The Wealth in Two Pennies

giving2Earlier this year our Congressman invited me to attend a small roundtable meeting with several other pastors from our town.  Someone asked him, “What do you like least about being in Congress?” His answer surprised me. “Fundraising,” he answered.  He has to make calls every day to raise the hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund a campaign every two years. “I hate asking people for money.” 

There was a time when I felt much the same about taking an offering at church. It felt like fundraising and I often shied away from being direct in the appeal. What a mistake!  There are preachers who love the money, who make false promises to get their hands on people’s money to enrich themselves. Some use gimmicks and gifts to entice more contributions; prayer clothes, water from the Holy Land, trinkets, ‘insider clubs’ for big donors, and the like. Those were the things I despised!

True giving is an act of worship, a decision of stewardship, and an investment – all at the same time.  A person who understands the grace of God, who has experienced His love, forgiveness, and acceptance in a transformative way, will become a giver because God is a Giver, a Generous One.  Moreover, the Holy Spirit, Who brings order from chaos, is reflected in us when we become masters of our resources. A Christian who says he cannot afford to give is actually saying that he has not learned to trust God as his resource and/or that he is unwilling to live within his means.  Jesus was near the treasury of the Temple with his disciples.  As they passed by, they saw wealthy men dropping large sums of money into the offering. The coins (there was no paper money then) hit the receptacles with a clang, announcing the ‘generosity’ of those donors. “He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “I tell you the truth,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others.” (Luke 21:2-3, NIV)  Her tiny offering barely made a sound as it fell into the coffers, but God noted it. Why? Because she was generous in proportion to her resources and, implicitly, she was full of faith in God’s provision. 

Could it be that many of us live with a sense of need because we have not learned faithfulness with what we have?  Jesus says, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?” (Luke 16:10-12, NIV)

I don’t buy the notion that giving to God obligates Him to make me rich. But, I am convinced that consistent, generous, proportionate giving creates the kind of life that God can trust with greater blessings. One of the principles Jesus taught says it clearly: “Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity.”  (Luke 6:38, The Message)  Giving our money is just a start. When we have learned to give that way, we also become generous with our time, our love, and our forgiveness.

In the longest sermon recorded in the Gospel, Jesus’ discussion of Kingdom life that we nickname the “Sermon on the Mount”  (Matthew 5-7),  about a fourth of the material is about giving and money!  He reminds us to invest in eternity because life is brief and piles of treasure we accumulate here are left behind  but what we send ahead is never lost. He tells us that we must become the master of our money or it will enslave us. He says that all our anxiety about the future is a fool’s game and that when we trust God, not just emotionally but with ALL we are and ALL we have, we find unshakeable security.

There is no reluctance in me anymore about ‘taking an offering’ as part of Pastoral leadership.  God does not need my money or yours, but when we give, we become His partners in feeding the hungry, teaching the Kingdom, and pointing the Way  to the Light for those who are in the dark.  We honor Him when we give and that is our basic reason for existence – to love and serve God.

Here’s the word from the Word – “Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. As the Scriptures say, “They share freely and give generously to the poor. Their good deeds will be remembered forever.” (2 Corinthians 9:6-9, NLT)

Sitting on the fence?

whichwayWhen I go to buy clothing there is an amazing array of options, brands, colors, fabrics, and styles. My search for black trousers that are comfortable, will wear well, and not cost too much is complicated by an offering of at least 20 different kinds of black pants!  Some people get so distracted by it all, they spend an hour looking and go home empty-handed. They just can’t choose.

Are you able to make a wise choice about life, given the various options that are available to you? Jesus reminds us that “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.” (Matthew 12:25, NIV)  Unity and single-minded focus are important to success.  What do you really want? Are you making the choices that are consistent with that professed desire?  Or, are you wavering, with a mind that is conflicted and confused, unable to move forward?

Elijah called the leaders of Israel together for a show-down. Idolatry was rampant among people who were professing to belong to the one true God.  They claimed to worship the Lord, but they also kept shrines to the local fertility gods.  The prophet confronted them with a choice . “How long are you going to sit on the fence? If God is the real God, follow him; if it’s Baal, follow him. Make up your minds!” (1 Kings 18:21, The Message)

The Holy Spirit is challenging Christians in the same way today. “Choose! Make up your minds. Come, follow me!”  If we answer His call with a clear and unequivocal, “Yes!” we will find great freedom and new direction for life. The wondering and wandering will be over for us. Life will be purposeful. There will be moments of stress, times when we may wonder if we have taken the right way, but if we keep focused on Him, we will not fall or falter, for the choice is made.

