Blood, Guts, and Ghouls

ZombieHorror flicks” noted for copious amounts of terror, blood, and torture are popular entertainment fare.  Apparently some of us get a kick out of being scared silly while we watch the work of psychopaths portrayed on film.  Defenders of the genre remind me that what is on the screen is not real. But, why make ‘art’ out of the kinds of things that actually do take place in hidden places? Which brings me to this day, not one of my favorite days on the calendar; the day of little witches at the front door, fake blood, destruction of property, and all things ugly!  Yes, it is Halloween, the time for fright and “fun.”

The day grew out of a Catholic holy day, All Saints Day, which falls on the first of November.  On that day, the martyrs and the dead are remembered with prayers. The eve of the day has morphed into a night of mischief and has become a time of death, horrors, and demons. I’m going to pass on the ‘fun.’  Unlike some Christians, my reason for passing up the celebration of Halloween is not fear of demons or worry about being tainted by evil. The power of the Resurrected Christ and the Spirit of God in me has replaced fear of the occult with peace and assurance.  No, I am not afraid, I just prefer to celebrate life!  There’s enough evil, horror, and tragedy in the daily news. I just don’t need to take further note of the ever-present death and sorrow that stalk this planet. Jesus Christ calls us to give life, light, hope, and joy to our worls.  Even death, the great enemy, loses the power to terrify Christians because in Him we already possess eternal life.  Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  (John 8:12, NIV)  My hope is that all Christians will be people of Light and Life in a culture of death and violence.

I’m not a crank. I’ll meet the kids at the front door this evening with a sugary treat. But, throughout this day, I will be praying for the blessings of God to come to this broken, fallen world where there is so much suffering and sadness coming from the schemes of the Evil One.  Today I will look for ways to be a person who gives those blessings – in my words, in my attitudes, and in my actions.  My discipleship is much more focused on what I’m ‘for’ – not on what I’m against.  So, though I will not celebrate Halloween, I will stand for Jesus and for goodness! We should be noted for the rich and full lives we enjoy as a result of His love, rather than being known as cranky people who are always ‘against’ this or that.
Have you received the gift of His life? Then celebrate it! Do not give in to the Pharisees in the church that find every occasion to criticize, condemn, and carp on the sins of the world.  Instead, sing a new song! Make it about the glory of being one of God’s own people.

Jesus wants us to live in joyful celebration. He says, “You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16, The Message)
_______________________

All I once held dear,
Built my life upon,
All this world reveres,
And wars to own,
All I once thought gain
I have counted loss;
Spent and worthless now,
Compared to this.

Knowing You, Jesus,
knowing You,
There is no greater thing.
You’re my all,
You’re the best,
You’re my joy,
my righteousness,
And I love You, Lord.

Now my heart’s desire
Is to know You more,
To be found in You,
And known as Yours,
To possess by faith
What I could not earn;
All surpassing gift of righteousness.

Oh to know the power of
Your risen life,
And to know You in Your sufferings,
To become like You
In Your death, my Lord;
So with You to live, and never die.

Knowing You, Jesus,
knowing You,
There is no greater thing.
You’re my all,
You’re the best,
You’re my joy,
my righteousness,
And I love You, Lord.

Knowing You – Kendrick, Graham
Copyright: 1993 Make Way Music (Admin. by Music Services)

 

Just stick to the facts

When I pressed the young man for the details, I did not need to be Sherlock Holmes to know that we were in fantasy land!  In his attempt to justify his actions, he had spun a tale bearing little resemblance to the truth. The truth seems to be missing in action in a many places.  Resumes get ‘puffed,’ a nice way of saying, lies of exaggerated accomplishment. Our politicians lie so regularly we’re all left confused about the truth. A recent documentary reported that just over one half of spouses admit to lying to each other.  So, everybody does it, right? Maybe, but “should it be done?” is the real question. Cynically, because of the way that words are used so casually, I discount much of what I read and hear, thinking – “So, what really happened? Is there a kernel of fact under the layers of padding?”

Hyperbole is not the problem. When a person says, “I’m behind you 110%!” we know what they mean, that their words are not to be taken literally. The problem is just plain old dishonesty. It is everywhere around us.

