Terror or Awe?

aweWhen the trees around my home are bent by the wind, thunder shakes the house, and heavy dark clouds throw themselves over me like a blanket, I feel awe! When our children were little, we would go outside during thunderstorms and stand under the overhang at the front our home to ‘enjoy’ the storm. Yes, it was awesome, in the truest sense of the word. What makes you stand still, be silent, and even feel a little afraid?

Isaiah called the people of God to reverence. He reminds them (and us) that God is awesome, worthy of respect. Taught to love God, some of us forget His awesome power, His perfect holiness. The people of ancient Judah were living in fear of their enemies, awed by the might of armies at their doorstep. Isaiah reminds that God, not the empires threatening them, was the One they should fear. And, with the proper awe, they would find God a ‘sanctuary!’

“Do not call conspiracy everything that these people call conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it. The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread, and he will be a sanctuary; but for both houses of Israel he will be a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall. And for the people of Jerusalem he will be a trap and a snare.

Many of them will stumble; they will fall and be broken, they will be snared and captured.” Bind up the testimony and seal up the law among my disciples. I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob. I will put my trust in him.” (Isaiah 8:12-17, NIV)

If you think awe is an idea only for the Old Testament, then read what Jesus says. He, too, tells us that awe is the foundation of secure peace. “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell. What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.” (Matthew 10:28-31, NLT)

So what is awe?
It is an “overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, fear, etc., produced by that which is grand, sublime, or extremely powerful.” My love of the power of a storm is, in part, born of my conviction that it is the Lord who holds those storms in His hand. The wild winds and flashes of lightning remind me how puny I am and how powerful He is. And, then I think, He is my Abba (Father).

How big is your God?
Perhaps the better question is, have you invited the Spirit of the Lord to cause you to feel awe? We get ‘too big for our britches’ sometimes, don’t we? We live with the comforting illusion that we are masters of our fate, controlling the universe. Then, some situation arises that reminds us that in spite of our intelligence, plans, or money – we are mere mortals. In that moment, is there only terror, a feeling of helplessness? Or, do we match our smallness to His greatness, and with proper awe, find sanctuary in Him?

Here’s a word from the Word. Meditate on this truth and find the security that is found in the fear of the Lord.
“Fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing. The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing. Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.” (Psalm 34:9-11, NIV)
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” (Proverbs 1:7, NIV)
___________________

I Stand In Awe

You are beautiful beyond description;
Too marvelous for words;
Too wonderful for comprehension,
Like nothing ever seen or heard.
Who can grasp Your infinite wisdom,
Who can fathom the depth of Your love?
You are beautiful beyond description,
Majesty enthroned above!

And I stand, I stand in awe of You!
I stand, I stand in awe of You!
Holy God to whom all praise is due,
I stand in awe of You!

You are beautiful beyond description,
Yet God crushed You for my sin.
In agony and deep affliction
Cut off that I might enter in.
Who can grasp such tender compassion,
Who can fathom this mercy so free?
You are beautiful beyond description,
Lamb of God, who died for me.

Mark Altrogge
© 1987 Sovereign Grace Praise (Admin. by Sovereign Grace Ministries)
CCLI License # 810055

It’s a pain in the neck

PainFor a month I have had various physical symptoms including some major pain in my neck. I took pain-killers and ignored it. “It will go away tomorrow,” I reasoned. Yesterday, I finally saw a physician who looked over my symptoms and concluded that I have Lyme Disease.  It comes from a tiny tick bite that introduces a bacteria into the body that multiplies. A course of antibiotics will likely cure the problem and relieve my pain.

Do you know that pain is a gift?  It signals that something is wrong and that corrective action is necessary.  Touch a hot surface and instantly your brain sends a messages to pull your hand away to minimize damage.  Without the pain, your hand would be severely burned.  The ache of the soul is a signal, too.  What does it mean? It might be God calling us to return to Him. It might be indicate sin is present. It might be letting us know that we are not living for the right things, wasting precious days.

