The Parable of the Old Cadillac

The Old Cadillac

  Cadillac Coupe D'Ville

She drove by with nothing left of her former elegance. 30 years ago the Coupe De Ville was the top of the line, now she was just a shabby old car with fainted paint, weak springs, and a smoking engine. It became a metaphor for life in that moment. If the car had been maintained carefully over the years, the old sedan would almost be a classic. She could have been renewed and kept her beauty, but it was evident her end was near, her destiny a scrapyard. She had been used to the max, worn-out. I imagined what her life cycle might have been. Her first owner was an older man, who bought her for luxury, perhaps the first Cadillac in his life at a time when he could finally afford one. He washed and polished the Caddy, storing her in his garage between drives. Then, when he died, she passed to a son who filled her up with teenagers, his kids and their friends. She could haul a team and their gear! When his son was ready to drive, she was starting to show her age, and she passed on to him as a ‘first car.’ Her time with him were a rough couple of years and she was finally traded off to a used car lot. It was a downhill slide from there to her present condition.

2012 is about to end. We’re all about to become a year older. Older doesn’t have to mean ‘worn!’ We can grow in value and beauty, but only if we chose to live in a way that renews and maintains, that ‘redeems the time.’ (Eph. 5:16) A redeemer bought another out of debtor’s prison or servitude! The wise person sees how quickly life slips into control of circumstances, habits, and sin. So, with the riches of the Christ, he buys ownership of his days to that they can be used for good and God’s glory!

If we simply use each day, ‘killing time’ with self-indulgence and laziness, drifting with the current, the years will quickly slip past and we will find ourselves used up, worn-out. If we invest our days in loving worship of our God and in loving service of our brothers, we will become saints of great beauty. That is why the Scripture urges us to ” get out there and walk-better yet, run!-on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline-not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love.” (Ephesians 4:1-2, The Message)

Almost 3 centuries ago, John and Charles Wesley, were students at Oxford. Their mother had instilled a deep faith in them. Even as young men they set their sights on doing great things for God. They led a small group of students who were mocked by other students as the “Holy Club.” But, these young men, in their service to God, had an amazing impact in England and the American colonies. From their ministry grew Methodism which changed the character of the two nations. These young men challenged themselves with a daily checklist that is still soul-piercing. I recommend it to you. (A personal inventory)

___________   

A PERSONAL INVENTORY CHECK LIST

* Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I really am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?

* Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?

* Do I confidentially pass on to others what was told to me in confidence?

* Can I be trusted?

* Am I a slave to dress, friends, work, or habits (or technology)?

* Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying?

* Did the Bible live in me today?

* Do I give the Bible time to speak to me everyday?

____________________

* Am I enjoying prayer?

* When did I last speak to someone else about my faith?

* Do I pray about the money I spend?

* Do I get to bed on time and get up on time?

* Do I disobey God in anything?

* Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?

* Am I defeated in any part of my life?

__________________________

* Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy, or distrustful?

* How do I spend my spare time?

* Am I proud?

* Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisees who despised the publican?

* Is there anyone who I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold resentment toward or disregard? If so, what am I doing about it?

* Do I grumble or complain constantly?

* Is Christ real to me?

From Wesley’s “Holy Club”

Real Satisfaction in the new year?


