It’s the best feeling!

ImageHer thousand watt smile lit up the stage.  She’s a born performer and you can see she is hungry for the applause. She pours herself into her music, heart and soul. I smiled as I watched her and realized that similar desires live in me.  Well, who doesn’t like appreciation?
Little kids crave their parents’ words of praise. “Thank you,” said sincerely, is a kind of blessing.

There is an affirmation that I desire more than any other: the approval of the Lord.  I keep in mind His promise that He will never forget or overlook.  Won’t it be the best feeling to hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things… Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:20-21, NIV)?

Kierkegaard, a 19th century theologian, wisely reminds us that our lives should be lived in worship that is focused entirely on God.  We look to Him only; the ‘Audience of One.’   Knowing that, we aim to answer just one question: am I pleasing Him?  There is such freedom for the man who chooses to seek that reward. He can stop polishing his reputation; no longer needs to ‘buy things he doesn’t need to impress people he doesn’t like.’  He can let others mis-judge, overlook, and even ignore him without becoming mean, miserable, or mopey!

If Abba is smiling, all is right in my world. How about you?  Ironically, the less we crave the approval of others and get ourselves right with God, living authentically and humbly before Him, a heart-deep beauty will radiate from us. Make your life one of worship. Yes, pour out your song, do your work, speak your words – not to get the crowd’s applause, but for His approval. David’s Psalm captures that kind of life with his prayer: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14, NLT)  Matt Redman’s song, Heart of Worship, says, “I’ll bring You more than a song for a song in itself is not what You have required.  You search much deeper within through the way things appear. You’re looking into my heart!” © 1999 Thankyou Music (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)

Do something radical today. Sing to God alone. Send an anonymous note of encouragement and be content to let only God know it. Give a gift of kindness to someone who is incapable of returning the favor, knowing that God sees. Serve and don’t look around to see if anybody is watching. Let your soul dance for your Daddy!

The person who looks to Heaven for applause can join Paul in this rock-solid hope. The old apostle was near the day of death, had suffered terrible abuse from Christians and the systems of the world.  But, he knew God’s smile and was eagerly anticipating a rich reward. May his last words be our words to live by.  “I’m about to die, my life an offering on God’s altar. This is the only race worth running. I’ve run hard right to the finish, believed all the way. All that’s left now is the shouting—God’s applause! Depend on it, he’s an honest judge. He’ll do right not only by me, but by everyone eager for his coming.” (2 Timothy 4:6-9, The Message)
________________

Beautiful Things (watch the music video, click on title)

All this pain-

I wonder if I’ll ever find my way?

I wonder if my life could really change,

At all?

 

 

All this earth-

Could all that is lost ever be found?

Could a garden come up from this ground,

At all?

 

You make beautiful things;

You make beautiful things, out of the dust.

You make beautiful things,

You make beautiful things out of us.

 

All around-

Hope is springing up from this old ground!

Out of chaos life is being found,

In You!

 

You make me new,
You are making me new!

You make me new,

You are making me new!

 

Lisa Gungor | Michael Gungor

© 2009 worshiptogether.com songs (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

He is still God. Oh, Lord, I believe…

Bev took a turn for the worse and is hospitalized this morning.  I am re-sending a message I prepared in April.  He spoke to me with it today. May it bless you again.

Image

God, the Creator, is King and Lord.  He is not remote, a distant deity.  Through Jesus Christ, His Son, I know Him, living as His child.  His Holy Spirit lives in me, empowering me to serve His purposes.  Each Sunday I join the congregation in the confession that forms the foundation of life; “
I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth….”   The complexity of life challenges my faith almost daily.  Disappointment, illness, sin,  and human cruelty in all its various forms,  tear at the borders of my faith.  I am not above wondering why the God I love allows sin and suffering to continue to extract such a heavy toll on humanity. But, the choice is made – I belong to God and, by His grace, I will continue to love and serve Him for the rest of my days.

In days past, my faith involved many clauses and reservations.  It was more like a complicated contract than a simple statement! I worked at making faith ‘fit’ the complexity of the world around me. Many prayers were offered up around the question – ‘why?’  Some found answers over time. Many remain and others have arisen. But, I now live with a deep abiding sense of God’s Presence.  
 