Are you treating the pain symptom instead of its cause? For the last four weeks I have used Advil, Tylenol, and Aleve.  They could mask the pain in my body, but did nothing to curb the disease. My physician advised me to continue to use those things over the next few days along with the medication that will make me better.  When our hearts ache, our consciences sting, or our soul is heavy – there are things in this world that we can use to ease the pain – temporarily.  Work and accomplishment will do it, for a while.  Diversions and vacations can make us forget for a week or two.  Then, too, there are always things like alcohol and pornography, that ease then deepen the pain of the soul.
 
Jesus gives this prescription for our heart pain. “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29, NLT)  It may sound too simple to accept.  But, that is where we start on the road to wholeness. Come to Jesus!  Sin-sick?  He forgives.  Enslaved to bad habits? His power brings freedom!  Emptiness and meaningless stalking you?  He invites you to work with Him in ways that matter.  Lonely?  Learning to engage in true worship with God’s people as well as quiet times of personal prayer and meditation is amazingly healing. 

Almost all healing is a process. My Lymes will be cured, but only over several weeks. The ache of our soul is not relieved in an instant, either. God heals us from the inside out as we learn to live in ways that are spiritually healthy.

Here’s a word from the Word.  Read it thoughtfully, prayerfully today.  There’s a lot of soul food in it! “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 
Be self-controlled and alert. 

Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.  

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while,  will himself RESTORE you and make you STRONG, FIRM, and STEADFAST.”  -1 Peter 5:6-10, NIV

Now, what are you going to do with those symptoms?
Ignore them?
Cover them up?
Or, go to the Great Physician for healing?
____
 
What a Friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry,
Everything to God in prayer!
Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh, what needless pain we bear.
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!
 
Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged;
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful,
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness;
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
 

What A Friend We Have In Jesus
 

Scriven, Joseph M. / Converse, Charles C.
© Public Domain 

A Slave to Tradition?

All of us live with habits, things we do without much thought, mostly because we have always done it that way.  I’m a creature of habit- getting up, enjoying a cup of coffee, reading the Word, going to the office to work, etc – in a predictable pattern.  

If we had to take the time to plan out each and every choice for every day we would be overwhelmed. Our habits serve us with order and let us get on with life until … 

we become slaves to them!  When major changes come our way, and they will, we have to be prepared to re-examine our habits and adapt.  One of the worst reasons to do anything is ‘because we have always done it that way.’

Is your Christian experience primarily a habit, defined by tradition, absent the newness of life promised to those who walk ‘in the Spirit?’  

Or, are you discovering what God has for you, at this time, in this season of your life?

 One day Jesus was invited to dinner by a Pharisee.  Pharisees were respectable people, intent on keeping God’s Law. They were tragically enslaved by their traditions. As Jesus came to this man’s table do you know what the religious man noticed?  It was not Jesus’ amazing love, insight, or wisdom.  He was obsessed with the fact that Jesus failed to observe the traditional ritual of washing his hands before the meal!  “When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table. But the Pharisee, noticing that Jesus did not first wash before the meal, was surprised. Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But give what is inside the dish to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.”

 When the man pointed out Jesus’ supposed failure, Jesus told him that his preoccupation with external cleanliness was hiding a much more serious corruption – a filthy heart!  As the conversation continued, it became even more troubling for the Pharisee and his traditions. “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone. “Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. “Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which men walk over without knowing it.”

 Before we throw away all the guidelines for expressing our worship and devotion to God, let’s be careful to understand what Jesus said. He did not condemn tithing or hand-washing! His point is that  true holiness is connected to ALL of the choices we make in life. It is not just a state of mind!  What did Jesus ask of them and us? That we remember to keep our hearts engaged with God, not just our hands.  These men, in all their religious traditions, were the walking dead!  They kept up the traditions of religion without being alive to God. 

One of the experts in the law answered him, “Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us also.” Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them. “Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your forefathers who killed them. So you testify that you approve of what your forefathers did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs… “Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.” (Luke 11:37-52, NIV)

 The Pharisees, in spite of their constant study of the Scripture and minute attention to the traditions of the Law, had lost sight of the ‘why’ behind the ‘what.’  The very Law that was to make them aware of the holiness of God and turn their hearts to seek Him, the Scripture they ‘studied’ that told of the coming of the Messiah, had no real meaning because they were locked into their preoccupation with tradition. They could not turn the key to open the door for themselves. Even more tragically, they were blocking the way of many others who were spiritually hungering.

