So what, who cares?

brokenNearly every day my phone connects me with people in pain.  A mother whose son is in jail wept as she talked with me yesterday about how much she loved him in spite of his poor choices. My heart was broken for her and for him.  An elderly woman told me of her loneliness and frustration over her inability to serve others anymore.   There are calls about loss, sickness, disappointment, and sin.  These people, for whom I am a shepherd and friend,  give me the privilege of sharing their lives, their sorrow, their hopes.  What would we do without the hope of Jesus and His salvation?

One of the things that both angers and saddens me is the disregard for the weak and the poor that I see in the world all around me. Too often those who could make a difference, don’t! Those who should be in a position to help either do not care or, even worse, use their position only to exploit others and enrich themselves.  Perhaps I am just more aware than I was in the past, but it seems that unjust practices are increasing in nearly every part of our social structures.

In reading the Scripture this morning, I found this great encouragement in this passage that describes the “Lord’s Servant” ( a prophecy about Jesus) – “I will put my Spirit on him  and he will bring justice to the nations.  He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets.  A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.  In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged ‘till he establishes justice on earth.” (Isaiah 42:1, NIV)   The metaphors Isaiah uses to tell us of His gentleness may be hard to grasp.   A contemporary translation makes the truth more accessible. “He will not crush those who are weak or quench the smallest hope.” (NLT)

God’s justice is not brutal nor does it overlook those that the world regards as being of no consequence. His care and concern reaches the least and the low. My prayer is that His heart will be my heart.  The aged, the jailed, the sick, those who are foolishly following their lusts stumbling into greater slavery – I will care for them;  help me, Jesus! Will you?  Jesus spoke of the Day when all will appear before the Judge of All – the One who sees past deeds to the very intents of the heart – and said this: “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:34-40, NIV)

Bob Pierce, founder of Samaritan’s Purse, saw suffering children in Asia, and wrote in his Bible – “Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God.”  What a prayer!  May our hearts be open to being broken.  Is it pleasant to care? No.  Compassion demands action. Action requires sacrifice. Christian, let’s be like Jesus and take up the cause of those on the margins of life, give love to those who are unlovely, and carry a cup of water to those who are thirsty – for God’s sake!

The word from the Word is brief but powerful.  Lord, pierce our pretensions, fill us with the love of Jesus.
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27-28, NIV)

Let us hear these blessed words when we to Your holy Presence – ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” Amen.

The Hard Stuff

studyIn high school my lower marks came in math classes.  Why? It was not because I could not do the work. Algebra just required more effort than other classes. I was a reluctant math student!  Portions of the Bible are like that for me today.  Reading the words of Ephesians lifts my spirit and my mind engages readily with the words of faith and hope.  Then, there are books that don’t yield their inspiration to me quite so readily. Our Wednesday Bible study group is currently working through the book of Daniel. Last night we ran into the 8th chapter. His vision of a ram and shaggy goat, each with multiple horns, demands mental effort. I am grateful for the scholarly work that others have done that help me to mine the truth that informs and encourages.  Nevertheless, it is still not a chapter for those in search of quick inspiration.

When engaged with one of the difficult parts of the Bible I must renew my understanding that “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NKJV)   Daniel’s visions of the sovereign plan of God in human history, though hard for my mind to unravel, is every bit as valuable to my heart and mind as the comforting Psalm or the wonderful Gospel. After seeing how the Spirit showed that man things to come with the promise that the worst of human evil is limited by the decree of God, I was truly encouraged.

Christian, do you only read the passages that yield easily to your understanding?
Do you resist being a student of the Word, looking to the Holy Book for a sentimental lift?

Paul mentored Timothy, encouraging him to do the hard stuff, too. He said, “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 2:15, NIV)  The discipline of study is just as much a part of the mature Christian life as the discipline of prayer.   Remember Jesus asks us to love the Lord with “all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30, NIV)

Read the whole Scripture.
Study the revealed truth.
Let the Spirit show you the riches to be found even in the passages that we call the hard stuff.

Here’s the word from the Word today. “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.” (Galatians 5:25, The Message)  “So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush.”  (Philippians 1:9-10, The Message)

____________

Break Thou The Bread Of Life (Lathbury)

Break Thou the bread of life, dear Lord, to me;

As Thou didst break the loaves beside the sea.

Beyond the sacred page, I seek Thee, Lord.

My spirit pants for Thee, O Living Word!

 

Bless Thou, the truth, dear Lord, to me, to me;

As Thou didst bless the bread by Galilee.

Then shall bondage cease, all fetters fall,

And I shall find my peace, my all in all.

