Do you know where you are?

ImageAs a 16 year old boy, I was privileged to take an adventure and I still treasure the memories. I learned to fly small airplanes! In the Summer of 1971, my got out of the Cessna 150,  “Take it around the pattern three times!”  My heart pounded. After completing my first solo flight, I could not wait to share the news with my family. A few weeks later it was time for the first cross-country flight. For the first time, I would fly outside of the immediate area of my home airport. George and I plotted my course from Pittstown, NJ to Annville, PA, about an hour’s flight time. As the ground fell away, I could see the farm where we lived off to the right. A moment later, I flew over Delaware Valley High School, on the left; then on and over the Delaware River.

Caught up in the experience, I set my charts aside and flew on. I neglected a couple of checkpoints, but kept my eye on the compass, flying on the heading that the chart indicated. 30 minutes later it was clear that the ground features did not match what the chart said I should be seeing.  I was flying over an urban area that wasn’t supposed to be along my flight path. I was lost! I used the VOR radio navigation equipment and found that I was miles south of my planned flight course!  Using my training,  When I returned to the home airport, the instructor and I discussed my adventure.  I encountered winds aloft! He explained what I knew in theory, but failed to observe in practice. The airplane was pointed in the right direction but because of a cross wind, an invisible force, it was blown south of my plotted course.   My inexperience and lack of vigilance led to being lost for a time.

We can be blown off course in life, too.  We set a great goal. We do the planning. It appears we are moving along in the right direction.  Days or months later, it’s evident we are in a place or situation we never anticipated.  Life’s prevailing winds: peer pressure, cultural influences, business or economic issues, spiritual attack, a failure of health, hidden sins, and the like, carry us steadily, but imperceptibly off course.  The Bible says, “So we must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away from it.” (Hebrews 2:1, NLT) Drifting away, pushed by the prevailing winds far off course from a godly life, is a real danger for us.  In my ministry I no one has ever told that they woke up one day and suddenly decided that to be done with Christ.  But I can count dozens of once fervent disciples who drifted away.  Their passion for God cooled little by little as they failed to make course correction.  Jesus said that the seed of the Word can be choked out by “the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth, and the desires for other things come in … making it unfruitful.” (Mark 4:19, NIV)

But, there is a promise that we can hold onto tightly. We never need make our way through life alone.  The Holy Spirit is our Counselor, ever- present.  Jesus promised that “when he comes, he will convince the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment. … he will guide you into all truth. He will not be presenting his own ideas; he will be telling you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. He will bring me glory by revealing to you whatever he receives from me. All that the Father has is mine; this is what I mean when I say that the Spirit will reveal to you whatever he receives from me.” (John 16:7-15, NLT)

Where are you today in life? Have you checked the charts lately?
Are you tuning into the Holy Spirit’s voice, allowing Him to provide guidance as you meditate and pray?
Have you opening the Scripture and letting the wisdom of God’s principles and experiences of God’s people provide check-points?

Here’s a word from the Word for you to think on today. Forgive me for the edits that make it fit my illustration of flight. I’ve put my edits in brackets. “So watch your step,(flight path) friends. Make sure there’s no evil unbelief lying around that will trip you up and (prevailing winds blowing through your life without your awareness to) throw you off course, diverting you from the living God. For as long as it’s still God’s Today, keep each other on your toes so sin doesn’t slow down your reflexes. If we can only keep our grip on (stay on course towards) the sure thing we started out with, we’re in this with Christ for the long haul.”  (Hebrews 3:12-14, The Message)

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Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah

Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah,

Pilgrim through this barren land.

I am weak but Thou art mighty,

Hold me with Thy pow’rful hand.

Bread of heaven, Bread of heaven,

Feed me ‘til I want no more,

Feed me ‘til I want no more.

 

Open Thou the crystal fountain

Whence the healing stream doth flow.

Let the fiery cloudy pillar

Lead me all my journey through.

Strong Deliverer, strong Deliverer

Be Thou still my strength and shield;

Be Thou still my strength and shield.

 

When I tread the verge of Jordan

Bid my anxious fears subside.

Death of death and hell’s destruction,

Land me safe on Canaan’s side.

Songs of praises, songs of praises,

I will ever give to Thee,

I will ever give to Thee!

