Useless to HIM?

Jeremiah had the toughest calling in the world; to tell people hard things that they did not want to hear.  Sermons about God’s goodness, His love,  about the depths of His grace, get rave reviews.  Jeremiah preached one message for decades, “judgment is coming if you don’t get right with God!”  Who wants to hear that over and over again?  I’ll readily admit that I have not spent much time musing over the Word of God found in the book that bears the prophet’s name.  Yet, without judgment, grace becomes meaningless, doesn’t it?
Jeremiah was directed to turn his sermon into an object lesson. The Lord told him to go get a linen belt, a sash that was normally worn by royals and priests of high stature, and to wear it around his waist.  As he went around Jerusalem, people would take note of his sash, as it would stand out against his ordinary clothing.  Then God said, “Take the belt you bought and are wearing around your waist, and go now to Perath and hide it there in a crevice in the rocks.” (Jeremiah 13:4, NIV)  What happens to linen when it’s exposed to dirt and moisture? It deteriorates.  When the thing was ruined, God had Jeremiah dig it up and wear it around again. Every time somebody asked, “What happened to your sash?”  he had another opportunity to give them God’s message.  “These wicked people, who refuse to listen to my words, who follow the stubbornness of their hearts and go after other gods to serve and worship them, will be like this belt—completely useless! For as a belt is bound around a man’s waist, so I bound the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah to me,’ declares the LORD, ‘to be my people for my renown and praise and honor. But they have not listened.’”(Jeremiah 13:10-12, NIV)
Abraham’s heirs enjoyed a privileged place before God, not because they were better or more deserving than any others, but because God had chosen them to make His Name great, to be a special, holy people that brought the admiration of the world to Him. Now, because they would not live obediently, they had become worthless.  Because they brought disgrace to Him instead of Glory, He was going to remove His protection and let them be ruined just like Jeremiah’s belt.  And, they were!
Musing on that passage, I asked myself if I have misappropriated the blessings of the Lord.  I wondered if I made it all about me, instead of Him?  The letter to the Ephesians is my favorite part of the Bible. It celebrates the high calling of every Christian, the amazing benefits that come to us.  And it reminds us that we are blessed to be a blessing.  “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,” (Ephesians 1:3, NKJV)  “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory. In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory. (Ephesians 1:11-14, NKJV)
Christian, are you walking worthy of the high calling of Christ? Or, because you have turned grace inside out, focusing on ‘me, myself, and I,’ are you ruined and therefore, useless? 
It is a sobering question, one we could never answer with confidence, except for the amazing promise that our Father invests the life of the Spirit in us, asking only that we humbly let Him work in us, and thus, work through us ‘for the praise of His glory.’  As you think about Jeremiah’s ruined, useless belt remember this promise of power to live a holy life.  Live in this word from the Word – today and always. “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. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:3-8, NIV)
Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me
All His wonderful passion and purity
Oh, Thou Spirit divine, all my nature refine
Till the beauty of Jesus be seen in me.
          Copyright, Public domain

