If that’s all there is …

If that’s all there is
Have you lost sight of eternity?  I sometimes do, the hope of my life hidden in God obscured by the responsibilities of daily life. Then, too, I can, and do, get so comfortable with my ‘stuff’ that any longing for my home in Heaven is forgotten.   The sickness of the American church is directly  related to her loss of eternity.  How many messages have you heard about eternal destinies in the last 10 years? Even Christian funerals are usually more about the accomplishments of the dearly departed than they are about reinforcing the great hope of the Christian – resurrection life assured in Christ Jesus.
Our obsession with comfort, with blessings, with ‘spiritual experience,’ grows out of the mistaken notion that we can somehow find a kind of Heaven on earth, a paradise in the present, with a carefully nurtured illusion that life will never end.  N.T. Wright observes that for centuries Christians walked to worship past cemeteries.  They entered a place used “weekly for prayer, Eucharist, celebration, for baptisms and weddings, for the whole worshipping life of the community … there is something wonderful and profound about entering church through the churchyard where are buried those who worshipped there in centuries past.”  (Surprised by Hope) This was a powerful reminder that what they did today would end and that they would enter their rest in Christ, awaiting the Resurrection.  Morbid, you say? Or, would it help us to grow past our insistence on a fluffy, happy, ‘don’t make me think about hard choices,’ religion that passes for discipleship in so many lives today?
What inspires great sacrifice, moves people to costly service, gives passion for building the Kingdom of God?  A profound grasp on the promise of our eternal life, on the irrefutable fact that we will stand before the judgment seat of Christ, our Lord, to receive our just reward, and then enter into His glory for eternity.  (And, then too, there is that grim counter-truth of those who exist outside of His light and life for eternity!) But, in our quest for perpetual youth and beauty, all of our prayers for blessings and trouble-free existence, Heaven is forgotten.
All this is not to say that our entire Christian existence is other-worldly! That’s the other problem with us. We tend to be extremists. Resurrection life begins on this side of eternity!  Walk worthy of the high calling,” the Bible demands.  The stark fact is that life in this present world will end. It is but the prelude to the story,  the opening scene for the unfolding divine plot to bring us from death to life, from ‘this perishable to the imperishable.’   And that great 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians which celebrates our resurrection logically moves to this conclusion – “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:56-58, NIV)
If eating fine food, enjoying sexual pleasure, accumulating wealth, and attempting to create a life without problems is all there is to my existence, then I join the epicureans to ‘eat, drink, and be merry.’  But, I have read the end of the Book, and here’s what it says:  “I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.” (Revelation 21:1-7, NIV)
Because He lives, I too shall live.  So, I am oriented to eternity. How about you?


So how do you deal with those difficult people in your life, with those who are critical about the way you manage your kids, money, marriage, spirituality?  That’s a tough question that I confront from time to time.  I try to choose to let my actions speak for themselves because just about every time I let criticism get under my skin, I regret what I say in self-defense. In the work of pastoral ministry, public as it is, criticism is a constant.  There are those who express appreciation, but there are always some who feel it is necessary to express their displeasure and/or disappointment with my work. More than a few evenings my prayer has  been  “Father, hold my tongue.  Keep me loving. Help me to see the ‘why’ behind the words. Give me patience, now!
When I read Jesus’ instructions to “turn the other cheek, go the second mile, forgive, love your enemies” (wow, He expects a lot from us, doesn’t He?) I realize just how dependent on the Spirit I must be. Who can live like that naturally? Not me.  My natural response to criticism is to say, “Hey, I’m working hard here, doing my best. What else do you want?”  Sometimes, anger gets the best of me and what I think is much less charitable!  I need to renew myself in His grace on a daily basis. Why? Because, dealing with critics in a way that honors Christ and lets His grace shine through is only possibleif we are secure in His love.  When we know we are walking with Him, doing His will, that He sees the gap between our best intentions and our failing efforts and loves us anyway, the sting of critical words is wiped away by the touch of His hand, the renewal of the Spirit.
There is a Psalm that I find instructive and comforting. Remember the Psalms are the prayerbook, the songs of the soul, in the Scripture. King David had a thousand critics, some justified, some unfair.  Under pressure, he turns to God, but the prayer he prays reveals both his inner stress and his desire to hope in the Lord. He asks for vindication from the One who knows him best. Take a look.
“Contend, O LORD, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me.
Take up shield and buckler; arise and come to my aid.
Brandish spear and javelin against those who pursue me. Say to my soul, “I am your salvation.”
May those who seek my life be disgraced and put to shame; may those who plot my ruin be turned back in dismay.”
He then talks about how he cared for those he thought were his friends, fasting and praying for them in their dark times,  only to find them attacking him when he was down. David complains to God about the unfairness as he sees it.
“O Lord, how long will you look on?”  He wonders why God lets them get away with this. Then, he asks the Lord to act on his behalf.
“Vindicate me in your righteousness, O LORD my God; do not let them gloat over me. Do not let them think, “Aha, just what we wanted!” or say, “We have swallowed him up.”
May all who gloat over my distress be put to shame and confusion; may all who exalt themselves over me be clothed with shame and disgrace.”
 May those who delight in my vindication shout for joy and gladness; may they always say, “The LORD be exalted, who delights in the well-being of his servant.”
My tongue will speak of your righteousness and of your praises all day long.” (Psalm 35:1-28, NIV)
Our ultimate Judge is one who sees beyond this day, Who knows the full context of every decision, and Who is never fooled. Let’s trust Him when the critics rain their contempt on us. As we pray, we can adopt the open honesty we see in David’s prayer and know He loves us still. And I know, hopefully you know as well, that the greatest change is usually not brought about in others, but in ourselves.