John Hughes | William Williams

© Words: Public Domain

Don’t just send flowers!

En·cour·age: to inspire with hope, courage, or confidence; hearten. To give support to; foster: policies designed to encourage private investment. To stimulate growth; spur onward in personal development
________________________

I was 22, far from home, following a dream with my wife and infant son, broke, and exhausted.  God sent a friend, Tom Johnson, who was the epitome of an encourager.  Tom gained nothing by befriending me. But, he was filled with the love of Christ Jesus, and love simply overflowed from his heart.  One day, in October, 1977, knowing I needed a better job to support my family and follow my calling, he took me to meet his supervisor, told that man that I was a good guy, then quit on the spot, recommending me for his job!

The book of Acts tells the story of a man first known to the church by his real name, Joseph. He sold his possessions and gave the money to the church to help those in need. He came alongside of Paul, when the church was still very suspicious of the motives of the former Pharisee and offered his endorsement.  Over time, people forgot Joe’s real name and he is known to us by his nickname: Barnabas.  Why that name? “Joseph, the one the apostles nicknamed Barnabas (which means “Son of Encouragement”). He was from the tribe of Levi and came from the island of Cyprus.” (Acts 4:36, NLT)    Son of Encouragement!
The world is filled with critics, complainers, and mean people. Even those who are not actively hurting anyone are sometimes so absorbed in their own lives that they take no note of the people who are living and working around them.  Because God’s Spirit lives in you and in me, because He is loving, because we are loved – we need to be like Barnabas.
Let’s look for opportunities to lend courage, hope, and confidence to others.  It isn’t enough to passively love each other. The Bible says, “If your gift is to encourage others, do it! . . . And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly. Don’t just pretend that you love others. Really love them. . . Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.” (Romans 12:8-10)  Another passage teaches us to be creative in the ministry of encouragement! “Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24, NLT) Don’t just send flowers!
Need some practical suggestions about how you might be an encourager today?

a. Send a note of sincere appreciation to someone who has served you sacrificially.
b. Take note of a person who’s work is ‘behind the scenes’ and sincerely compliment their efforts.
c. Offer to pray with a friend that seems overwhelmed by life, then pray a positive prayer full of words of blessing.  Don’t preach a sermon disguised as a prayer!
d. Roll up your sleeves and lift someone’s burden for a couple of hours. Mow their lawn, watch their kids, cook their dinner, or take them to a movie.
e. Actively listen when someone opens their heart. Don’t ‘fix’ them with advice, just let them unburden their heart to you.

It is easy to point out another’s flaws. It is easy to ‘see’ (in our self-important opinion) why our sister is in the jam she’s in. We are tempted to excuse ourselves from caring, aren’t we?  After all, we reason, “She made her own bed, let her lie in it.”  That’s exactly what Barnabas would have thought, right?   No, I don’t think so.

Here’s the word from the Word – “Encourage one another and build each other up,  just as in fact you are doing.”  1 Thessalonians 5:11

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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,
Sing.
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.
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
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.
James Hollihan | Russ Taff | Tori Taff
© 1983 Word Music, LLC (a div. of Word Music Group, Inc.)
CCLI License # 810055

Living in the kiddie pool of life?

“He’s a mile wide and an inch deep,” somebody said, when describing a man with interests ranging from music, to philosophy, to motorcycles, to technological gadgets, to God, … and the list goes on. He dabbles in many things but never gets past the surface, never really digs in to become an expert.  Are you a dabbler or a person of depth?  Chuck Swindoll, pastor and author, writes: “What we need today is  not smarter people or busier people. A far greater need is deeper  people. Deep people will always have a ministry.”  Sounds  good. What’s it mean?

Is depth the same as sincerity or seriousness?  Those who love to laugh are often regarded as shallow, but are they?  Intellectuals are assumed to have depth.  But, knowing many things does not mean a person understands what those things mean. Depth is sometimes confused with performance, too. A person who carries a lot of responsibility in multiple organizations is often assumed to be a person of depth.

Depth involves taking on challenges, wrestling with solutions, and applying oneself to become a part of those solutions. And, yet, there is more to it. We can begin to understand depth by looking at its antonym – superficiality, which is the curse of the age. How many people do you know that believe success is the same as ‘image,’ that it is about staying ‘interesting.’  If we choose to aim at looking good, speaking well, and keeping our heads full of the latest sports scores, fashions, and headlines; we will live on the surface of life. The hard question is not what, but why.  Why introduces uncertainty, makes us look at the pain – in ourselves and in our world.