The Gaps of Ambiguity

The gaps of ambiguity
Americans love slogans and simplicity.  We like to frame issues in terms of black and white; people as good or evil.  But, life is not quite that defined. The most admired person among us is flawed. The noblest deed can be done for the basest of motives. That is one reason I hold so tightly to the grace of God, shown me in Christ Jesus.  Grace fills in the gaps created by life’s ambiguities!  Let me illustrate. A person visited me who was deeply grieving the tragic loss of a friend. “Is he with God?” she asked desperately.  His story was a complex one involving addiction and terrible emotional scars from war. From all outward appearances, he was no saint. I refused to give her a definitive answer.  I am not afraid of the truth. I am just not God! I do not have the ability to see the whole story of this man’s life, or honestly, even of my own.
Simplistic thinking that pigeon-holes everyone into some pre-determined category in our mind destroys relationships.  Stereotypes may make life simpler for us, but they also rob us of the subtle nuances of reality.  The Bible says that “love covers over a multitude of sins.”  (1 Peter 4:8)  We are loved by God, offered grace-based forgiveness. That love should teach us to love others in the same way – with great grace. But, does it?  How many conversations have you had that refused to give the benefit of the doubt to another? How often have you locked a person into a prison of preconceptions created by one statement, one act, one momentary failure that happened years ago?  It’s much simpler to assign that person to the ‘bad’ category, then we do not have to deal with them.  It’s much easier to write off the difficult people as being ‘beyond redemption,’ and thus to excuse ourselves from prayer and care. But, is that God’s way?
Nothing breaks God’s heart more than the hatred and our refusal to love is just that no matter how we dress it up with excuses. Love is complex and will allow for change, for growth, for development of that other person. Love is defined as a choice of action, not a passive response.  The Word says that “Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. ” (1 Corinthians 13:5-9, NLT)
Some men who refused to see life in shades of gray dragged a woman to Jesus.  They wanted a judgment. “She’s bad,” they yowled. “Doesn’t she deserve to die?” “Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, stone her. But let those who have never sinned throw the first stones!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust. When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. Then Jesus stood up again and said to her, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” “No, Lord,” she said. And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” (John 8:4-11, NLT) In his response we are taught about grace that fills in the gaps and love that lays a foundation for change.
Here’s a word from the Word – one I love because it is my testimony, too. “Oh, how kind and gracious the Lord was! He filled me completely with faith and the love of Christ Jesus. This is a true saying, and everyone should believe it: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—and I was the worst of them all. But that is why God had mercy on me, so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. Glory and honor to God forever and ever. He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; he alone is God. Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:14-17, NLT)
Alabaster Box
The room grew still
As she made her way to Jesus
She stumbles through the tears
That made her blind
She felt such pain
Some spoke in anger
Heard folks whisper
There’s no place here for her kind
Still on she came
Through the shame that flushed her face
Until at last she knelt before His feet
And though she spoke no words
Ev’rything she said was heard
And she poured her love for the Master
From her box of alabaster
I’ve come to pour
My praise on Him like oil
From Mary’s alabaster box
Don’t be angry
If I wash His feet with my tears
And I dry them with my hair
You weren’t there the night He found me
You did not feel what I felt
When He wrapped His love all around me
And you don’t know the cost of the oil
In my alabaster box
I can’t forget
The way life used to be
I was a pris’ner
To the sin that had me bound
I spent my days
Poured my life without measure
Into a little treasure box
I thought I found
Until the day when Jesus came to me
And healed my soul
With the wonder of His touch
So now I’m giving back to Him
All the praise He’s worthy of
I’ve been forgiven and that’s why
I love Him so much
I’ve come to pour
My praise on Him like oil
From Mary’s alabaster box
Don’t be angry
If I wash His feet with my tears
And dry them with my hair
You weren’t there when my Jesus found me
You did not feel what I felt
When He wrapped His loving arms around me
And you don’t know the cost of the oil
Oh you don’t know the cost of my praise
You don’t know the cost of the oil
In my alabaster box
CCLI Song # 2825962
Janice Lyn Sjostrand
© 2004 Little Pooky’s Music (Admin. by Pure Psalms Music, Inc.)
CCLI License # 810055

