You’re going to Hell

You’re going to Hell!
In my high school drivers education class, there was an annual ritual. You heard about it when you got to the school and waited, with a strange kind of anticipation and dread, for the day when we would see ‘the movie.’  It featured gory wrecks from the Ohio Turnpike!  Given the kind of entertainment available today, it seems rather quaint. There on the screen were scenes of mangled bodies,  flashing police lights, and sounds of sirens. These were not actors. It was footage of real fatal accidents and the effect on us was dramatic.  Kids threw up, girls cried, and boys pretended that they were above it all.  The aim of the whole thing was to impress us with the potential dangers that existed for us when we got behind the wheel.  When the lights came back on, we sat with ashen faces, wondering if we really wanted to get our driver’s licenses. A year later we were driving too fast, that fear-filled hour largely forgotten.
Fear moves people. It creates a sense of urgency, drives a person to look for safety and/or relief.  Some churches and ‘evangelism’ programs are built around it. “What would happen to you if you had to face God today?” is a question loaded with the threat of Hell. I believe that  Christians who start a presentation about Christ using fear, are placing the em-pha’-sis on the wrong syl-la’-ble!   It is religionthat depends on fear and guilt as primary motivators. True Christianity doesn’t!   We don’t drive people to Christ Jesus.  We lead them, with a message full of promise, to Him.  The Bible says, “For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. This is the wonderful message he has given us to tell others. We are Christ’s ambassadors, and God is using us to speak to you. We urge you, as though Christ himself were here pleading with you, “Be  reconciled to God!” (2 Corinthians 5:19-20, NLT)    It’s hope, not fear, that is our message to a sinful world.
Fear, as a motivator, has a very short shelf life.   The fear felt in the dark of night evaporates in the morning’s sunshine.  The immediate lure of temptation easily overcomes the terror of future judgment.   While a kid growing up in church,  I heard many ‘Hell and damnation’ sermons.  In Youth rallies the build-up to the “altar call” was long and terrifying!  When the preacher used manipulative techniques to turn up the heat, I made my way to the ‘altar’ and cried fearful tears begging  God to forgive my sins.  Days, sometimes even hours, later I went out and did the same things again.  Why?    Because, fear is simply too weak to restrain the rebellious and sinful heart.    When God revealed His patience to me, showed me the depths of His love, and let me know that Jesus died on the Cross to reconcile me to the Father, more than to keep me out of Hell – I was changed.   The truth proclaimed in 2 Peter 3:9 became real to me. “. . . He does not want anyone to perish, so he is giving more time for everyone to repent,”  and I discovered the power of transformation by love. 
Love is so much stronger than fear!  If we would see people commit their lives to Christ, it must be for love’s sake alone. They must see such an irresistible grace in Him that they will repent and turn from sin to
serve Him wholeheartedly.   The Good News is not ‘you’re a bunch of awful sinners and you’re going to Hell!’     The Gospel is  that “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)  In Luke 15 there are 3 stories that Jesus told about ‘lost’ things: a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son.  In each instance when the lost was found, there was a great celebration. The story of the Prodigal Son is really mis-named. It should be called the story of the Waiting Father. When His way-ward son finally comes home, broken by his own willful sinfulness, the father kisses him, restores him to the family, and celebrates his return. Jesus was telling an ‘every-man’ story! It is a love story that  I can never tell without becoming full of emotion.  
“You’re going to Hell” may be true, but it’s not my primary message. I am a follower of Christ because I love Him and that is because He loved me first. I follow Him, not to avoid judgment, but to find “ life in all its fullness” (John 10:10, NLT) which Jesus Christ promises to me.  How about you?
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
that saved a wretch like me,
I once was lost, but now I’m found,
was blind, but now I see.
T’was grace that taught my heart to fear
and grace my fears relieved,
how precious did that grace appear,
the hour I first believed.

Dying of starvation in a land of plenty?