 

Depth involves pursuing God’s plans and purposes. They are seldom just lying around in plain sight.  We must mine the depths of our soul and His Word to learn to conform to His ways. While we need not forget how to laugh or play, if we desire depth, we will learn to stop the whirl of activity, to turn off the noise, to retreat from our schedules, and to listen. God speaks, all the time, but usually not in thunderous tones, nor with the command voice of a general. Elijah learned that His was a  ‘still, small voice.’

Then, too, depth develops when we allow life’s pain to touch us. Remember Carly Simon’s song “I Haven’t Got Time for the Pain“? (showing my age there, aren’t I?) Mostly; we don’t!
Got a headache? Take an Advil.  Got a heartache? Find some anesthetic to numb it – pleasure, diversion, apathy- are some that work, for a time. Pain is not generally valued, is it? God designed us so that physical pain is the body’s alarm system. Touch a hot surface and the instant sensation of pain causes you to pull your hand away before serious damage is done. Emotional pain signals a problem, too. When our heart aches, it alerts us to a need, more subtly perhaps, but a need exists nonetheless. When we let ourselves feel the pain, it will drive us to become thoughtful and hopefully, prayerful! The Spirit of God will show us how to be healed. His prescription really works.

If we desire to live deeply with God, we must learn to ‘share in His sufferings.’   The full quote says, “Since we are his children, we will share his treasures—for everything God gives to his Son, Christ, is ours, too. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.” (Romans 8:17, NLT)  When we see at the suffering that stalks our world (and us personally) because of greed, religious pride, and selfishness, through Jesus’ eyes, the pain of the resulting revelation will leave us groaning — “Oh, God, help me!”   Bob Pierce, founder of World Vision, the ministry that meets people at the point of their need and cares for millions, penned this prayer on the flyleaf of his Bible when we first found himself confronted with terrible poverty. “Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God.”  Out of that pain, came a vision, and from that vision, emerged a mission. God will take us deeper – if we allow Him to own us – heart, soul, mind, and strength! We will stop living for our stomachs, our bank accounts, and our public image. We will lose the pre-occupation with what we wear, eat, and drive! People will matter most.

Here’s the word from the Word.  Jesus said,  “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. … You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.” (Matthew 5:2-4, 6, The Message)

 

When you have tasted the rich food of God’s table, when you’ve felt the pain and experienced His succor, you are on the way to depth. And, as Swindoll said, “Deep people will always have a ministry.”  Your life will radiate a quality so wonderful, GENUINE LOVE, that others will want to be with you and you will have all kinds of opportunities for doing godly work.

Go deeper – starting today.

_______

 

Deeper, Deeper

 

Deeper, deeper, in the love of Jesus,

Daily let me go;

Higher, higher, in the school of wisdom,

More of grace to know.

 

Deeper, deeper, blessed Holy Spirit,

Take me deeper still,

‘Till my life is wholly lost in Jesus

And His perfect will.

 

Deeper, higher, ev’ry day in Jesus

‘Till all conflict past,

Finds me conqu’ror and in His own image

Perfected at last.

 

O deeper yet I pray,

And higher ev’ry day,

And wiser, blessed Lord,

In Thy precious holy Word.

 

Charles P. Jones

Public Domain

Snake Salvation

Sincerely wrong

ImageSnake Salvation” has to be one of the strangest programs on TV. National Geographic Channel follows two snake-handling preachers from Kentucky in their quest for spiritual ecstasy.  They lead highly emotional religious services that include dancing while holding snakes. At least 100, perhaps more, snake handling holiness churches exist in the United States. They claim the practice is commanded by Jesus, based on this passage: “And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.” (Mark 16:17-18, KJV)

Some like to poke fun at these people. I don’t. They are earnest in their quest to please God.  Their congregations are tiny and impoverished, no megachurches there; so it can’t be money or fame that motivates them. There is a kind of euphoria evident in their ‘worship.’  The charged atmosphere, repetitious music, anticipation of danger, the shared ritual – all combine to produce a trance-like state that alters brain chemistry.  Mix that emotional high with religious conviction and yes, some kind of experience of God’s Spirit, and you find that they have a compelling reason to do something most of us see as quite weird.

