Anticipation

Anticipation
While watching portions of the Republican convention this week, I heard promises, a lot of promises.  “If you elect our candidates, they will make your life better.”  I was not born yesterday!  I’m not overly impressed by a politician’s promises, no matter his party affiliation. Perhaps they have good intentions, but much of what is said is never going to happen. So, I don’t hang too much hope on the rhetoric.  God’s promises are truths I live by! But, even then, I must take care not to force my idea on Him.  In a recent conversation, a woman repeated a ‘promise of God’ that she received years ago about a change in her financial situation. She has done nothing responsibly to address the challenges because she is convinced that “God is going to take care of me.”  So she continues to live irresponsibly, in vain hope that God will magically bring her prosperity. She has taken a real promise, that God does provide for His people, and forced her interpretation on it, which robs the promise of true fulfillment.
The Lord is at work in our lives and He promises to bring about a new and whole life in us, but not without a process that includes painful growth and development; and not without some patience and endurance on our part. We can become saints (read that as people who authentically know and love God) but not just with wishful thinking or formulaic prayers!  It’s a process, a way of life that emerges when we are responsive to the Spirit’s leading.
This passage is packed with promise. As I read it my faith surges, along with understanding that I am part of His greater plan to bring about the transformation of the whole of Creation. Read it thoughtfully. “Since we are his children, we will share his treasures—for everything God gives to his Son, Christ, is ours, too. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will give us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, everything on earth was subjected to God’s curse. All creation anticipates the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
And even we Christians, although we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, also groan to be released from pain and suffering. We, too, wait anxiously for that day when God will give us our full rights as his children, including the new bodies he has promised us. Now that we are saved, we eagerly look forward to this freedom. For if you already have something, you don’t need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t have yet, we must wait patiently and confidently. And the Holy Spirit helps us in our distress. For we don’t even know what we should pray for, nor how we should pray. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.” (Romans 8:17-26, NLT)
There is an amazing destiny waiting for God’s children, we will be like Jesus, lifted to perfection, beyond the reach of suffering, free from sin and death.  When we came to Christ, when we were forgiven and restored to our Abba, we only tasted a little of what is to come.  Our anticipation of the full glory of God’s presence is almost painful, making us groan. But, the Holy Spirit sustains while we wait for the promise.  I am eagerly looking forward to that moment when I no longer have to resist sin or enter into the conflict with evil.  I am so ready to be given a new body that cannot die, that does not age, that is beyond the reach of sickness!  I live in faithful anticipation, knowing that I have not ” yet taken hold of it. … I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14, NIV)
Anticipate the promise of God, but keep it real.  Don’t give in to irresponsibility or foolish dreaming.  Prayerfully, maturely,  ask God to create a genuine vision in you.  Let it lead you to faithful obedience, to a discipleship that gives your life an ever increasing beauty, until the glorious day of the full realization of His promise.  Here’s a word from the Word.  “Let us do our best to enter that place of rest. For anyone who disobeys God, as the people of Israel did, will fall. For the word of God is full of living power. It is sharper than the sharpest knife, cutting deep into our innermost thoughts and desires. It exposes us for what we really are. Nothing in all creation can hide from him. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes. This is the God to whom we must explain all that we have done. That is why we have a great High Priest who has gone to heaven, Jesus the Son of God. Let us cling to him and never stop trusting him.” (Hebrews 4:11-14, NLT)

The powerful effect of VISION

How vision effects this day
Costa, the trainer who is tasked with bringing me to fitness, faces a real challenge; and so do I!  As he coached me through my session yesterday, he kept reminding me that change is incremental, that expecting too much, too soon, creates disappointment and sets me up to quit the regimen. Almost in the same breath, he would talk about gaining increased endurance and strength, about new flexibility, and less risk of injury to joints. He wanted me to know why I was making the effort, submitting myself to the pain. The connection to the vital Christian life was obvious to me.  Stable, joyful, holy Christians build that life over time, with consistent practices of spiritual disciplines.  If they set up false expectations or try to compare themselves to another, they will likely become discouraged.  If they have a powerful, God-given vision for their future, they will remain hopeful and diligent in discipleship.
My trainer wrote down some measurements yesterday.  We will re-visit those on a monthly basis, adjusting my exercise program and diet as necessary to get the results I desire.  It is not easy to be faced with the facts of my physical condition!  It is much easier to pretend that “I am just fine.”  But, there is a powerful motivation to make a difference, when I see who am I and contrast that with what I can become. What would happen to us if we put our spiritual condition down on paper, facing the facts about the state of our soul?
What kind of person do youwant to be, does the Lord desire you to become? 