Jesus preached the importance of choosing.  He said, “If you are not on my side, you are against me. If you don’t gather in the harvest with me, you scatter it. I tell you that any sinful thing you do or say can be forgiven. Even if you speak against the Son of Man, you can be forgiven. But if you speak against the Holy Spirit, you can never be forgiven, either in this life or in the life to come. A good tree produces only good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. You can tell what a tree is like by the fruit it produces.” (Matthew 12:30-33, CEV)   It should sober us to think that when we silence the voice of the Spirit when He calls us to decision, the consequences can be eternal.  

Are you living ‘on the fence?’
Are you miserable because you are trying to keep one foot in the things of this world and the other in the Kingdom of God?

Not sure how to answer those questions?  Just look at what is being produced in your life and by your actions.  If there is love, joy, and peace in abundance, the Spirit rules. If not, then Self reigns!

Choose! If you are not ready to make Him Lord of all, then do not attempt to make Him Lord at all!
He is a jealous God and will not allow you to share your affections with other gods. Christianity practiced as a Sunday hobby is terribly unsatisfying.  Jesus as a sideline in life is just another complication.  People who just want an insurance policy for eternity, who want to live now on their own terms while trying to keep Heaven’s door open when the last act is played, are playing an impossible game.  They cannot enjoy the pleasures of this world nor do they know the joy of intimacy with God. James says they are “unstable in all their ways.”  They cannot enjoy anything because they are trying to own everything.

If God is really God, then serve Him.  

May the words of Jesus compel us to choose Him as Lord of life. “Then another said, “I’m ready to follow you, Master, but first excuse me while I get things straightened out at home.” Jesus said, “No procrastination. No backward looks. You can’t put God’s kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day.” (Luke 9:61-62, The Message)

______________________

Jesus Is Lord Of All

 

All my possessions

And all my life,

Jesus is Lord of all.

All my tomorrows,

all my past,

Jesus is Lord of all.

 

King of kings,

Lord of lords,

Jesus is Lord of all!

 

I’ve quit my struggles,

Contentment at last,

Jesus is Lord of all.

All of my conflicts,

All my thoughts,

Jesus is Lord of all.

 

His love wins the battles

I could not have fought,

Jesus is Lord of all.

 

All of my longings,

All my dreams,

Jesus is Lord of all.

 

All of my failures

His power redeems,

Jesus is Lord of all.

 

King of kings,

Lord of lords,

Jesus is Lord of all!

 

© 1973 William J. Gaither, Inc. ARR UBP of Gaither Copyright Management CCLI License No. 810055

When I coach football

In a just a couple of weeks, on Sunday afternoons, I’ll be coaching football.  Not really, but if you sat in my living room while I watched the game, you might be fooled for a few minutes. I’ll yell things like: “Just pass that ball!”  “What’s the matter with you, Brady? Anybody could see that interception coming!” The comments will fly.  Truthfully, I have never played a minute of football!  I can talk it, but I have not lived it. Being an armchair quarterbacks is a harmless diversion. Silly? Perhaps, but just fun.

Are you a Christian who spends too much time talking about your faith without getting into the game?  Jesus taught “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” (Matthew 6:33, NLT)  That passage is easy to repeat and sounds impressive. “Hey, here’s my life verse, Pastor.”   But, what does it mean to ‘seek the kingdom above all else’?   Have we done that when we go to church, sing along, nod with the pastoral prayer, and affirm our agreement with the sermon?  It’s a start, but it’s not the game! God-first choices in daily life is what He asks. 

Jesus warns about making our faith just a lot of talk. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21, NIV)  There are amazing benefits for those who live ‘in the Kingdom.’  They enjoy peace of mind, complete assurance of eternal life, power to overcome evil, and the promise of God’s total provision.  If we want the benefits, we have to live the life. We must become subject to the King, shape our will around God’s will, and conform our decisions to His wisdom. 

surrrenderThat means asking the Lord how to better that husband that loves his wife selflessly, like Christ loves His bride, the Church.
That means holding our stuff loosely knowing that He owns it all so He can ask us for anything He wants.
That means dealing with Self ruthlessly- ‘crucify the sinful nature’ is what the Spirit says!  
That means slipping onto our knees as each day opens and offering our hands, feet, heart, and mind to Him for whatever, wherever, whenever.   We become true citizens of His Kingdom with the blessings that go with living under His reign.

Jesus warns that we can become so adept at talking the game we will lose any sense of our hypocrisy.  We might even do some good things in His Name without really knowing Him, without being subject to Him. So, what happens in that situation?  It’s sobering, Christian.  He said it, not me.“On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’ 

“Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock.

Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.” (Matthew 7:22-27, NLT)

Bill Hybels speaks of ‘purposeful stewardship.’  Kingdom living is not accidental. Nobody just falls into becoming a mature disciple, a Christian of great character, a spiritual person living as an intimate friend of God.  That life develops by daily decisions, with costly choices, that are obedient responses to the Spirit’s call.  

Here’s the word from the Word. Take the challenge, receive the Promise. “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:18-25, NIV)

_______________

 Mighty To Save

 Ev’ryone needs compassion,
Love that’s never failing,
Let mercy fall on me.
Ev’ryone needs forgiveness,
The kindness of a Savior,
The hope of nations.

Savior, He can move the mountains,
My God is mighty to save,
He is mighty to save!
Forever, Author of salvation,
He rose and conquered the grave,
Jesus conquered the grave.

So take me as You find me,
All my fears and failures,
Fill my life again.

I give my life to follow,
Ev’rything I believe in,
Now I surrender.

Shine your light 
and let the whole world see;
We’re singing
For the glory of the risen King!

Jesus,
Shine your light
and let the whole world see;
We’re singing
For the glory of the risen King!

Ben Fielding | Reuben Morgan

© 2006 Hillsong Music Publishing (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

Insider Information

secret“Classified!  Top Secret!”  People who handle sensitive information need a security clearance. Background checks determine if they are worthy of having knowledge that is critically important to the function of the government.  Companies keep secrets, too.  KFC has the “colonel’s secret recipe” for making chicken taste good.  Coca Cola has the recipe for a soft drink sold to billions of people ‘round the world.   

Christian, Jesus entrusted the secrets of the Kingdom of God to us!  He said,  “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you.”  (Mark 4:11, NIV)  We are ‘insiders,’ cleared by the Spirit to know the realities of God’s rule, while those without the Spirit see nothing at all!   When Jesus stood before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor was puzzled by the accusation made against him that he was a king inciting rebellion.  He asked Jesus, “Where is your kingdom?”  Jesus answered him with these words, cryptic to those without faith, “My kingdom doesn’t consist of what you see around you. If it did, my followers would fight so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Jews. But I’m not that kind of king, not the world’s kind of king.” (John 18:36, The Message)

How could Jesus claim to be a King while standing bound and beaten before a Roman government official?  Was He delusional?   No, He was and is the King of kings. His true authority was greater than command of an earthly army or authority over some mere nation!  He commanded the winds and waves. He held the universe together.  He made blind see, dead live again!  His greatest work was just ahead and Pilate was being used to accomplish it. What was that? The greatest mystery secret of the Kingdom – atonement and redemption!  By offering Himself for death, He would free the world from the grasp of sin.  

We who know Him today are Kingdom people, too.  What those who do not know the secret see as being duped or ‘out of touch’  is actually faith in action. Those who cannot understand the Kingdom of God cannot understand why anyone would choose to live with their focus on the unseen realm of the Spirit.   But, when our eyes are those of the Spirit, we choose to live by a wisdom that transcends the knowledge of this world.   God, the Spirit, gives to us the secrets of the Kingdom!

Living in the Kingdom lets us understand what it means when we “die to live,”  “give away to gain forever,”  “serve to rule,”   “turn the other cheek in meekness and gain great power,” “forgive those who mistreat us.”  Those who know the secret of the kingdom choose these things with joy, for they are releasing God’s power into their lives and the world around them.  Matthew 5 begins with the Beatitudes which are sheer nonsense to those who are not given the secret of the Kingdom!   “Blessed are the poor in spirit… blessed are those who mourn… blessed are the meek.”  Such words invite ridicule in a world where the rich, the happy, and the powerful are envied and emulated, yet they make sense to those who know the secret Kingdom, who organize their lives by the principles of the Kingdom of God.

 Which wisdom shapes your decisions?  
Are you living by the conventional wisdom that teaches you to go for the gusto today, to serve Self, to hold tightly to the trinkets of life?
Are you living to die, your only hope being what you can enjoy in these fleeting days of your earthly existence, or – as Jesus taught – are you dying to live with your destiny fixed in the Father’s house?    

There is a secret Kingdom that we can know.  It is seen through eyes of faith,  made plain by the Spirit revelation.  Jesus told a man of power and prominence – “I assure you, unless you are born again, you can never see the Kingdom of God…The truth is, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.” (John 3:3, 5 NLT)   Receive Christ as King and Lord today!   Let the Spirit cause you to be born anew, a living child of God, in on the secret of eternal life,  heavenly life right here and now!