 

O send Thy Spirit, Lord, now unto me,

That He may touch my eyes and make me see.

Show me the truth concealed within Thy Word,

And in Thy Book, revealed, I see Thee, Lord.

Alexander Groves | Mary Artemisia Lathbury | William Fiske Sherwin

© Words: Public Domain

Diets, Fasting, and Devotion

trueriches“I have just got to have that,” we convince ourselves. For some, it is food. Are you convinced that missing a meal will ruin your life?  Others must have a schedule packed with activities. Do you believe that a day without ‘something to do,’ is unbearable?  We can love all kinds of stuff – cell phones, fine clothes, cars, houses, vacations, sex, drink – in a way that makes them our idols.  Worship is defined as ‘assigning worth, giving value, adoration’ and by that definition many of us worship the things we own.  The Scripture says that  those who are worshippers of this nature have a strange god; “their god is their belly!” (Philippians 3:19) In others words, they have traded devotion to Almighty Lord for the satisfaction of some earthly appetite.  Richard Foster writes, “Any life lived on the order of the body alone will end in emptiness. We simply cannot sustain meaning when the only measure of life is endless experience.” (Longing For God, IVP, 2009)

A great dinner is to be enjoyed. Caring for our appearance is part of healthy self-esteem. God created us with the capacity to experience pleasure and so we should!  A life of deprivation, poverty, or pain does not make one more noble or more authentically spiritual!  But, we need to learn a practice well-known in the Scripture and nearly unknown among Christians today – fasting.  Don’t stop reading now!  Fasting is not just about food. It is not just a discipline for wild-eyes fanatics. Fasting is a discipline for all Christians.  Its purpose is to break our devotion to lesser gods. Fasting may be abstaining from food and it can (and should) involve many other appetites.  We can fast by limiting access to technology for a time, or not watching TV, or refusing to buy things for a season, for example.

Even contemplating a fast can send us into a funk. “How can I survive a day without eating?” we wonder.  “Turn off my cell phone for a week? I just couldn’t.” we say.  Ah, but we can, and we should – for the right reason.  If we hope to impress God about how ‘good’ we can be our fast is nearly useless. If we want others to admire our depth of discipline when we fast, we are just being foolish and have an issue with pride that needs to be conquered.  If we want to convince ourselves that we are better than those ordinary Christians who do not fast, our understanding is faulty.  If we think that by fasting we can make God do something for us that we really want Him to do, we are misguided. He does not respond to hunger strikes!

A fast is a way to re-adjust our perspective, to reorder our hearts, and to regain our first love. Nothing more.  It’s just an exercise.  Done for that reason, fasting can help us grow in Christ.  Disciple, our focus is higher than this body! We are to love God – with all our mind, heart, and strength. In this, we find life to the full which He promised. We understand that the body is perishing and we do not despair because of that fact. We feed, clothe, and care for our body as the ‘temple of the Spirit,’ which it is, but we refuse to make it our god.

Consider the wisdom in this passage. “For many walk, (live their daily lives) of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame- who set their mind on earthly things. For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.” (Philippians 3:18-21, NKJV)

Are you worshipping your stomach? Do you define ‘the good life’ by food, comfort, or appearance? If so, break that idol! “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:2-3, NKJV) Practice the discipline of fasting (not just food!) to allow the love of God to flourish. Cultivate the inner beauty of a clean and righteous heart that cannot be taken away by the passing of time.

Those who serve the belly god become enslaved by the search for more and more exotic experiences to sate the senses. Lust and gluttony corrupt every part of their lives, shape every interaction, and ultimately their god is wrenched from their grasp by age and death. Those who serve the Savior are led to life, know joy, and take mastery over their body and appetites even as they take hold of eternal life, right here, right now!

Here’s a word from the Word. Let the Spirit speak.  Paul, deeply devoted to the Lord, a man of unquestioned maturity, acknowledges that failure stalks us all.  Here’s his counsel.  “Remember that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize. You also must run in such a way that you will win. All athletes practice strict self-control. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step. I am not like a boxer who misses his punches. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, NLT)

_______
Here I Am To Worship

 

Light of the world,

You stepped down into darkness,

Opened my eyes,  let me see-

Beauty that made

This heart adore You,

Hope of a life spent with You.

 

So, here I am to worship.

Here I am to bow down.

Here I am to say that

You’re my God!

You’re altogether lovely,

Altogether worthy,

Altogether wonderful to me.