Real satisfaction
A cheeseburger and fries pleases my palate, but when I eat those things, I consume far more calories to find satisfaction. When I sit down to a salad with the complex flavors of arugula, leafy lettuce, and spinach, which is followed up by carefully seasoned meat, I am much more satisfied. Perhaps the reason we’re becoming a ‘fat’ nation is because we are primarily living on ‘fast’ food that leaves us unsatisfied?
Many Christians live on a spiritual diet of ‘fast’ food; pre-digested devotional material, 2 minute prayers, and once a week worship. They are unfamiliar with complexities of spiritual disciplines such as meditation, silence, or fasting because they are hard, or just feel unfamiliar. Their relationship with the Lord is primarily based in emotion and seeks a quick lift of inspiration. And, they are unsatisfied; hungering for the living God.
We are made to know God and to be filled by His Spirit. If we do not pursue Him, we will look for something to satisfy the that soul hunger! When we are stressed by temptation, pressed to our limit by life’s trials, we start to feel the pull of temptation. That soul hunger gets confused with our sensual desires.  How does look?  
An extra-marital affair we thought we would never even consider becomes so tempting when our future is clouded with uncertainty.
Many of us pack on an extra 10 pounds of weight when we are transitioning through a major life change, simply because we try to find soul soothing in too many bowls of ice cream.
Two stiff drinks offer quick escape from the ache of disappointment.
The Lord offers promise to the hungry. “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.” (Isaiah 55:2, NIV)  Mature disciples know in Whom they find lasting satisfaction. “I will praise you as long as I live, lifting up my hands to you in prayer. You satisfy me more than the richest feast. I will praise you with songs of joy. I lie awake thinking of you, meditating on you through the night.” (Psalm 63:4-6, NLT) Honestly, just as my palate had to be trained to appreciate the complex flavors and textures of some food, our spirit must learn to appreciate the complexities of spiritual discipleship.
Want to become a person with a soul that is healthy? Do you desire to live nobly, wholly, and with greater joy?
Spend yourself to help the needy.
Replace accusing words with encouragement.
Become a person committed to justice, full of forgiveness, intimate with the Lord.
Here’s what He promises about filling you up: “The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” (Isaiah 58:11, NIV) 
“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” (Matthew 6:31-33, NLT) 
That sounds like real soul satisfactionto me.
_______________
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.
Well of water, ever springing,
Bread of life, so rich and free,
Untold wealth that never faileth,
My Redeemer is to me.
Hallelujah! I have found Him
Whom my soul so long has craved!
Jesus satisfies my longings;
Thro’ His blood I now am saved.
Satisfied
Williams, Clara Teare / Hudson, Ralph E.
© Public Domain

Come, running!

Come, running!
The Christmas story includes some men regarded by others in their time as the lowest, people without social status. The shepherds lived apart from society, tending Bethlehem’s sheep. Sheep herding was a menial job. The men were rough, their work hard. Their job kept them from the synagogue and from observing Jewish rituals so the smug Pharisees sniffed that shepherds were all sinners.
But God chose to bring them into the scene. To whom does HE first announce the New moment? Shepherds! “And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.” (Luke 2:9-10, NKJV) “So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:15-16, NKJV)
I’m intrigued by that phrase – “they came with haste.” After the angels left them, there was a short discussion, and then these men who normally avoided town, who were obligated to make sure their flocks were safe, took off running to find Jesus! `
Have you been pushed aside, told that you’re not worthy of God or His goodness?
Have you concluded that you are beyond the reach of grace, too _____________ (bad, good, sinful, old, young , rich, poor)?  People have lots of reasons (excuses) for not hearing God’s call.
You’re not too anything to be beyond God’s love. Jesus Christ is ’ good news of great joy that will be for all the people.’ His coming opened the way to reconciliation with the Lord, to discovery of eternal life. He invites to “Come, follow Me.” Interestingly, that particular offer was made to another group of very ordinary men, outside of the social or religious elite. He invited the fishermen of Galilee to discipleship. They, too, dropped what they were doing. “At once they left their nets and followed him.” (Matthew 4:20, NIV)
Some are reluctant disciples (an oxymoron really) and others are eager to follow. Some come pushed by fear, some drawn by love. Some are looking for escape from the troubles of life, others to find the entry to life abundant. There is a form of Christianity shaped by satisfying holy obligations in order to ‘earn’ the favor of God. Then, there are those who love the Lord, His work, and His presence.
To those who come running, there is this promise. “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. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.” (Isaiah 55:1-3, NIV) “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near.” (Isaiah 55:6, NIV)
So, what kind of disciple are you?
________________
O Come All Ye Faithful
O come all ye faithful,
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye, to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him
Born the King of angels.
Yea Lord, we greet Thee,
Born this happy morning.
Jesus, to Thee be all glory giv’n.
Word of the Father
Now in flesh appearing.
O come let us adore Him.
O come let us adore Him.
O come let us adore Him,
Christ, the Lord!
C. Frederick Oakeley | John Francis Wade
Public Domain