Here is the word from the Word.  Paul speaks of the mystery, the secret, of the Kingdom.  “I do speak with words of wisdom, but not the kind of wisdom that belongs to this world, and not the kind that appeals to the rulers of this world, who are being brought to nothing. No, the wisdom we speak of is the secret wisdom of God, which was hidden in former times, though he made it for our benefit before the world began. But the rulers of this world have not understood it; if they had, they would never have crucified our glorious Lord. That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” But we know these things because God has revealed them to us by his Spirit, and his Spirit searches out everything and shows us even God’s deep secrets.” (1 Corinthians 2:6-10, NLT)

________________

 

Let Your Glory Fall

 Father of creation,

Unfold Your sov’reign plan.

Raise up a chosen generation

That will march through the land.

All of creation is longing

For Your unveiling of pow’r.

Would You release Your anointing?

Oh God, let this be the hour!

 

Let Your glory fall in this room.

Let it go forth from here to the nations.

Let Your fragrance rest in this place,

As we gather to seek Your face.

 

Ruler of the nations,

The world has yet to see,

The full release of Your promise,

The church in victory!

Turn to us Lord and touch us,

Make us strong in Your might,

Overcome our weakness,

That we could stand up and fight.

 

Let Your kingdom come

(Let Your kingdom come)

Let Your will be done

(Let Your will be done)

Let us see on earth

(Let us see on earth)

The glory of Your Son

 

Let Your glory fall in this room

 

David Ruis

© 1992 Mercy / Vineyard Publishing (Admin. by Vineyard Music USA)

CCLI License # 810055

Prince or Pauper?

Seek-the-KingdomA year ago in London a baby boy was born to rule.  Prince George is third in line for the throne, a royal by birth. Though he looks just like thousands of other boys in England, he will hold a place of honor and privilege. He will be prepared to take his place years from now as the crowned head of the kingdom. He must learn how to use the authority conferred on him so that he may rule well. 

On this Monday morning, do you know that you, too, have been given a place in a kingdom? 

Jesus said, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32, NIV)  The word used in the text does not mean a physical realm, a piece of real estate, or the crown of some nation.  Jesus said we (His people) are given the “basileia” – the authority to reign, royal dignity!  Before we go off on some silly tangent, lets read the context of that amazing declaration. 
“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? “Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!
And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.” (Luke 12:25-33, NIV)

 Daily life is often chaotic, filled with things that can make us quite anxious.  We have experiences like these:

Just when we think our financial circumstances are secure, the company announces a pending restructuring.
Pain signals that our body is not functioning properly and our doctor tells us that we need surgery.
Temptation rises up in us and we are frightened by its intensity.
Our confidence fails and we wonder how we will finish the tasks that are our responsibility.

Jesus, whom we trust Him as Savior and Lord, invites us to see rise above the panic that is common to humanity in such situations and to realize that we are part of a kingdom that knows no lack, failure, sin, or doubt!  We value our royal privilege too little, it seems to me.  Inviting people to enter the Kingdom of God and to begin to live in the King’s provisions and to exercise the King’s authority was the message that Jesus brought and that He commissioned us to share.  After He called the disciples and taught them, the Gospel says that He “gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases. He sent them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.” (Luke 9:1-2, NKJV)

I am well aware that some Christians read the promise and run off – unprepared and full of dreams – to attempt silly things supposedly in the Name of the King! Many others simply do not accept their divine privilege and continue to live as victims of sin and Self;  fearful, and weak. Our high calling is to be filled with the Spirit of God from Whom we gain wisdom.  From Him we gain depth of character and insight that allows us to exercise our princely authority.  Does the gift of ‘the kingdom’ make us exempt from the trials of life?  No.  The truth is that the Enemy of God takes aim at those who humbly receive the call.  They, however, are secure in Him, knowing that  “despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39, NLT)

Are you in the grip of anxiety today?  Find a place to ponder the promise. 
Ask the Spirit to teach you about your identity in Christ Jesus. Grow in grace and learn to live ‘in the kingdom.’

Here is a word from the Word –

“Jesus Christ, … is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.   
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Fatherto him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.”    (Revelation 1:5)

_______________

 

Majesty

Majesty! Worship His majesty!
Unto Jesus be all glory,
Honor, and praise.
Majesty, kingdom authority,
Flow from His throne,
Unto His own, 
His anthem raise!

So exalt, lift up on high,
The name of Jesus.
Magnify, come glorify,
Christ Jesus, the King!

Majesty! Worship His majesty!
Jesus, who died, now glorified,
King of all kings.

