Control Issues?

Descriptions of real problems find their way into our vocabulary and then we are ready to ‘diagnose’ others.  “Control issues” is the term of the day.

  • As in, “My husband has real control issues. Why should I have to keep our house in order?  Sure, I am a full-time stay at home Mom, but does he think it’s my job to take care of our home?”
  • Or, “My supervisor thinks I should show up on time and prepared to work every day! What a control freak.  

  • And yes, I love this one, “Can you believe my parents?  They think I should get up, go to school, and do my homework.  They are so controlling!” (This is usually said to a fellow teen on a smartphone provided by said parents.)  

My late Mom probably would have been called a ‘controlling person.’  Obedience was a paramount quality in our home. I was expected to make my bed (to meet military specifications, no joke!) every morning, to hang up my clothes, to get up (at 5:45 AM) and do my farm chores before school without complaint …  and she was not shy to let me know when I slacked off.  On those rare occasions when I complained, she had a stock answer:  “If you learn to obey your Dad and me, you will know how to submit to the Lord, son.”
Joking aside, submission is an important quality in the life of a disciple of Christ.  The Bible says, “We have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!”  The passage is about the love of a father for his son that causes him to do shape that boy’s life through lessons that are hard at the time. Such direction is not just about ‘power and control.’  It’s about producing a quality of character. Real discipline is a sign of love.  Read on, “Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:9-11, NIV)
The key difference between ‘control’ and ‘direction’ is the attitude in which the request is made. If a person makes demands of others based purely on his own preferences  or to serve his own comfort, that one is likely to slide into controlling behaviors.  If a person lacks a sense of self-worth or lives with many fears, he/she is likely to use intimidation, manipulation, or other controlling behaviors to make those around him do what he wants done, not because it is his responsibility nor because it is best for all concerned, but just because he needs to be ‘in control.’   Though I joked about it in the opening paragraph, it is a real issue.  God asks for complete submission from us, not because He is tyrannical, but because He desires to lead us to maximum joy and effectiveness.  Even as we pray for faith to trust Him more, we make the choice to accept His place as Lord.   Remember, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:6-7, NIV)
Several times in the Old Testament, God called His people a name I pray He never has to assign to me;  “stiff-necked.”  What a descriptive term!  When He tried to lead them, they rigidly resisted Him. He wanted to take them to a place of blessings, but could not because they thought they could do it on their own terms.  “Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.” (Exodus 33:3, NIV)  How I pray that in place of a stiff neck, He will find bent knees and a bowed head.
Are you wrestling with God for control of your life?
Are you complaining about the way He is leading?
Are you arguing with Him?
Just say, “Yes, Lord.”   Tell Him that you need faith to believe in His goodness and grace to accept His authority.  Then, live in ‘righteousness and peace.’
Here’s a word from the Word. “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7, NLT)
Give Us Clean Hands
We bow our hearts, we bend our knees.
Oh Spirit, come make us humble.
We turn our eyes from evil things.
Oh Lord, we cast down our idols.
Give us clean hands, give us pure hearts;
Let us not lift our souls to another!
Give us clean hands, give us pure hearts;
Let us not lift our souls to another!
And oh God let us be a generation that seeks,
That seeks Your face, oh God of Jacob.
And oh God let us be a generation that seeks,
That seeks Your face, oh God of Jacob.
Charlie Hall
© 2000 songs (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)
sixsteps Music (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)
CCLI License # 810055

