this. Would we be reluctant to say something to a friend who thinking about driving when he was intoxicated? Taking the keys would be a no-brainer! Risking our friend’s anger would be well worth keeping him from hurting himself or someone else. But, when it comes to choices that may well have consequences for the rest of his life and perhaps even for eternity, we become cowards, unable to find the words for confrontation.
There is a word in the Bible that many of us avoid like a disease. “Rebuke.” This command for church leaders provokes real discomfort- “Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning.” (1 Timothy 5:20, NIV) A rebuke is a correction, a sharp reprimand. If we love others, we will do it, for their good and for the sake of Christ’s kingdom. And, we will earn the wrath of many otherwise devout Christians who will accuse us of intolerance.
Paul called on the church at Corinth to withdraw fellowship from a man who was living sinfully. “Don’t let him sit down at your love feasts,” he said. That church was proud of their tolerance, confusing their willingness to let this man go on without confrontation, with genuine love. The apostle told them they were confused about how to show real love. Was allowing the man to increase his own judgment before God really loving? Was allowing his actions to hurt other Christians by influencing them to unholy ways really what the love of Christ was meant to do? “You must throw this man out and hand him over to Satan so that his sinful nature will be destroyed and he himself will be saved on the day the Lord returns. Your boasting about this is terrible. Don’t you realize that this sin is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough?” (1 Corinthians 5:5-6, NLT) But the act was always aimed towards correction not exclusion alone. Later on, after this man had turned around, and Paul urged the church to “forgive and comfort him. Otherwise he may be overcome by discouragement. So I urge you now to reaffirm your love for him.” (2 Corinthians 2:6-8, NLT)
How we confront is an important consideration.  Are we driven by fear or anger? If so, our words will be destructive, harsh, and without the possibility of redemption. If we are driven by love, we will seek the best for our brother, risking his wrath, but always looking for restoration. Oh yes, it’s a road full of hazards, particularly in our society that so highly prizes individuality and freedom. “Get out of my face!” is a much more likely response to the most loving rebuke than “Help me to change my heart. Hold me accountable.” Then, too, if we are hypocritical, our own sins and failures will either keep us silent or give our erring friend real reason to ignore us. Jesus’ oft-quoted parable about the man with the post in his eye trying to take the speck from his brother’s eye is misunderstood as a reason not to correct. A closer reading does not bring that conclusion. Jesus’ true point was not to stop speaking to others about sin, but rather to get ourselves right with God first! Only then can we speak with integrity. The Word does not urge us to be busy-bodies setting everybody straight, as we think they should live. But, for those we love, those who claim the Name of Christ, we have a great responsibility to encourage them on the Way.
May this word from the Word help us to overcome our fear and to ‘speak the Truth in love.’    
“The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, speak to your countrymen and say to them: ‘When I bring the sword against a land, and the people of the land choose one of their men and make him their watchman, and he sees the sword coming against the land and blows the trumpet to warn the people, then if anyone hears the trumpet but does not take warning and the sword comes and takes his life, his blood will be on his own head. Since he heard the sound of the trumpet but did not take warning, his blood will be on his own head. If he had taken warning, he would have saved himself.  
But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes the life of one of them, that man will be taken away because of his sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for his blood.’ “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade him from his ways, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood.  
But if you do warn the wicked man to turn from his ways and he does not do so, he will die for his sin, but you will have saved yourself.” (Ezekiel 33:1-9, NIV) 