The greater tragedy is their misunderstanding of the Scripture that turns a promise of God’s sovereign protection into a command to put themselves into a place of tempting the Lord by ‘proving’ their faith!  One of the preachers declares emphatically, “If I don’t handle snakes, I am disobeying God and will go straight to Hell.”  In this, more than anything else, they are sincerely wrong!  Faith is not proven, it is accepted as a gift of God. We are called to ‘live by faith’ but not to prove anything to God, others, or ourselves.  Rather, faith allows us to live within the embrace of our loving Abba. No amount of snake handling can prove a person worthy of the favor of the Lord.

The fact is that there is only a matter of decrees of fanaticism between the Kentucky snake handlers and many others who claim to be Christians.  We might not dance with rattlesnakes to prove the depth of our faith, but many of us work hard at doing good, giving more, going to church, reading a set amount of the Bible every day, carefully noting minutes in prayer – not as a means of loving Him, but as a religious duty.

In whom does your faith find its foundation?
Does it rest on God and His promise or your attempts at religion?
Before you wave off the snake handlers as silly men, deluded fools, or ignorant bumpkins; ask God if there are shadows of their error in your Christianity.  Then, put your faith in Him! For the ‘just will live by faith!’

Here’s a word from the Word. “And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.  … So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised. “For in just a little while, the Coming One will come and not delay. And my righteous ones will live by faith. But I will take no pleasure in anyone who turns away.” (Hebrews 10:19-22,35-38, NLT)

The Tyranny of the Urgent

Life fills up with activities, responsibilities, and obligations that have little or no consequence… if we allow that to happen. Do you frequently tell people, “I just can’t do __________ (fill in the blank) because I am too busy?” You may have succumbed to the tyranny of the urgent.  Entire weeks may pass without any real forward progress though filled with meetings, calls, and conversation if a person is unable or unwilling to impose order on the demands of his life.  In order to live in a way that is most effective we must be prepared to say “No,” as well as “Yes.”  For example, on Friday mornings, if you call my church office, the young lady who answers the phone will tell you that I am not available.  That morning I am focused exclusively on finishing my message for Sunday.  Only an emergency pulls my attention from that priority.  I want to be available to those who call, but realize a “no” is required so that I can say “yes” to what is of greater importance that day.

A core belief of Christianity is that Jesus Christ will return to bring about the conclusion of history and to call the world to judgment.  This promise awaits fulfillment and the delay causes many Christians to forget the importance of it.  What we must remember is that even if Jesus does not return in His Glory, every one of us faces the end of life, which will come much sooner than we think.  That fact is grim to some, of great hope to others.  The return of Christ should never be a source of dread for the Spirit-filled Christian. If our lives are shaped around the will of God, focused on Heaven’s priorities, we will anticipate Christ’s return.  It really will be our ‘ Blessed Hope.’

But, we run the risk of getting sidetracked. Jesus warns us “Watch out! Don’t let me find you living in careless ease and drunkenness, and filled with the worries of this life. Don’t let that day catch you unaware, as in a trap. For that day will come upon everyone living on the earth. Keep a constant watch. And pray that, if possible, you may escape these horrors and stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:34-36, NLT)

 

End Times prophecy has never been a favorite topic for me.  Some Believers get so caught up in weaving scenarios about what’s next, they forget to live the Kingdom life right now. Others retreat from the work of the Gospel to wait for Jesus to rescue them from this present world.  And, yes, there are those who twist the Bible’s teaching into such ridiculous schemes that the whole subject becomes a lot of speculative silliness!  Never the less,  we cannot forget that Jesus said He would return, told us that the world would go from bad to worse in the times before His return, and that we risk being so taken up with the urgent that we lose sight of the important.

 

Each of us needs to ask ourselves if we have done the things today that we would do if it were our last day before His return or before our life came to an end.  “That’s awfully grim,” you say?  For me, it is a way to stay in touch with the truly important: loving God, loving others, forgiving those who wrong, sharing hope with those who are hurting, using things but not falling in love with them.