WE, not ME

WE can do it!
Last night, I sat quietly at a table with about 10 people who invest 2 plus hours every Sunday evening in ministry to little kids.  As I listened in on the work session of our Awana volunteers, I grew quite emotional.  Each of them has a life full of responsibilities. If asked, I’m sure they will tell me that they would enjoy kicking back on the evening before the beginning of another work week. Instead, they come to help kids discover the truth of the Word of God while having some fun.  They do what they do with joy, faithfully, and to build Christ’s kingdom.  As I prayed for God’s blessing on that team, so many more came to mind – givers who generously contribute to the work we are doing,  musicians who show up early on Sunday morning to prepare the songs that lift us up to God’s Presence, those who care for the needy, people who work in the hot summer months to keep our grounds looking good, and leaders who pray and plan in support of the church’s work.
Working in some church program, outreach, or community service can be a real drag if the one serving is just doing his duty, acting to assuage guilt, or responding to pressure from the Pastor!  But, when a person takes up the call of Jesus to “tell everyone about the coming of the Kingdom of God” (Luke 9:2, NLT); when he understands that what he does is an investment, a synergy is created. That ‘togetherness’ really does make the impossible become possible, really does bring the unimagined into being. 
In our celebrity culture which values personality and charisma so highly, we might start to believe that only the bright and beautiful get to make a real difference in the world.  If we compare ourselves to another of greater ability, we might decide to hide in the shadows, concluding that there is no part for us.  But, God’s truth is that we all are called; each one with a place, together creating something none of us could bring into existence alone.  Here’s what the Bible says: “God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful: wise counsel, clear understanding, simple trust, healing the sick, miraculous acts, proclamation, distinguishing between spirits, tongues, and interpretation of tongues.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-10, The Message)   We, together, can do it.
When you choose to serve,  you will find yourself wrestling with temptation.  It may be, “what’s the use?”  a sense that what you’re attempting to do is impossible.  You may encounter spiritual opposition, evil’s attempt to distract you.  You might find yourself dealing with pride, wondering why others do not serve as you do.  And yes, that robs effectiveness and joy from our ministry!  Even those who love Jesus and people are, at times, overcome with fatigue.  Even Jesus had to make time to retreat to places of rest, prayer, and renewal.
Let’s embrace the Call and the Promise.  Here’s a word from the Word. Lord, bring this truth to our hearts.
 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Mark 10:29-31, NIV)
Song For The Nations
May we be a shining light to the nations
A shining light to the peoples of the earth
‘Til the whole world sees the glory of Your name
May Your pure light shine through us
May we bring a word of hope to the nations
A word of life to the peoples of the earth
‘Til the whole world knows
There’s salvation through Your name
May Your mercy flow through us
May Your kingdom come to the nations
Your will be done in the peoples of the earth
‘Til the whole world knows
That Jesus Christ is Lord
May Your kingdom come in us
Chris Christensen
© 1986 Integrity’s Hosanna! Music (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)
CCLI License # 810055

An Armchair Christian

An Armchair Christian

If you did not really know the guy, you would assume he was an amazing athlete. He can really talk the game.  But, that’s all he is can do.  He has no real ability because he has not honed his skills or refined his reflexes.  I am guilty of this during football season. While watching my beloved Patriots, I criticize Tom Brady’s decision to throw short instead of long or  the coach’s decision to go for 2 instead of kicking the extra point.  I yell at the receiver when he drops the ball as if I could do better!  In fact, I do not have any real football skills. I have never played a minute in a competitive game.  But, we forgive an armchair quarterback his delusions as long as he is not too obnoxious, right?
A more serious issue is what I’ll call the ‘armchair Christian. He offers up half-baked opinions on difficult Bible passages.  He critiques other Christians relentlessly. “Why doesn’t he get a grip on that gambling habit?”  “Doesn’t he understand why his wife struggles to love him?”  He knows the failings of the church and has no reluctance about pointing them out. “Our church needs more love, nobody really cares about others!”  “Nobody comes to Christ anymore around here. The pastor needs to preach more Gospel sermons.”  All the while, this same person spends no time with Scripture,  is not involved in ministry,  is blind to his own sins, and has never brought anyone into a relationship with Jesus.  It’s just all talk, an interesting diversion, not discipleship at all.  Jude warns of the danger of turning Christianity into talk:   “When these people join you in fellowship meals celebrating the love of the Lord, they are like dangerous reefs that can shipwreck you. They are shameless in the way they care only about themselves. They are like clouds blowing over dry land without giving rain, promising much but producing nothing. They are like trees without fruit at harvest time. They are not only dead but doubly dead, for they have been pulled out by the roots. They are like wild waves of the sea, churning up the dirty foam of their shameful deeds. They are wandering stars, heading for everlasting gloom and darkness.” (Jude 12-13, NLT)
St. Paul urges us to ‘work out your salvation.’  No, this is not a command to save ourselves through scrupulous religiosity. That mistake is as deadly as empty talk. We are called to practical application of the truth to everyday life.  We carefully think through God’s plans,  pray for the Spirit’s power, and enter fully into the high calling of bearing the Name of Christ Jesus.  God, the Holy Spirit, enters into a partnership with us. Isn’t that amazing? He does not just point us in the right direction. He walks with us, lives in us, coaches us to maximal effectiveness.   And, in Him, we will be “able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.” (Ephesians 3:20, NKJV)
In this word from the Word there is a promise of real blessings for those who roll up their sleeves and become authentic disciples (followers) of Christ.  Hear and do!  “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.” (James 1:22-25, NKJV)
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
O my soul,
Worship His holy name.
Sing like never before,
O my soul-
I’ll worship Your holy name.
The sun comes up, it’s a new day dawning.
It’s time to sing Your song again.
Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me,
Let me be singing when the evening comes.
You’re rich in love and You’re slow to anger,
Your name is great and Your heart is kind.
For all Your goodness I will keep on singing
Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find.
And on that day when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come.
Still my soul will sing Your praise unending,
Ten thousand years and then forevermore!
    Jonas Myrin | Matt Redman
    © 2011 Thankyou Music (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)
    Said And Done Music (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)
    sixsteps Music (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)