  • Candidates for political office say things that are full of fluff, just to impress. “It’s wonderful to be here in the great state of NJ, here in beautiful downtown Newark.” The audience politely applauds while thinking, “Really? Of course you don’t think downtown Newark is beautiful!”
  • Job titles mean little in reality but give the appearance of importance. Have you ever noticed how many assistant vice presidents there are in banks?
  • Advertisers routinely mislead consumers, though carefully within guidelines that avoid legal repercussion.
Christian, integrity matters!  Jesus tells us “Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong.” (Matthew 5:37, The Message) He made this statement while talking about vows and promises. He taught us to be so trustworthy there is no need to buttress our truthfulness by saying things like, “I swear to God!”  We are to be authentic, transparent, giving no one any reason to question the truthfulness of what they say or wonder if they should search for hidden messages. James, likewise, directs us to plain speech. “Since you know that God cares, let your language show it. Don’t add words like “I swear to God” to your own words. Don’t show your impatience by concocting oaths to hurry up God. Just say yes or no. Just say what is true. That way, your language can’t be used against you.” (James 5:12, The Message)

I want to encourage you to listen to your words today. See if you have developed a habit of inflation, even in the little stuff. Do you exaggerate the tone of another’s words? When you speak of yourself do your words make no more, no less of the situation than is real? Do you use language in a way that always shines the favorable light on yourself?

Be truthful, for God’s sake, really!   No, that doesn’t mean we are rude or hurtful!  Truthfulness does not mean we have to call out every sin, name every failure, or point out every stain. There’s a time for discretion which is expressed best by silence. Sometimes the best words are no words.  But, watch out for word inflation, too.  Silly flattery seems harmless but it devalues speech.  Clever ambiguity that allows a false impression to form is, yes really, a lie.  We honor the Lord when we refuse all forms dishonesty.  Be the person God, in His grace, has called you to be:  nothing more, nothing less.

Here’s a word from the Word. Live it, for the Lord’s sake. “Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:1-3, NIV)
______________
All Your Promises
Oh Lord, our Lord,
How majestic is Your name.
Your words are true,
Your mercy does not change.
All Your promises are precious,
Reviving our faith,
Ev’ry one of them
Will be fulfilled one day.
  
All Your promises,
Are yes and amen, Jesus.
Your promises are true!
All Your promises
Are yes and amen, Lord Jesus.
We’ll keep running after You.
Andrew Smith
© 1995 Mercy / Vineyard Publishing (Admin. by Vineyard Music USA)
Vineyard Songs Canada (Admin. by Vineyard Music USA)
CCLI License # 810055

Beauty, brains, brawn, bounty

She preens, careful to make certain that her beauty is noted. It gives her a sense of worth. He advertises his athletic prowess for the same reason. Another drives a car that is a billboard for his wealth, much more than just ‘transportation.’  Another includes the letters of his degrees on his business card. It says, “I’m accomplished.”  This need to proclaim, “I exist. I matter!” is universal in humans. The same message is shouted in a thousand ways. Cities do it with massive buildings. Nations work at becoming empires.  Tragically, even some churches play the game, insisting “We are the people of God.”

At the dawn of human history there is a story that is rewritten somewhere every day. “As the people migrated to the east, they found a plain in the land of Babylonia and settled there. They began saying to each other, “Let’s make bricks and harden them with fire.” (In this region bricks were used instead of stone, and tar was used for mortar.) Then they said, “Come, let’s build a great city for ourselves with a tower that reaches into the sky. This will make us famous and keep us from being scattered all over the world.” (Genesis 11:2-6, NLT)  Genesis goes on to recount the Lord’s displeasure with their conceit!  He confused their language and drove them apart. Their folly was forever known as the Tower of Babel.

The desire to know that we matter, that we have worth, is good and normal. God made us in His image, unique and valuable. Just as He creates, He placed a desire in us to contribute to the world we live in. But, we are broken by sin, our desires to matter contaminated by pride. Like those ancient people we think making a name for ourselves will satisfy our soul. It won’t!  Only one choice allows us to live contentedly: serving God’s purpose! The godly give themselves to Christ Jesus and, in Him, their lives find meaning beyond any they might find in earthly accomplishment.

The conceit of humanity is a game for fools. Solomon played it like a pro. He gained admiration from far and wide, built amazing public works, enjoyed sensual pleasures on scale we cannot even imagine. In the wisdom of advanced years, he looked back. His words, which I hear not as a sigh of resignation, but as a cry of awful regret for a largely wasted life, should point us to a different road. “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10, NIV) “I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” (Ecclesiastes 1:14, NIV)  Some read him only as a cynic. But, I read him as a man who came too late to understanding, who wants to spare us the sorrow that comes from the realization of our own conceit too late. He says, “Remember God… remember… “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13, NIV)

Conceit or contentment, which is it for you, Christian?