Do you want to be a loving, encouraging, hopeful, joyful, positive, life-enhancing individual that brings light into every room?
Are you content to be a self-absorbed, TV-obsessed, critical, mean, miserable person, who sucks the life out of others?  Most of us are somewhere between those extremes. We have days when the sinful nature takes over and we are full of darkness and we have days when the Spirit is invited to fill us.  But, we are always moving towards light or darkness!
The letter to the Galatians offers us a succinct summary that contrasts the life controlled by sin with the life directed by the Spirit.
“The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit (the visible evidence) of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:19-23, NIV)  What kind of motivation for change might we find if, like I did with my physical trainer, we did an honest assessment of the way we live? 
The change produced by daily prayer and meditation, by actively expressing worship, by confession of failure and acceptance of forgiveness, by entering into silence to listen to the Spirit, by giving even when we do not wish to do so, by choosing anonymous service in big and small ways, by learning and applying Scriptural principles;  is sure and certain – yet, incremental!   I want to be the person the Lord designed me to be.  So, I will live as this word from the Word teaches.  “I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself. If there was any way to get in on the resurrection from the dead, I wanted to do it. I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.” (Philippians 3:10-14, The Message)
Got the vision, friend?  Let’s get on with it, encouraging one another, becoming all that Christ desires us to be.  Soli Deo Gloria!

The One Place you must not abandon

Through the eyes of the new convert
So, at Noon yesterday I walked into a ‘temple’ that was very strange to me. It had its own vibe, smells, sounds, and rituals. I went to the gym! When I entered, I felt myself begin to perspire. “Good,” you say. No, this was nervous sweat not the result of any physical exertion. I was acutely self-consciousness. Would I do or say something totally ridiculous? Would some muscle-bound kid smirk at me behind my back? What does one say, if anything, while pushing weights?  I hate to admit it, but this very uncertainty was a primary reason I avoided the gym for so long.
Have you considered that perhaps a person who walks into into our church for the first time might feel some of the same kind of discomfort that I just described?  Not so very long ago, almost everyone knew something about ‘going to church.’  Sunday morning worship, at least on Christian holidays, was the normal thing to do. Not in 2012!  For Americans under the age of 34,  one third seriously question the existence of God as a personal Being! An even higher percentage is deeply skeptical about the value of ‘organized religion,’ and particularly Christian church.  Overall, only 1 in 5 Americans attend church regularly. About half of adult Americans do not attend any kind of organized religious activity ever. For these people, a church building is probably a foreboding place, a mysterious place.
What does this mean?  Well, a lot of things, but two that I want us to be thinking about.
1. We’re kidding ourselves if we think that those who are spiritually hungry are just going to walk through the front doors of our church buildings all by themselves!  If Americans do not think of our local churches offer an experience of God they can understand, why would they come? Is it that they have nothing else to do? Are there no alternatives to which they turn to find spiritual meaning?  I have not written off the Church.  God calls people together and makes His Presence known in our gatherings, but too often we keep the Light locked behind the door.
2. A personal, warm invitation is required if we hope to introduce a friend to Christ and His Church! My nerves about the gym would have been tremendously relieved if just one person had said, “I’ll meet you there when you go for a couple of weeks.”  (I didn’t ask anybody to do that)  That person could have explained what to wear, where to go, the traditions and expectations for me.  We, individually and collectively, must recover our commitment to Jesus’ imperative to ‘go and tell!’
Why is this important? Can’t people just come to Christ on their own, or by watching media?  If we attempt to argue that one can be a vital Christian without a connection to a church we must ignore much of the New Testament. Being ‘in the church,’ is a baseline expectation for followers of Jesus.  Why?  Because, the power  of the Holy Spirit is amplified when we come together to share His gifts and Presence. Something happens there that simply cannot happen when we are going it alone. People like to point out that going to church does not make a person a Christian. True enough.  Yet, consider this wisdom. “Listen to the Church,” Henri Nouwen writes in Show Me the Way (Crossroad). “I know that isn’t a popular bit of advice at a time and in a country where the church is frequently seen more as an ‘obstacle’ in the way rather than as the ‘way’ to Jesus. Nevertheless, I’m profoundly convinced that the greatest spiritual danger for our times is the separation of Jesus from the Church. The Church is the body of the Lord. Without Jesus, there can be no Church; and without the Church, we cannot stay united with Jesus. I’ve yet to meet anyone who has come closer to Jesus by forsaking the Church. To listen to the Church is to listen to the Lord of the Church.”
Christians who are doing what our Savior demands of us, “going into all the world to preach the Gospel,” and living as those who are the proof of the Truth, will first lead people to know who Jesus is and what He has done for us in His birth, death, and resurrection. Then, they will take those new converts with them to church! 
Note what the Word teaches. “Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Ephesians 3:8-11, NIV)   God’s plan is that all the wonder of salvation through Christ, the transformation of a broken, sinful world, would be demonstrated in the Church and that even angels would be impressed!  The Message says it like this:  Through followers of Jesus like yourselves gathered in churches, this extraordinary plan of God is becoming known and talked about even among the angels!
If you’re ‘in church,’  I pray you are a participant, not simply a consumer.
If you’re not ‘in church,’ I encourage you to find one where Christ is loved, where the Spirit is welcomed, and where you can grow deeper in the things of God –  ultimately for His glory.
“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 3:20-21, NIV)