Tim Hughes, 2000 ThankYou Music

CCLI License 810005

Stressed to the max?

delightA few weeks, when I was driving the narrow turnpike lanes in less than ideal weather with heavy traffic, feeling the pressure of getting to the airport on time,  the muscles in my shoulders and neck tightened. My breathing grew more rapid than normal.  My body had kicked into the old ‘fight or flight’ syndrome.  Dr. Walter Cannon, a Harvard physiologist, first described this very real and nearly universal reaction to any perception that we are going to be harmed.  It is hard-wired into our brains. When a threat is perceived, our bodies get ready for action.  Our heart rate increases, muscles tense; all without conscious thought. We feel it as ‘stress.’   Unless we learn to regulate that response, we can suffer unnecessarily, even doing real damage to ourselves over time.

We can learn to moderate the response!  On that turnpike, when I sensed my stress, I turned off the switch. I simply slowed down, moved into the right lane, and consciously told myself that I had built some extra time into the travel so that I would be on-time for the flight.  Then, I slowed my breathing and relaxed the tense muscles.  I ‘submitted’ to my situation instead of trying to fight it.

One of the spiritual disciplines that help us to become mature, healthy Christ-followers is submission.  We tend to regard it only as a part of relationships, submitting ourselves to leaders or governmental authority, as the Word teaches. It is, however, a practice for life that allows us to know inner peace.  Many share the tragedy of my life – only learning this key discipline – after many years of ‘fighting’ with life and bringing on all kinds of unnecessary stress. Jesus teaches us to life in this day, to accept the day’s trials and blessings with the grace that God provides for it.   There is great wisdom for life here, given to us by the Perfect Man – “So I tell you, don’t worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food, drink, and clothes. Doesn’t life consist of more than food and clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t need to plant or harvest or put food in barns because your heavenly Father feeds them. And you are far more valuable to him than they are. Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? Of course not.

“And why worry about your clothes? Look at the lilies and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and gone tomorrow, won’t he more surely care for you? You have so little faith! “So don’t worry about having enough food or drink or clothing. Why be like the pagans who are so deeply concerned about these things? Your heavenly Father already knows all your needs, and he will give you all you need from day to day if you live for him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern.” (Matthew 6:25-33, NLT)

The foundation of this kind of trust is faith in the Father and His ability to provide. When we make God too small or when we take life into our own hands, we no longer can submit to the day and live with peace. True submission brings contentment.  Paul, whose life was filled with days of trouble, says “I have learned how to get along happily whether I have much or little. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything with the help of Christ who gives me the strength I need.” (Philippians 4:11-12, NLT)

The key word in both of those passages is the word ‘need.’  Stress forms around what I want.  We seldom verbalize our desires, but we are often governed by them. Our lives formed around what we want, with our present situation never being enough.  I want more money. I want a better job. I want a different kind of house. I want to be loved more than I feel I am loved. I want to …  we are champions of wanting, aren’t we?   But, when our desires are allowed to rule us, when we push, fight, kick, and scream to make life work on our own terms, we do much damage to ourselves and others, to say nothing of the ruin of our Christian experience.  “But, Jerry,” you ask, “is it wrong to desire change, to want to make a difference?”  Not at all.  When we learn the discipline of submission, we are much more able to discern the difference between godly ambition – desiring the things of the Kingdom – and selfish ambition that enslaves us to our lusts and passions.

Meditate on this passage for a few moments today.  Take note of the promise that God will give us the desires of our heart, but only when we have learned to be delighted with Him!  (The Hebrew word we translate as “delight” means to laugh, to be light, as young lovers are taken with each other’s presence!)   Oh that our hearts and minds would be captivated by God, giddy with joy that He would love us.

 “Trust in the Lord and do good. Then you will live safely in the land and prosper. 

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires.
Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you.
He will make your innocence as clear as the dawn,
and the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun.

Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act.
Don’t worry about evil people who prosper or fret about their wicked schemes.
Stop your anger! Turn from your rage!
Do not envy others— it only leads to harm.
For the wicked will be destroyed,
but those who trust in the Lord will possess the land.”
(Psalm 37:3-9, NLT)

___________

Rules! What a bother!

The National Football League says that the New England Patriots played the first half of the championship game with footballs that were not inflated to regulation pressure.  Some say, “No big deal!” Others may it out to be an offense worthy of daily national news coverage.  Still others excuse it saying “Everybody does it.”  I don’t know how or why it happened, but the game has rules and rules matter.  Did it make much of difference? Probably not, but that is beside the point.  The integrity of the game requires teams to play by the rules.