“I’m dying for something to eat,” I sometimes say to Bev. Really, I do not know a thing about  hunger.  Our cupboards are overflowing with abundance and my waistline gives evidence of that.  As I age, I am somewhat more aware of both the quality and quantity of my diet.  Last week, a gourmet chef prepared a meal of complex flavors from the best ingredients.  After dining at that table, I was deeply satisfied without feeling ‘stuffed!’  When I was a kid if offered me a plate of leafy greens including baby spinach, arugula, and various lettuces, garnished with nuts or seeds, and brushed with a balsamic dressing,  I would have pushed it aside as inedible.  No more!  I love the mixed flavors of a well-made salad! I have learned that cheeseburgers and macaroni are not good nutrition nor can they really satisfy my hunger. 
Are you spiritually malnourished, hungry for something you cannot describe, filled with longings you cannot satisfy?  God is calling you to a feast!  Moses spoke to God’s people telling them, “Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” (Deuteronomy 8:2-4, NIV)
Our soul hunger will be satisfied by the table that is set by the Spirit of the Lord.  However, we can, and many do, temporarily eliminate our hunger by buying things, chasing excitement, or looking for some emotional high.   Let’s be honest – given the choice between an exciting football game or a two-hour church service – most people would choose the football game.    Why?   Sad to say, what should offer us an encounter with the living God can be poorly prepared, like a bad dinner.   But assuming that there is a commitment to creating a quality worship experience that honors God, even then many choose football.  Why?   Because it is harder to appreciate the satisfaction of the hunger of our soul that can be found in listening to God, in opening our heart and mind to His Presence, and acting in obedience to His call.   It is much easier to find satisfaction, albeit temporary, in the hype and fun of the game!   I am not suggesting that a football game is bad, but man cannot live on football alone!  Jesus says the same, but simply- “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6, NIV)
Do you know what you’re hungering for, really? Solomon knew soul hunger and had the means to try everything on life’s plate in his pursuit of satisfaction.  After building great monuments, chasing women by the hundreds, bringing orchestras to entertain him, and feeding every sensual appetite, he cried in frustration, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!”   He was empty, his soul still hungry. His advice?  “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them”—” (Ecclesiastes 12:1, NIV)
How are you trying to satisfy your soul’s hunger?  Turn to God!  Receive Christ, and pursue His ways.   Invite the Holy Spirit whet your appetite for the Word and for worship (which by the way does not just happen in church buildings) so that you will eat and be satisfied.

Here’s a word from the Word.  Read this line from Isaiah’s words thoughtfully:   “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.”  (Isaiah 55:1-3, NIV)   
All my lifelong I had panted
For a draught from some cool spring
That I hoped would quench the burning
Of the thirst I felt within
Feeding on the husks around me
Till my strength was almost gone
Longed my soul for something better
Only still to hunger on
Hallelujah I have found Him
Whom my soul so long has craved
Jesus satisfies my longings
Thro’ His blood I now am saved
Well of water ever springing
Bread of life so rich and free
Untold wealth that never faileth
My Redeemer is to me
Clara Tear Willims | Ralph E. Hudson
Public Domain  

Slipping into silliness?

The chaplain is a wonderful lady, filled with graciousness, but when she offered her prayer in the name of the “mystery in you and the mystery in me,” I just had to smile. In another public prayer, she gonged her way along attempting, I suppose, to find common ground with Buddhists. A well-known pastor made the claim this week that Mormons are a ‘little different’ but since they believed in Jesus they must be Christians. Both of these people are good at heart and are trying to reach out. But, they are slipping into silliness and making spirituality a joke by choosing to ignore real and major differences . I believe they are misguided and that their attempts at inclusion actually devalues relationships and dialogue.
While I respect a Mormon’s right to his belief system, I also understand that the God of his theology is not the God the Scripture, nor is the Jesus he follows the Jesus of orthodox, Scriptural Christianity. That is not an attack. By recognizing the difference, I affirm their idea of what is true without compromising my own convictions! I would strenuously engage in dialogue with any Mormon who cared to talk it over with me and then shake his hand in peace.
When I pray, I value my relationship to Jesus Christ as a Christian pastor. It’s not disrespectful to pray in His Name. Any who happens to disagree with me can just ignore my prayer or just not say “amen,” with me. I cool with that, but I will not water down my own faith in the matchless, wonderful Name, nor honestly, would I expect a person of differing, deeply held convictions, to do that for me. Somehow, we have come to a place where it’s expected that we hold ever so lightly to our convictions about what’s true, what’s false, what’s right, what’s wrong that we cannot talk about anything honestly. Honest speech is not the same as hate speech. If it is, then Jesus was a hateful man! He told the truth regularly.
He did warn us that holding onto the Truth would earn us the ire of those who dislike it. “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.” (John 15:18-22, NIV)
Disciple, do not be deceived by the philosophy that says, “Your truth and my truth are actually the same at the root.” Not all roads lead to the same destination, not all ideas claimed to be ‘true’ produce the same result. Be discerning. Jesus teaches us to be “as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16) because we live like sheep in the middle of wolves. There is no need to argue with everyone with whom we disagree, nor do we need to be on the attack. Truth speaks for itself when we are Spirit-filled, loving people. But, when we are asked about what we believe, we need to be courageous about our convictions.  
Then, too, know that not all convictions rise to the same level. The Moravian motto is “In essentials, unity.  In non-essentials, liberty.  And in all things, love.”  Arguing about things that have divided Christians into factions: methods of baptism, the time of Christ’s return, the way we receive Holy Communion, and practices in worship; diminish Christ and His Church! The non-essential things do not determine whether we are a Christian.  Faith in Christ and the reception of the Spirit is what moves us from death to life.   The major issues require a rock-solid conviction: Christ: His life, suffering, death and resurrection.
Let’s avoid the silliness of modern tolerance and the argumentative spirit of dogma. The word from the Word makes a real demand of us: “Live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1-3, NIV)