 What a word for us today!  

Do we go to worship services just because it’s Sunday morning and fail to engage our heart with the Spirit? 

Do we read the Bible because we were taught it was the right thing to do, but fail to respond to the revelation of God that would transform us?

Do we build church buildings and sustain an array of religious programs without inviting the Lord of Glory to be the One at the center of these things?

 Or, are we sustained by the traditions even as we are refreshed by His Presence, “His mercies new every morning?”

 Here is the word from the Word.  May the Spirit make us alive in Him as we enter into His Presence.

“Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts; the incense of your offerings disgusts me! As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath and your special days for fasting- they are all sinful and false. I want no more of your pious meetings. I hate your new moon celebrations and your annual festivals. They are a burden to me. I cannot stand them!” (Isaiah 1:13-14, NLT)

“Come now, let’s settle this,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool. If you will only obey me, you will have plenty to eat.” (Isaiah 1:18-19, NLT)

______________ 

 Fully Alive

 

Fully alive in Your Spirit,

Lord, make me fully alive.

Fully aware of Your presence, Lord,

Totally, fully alive.

 

Don’t let me miss all the glory around me,

Waiting for heav’n someday to come.

Open my eyes to miraculous Mondays,

And make my feet march to eternity’s drum.

 

Gloria Gaither | William J. Gaither

© 1983 William J. Gaither, Inc. (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

Let’s Make A Deal

dealStudents getting ready for the big test do it. People who get a diagnosis of disease do it.  Men who have slipped and fallen into some sinful situation do it. Addicts do it. Kids who broke the cookie jar do it. What am I talking about?  Praying something like this:
“God if You will get me out of this mess, I promise I’ll give You …”  

When life backs us into a corner, our reaction is predictable.  No matter who we are, where we are from, how educated we are – and yes, no matter how deep and  intimate our walk with God – we will work through stages:  denial, anger, bargaining, depression-  on our way to acceptance.   Bargaining is right there in the middle.  As natural as it is to try to make a deal, such an approach to God reveals our humanity and has nothing to do with the reality of Who HE is!   The Lord never desires that we bribe Him.  He is our Father who invites us to ask for what we need. What makes us think we can make a debtor of God anyway? Paul asks, “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?” (Romans 11:35, NIV)

In the book of Judges, a book of history from the time of the birth of ancient Israel, comes this tragic story. It should be a lesson to each one of us about attempting to make a deal with God.  “At that time the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, and he went throughout the land of Gilead and Manasseh, including Mizpah in Gilead, and from there he led an army against the Ammonites. And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord. He said, “If you give me victory over the Ammonites, I will give to the Lord whatever comes out of my house to meet me when I return in triumph. I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.”
So Jephthah led his army against the Ammonites, and the Lord gave him victory. …
(so far, so good, right?  He prayed and promised God a sacrifice in exchange for victory.)   Should he have done this? Read on.

When Jephthah returned home to Mizpah, his daughter came out to meet him, playing on a tambourine and dancing for joy. She was his one and only child; he had no other sons or daughters. When he saw her, he tore his clothes in anguish.

“Oh, my daughter!” he cried out. “You have completely destroyed me! You’ve brought disaster on me! For I have made a vow to the Lord, and I cannot take it back.”
And she said, “Father, if you have made a vow to the Lord, you must do to me what you have vowed, for the Lord has given you a great victory over your enemies, the Ammonites. But first let me do this one thing: Let me go up and roam in the hills and weep with my friends for two months, because I will die a virgin.” … She and her friends went into the hills and wept because she would never have children. When she returned home, her father kept the vow he had made, and she died a virgin.” (Judges 11:26-40, NLT)

Since human sacrifice was forbidden, it is likely that Jephthah did not actually kill his daughter, but rather put her in seclusion for the remainder of her life!  In that time, a woman who did not marry and bear children had no significance, no purpose in life.  So, even if she did not die at Jephthah’s hand, and I do not believe she did,  his ‘deal’ with God still produced a terrible fate for a beautiful young woman.