Jack Hayford

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

CCLI License # 810055

Do you believe the Bible is true?

bibleSeveral years ago I read a book that was entertaining as well as provocative.
The Year of Living Biblically  is the story of a man, A. J. Jacobs, Jewish by birth but not religious, who attempted to observe every commandment in the Bible in the most literal fashion possible. His experiences are hilarious but not disrespectful of the text.  He sums up his year with a discovery he never thought possible; that there is a world of the holy, the ‘other,’ that can enrich life even if it flies in the face of what the majority would call ‘rational.’ In his words – “I’m still agnostic. But in the words of Elton Richards, I’m now a reverent agnostic. Which isn’t an oxymoron, I swear. I now believe that whether or not there’s a God, there is such a thing as sacredness. Life is sacred. The Sabbath can be a sacred day. Prayer can be a sacred ritual. There is something transcendent, beyond the everyday. It’s possible that humans created this sacredness ourselves, but that doesn’t take away from its power or importance.”

I am a Biblical man. The holy text shapes my worldview, forms my ethics, and defines the Divine for me. Paul’s words to Timothy are written for me. “You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:15-17, NLT)  The holy Word commands me, rules me, challenges me, and comforts me. And, sometimes, I am confounded by what I read, too!

There is a movement, largely reactionary and based in a kind of fear, that has retreated to a kind of Biblical literalism that requires the ‘true believer’ to abandon his mind to the ‘truth’ of the Word.  Every word is to be understood as literal; well, until it isn’t! Even fundamentalists acknowledge that passages like this one – “You will live in joy and peace. The mountains and hills will burst into song, and the trees of the field will clap their hands!” (Isaiah 55:12, NLT) – are metaphorical.  I am not aware of any Christians who are prepared to invoke Leviticus when their son is rebellious and hand him over to the elders to be stoned to death. “If anyone curses his father or mother, he must be put to death. He has cursed his father or his mother, and his blood will be on his own head.” (Leviticus 20:9, NIV)  And there would be a lot of dead fundamentalist preachers if they held to the next verse – “If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.” (Leviticus 20:10, NIV)   I am not making light of the Scripture.  I am trying to make the point that using simple proof texts or reading words without context, study, and the help of the Spirit can lead to some strange conclusions.

So how do we read the Bible for all it’s worth?

First, we need a deep reverence.  God gave us the Scripture and we receive it as His work.

Second, we need real humility. I don’t stand in judgment of the Bible, it judges me. To say, “I don’t agree with that passage” and to discard it as irrelevant to life or as untrue, is the height of arrogance. A Christian does not stand in judgment of the Bible. The Bible judges him!  To say, “I am trying to find the meaning and application of this passage,” is completely different from saying, “I don’t accept it.”

Third, we need to be careful students. “Keep reminding them of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:14-15, NIV)  Our study is not about learning how to debate the arcane points of eschatology. (If you don’t understand that line, don’t worry about it. Those who do will know what I mean!) Study is about learning the whole of the Bible so that the Spirit makes the revelation our guide in life.

Fourth, we must be aware of how we are dragging our cultural ideals to the text.  I was amused by the re-interpretation of Genesis in the recent film, Noah.  In that movie, the great sin of humanity was not rebellion of against God but rather their failure to respect the Creation. They lived in cities and ate meat. The ‘righteous’ ones were humble earth dwellers and vegetarians. Current ideals about environmentalism and respect for animals got read back into the text.  That is not to say that the Bible is silent about caring for the earth. It isn’t! But, that was not the point of the Noah account.

Fifth, we approach the text with faith and prayerfully.  To read the Bible as literature is an adventure in missing the point. The holy text comes from the mind of God and we need the Holy Spirit to open our hearts and minds to receive the Word in its fullness.

Biblical Christians will live counter-culturally. The calls to serve God, to deny Self, to live for eternity and not for the present, to love and forgive even our enemies are in direct conflict with accepted wisdom.  Sometimes what we learn from the Bible will create convictions that will shape our lives in ways that bring hatred our way. Let’s respond as Christ would – quietly accepting the rejection for His glory.  And let’s not become noisy, confrontational, fundamentalists who largely miss the point of the beauty of the Word.

“How can a young person live a clean life?
By carefully reading the map of your Word.
I’m single-minded in pursuit of you;
don’t let me miss the road signs you’ve posted.

I’ve banked your promises in the vault of my heart
so I won’t sin myself bankrupt.
Be blessed, God;
train me in your ways of wise living.

I’ll transfer to my lips all the counsel
that comes from your mouth;
I delight far more in what you tell me about living
than in gathering a pile of riches.