Impressing Daddy

Impressing Daddy
Selah, our grand-daughter, is just one year old, but she’s already tuned in on how to please her Daddy.  When she gets his eye, she dances for him, smiling at his words of praise. Though she cannot explain her actions, she is delighted by his approval, so she works on winning his affection.  It is a wonderful thing to see that love exchange, a daughter bringing delight to her Daddy who showers her with his love. The not-so-great fact is that in a few years she will, being an ordinary human being, try to manipulate her Dad by being cute while getting her own way!  But, once the teenage years are past, the relationship will mature. Selah will realize that Daddy’s love is unconditional and Sean will become her true friend, knowing her joys and her disappointments, sharing her successes and helping her in the inevitable failures.
Our Abba (“Daddy” in the NT) showers us with love. He delights in us and we learn to respond to Him. It can be a beautiful thing but tragically too often we turn pure worship into a religious act that we foolishly believe will win the Lord’s blessings.  Somehow we become deceived into thinking that God will be impressed if we just go through the motions, that He can be manipulated by insincere acts of worship.  Like teenagers trying to have our own way while staying within His favor, we hide our real motives behind heartless prayers, insincere praise, and ritual religion.  The only one fooled is us. Abba’s love is deep and wide. He wants to share all  of life with us – the good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly.  Spiritual maturity brings realization that we can be authentic, even as we pursue Him, and He will be our greatest Strength.
The Truth is that He is faithfully loving us through it all!  We say,  O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” (Isaiah 64:8, NIV)  He says,“I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me.  … I said, ‘Here am I, here am I.’ All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations—” (Isaiah 65:1-2, NIV)  That entire passage is a conversation about the enduring love of the Lord. Make no mistake about it.  He is not blind to sin, nor does His love rob Him of judgment.  If we ignore Him and walk willfully, there are painful consequences.  But, when we turn again to Him, we find a Father’s love.
Meditate on this passage today. May the words go deep into your heart and mind, transforming your understanding of the Love of the Lord. And, as you know Him better, you will delight in doing what He asks of you. “What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it—we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are.
But that’s also why the world doesn’t recognize us or take us seriously, because it has no idea who he is or what he’s up to.
But friends, that’s exactly who we are: children of God. And that’s only the beginning. Who knows how we’ll end up!
What we know is that when Christ is openly revealed, we’ll see him—and in seeing him, become like him.
All of us who look forward to his Coming stay ready, with the glistening purity of Jesus’ life as a model for our own.
All who indulge in a sinful life are dangerously lawless, for sin is a major disruption of God’s order. Surely you know that Christ showed up in order to get rid of sin. There is no sin in him, and sin is not part of his program. No one who lives deeply in Christ makes a practice of sin. None of those who do practice sin have taken a good look at Christ. “ (1 John 3:1-6, The Message)
Focus on the totally sufficient love of the Father for you. His is a love that keeps no score, that is freely offered, and that is wider and deeper than all our offenses against Him. THEN love Him extravagantly in response. Pour out your praise, your life, your worship to Him.  It will make a rich life!