Living under incoming fire today?  Here’s a word from the Word, both challenging and comforting. Let it hold you steady.

“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:12-16, NIV)

Whatever It Takes

Whatever it takes
Jerry and Karen, friends for more than 30 years, serve as missionaries with our denomination. When they are in the States, they often live in our home for an extended time. They are an inspiration! They give the gift of encouragement wherever they go, just doing whatever it takes to serve.  A couple of years ago, while here in NJ, Jerry learned of a brewing crisis in the national church in one of the island nations that fall under his region of ministry.  Without complaint, he scheduled flights to travel halfway ‘round the world to give leadership to that group for two days! They offer training and support to other missionaries living in the small islands scattered across the Pacific, spending days on end in airports far from home.  When they are living in our home, I’ll often find them trimming in the yard or cooking up supper.  They make their calling look easy because they embrace it with such joy, found in utter surrender of themselves.
Jesus teaches us a strange paradox – losing our life is the way to find it, giving away our ourselves makes us rich. “If any of you wants to be my follower,” he told them, “you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross, and follow me. If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will find true life.”(Mark 8:34-35, NLT)  His invitation is met with the assertion that in order to be joyful and whole, we must assert ourselves and bend our world to our expectations.  So, we fiercely protect our rights.  “Don’t take my time. Don’t step into my yard. Don’t ask me to move too far in understanding your needs.”  Even Christians often wrap self-centeredness in psychological language of self-protection.  And, they lose the blessing that can only be discovered in surrender of Self totally to Christ as Lord, expressed in ordinary daily care for others.  The two ways of life cannot co-exist!  Jesus is Lord of all, or He is not Lord at all.
Becoming a true servant who gives whatever it takes should not be confused with the martyr’s mantle worn by some who make sure everyone knows just how they are giving up, how deeply they are suffering! The Bible says that Jesus served ‘for the joy that was set before Him.” (Hebrews 12:2) When He heard the men around Him fighting over position and power, He said, “You know that in this world kings are tyrants, and officials lord it over the people beneath them. But among you it should be quite different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must become your slave. For even I, the Son of Man, came here not to be served but to serve others, and to give my life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28, NLT)
How do we become Christians who are willing to do whatever it takes and make it look easy?  We must first kneel before the Cross of Christ and give away all illusions that we can save ourselves. Only in Him do we receive the gift of the Spirit that begins the inner transformation towards holy living.  Then, we choose the way of service, practicing humility with the discipline of service. This is more than simply holding back our desire to lift up ourselves. Instead, we willingly submit ourselves to the ordinary, seeing picking up trash on the street, our kids’ dirty socks, as a means of seeing Christ’s work done in us. There are many  “little deaths” that we die as we live sacrificially.  Frankly, living a life of true service is more difficult than martyrdom.  A martyr may find glory, a servant seldom does. A martyr is released from his life to his reward. A servant keeps on giving.  The wonder of it all is that if we stop complaining, if we stop defending our honor, if we simply serve – our spouse, our kids, our friends, our enemies – in the Name of Christ Jesus; grace overflows and we find joy that makes others think it’s easy!
Here’s a word from the Word. If you want real joy consider this high calling and ask Christ to lead you through the school of service – giving whatever it takes to accomplish the work of extending His rule in this world.
“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:14-17, NIV).