I ponder every morsel of wisdom from you,
I attentively watch how you’ve done it.
I relish everything you’ve told me of life,
I won’t forget a word of it. “

(Psalm 119:9-16, The Message)

I’m so sorry, always sorry. You, too?

repent_sorry_sorryIn my conversations with a young man it became clear that he was deeply religious, a good guy who wanted to please God. He had made a long list rules that must be kept if he were to be a ‘good Christian.’  His ‘faith’ was about fear, not love. If he was not ‘good enough,’ he was convinced that bad things would happen to him, that God would judge him.  The most tragic revelation was that he had no real assurance that Heaven was his eternal home.  He knew the story of Christ and the Cross and believed it, but only in part it seems. His focus was on his own perfection, not on the gift of grace.

 John is surely not the first person, nor will he be the last, to confuse living a holy life with loving God.  We are conditioned by cause and effect, taught that we earn rewards by performing well.  God’s grace challenges what know ‘must be true!’  Paul calls us to the real Truth about knowing God. “Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. … For when I tried to keep the law, it condemned me. So I died to the law—I stopped trying to meet all its requirements—so that I might live for God. My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die. (Galatians 2:16-21, NLT)

That last line captivates me. If I could keep enough rules, govern my behaviors, be good enough on my own for God to accept me, then the Crucifixion is meaningless.  Something happens to people who come to Christ too often.  They are desperate in their guilt, feel ashamed, and have no reason to believe that God loves them.  The Spirit reveals God’s love to them, they see the grace of the Cross and accept the gift of God. Then, gradually, as the ugliness of their failures fade, their focus slips from what God does to what they do.  Loving Jesus becomes ‘going to church, not cursing, giving offerings, governing lust …’  it is an ever-lengthening list. Paul challenges that kind of thinking with a sharp rebuke. “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Have you suffered so much for nothing—if it really was for nothing? Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?” (Galatians 3:3-5, NIV)

Do some abuse this message and live carelessly in disobedience? Yes, they do.  In response we are tempted to turn to religion and damnation in the hope that we might ‘scare the Hell out of them.’  It works, for a while!  Fear is a very effective motivation in the short term.  Love, however, is what actually changes our hearts. We can never will ourselves to true holiness, never put enough restrictions on our hearts to become perfect. The miracle of grace will make us joyful Christians and the Spirit will lead us to genuine goodness.  The Bible says that “Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you. … My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness.” (Galatians 5:1, 16, The Message)

Are you trying hard to please God, Christian?  That’s a great desire.
But, how are you attempting it?   IF you depend on rules, accountability, shame, guilt, or fear you will slip into ‘the gospel of sin management.’ (Dallas Willard’s phrase) You will never live freely, never know the real assurance of loving acceptance that is the birthright of those who are God’s children by faith. 

 Look to Jesus!  Set your hope totally on Him. Abandon all hope that you will ever be ‘good enough for God’ on your own.And the life of the Spirit will fill you, accompanied by the evidence of His gift of grace.

Meditate for a few moments on the Message paraphrase of this summation of the Gospel.  Then, go live freely in Christ Jesus!

“But what happens when we live God’s way?
He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity.

We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way.

 

Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified.

Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives.

That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.”

(Galatians 5:22-26, The Message)

________________

 

I Stand Amazed (My Savior’s Love)

 

I stand amazed in the presence

Of Jesus the Nazarene,

And wonder how He could love me,

A sinner condemned unclean?

 

He took my sins and my sorrows

He made them His very own.

He bore the burden to Calvary

And suffered and died alone.

 

When with the ransomed in glory

His face I at last shall see,

‘Twill be my joy through the ages

To sing of His love for me.

 

How marvelous, how wonderful,

And my song shall ever be!

How marvelous, how wonderful,

Is my Savior’s love for me!

 

Charles Hutchinson Gabriel

© Words: Public Domain

Trained for God’s holy best!

runSelah, my little grand-daughter, is at that age when independence starts. She wants to do things by herself. She has learned how to say, “No.”  She knows when she is saying something that her Dad has told her not to say. Commendably, her parents are working on discipline. At age three, what she does is often cute and not very ‘bad,’ but she will be a teenager in a few years. At this time, it would be easier to just ignore her choices to disobey and laugh at her cuteness. After all, who enjoys a round of tears or making a little girl take a time-out?   I loved seeing their loving discipline which is not harsh but aimed at bending her will without crushing her spirit.