Clean HeartI gripe about rules sometimes. But, being a reasonable man I know that without rules and laws ours would be a world of chaos, a place where we could not live in security!  A few years ago, when the deck on the house we lived in at the time was rebuilt, I chafed at some of the regulations that our town had for construction.  The deck had to be moved over by 24” to meet side lot regulations in spite of the where the house was built. Silly stuff. Laws are like that sometimes, blind to the circumstance, but that is the price of order. I don’t like when a police officer pulls me over for going a little too fast, but I am very thankful because he is patrolling drivers who might otherwise drive while intoxicated think twice, which protects me.

Fences and boundaries can be a very good thing in a world where real sinners live.

God gave us the Law to show us the best way to live. Sometimes the rules run directly into our preferences. Sometimes, in light of our desires, they seem downright restrictive. But, they show us what pleases Him.  When we come to Christ and the Spirit changes us, inside out, we learn to respond to the prompting of the Spirit.  As we grow in grace and maturity, we need rules less and less because our hearts are aligned to His will. Paul was inspired to explain it like this? “The law (Moses OT code) was our guardian and teacher to lead us until Christ came. So now, through faith in Christ, we are made right with God. But now that faith in Christ has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian. So you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:24-26, NLT)

It’s good to go back and check the regs from time to time. The BIG TEN give us a summary of His expectations.  Have you read Ten Commandments recently? We would do well to memorize them. Make no mistake! Keeping them, if we could, won’t get us to Heaven! No amount of rule-keeping can make us right with God. Only Jesus Christ can forgive our sins, but the big ten serve the purpose of building some fences.  They are recorded in Exodus 20.

Here’s a paraphrase of what He told them.

1. No other gods but Me.
2. No idols in your life.
3. Don’t misuse my Name by claiming to act under my authority when you’re not.
4. Keep one day out of seven for worship (a Sabbath) following the Creation pattern I established.
5. Honor your parents and you’ll live longer.
6. No murder.
7. No adultery.
8. No stealing.
9. No lying about your neighbor.
10. No lusting for your neighbor’s stuff, his wife, or anything belonging to him.

We can spending a lot of time searching for loopholes, studying them to death, and twisting them to fit everyone but ourselves; or we can thank God for the wisdom He shared with us and conform to His rules. They can guide us to faithful reliance on our Savior who makes us holy starting in our heart, or they will stand as a witness against us when we are summonsed to the Throne to face the Judgment! Which will it be for you? Reading that ancient code I found myself challenged anew by the holy expectation of my Father. I am a free man in Christ Jesus, not bound by the Law of Moses, but it does inform me about the quality of the love that God seeks in me for Himself and for those who live alongside of me.

Read the big ten with appreciation today, and then take this Word with thanksgiving.  “Those who depend on the law to make them right with God are under his curse, for the Scriptures say, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the commands that are written in God’s Book of the Law.” So it is clear that no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” This way of faith is very different from the way of law, which says, “It is through obeying the law that a person has life.” But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing.” (Galatians 3:10-13, NLT)

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Take Time To Be Holy

Take time to be holy,

Speak oft with thy Lord.

Abide in Him always

And feed on His Word.

Make friends with God’s children,

Help those who are weak.

Forgetting in nothing

His blessing to seek.

 

Take time to be holy,

The world rushes on.

Spend much time in secret

With Jesus alone.

By looking to Jesus,

Like Him thou shalt be,

Thy friends in thy conduct

His likeness shall see.

 

 

Take time to be holy

Be calm in thy soul,

Each tho’t and each motive

Beneath His control.

Thus, led by His Spirit,

To fountains of love,

Thou soon shall be fitted,

For service above.

CCLI Song # 93748

George Coles Stebbins | William Dunn Longstaff

© Words: Public Domain

Take Each Day From His Hand

builderI am tired after dreaming what seemed like all night.  In scene after scene I was struggling through frustrating circumstances.  In one I was attempting to lead a worship service where musicians doing their own thing and the people in the congregation were conversing with each other loudly. In another I was trying to make my way through a forest where thorns tore at my clothing and vines tripped me.  So, were my dreams just the result of my brain sorting through the information and emotions of yesterday? Or, was God speaking to me to remind me of my utter dependence on Him?  Perhaps both are true.

The Psalmist reminds us to seek God first. “Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat— for he grants sleep to those he loves.” (Psalm 127:1-2, NIV)  Christians can enjoy security and productivity when they learn to live centered in God’s purpose and providence.  It is simple to write, but oh so difficult in practice. Our natural bent is to assume control when life is good.  Jesus’ invitation to seek first the Kingdom slips from our minds when life is humming along.  At the other extreme, we may turn foolishly on the Lord when hard times come, refusing to pray like a pouting child refuses to accept the comfort of her mother.