Loves Like a Hurricane

Loves like  a hurricane
The man’s body told the story. His shoulders slumped, his eyes seldom left the ground. No terrible tragedy had befallen him. He was not carrying anything beyond the disappointments and responsibilities that are our common lot! But, somewhere he gave up hope and lost sight of the Light. He had allowed life to beat him down. If he had known the words of Elijah, I think he might have made them his life song: “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”   (1 Kings 19:4)
Elijah was an amazing man, used by God, whose faith sparked a national revival. Despite this, he let life, critics, and enemies take over. Their threats, combined with his fatigue, stole his hope and his future. He withdrew into isolation,  shrank into a ball of self-pity, and asked to die! But, the Lord was not done with Elijah. He did not kick him while he was down. Instead He quietly came near to him twice, reminding him of the Truth, restoring the right perspective. He re-commissioned Elijah and sent him back to Israel, where He told him that there were still thousands who had not gone after other gods.  The prophet regained his faith and returned to stand up against evil and a king named Ahab who was among the worst to govern that nation!
God loves to bless and despite the troubles of our lives we must hold onto hope. Instead of Elijah’s sad song, “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors;”  we need the anthem of faith to guide us.  Change the tune!  Sing the song that Paul sang when the problems piled up in front of him:  “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. “ (2 Cor. 4:17)  Paul’s song was not a dirge sung at the funeral of his future. It was a worship hymn celebrating the love of his Father in Heaven who held him secure. Take your cue from his response to the heartbreak in Philippi. When the evil men of that city hated him and schemed to have him beaten and imprisoned, he found faith to sing at midnight. His song released the power of God and the jail was rocked to its foundations. The greatest miracle, however, was the salvation that came to the jailer and his family, which sparked the formation of a vital church in that region.  (See Acts 16)
Here’s a word from the Word. Do not just read it. Believe it and take the promise.  The Lord will hold you in his hands for all to see—a splendid crown in the hands of God. Never again will you be called the Godforsaken City or the Desolate Land. Your new name will be the City of God’s Delight and the Bride of God, for the Lord delights in you and will claim you as his own. Your children will care for you with joy, O Jerusalem, just as a young man cares for his bride. Then God will rejoice over you as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride.” (Isaiah 62:3-5, NLT)
May the Lord’s love keep you secure,
The grace of God save you from despair,
The peace of the Spirit wrap tightly ‘round you,
And the hope of Heaven be your light.
How He Loves
He is jealous for me, loves like a hurricane
I am a tree, bending beneath
The weight of His wind and mercy.
When all of a sudden, I am unaware of
These afflictions eclipsed by glory,
I realize just how beautiful You are,
And how great Your affections are for me!
We are His portion and He is our prize,
Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes;
If grace is an ocean we’re all sinking!
So Heaven meets earth,
Like an unforeseen kiss
And my heart turns violently inside of my chest,
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets
When I think about the way that…
Oh, how He loves us so
Oh, how He loves us
How He loves us so
John Mark McMillan
© 2005 Integrity’s Hosanna! Music (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)
CCLI License # 810055

Dandelions and Oak Trees

A few years ago I read about a simple test administered to children that was fairly accurate in predicting how successful they would be later in their lives.   A single piece of candy was placed in front of them on a table and they were told if they did not eat it they would get a reward. If they did, there would be no further reward. The child was then left alone in the room.  Some were able to resist the temptation of the single piece of candy and received a whole bag. Many waited a few moments, and chose to eat the single piece! Those who were able to overcome the urge for short-term satisfaction were generally better students. Why? Because they could anticipate the reward that would come from their sustained effort!
Do you have God’s promises in sight, guiding today’s decisions?  Are you patient, waiting for the reward He promises to those who are faithful?
I remarked to my wife recently, that being a pastor was a lot like being a farmer. I plant the Seed of the Word, then wait for the Spirit to use it to bring about life transformation.  I’m not always as patient as I should be.  I’d like to see overnight successes for those who are fighting their way back from brokenness, quick fixes for those who are wrestling with hard situations, and healing miracles in the moment!  But, that’s not generally God’s way.  He changes us, deepens us, develops understanding with a process we just call ‘life.’   How many times have you acknowledged the mysteries of the day by saying, “that’s life!”  But, in God’s design, life is not random thing.  As we trust Him, work with Him, and live in faith – He uses it all to produce something amazing.  But, it’s a long process. A dandelion will grow and flower in a few days. An oak tree grows into a thing of beauty over decades. We take encouragement from the words in Isaiah that remind us that God is growing us into oak trees, not dandelions.  Jesus Christ came to “to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.”(Isaiah 61:2-3, NIV)
I want to grow as a towering oak; strong, enduring, my life a thing of beauty that causes other to say, “What a great God he serves!”  How about you?  Will you make the choice to wait, to trust, to let God grow you? Or will you choose the way of the dandelion?
Here’s a word from the Word.  Lord, use it to encourage us to wait for Your purpose. “Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.” (James 5:7-8, NIV)