Shepherds and Sheep


Shepherds and sheep

I read about the shepherds who saw angels, heard a song, and went into Bethlehem to “see this thing that has happened.”  (Luke 2)  It brought to mind a memory of my own childhood. When I was a little kid, I traveled, with my Dad, who was a livestock dealer back then, to the wide open plains near Buffalo, Wyoming.  Men, living in small rolling homes in  remote areas, tended huge flocks of sheep! Yes, it’s true. They were Basque immigrants, from an ancient culture in the Pyrenees Mountains on the border of Spain and France. Their people had a long tradition of being outstanding shepherds.  Helped only by their amazing dogs these shepherds made certain that the flock was safe and led to new pasture each day.  Using only the sound of his voice, and the assistance of his dog to round up stragglers, one shepherd led hundreds of sheep! It is an amazing memory still vivid in my mind a half century later!

Only a well-shepherded flock thrives. Sheep left untended on the open range will die. Predators will kill them off, one by one. Or, they will over-grazing the land until they have exhausted their food supply. Don’t get insulted by what I write next, all right? We are like those sheep. We need to be led! Without care, we die.  Think I am wrong?  Even Jesus observed this about the people he lived with, “they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36, NIV)
Our world is full of people who would ‘shepherd’ us. They call to us, inviting us to follow them.  Jesus said that some who claim to be shepherding are just careerists, interested in enriching themselves at the expense of the flock. At the first sign of crisis, they abandon their sheep. “The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it.” (John 10:12, NIV)


He will never do that!  He invites us to “Come, follow me. … I am the Good Shepherd.”  Jesus says, “I am the Gate for the sheep. … Anyone who goes through me will be cared for-will freely go in and out, and find pasture. … I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of. I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd puts the sheep before himself, sacrifices himself if necessary.” (John 10:7-11, The Message)

“Come, follow me.” Will you take Jesus up on His invitation? It’s an invitation to adventure, to life that is purposeful and meaningful, and – best of all – to a relationship! He promises that if we follow Him, He will never leave us. He does not promise that we will never be attacked by wolves, go through violent storms, or experience difficult days! But, He promises we won’t face those challenges alone. “I’ll be there,” He says, “caring for you.”  Follow the Good Shepherd. Serve Him. Worship Him. Listen to Him. And, you will ‘have real and eternal life, more and better life than you ever dreamed.’ That’s the truth.

This was the promise of the Lord, fulfilled at the coming of Jesus.
He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And he will be their peace.”
(Micah 5:3-5, NIV)


_____________________


Savior, like a Shepherd lead us;
Much we need Thy tender care.
In Thy pleasant pastures feed us;
For our use Thy folds prepare.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!
Thou hast bought us; Thine we are.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!
Thou hast bought us, Thine we are.

We are Thine; do Thou befriend us;
Be the Guardian of our way.
Keep Thy flock; from sin defend us;
Seek us when we go astray.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!
Hear thy children when they pray;
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!
Hear Thy children when they pray.

Savior Like A Shepherd Lead Us
Thrupp, Dorothy A. / Bradbury, William B.
© Public Domain

There I go, again!


There I go, again!

As my irritation shifted into anger, I felt the heat creeping into my face, the surge of adrenalin racing through my body.  I was ready to go to battle! After I walked away and calm returned, I thought to myself, “there I go, again!”   The struggle with my temper is a life-long one.  Do I like it? Not at all. Am I controlled by it? No.  Is it sinful?  Yes, and for that reason, I submit it to Christ for His mastery.

Given differences in our personalities, training, experience, and circumstances each of us wrestles with different temptation.  Most of us deal with one or more of the so-called ‘seven deadly sins.’ They are wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony.  In recent years we have tended to describe our struggles with sin in psychological rather than spiritual language.  Recovery is more sought after than repentance.  I am grateful for the science that studies human behavior and attempts to help us to  understand why we end up saying to ourselves, ‘there I go, again!’  But, I also recognize that to simply understand and explain behavior that God calls sin is an insufficient remedy.  Recovery can never make me right with God. Only repentance followed by receiving His grace restores and produces freedom – from guilt and from sin’s power over me.