There is a blessed kind of rest for God’s children that is found in taking each day from His hand! We can learn to accept both good seasons and bad ones as well with thankfulness knowing that we live under His watchful care.  That is not to say that we become content to drift along, trusting fate.  God gives us the privilege of choice. He gifts us with intelligence.  He teaches us about the law of harvest – that the seeds we sow today bear fruit tomorrow.  That is why we must engage with life, working at making beautiful things and defeating sin in ourselves and in the world in which we walk.  But, we need not do so with anxiety and frustration. Why? Because surrounding those things is the assurance of His powerful care and His promise to make His purpose prevail.

Genesis tells us the story of the Curse of sin. In stark language we learn that our best efforts will be frustrated by weeds and suffering.  Who can read the Lord’s word to Adam without feeling the weight of His judgment? “Cursed is the ground because of you;  through painful toil you will eat of it  all the days of your life.  It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.  By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Gen. 3:17)  But, we need not live in that place or under that condemnation!

Christ came to reverse the Curse. Yes, in Adam all die, but in Christ all are made alive. “What a difference between our sin and God’s generous gift of forgiveness. For this one man, Adam, brought death to many through his sin. But this other man, Jesus Christ, brought forgiveness to many through God’s bountiful gift. And the result of God’s gracious gift is very different from the result of that one man’s sin. For Adam’s sin led to condemnation, but we have the free gift of being accepted by God, even though we are guilty of many sins. The sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over us, but all who receive God’s wonderful, gracious gift of righteousness will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:15-17, NLT)  Through faith in Him, we enter the Kingdom of the beloved.  It is a Kingdom not yet fully revealed. We still deal with death and disease, but not in despair. Instead, we trust, wait, and receive grace to endure until the full Kingdom comes.

Here’s the word from the Word for those of us who are working through frustrations. Own the promise with me today.

“Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love?
Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or are hungry or cold or in danger or threatened with death? (Even the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”)

No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love. 

Death can’t, and life can’t.
The angels can’t, and the demons can’t.
Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can’t keep God’s love away.
Whether we are high above the sky or in the deepest ocean, 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 8:35-39, NLT)

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10,000 Reasons

Bless the Lord, O my soul,

Worship His holy name!

Sing like never before,

O my soul,

I’ll worship Your holy name.

 

The sun comes up,
it’s a new day dawning.

It’s time to sing Your song again.

Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me,

Let me be singing when the evening comes.

 

You’re rich in love and You’re SLOW to anger,

Your name is great and Your heart is kind.

For all Your goodness I will keep on singing,

Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find!

 

And on that day when my strength is failing,

The end draws near and my time has come.

Still my soul will sing Your praise unending,

Ten thousand years and then forevermore.

CCLI Song # 6016351

Jonas Myrin | Matt Redman

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The Court Will Sit!

heshallreign“All rise,” the bailiff barked, “the court will come to order.”  The judge entered wearing a long black robe and took her seat, raised above the rest.  Only after she was seated did we sit down. Only when we were spoken to, did we speak. The protocols are designed to impress those in the courtroom of the solemnity of the proceedings and the power of the court. I am not easily intimidated but a courtroom is one place where I feel very small!

Daniel writes of a court without parallel in this world.  In a vision about the culmination of history, he glimpsed the proceedings that will bring about the judgment of the world. “I watched as thrones were put in place and the Ancient One sat down to judge. His clothing was as white as snow, his hair like whitest wool. He sat on a fiery throne with wheels of blazing fire, and a river of fire flowed from his presence. Millions of angels ministered to him, and a hundred million stood to attend him. Then the court began its session, and the books were opened.” (Daniel 7:9-10, NLT)  What does all that mean?  Frankly, I do not know, nor does anyone. But we get the overall picture – God is Mighty, Revered, and will bring the world to account!

Daniel also saw the rebellion of the earth, telling us of his vision in picture language.  One empire after another rising and falling, but one particularly evil.  He saw a ‘little horn’ rising that made war on God’s people. This ruler so hates God and good he attempts to eliminate every reference to the Holy One on earth. “He will blaspheme the High God, persecute the followers of the High God, and try to get rid of sacred worship and moral practice. God’s holy people will be persecuted by him for a time, two times, half a time.” (Daniel 7:25, The Message)  The thought is harsh and seemingly hopeless, isn’t it?

But the court will sit, and his power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever.” (Daniel 7:26, NIV)  God strides into the scene and by His irresistible decree removes evil.  I love it, don’t you?  “May Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven,” I pray.