Throw in a little "Jesus" for flavor

Throw in a little ‘Jesus’ for flavor
The ‘rat race’ is unending.  Grab a shower while thinking through the day. Get the kids some breakfast and off to school. Drive to the office, sort through email, voicemail, and yesterday’s unfinished tasks. Prioritize the day, what has to be done, ought to be done, and just isn’t going to get done! Plow through the calls, the meetings.  Get home, engage with the family, do household chores.  Relax a bit, fall into bed, do it all again tomorrow.  Oh, and don’t forget to throw in a little “Jesus” for flavor.  That is how many Christians live.  A prayer here, a snippet of Scripture there, a inspirational thought occasionally …  an hour or so for worship on Sunday – is their religion.
There is another way. The Bible says “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25, NIV)  The Message amplifies the urgency: “Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives.” (Galatians 5:25, The Message) Many who claim to be followers of Christ are satisfied with being morally upright, somewhat more kind and gentle than their neighbors. If they are avoiding theft, paying taxes, and generally being law-abiding, with a dash of Christian conversation thrown in for good measure, they think they are living the Christian life. But what if their agnostic neighbor does the same things except for going to church? Where’s the difference?
Studies of people who claim to be ‘born again’ followers of Jesus Christ here in America reveal that there are no measurable differences in their daily choices from those who are not believers.  Evangelical Christians  watch sexually explicit movies at the same rate, get divorced as often,  show no more concern for the poor, are even less likely to be concerned about care for the earth, and “lie when convenient.”  The only measurable differences were that they were more likely to volunteer for their church and less likely to use profanity in public!  In other words, other than superficially, Jesus is NOT making much difference. How can this be?
Cheap grace is no grace. Jesus warned that many will be surprised at the judgment to find that they are on the outside because they only said the right things, but never really knew Him!  A person transformed by the Spirit, whose every day life is devoted to the love and service of Christ, will be markedly different.  If it is not, then there is no Spiritual life, no hope of Heaven.   The Bible says “The old sinful nature loves to do evil, which is just opposite from what the Holy Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are opposite from what the sinful nature desires. …
When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, your lives will produce these evil results: sexual immorality, impure thoughts, eagerness for lustful pleasure, idolatry, participation in demonic activities, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, divisions, the feeling that everyone is wrong except those in your own little group, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other kinds of sin. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Here there is no conflict with the law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. If we are living now by the Holy Spirit, let us follow the Holy Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.” (Galatians 5:17-25, NLT)
Jesus is uncompromising when He challenges us to become His disciples. He says we cannot love two masters, that we must take up our cross and die to Self, that we must forsake friend and family to pursue the will of God for our lives.  None of those things is possible without desperate faith!  But where faith is allowed to take root in us, we become people with ‘eternal life’ here and now, alive in the Spirit, and remarkably different.
So, are you a disciple or just an American with a little “Jesus” sprinkled into your life for flavor?
You are my life,
O precious Christ.
You are to me
The pearl of greatest price,
O holy fire,
Love’s purest light,
Burn all desires ‘till
You are my one delight.
O conquering King,
Conquer my heart!
And make of me a pleasing gift to God.
I come to You;
I run to You.
There’s no greater joy
Than knowing You,
My love for You will never die.
Jesus, You are my life!
Jesus You Are My Life
Steve Fry
© 1994 Maranatha Praise, Inc. (Admin. by Maranatha! Music)
Word Music, LLC (a div. of Word Music Group, Inc.)
CCLI License # 810055

It’s about who gets the credit!

Look, Listen- Hear, Obey!