Are you in a tough spot this Monday morning?
Is life looking desperate right now?  Don’t be like Jephthath!

The disciples, in the school of prayer, were taught this:  “Our Father, … give us today our daily bread…. forgive us… lead us.”   Jesus wanted them, and us, to know that like a wonderful Father – the Lord always has what we need, though not all we want. He explains that human fathers, though marred by sin and selfishness, desire to provide for their children.  He says, “Don’t bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This is not a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we’re in. If your little boy asks for a serving of fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? If your little girl asks for an egg, do you trick her with a spider? As bad as you are, you wouldn’t think of such a thing—you’re at least decent to your own children. And don’t you think the Father who conceived you in love will give the Holy Spirit when you ask him?” The Message  Luke  11:10-13

Remember, He acts in accordance with His will and purposes.  Moving to ‘acceptance,’ living through tough times, desperate situations, or terrible pain requires great faith, which – by the way – He will give if we ask for it!  God sometimes says “No,” to our request, not because we have not earned a “Yes,” but because His plans are different from ours.

So, are you tempted to play “Let’s Make A Deal” with God?

Stop!  Don’t insult His grace! Vows made in desperation may have terrible consequences. Promises made to anyone, including God, are to be kept. Better not to make hasty vows than to live with regret. Religion leads us to try to bargain with God. Understanding His grace leads us to love Him and to receive full provision, for every need, from His hand.

Here’s a better way to understand your relationship with Him. Read this word from the Word.
“So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. 

This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.

So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” (Hebrews 4:14-16, NLT)

“And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus.
By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place.
And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him.” (Hebrews 10:19-22, NLT)

He desires to provide for you because He loves you. His grace will give you what you could NEVER purchase from Him at any price. So, come with confidence and ask with the heart of a beloved child. Then, trust Him.

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Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)

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!

 

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

Don’t Quit Too Soon!

dontquitDo you practice the spiritual disciplines-  simplicity, fasting, study, submission, meditation – you know, the easy stuff of the Christian life?  Yes, of course, I am joking!  It is not easy to live a disciplined life.  We need to catch sight of the ‘why,’ to understand the potential results of our investment in doing what God asks of us. It’s a process. Our life in Christ must be viewed as a long-term investment!

In the closing chapters of Deuteronomy, Moses reminds the people of the Lord of God’s promises. “If you listen obediently to the Voice of God, your God, and heartily obey all his commandments that I command you today, God, your God, will place you on high, high above all the nations of the world.” (Deuteronomy 28:1, The Message) “All the peoples on Earth will see you living under the Name of God and hold you in respectful awe.” (Deuteronomy 28:10, The Message) Those promises apply to the Church, just as they did to the people of Israel. When we love and revere the Lord God, when we accept His merciful grace and goodness and invite the Holy Spirit to lead us, we enter into the ‘abundant life’ that Jesus offers to His disciples.

“Jerry, I know Christians who are suffering. I know people who really love the Lord who are going through very tough times.” And, so do I!  The blessings we enjoy when we walk faithfully with God appear over the long term! It’s foolish to ask after a month of living a spiritual disciplined life:  “Where are the blessings?”  Jesus says that hard times, big storms, and terrible times will come to all.  Those, however, who have lived in the disciplines of the Spirit, have a foundation so that they can weather the storm!   “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” (Matthew 7:23-25, NIV) Those who stay faithfully close to the Lord through it all are blessed with a security that reaches into eternity.