Maybe the vision of Heaven’s court called into session terrifies you.  Then, you need to know that you have an Advocate. When I was part of court proceedings, my lawyer stood alongside of me.  He was my representative. He spoke on my behalf. He made the case for me.  Jesus Christ is our Advocate. We need not fear destruction or judgment.  We are guilty!  But, in Christ, our sin-guilt is removed.  John says,  “If we say we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and refusing to accept the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts. My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if you do sin, there is someone to plead for you before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who pleases God completely.” (1 John 1:8-2:1, NLT)

Daniel saw the Savior/Messiah in outline in his vision.  After the court sat, before the proceedings started, Daniel writes “I saw someone who looked like a man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient One and was led into his presence. He was given authority, honor, and royal power over all the nations of the world, so that people of every race and nation and language would obey him. His rule is eternal—it will never end. His kingdom will never be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13-14, NLT)  Yes, He is both King and Priest!  He rules and He comforts.

The meanings of Daniel’s visions can be hard for us to grasp.  But, the basics are clear! “The court will sit!”  God will not allow evil and wicked men to resist Him forever. He will bring judgment.  His people will be vindicated and will join Him in eternal glory.  That much I understand.  I believe it. I receive it. I live in the hope of the coming of the King.  Do you, dear friend?

Here is the word from the Word. “For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with self-control, right conduct, and devotion to God, while we look forward to that wonderful event when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing what is right.” (Titus 2:11-14, NLT)   Hallelujah, Amen!

________________

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

Are you ready to go home?

Love-Faith-Hope-design-585x585Al Stein came to know Christ at Faith Discovery Church (then Washington Assembly) when we were both young adults. He sensed God’s call and prepared for full-time ministry. Over the many years since then, our paths would cross from time to time, both of us pastors, fathers, and disciples of Jesus.  Last night I learned that “Steiny” was in Heaven!  He preached at his church this past Sunday and then later in the day, he was killed in an auto accident. The news hit me hard!

I am comforted as I think of Al Stein’s death by the fact that he was a man who loved Christ and did His will.  He died as we see it from our side but, in fact, he only changed his address.  He is more alive now than he was a week ago – alive, never to die.  He became a new being at that transition moment.   I do not understand the ‘how,’ but I hold the promise in faith – that Al lives – ‘absent from the body and present with the Lord.‘  (2 Cor. 5.8)

Thinking about Al, makes me ponder the opportunities seized and those missed!   This reminder of the brevity of this earthly life renews the question:  “Jerry, are you doing your best in God’s service?  Are you offering your ‘utmost for His highest’ or are you pushing important decisions off to another day, assuming that life will go on and on?”   Given the limits of perspective, I suppose that  the better question to ask is a prayerful one.  The Psalmist’s prayer moves me beyond self-examination and invites the eternal Spirit to work in my heart and mind.   “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24, NIV)   I see the future dimly, if at all. He sees my life, not just in this moment but in the context of eternity.   “Oh, lead me, Lord, to live a life worthy of Your love, full of Your beauty, and focused on Your eternal home” is my prayer.

Let’s not forget that today is packed with opportunities that are unique to this moment!  This day cannot be erased or relived. When it is done, it is over.  The promise of Heaven is a wonderful comfort, but until then we cannot drift along through life.  There is simply too much at stake to waste time.  I go often to Moses’ Psalm (90) where I find a prayer about living well.  Moses, the man who loved God deeply, also respected God’s judgment, albeit tempered by His love.  In the center of the Psalm is this prayer.  “Oh! Teach us to live well! Teach us to live wisely and well!”   It my prayer!  Is it yours?   Are you just ‘killing time’ letting one day flow into the next drifting with the current of events, or are you a change agent of the Kingdom of Heaven?   Paul urges us to excellence. He says, “So be careful how you live, not as fools but as those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity for doing good in these evil days. Don’t act  thoughtlessly, but try to understand what the Lord wants you to do.” (Ephesians 5:15-17 )

How do we live a life that brings Heaven to earth, connecting today with the timelessness to come?

Be thoughtful!  Lives that matter do not just ‘happen,’ they are intentional!

Exploit the opportunities that come your way!

Be intentional finding purpose in God’s will and Word, not the ‘wisdom’ of the world.

For a life lived well, there is a reward.  Sometimes we get to experience the reward now, but we are guaranteed a perfected knowledge when we finally step into Heaven.