No, my life is not simpler! If anything, it is even more complex now than ever. I carry a greater load of responsibility for more people and a larger organization than I have at any time in life. Decisions that I make or in which I am a participant have a direct effect on the lives of others. That is, at least partially, why I have come to a faith that is more distilled around this core truth- Jesus cares and loves me, therefore, I can love and care for others.

I feel no need to negotiate with God, to beg His favor. I am more convinced that “
God is for me, not against me.” I convinced that nothing that comes my way is too big for Him, surprises Him, or is able to overcome His gracious love for me.  You might wonder if I choose to ignore reality, or if I have retreated into a denial of the pain or disappointment that exists all around me.  Not at all. I feel the pain, cry real tears, and do battle with sin, self, and Satan.  Indeed, Luther is right that this is a world with ‘
devils filled and threatens to undo us!’   
 
The greater truth for me is that I am a subject of the King whose power has triumphed over sin, Hell, and death. So I set my hope in Christ Jesus. This is my confession:
“I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day. What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you-guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” (2 Timothy 1:12-14, NIV)

Choose simple faith that allows for mystery, that accepts that He is God, that He is good, that He is love.  Learn the Word. Understand the core Truth of God’s eternal nature, of the triumph of Christ, and of the Spirit’s power.  Make the choice – daily – to put those things at the center of your life. Pray for the Spirit’s help in creating a faith that does not change with the weather.  You will find rock-like stability in a confusing, complex world! 

James reminds us of the importance of simple faith. 

If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought. People who “worry their prayers” are like wind-whipped waves. Don’t think you’re going to get anything from the Master that way, adrift at sea, keeping all your options open.” (James 1:5-8, The Message)

There are still many complex questions around the ‘what, when, where, why, and how’ of life!  Here’s our word from the Word, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:1-4, NIV)
______________________________________
(click to listen)
 
You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep my faith will stand
 
And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine
 
Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sov’reign hand will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now
 
Oh and You are mine oh
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Saviour
 
I will call upon Your name
Keep my eyes above the waves
My soul will rest in Your embrace
I am Yours and You are mine
 
Joel Houston | Matt Crocker | Salomon Ligthelm
© 2012 Hillsong Music Publishing (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)
CCLI License # 810055

Why do you choose to do what you do?

ImageI love my calling to serve a local congregation as their pastor.  If I could, I would work for free! Why?  Because my heart is in this; it’s my life. I believe in the Church. She holds the key to making a better world and the answer to the spiritual hunger of every human being. I have a passion for the Gospel of Christ.  If you talk with me for more than a few moments,  you’re going to hear about two things- my family and the church!   Because those loves are deep in my heart, they surface quickly in my conversation.

What do YOU love most?

Let’s take that idea and shift it to our Christianity.

I had the opportunity to talk with a man yesterday about his spiritual journey. He attended a Lutheran church as a child. When he was a teenager he told me that ‘I got saved and baptized.” Then, life went off the rails and he ended up joining the Marines. “It was,” he told me, “the Marines or prison so I chose to learn some discipline.” Now he’s married and attends a Roman Catholic church with his wife. “I like the tradition and stability of that church,” he said. I did not sense that serving Christ was something that engaged him ‘today.’ It was only about hoping to get to Heaven.

Why are you a Christian?  How do you serve Christ and His kingdom?

For some Christianity is about getting to Heaven, hoping Jesus will keep them out of trouble with God, the Father.  Dallas Willard wrote this wry comment: “Some Christians are better prepared to die than they are to live!”  Their faith is not shaped around loving Jesus Christ. There is no conviction that the purpose of life is found in knowing Jesus. Consequently, they participate in Christianity at a minimal level hoping to appease God.  This kind of spirituality steals joy in both worlds!  Fear of judgment does not allow that person to enjoy making money, seeking pleasure, and feeding their sensual appetites but they don’t enjoy a close walk with the Spirit of God that provides satisfaction.

Are you torn between the desire to do your own thing and to live for God? Are you trying to straddle the fence – serving Self and then, when guilt comes, pleading with God for forgiveness?   The Spirit and the Word put it to us straight – “Choose now!”   “Honor the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord alone. But if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.”” (Joshua 24:14-15, NLT)

This challenge occurs repeatedly in the Bible.

Moses, in his final address to Israel, laid out the ‘blessings’ and ‘curses.’ He reminds the people of God of their choices and consequences.