Lean in

Lean in!
The woman pushed her way through the crowd, though her illness left her weak, often exhausted. After years of trying one doctor after another, she had lost hope, until someone told her about Someone who had answers. She was fearful.  She had lived in isolation, rejected, considered by many to be cursed by God. Now, hope made her willing to take a risk.  She spotted Him. It was easy to knew Who He was, there at the center of attention.  She leaned in with the thought, “If I can just touch His clothing, I’ll be healed.”  Just as she did, He turned! He sensed her faith, though she was unseen.  He wanted to speak with her, to complete the work so He asked, “Who touched me?” “When the woman realized that she couldn’t remain hidden, she knelt trembling before him. In front of all the people, she blurted out her story—why she touched him and how at that same moment she was healed. Jesus said, “Daughter, you took a risk trusting me, and now you’re healed and whole. Live well, live blessed!”  (Luke 8:47-48, The Message)
On this Monday morning, are you weary before the week has even started?  Is there something that weakens you, breaks your spirit, drags you down; something for which you have not found an answer for a long time? There is One who can restore you. Will you lean in to touch Him?
Many things offer solace to us in our suffering. You think your loneliness could be relieved if only you could get your spouse to pay more attention to you.  You are convinced that your life would take a turn for the better if you could just find a way to move to some new city.  That new thing – car, computer, dress, cell phone, house – has become a ‘must have’ because you just know if you owned it, the hurt would go away. Maybe you have even entertained thoughts of an affair to break the tedium.  Perhaps you are even ready to look for a new spiritual experience, a new church that offers something different for you. You need not be a shallow person to be tempted by such things. Few things drive us to find relief like desperation!
Lean in! Press in to touch the Lord Jesus Christ. Push through the distractions, the temptations, the clutter of stuff that would keep you from Him. Do not excuse yourself from corporate worship with the excuse that you have so much to do.  Go early and sit quietly to wait on Him!  Do not abandon times of mediation in which you absorb a passage from His Word.  A thousand things will demand your attention. So, get up earlier and lean in to touch Him!  Pray for discernment that allows you to see the temptations for what they are.
The people of God had made choices that brought terrible calamity. They were enslaved, their lives and culture in ruins.  The Lord spoke to them offering hope and healing. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” (Jeremiah 29:11-14, NIV)  All they had to do was to lean in, to receive what He offered.
Lean in! “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9, NIV)
Leaning On The Everlasting Arms
What a fellowship what a joy divine
Leaning on the everlasting arms
What a blessedness what a peace is mine
Leaning on the everlasting arms
O how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way
Leaning on the everlasting arms
O how bright the path grows from day to day
Leaning on the everlasting arms
What have I to dread what have I to fear
Leaning on the everlasting arms
I have blessed peace with my Lord so near
Leaning on the everlasting arms
Leaning (leaning on Jesus)
Leaning (leaning on Jesus)
Safe and secure from all alarms
Leaning (leaning on Jesus)
Leaning (leaning on Jesus)
Leaning on the everlasting arms
Anthony J. Showalter | Elisha Albright Hoffman
Public Domain