Even a pickle glows

Even a pickle glows
Speaking of the high calling of Christ, the Bible asks: “who is equal to such a task?” (2 Cor. 2:16)  Living the Christian life with integrity, in a way that causes others to desire Him, is not easy! Christ’s disciples are called to live a life of love, but selfishness comes so naturally. We are taught to serve, but we find ourselves wanting to be served.  Our highest intentions to do good are often sabotaged by sin that works against us.  Who cannot identify with this verse –  I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” (Romans 7:18, NIV)

I recall a time when a woman counseled with me telling of her husband’s cruelty to her. He was mean,  belittling her day in and day out for years on end. Her anguish went deep and her dilemma – ‘do I stay in this marriage or do I call it quits after all this time?’ – was real and urgent. I listened and we prayed together. We asked for the Holy Spirit to lead her and to convict him.  Good was accomplished, yet even in that situation, the sinful nature in me found an opportunity. After she left my office, I found myself congratulating myself on being such a good husband to my wife! “I am so glad I’m not like him,” I thought proudly. I repented for even making the comparison when the Spirit convicted me.  Is that a dramatic sin? No, but it is that kind of persistent sinfulness that makes me desperate for the Spirit’s transformational work in me.

When we come to the end of ourselves and our own ability to be good, we are in the place where God can use us. The Bible says, ‘when we are weak, He is strong!’ John Ortberg, in his book, God Is Closer Than You Think, recounts a funny, simple little illustration. To make a point about being empowered by God, he brought an electrical engineer to church to conduct an experiment. “We turned off all the lights, hooked up an ordinary pickle to some wires, and then passed an electrical current through it. The pickle glowed! It gave light to a room… Many people believe that the flow of the Holy Spirit is reserved for spiritual giants… but, throughout history God has caused His power to flow through the most unlikely people; a prostitute named Rahab, a con man named Jacob, and a cheat named Zacchaeus. … so the next time you’re feeling inadequate, remember that even a pickle can glow if it stays plugged in to the flow.”

Jesus promised a ragtag group of followers that they would know success in the work of His kingdom because “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49, NIV) A few days later, the Holy Spirit flowed into that Upper Room and rested on those ordinary men and women in a life-transforming way. Were they made perfect in that instant? Hardly.  They disagreed about things, worked through misunderstandings, and dealt with personal sin. Yet, God mercifully filled them with His power again and again.  These ordinary men turned the world upside down in a generation!

Christianity has not survived for 2000 years because of the greatness of Christians, but because of the faithfulness of God.
 Are you feeling inadequate for the calling of God in your life today?
Have you failed Him in some way?
Are you discouraged?

Remember, even a pickle glows when it’s plugged into a current. Tell the Lord that you’re desperate for Him, that you are totally dependent on His power and see what He will do with you.

Here’s a word from the Word. With a simple, open heart receive this promise.

“If you love me, obey my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world at large cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you do, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you.” (John 14:15-18, NLT)
Abba, the war in me goes on.
I am pulled to love ME and desire to love You.
Teach me to breath the Spirit,
To be filled with His nature.
More than anything, let the love of Jesus
Be radiant in me.
Amen.

Missed expectation, what then?