Pray that the Spirit will help you see past the allure of beauty, brains, brawn, or bounty! The lie of ancient Babel still tries to convince us that we can make ourselves matter. The word from the Word holds wisdom that sets us right. “Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.” (Colossians 3:1-4, NLT)

___________________

Only in God, is my soul at rest.

In Him comes my salvation.

He only is my Rock,

My strength and my salvation.

 

Only in God is found safety,

When my enemy pursues me.

Only in God is found glory,

When I am found meek and found lowly.

 

My stronghold, my Savior,

I shall not be afraid at all.

My stronghold, my Savior,

I shall not be moved.

Only in God, is my soul at rest.

In Him comes my salvation.

 

Only In God

Talbot, John Michael

© 1980 Birdwing Music (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing; Admin. by BMG Music Publishing) / BMG Songs, Inc. (Mech) (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing; Admin. by BMG Music Publishing) CCLI License No. 810055

No more tears, all things new

happily“And they all lived happily ever after…” is a great line for kid’s fairy tales. We adults are a little more sophisticated but we still enjoy a story where the plot resolves with a win for the good guys, don’t we?  Friday night, Bev and I went to see “Captain Phillips,” which tells the story of the man who was captain of the Maersk Alabama, the container ship that pirates seized in 2009 off the coast of Somalia. For two hours, we wondered how the good captain would survive his ordeal at the hand of desperate, frightened men.  As the final scene plays, there is a release of emotion, some in the theatre even crying! (Yes, I’ll admit to some moisture forming around my eyes, too!)

The Bible shows us the final scenes of earth’s history in the book of the Revelation.  The good guys win!  John, given a vision by the Spirit, writes: “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.” (Revelation 21:2-7, NIV)

This is my destiny and hopefully, yours, too. How do I know that I will enjoy these eternal joys? I can tell you this; it’s not because I am a superior human being, a wonderful man, or better than other people.  I am a recipient of God’s grace, have set my faith in Christ alone. My salvation is secured, not by my goodness, but by His promise. “God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so very much, that even while we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s special favor that you have been saved!)” (Ephesians 2:4-5, NLT) “God saved you by his special favor when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” (Ephesians 2:8-9, NLT)  That might be a familiar passage, but it’s never old news!

The hope of Heaven gives peace to me today. The promise of standing before the Throne of God for His evaluation and to receive a reward sobers and encourages me in equal measure. No, I don’t worry about Hell. (Yes, I believe there is a place of eternal separation from God, the horror of which is beyond comprehension. An honest reading of the Scripture confronts us with this terrible fact.)  But the fear of Hell and death are erased by the gift of life I have in Christ Jesus.  Knowing the ‘end of the story,’ causes me to live today with anticipation; faithfully, in love, and with a prayer to live a holy life that honors the One who loves me most.

Here’s the word from the Word. “Concerning this salvation, … even angels long to look into these things. Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:10-14, NIV)

________

 

Sing the wondrous love of Jesus,

Sing His mercy and His grace.

In the mansions, bright and blessed,

He’ll prepare for us a place.

 

Let us then be true and faithful,

Trusting serving ev’ry day.

Just one glimpse of Him in glory

Will the toils of life repay.

 

Onward to the prize before us,

Soon His beauty we’ll behold.

Soon the pearly gates will open

We shall tread the streets of gold.

 

When we all get to heaven,

What a day of rejoicing that will be!

When we all see Jesus,

We’ll sing and shout the victory!
Eliza Edmunds Stites Hewitt | Emily Divine Wilson

© Words: Public Domain

Pull Up to the Table

supperIsn’t it great to sit down to dinner with friends?  Last week, the Rinaldi’s visited for a simple lunch at our home.  Two hours zipped by as we talked, laughed, remembered, and discussed the things of the Lord. Since ancient times, human beings who want to strengthen ties have made time to eat together.