Gems of Wisdom

Gems of wisdom
Since school started this year, I have been opening the day with my boys by reading from the Proverbs. Read from it lately? The book is not the same kind of spiritual nourishment as Ephesians, for example. It does not unfold rich doctrines of grace, for example. Yet, each page is packed with practical wisdom that sparkles like a gem!  Obviously, a Christian cannot live on a steady diet of Proverbs, but reading two or three of them each day will most certainly point to a better life.
Here’s an example of the good stuff found there:
·         “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.”   There’s a direct slap in the face of our culture, celebrity-crazed and character-starved.  Somehow we have come to believe that having wealth or fame excuses us from living honorably.  Not so, God says.
·         “Rich and poor have this in common: The LORD is the Maker of them all.”  There’s a powerful reminder. We’re all equals before God. He does not care about class distinctions. If that idea takes root in our minds, it will revolutionize the way we relate to others.  Envy and disdain die when we live as brothers.
·         “A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it.” (Proverbs 22:1-3, NIV)  That is a word for our time, isn’t it? “Rescue me,” is the plea of millions. “I’m a victim of my circumstances, I cannot help myself,”  they insist while they keep following the same path that led them into the pit in the first place.  God says, “Wake up and take action!  Get out there.”
·         “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.” (Proverbs 22:7, NIV)  If we really believed this, we would resist the temptation to spend tomorrow’s income today on things that will be worn out before they are paid for!
The book is packed with practical truth about the folly of sexual promiscuity.  (see chapter 5!) The text often warns about the emptiness of a life that is given to a love of wealth. It exposes the silliness chasing flattery instead of true honor. Proverbs teaches us to respect to those who guide and lead us.  Listen, my child, to what your father teaches you. Don’t neglect your mother’s teaching. What you learn from them will crown you with grace and clothe you with honor.” (Proverbs 1:8-9, NLT)
The early chapters personify wisdom and urge us to seek after her whole-heartedly.
Here’s a word from that book. I hope it blesses you and that you will make a trip to Proverbs frequently, to learn the ancient, yet timely, wisdom recorded there.
“Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding,
for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold.
She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her.
Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor.
Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who embrace her;
those who lay hold of her will be blessed.” (Proverbs 3:13-18, NIV)

Responsibility — God’s Ability

Francis Chan wrote a book, “Forgotten God” that talks about the Holy Spirit.  All Christians acknowledge Him. Many are afraid of Him or at least of what He will direct them to do. The implied question in the book’s opening is this: Who do you believe can better manage your life – the Holy Spirit or you?  Obviously if we believe that God is Who He claims to be, we should be able to trust Him without question, but…  during a panic attack that hit me at 2 am a night or two ago, I realized how hard it is to ‘let go and let God.”  Laying there in the dark with my heart pounding, I prayed -“Lord, my faith wavers right now because I only see myself in this situation and I know too well my inability to control or change the things that concern me. Please give me the courage I need to throw myself into the fight. Give me the wisdom to know to whom I should turn, the vision to know where to lead, and stamina to stand. Help me to conquer unbelief and to live with real joy today.” And, I fell into a deep, restful sleep!

When we get too focused on our responsibilities we can lose sight of God’s abilities. In that moment, we become vulnerable to all kinds of temptation. The Devil loves when we mistakenly allow ourselves to think that it all rests on our shoulders. We all deal with seasons of life when challenges pile up, when questions form and for which we have no answer, when others demand more of us than we think we can produce. The Christian enjoys a resource that those without the Spirit cannot know. Jesus said, “I will send the Spirit… He will lead you.”

Remember the tragic story of the failure that cost Moses the privilege of leading God’s People into the Promised Land?  (Numbers 20)  Thirsty, desperate people demanded the impossible: “Give us water now!” They attacked Moses and Aaron asking, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt to this terrible place?”  Amazing, isn’t it, how quickly today’s pressing need makes us forget yesterday’s troubles and even God’s faithful in the past. They forgot the awful lives in slavery that cost them their sons and daughters! Moses went to prayer and God gave him the solution: “Go out and speak to the rock and it will pour out water!” However, Moses held onto the sting of the accusations that he was failing as a leader.  In a self-centered moment he let resentment boil over as he went back before the people who doubted him, accused him, … and he sinned.

“He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.  But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” Numbers 20:10-12 In implying that he, not God, was producing the water needed, Moses sinned. It’s so understandable, but God said it was unacceptable!

He dishonored God by taking too much responsibility on himself! What a powerful lesson for me. Our true Source is Jesus. He is our Rock and from Him pours the waters of a fruitful life. Honor Him by declaring your dependence on Him. Defeat Devilish lies. Destroy the fear that produces restless and/or sleepless nights, by looking to Jesus in humble confession of your dependence. He knows how to make you wise so you can meet the demands of your boss. He knows what you need to meet the needs of your family. He knows what your needs are TODAY.