The build-up begins. Anticipation builds. It’s going to be the most awesome vacation ever. Then, the week arrives and we’re exhausted, the flights are delayed, and the weather is terrible. What then? Disappointment! We all know the feelings that come with missed expectations. It can be as minor as a poorly prepared meal on a night out, or that “this new computer isn’t nearly as fast as I hoped it would be.”  It can be heart-wrenching like rejection, criticism, or failure. Our deepest disappointments are centered around our relationships, when people we trust and love betray us.
Somebody once told me, “Blessed is the man who expects nothing for he will never be disappointed!” I refuse to become that kind of person; just existing, with no hopes, no dreams, no love. It is one way to avoid a broken heart. It is also a sure route to a life without the richness God purposes for us. Is that how you want to live- safely insulated from both joy and sorrow hiding away from real life? I doubt it very much.
So what can we do with life’s disappointments?
We guard against cynicism and bitterness of missed expectations by keeping our ultimate hope fixed on God!  Isaiah 40:30-31 teaches “Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” That does not mean that we will understand everything that He allows to enter our lives. We may develop expectations of our Father in Heaven that are unrealistic or beyond the Promise of His Word. But, if we will trust Him implicitly, He will carry us through our disappointment.
We guard our spiritual and emotional health by learning to forgive, quickly and completely!
Forgiveness is releasing others from our demand that they act in ways we approve or like. Forgiveness IS NOT telling another, “Just forget it. What you did or did not do doesn’t matter.” That’s not true. When a person fails us, breaks our heart, rejects us, or harms us – it does matter! Our disappointment is real. Forgiveness is a choice to dethrone Self. Forgiveness is born in us when we give our pain to God and trust in His final justice. When we release that person who has disappointed us to God’s court, oh what freedom we gain. Anger, hatred, and bitterness that accompanies disappointment finds no fertile soil in which to take root in our heart. Jesus, when teaching his followers about prayer, reminded us to pray ,”Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors… But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:12) That connection ought to give us real reason to be forgivers.
There is a time to adjust our expectations, a time to maturely learn to accept that many situations are out of our control. AA taught me the Serenity Prayer originally credited to Reinhold Neibuhr. It is aptly named. If we pray it honestly we will find God’s ‘peace that passes understanding.’
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is,
not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him forever in the next
. Amen.
Are you spending day after day fretting and fighting to make everything fit into your plans, your purposes, aligned to your comfort? The result will be a life of misery, missed expectations, bitterness, and loneliness. Far better to choose to trust God with yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
Struggling with disappointment? Jesus understands, His heart was broken, too.
Take the sorrow, the ache, to Him. Share it honestly. There is no need to sugarcoat it. He knows us from the inside out. As you pray, be open to His comfort and challenge. He may not soothe you until He changes your attitude. He knows best.
Here’s a word from the Word. It’s a treasured truth!
“We have a great High Priest who has gone to heaven, Jesus the Son of God. Let us cling to him and never stop trusting him. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same temptations we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it.” (Hebrews 4:14-16, NLT)

Did Jesus get discouraged?