Families grow stronger around a shared table. Kids who invited to sit at the family’s dinner table on a regular basis get better grades in school, are much less prone to get in trouble, and develop the skills needed to form the networks so necessary to success in life. Those children who regularly eat dinner with their parents are less likely to smoke, drink to excess, use illegal drugs, or suffer from depression. (Value of Family Table)  The real pay-off comes during the turbulence of the teen years when the habit of the family dinner becomes a kind of anchor. It’s the time to talk, the reconnection that occurs at the table, that makes the difference. Curiously, if parents attempt to establish the habit in the teen years when it is needed most, they will almost certainly fail. The habit must be formed from the toddler years.

Bev and I often take the opportunity on my day off to go to breakfast. We talk over our coffee and pancakes, just enjoying each other’s company, catching up. That hour with her is one of the happiest times of the week for me.

Christians are invited to a Table, too. Our Savior invited His disciples to the Passover table and then made it part of our faith. “He took the bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, he took the cup of wine after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant between God and you, sealed by the shedding of my blood. Do this in remembrance of me as often as you drink it.” For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again.” (1 Corinthians 11:24-26, NLT) For two millennia, Christians have shared the Holy Meal.

And, there is the fellowship of all Christians, that will find complete fulfillment at the Marriage Supper of heaven. Interesting, isn’t it, that God chooses the imagery of a celebratory meal to describe the eternal unity and love of the Church gathered in Heaven? “I heard the sound of massed choirs, the sound of a mighty cataract, the sound of strong thunder: Hallelujah! The Master reigns, our God, the Sovereign-Strong! Let us celebrate, let us rejoice, let us give him the glory! The Marriage of the Lamb has come; his Wife has made herself ready. She was given a bridal gown of bright and shining linen. The linen is the righteousness of the saints. The Angel said to me, “Write this: ‘Blessed are those invited to the Wedding Supper of the Lamb.’ ” He added, “These are the true words of God!”  (Revelation 19:6-9, The Message) What a dinner that will be! Can you imagine the stories that will told around that long, long table?  Stories of triumph, stories of grace. I’ll be there. How about you?

 

We’ll be sharing the Holy Meal at FDC this Sunday. You’re invited to the Table!

_____________________

 

Jesus has a table spread

Where the saints of God are fed,

He invites His chosen people,
“Come and dine!”

With His manna He doth feed

And supplies our every need:

O ’tis sweet to sup with Jesus
all the time!

 

Soon the Lamb will take His bride

To be ever at His side,

All the host of Heaven will assembled be;

O ’twill be a glorious sight,

All the saints in spotless white;

And with Jesus they will feast eternally.

 

“Come and dine,” the Master calleth,
“Come and dine!”

You may feast at Jesus’ table

all the time;

He Who fed the multitude,

turned the water into wine,

To the hungry calleth now,

“Come and dine!”

 

–       Charles Widmeyer

The Noonday Demon

lazyRight around 1 pm I feel my energy sag. If I lean back on my chair and close my eyes, I can fall asleep in 30 seconds. Fortunately, if a nap overtakes me, I know that I will awaken in about 10 minutes.   The brief  rest leaves me feeling refreshed.  If someone finds me napping in the office, I hope I am not charged with the sin of sloth.  Now there’s a word we don’t hear much.    Does a midday nap make me guilty?

The ancient Christian church called the following list, ‘the 7 deadly sins,’ believing that they were cardinal sins that would bring on spiritual death.
•          Pride, the excessive belief in one’s own abilities;

•          Envy, the desire for what belongs to another;

•          Gluttony, an inordinate desire to consume more than that which one requires;

•          Lust is an inordinate craving for the pleasures of the body;

•          Anger, also known as wrath;

•          Greed, the desire for material wealth or gain; and

•          Sloth, the avoidance of physical or spiritual work.   Sloth was sometimes called the ‘noonday demon’ because it showed itself when the sun was hottest.

Interesting, isn’t it, that sloth makes that list?  In our pleasure conscious culture, the work ethic is not what it once was.  We carefully guard our ‘leisure time,’ regarding it as something near to a divine right. But, laziness creeps in subtly, when inordinate amounts of our time are used for pursuits that have no productive purpose.

Are you afflicted with the sin of slothfulness?   Many of us, when presented that question, could point to our long list of accomplishments and commitments. We could hold up an award or two for our  diligence. Yet, if we took a deeper look we might find sloth rooted in our soul.  Could it be that our frenetic day to day activities are a way to hide the barrenness of our soul that is brought on by spiritual sloth?  Matthew Woodley points out, “Sloth causes a break in our relationship with God.   In contrast to pride which responds to God with a defiant ‘no!’ – sloth responds to Him with a quiet ‘yeah, whatever.’”  (Re-read that quote!)