I’ll see you in court

I’m taking it to court
Lawsuits are as American as apple pie! That’s a tragic and expensive fact.  One source estimates that suits drive up the cost of providing goods and services costing the average person in the US about $900 per year. Good projects are sometimes abandoned for no better reason than the risk exposure involved.   In 2003, I was sued over an incident 20 years after the fact and the person got $15,000 just to settle the case.  It happened because there was a lawyer looking for a quick insurance pay-off!  A couple of years ago, I read a story of a retired pastor, a man far from poverty, suing his former congregation for a large sum of money he felt he had coming to him, even as the church descended into bankruptcy because of bad management. 
Americans are over-burdening the court system, using the judges to settle disputes that need never go that far.  Why do we do it? Some see a settlement as a windfall, like winning the lottery. Others feel so entitled that they are unwilling to accept the slightest perception of ‘injustice.’  Some are unable to accept that risk is part of living and use the courts to try eliminate even the tiniest threat to their personal well-being.
The Scripture speaks to Christians about going to the law, especially when it involves another Christian. “When you have something against another Christian, why do you file a lawsuit and ask a secular court to decide the matter, instead of taking it to other Christians to decide who is right? Don’t you know that someday we Christians are going to judge the world? And since you are going to judge the world, can’t you decide these little things among yourselves? Don’t you realize that we Christians will judge angels? So you should surely be able to resolve ordinary disagreements here on earth. If you have legal disputes about such matters, why do you go to outside judges who are not respected by the church? I am saying this to shame you. Isn’t there anyone in all the church who is wise enough to decide these arguments? But instead, one Christian sues another—right in front of unbelievers! To have such lawsuits at all is a real defeat for you. Why not just accept the injustice and leave it at that? Why not let yourselves be cheated? But instead, you yourselves are the ones who do wrong and cheat even your own Christian brothers.” (1 Corinthians 6:1-8, NLT)  Justice Scalia, Associate of the US Supreme Court, wrote that this passage speaks to Christians today. “Mediation of a mutual friend, such as the parish priest, should be sought before parties run to the law courts… I think we are too ready to seek vindication or vengeance through adversary proceeding rather than peace through mediation… Good Christians, just as they are slow to anger, should be slow to sue.”  (as quoted by Ken Sande in The Peace Maker, Baker Books, 2004)  T
Perhaps you’re reading this and wonder why I’m writing about lawsuits.  “This isn’t for me, Jerry, I’m not suing anyone.”   It’s the underlying attitude that we all need to address.  The same impulse that fuels a lawsuit makes us talk down a fellow Christian to others when we feel the need to ‘even the score.’  The same sense of being entitled to ‘our rights’ causes us to push people that offend us out of our lives, to turn our backs on those who hurt our feelings, and even to abandon a church fellowship when we run into relational problems.  If Jesus is our Lord, we are called to peace and unity.  The Word directs us to be peace-makers. “Live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble… He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it.” (1 Peter 3:11, NIV)
Justice will come to those who belong to the Lord, but perhaps not tomorrow or the next day!  He will secure those who make Him their Rock and Refuge.  Our word from the Word are part of Jesus’ amazing Sermon on the Mount.  Let His wisdom change your heart and mind today.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’
But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.
If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also.
And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.
Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?
Do not even the tax collectors
(ordinary sinners) do the same?
And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?
Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
(Matthew 5:38-48, NKJV)

    Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
    Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
    Where there is injury, pardon;
    Where there is doubt, faith;
    Where there is despair, hope;
    Where there is darkness, light;
    Where there is sadness, joy.
    O Divine Master,
    grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
    to be understood, as to understand;
    to be loved, as to love.
    For it is in giving that we receive.
    It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
    and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi

Swinging at Curve Balls?

Just when I think I have it all figured out, with all my plans in order, something changes somebody moves, a key player decides to go in another direction. Ah, well – so much for best laid plans.  
Ask a baseball player about that pitch that he swings at because it looks like a straight-in fast ball! But, he misses because, right in front of the plate, it breaks away from the trajectory he expected. That’s a curve ball! A curve ball, for the record, is a fast pitch that appears to ‘break’ out of a straight line. The ball doesn’t really curve but rather travels in an arc, but to the batter, it looks like it curves. If a batter realizes the pitcher has thrown a curve ball and does not swing at it, it will often end up being called a ‘ball’ since the arc of travel will usually cause it to travel outside of the strike zone- or so I’m told.
Has life thrown you any curve balls recently? If it has not, it will! The important question that demands an answer is this: Am I at the mercy of circumstances? Must the unexpected, the unanticipated, strike us out, sidelining us from the game?

If we believe that, we become helpless victims, corks bobbing along on the river of fate. God gave us a gift – to learn about life’s curve balls and to choose how and when we swing at them. It is our privilege it is to rest in Christ Jesus, to put those things we did not foresee before Him, and to know that He will be our faithful coach, One who guides. In Hebrews 6 we find this assuring declaration, “we who have fled to him for refuge can take new courage, for we can hold on to his promise with confidence. This confidence is like a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls.” (NLT)

Are you anchored in the unchanging Christ? Settling ourselves in His Presence will keep us from swinging wildly, so that we strike out. Baseball players strike out at the plate, not for lack of skill, but often because they are unnerved by a canny pitcher who throws a couple of unexpected pitches at them.
If we get panicked when the things come at us for which we are not prepared, we turn into reactors. Did you know that if you’re just reacting to circumstance you put someone else in control of your life? Don’t do it! Instead, reset you anchor by renewing faith. How?  
  • Pray, even if only with sighs or quiet waiting.
  • Worship, not superficially, but from the heart. 
  • Claim the Truth, by reading passages of hope and affirmation to yourself. (Psalm 37 is one. Ephesians 1 is another.) 
  • And, don’t neglect renewing yourself!

    Each of us will do that differently. I love to go and sit at the piano for a while, playing songs that come from memory (usually fracturing the lyrics!) and letting the music become an expression of my heart. For you, it might be a walk in the early morning, or listening to classical music, or talking with a trusted friend, or painting a picture, or working on your car.

Has life served up a few ‘curve balls?’
Are you feeling unsettled by them, unsure, maybe even fearful? 
Right now, take a moment to talk to the Lord – in your own words – about it. “Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act. Don’t worry about evil people who prosper or fret about their wicked schemes.”
He’s my rock, my sword, my shield
He’s my wheel in the middle of the field
He’s the lily of the valley
He’s the bright and morning star
Makes no difference what you say
I’m goin’ on my knees and pray
I’m gonna wait right here for my Jesus
‘Till he comes.   

Public Domain

Trapped in lies?