If I grow rich, I may deny You

The teens in my household enjoy everything a kid could want – security, money, food, encouragement.  My loving provision shields them, in part, from the curse of Eden!  They think they are ready to run their own lives, totally unaware of how unprepared they are for making their own way. I wonder if my relationship with my Heavenly Father is similar?  Have His blessings actually allowed me to be deluded? Do I ever think that I can manage life apart from His care?  Am I content to give Him a little perfunctory respect just to keep the provisions coming my way?
God’s kids can develop an unhealthy independence from Him built on the illusion of self-sufficiency.  There is a pattern that I have observed many times.  A person grows up, gifted by God, blessed with parents who provide discipline, training, and stability. He takes those gifts and goes on to a successful life, in process abandoning all the but the pretext of faith, nearly completely unaware of foundations others provided for him. But, over time the neglect of the True Source of his blessings leads to crisis, for which he is unprepared. Only then, often too late, does he realize the gifts of God.  Or, there is the other extreme. A person whose life is in ruins desperately reaches out to God. Just as the Word promises, he finds Him to be a Friend and Savior. He loves worship and fellowship with other Christians. He devours books that show him the ways of Christ.  As he grows in faith and walks in spiritual disciplines, his life shows evidence of success. Destructive habits are replaced with responsibility. Godly ways are the fertile soil in which blessings grow.
Too often, we grow independent of the very God that blesses us! Financial independence allows diversions that lead us from making the Lord first priority. Ministries that once were the core of our lives are side-lined as we pursues the hobbies we can now afford. Weekends are spent at the vacation home, instead of at church.  Our prayers are polite and formal prayers, not heart-felt conversations with a Friend.  True thankfulness is almost non-existent, because we think we are a ‘self-made man.’  If asked, we  will thank God for the things we enjoy, but our words and our true values are far apart.

Think that’s far-fetched?  Jesus spoke of the seed of the Word which was received with joy but then He said that “the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.” (Mark 4:19, NIV)  Moses prophecied that God’s people would abandon their Deliverer when they were settled in the Promised Land – “Jeshurun (God’s people) grew fat and kicked; filled with food, he became heavy and sleek. He abandoned the God who made him and rejected the Rock his Savior.” (Deuteronomy 32:15, NIV)

In the richest nation on earth, empty churches on Sunday morning are but one stark symbol of our lack of regard for the Lord and things of the Spirit. We find more security in our bank accounts than we do in our Father’s promises. We gain more sense of worth from our ability to achieve that we do from His gift of grace. It may be that the price of real spiritual revival is deprivation!  It may be that the greater blessing is not more things, more wealth, even more health. Jesus asks, “How do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose or forfeit your own soul in the process?” (Luke 9:25, NLT)

Here’s a prayer that the honest man will pray in sincerity, trusting God to keep him. “Give me neither poverty nor riches! Give me just enough to satisfy my needs. For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?” And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name.” (Proverbs 30:8-9, NLT)   

Is It Worth It?

Is it worth it?
InvestingThe teenage boys in my household are learning about managing resources. Their weekly allowance is finite, their desire for things seemingly infinite. If they spend their entire allowance on day out at the paintball field, they will have a great time, but they will also be broke for the rest of the week. So, they’re learning to ask themselves, ‘is it worth it?‘ I have to step back and allow them to choose, even unwisely at times, because that’s part of the learning process.
How are you spending life’s finite resources? I am particularly thinking of that most precious resource -time! With the end of my 6th decade of life approaching, I ask myself, ‘is it worth it?’ I want to look back and see that I invested God’s gift of time on people and projects that matter. The Bible says, “Teach us to make the most of our time, so that we may grow in wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12, NLT) Nothing is more tragic than a life spent, but never invested! The late Chuck Colson looked back on his life near the pinnacle of power here in the United States, when he walked the hallways of the White House and offered counsel to the President on a daily basis. The policy decisions seemed momentous at the time, he said, but 30 years later, almost each one had been undone or redone by subsequent administrations. After Colson became a devout Christian, he choose to spend his life in a way some would see as much less significant. He became a minister to those imprisoned. His choices no longer made headlines, but they helped to change the eternal destiny of thousands of men and women.
Are you spending your life on trinkets and trivia or investing it with wisdom? Granted, we must all do things that are ‘just life.’ But, even those mundane matters can be given significance if they are done in a way that honors Christ Jesus as Lord.How you do your work today matters, even if what you do will have to be done again tomorrow – be it ten loads of laundry, writing yet another memo about a product line, or driving a delivery route. The Word reminds that God cares howwe do what we do: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Colossians 3:23-24, NIV)
Here is a word from the Word for your meditation. Jesus urges us to invest. “Steep yourself in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Don’t be afraid of missing out. You’re my dearest friends! The Father wants to give you the very kingdom itself. “Be generous. Give to the poor. Get yourselves a bank that can’t go bankrupt, a bank in heaven far from bankrobbers, safe from embezzlers, a bank you can bank on. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.” (Luke 12:31-34, The Message)