Christians must never ‘make peace,’ with those things that God hates.  For example, if I excuse my anger as a ‘family trait,’ or part of my personality, I remain a slave to it. But, I must not deny the reality of it, either. That is why I take it to the Cross of Christ and find forgiveness, and pray for the Spirit to master it.  At same time, I work to understand why I choose to act in certain ways so I can recognize when the temptation is more likely to approach.

What’s your ‘besetting sin?’  Take a look at the Church’s list of the deadly sins again- wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony.  That’s not the prettiest side of humanity, is it?  God says we all sin; falling far short of the destiny for which He created us. Can you identify with this passage?  “When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  For in my inner being I delight in God’s law;  but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am!”  (Romans 7:21, NIV)  Don’t make the tragic mistake of stopping there. Too many Christians do. We are not whole in the Spirit if we think that the only responses to our sins are either to make peace with them or to live with miserable guilt, day in and day out.

Paul goes on to declare emphatically that while we will find ourselves saying, “there I go, again,” there is freedom in Christ and  growth into a mature holiness which comes from the life of the Spirit developing in us. With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death. God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn’t deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all. The law code, (religious rules about sin) weakened as it always was by fractured human nature, could never have done that. The law always ended up being used as a Band-Aid on sin instead of a deep healing of it. And now what the law code asked for but we couldn’t deliver is accomplished as we, instead of redoubling our own efforts, simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us. Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them—living and breathing God! (Romans 8:1-5, The Message)

I hope you will not overly sentimentalize the Christmas story.  The Babe in the Manger is not just a nice story about God coming to earth.  It was His opening shot in the war on sin!  God came into the world, not to excuse our failures, but to defeat the evil and free us to live holy and whole lives by offering us the Gift of grace and forgiveness.  Let’s go beyond just knowing why we fail, to overcoming sin through our Savior.  “Life itself was in him, and this life gives light to everyone. The light shines through the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” (John 1:4-5, NLT)  “To all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn! This is not a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan—this rebirth comes from God. So the Word became human and lived here on earth among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the only Son of the Father.” (John 1:12-14, NLT)
___________

Come Thou Long Expected Jesus

Come Thou long expected Jesus,
Born to set Thy people free.
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art.
Dear desire of every nation
Joy of every longing heart.

Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King!
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious Kingdom bring!
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone.
By Thine all sufficient merit
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

Charles Wesley | Christian Friedrich Witt
Public Domain

"It’s Christmas. Yeah? So what?"

Has all the bad news taken hold of you, left you anxious, or full of despair? Are feeling like the cynical man who brushed off my greeting with a snarl: “It’s Christmas! Yeah, so what?” This ‘holy day’ Season you can gain strength, renewal, and hope. You will not find these gifts under your tree or at the office party! It really can be a ‘wonderful time of the year,’ if we look in the right places for our joy.    
So, what choices can make the difference between ‘bah, humbug,’ and ‘joy to the world?’

Make people your priority!
Likely, you will either host gatherings or be a guest at one or more. Savor the time. Give another your full attention. Don’t rush, hurry, or just try to ‘get the program’ completed. Enjoy the opportunity to be with friends and family.  Be content with less-than-perfect preparations of food and décor. Those things will quickly fade into oblivion anyway, but an evening of meaningful conversation creates a lasting memory to which we return again and again.

Remember to include worship!
Believe me, if you will set aside 20 minutes each day between now and Christmas Day, to meditate, to pray, and to read the stories of Jesus’ nativity from Matthew and Luke; the Spirit will meet you! Tell your family you will be going to church on Christmas Eve. Arrive early and sit with a listening heart, not one wondering, “when will this be over?” “O come, let us adore Him… Christ, the Lord!” Most Americans will spend far more time in the mall than in church during the next seven days! We will worship at the altar of consumerism with far more fervency than we will worship our Lord Jesus. This imbalance in the use of our time and money reveals the identity of our true god. Keeping Christ in Christmas isn’t just about putting up a crèche on the lawn at City Hall. It’s about building an altar in our heart and honoring the One whose life is the cause for the celebration.