When I asked the young man about his choice, he offered an excuse, obviously lame; but he chose to believe it! He is the captive of a deception of his own making, trapped in a house of mirrors, illusions he loves more than the truth. We tell ourselves many different comforting lies. It’s our ‘truth.’   Of course, it isn’t really true at all, but we choose to think that it is. By way of example, we can see those who live with some medical issue that they will not acknowledge. The symptoms are there. Others see them, but the sick person ignores them, offering explanations, avoiding the truth. Admitting that the symptoms are real would demand action so some choose to deceive themselves. The lies we tell ourselves keep us enslaved to sin, sick in body, and rob our success.

What freedom is found when we choose to live in truth.

The Scripture urges us to pursue the Truth and to obey it.
“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it-he will be blessed in what he does.” (James 1:22-25, NIV) 

If we desire to live in the truth, we need a standard outside of ourselves. The Scripture serves that purpose. The Word of God tells us what is right, what is wrong, who God is, and what pleases Him. But, does knowing what is right mean we will do it? No! The Word laments this tragedy. “It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another law at work within me that is at war with my mind. This law wins the fight and makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.” (Romans 7:21-25, NLT)

Good intentions, self-discipline, accountability partners have their limits, don’t they?   A truth confronts us: “we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us. ” (Romans 3:23, The Message) There’s a word for this – depravity.   

If we desire to live in the truth, we need a Savior who is bigger than our sin. There is a truth that wraps around our incapability, that makes all the difference. “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).” (Ephesians 2:4-5, NKJV) In faith, we accept His intervention and we find liberation from the sin that holds us back as well as the trap of our lies. 

If we desire to live in the truth, we need the Spirit who is constantly present to guide. Christians enjoy an amazing gift. God, the Holy Spirit, lives in us. Jesus promises “The Spirit shows what is true and will come and guide you into the full truth. The Spirit doesn’t speak on his own. He will tell you only what he has heard from me, and he will let you know what is going to happen.”(John 16:13, CEV) He makes living in the Truth possible! We learn to ‘walk in the Spirit.’ 

If we desire to live in the truth, we need to be part of the Body, the Church, that encourages us. I am blessed to have people in my life who will tell me the truth, no matter what. They hold up a mirror for me! Thank God for them. The Word reminds us to “encourage one another daily.”

Here’s a word from the Word. Lord, call us to live in the Truth.
“See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. As has just been said: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.” Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief. Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.”
(Hebrews 3:12-4:1, NIV) 

Come To Dinner, forever.