I closed my day with a prayer that reflected weariness and some discouragement, too. “Father, I find the passion for my work fading. My vision is clouded. I am ready to walk away from tough situations. Strengthen me so that I will live for You, serving well.” It was less a request of faith and more a moan from my soul born out of fatigue, frustration, and yes; faithlessness! I was experiencing a little of the ‘grass is greener on the other side of the fence’ syndrome, too.  I’d been reading about a man who started a church in his living room 12 years ago that has grown into a ministry to many thousands. As I compared my work to his,  the trap of envy was sprung. Nothing ever good comes from that.  After my whiny prayer, I started to give thanks specifically for God’s gifts!  It’s a long, long list for He’s a good God!
When I opened my Bible this morning, I wondered, “Did Jesus ever get discouraged?”  The answer came from the gospels of Matthew and Luke.  Jesus communed with His Father on the mountain. He took Peter, James, and John with Him for prayer. The Spirit came down and Jesus was ablaze with the Presence of heaven! Then, He left that holy place to go back to work. What does He find?  A mess! A huge crowd has gathered to watch the disciples try to heal a boy who is possessed and in distress. They have failed spectacularly!  The crowds press in on Jesus to see what He will do.  The boy’s father approaches and says, “I asked your disciples to deliver him but they couldn’t.” Jesus said, “What a generation! No sense of God! No focus to your lives! How many times do I have to go over these things? How much longer do I have to put up with this? Bring your son here.”  (Luke 9:40-41, The Message) There is an edge to His words. He’s frustrated that they still just don’t ‘get it.’ Yes, He is discouraged. But, He does not throw up His hands and walk away. He healed the boy and the chapter closes with the summary that ‘everyone was marveling at all that Jesus did.’
This commentary about that scene blessed me. “An expression of something like impatience escaped His lips at this very season. When He came down from the mount and learned what was going on at its base, He exclaimed—with reference at once to the unbelief of the scribes who were present, to the weak faith of the disciples, and to the miseries of mankind suffering the consequences of the curse—“O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you?”
Even the loving Redeemer of man felt tempted to be weary in well-doing—weary of encountering the contradiction of sinners and of bearing with the spiritual weakness of disciples. Such weariness therefore, as a momentary feeling, is not necessarily sinful. It may rather be a part of our cross. But it must not be indulged in or yielded to. Jesus did not give Himself up to the feeling.”
 (Training of the Twelve, A. B. Bruce, 1894)
Immediately after the incident, Jesus tried to bring His disciples into understanding of God’s plan, that He must die for the sins of the world, before His Kingdom could come. Did they get it then? No!  They started fighting with each other about who was going to be most important in the Kingdom. Once again, Jesus did not quit on them. He brought a little child to His side and taught them about humility.  Here’s the lesson the Spirit brings to us.   Discouragement and frustration will come. We cannot surrender to it. Instead, we must let it drive us back to our knees in prayer, to discover again (and again, and again, and again) that ‘in our weakness He is strong.’  Our sense of desperation is no excuse for sin. It is a reason to hold ever more tightly to the One who is always faithful.
Here’s a  word from the Word.  “Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls! In this all-out match against sin, others have suffered far worse than you.”
(Hebrews 12:1-4, The Message)
“Lord, forgive me for my self-pity and willingness to complain.  Strengthen me for the work. Let me see Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth, as it is in Heaven. Amen.”

The LORD will roar!

The Lord will roar
I love old those old movie Westerns, the ones where the good guys wear white hats, ones in which good triumphs, the nice guy gets the girl. There’s no moral ambiguity in those old films. Everybody knows what’s right and wrong.  Even though the villain looks like he will win, in the end, the hero prevails and we are glad. I like those stories because I don’t see it happening in the world in which I live.  Too often I see the ruthless and cruel step on those who refuse to act selfishly.  The self-promoters, the arrogant, and the willful frequently end up running the show.  It appears that morality is determined by power, that ‘might makes right,’ is true.  We wonder if Friedrich Nietzsche was right when he said  “All things are subject to interpretation. Whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth.”
When I see a godly person abused by another, I cry out for God’s justice. When a person is rejected for no better reason than his love for the things of God, I pray for blessings to come. When the evil and godless trample on those who are good and godly, I pray that God will defend His own.  When those who claimed His Name turn to their own ways and disgrace Him in the eyes of the world, I pray for Him to break the spell of the deceiver and reveal His glory anew! “Set things right, Lord. Vindicate those who hope in You.”   I borrow these words of the Psalm in my prayers: “May all who seek to take my life be put to shame and confusion; may all who desire my ruin be turned back in disgrace. May those who say to me, “Aha! Aha!” be appalled at their own shame. But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation always say, “The LORD be exalted!”” (Psalm 40:14-16, NIV)
Is my faith an empty hope?  There is a thread that runs through all of Scripture that assures the faithful that God will bring about justice, that the righteous will find their reward. He does not always act on our timetable, however.  For reasons we often cannot grasp, He allows us to suffer. Evil struts about with disdain for those who love what is good, pure, and right. If we look deeply enough, we see that the seed of evil does ultimately produce a crop of destruction.  Greed, sensuality, and selfishness bring short-term gain, but in the end those who choose them as their god are consumed by their own vanities.  But, those who hope in the Lord, will be filled with joy.
The prophet says “The LORD will roar from Zion and thunder from Jerusalem; the earth and the sky will tremble. But the LORD will be a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel. ‘Then you will know that I, the LORD your God, dwell in Zion, my holy hill. Jerusalem will be holy; never again will foreigners invade her. ‘In that day the mountains will drip new wine, and the hills will flow with milk; all the ravines of Judah will run with water. A fountain will flow out of the LORD’s house and will water the valley of acacias. But Egypt will be desolate, Edom a desert waste, because of violence done to the people of Judah, in whose land they shed innocent blood. Judah will be inhabited forever and Jerusalem through all generations.” (Joel 3:16-20, NIV)  It’s poetic and true!
Here’s a word from the Word. May it be our prayer this day and always.
“We depend on the Lord alone to save us.
Only he can help us, protecting us like a shield.
In him our hearts rejoice, for we are trusting in his holy name.
Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord,
for our hope is in you alone.”
(Psalm 33:20-22, NLT)  Amen