 

Here’s the word from the Word.  May it free you from the tyranny of the urgent! “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:11-14, NIV)

 

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Rejoice The Lord Is King

 

Rejoice, the Lord is King,

Your Lord and King adore!

Rejoice, give thanks, and sing,

And triumph evermore.

Lift up your heart;

Lift up your voice,

Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

 

Rejoice in glorious hope,

Our Lord the judge shall come

And take His servants up

To their eternal home.

Lift up your heart,

Lift up your voice,

Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

 

Charles Wesley | John Darwall

Public Domain

Waiting Patiently?

philplanePhil built one airplane (yes, a real one!) in his garage 10 years ago. Last week he showed me the first pieces he is fabricating into yet another one. The first project took about 5 years to complete and he’s looking at a few years on this one, too. He assured me that this time it would go faster because of his experience.  The work is detailed, repetitious, and exacting.  He’s building a machine to which he will entrust his life, so there is no rushing, no shortcuts in the work.  Starting something like this requires passion, vision, and above all; patience!  If the  partially completed airplanes available on Ebay are any indicator, there are some who start and don’t finish.

I am so thankful for the Lord’s patience. Do you know that He is a patient God?

Gideon was a fearful farmer in Israel during a time of repeated invasions by the Midianite people.  Each year, at harvest time, the raiders would sweep through Israel, stealing their crops, leaving the nation to starve.  After several years of this, Israel cried out to God for deliverance.  The LORD answered by calling Gideon to leadership, but the young man was having none of it. When God’s messenger appeared to him, addressing him as ‘Mighty Warrior,’ Gideon argued that He had found the wrong man.  “Me, my master? How and with what could I ever save Israel? Look at me. My clan’s the weakest in Manasseh and I’m the runt of the litter.”  (Judges 6:15, The Message)  After further conversation, Gideon asked for time to go and prepare an offering, a sacrifice.  It would take hours. Would God wait?  “Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you.” And the LORD said, “I will wait until you return.” (Judges 6:18, NIV)  Gideon did return, God did reveal His power, and Israel got a new leader, empowered by the Spirit!

Is the Spirit of God birthing a new vision in you, leading you into a new endeavor for which you feel unprepared?  Are you wrestling with fear or doubt, unsure of how to proceed? The Lord will wait! No, I am not suggesting we should test Him or that it is wise to refuse His will. But, we need not think that if we don’t jump at the first impulse that He will pass us by!  We must not be deceived by the rapid pace of our lives into thinking that if we are not super-saints overnight, if we fail to conquer some sinful habit in a month, if faith slips from our grasp from time to time – that God will drop us and move on.  He loves us so much that He is patient. His desire is to transform us, working persistently and patiently.  The Word says, “When God is personally present, a living Spirit, … we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like Him.” (The Message 2 Cor. 3:17-18)

Tell Him you want to be like Jesus! Ask Him for ever-increasing faith! Pray faithfully.  And, yes, trust His willing to wait patiently for you.  “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9, NIV)

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Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

O soul are you weary and troubled,

No light in the darkness you see?

There’s light for a look at the Savior,

And life more abundant and free.

 

Turn your eyes upon Jesus.

Look full in His wonderful face.

And the things of earth,

Will grow strangely dim,

In the light of His glory and grace!

 

Helen H. Lemmel

© Words: 1922 New Spring

 

_________________

Jerry D. Scott, Pastor

Faith Discovery Church

Washington, NJ  07882

 

http://www.FaithDiscovery.com

Demanding Perfection?

Demanding perfection; living in love?

My childhood was shaped around a form of Christianity that made God – perhaps unintentionally – into a feared Being that watched me carefully.  While I was taught that He was loving, I also came to believe that He is demanding and that the only way to avoid His anger was to be good, as close to perfect as possible.

Perfectionistic tendencies linger in me.  I like things done right, on time, and with excellence. Am I boasting about that? Not at all. But, a value was engrained in me early on in life that stubbornly hangs on.  It rises up to poison my trust in God and makes it hard for me to deal lovingly with what I perceive as failure to strive for the best.

Even though I have matured in faith and know that God is both good and loving, that He understands we are formed from dust and prone to failure; the shadows of perfectionism remain in me. When a relationship with someone grows strained, when things go awry at home, if someone leaves the church I pastor – my knee jerk response is to assume some is wrongwith me.   “If I just worked harder, made things better, prayed more …  it would all be all right.” That’s a lie.  Yet, from time to time, I allow it to become my ‘truth.’   The lie creates all kind of funhouse mirror kind of perceptions in life for me, twisting my ability to see others, situations, and even God, Himself, clearly.