Give yourself away!  
In Acts 20:35 (The Message) says, “I have demonstrated to you how necessary it is to work on behalf of the weak and not exploit them. You’ll not likely go wrong here if you keep remembering that our Master said, ‘You’re far happier giving than getting.’ ” Give forgiveness. Give love. Give time. Give grace. Give away your expectations and receive what these days bring your way.   
Recover wonder!  Read the Christmas story and instead of asking, “How could this be?” invite the mystery of it all to whisper to your soul a new message about the depth of God’s love. Watch the old film, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and don’t make fun of it! Instead, let it inspire you to make a difference in someone’s life today. I am not urging superficial sentimentality. I am suggesting that we have to let go of our sophistication, our cynicism, our intense focus on now. Let the sophisticates pretend to be bored by the holiday. Choose to be child-like (not childish!) in your wonder.
You can come to New Year’s Day with a renewed heart! Sure, you may be tired in body from staying up too late, going here and there, but you will have received Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit. And, He brings life.

Here’s a word from the Word to take with you as you begin this Christmas week- “The Word became human and lived here on earth among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the only Son of the Father. … We have all benefited from the rich blessings he brought to us-one gracious blessing after another.” (John 1:14, 16, NLT)

__________
Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne

Thou didst leave Thy throne
And Thy kingly crown,
When Thou camest to earth for me;
But in Bethlehem’s home,
There was found no room
For Thy holy nativity.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee.
Thou camest, O Lord,
With the living Word
That should set Thy people free.
But, with mocking scorn
And with crown of thorn
They bore Thee to Calvary.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee.
Emily Elizabeth Steele Elliott | Timothy Richard Matthews
Public Domain

He ran in the strength of the Lord

Praying The murders of little school children in Connecticut and the ongoing wars that bring death and destruction to innocents in dusty corners of Syria and Afghanistan filled the news with nothing but despair. Beside these things, there is the spiritual apathy that lays over the land like a dense morning fog. Many who claim to be disciples of Christ are slack in commitment to His work, careless about personal holiness; their Bibles never open from day to day, their prayers childish petitions for trinkets and pleasure, if they pray at all. Because of it all, I confess to being weary in doing good! It’s a kind of tired not related to physical work, but even more taxing. The Psalmist’s complaint became my prayer: “How long will the wicked, O LORD, how long will the wicked be jubilant? They pour out arrogant words; all the evildoers are full of boasting.” (Psalm 94:3-4, NIV)
Today I opened my Bible to the story of a man who took up the call of God to speak to a nation that was full of idolatry, to a people who knew better, but who chased after lesser gods than the God who loved them. Elijah’s great victory on Mt. Carmel, in which he saw the fire of God fall from the heavens to burn up the sacrifice in answer to his prayers, was truly amazing. Then, he went to prayer again, seven times asking God to break the drought and send rain on Israel. Finally, a tiny cloud appeared, which was all he needed. He told King Ahab to get back to his palace before the rain fell and then we read this: “And God strengthened Elijah mightily. Pulling up his robe and tying it around his waist, Elijah ran in front of Ahab’s chariot until they reached Jezreel.” (1 Kings 18:46, The Message) After a long day of spiritual confrontation, Elijah ran about 25 miles!
The Spirit whispered in that passage about His promise to be my strength (and yours!) for the challenges of this day. If we look to our own meager resources, the darkness of the world around us will tempt us to retreat from the struggle. When we see the daunting power of Evil, which is both real and enduring, and compare it to our ability to bring change; we will most likely want to abandon the field. Again and again, the Bible’s lessons remind us that His equips the faithful so that they can prevail against sin and evil. Joshua obediently marched around Jericho and the walls fell down. David, the young teen, met the champion Goliath, with a slingshot. Jesus entered the battle for the Kingdom by becoming a Man and obediently going to the Cross. Paul took up the call to take the Gospel, regarded by many as ‘foolishness’ to the world, and in spite of his physical frailty, saw the Church established across the Roman Empire in a single generation.
So, the question is not, “How long can you take it?”
The real question is, “Will you accept the Power provided so you will make the journey, all the way to the end?”    
There is this statement – “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” (2 Peter 1:3, NIV) When we are tired, will we look past our fatigue to His encouragement? All around us people are asking what will save us. They are looking for answers. My prayer is that my life will answer them. My prayer is that we who are people of the Spirit will avoid simplistic solutions, easy prescriptions, and blaming those victimized by Evil! Let’s become Divine Warriors, full of Light and Love, fearless in the our assurance of Eternal Life; ready to die (to self and temptation, more than literally) “so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” (2 Corinthians 4:10, NIV)
Here’s the word from the Word.  
Lord, make it living Truth, your voice speaking strength to our weary souls. Amen.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress. And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish. He was willing to die a shameful death on the cross because of the joy he knew would be his afterward. Now he is seated in the place of highest honor beside God’s throne in heaven. Think about all he endured when sinful people did such terrible things to him, so that you don’t become weary and give up.” (Hebrews 12:1-3, NLT)
_________
A mighty fortress is our God,
A bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and pow’r are great,
And, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.
Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side,
The Man of God’s own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His name,
From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.
And tho’ this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph thro’ us.
The Prince of Darkness grim-
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.
That word above all earthly pow’rs,
No thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours
Thro’ Him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.
A Mighty Fortress
Martin Luther
 