A Popeye Moment

Bill Hybels, pastor and author, in his book, Holy Discontent, talks about having a Popeye moment.  Seeing people sit through church unengaged, unmoved, he finally said to himself, “That’s all I can stands I can’t stands no more!”  He calls it his Popeye moment, when God used his frustration to stir up discontent that led to starting Willow Creek Church. It was not just about being uncomfortable or wanting things done his way. It was about realizing that the stakes were so high he had to take the risk to do something radical!
I am praying that God will let you see the problems of the world around you in such a stark, disturbing way that you, too, will have a Popeye moment.  And, I pray that when it happens, you won’t run away, look for an easier assignment, or try to divert your attention.  No, I pray that it will make you fall on your knees and tell the Lord, “I want to be part of the solution. Use me, Lord, no matter the cost, to be a life-changer.”  The Church and Spirit-filled Christians are the last, best hope of this dying world. We stand on the line between life and death, between Hell and Heaven.  In the ancient land of Judah, the Lord saw the great sins of the people and said, “I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none.” (Ezekiel 22:30, NIV)    Is that what He’s saying about this land, our time?
Do you know that people are dying and headed for Hell?  Do you know that people are living in a kind of Hell, right here?  We all know that, but will we let ourselves see it, feel it, bear the weight of it?
The burden of the call of God to be His ambassadors, to serve as His hands, can be a heavy one. But, if we will let ourselves feel the weight, like Bill Hybels we just might come to a real moment of holy discontent that changes everything.  We just won’t be able to play church and call it “Christian living” any longer.  We will scream a prayer of desperation that says, “That’s all I can stands, I can’t stands no more,” and in that moment find Jesus’ promise fulfilled.  What promise? “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6, NIV)
Are you a bored Believer?  Are you drifting from church to church looking for better worship, more ‘relevant’ preaching, or a kid’s program that rival’s a Disney production?  May I frankly suggest that the boredom will disappear if the discontent with life is replaced by holy discontent  that causes you to put on the yoke of ministry?  The paradox is that when you’re willing to spend yourself in the work of the Kingdom, a kind of satisfaction comes to you that nothing else can equal.
There is a story from an ‘ordinary’ day in Jesus’ life.  He was traveling with His disciples and paused by a well in Samaria.  While they went off in search of food, He sat.  A women whose life we would call ‘dysfunctional’ came at mid-day to draw water.  The only reason anyone would be out carrying water at mid-day was to avoid contact with others. She was ashamed of her life. Jesus saw her desperation, gave her hope, and she was changed. When the disciples came back with lunch, He said this:  My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work. Do you think the work of harvesting will not begin until the summer ends four months from now? Look around you! Vast fields are ripening all around us and are ready now for the harvest. The harvesters are paid good wages, and the fruit they harvest is people brought to eternal life. What joy awaits both the planter and the harvester alike!” (John 4:34-36, NLT)
Heal my heart and make it clean
Open up my eyes to the things unseen
Show me how to love like You have loved me
Break my heart for what breaks Yours
Everything I am for Your Kingdom’s cause
As I walk from earth into eternity
Brooke Ligertwood
© 2006 Hillsong Music Publishing (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)
CCLI License # 810055