That is why I love Ephesians, the book that celebrates God’s amazing love.  Grace changes me from a religious Pharisee to a loving Christian, like my Savior. I weep almost every time I read those passages that assure us of His profound love because they are so wonderful.  Among the best lines of God’s message are these:  “Immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us!” (Ephesians 2:4-5, The Message)“Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing!”(Ephesians 2:8-9, The Message) “That’s plain enough, isn’t it? You’re no longer wandering exiles. This kingdom of faith is now your home country. You’re no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He’s using us all-irrespective of how we got here-in what he is building.” (Ephesians 2:19, The Message)

Pope Francis, the head of the Roman Catholic Church made quite a stir yesterday when he urged his church to contextualize the moral issues of our time within a message of hope and mercy. His reminder is for all of us who follow Christ and represent Him in our world. If we are obsessive in a pursuit of perfectionism, focused only on trying to right every wrong, the healing message of Jesus Christ will be lost. Paradoxically, the more we try to fix ourselves, the deeper we dig into the mire of our sinfulness.

We live in a very broken world, each of us wounded in some way.  Sin’s depravity touches every person, with the Bible telling us that “We’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners … and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us.” (Romans 3:23, The Message)  I once read that as an indictment, a reason for God to withhold His favor from me.  In fact, exactly the opposite is true. That statement in the Word is one of assurance.  God knows we are broken by sin and still loves us enough to reach out to us with a gift. Grace! “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8, NIV)

Tuesday evening, appearing on CNN, Pastor Rick Warren talked honestly about the pain and loss that Kay and he experienced when their 27 year old son took his own life last year after struggling with mental illness since childhood.  Warren said that one of the great comforts is that he knows that God loves broken people. He did not offer simple solutions about why his son was not healed. He admitted to a struggle with the ‘why’ questions, but he said he chooses to remember his son’s work with those who are weak and poor, his son’s deep empathy for those in emotional pain. Then, Warren said this memorable line – “In God’s garden of grace, even a broken tree bears fruit.”  What an affirmation of grace for a perfectionist like me!

Are you struggling with failure?

Do you harshly judge yourself or others for their sins?

Do find it hard to approach the Lord for help because you are in the grip of the lie that He would love you more if you were ‘better’ in some way?

Take this word from the Word prayerfully, faithfully, to heart.
“We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in him. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect.
So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we are like Christ here in this world. Such love has no fear because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of judgment, and this shows that his love has not been perfected in us.”
(1 John 4:16-18, NLT)

 

It’s not rocket science

“It’s so complicated,” she cried, “I just cannot understand what the Lord wants from me.”  The woman was going through a difficult time in life, to be sure.  She was without peace, confused and torn. She was filled with guilt.  Why, she wanted to know. Though she did not actually say the words, her real charge was that God had failed her. No, in truth, she failed God. She refused to practice even the basics of Christianity.  By her own admission, her attendance at worship gatherings was sporadic.  She admitted that she seldom prayed, never read from the Bible, and spent no time in serving anyone other than herself. Yet, she was questioning the faith, wondering why she did not experience the blessing of the Spirit promised to those who live ‘in Christ.’

Living the Christian life is not rocket science!  One does not need a doctorate in theology, a genius intellect, or a superior ability in logic to know and love Christ.  The Lord asks a child-like faith from us. “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:16-17, NIV)  If we want to experience the rewards of the faith, we must be willing to live the life to which He calls, to do the basics.  Jesus asks, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46, NIV)  What’s the use of singing songs that do not reflect our heart’s intent? What’s the point of claiming Him as our God, if we continue to worship Self?  If we become humble, if we readily obey, we will surely know the richness of His promise. “Anyone who comes and listens to me and obeys me is like someone who dug down deep and built a house on solid rock. When the flood came and the river rushed against the house, it was built so well that it didn’t even shake.” (Luke 6:47-48, CEV)