Make my life a prayer to You,
I want to do what you want me to,
No empty words, no white lies,
No token prayers, no compromise,

I want to shine the Light You gave,
through Your Son You sent to save us,
from ourselves and our despair,
it comforts me to know You’re really there.

Well, I want to thank You now for being patient with me,
Oh, it’s so hard to see, when my eyes on me!

I guess, I’ll have trust and just believe what You say,
Lord, You’re coming again, Coming to take me away.

Make My Life A Prayer
Melody Green © 1978 EMI Music (Admin. by EMI Christian Music
Publishing; Admin. by BMG Music Publishing
CCLI License No. 810055

Don’t Waste It

Don’t waste it
She felt like she had failed. Her training and expertise met a challenge that proved to be more than she could manage. Unless she changed course, she would hurt herself and her family.  When we talked, she had retreated and was putting things back into perspective.  What would she do with this?  Would she stuff the experience into some recess of her memory, letting it fade with time?  Or, would she learn from it, grow through it, and let God use it?  Our conversation revealed the latter choice.  She will be an even better person now.  I can say that with confidence, because I have failed, too. The moment of my most public sin proved to be the breaking point in my life.  It ripped open my proud heart for all the world to see. God whispered that I could run and hide, or I could look up to receive His grace.  Over a few month’s time, one of many tears and deep soul-searching, the Scripture’s promise of the unconditional love of my Abba changed from words in the Book to conviction in my heart!  In those terrible days, I lost the illusion of self-sufficiency that I had clung to so tenaciously.
Gordon MacDonald, author and pastor, fell flat on his face in mid-life.  His reputation was destroyed and many were ready to see him go, finished as a servant of God. But, he made the choice to confess his sin, take forgiveness, and do the hard work of being restored.  About a decade later, he reflected on that season when he had made such wrong decisions.  “My touch with failure changed a large part of my perspective as a pastor. It gave me an indelible vision of the host of people who enter the sanctuary every week and are staring failure squarely in the face. When I stand to pray, I see two people a few rows back failing at a marriage. Next to them sits an attorney who faces disbarment. Nearby is a man crippled by an addiction to pornography. To his right, a mother who feels a failure with her kids; to her left, the man who can’t keep a job. …  I would never have seen most of these people … had it not been for my own failure. In short, failure gave me a new set of eyes. There is a stewardship to failure. What we learn and gain in our own dark moments is meant to be shared one day with others who face similar kinds of failures. Some of us would like to bury our failures, forget they ever happened. But that doesn’t seem possible. There are too many fallen people along the way who can profit from what we’ve learned of God.”   (Discipleship Journal  : Issue 109)
Have you fallen down?  Is the voice of regret telling you to run away, to cover it up, to abandon faith?  Is the Evil One insisting that God is finished with you, that you should leave the Church and give up hope?
Restoration is not easy! Forgiveness and healing do not usually come instantaneously. However, ifwe will face life honestly, admit to ourselves and to those we have hurt what we have done, humbly asking them to forgive, we can start again. Yes, God forgives us but it is much tougher to forgive ourselves.  If you’re tempted to try to make a deal with God, reject that impulse. The Bible says that “the sacrifice you want is a broken spirit. A broken and repentant heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17, NLT) If your ‘failure’ is not one of sin, but rather finding yourself overwhelmed by your circumstances, there is this in the Word. “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18, NIV)
 “The danger is not that we should fall . . . but that we could remain on the ground.”  – John Chrysostom

This choice, why?