Relentless Optimism


“The End of the world is coming!”  At least that is the underlying theme of so much news.  Exaggeration distorts our view of the world, our understanding of the future.  Supposedly the United States faces a ‘fiscal cliff’ in the next few days, the implication being that if we go over it, a terrible fate will befall us. No, not really.  Our taxes will go up and government spending will go down.   Life will change;  and . . .   we will adjust and go on.  But, the media hypes the story scaring people half to death.  
We are regularly treated to headlines about the worst storm in history or the deadliest drug every made  (3 died in all of America), or – you know what I’m talking about. This crisis reporting invades the minds of Christians and some buy it with devastating results to their faith.  The end of Christianity has been predicted again and again; yet, millions are coming to Christ every year in African nations, in China, and in Latin America.  Even here in the US, the way we practice our faith is changing, but Christianity is a long way from becoming extinct.  I’m not proclaiming the mission as accomplished; not by a long stretch.  Many indicators of the health of Christianity, especially in the West, are showing us how much work we have to do in order to hand off a living faith to the next generation.  The battle is not over, but it is not lost, either.
God is at work in circumstances in ways we cannot see at the moment; even in the not-so-great ones.  He can take the horrible consequences of sin and speak to the world through them. C. S. Lewis called suffering “God’s megaphone.”  Paul, the apostle, found himself in the grip of the Romans, imprisoned.  He could not travel to preach.  His ability to interact with others to share the Gospel of Christ was severely curtailed.  Terrible, right?  In a sense, yes. But, he realized that something amazing was happening   because of his suffering and restriction.  He wrote of it, “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.” (Philippians 1:12-14, NIV)  
His guards were drawn from Caesar’s own elite troop, sons of nobility from across the Empire. These young men were standing in Paul’s presence, day in and day out, and they were getting converted!  Many would never had been exposed to the message of Christ in any other way.  Best of all, when they left service, they would head home to plant the seeds of this new faith in their regions. God had a purpose in the prison.  Not only that, but the preachers of lesser influence gained courage to speak out when they saw Paul’s deep faith.   What Paul did not know, but which we see clearly, was that the long stretches of confinement, during which he could only communicate with the churches through letters, provides us much of our New Testament. Those letters were inspired, preserved, and teach us how to live for Christ.  Without prison, we would not have them!
What are you going through today?  Is it the ‘worst,’ ‘the end of the world?’   Have you decided that is the reason to just lay down and quit? I am not minimizing your difficulties as I write this.  I am encouraging you to stay faithful, to keep faith, and to be intentional about asking God how He can use it to make Himself known: to you, to your world.  Some become cynical with age, seeing only the terrible, the failing, and the sad. I am relentlessly optimistic!  If you know me, you know that does not mean that I lack an ability to see things clearly or that I choose to live in denial of reality.  I see them and I weep.  Some nights I ache with fatigue, others I find it hard to sleep.  There are days when there is no end in sight.  But, “I have no regrets. I couldn’t be more sure of my ground—the One I’ve trusted in can take care of what he’s trusted me to do right to the end. So keep at your work, this faith and love rooted in Christ, exactly as I set it out for you. It’s as sound as the day you first heard it from me. Guard this precious thing placed in your custody by the Holy Spirit who works in us.” (2 Timothy 1:12-14, The Message)
______________________
The Power Of Your Love
Lord, I come to You;
Let my heart be changed, renewed,
Flowing from the grace
That I found in You.
And, Lord, I’ve come to know
The weaknesses I see in me,
Will be stripped away-
By the pow’r of Your love.
Lord, unveil my eyes,
Let me see You face to face;
The knowledge of Your love
As You live in me.
Lord, renew my mind
As Your will unfolds in my life,
In living ev’ry day-
By the pow’r of Your love.
Hold me close,
Let Your love surround me.
Bring me near,
Draw me to Your side.
And as I wait-
I’ll rise up like the eagle!
And I will soar with You,
Your Spirit leads me on,
In the pow’r of Your love.
Geoff Bullock
© 1992 Word Music, LLC (Admin. by Word Music Group, Inc.)
Maranatha! Music (Admin. by Maranatha! Music)
CCLI License # 810055