Selah caused me reflect on my relationship with my Heavenly Father. When God presents me with His will, do I question, delay, or resist?  Or, does He find a ready obedience in me because I know and trust His wisdom?  Paul urges us to “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. Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe.(Philippians 2:12-15, NIV)

The transformation of the Spirit brings about a deep desire to do what God wants us to do. Yet, the internal fight rages on, some days more intensely than others. God says, “Love that person!” We want to comply, but some part of our old nature says, “I don’t want to!” God says, “Trust me with that situation and let Me work it out for you.” A part of us believes that and wants to hand it over to Him, but another part of us says, “NO! I’ll work it out my way! I know what I want.”

Do you realize, child of God, that the joy of the Lord, the fellowship of the Spirit is found in ready willing obedience?  Beyond the blessings of God, there is another complication in willfulness. While we are griping about God’s will, we are more susceptible to other temptations.  The stories of the Israelite journey from Egypt to the Promised Land is a grand illustration of the Christian journey from sin to salvation. When did Israel fall into sin? When they started to complain about some situation. The longer they complained, the more deceived they became. Eventually, God would declare it was enough, lay His hand of correction on them, and bring them back into compliance with His will. But, the correction was always costly and painful!

When we quickly comply with God’s will – we are pure, sparkling examples of godliness! When we cooperate with the Spirit’s work in us, He produces a stellar quality of character that others admire because our lives stand in such contrast to the world. Just as an obedient son is a credit to his parents, so if we, as God’s children, are obedient, we become a credit to Him as our Father.

Are you resisting the Lord’s will today?
Is there some part of God’s plan for your life that you will not accept with humility?
Don’t make Him lay His hand on you. Instead, comply and with joy.

Here’s a word from the Word — “While we were children, our parents did what seemed best to them. But God is doing what is best for us, training us to live God’s holy best. At the time, discipline isn’t much fun. It always feels like it’s going against the grain. Later, of course, it pays off handsomely, for it’s the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God.” (Hebrews 12:10-11, The Message)

Better than Chanel No. 5

So, Christian, you’re heading out into the world this week with an awesome privilege. Do you know what it is?  You are an ambassador of Christ’s realm!! Yes, God has credentialed you (and me!) to represent Him before our neighbors, friends, family … all those with whom we come in contact.  Read this commission carefully even though you may be familiar with it.  “God … gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:18-21, NIV)

At the end of the day, what will people think of Jesus because of you?  Will they see the purpose that knowing Him gives us and want to join in His work of changing hatred to love, fear to faith?  Saving the world is an all-consuming purpose that He allows us to share. Will they see the generosity of spirit that being loved intensely makes possible and want to know His love, too?  Of course they might not get all that in just one encounter.  Like it or not, as we are identified as Christ-followers, others will form conclusions about Who Jesus is from the words we say, the attitudes we hang onto you, and the values that guide our choices.

fragrancePaul says that as we move through life, we leave behind a smell. To some, it’s a sweet scent. To others, it’s the stink of death!  “I am grateful that God always makes it possible for Christ to lead us to victory. God also helps us spread the knowledge about Christ everywhere, and this knowledge is like the smell of perfume. In fact, God thinks of us as a perfume that brings Christ to everyone. For people who are being saved, this perfume has a sweet smell and leads them to a better life. But for people who are lost, it has a bad smell and leads them to a horrible death. No one really has what it takes to do this work.” (2 Corinthians 2:14-16, CEV)

What ‘fragrance’ will you leave behind in the rooms you pass through on this day? Will people ‘smell’ the sweet perfume of the holiness of Jesus on you?  Paul asks, “And who is adequate for such a task as this?”  You see, we can’t splash on a little “Jesus” perfume to cover the stink of persistent and deliberate disobedience or hypocrisy! The fragrance of Christ permeates our lives ONLY WHEN we have spent time with Him, soaking in His Spirit which lets His character be created in us! Sit down and rest in His Presence. Invite Him to live in you. Then, your inadequacy will be wrapped and covered by His Presence. The ‘fragrance’ that trails you will be the sweet smell of LIFE, both pleasing to God and those who love Him!

Let me leave you with a little story my friend Marie Armenia told on Facebook last week about her Mom.  Keep in mind that Marie’s mom is 91 and has been a Christian for a long, long time.  She represented Jesus this way.  “During the course of our afternoon we saw a woman who had a tattoo on her wrist. She was waiting on my mom. My mother, who never met a stranger, took her wrist and said, “Oh, that’s pretty.” She asked her questions like, “Didn’t that hurt when they were doing that?” She is, at 91, still VERY curious about EVERYTHING. And then.. as I knew she would.. my mother got around to The Gospel. My mother was not grasping what the woman was ACTUALLY saying. Until she finally said it bluntly, “I do not want Jesus in my life. I do not want Jesus.” My mother was polite and loving to her, and a few minutes later we were on our way and back in the car. I looked over at my mother and huge tears were rolling down her face. She was crying about the choice the woman made. She was praying for the woman and so brokenhearted for her. I realized then that I was seeing the Heart of God sitting in the front seat of the car next to me. I was seeing God’s heart for humanity: pleading, calling, wanting none to perish;  not angry and vengeful but brokenhearted and mournful when anyone rejects His Only Son.”