Responsibly Dependent

Responsibly Dependent
Even as a toddler, my daughter was fiercely independent. She always wanted to ‘do this myself!’ She was an interesting teenager, not a rebel, but always ready to push the limits of parental authority. It’s different now. She is a strong woman. Part of her strength is knowing she does not have to ‘do this myself!’ She is not reluctant to ask for counsel.

Peter and Christine recently became the guardians of a 13 year old boy. They realize that instant parenthood is a path strewn with challenges, so they call from time to time to talk about their choices; and I’m happy they do. They can benefit from my experience. When I was walking through the emotionally taxing times of caring for my parents at the end of their lives, my children provided emotional support for me that was priceless. This is interdependence.
A person who desires the best life, the most productive life, learns to move beyond childish dependence, to grow through independence, and to live interdependently. He builds a strong network of people to whom he contributes and from whom he receives.

The Message (a modern language version of the Bible) paraphrases Galatians 6, a passage about our interdependent relationship within Christ’s church. like this: “Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed.
Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived. Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others.
Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life. Be very sure now, you who have been trained to a self-sufficient maturity, that you enter into a generous common life with those who have trained you, sharing all the good things that you have and experience.” (Galatians 6:1-6, The Message)
No one else will anyone stand in my place before Christ when I am called to give an account of how I used His gifts. I am responsible. But, I will not stand alone. Then, I will understand how much so many others have given to me and what I have contributed to them. Together, we will offer our crowns to the One who saved us and gave us the Spirit’s life. At the Throne of God, I will be surrounded by ‘the great multitude in Heaven,’ those whom God has called out from the earth to walk in holiness, to be His very own people. I will sing with the saints of all the ages, “with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God.” (Rev. 5:9)
Are you a whining victim, refusing to leave the dependence of childhood behind? Are you making others carry your burden?
Are you striding ahead of the pack, accepting no help, seeking no counsel, protecting your independence? Are you robbing yourself of the rich resources of a network?
OR,
Are you praying to develop your gifts and callings, responsibly being the person desires, in the place to which God has called you; fitting into the Body of Christ in humility?
This is interdependence!
Meditate on this familiar word from the Word. “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body-whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free-and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. … The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,… so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. …now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13, 21-22, 25, 27, NIV)
Lord, call us together, into your service. Make us strong, together. Amen. 

A Loud Critic or a Responsible Citizen?

I like politics. It’s quite enjoyable to have an earnest conversation with informed and thinking people about public policy. But, there is always at least one in the crowd who is loud, obnoxious, and quite ready to declare, in very dogmatic terms, that the ‘other side’ is part of some terrible, evil conspiracy. Talk radio and cable TV news are now biased hard right and left. Yet, they gain devotees who seem to lose their ability for analysis and understanding in direct proportion to the amount of media opinions they consume. We’re all suffering as a result of the talking heads who make themselves rich by screaming about unfairness and/or stupidity of “the other guy.” The extremism is robbing our nation of good governance.
Many Christians quite willingly join the noisy chorus on one side or the other, repeating the party lines, turning policy debates into personal attacks on those who hold office. Is this fitting behavior for those of us who have a higher calling as citizens of the Kingdom of Christ Jesus? Scripture calls us away from the big-mouths with their polarizing talking points into responsible citizenship.  
Romans was written to Christians who lived under a government that had little respect for human rights and yet look what God told them about that government. “Those who refuse to obey the laws of the land are refusing to obey God, and punishment will follow. For the authorities do not frighten people who are doing right, but they frighten those who do wrong. So do what they say, and you will get along well. The authorities are sent by God to help you. But if you are doing something wrong, of course you should be afraid, for you will be punished. The authorities are established by God for that very purpose, to punish those who do wrong. So you must obey the government for two reasons: to keep from being punished and to keep a clear conscience. Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid so they can keep on doing the work God intended them to do.” (Romans 13:2-6, NLT) It’s a word for our time! God created authority and government.  Like it has in everything else, sin has brought corruption to government because sinful people hold office.  Yet, as Christians, we respect the office and cooperate to make government just and fair. 
I am thankful for the processes of democracy and the ability to express opinions that conflict with those in power. I believe that those Christians who fail to exercise their right to vote, who are uninformed about their government, are missing out on an important part of the 21st century Christian life. How can they raise an effective witness, how can they work to bring God’s concern for the poor and the oppressed into policy decisions if they are ignorant of the positions of the candidates and their parties?   To be sure, our highest allegiance is to our Heavenly King. True as that is, we hold passports that bear the flag of our nation and we pay taxes to governments of this temporal world. With our citizenship comes privilege and responsibility.
Here’s a word from the Word. As you read it, may the words of our Lord call you to a responsible citizenship that goes beyond simply being a loud critic.
“They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him.”
(Mark 12:14-17, NIV)