A Wild Swing, a bloody mess

A wild swing, a bloody mess
If you corner a animal it is likely to respond with hostility, bared teeth, claws, or fangs. Sam, my Irish setter, is the most docile creature you could imagine, but her hair will rise and a deep growl will rumble from her throat if she feels that she has no way to run. Ever feel cornered, desperate to escape with no apparent way out?  That kind of physical danger is not part of my life experience, thankfully!  But, there are those moments when I feel as though circumstances push me into the corner, cutting me off. What then?
Stress levels were high following the Passover dinner where Jesus spoke at length about His impending death. The disciples were trying to sort out their confusion during the short walk through the darkness to the olive grove where there was a garden called Gethsemane.  Jesus prayed. The disciples fell asleep. With a start they awoke when one of them saw the light of flaming torches coming their way. Tension rose, but Jesus would not run.  Danger came; Roman soldiers and armed temple police, accompanied by Judas. Jesus stepped forward, they fell back. He asked them who they sought. They answered that they were looking for Jesus. Judas moved forward and kissed the Master in betrayal, a signal that led the soldiers to seize Him. Peter, cornered and desperate, pulled a sword from his waistband and took a wild swing at the nearest man, who ducked, but not quickly enough to save his ear which was sliced away. Before further chaos could break out, the Man in custody showed amazing grace and leadership. He told Peter to put his sword away, asked the soldiers to let His disciples go, and then gently healed Malchus’ ear. He was not cornered at all. He was walking in His Father’s will. “Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” (John 18:11, NIV)
Two men, same place; such different responses. One was full of fear, the other full of faith. One was moving to the will of God, the other running from it. One was secure in God’s hand, the other adrift in his own confusion.
Has life apparently cornered you, Christian?
Are the problems overwhelming, the future non-existent?
Is there no way out, no way around?

Don’t flail about, wildly swinging cutting words, slashing in the darkness. Kneel! Find your place in the Father’s will. Wrestle with the emotions. Jesus did! His stress was intense, His desire to walk away from the Cross, but He didn’t.  Instead, He submitted Himself to the plan of god. “Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”(Matthew 26:39, NIV) The way out of the corner was not the path He preferred but it was the way to great glory! 

Here’s a word from the Word. “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NIV)  If you own this promise, you will never be cornered by circumstances again.

It’s just karma, isn’t it?

It’s just karma, isn’t it?
A man recently was comparing his life to mine.  He bemoaned his circumstances and pointed out my blessings. With more than a little envy, he side-stepped his responsibility for his situation: “It’s just karma, isn’t it?”  In fact, I knew him well enough to know that he had made some very short-sighted choices that were now costing him dearly. Even I recognized that, I also knew that he had not enjoyed some of the rich blessings of heritage that I have.  But, I don’t accept that destiny is fixed. God gives each one of a great privilege called – choice.
Do you believe in fate? Perhaps you call it luck, or karma, or destiny. Some Christians bring those words to their understanding of the will of God, confusing His power over all persons and things with a fate pre-determined by Him that is unchanging. I am not a fatalist, I don’t believe in luck, and I know that God works with me to create my destiny! There is a dense mix of threads of choice that come together to create the fabric we call ‘life.’
There is no way that Jerry Scott could ever claim to be the sole creator of his destiny. I am who am I today because of choices made by generations of people and because of the work of God. Yet, I cannot avoid my responsibility. There are pivotal moments of choice that set in motion a series of events that create yet more opportunities.  Two statements in the Bible form my understanding of such things. One tells me to “make the most of every opportunity.”(Colossians 4:5, NIV)  The other reminds that “by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.” (1 Corinthians 15:10, NIV)
We will not live the best life possible without humble recognition of the gifts of grace God provides to us through the choices of others, through the divinely orchestrated circumstances that are simply beyond our ability to grasp given the limits of our humanity. Equally true is that fact that we will rob ourselves of myriad blessings if we throw ourselves adrift in life, failing to meet the challenges, to work at tending the garden for which He has given us stewardship.
Disciple, do not be passive towards life, just letting it happen to you! Take this day as His gift to you and choose to serve Him. Then, don’t be anxious about those things over which you have no control, for those are in the hands of God. The Word clearly calls us to responsibility and trust, to acceptance and effort. “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts… and be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15, NIV)  I have the choice to allow Christ to be the umpire who makes the call in my life, and you do, too.  Choose wisely.
Here’s a word from the Word. “Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.” (Galatians 6:7-10, NLT)
______________
Father, keep me from living in pride
When I enjoy success,
And protect me from despair
When my way is dark.
Help me to trust You with each day, the same.
I pray for wisdom to see the opportunities
that lie before me,
For courage to seize them,
and grace to walk in Your purposes.
Help me to let go of regret,
to give and accept forgiveness,
And to encourage others, receiving grace for this moment.
May my greatest desire always be to honor Christ,
In each choice I make.
Holy Spirit, be my guide.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.