Here’s the word from the Word. “Love will last forever, but prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will all disappear. Now we know only a little, and even the gift of prophecy reveals little! But when the end comes, these special gifts will all disappear. It’s like this: When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child does. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly as in a poor mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God knows me now. There are three things that will endure—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:8-13, NLT)

Al, we remember you with joy and join our Savior in saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”   The memory of your earnest discipleship blesses us. Rest well, dear brother.

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What A Day That Will Be

 

There is coming a day,

When no heartaches shall come,

No more clouds in the sky,

No more tears to dim the eye.

All is peace forevermore,

On that happy golden shore.

What a day, glorious day, that will be.

 

What a day that will be,

When my Jesus I shall see.

When I look upon His face,

The One who saved me by His grace.

When He takes me by the hand

And leads me thro’ the Promised Land,

What a day, glorious day, that will be.

 

There’ll be no sorrow there,

No more burdens to bear.

No more sickness, no pain,

No more parting over there.

And forever I will be,

With the One who died for me,

What a day, glorious day, that will be.

Jim Hill

© 1955. Renewed 1983 Ben Speer Music (Admin. by ClearBox Rights, LLC)

CCLI License # 810055

Who is leading you?

godguidanceGPS is amazing technology!  While visiting our children in Florida I was able to drive around an unfamiliar city, never once asking direction, never lost.  The signals from satellites in orbit thousands of miles above, coupled with programming that measures time and geometry in a little device in my car, directed me to multiple destinations. Even when I missed a turn, the device just recalculated and provided an alternate route.  Back in 2007, on a trip with my Dad and Mom, I brought along my GPS device. As we drove, the ‘voice’ gave us direction. My Mom, of another generation, remarked, “What a boring job she has, just sitting there telling us where to go.”  She was even more amazed when I told her there was no ‘she’ there, just a chip in a computer generating sound.

Christian are you accepting the guidance that God promises, secure in His direction, led by His hand? Isaiah tells the people of the Lord that they can expect to “hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”  (30:21)  The era of the Holy Spirit is here. Jesus said when “the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.”  (John 16:13)  We who know the Lord need never feel lost, lack direction, or be fearful of the way ahead. Why? We never walk alone or without guidance.

How do we become people led by the Spirit?

There is submission.  God does not promise to lead us in our way, but He will guide us in His way.  We do not presume to program our destination and then demand that He take us there. Yes, many of us try and get frustrated when He is silent. Does submission frighten you?  Then I can tell you that you do not know the heart of the Father.  He is not capricious nor cruel. Does it sometimes appear that way? Yes, it does. We cannot understand the mysteries of life, the suffering, the disappointment.  But, if we want to be led by His hand, we must let God be God.

There is obedience.  “Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.” (Galatians 5:25, NLT)  When we willingly choose to hang onto something in our life that we know is outside of the Lord’s will, we create static. In my pastoral work I have people tell me, “I just don’t know why God isn’t speaking, leading. Where is He?”  As we explore their situation, more than a few times some issue emerges where they are unwilling to follow the Spirit in obedience. That area of resistance creates a kind of cognitive dissonance. They are trying to hold two contradictory ideas in their mind and the stress blocks the leading of the Spirit.  When He urges us to change, if we desire to know the ongoing security of being led, we must obey.

There is patience.  I know it sounds so clichéd to say that God’s time is not our time, but it is basic spiritual truth!  Those things that seem so urgent to us may be of little consequence to the One who is Eternal.  Do you live in reaction to your life or in response to the Spirit?  The question is basic to knowing His guidance.  He is not just solving the problems of this moment, He is shaping you and me for the purposes that span generations and into Eternity.  Let that sink in.  You know this passage but it remains true: “For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9, NLT)

Are you letting Him lead?
Do you enjoy the security of knowing that the One who knows tomorrow is holding your hand today?

This is one of the great blessings available to the people of the Lord.

Here is the word from the Word. Ponder it. Meditate in it. And may His purposes become yours, for His glory. “For as the sky soars high above earth, so the way I work surpasses the way you work, and the way I think is beyond the way you think. Just as rain and snow descend from the skies and don’t go back until they’ve watered the earth, Doing their work of making things grow and blossom, producing seed for farmers and food for the hungry, So will the words that come out of my mouth not come back empty-handed. They’ll do the work I sent them to do, they’ll complete the assignment I gave them. “So you’ll go out in joy, you’ll be led into a whole and complete life. The mountains and hills will lead the parade, bursting with song. All the trees of the forest will join the procession, exuberant with applause.” (Isaiah 55:9-12, The Message)

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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 Savior.

 

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)

For use solely with the SongSelect Terms of Use.  All rights reserved. http://www.ccli.com

CCLI License # 810055

Just leave them alone?