Discipleship isn’t sexy!

Francis Chan, formerly the pastor of Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, California, is now living in an urban neighborhood filled with poverty and addictions. He spends most of his time building friendships, offering prayer, and pointing people to Christ. In a blog post bearing the title I lifted for this CWTW, Chan speaks about his ministry. “I wish I could tell you a bunch of stories of lives that have changed as a result. I wish I could tell you that hundreds have repented and are now serving the Lord faithfully. Instead, I’m pretty sad as very few of my new friends are ready to ditch their lives to follow Jesus. Some are not convinced they need to repent. Others are not convinced He is worth it.” I love his candor!

Too many sell us a Christian ‘story’ of perpetual victory, of miracle tales, of hearts that overflow with happy thoughts! These leave a lot of us wondering if our faith is faulty, our prayers weak, or worse; if God has chosen to ignore us.   

Sometimes, I’m one of those wonder-ers. I love the community in which I minister. I make no apologies for how hard I work and pray. Yet, to be as candid as Chan, the harvest is meager. Yes, I can tell you about moments of grace when my heart overflows with joy when a sinner is restored to his Abba or a prayer is unmistakably answered. But, I can also tell you about hard-hearted people who turn their back on Christ knowing full well what they are doing. I know more who love their stuff than who love God.  And, in spite of my prayers, I go to sleep some nights with this prayer of uncertainty on my lips: “Why, Lord, don’t you heal that marriage or restore that man’s health, or send a spiritual revival to our church?”

Why am I surprised at the hardship? After all, the Scripture is very clear about the state of the world in which He sends me. “For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to right teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever they want to hear. They will reject the truth and follow strange myths. But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at bringing others to Christ. Complete the ministry God has given you.” (2 Timothy 4:3-5, NLT) The Bible makes it plain that I am called to a war, not a party.  Then, too, I’m told that we’re not home yet. We are ‘aliens and strangers’ who are ‘looking for a city whose builder and maker is God.’

Discipleship isn’t sexy! It is hard work that only finds the final and full reward on the other side of time, when we are home with Abba. You want your pay-out now? Think twice about following Jesus. You want an easy life, an untroubled conscience, the freedom to fulfill your whims? Don’t give yourself to Him. He demands all of us, leads us into conflict with evil, and takes our time and treasure. He asks us to give up our privacy, to share our homes, to love those who are not easy to love, to take the side of those who are rejected by the powerful. And He warns, it will kill you. We know the words of this text, but do we understand the meaning? “Then he said to the crowd, “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)

This message won’t allow me to pastor a mega-church. After all, the crowds deserted Jesus when He told them about self-denial, and He was able to feed them with loaves and fishes and raise their children from the dead, something I have yet to see in answer to my prayers.  

You might be thinking that I am full of regret for how I have lived my life. You would be wrong. Do I think that I made a mistake in answering His call? Not for a moment. Here’s why. It’s not because I got rich (though I am blessed) or became a celebrity or found a life of unbroken happiness.  

I can see the horizon line that marks the end of my time here on earth. Were it not for Christ Jesus, I would be staring into an abyss, dark and fearful. But, because of His love, I am saved from death and share the promise of the resurrection life, first seen in Jesus, who was raised from the dead. “Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day-and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:8, NIV)

So, let’s embrace the challenge, stop looking for a ‘sexy’ life, and serve like soldiers. “Stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58, NIV)