As we live the disciplines, we must not become ‘religious’ about them.  If  we turn them into a means of earning God’s favor or proving our goodness, they become Law, controlling us, making us slaves to fear.  In hard times, Christians who have put themselves under the Law will wonder, “What did I do to bring this on myself?”   But, if we see spiritual disciplines as a means of opening our lives to knowing Him, as a way of investing ourselves in Eternity – there is liberty, freedom from slavery to Self, Sin, and Satan.  God’s purpose in the disciplines is to create doors through which His Spirit enters our daily life with profound grace. “We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise. There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next.”  – Romans 5:1-4  The Message

Disciple, don’t go to church, read the Bible, pray, serve others, give your time or money, …  to make God a debtor to you, owing you His blessings.  Instead, love Jesus! Invest yourself in Him, pursue Him.  Remember that the riches of knowing Him develop in deep character, in a transformed heart, with changed values that release us from the love of the world and set our hearts on Heaven.

Will we quit too soon?  “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.” (1 John 3:2-3, NIV)

Here’s a word from the Word.  It’s a principle of investment that applies to the practice of the disciplines.  “Don’t be misled: No one makes a fool of God.
What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God!— harvests a crop of weeds.
All he’ll have to show for his life is weeds!
But the one who plants in response to God, letting God’s Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life.
So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good.

At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith.” (Galatians 6:7-10, The Message)

________

I am weak, but Thou art strong;
Jesus, keep me from all wrong;
I’ll be satisfied as long
As I walk, let me walk close to Thee.

Just a closer walk with Thee,
Grant it, Jesus, is my plea,
Daily walking close to Thee,
Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.

–          Public Domain

An excellent guide to the study of the Disciplines – The Celebration of Discipline

 

God’s Chisel – shaping us into a thing of beauty

chiselWhat has broken your heart? Rejection will do it! Disappointment will surely bring on sadness. Aging often brings a sense of loss, too. The ‘unfairness’ of life broke the Psalmist’s heart. “But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills.” (Psalm 73:2-5, NIV) He looked around and wondered “Why me, Lord? I’m yours, a faithful servant, and You allow these things to happen to me?”

Grief is the chisel of the Lord.  It chips away at the grip we have on this present world.  Grief, properly directed, can reshape our lives around eternal treasures. I am convinced that suffering is God’s invitation to know Him well.  we will reach out to take hold of Him.

That same Psalm writer who wondered “why” moves through His sorrow and comes to deeper joy. “When I was beleaguered and bitter, totally consumed by envy, I was totally ignorant, a dumb ox in your very presence. I’m still in your presence, but you’ve taken my hand. You wisely and tenderly lead me, and then you bless me. You’re all I want in heaven! You’re all I want on earth! When my skin sags and my bones get brittle, God is rock-firm and faithful.” (Psalm 73:21-26, The Message)

Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4, NIV) Are you sad, disappointed, rejected, lonely, afraid – grieving – today?  Look up. (Really. Actually do it, a symbol of looking to God) Pray a prayer of submission. “Lord, not my will, but Yours be done.”  Quiet your words and, with hands extended palms up, receive His comfort by faith.  Yes, many of us pray for a life free from grief.  We are not sure we want to allow our hearts to be broken. However, those who will not let their affections to be fixed to the love of their Father and His promise of a forever home are doomed to living superficially and loving things that will inevitably slip through their fingers regardless of their determination.

Put your hope in God! The Preacher says that there is “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” (Ecclesiastes 3:4, NIV) When the sorrows come, let them cause you to love the things that you can never lose and the One who holds life everlasting more.

Here’s the word from the Word. “Sing to the Lord, you saints of his; praise his holy name. For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning. … You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever.” (Psalm 30:4-5, 11-12, NIV)

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A 12 minute video about God’s Chisel in our lives from The Skit Guys

Who He says I am

idIdentity is not just about your name, it’s about who you think you are. Do you define yourself as a sinner, saint, bad, good, worthy, worthless? Paul addresses Christians in most of his letters as ‘saints.’  He called the believers at Corinth that. They were actually a mess of sin!  They abused the gifts of the Spirit, were sexually impure, were deeply afflicted by greed, and split into a bunch of factions. Yet, Paul writes to “those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours.”  (1 Cor. 1:2)  Those ordinary, failing human beings were invited to accept God’s declaration about who they were and to take on a NEW identity