Some challenge arises and we wonder, “What are we going to do?” With that we are off and running, scrambling to assemble resources, putting together our strategies. What’s wrong with that?  Nothing, except that as Christians, we are not our own! The Bible teaches us that we are to “Be silent, and know that I am God! I will be honored by every nation.” (Psalm 46:10, NLT)  Before we work, we are to wait. If we make the plans, we do so within the framework of what we believe to be possible.  The Lord does BIGGER things! 

The newly ‘called out’ nation of Israel left Egypt in high spirits. After a long struggle with Pharaoh, they were finally free. They danced across the desert, singing the praises of God and their leader, Moses.  Then, somebody spotted the dust plume on the horizon and scouts reported that the crack brigade of Egypt’s army was on their tail, some 600 chariots, coming to take them back to slavery.  They could not flee because the Red Sea was front of them. “As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the LORD. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” (Exodus 14:10-12, NIV) Their terror is not baseless.

Moses response to them is a lesson for the ages, for all who would know the salvation of the Lord.  “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today.” (Exodus 14:13, NIV)  Wait? Stand in place? With an army coming quickly to capture?  That was exactly what God wanted them to do.  Moses listened prayerfully and God gave him an absurd (by human reason) direction.  “Lead the people right up to the edge of the Sea, then extend your staff over the water and I’ll make a way for them.”  Can you even imagine the faith it took for Moses to relay those plans to the nation?  But, he knew he had heard from the Lord and he did as instructed.  One of the more dramatic and spectacular deliverances in the Bible happened that night. “Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the LORD drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.” (Exodus 14:21-22, NIV)  God did not want a Moses-sized plan because then Moses would have received the credit for the victory.  He told Moses – “The Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen.” (Exodus 14:18, NIV)

The Spirit of God wants to work in our lives in a way that clearly makes it known that we are His and that what happens to us and through us is His design.  We cannot know His plan if we are full of our own!  He invites us to stop, look, and listen – and only then to move out in obedience.  The first generation of disciples waited before they went out to tell the Story.  God wanted to empower them so they would bear witness to Him, not to themselves.  He does not call us to passivity, but to prayer. Those prayers are not to instruct Him on what we want done, but rather to talk over the challenges of the world we live in, so that He can share His heart with us.  Are you ready to wait?

Here’s the word from the Word.  It’s familiar. Don’t rush through it. Read it prayerfully, thoughtfully – “For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made us understand that this light is the brightness of the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. But this precious treasure—this light and power that now shine within us—is held in perishable containers, that is, in our weak bodies. So everyone can see that our glorious power is from God and is not our own.” (2 Corinthians 4:6-7, NLT)

In my life, Lord, be glorified today! Amen.

A friend for all times

A friend for all times

To say that Jim’s (not his real name) life had hit a rough spot would be terrible understatement! If it could go wrong for him, it did.  His wife died suddenly, leaving him with 3 small children and his grief. His job evaporated.  His Mom who helped him with the little ones, died. He nearly became homeless. Are you discouraged for him yet?  In it all, he found himself carrying a very heavy load nearly alone. Talking with Jim made me realize how important it is that we keep a network of friends around us.  In my experience, people tend to under-value this resource more than anything else.  On my way home from Jim’s home, I thanked God for the wide circle of friends that are a part of my life, people that I love and who love me. More than money, more than stuff; my wealth is found in the people in whom I am invested.

Do you think that all you need is Jesus? In a sense that is true. He is a “friend that is closer than a brother.”  But, even those who are close to Christ need people. “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” (Proverbs 17:17, NIV)  A great dinner tastes better when it’s served at a table with a friend. A heavy burden is lighter when there is someone who cares.  A renowned psychologist said that his profession would barely exist if people maintained strong ties to friends and family. He provides, for a fee, what people once gave to one another freely:  advice, support, a listening ear, and reinforcement for sound choices.

Perhaps you’re reading this and remembering the failures of friendship!  Yes, I have experienced those, too. I wince with something like physical pain when I think of those hurt by my actions.  And, I have a few memories of people who betrayed or abandoned me along the way.  There are those with whom I shared the things of the Lord who have moved on and out of my life. I miss them, wonder how they are doing, and hope for restoration someday in Heaven. I will not become a Lone Ranger, carefully protecting my heart from pain by shrinking my circle of friends.  I take Jesus’ counsel about forgiveness seriously! I refuse to hate or hold a grudge, knowing that if I do, I pay the greater price both emotionally and spiritually.