Come to Dinner!
Bev and I spent the weekend with friends from a former pastorate.  Each encounter was sweet; hugs, stories, catching up on where the road has led.  I visited the grave of a man with whom I walked for just four years, but he played a pivotal part in my life at that time. I choked with emotion while standing where Dean’s body lies.  Memories of that era when we were raising our first family just overwhelmed me.  After a celebration on Saturday night, Chip wrote to me, “wish we had more time, we will have eternity.”  Then, this man’s man, wrote, “I love you,” unashamedly.  What a glorious thing to love and be loved!   We aremade for relationship, aren’t we?  Just as the Holy Trinity lives in perpetual relationship, rejoicing, we are called to share our lives.
The Psalmist praises the Almighty because He “sets the lonely in families.” (Psalm 68:6, NIV)  Because relationships are so critical to our spiritual, emotional, and physical health is it any wonder that the enemy of all that is good invests so much in sowing the seeds of alienation, mistrust, and hatred among humanity?  Amazing things are accomplished when people cooperate for mutual benefit. Where love exists,  life becomes beautiful. Our weekend was a celebration of love and cooperation, of people to whom we gave love and who gave love to us!  That is why the Spirit urges us, at every turn, to ” live a life of love,”  and not the cheap, erotic, selfish kind of ‘love’ that replaces real love, but a love modeled after “ Christ (who) loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:2, NIV)
When we give love, we will find it.  Remember, love is the mark of the Christian; not orthodoxy, not holiness, not esoteric spiritual experiences.  Yes, we need sound doctrine, we must live holy lives, and our hearts will  overflow when the Spirit comes, but those things will ebb and flow, and eventually die, but there are only “three things that will endure—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13, NLT)
Before we went to church, Bev and I tuned the television to the program that featured one of America’s best known celebrity pastors.  We were sickened by his ‘sermon’ that urged the thousands listening to seek their happiness in selfishness!  His advice was to limit the ability of needy people to hinder self-fulfillment. “Tell them it’s time for them to stand on their own two feet,” he declared to resounding applause.  “Don’t let anyone control you with their needs.”  In a terrible abuse of the Scripture, he reminded us that that father of the prodigal son never went after him. He just let him go and got on with his own life. Really?  My Bible says that the father was waiting, looking down the road, longing for the return of his wayward son.  He was notself-absorbed. He was loving to the maximum.  Don’t be fooled by the lies of self-expression that insist that your best life is found in preservation of Self.  Love is the way to live – fully, joyously, and with Heaven in your heart.
When the Glorious Day comes,  our Father will call – “Come to Dinner!”   We all sit down to an eternal feast.  Take these words from John’s Revelation. Let them become an inspiration for a life of love that begins now and stretches into eternity.  “Then a voice came from the throne, saying: “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, both small and great!” Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.) Then the angel said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’” And he added, “These are the true words of God.” (Revelation 19:5-9, NIV)
Oh Love That Will Not Let Me Go
Oh love that will not let me go
I rest my weary soul in Thee
I give You back this life I owe
And in Your ocean depths its flow
May richer fuller be
Oh light that follows all my way
I yield my flickering torch to Thee
And my heart restores it’s borrowed ray
And in Your sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter fairer be
Oh joy that seeks me through the pain
I cannot close my heart to Thee
I chase the rainbow through the rain
And feel the promise is not vain
That more shall tearless be
Oh cross that lifts and hold my head
I dare not ask to fly from Thee
I lay in dust life’s glory dead
From the ground their blossoms red
Life that shall endless be
Public Domain
Albert Lister Peace, George Matheson

Help Me Up

Help me up
Are you steady, dependable?  I want to be a man who does what he does excellently,  in season and out of season.’   No one should have to question, ‘can we rely on Jerry?’ The Bible calls this faithfulness and God desires it in us. He entrusts us with the treasure of Christ and says ” it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” (1 Corinthians 4:2, NIV) Few things bring more disgrace to Christ than those who claim to be passionately committed to Him one day and apathetic towards Him the next! “Curses and blessings out of the same mouth! My friends, this can’t go on. A spring doesn’t gush fresh water one day and brackish the next, does it?” (James 3:10-11, The Message)

Faithfulness grows out of making the choice, to do the right thing- not the easy thing, not the convenient thing, not the fun thing – but the right thing. One does not live recklessly for years and suddenly become the model of steadiness! A child who is taught to do the little things on time and with quality will most likely grow into an adult who is capable of getting to work, working through conflict, making commitments! Jesus told a story about three men given a trust, each according to his abilities. The master inspected their work and commended two who were faithful by saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:20-21, NIV) However, faithfulness is not just a matter of discipline.

We cannot underestimate the value of companions who keep us steady when Life gets rough. Even a great leader like Moses, needed men to steady him when things were going wrong.  Here’s a story. “While the people of Israel were still at Rephidim, the warriors of Amalek attacked them. Moses commanded Joshua, “Choose some men to go out and fight the army of Amalek for us. Tomorrow, I will stand at the top of the hill, holding the staff of God in my hand.” So Joshua did what Moses had commanded and fought the army of Amalek. Meanwhile, Moses, Aaron, and Hur climbed to the top of a nearby hill. As long as Moses held up the staff in his hand, the Israelites had the advantage. But whenever he dropped his hand, the Amalekites gained the advantage. Moses’ arms soon became so tired he could no longer hold them up. So Aaron and Hur found a stone for him to sit on. Then they stood on each side of Moses, holding up his hands. So his hands held steady until sunset.” (Exodus 17:8-12, NLT) How did Moses keep steady hands? Only with the help of two great friends!