The Bible speaks to the slothful Christian challenging him to adopt a new way of life, “We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.”  {Heb 6:11-12 NIV}   Let’s break it down.

Show diligence. Don’t ignore or excuse your spiritual stupor. Don’t  make the error of comparing yourself to others and taking false comfort that you’re ‘doing better than some.’  The Lord asks us to give ‘our personal best’ to Him and will ask us to give account for our efforts.  He does not grade by comparison.    Diligence is not workaholism!  It is obedient, faithful, consistent response to His leading.

Cultivate faith. The counsel of the Word is that we ‘walk by faith, not by sight.’   Even when the reward is hidden, we press ahead.  Sometimes the Presence of God is obscured by fatigue, disappointment, or physical malady. In those moments we lean on our brothers and do the right thing just because we know it’s right!

Be patient!   The Bible does not ask a resigned- “Oh, well, I’ll put up with this with gritted teeth”  that we often confuse with real patience.  True patience is illustrated by the wait of the farmer between planting season and harvest. The farmer knows that his seed will grow and produce a harvest IF he will just wait for the process.   He keeps cultivating, keeps on with life, while he waits for a harvest.

Practicing the disciplines of the Spirit day by day is the patient thing to do as we resist the tyranny of slothfulness that demands quick fixes and easy solutions to life’s challenges.  James says (Give) “your endurance a chance to grow. . . . for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything…  God blesses the people who patiently endure testing. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” {1:3-4, 12} NLT

Sloth is seldom defeated by sheer determination.   If we really want to become productive and faithful Christians, we will tell somebody about our struggle and ask them to help us make the choices we need to make, day after day, until a new habit replaces the old one.  Silence the whispers of the ‘noonday demon’ with the enduring wisdom of the Word that teaches us that –“Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in slave labor.” (Proverbs 12:24, NIV)   “The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.” (Proverbs 21:5, NIV)

Here’s a word from the Word.  Meditate on it today as you ask the Spirit to help you defeat the temptation to sloth.
“Don’t get tired of helping others. You will be rewarded when the time is right, if you don’t give up.   We should help people whenever we can, especially if they are followers of the Lord.” (Galatians 6:9-10, CEV)

________________

Praise To The Lord, The Almighty

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty,

The King of creation!

O my soul praise Him

For He is thy health and salvation.

All ye who hear, now to His temple draw near,

Praise Him in glad adoration.

 

Praise to the Lord Who over all things

So wondrously reigneth!

Shelters thee under His wings

Yea, so gently sustaineth.

Hast thou not seen how thy desires ever have been

Granted in what He ordaineth?

 

Praise to the Lord Who doth prosper

Thy work and defend thee!

Surely His goodness and mercy here daily attend thee.

Ponder anew, what the Almighty can do,

If with His love He befriend thee.

 

Catherine Winkworth | Joachim Neander

© Words: Public Domain

“Yeah, but…”

The arguments start to form in my mind before the speaker finishes.  I call them the ‘yeah, buts.’  It happens when I hear something that seems true, which  I do not like or some idea that pushes me toward some unwanted change. “Yes, but…” is sometimes the response where it would be better to say, “I am going to have to really consider that.”  It is important, for me, for you, to remember that growth ceases when learning stops. When we are no longer willing to grow, we also become less and less effective in meeting the challenges of life.

When God speaks into your life, how do you respond?  Do you say, “Yes, but…” or “Yes, Lord!”?

wordseedJesus told this story to encourage us to receive the Truth so that He could make us most productive. “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And it happened, as he sowed, that some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds of the air came and devoured it. Some fell on stony ground, where it did not have much earth; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up it was scorched, and because it had no root it withered away. And some seed fell among thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. But other seed fell on good ground and yielded a crop that sprang up, increased and produced: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.” And He said to them, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Mark 4:3-9, NKJV)

He explained later that He spoke of God’s Truth.  When we hear it; be it from the Spirit’s whisper, the preacher’s sermon, or reading our Bible, it is like a seed.  It has all the potential of life and a future harvest locked in it. However, the soil into which it falls determines the outcome.

If we are too pre-occupied with Self or have a stubborn heart, the seed never even germinates. It’s lost, bird food!

If we get all excited, tell everybody about this wonderful new discovery, but refuse to practice disciplines of application, the seedlings dies prematurely.