A culture adrift?

A culture adrift?
Our local newspaper reported the story of a high school substitute teacher who was suspended from his job for giving a student his Bible. Yes, that’s all there is to the story. There’s no hidden detail, no scandal, just a nice guy answering a kid’s question and handing him his personal Bible. School policy banned distribution of religious material in the pursuit of neutrality. I get the aim of that policy, but the application of it in this case is absurd. Fast forward to today’s paper. The county executives handed out grant money (tax money, yours and mine) yesterday. Included in their largesse are two local churches, one receiving $150k for a new roof, the other $100K for a stained glass window repair. What? Yes, you read correctly; tax money going to churches for repairs. I wish that they would have paid for our recent new heating plant ($22K). No, actually I don’t. (But that is a thought for another day.)
We are a culture adrift, conflicted about religion. Many push it to the side as an irrelevant relic of yesterday, not to be taken too seriously. At the same time, some realize that becoming a purely secular nation is a certain route to a cruel culture in which the power of the elites is unrestrained and the rights of the poor and weak are trampled underfoot. The terrible social experiments of the last century are proof of that. The atrocities of National Socialism (Nazi) in Germany were followed by terrible suffering that persisted for decades under Communism that spread across the globe. Both systems officially eliminated all things spiritual from public policy and descended into horrific abuses of individuals by the crushing power of the state.
What contemporary Americans have conveniently forgotten is that faith is not merely a private devotion. What we believe about God and ourselves has real consequence for both for the individual and for the society in which we live.
500 years ago, a 34 year old priest named Martin Luther realized that the Church was corrupt to the core. He re-examined the Scripture and renewed the understanding that we all matter to God, that we each can experience the power of the Spirit, and that all of our work can be done to God’s glory. Out of those convictions came democracy, constitutionalism, and religious liberty. He started a revolution that has implications for all aspects of life even five centuries later. Harold Berman of Emory University writes that “the key to the renewal of law in the West from the sixteenth century on was the Protestant concept of the power of the individual, by God’s grace, to change nature and to create new social relations through the exercise of his will. The Protestant concept of the individual became central to the development of the modern law of property and contract….”  America was born out of the religious ideas of the Reformation.
The followers of John Calvin, in the 17th century, enumerated the theology on which rests the ideals of American civil rights and liberties including freedom of speech, press, and religion.
So, why my opening remarks about a teacher and some grants? They reveal the confused nature of the government, growing out of our abandonment of vital faith. Religion is at once reviled and revered, but only for perhaps one more generation. We need a revival! No, I am not longing for the emotionalism that too often passes for spiritual renewal. I am praying for a deep, well-thought faith, grounded in the principles of Holy Scripture, from which grows godliness that nurtures life. While demanding respect for the rights of individuals, it balances those rights against responsibility shaped by the recognition that we will all give account for the way we conduct our lives to a just God.
I do not pine for a Christian nation in which the church is wedded to the State. I pray earnestly for a nation of Christians whose deeply held convictions about God and His Christ once again shape and restrain the powers of the State.
“From heaven the LORD looks down and sees all mankind; from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth- he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do. No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save.
But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine.” (Psalm 33:13-19, NIV)
 ___________
Lord, send revival.
Start with me.
Amen.