The very real grace of God that is provided to us freely through Christ, that takes away our guilt and restores us to our place in the family of God, can never be earned or bought.  We can never be good enough to merit the acceptance of the Almighty. Grace is a gift, pure and simple.  The way of the follower (Christian discipleship) is a choice we make every day. If we do not obey the Spirit’s lead, we will not experience the life into which He alone can lead us. After speaking of the power of Christ to save, the Word requires a response in us. “You should consider yourselves dead to sin and able to live for the glory of God through Christ Jesus. Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to its lustful desires. Do not let any part of your body become a tool of wickedness, to be used for sinning. Instead, give yourselves completely to God since you have been given new life. And use your whole body as a tool to do what is right for the glory of God.” (Romans 6:11-13, NLT)

God will give us the strength we need to live in the Spirit. But, it’s not magical, instantaneous, or effortless. There’s some dying to do! We have to let go of old ways that we find comforting because of their familiarity. We have to embrace a new hope that is not focused on satisfying our sensual appetites. We have to give ourselves away to Christ.  Grace is free, but it is not cheap. Discipleship is possible, but it is not easy.

 

Here’s the word from the Word.  Pray to receive the Truth with the heart of a child.
“I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back. So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision—you’ll see it yet! …  

 

There are many out there taking other paths, choosing other goals, and trying to get you to go along with them. I’ve warned you of them many times; sadly, I’m having to do it again. All they want is easy street. … Those who live there make their bellies their gods; belches are their praise; all they can think of is their appetites. But there’s far more to life for us. We’re citizens of high heaven! We’re waiting the arrival of the Savior, the Master, Jesus Christ, who will transform our earthy bodies into glorious bodies like his own. He’ll make us beautiful and whole with the same powerful skill by which he is putting everything as it should be, under and around him.” (Philippians 3:12-21, The Message)

_______

 

Jesus Never Fails

 

So many souls have tested Him

Throughout the course of time.

So many still reach out to Him

With broken hearts and minds.

And ev’ryone of them will say,

With no exception that they find,

“Jesus never fails.”

 

Sometimes this world brings trouble

We find so hard to bear.

We know we couldn’t make it

Without Jesus being there.

It’s so encouraging to know,

However deep we’re in despair,

That – Jesus never fails.

 

Jesus never fails.

Jesus never fails.

You might as well

Get thee behind me, Satan,

You cannot prevail

Because Jesus never fails.

 

Gary Driskell

© 1983 Straightway Music (a div. of EMI Christian Music Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

 

Do you know what time it is?

One of my congregants calls me “Pastor Punctuality.”  Time is important to me. I am always aware of schedules and deadlines.  Being late is something I abhor, so I generally arrive 15 minutes early, which to be is ‘just on time.’  By contrast, I know some who seem blissfully unaware even of the day of the week.  They somehow fail to see the importance of an approaching deadline so that they are working late into the night, burning the midnight oil, to get prepared for some event that was on their calendar for weeks prior.  Time management is curiously personal. If I have to catch a flight, for example, I will allow at least an extra 30 minutes for travel. If I arrive at the airport early, the extra time allows for a cup of coffee. I arrive much more relaxed. Others will wait until the last minute, dash out the door, worry about every pause in traffic flow, and dash through the terminal, just making the gate at the last moment. I don’t need or want that kind of stress.

The Bible asks us, “Do you know what time it is?”  God’s plans include final moments; for us individually as well as for the world. These come at the time of His choosing.  Some of us will be called out the world by death. Some will be alive when Christ returns and closes out history.  In both instances, there will be judgment.  We need to be aware of the approach of eternity, living in readiness. Here’s the context.  “For you know quite well that the day of the Lord will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. When people are saying, “All is well; everything is peaceful and secure,” then disaster will fall upon them as suddenly as a woman’s birth pains begin when her child is about to be born. And there will be no escape. But you aren’t in the dark about these things, dear brothers and sisters, and you won’t be surprised when the day of the Lord comes like a thief. For you are all children of the light and of the day; we don’t belong to darkness and night. So be on your guard, not asleep like the others. Stay alert and be sober.” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-6, NLT)

A Christian who is intimately walking with God, in whom the Spirit lives, will not be surprised by the developments in life. He will not live in ignorance of the true condition of his heart. He will not fail to see the indicators of a corrupt and collapsing society around him. Why? Because he lives ‘in the light.’  Knowing the truth of the Word, having the mind of Christ, he sees beyond the surface, past the images carefully created for public consumption.  He sees sin and fearlessly names it for what it is – in himself and in his world.  When God says, “It is finished,” he is not scrambling to catch up, confused by circumstances.  Instead, he is prepared, ready, at peace because he is held in the hand of his Abba.