It seems like common sense, yet the Word reminds us to value our friendships with this wisdom. “If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:10-12, NIV)  A band of brothers, we stand shoulder to shoulder.  Oh, that God would keep us connected and teach us to assign a higher priority to staying in our circle where there is safety.

When my children were young, I counseled them to choose friends wisely.  Those with whom we spend our time can lift us to higher heights or drag us into the pit. If you believe you are above peer pressure as an adult, think again!  Psalm 1 warns of spending inordinate amounts of time with mockers who reject God’s ways, sinners who live willfully, and the wicked who serve Self. Their attitudes will rub off on you. Disciples are called out of the world and into the Body of Christ.  It’s not that we refuse to be-friend those who are yet to come to faith in Christ, but we recognize that we need to join our heart with those who share our love of Jesus.  Jesus loved sinners!  So should we. But our closest friends must be friends of God.

Here’s a word from the Word.  “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses. He who is full loathes honey, but to the hungry even what is bitter tastes sweet. Like a bird that strays from its nest is a man who strays from his home. Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of one’s friend springs from his earnest counsel. Do not forsake your friend and the friend of your father, and do  not go to your brother’s house when disaster strikes you— better a neighbor nearby than a brother far away.” (Proverbs 27:6-10, NIV)


Bind Us Together
There is only one God
There is only one King
There is only one body
That is why we can sing

Bind us together Lord
Bind us together with cords
That cannot be broken
Bind us together Lord
Bind us together Lord
Bind us together with love

Bob Gillman
© 1977 Thankyou Music (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)
CCLI License # 810055

So, help me, God!

An elder in our congregation took the words right out of my mouth when he said, “I want to experience the power and Presence of the Spirit of God!” We were talking about the relative impotence of the church, about the gatherings in which we too often went through the motions of worship but failed to engage with the life of God’s Spirit.  We wondered how it is that people can be active ‘church-ians’ and fail completely to love, to forgive, to serve?  Apparently this condition has existed since the first generation of Christians appeared.  In the last letter he wrote, Paul warned Timothy about those who had “a form of godliness but deny its power.” (2 Timothy 3:5, NIV)

A robust and living Christian experience is quite similar to marriage. It has moments when excitement and passion are primary, alongside of moments when love is expressed with quiet patience and perseverance. Who wouldn’t want to live each day of marriage with the same kind of emotional engagement that comes in the first months of the relationship? But, we recognize that is not possible.  (Well, some of us do. Others have affairs!)  Our marital vows include “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.”  Our intimacy goes far beyond sentimentality.  Learning to love the Spirit includes a covenant that is not self-centered, but God-focused.  Honestly, we will sometimes find Him enthralling and sometimes wonder where He’s gone.  He is a Person, not a program; a living Being, not a machine whose levers we control.  And, we must not confuse a genuine Spirit-filled life with ‘feeling good.’

Yet, we must hunger for Him, pursue Him, and wait on Him. When Garry made the statement that I quoted in the opening lines today, I added that I too am desperate for the Spirit’s move. But, am I really?  Or I am so full of religion, that I have no real appetite for loving God?  “When we are at our wits’ end for an answer, then the Holy Spirit can give us an answer.  But how can He give us an answer when we are still well supplied with all sorts of answers of our own?” – Karl Barth (as quoted by Francis Chan in Forgotten God)

I thought I could never love Bev more than I did when I was an infatuated 19 year old kid.  37 years later, it is apparent that I knew next to nothing of love then.  Our ties now include parenting four kids into adulthood, surviving major surgery, holding on to each other when death visited our family, and leading two congregations as a team.  We have learned the language of love that allows us to send support across a crowded room when our eyes meet. We share our tears and our laughter. Our dreams are merged.  In the best sense of the Genesis ideal, we complete each other:  she is me, I am her!

If we would love the Spirit, He will lead us through experiences that rip away our pretensions, reveal our weaknesses, and hurt deeply.  He is no Sadist. He just wants us to look past health, wealth, and comfort. He wants to become one with us.  Jesus promised that he would  “ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14:16-17, NIV)  It takes courage and faith to abandon what we know to become the Spirit’s friend.  I want to know Him. So, help me God!

Jerry D. Scott, Pastor
Faith Discovery Church
Washington, NJ  07882