If you are ‘in Christ,’ God has given you an identity, and the ability to fulfill His call to be ‘holy.’  “Who me,” you ask, ”I’m holy?”  No, naturally we are not! The Bible says that “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, NIV)  David, praying for forgiveness after falling into terrible sin, says “I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night. … For I was born a sinner- yes, from the moment my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:3,5, NLT)
 
Genuine spiritual transformation starts when the Holy Spirit brings crushing conviction of our sinfulness. It’s not pleasant to take an honest look at what the Spirit exposes. We prefer to say, “I’m OK, you’re OK.”  We comfort each other in our lust, greed, and addictions. I’m all for compassion and I love authenticity! I pray I’ll never forget ‘the pit from which He pulled me.‘   

BUT, I don’t want to leave people in their sins nor do I want to stay there!  God created me in His image and at great cost made it possible for me to leave depravity behind me. He will restore my true identity-  son and saint!
 
Ephesians declares that because of Christ and the Spirit, being captives of sin and Self is a past tense experience for disciples. “It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. … It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. … 
He picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah. … Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! …
No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.”
(Ephesians 2:1-10, The Message)
 
What do you believe about your identity?  Who is telling you who you are?  Why not take the word of your Creator? “I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance.” (Ephesians 1:18, NLT)

 

Here’s a word from the Word.  Saint, go live it. Be holy ‘in Christ.’  “Whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:16-18, NIV)  

 

In Him, we are all ‘ordinary people blessed with extraordinary opportunities,’ to participate in the Divine Conspiracy (Thank you, Dallas Willard) to save the world!
______________
 
Lord, the light of Your love is shining
In the midst of the darkness shining;
Jesus, Light of the World, shine upon us;
Set us free by the truth You now bring us.
Shine on me, shine on me.
 
Lord, I come to Your awesome presence.
From the shadows into Your radiance;
By the blood I may enter Your brightness,
Search me, try me, consume all my darkness.
Shine on me, shine on me.
 
As we gaze on Your kingly brightness,
So our faces display Your likeness;
Ever changing from glory to glory,
Mirror’d here, may our lives tell Your story.
Shine on me, shine on me.
 
Shine, Jesus, shine.
Fill this land
With the Father’s glory;
Blaze, Spirit, blaze.
Set our hearts on fire.
Flow, river, flow.
Flood the nations
With grace and mercy;
Send forth Your Word,
Lord, and let there be light.
 
Shine, Jesus, Shine
 
Kendrick, Graham
© 1987 Make Way Music (Admin. by Music Services)
CCLI License No. 810055

Tears on a burnt face

hassanThe insanity of hatred was on display in HD full color in stories reported from the war in Gaza and the scene of the Malaysian airliner shot down over the Ukraine.

One man’s face is etched into my mind this morning. Hassan Ell Halak is a young father in Gaza whose entire family was killed instantly by a shell that landed on their home.  The camera zoomed to a close-up of his burnt face as he talked about feeling ‘helpless,’ caught in a war over which he has no control.  Speaking calmly about his loss, a tear slipped down the side of his face, a wordless indication of the depth of his despair.  I wept, too!  (CBS News report link

I am not taking sides in this conflict.  What does a nation do when another rains rockets on its people? What are the poorest of people supposed to do when their leaders are bent on something like suicide, challenging one of the world’s best armies with donkeys carrying explosives?

Christian, we must pray!  Let our prayers flow from anguish as we let ourselves identify with those who are under the control of evil men, deceived men, cruel men who are themselves deluded by the Devil who delights in the destruction and death!  Some of you may counsel me to turn off the TV. “Jerry, these things are happening on the other side of the world. They come from old enmities, are complex, and will not end anytime soon.”  Naturally, you are right. I am not politically naïve.  But, I serve a mighty God and He calls me (and you) to be people who pray for His Kingdom to come, who give ourselves to the cause of justice.  So I will watch, weep, and pray.

When cameras carry us to the scenes of war and we sense the injustice, it may be a natural response to call for an escalation of the violence. “Send more weapons!” “Call on our elite forces.” “Send in the drones with more bombs.”  But, do we not realize the insanity of all this?  Yes, evil is hard and without mercy. Foes lie and manipulate.  Force is demanded to restrain wickedness. And so is reflection, prayer, listening, educating, and actually dealing with injustice. 