Days will come when you want to turn from the hard stuff and run away!  It can stretch into months when every morning dawns demanding that you get up and do the right thing when all you want to do is pull the covers over your head. Are you dealing with chronic pain?  Are you trying to love a difficult person?  Are you stuck working for a boss who is an idiot? Are you wrestling with temptation that keeps coming back? Stay steady. If you think you’re on the edge of collapse, call for support.

Then, too, watch out for pride when you’re doing well.  Blindness to our weakness can overtake us when we’re on a long run of success. Here’s a warning and promise. May the wisdom of these words keep us faithful. “Don’t be so naive and self-confident. You’re not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it’s useless. Cultivate God-confidence. No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it (1 Corinthians 10:12-13, The Message)

We Will Stand
Sometimes it’s hard for me to understand
Why we pull away from each other so easily
Even though we’re all walking the same road
Yet we build dividing walls
Between our brothers and ourselves
You’re my brother you’re my sister
So take me by the hand
Together we will work until He comes
There’s no foe that can defeat us
When we’re walking side by side
As long as there is love
We will stand
But I I don’t care what label you may wear
If you believe in Jesus you belong with me
The bond we share is all I care to see
And we’ll change the world forever
If you will join with me
Join and sing
The day will come when we will be as one
And with a mighty voice
Together we will proclaim that Jesus
Jesus is King
It will echo through the earth
It will shake the nations
And the world will see
See that
Take me by the hand
Join with me
Join and see yeah
James Hollihan | Russ Taff | Tori Taff
© 1983 Word Music, LLC (a div. of Word Music Group, Inc.)
CCLI License # 810055

When Abba Soothes

Mom’s cancer was gradually taking her strength, but her faith did not waver!  One of my sweetest memories was going to check on her and seeing her hands extended heaven-ward as she prayed. But, sometimes the pain and the fear of the unknown made even that strong lady cry. The tears slid down her face and mine, too, when I lay down next to her to hug her in comfort. On Monday, as the news streamed out of Boston about the bombs that killed and maimed people gathered for the Marathon, I know I was not the only one with tears in his eyes.  A 60 Minutes story about a despot in Africa named Kony who steals children from their beds to become his soldiers and who tortures those who dare to resist him, made tears well up in my eyes. Tears are a frequent visitor these days, not because I have a terrible life, but because there are so many who suffer.

Satan rains terrible suffering and pain on this planet that Adam sub-let to him with his disobedience in the Garden. Oh, yes, I know that each one of us contributes to the pain with words we say in anger and/or selfish choices that bring unforeseen and/or unintended consequences. Tears of remorse are sometimes the most plentiful! Amid all those tears, I do find comfort, and so can all those who weep. At the end myself, He comes by His Spirit, or through the tender compassion of a friend, or in a serendipitous display of beauty and reminds me that He is still God and that He is good. He is the “source of every mercy and the God who comforts us. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When others are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4, NLT)

The most wonderful promise for those who know the Savior is this: when the struggle’s over, God will draw us close. Abba will sooth us and He will dry our tears!  “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.” (Revelation 21:3-5, NIV)

Yes, on this broken planet, there are days when life hurts too deeply for words. If our aim is to avoid pain, we can amuse ourselves, we can medicate ourselves, we can become self-absorbed.  But, this is not the way of Christ. Our Lord’s heart was broken by the suffering of those with whom He walked. And, if we share His compassion, ours will be, too.  As we weep, we must pray for protection from bitterness that turns us into ugly, mean people. There is a difference between tears of bitterness and tears of brokenness.  Bitter people grow brittle and break!  Broken people open their heart to the restorative Presence of Jesus and find comfort which they, in turn, share with others. Gordon Jensen wrote a song with this memorable line, “God weeps along with man and takes him by the hand, tears are a language God understands.”

Are the tears ready to fall today? Has the disappointment, the pain, the unrelenting struggle with the curse of sin nearly broken you in two?  Go ahead and cry. Find a place alone with Abba and let the tears that fall become a wordless prayer for renewal of hope, for healing, for forgiveness. Then, give thanks for the grace to stand and the promise that He someday will wipe away every tear, and even the memory of those things which make you cry, from your eyes forever.