Elijah stood before the king and leaders of Israel at Mt. Carmel and threw down this challenge – “How long are you going to sit on the fence? If God is the real God, follow him; if it’s Baal (a god worshipped by the Canaanite people), follow him. Make up your minds!” (1 Kings 18:21, The Message)

Christian, if you want to know how to live the best life possible right now, give your heart to Jesus, passionately and without reservation.

Make Him first – in your affections, in your priorities of time use, in your finances. Love for God is about choices practical today things. IF we choose Him, place our affections on Him, we will find great joy in the offering of ourselves.   His love will grow in us.

Here’s a word from the Word to ponder today – “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. 14 I will be found by you,” says the Lord.” (Je 29:11-14 NLT) Jesus says, “Look! Here I stand at the door and knock. If you hear me calling and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal as friends.” (Revelation 3:20, NLT)

May our Christianity prepare us to live, not just to die!

__________________________

This is the air I breathe,
This is the air I breathe,
Your Holy Presence living in me.

This is my Daily Bread,
This is my Daily Bread,
Your very word spoken to me.

And I, I’m desp’rate for You.
And I, I’m lost without You.

© 1995 Mercy / Vineyard Publishing (Admin. by Music Services)   CCLI License No. 810055

Doing Deals with God?

ImageMissionaries came to our little church a lot when I was a kid. After we heard their stories and watched their slide show, we sang “I go where you want me to go, dear Lord; I’ll say what you want me to say, I be what you want me to be…” I saw tears in the eyes of my Mom and Dad who had followed God’s call from cornfields in Iowa to New York City’s poorest neighborhoods. In my mind’s eye as a 10 year old, that song brought on nightmares that God’s will for me would include going to live in a hut in a jungle, far from people I loved, eating weird food. As much as I admired Joe Missionary’s calling, I tried doing deals with God in my mind… “Sure, Lord, I want to go where You send me …. but- how ‘bout here, not there, a little closer to home, where they have real food? Pulllleeeeeze- don’t ask me to go there!” That childish response makes me chuckle now, even as I recall the very real emotions of that time.

 

I’d like to say that I always embrace the call of God, His will for today, with immediate obedience and great joy. I don’t! No, I don’t worry about a hut in the jungle anymore but I do sometimes struggle with situations that are not to my liking. Here’s what I know to be true – the center of the will of God is a place of satisfaction and joy.  When I quickly agree with Him, when I let go of my own desires and practice acceptance, a wonderful peace finds its way into my life.

Do you believe that the will of God is the gateway to fulfillment, that the purpose of God is the way of joy? Or, is your relationship with God shaped by fear, your obedience given grudging because of fear of punishment rather than anticipation of His reward? That kid that tried to do deals with God in Sunday night missionary services was ONLY willing to consider God’s will because he thought something terrible would happen if he didn’t. Just like many people I serve as a pastor today, I believed ‘doing God’s will’ always meant misery. So why consider it? Because, I wrongly thought, I would avoid greater miseries of perpetual poverty, early death, or zits only if I took up the call to misery!

 

Jesus does call us to deny ourselves for the sake of His kingdom. The Word does speak of putting Self to death but, it isn’t because God is a sadist Who likes to see us squirm, who is testing our love and loyalty. The Will of God is the path of life to the full, now and for Eternity. His will wraps around all of our experiences, the gifts of the Spirit He’s invested in us, our opportunities, and our personality. In His all knowing wisdom, there is a path created that leads us maximize our potential to live for His glory. He asks us to trust and say, ‘yes, Lord.’ While He is not interested in granting our every fantasy, yet He loves us deeply and desires the very best for each one of us. Jesus pled with his disciples to reframe their view of God as a benevolent Father who already has prepared good gifts for His children. Even in circumstances that appear miserable to someone looking in from the outside, He can keep us joyful and at rest. The Lord’s idea of success is far different because He factors in eternity! He will make us into a Heavenly success story. I know that the center of His is where I will find intimacy with God, a blessing that knows no equal! Jesus tells us “If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love. “I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature.” (John 15:10-11, The Message)

Some are called to serve Him in obscurity, some in fame. Some are sent to the far side of the globe, others to their hometown. Some are given great responsibility, others serve but a few. There is no need to compare, for our service is by His sovereign will! Paul illustrates this for a young pastor named Timothy. “In a wealthy home some utensils are made of gold and silver, and some are made of wood and clay. The expensive utensils are used for special occasions, and the cheap ones are for everyday use. If you keep yourself pure, you will be a utensil God can use for his purpose. Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work.” 2 Timothy 2:20-21

So, disciple, are you still trying to ‘serve God’ while holding onto your own plans?
Are you trying to play a sophisticated game of “Let’s Make A Deal” with Him, setting limits on where, what, or with whom you will serve?