Brother’s-KeeperWhen is the best choice to just ‘leave it alone,’ and when is it time to ‘speak the truth in love?’  When we see another choosing a pathway that we know is wrong, that offends God, or that will eventually bring pain, is it offensive to ‘judge,’ to point to the way of life?  I often struggle to find the best way to love the world in which I walk.  Jesus teaches us the importance of seeing the ‘person,’ not just his behavior. Paul counsels us to accept one another. But, does that mean we never say a word that instructs or rebukes?

On a visit to my son’s coffee shop last week, I met several homeless individuals who come in for a cup of coffee or a handout regularly.  Ragged clothing, matted hair, and the pungent body odor that floats around them makes them a presence to be reckoned with. To his credit, Sean loves these men as much as he can.  One was wearing some shoes Sean purchased for him last month. Each one gets a cup of coffee. But, they don’t enjoy the community of the shop. it was clear that their lingering presence was not desired by the others – and who can blame them for wanting to enjoy their coffee without the smell or obnoxious behavior?  Yes, I know that these poor souls are where they are because of mental health issues and/or addictions and my comments are not without compassion. But, when is it right to just  leave them alone and when it is right to intervene in ways that would allow them to enjoy real affection and a healthier life?

Their plight is a kind of parable for me when thinking of people whose lives are broken by sin, whose drag around the stench of hatred, who are slaves of their appetites, who find themselves alone too often.  Every interaction we have must begin with genuine acceptance that wordlessly announces:  “You matter to me because you are a person.”   Some would suggest that acceptance, which is the Lord’s command, should be followed with ‘accommodation.’  We should not only accept them, we should affirm their choices, make them feel good about who and what they are.  Really?  Can we actually say to the sinner:   “You are fine, just as you are.”  Is that the most loving response or even the one the Lord would desire?

Jesus told us not to judge, but He did not take away our responsibility for one another.  His full counsel is “First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.”

Jude teaches us that a one-size-fits-all approach misses the will of God. “Build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life. In this way, you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love. And you must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives.” (Jude 20-23, NLT)   The ONE thing that the Word does not teach us to do is to disengage or step away!

Keep your own relationship with Christ fresh!  We encourage each other, pray real intimate prayers, and remember that we are all saved by merciful grace.  The sure knowledge that our lives are hidden in Christ is the core that keeps us true.  Nothing speaks more powerfully than a rich, current, and deep love of God.  It makes us shine.

For those still captives of sin Jude shows us multiple responses. Some need mercy, a genuine compassion that sees where life Is beyond their control, where they are captives of their experience, their past, or their incomplete understanding.  Others need rescue!  We have to stage an intervention.  Risking offense, we tell them the truth about the way they live and their ultimate end, judged by God.  Jude says it’s like reaching right into the fire and pulling the stick out before it’s burned. What an image.  And, for such a person, we need a healthy fear of the power of temptation so we don’t get drawn into their disobedience.

Taking the Gospel into our world is no easy calling. It requires the insight and wisdom of the Spirit, which is given to us all.  I hope you agree that real love never just leaves others alone, out of some mistaken sense of privacy.  My prayer – “Lord, keep us in your love and let us be people of healing, Truth, and light. Amen.”

Here’s the word from the Word. “But you, dear friends, carefully build yourselves up in this most holy faith by praying in the Holy Spirit, staying right at the center of God’s love, keeping your arms open and outstretched, ready for the mercy of our Master, Jesus Christ. This is the unending life, the real life! Go easy on those who hesitate in the faith. Go after those who take the wrong way. Be tender with sinners, but not soft on sin. The sin itself stinks to high heaven. And now to him who can keep you on your feet, standing tall in his bright presence, fresh and celebrating— to our one God, our only Savior, through Jesus Christ, our Master, be glory, majesty, strength, and rule before all time, and now, and to the end of all time.” (Jude 20-25, The Message)

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Make Me A Blessing

Out in the highways and byways of life

Many are weary and sad.

Carry the sunshine where darkness is rife,

Making the sorrowing glad.

 

Make me a blessing, make me a blessing!

Out of my life, may Jesus shine.

Make me a blessing, O Savior, I pray.

Make me a blessing to someone today.

 

Tell the sweet story of Christ and His love;

Tell of His pow’r to forgive.

Others will trust Him if only you prove,

True ev’ry moment you live.

 

Give as ’twas given to you in your need.

Love as the Master loved you.

Be to the helpless a helper, indeed.

Unto your mission be true.

George Schuller

Ira Wilson