This choice, why?
Pleasure is the god of this culture. For many there is no higher value in life than ‘being happy,’ and by that they mean, ‘feeling good.’  I am no ascetic chasing some divine revelation by inflicting suffering on myself. There is no glory in seeking misery for its own sake.  But, unless we are willing to endure discomfort, we will never become all that our Designer planned for us to be. Our appetites must be governed by the higher calling of the soul or we will become slaves of our drives for ease, food, and sex. Malcolm Muggeridge, an English philosopher who came late to Christianity after living as a hedonistic agnostic, provocatively said that “The orgasm has replaced the cross as the focus of longing and fulfillment.” Shocking, perhaps; but if one thinks of the low state of our culture, we know that he is not wrong.  And our love of ourselves and our unrelenting pursuit of self-fulfillment makes us into perpetual teenagers.
Jesus’ call to His Cross, to self-denial, to humility and service as the path to the richest life possible, is a message that is nearly incomprehensible to many Americans.  Large segments of Christianity has sold out to the culture, twisting the Gospel into a scheme for gaining greater wealth right now and a means of avoiding the consequence of sin later on.  In the mouths of modern prophets, the message of the Cross is no longer the means by which we become holy and pleasing to God. It has been cheapened into a charm that lets us sidestep the judgment of God.  “You can enjoy your best life now,” the preacher says, ignoring the reminder that we are pilgrims who live as “aliens and strangers” in this world as we “look for a city whose architect and builder is God.”
The Bible says that even those in the Church can become “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—  having a form of godliness but denying its power.”  (2 Timothy 3:4) And that is where many American Christians live today, in the form of the faith, but without a genuine love for the One who is the focus of faith and without any desire for His Presence in Heaven. Sated by the pleasures of this present world, they know next to nothing of the joy of which the Psalmist sings; “Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the great deep. O LORD, you preserve both man and beast. How priceless is your unfailing love! Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.” (Psalm 36:6-9, NIV)
Yes, there are glories bright, joys unspeakable, that are accessible to us, but not in sating the desires of our bodies alone. We are made for more than that. We are created in the Image of God, called to be light-bearers. But,  that image was marred by sin and evil. We can regain the beauty as we accept the grace of Christ and seek the Spirit.  Jesus says, “Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” (Luke 17:32-33, NIV)  He alludes to the story of Abraham’s nephew, Lot, who moved to Sodom. When God sent angels to deliver Lot and his family from the judgment that was about to be sent on that city, they warned, “Don’t look back!”  But, she did, not treasuring her deliverance, longing for a return to the pleasures she had known.  Her backward look destroyed her.
Here’s a word from the Word. “Oh, Lord, call us closer to You, deeper in faith.”
“The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see.” (Hebrews 11:1, The Message)  “Each one of these people of faith died not yet having in hand what was promised, but still believing. How did they do it? They saw it way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world. People who live this way make it plain that they are looking for their true home. If they were homesick for the old country, they could have gone back any time they wanted. But they were after a far better country than that—heaven country. You can see why God is so proud of them, and has a City waiting for them. ” (Hebrews 11:13-16, The Message)

Like moon-lit shadows on the wall

Like moonlit shadows on the wall
Last night, the little voices of the Awana kids singing, “And I won’t worry about tomorrow, I’m trusting in what you say,” moved me deeply.  “Lord, give me a child-like faith. Help my heart and mind to surrender to You,” I prayed.  And, I needed to do that.  Several situations over which I have little control conspire to make me afraid. It’s not the ‘you scared me half to death’ kind of fear.  It’s that gnawing anxiety that sucks the breath out of me,  that hanging cloud of dread of tomorrow that casts a gloomy shadow over every decision. That tension can drive us into depression, and is often a cause of self-destructive behaviors- things like overeating, alcohol abuse, and even sexual promiscuity.  Our sensual appetites gain real strength when we have a troubled soul.
Belonging to God, we need not remain in fear. He promises us a ‘peace that passes human understanding.’ It is given to us freely, but we must choose to receive it. How?

First, submit your emotions to the facts. Declare your status as God’s child.

We are not orphans, scrabbling to deal with life, defensive and alone. The Bible says, “you should not be like cowering, fearful slaves. You should behave instead like God’s very own children, adopted into his family—calling him “Father, dear Father.” (Romans 8:15, NLT) Did you trust Christ Jesus and receive His gift of gracious love and forgiveness?  Then God adopted you!  Because of Jesus, we are loved. That truth is so healing, the Enemy of God and good does everything he is able to do to keep us from believing it. He tries to keep us focused on our failures. He does what he can to amplify  the voices of our critics. He tries to narrow our vision to the sorry and sad side of life. So, when anxiety creeps up on us, we must turn to the Word and to worship, praising God for His love; personalizing it! “God loves me!”  Why?  John tells us that “perfect love drives out fear!”

Second, talk about your anxiety with your Father and, if necessary, with a mature Christian friend.