Here’s an invitation from Him. Prayerfully ask the Spirit of God to make these words live for you as He draws you into His will and shows you His plan for this day. “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. … You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.” (John 15:4-5, 16 NIV)
____________________________

It may not be on the mountain’s height
Or over the stormy sea,
It may not be at the battle’s front
My Lord will have need of me;
But if by a still, small voice He calls
To paths I do not know,
I’ll answer, dear Lord, with my hand in Thine,
I’ll go where You want me to go.

I’ll go where You want me to go, dear Lord.
Over mountain or plain or sea.
I’ll say what You want me to say, dear Lord,
I’ll be what You want me to be.

There’s surely somewhere a lowly place
In earth’s harvest fields so wide,
Where I may labor through life’s short day
for Jesus the crucified;
So, trusting my all unto Thy care,
I know Thou lovest me;
I’ll do Thy will with a heart sincere,
I’ll be what You want me to be.

I’ll go where You want me to go, dear Lord.
Over mountain or plain or sea.
I’ll say what You want me to say, dear Lord,
I’ll be what You want me to be.

I’ll Go Where You Want Me To Go –
Mary Brown /Charles E. Prior /Carrie E. Rounsefell
© Public Domain

Road trips and power naps

ImageRoad trips are a ton of fun for me. How about you? One of the more memorable weeks in my life was one in the Summer of 2010 when Bev and I drove from Los Angeles to New Jersey. But, on those trips, I have a moment ‘round 2 in the afternoon each day. I get so tired and sleepy. There’s just one remedy; pull into a rest stop and take a 10 minute power nap. Bev is always amazed that I can pull over, put my seat back, fall asleep in 10 seconds and awaken a few minutes later feeling so refreshed. Life has been a kind of ‘road trip’ recently.

This morning, I opened my Bible and tried to read. I saw the words on the page, but they were just words. I did not have the energy to engage, to process them. No, it is not a crisis of faith, nor is it the loss of mental acuity. (smile) I’m just tired! For many weeks, I have not been able to hit the ‘off’ button for any real breaks. In such times, being a ‘doer’ by nature my inclination is to push harder, to try to go faster, to get it all done. God’s wisdom has taught me that He creates ‘rest stops,’ inviting us to find renewal – even while He tells we must endure, patiently pace ourselves, and wait on His will to be revealed.

Since my mind resisted study of the Word this morning, I turned to a familiar passage, one filled with promise and hope. Here it is: “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:28-31, NIV)

Fatigue is dangerous! When I’m on a road trip I know that if I keep driving when I’m nodding off, I could kill myself and/or somebody else. It’s just plain dumb to try to deny the reality. Friend, when we are tired, we can say cruel things, reach wrong conclusions, making a wreck of life. When we are exhausted, we are much more likely to experience the tug of temptation as we see what looks like certain relief in things we know are not in the will of God for us. When we’re really exhausted, we might even become open to the lie that God does not care, that He is not listening. Pull over! Take a break!

 

What does God ask of us in those moments? Does He say, “Go faster, work harder?” No! He says, that “those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.” (Isaiah 40:31, NIV) That phrase is translated in various ways in different Bible versions. In place of ‘hope,’ some translation say ‘wait.’ Others say ‘trust.’ The Hebrew of the original text being expectation, anticipation; hence to “wait hopefully!” Since that is God’s counsel, we would be wise to let it speak to us, wouldn’t we?

Are you tired today? Me, too. So, let’s find a rest stop and ‘wait’ for Him.’ There is no shame in taking a break to find a quiet place alone with God. There we create a quiet heart; we listen carefully, we murmur words of worship. I can assure you from experience – there will be ‘fresh strength!‘ Isaiah beautiful picture is that of an eagle that soars on the air currents under his wings. “Spirit of God, may your gentle Wind blow over me, helping me to rise up, to soar when others sink.”
________

 

Sweet Wind

 

There’s a wind a-blowin’

All across the land.

A fragrant breeze of heaven,

Blowin’ once again.

Don’t know where it comes from,

Don’t know where it goes,

But let it blow over me.