Again, I ask, do you know what time it is?  Are you aware of God’s timeline, of the passage of time, of eternity that awaits?

Here’s a word from the Word.  Take the challenge and wake up!  “Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. … This is why it is said: “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” (Ephesians 5:7-17, NIV)

“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you.
Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O LORD.
They rejoice in your name all day long; they exult in your righteousness.”
(Psalm 89:14-16, NIV)

____________

 

Christ Returneth

 

It may be at morn

When the day is awaking,

When sunlight through darkness

And shadow is breaking,

That Jesus will come

In the fullness of glory,

To receive from the world His own.

 

It may be at midday!

It may be at twilight!

It may be, perchance,

That the blackness of midnight

Will burst into light

In the blaze of His glory,

When Jesus receives His own!

 

O, Lord Jesus, how long, how long,

‘Ere we shout the glad song;

Christ returneth,

Hallelujah, hallelujah,

Amen?

 

H. L. Turner | James McGranahan

Public Domain

Scared to death – literally!

mediafearThere are hundreds of ‘reasons’ to live in a full state of anxiety. Just turn on the news. Terrorists are regrouping.  People with mental health problems are shooting up our cities. Multiple health problems could develop at any time in your body, especially if you’re over 50, that will ruin your quality of life! The earth is warming and cataclysmic climate changes are certain to leave our coastal cities under water and our fertile farm land will turn into a desert.  When you drive to work today there will be teenagers who lack skills and experience, trucks that are not properly maintained, and people talking on cell phones whose driving is impaired, on the road with you, just lying in wait to crash into you! I should worry that I watch too much television.

Worry is epidemic in our the land.  The media stokes our fears with whirling graphics, ominous music, and charts in vivid colors.  Then, they sell time to advertisers who offer us safer cars, better medicines, and new politicians.  On the whole, we live amazingly good lives. It’s not Heaven, but most of our fears are tremendously overblown and exaggerated.

For the those times and situations in our lives that really do bring us anxiety, and yes they are very real, the Bible gives us an invitation.  The Spirit awakened me this morning with this phrase:  “Just ask!”   Why worry when you can pray?  Jesus says that we are Abba’s beloved children.  “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7, NIV)  If we refuse to ask, and choose to live anxiously, we sin against Him.   Worrying is actually a refusal to live under God’s rule, a refusal to find our security in His total care.  We cannot control the arrival of thoughts that tempt to us to be afraid and/or to worry, but we have a choice about what to do with those thoughts. We can persist in worry, which is an act of disobedience and therefore, sin; (Lord, I need forgiveness. Help me in my unbelief!) or we can prayerfully present those threats and needs to my Father and, according to the promise of the Word, enjoy the gift of the ‘peace of God which transcends human understanding.

What will you do with those things, big and small, that threaten your peace and security today? Will you worry or will you pray? Will you praise God that He is bigger than any trouble that could come into your life or will you try to be your own god and ‘manage the risks’ as you grow increasingly anxious? “Let God work his will in you. Yell a loud no to the Devil and watch him scamper. Say a quiet yes to God and he’ll be there in no time. Quit dabbling in sin. Purify your inner life. Quit playing the field. Hit bottom, and cry your eyes out. The fun and games are over. Get serious, really serious. Get down on your knees before the Master; it’s the only way you’ll get on your feet.” (James 4:7-10, The Message)

 

When the Spirit met me in the darkness of the early morning with His invitation – “just ask” – I did just that! I thanked Him for His faithfulness in the past, and for the gift of faith that will defeat fear.

Here is a word from the Word.  Note the interaction between our choice and God’s provision. “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.” (1 Peter 5:6-10, NKJV)

I’m going to pray!
_____________________________

What a Friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry,
everything to God in prayer.

Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh, what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry,
everything to God in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy-laden,
cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge,
Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
In His arms He’ll take and shield thee,
thou wilt find a solace there.

-Joseph Scriven, Charles Converse, Public Domain