Are you a giver of good gifts?


Have you finished your Christmas shopping yet? If you’re like a majority of Americans, you still have people on your list for whom there is no gift under the tree. It can be difficult to find the “right” gift for some. Then, too, some of us miss the meaning of the effort. How do you approach your Christmas shopping? Let me point out various kinds of gifting that will happen on the 25th.

The CHEAP shopper is driven by one goal – buying something, anything, that satisfies the need to offer a present.  He wants to spend as little money or energy as possible. My one question to this person is – “why bother?” You have missed the meaning of Christmas entirely. Save yourself the effort because the person who receives your ‘gift’ will only be obligated to write an insincere ‘thank you’ note!

The HURRIED shopper just wanted to get it over and done. He darts from store to store, grabbing this and that and checking off the names on his list. Obligation, not love, is the primary drive behind their search.

The “PAY MY DEBTS” shopper hopes that with one gift, usually one that is far too extravagant, that she can make up for her failures through the year. No gift can do this, and this shopper is sadly set up for disappointment already!

The “I’D SURE LIKE THAT” who buys gifts he would like to receive. His gifts are often very nice, they do not bless the recipient; they just don’t ‘fit.’ Why? Because, at the heart, he’s selfish. His gifts are not thoughtfully chosen because he is too in love with himself to be aware of what really going on outside of his own skin.

The “BECAUSE I LOVE YOU” finds the heart of Christmas! This person thinks carefully about the tastes, the needs, the personality of the person for whom she is getting a gift and, after a careful search, prepares a gift that she presents for no reason other than the joy of blessing another.  Her gift has no payment, no obligation, nor guilt attached!

This is how God gave to us. The Bible says that “God so loved ____________________ (insert your name here) that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NIV)  This passage amplifies the promise: “God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so very much, that even while we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s special favor that you have been saved!)” (Ephesians 2:4-5, NLT)  He is totally sufficient in Himself, yet He gave. He has no aim other than to bring us life. His Gift was rich, prepared from eternity, given to settle my debts, based on my need, and shaped by His love for me!

In your gift-giving, make LOVE the reason.

Having trouble finding a gift for someone on your list? Relax and think about who they are, what they need, and how you can express love in a language they’ll understand. It will come to you! The best gifts are, like God’s gift to us, a gift of ourselves.

________________

How Great Our Joy

While by the sheep we watched at night.

Glad tidings brought an angel bright.

How great our joy (great our joy)

Joy, joy, joy! (joy joy joy)

Praise we the Lord in heaven on high!

(Praise we the Lord in heaven on high)

There shall be born, so he did say,

In Bethlehem a Child today.

How great our joy. (great our joy)

Joy, joy, joy! (joy joy joy)

Praise we the Lord in heaven on high!

(Praise we the Lord in heaven on high)

This gift of God we’ll cherish well

That ever joy our hearts shall fill.

How great our joy. (great our joy)

Joy, joy, joy! (joy joy joy)

Praise we the Lord in heaven on high!

(Praise we the Lord in heaven on high)

Theodore Baker

Public Domain

(Yes, you have seen this before. Many commented on it when first written so I offered it again.)