Oh, Sweet Wind,

Come and blow over me.

 

 

There’s a rain a-pourin’

Showers from above.

Mercy drops are comin’

Mercy drops of love.

Turn your face to heaven,

Let the water pour,

Well, let it pour over me.

Oh, Sweet Rain,

Come and pour over me.

 

There’s a fire burnin’

Fallin’ from the sky.

Awesome tongues of fire

Consuming you and I.

Can you feel it burnin’

Burn the sacrifice?

Well, let it burn over me

Oh, Sweet Fire,

Come and burn over me.

 

David Ruis

© 1994 Mercy / Vineyard Publishing (Admin. by Vineyard Music USA)

Vineyard Songs Canada (Admin. by Vineyard Music USA)

CCLI License # 810055

Make this week a great one!

From a natural point of view, the week ahead has the potential for stress. As I organized my calendar this morning, I could feel the grip of tension. And, it is only Monday morning! I opened my Bible and went to a passage that I know and understand. Despite the familarity, I sometimes forget the wisdom that the Spirit inspired in these words. They were like a slap in the face, a rebuke for my worry. At the same time they were like a bracing arm around my shoulders, assuring me of His care.

 

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:4-9, NIV)

 

Let’s take it apart today.

 

First up, determine where you will go to find joy. Will you look for it in success, in a meal of fine food, or through escape? The Word tells us to celebrate our relationship with the Lord! Remind yourself, “I am God’s kid! He’s a good God.” Look up, past the problems, beyond the disappointment, higher – and sing a song that extols the wonder of our God.

 

Second, tame that urge to take control. Be gentle, the Bible says. Another version tells us to be “moderate.” Conventional wisdom is that we need to ‘kick butts, power up, make things happen’ when faced with challenges. I confess to going in that direction too often, trying to force solutions, get action, find compliance. When that happens, Jerry replaces Jesus and results are never for His glory. Sure, I can get things, but at what cost to others and to His kingdom?

 

Third, let prayer take over for worry. My concerns for this week are real, not imagined. In the meetings I face we will wrestle with real dollars, not Monopoly money. The lives effected by our choices are real people, not characters in a story. And, God knows that!   He invites me (and you, too) to bring those things to Him. Will He miraculously make more money appear in the budget? Probably not, but He will give wisdom, He will guide. Best of all, He promises that if we will pray He will steady our minds and hearts with a gift of peace that guards us from the fear that will rob us of rest.

 

Fourth, be positive. Yes, the Holy Spirit tells us to choose to expect better things, to look for the best, and to seek out the excellent. Does this mean we cannot be honest in our evaluations? Not at all. Are we forbidden from speaking truthfully about gaps and flaws? No.   Even then, we can destroy or build. We can help or hinder. We can encourage shared success.

 

So, what kind of week will you have? Life has troubles! We live in a world where sin and evil oppose the good of God, all the time. Sickness will come. Heartbreak is inevitable. Crops will fail, businesses will take the hit of down economies. Temptation will roar from the shadows of your mind. Satan will prowl on the perimeter, looking for an opening to attack. But, in Him we are ‘more than conquerors.’

 

“Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute! Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.” (Philippians 4:4-9, The Message)

 

Let’s make it a good week, living for His glory, walking in His Presence.

One big happy family? Can it be?

Good Shepherd Christian Academy, a ministry of the church I where I serve as the pastor, held 8th grade graduation exercises last Imagenight. It was gratifying to see kids who appreciated one of the strengths of our small school: the sense of being a family! The attachments run deep, as evidenced by their tears, real tears that flowed copiously. Sure, they fight. What brothers and sisters don’t? Some of them have been GSCA students for their entire elementary education, others just for a year or two.  Even at age 13 or 14, they know the value of ‘belonging.‘ 

I pray fervently that every participant in every ministry of our church would find and hold onto that kind of connection! People need to know they matter. Christians grow strong when they are loved and love deeply.   Few things are more critical to emotional and spiritual health than being part of a network of relationships that provides opportunities for service and support.