He sees … straight into my heart

He sees… straight into my heart
When I was a teenager and my mother was challenging something I had done, I did what kids do – argue and offer up the usual excuses to avoid dealing with the truth. Mom’s signature line, one that always got to me was,  “Well, son, God knows you heart. You can fool me but you can never fool Him.”  Back then, I mostly thought of His piercing vision in a threatening way.  It has become a deeply comforting thing to me these days. When I am misunderstood, when I try to do good and things go wrong, I remember that He sees, He knows, and He will reveal it all at the Judgment Seat.  Confessing that keeps me honest with myself, too.  I realize that a thin veneer of ‘holy talk’ is no substitute for an authentic spirituality.
God sent Jeremiah down to the newly renovated Temple in Jerusalem with a message of correction.  The people thought they could do whatever they wanted to do and avoid His judgment as long as they showed up to go through the rituals of worship.  When told that God would destroy the nation, they insisted He would not.  “His Temple is here and He would never allow that holy place to be ruined,” they thought. But, they reasoned wrongly.  Take a look at the pointed sermon: “Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!” If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.”… (you) stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—… But I have been watching! declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 7:2-11, NIV)
God is watching. Does that comfort you or make you shudder?  He sees past the songs you sing and the prayers you say in church.  Is that reason for joy or dread?
The grace of God, shown to us in Christ Jesus, is deep and wide. His grace is greater than our sin.  In immaturity some confuse this message, believing that there is no need to deal with sinful decisions, no need to practice the disciplines that lead to holiness.  “I go to church. I’m baptized. I take Communion. I tithe.”  And somehow they come to believe that greed, lust, pride, hate, discrimination, or selfishness can go on unchecked in their lives.  The Word pointedly addresses this with this insightful question: “So what do we do? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving?” (Romans 6:1, The Message)  No! For we have died with Christ so how can we go on living in sin?  It’s time for new life aligned with Him.
“ I have been watching! declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 7:11, NIV)  Remember that. Thank Him that He knows you better than you know yourself. Let Him lead you to discipleship that is without hypocrisy, that is remains steadfast even when misjudged, that serves just as eagerly when nobody’s watching as it does when the spotlight is shining on you. Indeed, He is “The God Who Sees.”
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (1 Peter 3:11-12, NIV)
Watching Over You
When your waving
Your hands up in the air.
When your shouting,
No matter when or where,
God’s seeing everything you do,
‘Cause He’s watching, watching over you!
God is watching, watching over you
24/7,  watching over you
Your life is in His hands, whoa!
He’s got great big plans
‘Cause He’s watching over you!
Jay Stocker
© 2012 Group Publishing, Inc.
CCLI License # 810055

I can’t hear You…

I can’t hear You

My dog, Samantha, is an Irish Setter.  Her breed, I am told, is a stubborn one,  a trait borne out by her occasion refusal to respond to my call.  I know she hears me, but the scents in the yard are just so interesting, she  ignores me until she sees me walking toward her. Then, she decides to trot quickly to the door!  During one of her stubborn moments a few days ago, the Holy Spirit whispered to me, “Jerry, you’re sometimes like this with Me.  I call, you hear, but you are so taken up with things that interest you, you choose to ignore Me.”

There are consequences- good and bad – involved in our choices about  obedience. “If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully keep all his commands that I am giving you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the world. You will experience all these blessings if you obey the Lord your God: Your towns and your fields will be blessed.” (Deuteronomy 28:1-3, NLT) “The Lord your God will delight in you if you obey his voice and keep the commands and decrees written in this Book of Instruction, and if you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and soul.” (Deuteronomy 30:10, NLT) Don’t cheapen that promise by turning it into a kind of ‘let’s make a deal’ proposition. God is inviting us into a holy covenant, where we will experience the blessing of daily grace.