It would be a fool’s kind of arrogance to think that I can cut through the tangled knots of these conflicts. However, I take seriously Jesus’ words to care.  We, His people, are to be salt and light. So, let us pray, and pray some more, and then pray again.  Let us think deeply, not just respond. Let us ask the Spirit to give us insight, to see past the propaganda, and to influence – as we are able – those around us for the Kingdom.

Here is the word from the Word. Lord, use it to make us your radically loving people. Amen.

 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

 You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:3-16, NIV) 

You CAN be a GREAT Christian

Several years ago, someone gave me a book by Jim Collins, with the title – Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t    “Good is the enemy of great. And that is one of the key reasons why we have so little that becomes great. We don’t have great schools, principally because we have good schools. We don’t have great government, principally because we have good government. Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life.”   Jim, I’d like to add from my position, that many people are not great Christians because they are content to be good Christians. 

goodgreatAre you one of them? 
Are you content to live a moral life, to show up for church, and to be a good citizen- calling that ‘being Christian?’ 

Or do you want to know God’s will, take up His challenge, and live in the fullness of the Spirit?

Great Christians are the product of time and patience, effort and engagement, faith and vision. But, we Americans aren’t much for process, are we? Phil Cooke wrote : “We’ve created a generation of Christians who look for a magic bullet. That’s why people travel thousands of miles, from conference to conference, just to ‘get a word,’ find ‘fresh oil,’ get ‘the glory,’ or ‘catch the blessing.’ … After WW2, we experienced a time of real miracles in this country. We had amazing prefab houses, miracle drugs, fast food, and space-age appliances – instant satisfaction was everywhere. It changed everything. … 50 years later we are still addicted to the feeling.” (Charisma) We like solutions, self-help, and results.  There are plenty of preachers who offer miracle seeds, prayer clothes, holy oil, vials of water from Jerusalem, or the secret of success in their latest book. No discipline is involved, just a credit card to place the order.

 God’s counsel is much different. The Word teaches us to “Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him; … those who wait on the Lord, they shall inherit the earth. “ (Psalm 37:7, 9 NKJV) That work, “patiently,” in the Hebrew text of the Psalms is a word includes the idea of a woman in labor, enduring pain while she anticipates the birth of her baby!   Good Christians won’t allow themselves that kind of pain. They sidestep it.  Great Christians allow the Spirit to grow inside of them, enduring the difficulty of living against the culture all the while anticipating the glorious new life produced by the Spirit.  Pain is just part of the process.  

 Do you think that I am the kind of person who seeks pain for its own sake? Think again. I hate pain and tears and conflict. But, the call of Christ on my life is to faithfulness, not happiness!   There is joy in knowing Christ Jesus, but it is not the ‘ha, ha’ laughter of a TV show or produced by the jokes of a comedian.  It is a deep joy, the kind experienced by a mother who has just delivered her child, an artist who has worked to complete a work, a farmer who looks out over a field now ready to harvest after months of work and waiting. There is plenty of joy in my life. But, the process of growth, the season when the Father is chiseling His likeness into my character, often involves sorrow and/or pain.

 You can be a GREAT Christian, but you must “Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish  in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls! In this all-out match against sin, others have suffered far worse than you, to say nothing of what Jesus went through—all that bloodshed! So don’t feel sorry for yourselves. Or have you forgotten how good parents treat children, and that God regards you as his children? My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline, but don’t be crushed by it either. It’s the child he loves that he disciplines; the child he embraces, he also corrects. God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training,” (Hebrews 12:2-7, The Message)

There’s a goal – to be like Jesus!
There’s a home – in the Eternal Presence of God.
There’s a reward – the commendation of the Lord of Life!

Keep those things in mind, all the time, then dig in for the long haul. Commit yourself to making a real Kingdom difference, not just to carving out a spot of greater ease or comfort for yourself. It will be worth it all – when we see Jesus!
_________________________

Jesus, what can I give,
What can I bring

to so faithful a friend,
To so loving a King?