Ours is a fragmented, broken society, with many lonely and isolated people, isn’t it?  Large extended families in America are near extinct, torn apart by our mobility and quest for prosperity; and yet, we need to belong! But, it isn’t easy to build or maintain that kind of web, is it?  Too often conflict is allowed to tear up families and churches! I have experienced estrangement from family and the stress of a ‘church split.’  Removed from those situations by decades, I still feel something like physical pain at the memory! We need to be bold in addressing dysfunction – in ourselves and others- to bring about healing, not separation. Then, too, many of us hang onto an exaggerated sense of privacy and/or individualism that allows us a high level of autonomy but robs us of the joy of really loving and being loved.  We must resist the temptation to just ‘stay home.’

A church that opens her doors and hearts to others will look very messy!  Some expect their church to be like an army on parade, in neat uniforms, marching in lockstep. A real church will resemble a family reunion, chaotic, relational, glued together not by rigid discipline but by profound love!  A loving church will have the full complement of characters – just like any other family.  There will be the leaders and the followers, the stars and the silent workers, the cranks and the jokesters, the sages and the fools, the highly productive and the VNP’s (Very Needy People), the good and the bad, the whole and the broken, the joyful and the sad.
 
Let me ask you a couple of questions today.

Are you part of a church, attached deeply to others in His Body?
Are you helping her be a real family?
Are you investing yourself in forming and maintaining close relationships that will return rich dividends to you and for the cause of Christ?
 
The word from the Word is a familiar passage so I’ve used The Message to help you see it with fresh perspective.
As you read, invite the Holy Spirit to renew the family of God, to glue us together, to help us to love each other.
 
“What we have is one body with many parts, each its proper size and in its proper place. No part is important on its own. Can you imagine Eye telling Hand, “Get lost; I don’t need you”? Or, Head telling Foot, “You’re fired; your job has been phased out”? As a matter of fact, in practice it works the other way-the “lower” the part, the more basic, and therefore necessary. You can live without an eye, for instance, but not without a stomach.  When it’s a part of your own body you are concerned with, it makes no difference whether the part is visible or clothed, higher or lower. You give it dignity and honor just as it is, without comparisons. If anything, you have more concern for the lower parts than the higher. If you had to choose, wouldn’t you prefer good digestion to full-bodied hair?
 
The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.
 
You are Christ’s body-that’s who you are! You must never forget this. Only as you accept your part of that body does your “part” mean anything. You’re familiar with some of the parts that God has formed in his church, which is his “body”: apostles prophets teachers miracle workers healers helpers organizers those who pray in tongues. But it’s obvious by now, isn’t it, that Christ’s church is a complete Body and not a gigantic, one-dimensional Part?

 

It’s not all Apostle, not all Prophet, not all Miracle Worker, not all Healer, not all Prayer in Tongues, not all Interpreter of Tongues.” (1 Corinthians 12:20-30, The Message)
___________
 

Welcome to the family,
We’re glad that you have come
To share your life with us,
As we grow in love
And may we always be to you,
What God would have us be,
A fam’ly always there,
To be strong and to lean on.
 
May we learn to love each other
More with each new day,
May words of love be on our lips
In ev’rything we say.
May the Spirit melt our hearts,
And teach us how to pray,
That we might be a true family.
 
Welcome To The Family
Rettino, Debby Kerner
© 1982 Rettino – Kerner Publishing (Admin. by Word Music Group, Inc.)
CCLI License No. 810055

Defeated in your mind before you start the day?

ImageA Christian man said to me, “Pastor, I dread the Summer time. Women show so much more skin and lust overtakes me!” That’s honest and wrong. I know that Fred’s struggle was real but because of his attitude, he was set up for failure! This man had already ‘surrendered’ to the temptation. How many of us believe that that sin is like gravity, uncontrollable and irresistible. Christians can enter into a transformational process that changes our ‘natural’ responses. We not simply say, “Well, there I go again” with a regretful smile and small intent to do better the next time.

Wrath, greed, dishonesty, selfishness, pornography, abuse of drugs or alcohol, gossip, gluttony, laziness, and hatred are just a few things that are the work of the old sinful nature. If we let them control us they will destroy our testimony, fill us with shame, and disqualify us from serving the Lord with honor. To admit that they are real issues for us is just a first step. The real question is – do we really want to become like Christ Jesus?

 

Will you serve God with holiness today? Some of you are ready to insist, “Jerry, I just don’t know. Temptation comes at me out of nowhere and I … “   No, Christian, they do not! Temptation for the Christian comes from needs unmet in the right way. We lose so many battles with it because we spend way too much time dealing symptoms instead of causes. If we work on getting our relationships in order (think forgive, connect, time), if we get proper rest, if we avoid making silly financial decisions, if we prioritize worship – we will be amazed at how much less we feel the tug of temptation.