Do you believe that because Christians live in the era of grace, the principles of obedience and blessings no longer are in effect?  I beg to differ! God, as a good and loving Father, has always been gracious as well as just and holy.  We are His children and as such, we are to live in a way that is responsive to His will, not just when it’s to our liking, but all the time.  In that ready obedience, we discover His provision of peace.   Those who love the Lord, their God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength find the “path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter ‘till the full light of day.” (Proverbs 4:18, NIV)  Even obedient Christians will  go through earthquakes and hurricanes, deal with temptation, and have bodies that break with age.  But, as children of God we can experience even those difficulties differently. We do not fall into despair and bitterness. We wait for the mercy of our Savior and are comforted by His sweet Presence! 
Take care not to fall into an entitled mindset. “I’ve been good, Lord, so You owe me.”  That is an expression of religious duty. It produces the kind of hypocrisy that infuriated Jesus when he saw it in the Pharisees. Those who obey only to gain the favor of the Lord will look for a minimal compliance to God’s demands that will keep the blessings coming. Go deeper! We receive His grace and give ourselves to love Him, both passionately and intentionally. When we enter the Divine Romance, He leads us and even the dark days are made, by His hand, a source of blessing and grace. This I believe with all my heart!


 Are you listening to the Spirit, obedient to the Word?
Are you delighting in His way, dying to Self, discovering grace on grace?


Here’s a word from the Word. Will you receive and live in the promise?
“You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways.
But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry. How then can we be saved? 
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins.
Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be angry beyond measure, O LORD; do not remember our sins forever. Oh, look upon us, we pray, for we are all your people.”
(Isaiah 64:5-11, NIV)

Refiner’s Fire

Purify my heart,

Let me be as gold

And precious silver.

Purify my heart,

Let me be as gold,

Pure gold.

Refiner’s fire!

My heart’s one desire

Is to be holy;

Set apart for You, Lord.

I choose to be holy,

Set apart for You, my Master,

Ready to do Your will.

Brian Doerksen

© 1990 Vineyard Songs Canada (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)

Mercy / Vineyard Publishing (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)

CCLI License # 810055

No Magic In It

Throughout the Bible, there are references to a spiritual discipline that we largely ignore: fasting. Many Christians have no real idea what a ‘fast’ is. A fast is a voluntary abstention from something we enjoy, most often, food. There are various kinds of fasts. A “Daniel fast” is a diet of plain foods, modeled after Daniel’s refusal of the king’s choice foods in favor of vegetables. A complete fast is just what is says, not eating at all, usually only for a day or two. Limited fasts are urged by Church tradition during Lent. These fasts are extended and involve setting aside a food group. Some forego meat, for example, during the observance.
So, why all this attention to deprivation? There are two things involved in a fast. The first is the spiritual discipline of subjecting the body’s appetites to our control. More importantly, a fast is a way to focus our attention on the Lord and His work. Nearly every reference to fasting in the New Testament is the context of prayer. Jesus fasted when He went through the wilderness testing where He was engaged in intense prayer. The apostles coupled prayed with fasting when they were asking for the will of God to be revealed. Fasting can be a way to add intensity to our prayers. 
It can also be a way to call attention to ourselves! That is a terrible misuse of the discipline and is a sin. Like all our worship, we must not turn it into a performance for people. It is about loving and honoring God. The Lord plainly taught: “And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, who try to look pale and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I assure you, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will suspect you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in secret. And your Father, who knows all secrets, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:16-18, NLT) Nothing twists spiritual devotion inside out more quickly than making it about admiration! And, few things earn more admiration than an extended fast. Why? Because we all know how difficult it is to give up the food we love so much! So, Jesus warns us to keep our devotion to ourselves so that the focus stays on hearing God. 
Some, because of a misunderstanding of the Scripture, attach a magical quality to fasting. They say things like: “You want to get healed? Fast!” In that worldview, fasting can produce all kinds of results. Truthfully, there is no magic in it. That kind of fasting is more like a hunger strike designed to force God into action which is utter foolishness. God is not impressed if I starve. He cares little for what’s on my plate! What He does care about is the content of my heart. If my heart needs to be reordered by the discipline of fasting, then I must do it as a means of opening myself to the work of the Spirit . We fast, not for Him, but for ourselves in order that we will know and serve Him better. In that intimacy, we find spiritual power that flows from prayers that go beyond “Bless us everyone, Amen.” 
In this season of Lent, I encourage you to use the discipline of fasting as a tool for growth. Experiment with it, prayerfully. Engage yourself deeply enough to feel some pain and offer that to the Spirit. Never forget that the truest fasting involves setting aside our love of ourselves. Isaiah challenges the idea that giving up some food or comfort is the real issue. As you think about this, hear this challenge from the Spirit.