If we receive the truth and try to hang onto life as we know and love it, without change, it cannot mature because it will not compete with our many distractions.

When we love the Truth, embrace it without “Yes, buts…” and do the spadework of application, something amazing happens. It grows, matures, and produces a great harvest from which many benefit. Acts 10 tells us a story of Peter and harvest.  Like just about every Jesus follower at that time, Peter was convinced that to be a Christian you had to adopt the practices of Judaism: the Sabbath, circumcision, kosher diets, observance of holy days and feasts.  Then, the Spirit gave him a daydream. “He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (Acts 10:10-15, NIV)  Inconsequential? Not at all! God used that dream to prepare Peter to go to a Roman centurion’s home where he shared the Gospel, saw that household converted and filled with the Holy Spirit! When the Jewish Believers heard about this, they criticized Peter. But, his obedience and experience prepared him to meet the challenge. The direction of Christianity changed with this summary line in Acts 11 – “When the others heard this, all their objections were answered and they began praising God. They said, “God has also given the Gentiles the privilege of turning from sin and receiving eternal life.” (Acts 11:18, NLT)   What if Peter had met the Lord’s word with “Yeah, but…”?

What Is God, the Spirit, saying to you today?

May your response be like the boy Samuel who was counseled to receive the truth openly. Here’s the word from the Word.

“God called again, “Samuel!”—the third time!
Yet again Samuel got up and went to Eli, “Yes? I heard you call me. Here I am.”
That’s when it dawned on Eli that God was calling the boy.
So Eli directed Samuel, “Go back and lie down. If the voice calls again, say, ‘Speak, God. I’m your servant, ready to listen.’ ”

Samuel returned to his bed. Then God came and stood before him exactly as before, calling out, “Samuel! Samuel!”

Samuel answered, “Speak. I’m your servant, ready to listen.” (1 Samuel 3:8-10, The Message)

“Tempus is fugiting”

Nobody stops time. Here in NJ the Fall foliage is beautiful, a reminder of winter to come, of time passing. Yesterday, I stood for a few moments in the cemetery looking a headstone on my parents’ graves, remembering. The dates carved on that stone mark off their time here on this earth, two dates separated by a dash. It was another reminder that time does not stand still. My phone alerts me to the appointments that shape a work day, those subtle tones replacing chimes of the old hall clock that marked off the hours of the day. 

How well do you use your time? A person who desires to live well, to be productive and effective, who wants to please God – will understand the value of time.

Do you meet deadlines or are you noted for asking for extensions?
Do you anticipate demands and prepare in advance, or are you often ‘a day late and a dollar short?’
Do you, Christian, keep eternity  on the horizon so that you will stay on course in life, or do you wander, living in the futile land of fantasy, doing silly things that ‘kill time?’

One response is urgency. I am prone to press myself to pack in too much, to look forward too far, so that I steal the joy of this day.  My prayer is for wisdom to live this day to the fullest, yet to also take advantage of the moments to connect meaningfully with others and to appreciate the blessings and beauty along the way. The Psalm prays, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12, NIV)  Surely, the Word would not urge us to become anxious, driven people! Urgency is not the right response to time’s passing. God desires that we live with an awareness of the opportunities that are unique to this day.

 Jesus hints at the importance of living with an awareness of the day. In the prayer He taught the disciplines, there is this line: “Give us this day, our daily bread.”  It’s not just about food!  We pray to know God’s provision for today, to live in them, and to use them in preparation for tomorrow.  As Christians we must never forget that ‘tomorrow’ may be here or it may be in His Presence.

 The Word counsels us about mortgaging our future, in our arrogance becoming so certain that we know the future. “Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” (James 4:13-17, NIV)   Go back and read that last sentence!  What’s the direction there?  “Do what God wants you to do, right now, because you can’t presume there will be a tomorrow in which to get it done!”

 Here’s the word from the Word. Memorize it. Live it. Be prepared.  “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them”— … Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:1, 13-14, NIV)

___________

Day by day and with each passing moment,

Strength I find to meet my trials here.

Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,

I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.

He whose heart is kind beyond all measure

Gives unto each day what He deems best.

Lovingly, its part of pain and pleasure,

Mingling toil with peace and rest.

 

Ev’ry day the Lord Himself is near me,

With a special mercy for each hour.

All my cares He fain would bear and cheer me,

He whose name is Counselor and Pow’r.

The protection of His child and treasure

Is a charge that on Himself He laid.