I Will Rise

There’s a peace I’ve come to know,
Though my heart and flesh may fail,
There’s an anchor for my soul,
I can say, “it is well.”
Jesus has overcome,
And the grave is overwhelmed.
The victory is won,
He is risen from the dead.
 (And) I will rise when He calls my name,
No more sorrow, no more pain!
I will rise on eagle’s wings,
Before my God, fall on my knees, and rise,
I will rise.
There’s a day that’s drawing near,
When this darkness breaks to light.
And the shadows disappear,
And my faith shall be my eyes.
And I hear the voice of many angels sing,
“Worthy is the Lamb!”
And I hear the cry of ev’ry longing heart,
“Worthy is the Lamb!”
(And) I will rise when He calls my name,
No more sorrow, no more pain!
I will rise on eagle’s wings,
Before my God, fall on my knees, and rise,
I will rise.
Chris Tomlin | Jesse Reeves | Louie Giglio | Matt Maher
© 2008 Vamos Publishing (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)
CCLI License # 810055

Spring Cleaning

About a decade ago, we had a day of Spring cleaning at our church.  The assembled team went through every closet and room carrying out anything that was ready to be discarded.  Between the two building on the site, we filled a large dumpster with old furniture, boxes, play props, and nameless junk that had accumulated over the years.  Watching the stuff pile up, the thought struck me that each piece had once been valued for some purpose, but now was destined for the dump!   More than once during the process somebody raised their voice, “Don’t throw that away, I remember when . . .”   A lot of the stuff was stored for reasons of sentiment, not usefulness, so out it went.  The reclaimed space was re-decorated and readied for good purposes.
I’ve been doing some Spring cleaning.  I am digging through the rooms of my mind, evaluating and sorting the memories, attitudes, and ‘truths’ that I stored away.  It’s not a pleasant task.   Some memories that bring a smile to my face as I remember an old friend or some moment of accomplishment.  There are other memories that bring on the tears – some flowing from sorrow, others from remorse.  There are things that need to be discarded and some that need to be re-cataloged, stored with the perspective that only time’s passage can provide.  There are conversations that need to be had – offering forgiveness, seeking it, too.  My prayer through it all is –  “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24, NIV)
Self-examination is connected to one of the core rituals of Christianity.  In the explanation of the celebration of the Holy Meal, the Word invites to the Lord’s Table to share the cup and the bread, but first we are told to wash up for dinner! “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.” (1 Corinthians 11:26-28, NIV)   This need not be a painful exercise in shame or guilt.  It’s an opportunity to keep the junk from piling up.  The Lord says that this time of examination allows us to live in a way that invites His blessings rather than His discipline.  We can deal with sins in their infancy with much less pain than if we let them take root and grow.
Sometimes we need a trusted friend to walk us through our examination.  When we get sentiment tangled up with reason, that friend can lovingly offer clarity. If we find something too heavy to lift, something we want to leave in the dark, he can help us carry it into the Light.  Confession is too often tragically associated with pain, shame, or guilt, connected with some kind of suffering and/or penance.  In fact, that is not what God seeks from us! Sure, we sometimes find things for which we owe others apologies, restitution, or forgiveness. 
Best of all, with God we find forgiveness and freedom! The Word says, “If we say we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and refusing to accept the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts. My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if you do sin, there is someone to plead for you before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who pleases God completely. He is the sacrifice for our sins. He takes away not only our sins but the sins of all the world.” (1 John 1:8-2:2, NLT)
That is why the Lord puts self-examination right alongside of Communion.  We will find failures, big and small, when the Light of the Spirit shines into the corners of our lives.  We need have no fear because we carry them to the Cross and Jesus, in amazing love and tender grace, picks them up and carries them away.  
Here’s a word to remember if you choose to do some spring cleaning in your life.  “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. For the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you through Christ Jesus from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses could not save us, because of our sinful nature. But God put into effect a different plan to save us. He sent his own Son in a human body like ours, except that ours are sinful. God destroyed sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the requirement of the law would be fully accomplished for us who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1-4, NLT)
Refiner’s Fire
Purify my heart,
Cleanse me from within
And make me holy.
Purify my heart
Cleanse me from my sin,
Deep within.
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