“You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance, bowing your heads like a blade of grass in the wind. You dress in sackcloth and cover yourselves with ashes. Is this what you call fasting? Do you really think this will please the Lord? “No, the kind of fasting I want calls you to free those who are wrongly imprisoned and to stop oppressing those who work for you. Treat them fairly and give them what they earn. I want you to share your food with the hungry and to welcome poor wanderers into your homes. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help.”
(Isaiah 58:5-7, NLT)
“Feed the hungry and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as day.” (Isaiah 58:10, NLT)    
Father in Heaven, I am incurably religious.
I slip too quickly into making our songs, fasts, and Bible Studies
the focus of my faith instead of pursuing You.
Call me persistently. Teach me to wait patiently.
Renew my spirit as You move deeply within me,
As You remind me of Your goodness in moments of wonder
scattered throughout my ordinary day.
When Self struts, call me to a fast that restores order.
Help me  to keep in step with the Spirit,
hearing the cadence of Heaven today.

In Jesus’ holy Name I pray. Amen.

It’s not in the Bible

We are a few days into the season that many Christians call, “Lent.”  One of the oldest traditions of Christianity, Lent is the name for a fast, extending for 40 days prior to the celebration of Easter, that is intended to make us more aware of the Presence of the Holy Spirit.  When I spoke of Lent one congregant remarked, “but it’s not in the Bible.  Yes, that is true, but neither is the celebration of Christmas. These fasts and feasts are part of our traditions to help us, not hinder us; to encourage us in our faith, not to become things we worship. It’s easy to miss the point of any tradition. An example is Christmas gift-giving. It should remind us of God’s Gift of His Son, Jesus. Many have made it just an orgy of consumerism. 
Lent can be a time to be reminded of the Eternal Life that gives meaning to our present life. It should  remind us that we more than our appetites for food, pleasure, and/or sex. Some of us miss the point entirely by looking for some little thing to ‘give up for Lent,’ that has no real impact; as in, “I gave up chocolate Hershey Kisses.”  Then, too, some turn Lent into a kind of religious boasting.  “I gave up Facebook for Lent.”  “Oh, yeah? Well, I gave up watching TV entirely!”  Once again, the point of it all is missed entirely. Jesus said “Take care! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired, because then you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 6:1, NLT)
The church I grew up in mostly ignored the Church’s calendar.  The thought was that the tradition was ‘too religious,’ and that we who were reputedly ‘people of the Spirit,’ had no need of such reminders.  They had a point. If you and I are living a life that is vibrantly, intimately in touch with the Holy Spirit,  we will already be fasting, serving, giving, listening, praying – all aims of the celebration of seasons like Lent.  Human nature being what it is, though, we forget the Heavenly and become slaves of the urgency of the present, don’t we?  That is why we need regular reminders that life is not just about our next meal.
While Lent is not ‘in the Bible,’ the idea of fasts and feasts certainly is.  God called His people to regular times of renewal.  The Jews were called to festivals that celebrated God’s goodness at intervals spread throughout the calendar year.  A cornerstone of their dedication was the Sabbath, setting aside one day in 7 to worship the Creator whose own creative acts established the pattern of work and worship.  I urge you to take time to pray about a fast during Lent.  Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you to set aside some part of daily life for this season and to use that choice as an ‘offering of worship’ that turns your heart towards God, that makes you aware of both your craving for stuff and your desperate reliance on the Spirit for life.
The paradox is that our private devotion can become the fertile soil in which the seeds of a beautiful life grows.  Others will take note, not of our fast, but of the Spirit-life that emerges. Here’s a word from the Word.  “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16, The Message)

Yes, You are Lord!