 

It is true that the grip of the sinful nature can be powerful. Our habits are reinforced by long practice. On top of that we are subject to the pressures of an ungodly world around us. Romans 13:14 tells us to: “let the Lord Jesus Christ take control of you, and don’t think of ways to indulge your evil desires.” The KJV says, “make no provision for the flesh!” We sin because we quietly surrender ourselves. That is why the Spirit says, “Don’t store up food to feed sin so it gets strong. Starve it, instead!” Will any of us every reach a place on this earth where we live completely without failure and sin? No, perfection is beyond us as long as we are in these mortal bodies. Still, while we wait for our final perfection, the Bible calls on us to be “transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” {2 Corinthians 3:18}

First, we believe the Truth. Christ has defeated sin at the Cross. His work makes a holy life possible for all those who live ‘in Christ!’ That is the first fact to accept! Satan maintains his powerful influence over us by lying and illusion. Fear and ignorance provide him a place to do his infernal work. We are not in darkness.

Then, we invite the Presence of the Holy Spirit to become our Counselor and Friend. Do you believe that God wants you to live in perpetual failure? He does not! One day at a time we own Christ’s victory. We make choices to facilitate His work in us. Personal responsibility and the power of the Spirit are the twin rails that support the progress in our growth. Philippians 2:12-14 “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”

 

Despite wonderful intentions many keep on failing because they believe a lie. They think that somewhere they will find an overwhelming, ‘life completely changed in an instant’ experience. They wander in search of this magical moment from church to church, pastor to teacher, looking for ‘revival.’ We, Pentecostals, are particularly vulnerable at this point. While the Bible does promise an empowering experience with the Holy Spirit, we must never think that our temptations are, once and for all, taken away by His fiery Presence. If we become passive, waiting for deliverance and rescue, our failure to possess the power of God will cause us to remain slaves to sin. Powerful experiences of the Holy Spirit are valuable as crisis moments in which God points us in a new direction. Lasting transformation happens through sustained spiritual disciplines and gaining deeper understanding of who we are. It’s a process.

Work out your salvation… let God use the ordinary situations of life to shape you, to test you, to deepen your faith in Him. Practice the disciplines – solitude, confession, worship, study, service – that create opportunities for the work of the Spirit to be accomplished. Grow up in Christ and begin to enjoy the productivity that comes with maturity.

Here’s a word from the Word – “Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. If your sinful nature controls your mind, there is death. But if the Holy Spirit controls your mind, there is life and peace.” Romans 8:5-6

 

The Building Inspector

 

Early in my ministry, the church I served as an associate pastor assigned me the job of supervising the building of a new worship center. From early morning until late afternoon, I spent every day on the site, reviewing plans, talking with the contractors, meeting with the architect and engineers, watching the project take shape. Despite the hard work, that year, 1979, is one of the most fun in my memory!  

 

Today, I am pastor of the church that meets in that building.  My prayer now, as it was 35 years ago, is that God will bless those who walk through the doors and that He will use our congregation to make His Name known in our community.

 

And, I am still a temple builder!  (and so are you)  The Scripture teaches us that our lives are God’s temple, that He lives in us.  What an awesome privilege and responsibility we have.  “Because of God’s grace to me, I have laid the foundation like an expert builder. Now others are building on it. But whoever is building on this foundation must be very careful. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have-Jesus Christ.

Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials-gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. 

But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames. 
Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you?”
 (1 Corinthians 3:10-16, NLT)

 

The Word solemnly reminds that God will inspect our lives. He will subject us to rigorous review.  No, it’s not about ‘getting to Heaven,’ as some mistakenly conclude. Our salvation is a gift, not a reward. Christ Jesus provides redemption from sin and the assurance of Eternal Life with the Father.  

 

But, He will look at what we did with our opportunities, how we related to others, our motives, our secret desires- yes, all that goes into making a life. Some will find all they have done gone, as in a puff of smoke! The rickety structure, cobbled together with halfhearted devotion – built out of prayers focused only on Self and service done to earn applause and admiration will burn up under His fiery gaze.  What glory for others.  As the Lord looks over their life, He will make known the deep devotion, the hidden service, the love that would not quit, the faithfulness of the saint- and a temple of glorious splendor will emerge.