As your days your strength shall be in measure,

This the pledge to me He made.

 

Help me then in ev’ry tribulation,

So to trust Your promises, O Lord.

That I lose not faith’s sweet consolation,

Offered me within Your holy Word.

Help me, Lord, when toil and trouble meeting;

E’er to take as from a Father’s hand,

One by one, the days, the moments fleeting,

‘Till I reach the Promised Land!

 

Andrew L. Skoog, Karolina Wilhelmina Sandell-Berg, Oskar Ahnfelt

© Words: Public Domain

 

Heal me, Dr. Jesus

grace One could not write a story with any more drama than is found in the account of John Newton’s life. Best known as the author of the hymn, Amazing Grace, he lived what we sing. Some wonder if he was using poetic license when he spoke of the grace of God that ‘saved a wretch like me.’  He was not!  After his Christian mother died when he was 7, he lived with his father where he learned all the excesses of sin. He went to sea as a cabin boy at age 11, living among men who practiced every vice. In time, he became the captain of several slave ships where eventually the horrors of human suffering became too much to bear. He left the sea, turned to Christ, started Bible Studies in his home, and eventually became an Anglican pastor.  He collaborated with William Cowper to compile a hymnal that contained some of England’s best loved songs of worship in the 18th century.  Best none is better known than the one that celebrates the amazing grace of Jesus that changed a man bent on destruction, destined for Hell, into a man of love for God and others.

Perhaps your life is not as dramatic as Newton’s, your sins not so spectacular as slave-trading, but, the indictment stands and there is a “long and sorry record as sinners… ( which) proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us.” (Romans 3:23, The Message)  Ours is a universal sin sickness.  For some the symptoms are obvious, for others less so, yet none of us can lay claim to the perfection of life required by our Creator.  We are wretchedly destined for destruction. The Bible’s words are not pleasant, but they are true. “We all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.” (Ephesians 2:3, NKJV)  We would be hopeless, except that there is a doctor in the house.

God sent us a Savior, a physician who heals us and restores our spiritual life.  I love the story that is a kind of parable for all of us.  Mark tells it.  “Several days later Jesus returned to Capernaum, and the news of his arrival spread quickly through the town. Soon the house where he was staying was so packed with visitors that there wasn’t room for one more person, not even outside the door. And he preached the word to them. Four men arrived carrying a paralyzed man on a mat. They couldn’t get to Jesus through the crowd, so they dug through the clay roof above his head. Then they lowered the sick man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus.

Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My son, your sins are forgiven.”
But some of the teachers of religious law who were sitting there said to themselves, “What? This is blasphemy! Who but God can forgive sins!” Jesus knew what they were discussing among themselves, so he said to them, “Why do you think this is blasphemy? Is it easier to say to the paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or ‘Get up, pick up your mat, and walk’? I will prove that I, the Son of Man, have the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, take your mat, and go on home, because you are healed!” The man jumped up, took the mat, and pushed his way through the stunned onlookers. Then they all praised God. “We’ve never seen anything like this before!” they exclaimed.”
(Mark 2:1-12, NLT)

Where are you in that story?
Are you bringing someone sick with sin to the Master for healing?
Are you the one brought?
Are you among those who stand in judgment, seeking a remedy for sin’s sickness in religion, rather than through the Savior?

I am the wretch, paralyzed by my sin, to whom He says, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” His healing words transform me, put me on my feet, and release me from God’s wrath to live in His favor! Oh, yes, it is an amazing grace. We are, by God’s gift, “made alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God!” (Ephesians 2:5-8, NIV)

Have you come to Dr. Jesus for your healing?
Has He changed you from a sin-sick person to a healthy saint?
He can, He will because of His amazing grace!

_____________________

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,

That saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost, but now am found,

Was blind but now I see!

 

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear

And grace my fears relieved.

How precious did that grace appear

The hour I first believed.


The Lord has promised good to me,

His Word my hope secures.

He will my shield and portion be

As long as life endures.

 

Through many dangers toils and snares

I have already come.

‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,

And grace will lead me home.

 

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,

And mortal life shall cease.

I shall possess, within the veil,

A life of joy and peace.

 

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,

Bright shining as the sun,

We’ve no less days, to sing God’s praise,

Than when we first begun.

 

John Newton

© Words: Public Domain

Is your faith founded on coffee mug slogans?