Yes, You are Lord!
Five years ago as my Dad wrestled with the cancer diagnosis, his soul was restless, his faith tested. Repeatedly, during long nights, we would talk and he would wonder aloud why he was not healed, why cancer was ravaging his body. For a time, he wondered if the Lord had turned away from him. That was hard to see, in many ways worse for me than the physical suffering. I asked him bluntly one night, “Dad, do you think that God, our Father, somehow slapped His head a few months ago suddenly realizing that cancer has slipped up on you, that it somehow eluded His awareness?”   It was hard for my Dad to accept that God, while not the One who causes cancer, certainly knew and had a purpose in allowing it.  But, he is not alone in this test of faith.
The idea is so simple it should be obvious. God is “in charge.” I hear your laugh as you think “Jerry, you really stretched for that one, didn’t you?” Actually, I did. I knew it intellectually long before I owned it! The fact is that a contented, peaceful, faithful Christian rests his entire life on this one key fact – “God is in charge.” Even when circumstances argue against His rule, even when suffering seems meaningless, even when what is going on around appears to be random – God reigns! When we abandon the need to know why and trust Him completely, we find amazing grace. Will you accept the gift of faith that allows you to live in that place?
I am not a fatalist! I know that choices are made by me and people all around me that have an impact on my life! I know that the seeds I plant today by my actions produce a harvest in my life and in the lives that intersect with mine, and yet I know that God is greater and that He is able to “work for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28, NIV) From that fact grows real assurance –“What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31, NIV) Faith, not fate, allows us to live in peace when life is shaken to its very foundations. 
Jesus commended a Roman commander for his recognition of the sovereignty of God. “When Jesus arrived in Capernaum, a Roman officer came and pleaded with him, “Lord, my young servant lies in bed, paralyzed and racked with pain.” Jesus said, “I will come and heal him.” Then the officer said, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come into my home. Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed! I know, because I am under the authority of my superior officers and I have authority over my soldiers. I only need to say, ‘Go,’ and they go, or ‘Come,’ and they come. And if I say to my slaves, ‘Do this or that,’ they do it.” When Jesus heard this, he was amazed. Turning to the crowd, he said, “I tell you the truth, I haven’t seen faith like this in all the land of Israel! And I tell you this, that many Gentiles will come from all over the world and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the feast in the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 8:5-11, NLT) 
Let’s not be like the ancient Jews who had the Scripture and knowledge of God but who lacked enough faith to radically trust Him. A Gentile who had been trained in a pagan environment exercised a greater faith than those who should have had multiple reasons to truth the Lord. His response of faith opened the door for God to act. He did not need to dictate the outcome. He simply made the request and trusted the Lord with the results. “Just say the word….”and it will be done.

The most pressing prayer we need to pray is for increased faith. As we trust Him more, we become participants in His purposes and when we are living squarely in the center of His will, there is serenity and quiet strength. 

Here’s a word from the Word. May we have the faith to own and to live it. “
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7, NIV)  
Sweet Jesus Christ, my sanity.
Sweet Jesus Christ, my clarity.
Bread of heaven, broken for me.
Cup of Salvation, held out to drink.
Jesus- mystery!
Christ has died and
Christ is risen
Christ will come again
Celebrate His death and rising,
Lift your eyes, proclaim His coming.
Celebrate His death and rising,
Lift your eyes, lift your eyes.
Sweet Jesus Christ, my sanity.
Charlie Hall
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