 

Does that Day cause you to tremble with fear or feel a surge of anticipation? 

Do you know that you have built well?

 

Our lives are not a ‘do it yourself’ project! We are not left without resources or help. God builds His church and He invests Himself in giving us all we need to live for His glory. “In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. ” (Ephesians 2:21-22, NIV)

 

Here’s the word from the Word.  

Temple-builders, let’s make Him a beautiful home!

Everything that goes into a life of pleasing God has been miraculously given to us by getting to know, personally and intimately, the One who invited us to God. The best invitation we ever received! We were also given absolutely terrific promises to pass on to you-your tickets to participation in the life of God after you turned your back on a world corrupted by lust.

So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others.

With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus.” (2 Peter 1:3-8, The Message)

_________________

Enough, and so much more.

Did you grow up taught to be content or to chase after more things?  

 

We were not, by any stretch of imagination, a wealthy household! Combine four teenagers and a pastor’s salary with a wife who was dedicated to being a full-time Mom- and that means a very limited budget.  My children did not even think about attending expensive colleges. They drove old cars and got jobs to pay for their own insurance. Vacations were not long excursions to exotic locales.  A trip to the Outer Banks delighted us all.  We tried to live generously with what we had and to be content with the things God provided for us and thus, we seldom felt deprived or poor.  God was and is our Provider.

 

Christians who want to live joyfully must choose contentment!  

 

In our culture of ‘more,’ that is no easy decision.  Carefully scripted commercials bombard us with propaganda, trying to convince us that we will find greater happiness if only …  we bought a new car, got a facelift, invested with another brokerage, or used a better shampoo! Jesus cries to us:“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15, NIV)  Put another way, we are not defined by what we own!  You will not be a better person just because you wear a shirt that costs $100.  Of course, choosing to buy a cheap shirt does not make you more holy or happier either.  A Christian sees ‘stuff’ for what it is; temporary, perishable, and to be used, not worshiped. 

 

The generosity that should be part of every Christian’s character is a near impossible choice if he lacks assurance of God’s provision or is unwilling to live thankfully. For some, there is no such thing as ‘enough.’ They are fearful of what may come tomorrow, holding tightly to whatever they have, planning and plotting to get more.  What a tragic way of life. No matter the balance in their accounts, they cannot enjoy what they have!  

 

We need to really live the kind of life described here: “I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:11-13, NLT)

 

It is not just things that stirs our envy. It is possible to yearn for a better position in such a way that we fail to live faithfully where we are.  We can become obsessed with appearance, certain that real happiness will be ours only after we get thinner, develop bigger muscles, or find the perfect tan.  What an illusion that is, yet millions spend $billions chasing a mirage of perpetual youthful beauty!

 

Do you want to be content? 
Do you want to enjoy this day, where you are, with what you have?

 

Here is God’s wisdom.  Take time to meditate on these two passages. 
Soak your 
mind in them.  
Ask the Spirit to transform the values of your heart with this Truth. 

 

“Don’t be obsessed with getting more material things. 
Be relaxed with what you have. 
Since God assured us, “I’ll never let you down, never walk off and leave you,” 
we can boldly quote, God is there, ready to help; 
I’m fearless no matter what. Who or what can get to me? “
 
(Hebrews 13:5-6, The Message)

 

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, 
in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us 
with all wisdom and understanding.
” (Ephesians 1:7-8, NIV)

__________

 

Lavish love, abundant beauty;

Gracious gifts for heart and hand.

Life that fills the soul and senses,

All burst forth at Your command.

Lord our Lord, Eternal Father,

Great Creator, God and Friend.

Boundless power gave full expression

To Your love which knows no end.

 

Who am I that You should love me,

Meet my ev’ry need from birth?

Why invest Yourself so fully

In a creature made of earth?

In Your loving heart You planned me

Fashioned me with greatest care,

Through my soul You breathed Your Spirit

Planted Your own image there.

 

I am Yours, Eternal Father,

All my body, mind, and heart.

Take and use me to Your glory,

Form Yourself in ev’ry part.

Lord, Your love brings joy and gladness

Flowing forth within my soul.

May my very breath and being

Rise to You their source and goal!

 

Lavish Love, Abundant Beauty

Peter Ellis | Rowland Hugh Prichard

© Words: 1986 Word Music, LLC (a div. of Word Music Group, Inc.)

CCLI License # 810055