Savior, what can be said,
What can be sung

as a praise of Your name
For the things You have done?

Oh, my words could not tell,
Not even in part,
Of the debt of love
that is owed by this thankful heart.

I will offer up my life in spirit and truth,
Pouring out the oil of love as my worship to You.
In surrender I must give my ev’ry part;
Lord, receive the sacrifice of a broken heart.

You deserve my every breath
for You’ve paid the great cost.

Giving up Your life to death,
Even death on a cross.
You took all my shame away,
There defeated my sin,
Opened up the gates of heaven,

And have beckoned me in.

© 1994 Kingsway’s Thankyou Music (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing) CCLI License No. 810055

Hatred, it comes to us too easily

Love-HateThe world is trembling under the weight of fear and hatred. An airliner was shot down yesterday, most likely accidentally, in a civil war in Ukraine.  Israeli forces unleashed hell on Gaza last night once again.  A million refugees are living in squalor in Jordan, driven from their homes in Syria by war. Ancient feuds continue senselessly.  Poverty grips millions in Central America where corrupt and impotent governments cannot protect people from the thugs that rule the streets.  

The American government is diminished by politicians who care more about ‘the win,’ than the people. The powerful cling desperately to their privilege using the mechanisms of government to assure their place at the top!  We hate so well, so quickly, so easily. 

We divide – black and white, rich and poor, conservative and liberal, Christian and Muslim.  Husbands and wives, once starry-eyed lovers, sometimes turn into enemies resulting in the tragedy of a divorce war. And yes, children still fight in the backyard, too.

The story from the early chapters of the Scripture is a prelude to history.  It tells of hatred and ends with the oft-repeated excuse for violence. “Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.

Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:1-9, NIV)

 

Am I my brother’s keeper?  The answer is YES!   Even if you and I are not active ‘haters’ we cannot sidestep the violence going on in the rest of the world.  Disciples of Christ Jesus must first become people of peace and then actively seek peace on behalf of others.  Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9, NIV)  The mission of peace-making may strike you as impractical, even silly.  “Come on, Jerry, get real. The world is an angry place. What can I do about it?”    We can begin by being committed to peace right where we are. We must deal ruthlessly with the hate in our own heart.

 

We must challenge hatred when we see it, not with angry displays of power, but with overwhelming goodness.  The wisdom of God guides us. “Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord. Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.”  (Romans 12:17-13:1, NLT)

 

We pray for that God’s rule will be established, that the Spirit will tear down the tyrannies of demons who delight in destruction.

 

God and Father, break our stubborn wills. Turn our hearts to You.

Break our hearts with those things that break Your heart.

Secure us in Your goodness and teach us to live in the ‘peace that passes human understanding.’

We pray earnestly that Your Kingdom will come and Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.

In Jesus’ Name. Amen

 

The word from the Word –

“Turn your back on sin; do something good. Embrace peace—don’t let it get away! ” (Psalm 34:14, The Message)

“Snub evil and cultivate good; run after peace for all you’re worth.” (1 Peter 3:11, The Message)

______________

 

Touch Through Me

 

Touch through me, Holy Spirit,

Touch through me.

Let my hands reach out to others,

Touch through me.

There’s a lonely soul somewhere,

Needing just one friend to care,

Touch through me, Holy Spirit,

Touch through me.

 

Love through me, Holy Spirit,

Love through me.

I will be my brother’s keeper

Love through me.

Hearts are bleeding deep inside,

Love can dry the weeping eyes,

Love through me, Holy Spirit,

Love through me.

 

Flow through me, Holy Spirit,

Flow through me.

Like a river in the desert,

Flow through me.

Springing fountain,  healing stream,

Living water, pure and clean.

Flow through me, Holy Spirit,

Flow through me.

 

My hands will be Your hands

Reaching out to others;

My lips will not be slothful, Lord, to speak.

I will be that Good Samaritan

To someone else in need.

I will be Your house to dwell in,

Live through me.

 

Dottie Rambo

© 1981 New Spring (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc.)

CCLI License # 810055