Anxiety is like the shadows that play on the wall on a dark night. Everything looks bigger, more grotesque.  When we try to be big and brave all alone, terror can take hold deep inside of us. That’s why the Bible says, “Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.” (Philippians 4:6, The Message) When you’re anxious, tell the Lord about it. If you connect with a person of authentic faith, let them pray with you. Authentic prayer is not just a poem or a platitude!  It is invoking the Presence and power of the Lord for right now.  Real prayer lifts us up into the Throne Room of God. This is one of the reasons that no Christian should attempt to live the Christian life alone. We need to provide cover for one another. The Word assures that in Jesus “we have (a priest) who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.  Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence.”  (Heb 4:15)

Third, evaluate the situation in ultimate terms.

Take your fear and ask – What is the worst that could happen?  The Psalmist asks, “in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 56:11, NIV) Again, this can be a solo exercise, but it is much more effective when there is a trusted friend who will listen, encourage, and keep your perspective on life in balance.

Fourth – do what’s right!

Pain, especially the emotional kind, makes us desperate for relief, doesn’t it? If we feel trapped, we are much more susceptible to the temptation of things that offer us a quick lift. Tragically, usually what gives short-term relief, produces long-term destruction.  At that time, make your mind rule your heart. Do the right thing,  just because it is the right thing to do! Let a trusted friend help you carry the load.  If we talk about our temptations, they lose much of their lustre. When we tell someone that we want to spend too much, quit our job, or have an affair – the very telling can help us to see the folly of the proposed ‘solution’ to our problem. Remember, we are not victims of our temptations. We can, and we must, make a choice.  God’s promises that He ‘will never leave us nor forsake us.‘ And, He has promised to make a way for us to stand up in times of temptation. So, do what’s right!

Don’t let fear swallow you and destroy this day. Here’s a confession of faith, the word from the Word for this day. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-9:1, NIV)


Great comfort? Terrible Threat?

Justice is a double-edged sword.  We tend to give ourselves an exception when it comes to justice, don’t we?  Who among us has not said something like this: 

  • His anger is so destructive to his family; mine is just what I have to do to get my kids to fall in line. 
  • His bitterness is so toxic to relationships; mine is understandable given the awful way that my boss treats me. 
  • He is greedy; I’m just trying to make a living.
  • He is selfish; I’m just taking care of what belongs to me.
  • He’s an idiot; I’m just a ‘work in progress.’

Jesus humorously called this way of thinking ‘plank in the eye’ syndrome.  He tells us that before we go after the speck of sawdust in our fellow Christian’s eye, it would be best to take the plank out of our own!  (Matthew 7:4-5) Maturity of faith and character should bring about an honest estimate of ourselves, a working knowledge of our strengths and our foibles, and a willingness to apply the same measure to our own actions that we so quickly apply to others.    
Robert Burns, the Scottish poet, sat in church behind a lady finely dressed and saw the lice in her hair.  In his oft-quoted poem about her social pretensions, he comes to this closing stanza.
O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us
It wad frae monie a blunder free us
An’ foolish notion
What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us
An’ ev’n Devotion
The translation is –
Oh, that God would give us the gift
To be able to see ourselves as others see us
It would save us from many mistakes
and foolish thoughts
We would change the way we go about so proudly
and the things to which we apply our time and attention.
Why is this important? What’s the harm in a little self-deception? 
If we refuse the Truth, we can only slip deeper into sin.  Our desire must be to close the gap between who we really are and the image we project. A ruthless commitment to the Truth allows us to walk in the will of God, to grow out of self-love and into love for others.  As we live authentically in the Spirit, He will keep us from judging others unfairly and make us into people of mercy.
There is a passage that is of great comfort to those who live in Truth and long for justice.  It is a terrible threat to those who turn a blind eye to reality.  It is God’s promise that one day who we are what we have done will be perfectly revealed.  Christian, this is not about some scale that determines our eternal destiny, whether we go to Heaven when we die!  That salvation is secured through Christ, alone. It is about justice.  My prayer is that what we learn in this passage will both keep us faithful in obscure service and move us to deal with secret sin.
Spend some time with the word from the Word.  “The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.” (1 Corinthians 3:8-15, NIV)