 

So, how do you smell to the world as you pass through it?  I pray that the fragrance of Jesus leaves an unforgettable impression on others through you today.

_________________

 

Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me,

All His wonderful passion and purity.

O my Savior divine, all my nature refine,

‘Till the beauty of Jesus be seen in me.

–           Albert Orbson, public domain

Becalmed and waiting?

waitIn the mid-Atlantic, there is an area of becalmed waters about 700 miles across and 2000 miles long! It is called the Sargasso Sea. All around that area there are strong ocean currents, but nothing in it!  Much of it is covered with seaweed.  In modern times, plastic garbage that does not disintegrate collects there in tangles. Even the salinity of the water is higher than the ocean that surrounds it.  In the Doldrums, sailing vessels often sat at the edge of the Sargasso Sea for days making little or no progress.  What a metaphor for a life, becalmed!  Not a life of calm, nor one of peace, but one where our ship is stalled without wind in her sails.

Do you ever feel stuck in life, like the wind of the Spirit has stopped blowing;  in a place surrounded by the flotsam of life?   Alan Jamieson wrote that in such times, “the old ways of prayer, worship, Bible reading become dry and stale. The church worship and preaching that used to encourage us, teach us, and inspire us becomes barren ground.  God seems to extinguish one means of feeding our faith in order to make us hungry, even starving, for new ways. … Now that the way is void and empty, God comes to us in new ways, if only we can perceive them. When we are becalmed, we learn to wait.”   Perfect Storm, Abingdon, 2008

Are you becalmed, more like stuck, in some place –  waiting, wondering, watching?   The winds of the Spirit may be blowing, but it seems to from your point of view He moves around you, but not over you. We wonder when our ship will catch that Wind and resume forward progress, don’t we?   The temptation may be to try to stir up something of God in ourselves! Weary of waiting, we may ‘just do something’ without His leading, without His power.   We need to remember that we are moved by Self, Satan, or the Holy Spirit.  Only the Spirit accomplishes the purposes of God. Even our best intentions, apart from God’s direction, cannot produce the will of God.

Remember Abraham, the father of the faithful?  God’s promise came to him.  “You will be father of many nations.  All the world will be blessed through you.”  At advanced age, he was still childless. Becalmed, as it were, in life he chose make something happen. He fathered a child by his wife’s servant. It was a different time, don’t be thrown by morality of that choice. (Genesis 16)  His true error was not waiting on the Lord.  Hagar’s son, Ishmael, became a problem in the household, rather than a blessing.  God, in His time, fulfilled His promise with the birth of Isaac. “The Lord kept his word and did for Sarah exactly what he had promised. She became pregnant, and she gave birth to a son for Abraham in his old age. This happened at just the time God had said it would.” (Genesis 21:1-2, NLT)

The Psalmist’s prayer is one for those who are becalmed.  “I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope.  My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.  O Israel (people of God), put your hope in the LORD,  for with the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.”  (Psalm 130:5-7, NIV)

Jesus’ words to the disciples at the birth of the Church teach us about earnestly, expectantly, and patiently waiting for the Spirit to lead.  “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.” (Acts 1:4, NIV)  “Wait,” He said, “don’t rush off, go do something half-prepared, or try to stir up a revival.”  In God’s time, the Spirit moved on them. “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.” (Acts 2:2, NIV) “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” (Acts 2:4, NIV)  Those men and women set sail to change the world!

Waiting on the Lord requires deep faith. Others may see the choice as laziness or lack of enthusiasm. Others will claim to have a vision for you.  

Here’s the word from the Word.

“But there’s one other thing I remember, and remembering, I keep a grip on hope:
 God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
 They’re created new every morning.  How great your faithfulness!

I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over). He’s all I’ve got left.
God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits, to the woman who diligently seeks.

 It’s a good thing to quietly hope,  quietly hope for help from God.
 It’s a good thing when you’re young  to stick it out through the hard times.

When life is heavy and hard to take, go off by yourself.
Enter the silence. Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions:  Wait for hope to appear.”
-The Message, Lamentations 3:21-29

_________________________