A thread on Facebook debated the age-old question of God’s rule and the ‘why’ of evil.  The writers wrestled with the assertion that “God will never give us more than we can bear.”  Many base that ‘fact’ on a passage that says: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry.” (1 Corinthians 10:13-14, NIV)  What the Word says there is that God knows a disciple’s limits and gives him the power of the Spirit to resist temptation when it comes. We can never blame God for our falls into disobedience or sin.  What this passage does not speak to is the ‘why’ of the terrible atrocities visited on humanity by evil despots.

mug When we see the horrors of war, the mind-bending cruelty that some suffer, there are no easy answers!   As one writer on Facebook said, “It is more courageous to ask the hard questions of God and wait for him to answer than it is to find hope on the side of coffee mug. Asking those questions requires courage because, in the end, it is very likely they will not be answered. I believe expectant waiting can only happen when we exchange our feeble platitudes for an authentic faith that engages God with the full brunt of our emotion and pain.”  – Nate Pyle.  Those unwilling to walk in faith, to wrestle with doubt, and to say “I don’t know,” will either escape into a silly and superficial ‘faith,’ or they will become functional agnostics, believing God is out there somewhere, perhaps.

God can be infuriatingly unpredictable. “God, why is one dream realized and another shattered?” There are not enough answers this side of Heaven to satisfy every question. He does offer grace to help us to trust Him even when we cannot understand His ways.

Naomi, whose story is told in the book of Ruth, moved to Moab with her husband and two sons to escape a famine. It looked like finally they were getting life together, then Elimelech died. Naomi, picked up the pieces of her life and went on. Her two sons married Moabite women and for 10 years, life was good, then… both sons died! Naomi’s life was tragic, her dreams shattered. Where was God in all that happened to her? Right there with her. Now that might just seem to the ‘right’ answer, but it is the truth.  (More on this, in a moment.)

Christian, consider that sometimes our dreams must be shattered so we can find God’s dreams for us. When God allows us to go through awful circumstances, to walk in the dark;  when He appears to stand aside and allow evil to triumph, we have a critical choice. Will we wait for a new dream to replace the shattered one OR will we descend into bitterness and unbelief? In such moments, I borrow the prayer of a desperate father who brought his son for healing to Jesus and cried out when the Lord asked him to believe: “I do believe, but help me not to doubt!” (Mark 9.24) IF we will trust Him, He can give us a new dream, a new life that recovers JOY, if not happiness.

 

Back to Naomi’s story.  After learning of the tragic circumstances of her life, we read the ‘rest of the story’ and learn that … “Boaz married Ruth. She became his wife. Boaz slept with her. By God’s gracious gift she conceived and had a son. The town women said to Naomi, “Blessed be God! He didn’t leave you without family to carry on your life. May this baby grow up to be famous in Israel! He’ll make you young again! He’ll take care of you in old age. And this daughter-in-law who has brought him into the world and loves you so much, why, she’s worth more to you than seven sons!” Naomi took the baby and held him in her arms, cuddling him, cooing over him, waiting on him hand and foot.” (Ruth 4:13-16, The Message)

That baby became the grandfather of Israel’s great king, David! God used Naomi, to bridge His promise to a Gentile woman’s life. Ruth, was brought into Israel (and apparently into faith in God) and included in the line of David and the line of the Messiah, Jesus. You might read that and say, “So, does that make the pain Naomi had to endure all right?” I cannot answer that, nor can you! It simply it what it is, and my temptation to accuse God of unfairness must be leashed and faith loosed!

 

Life is not about us living in a perfectly balanced scale where the pain is always offset by the blessings, where the hard times are offset by the good times. Life is about living in full faith, trusting that He is able to keep us secure in His love through the shattered dreams!

Are your dreams for life shattered today? Reach out to people who will love you, weep with you, and hold you up until your faith is strong enough to touch the heart of God again. Reject the easy answers, the psycho-babble, the half- truths….. but do not reject God. Ask Him for courage to weep yet keep hope and faith intact as you pray — “I do believe, but help me not to doubt!”

________________

O love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in Thee.
I give Thee back the life I owe,
That in Thine ocean depths its flow,
May richer fuller be.

O light that foll’west all my way,
I yield my flick’ring torch to Thee.
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in Thy sunshine’s blaze it’s day,
May brighter fairer be.

O joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to Thee.
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

O Love That Will Not Let Me Go
George Matteson © Public Domain