Terrible times, what will we ever do?

feet“California will run out of water in one year!”  Well, that was the headline that caused me to stop and read the whole article. Further reading confirmed that though there is real concern about levels in that state’s reservoirs, a repeat of the Dust Bowl is not imminent!  The shocking, the dire, the desperate, the sensational grabs our attention in all the static that is daily life.

Are you one of those Christians who needs a crisis to get motivated?
Do acts of devotion decline when is life is good?
Do you only pray fervently when some ‘prophet’ publishes a sermon proclaiming God’s imminent judgment on America?

Entire ‘ministries’ are built around manufacturing ‘crisis.’  Taking a kernel of truth, these prophets of doom know how to profit from fear.  There are those who predict the demise of Christianity by pointing to the sin and secularization of America.  Selected statistics produce great alarm  (and bigger contributions!).   When I was a teen, the 1970’s, the sermons and books of the preachers in evangelical Christianity warned of the rise of the Anti-Christ and the coming of a world government that would bring a bloodbath of martyrdom to the faithful.  A whole generation of Christians lost sight of the richness that the Gifts of the Holy Spirit could bring to their lives due to bad eschatology. (study of End Times)  Too many of us built our entire spiritual experience around fear instead of hope!  Paranoia replaced vision!   Instead of confidently embracing God’s Gifts to build the Kingdom of Christ in the world where they lived, millions of Christians fearfully hunkered down in their churches, staring at charts that predicted an imminent Great Tribulation and hoping for the Rapture!

While some of us waited for Jesus to deliver us to Glory, others heard the call of the Spirit to go and make a difference in Jesus’ name by the power of the Holy Spirit.  In spite of all the doomsday preaching of that era, the Church has grown by leaps and bounds in Latin America, Africa, and even – wonder of wonders – in Communist China!   Lest you be concerned about my convictions, let me assure you that I love the promise of the Second Coming of Christ. But, He will not just come to save a few, He will come to show the world His splendor, to defeat evil, and to set His Kingdom in place! Peter tells us that the troubles of life should not make us cower in fear.  Look at his encouragement. “Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—because these trials will make you partners with Christ in his suffering, and afterward you will have the wonderful joy of sharing his glory when it is displayed to all the world.” (1 Peter 4:12-13, NLT)

Are you living behind walls trying shut out every threat that some fire-breathing TV preacher exaggerates?  Are you reading all those books that declare the end of the world?   Sin and suffering are real. God does allow nations to drink the cup of His judgment, to be sure.  But …  if you are living in awful fear, I want to gently suggest that you have missed the major part of the Story!  Christian, God wins!  Jesus is King!  Satan is defeated!  We are held firm in the grasp of One who will never let us.  Read the glorious 8th chapter of Romans!   In one brief, breathtaking passage, we are told of God’s plan, about our destiny as His children who now call the Lord of Glory, “Abba!” That means -“Dad!”

We are urged to keep faith even as we work through the difficulties of life.   The chapter closes with this shout of victory.  It is the word from the Word today. “What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? . . .  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”   (Romans 8:31-32, 37-39, NIV)

Oh, and here’s one more amazing, inspired text that fills me with confidence today despite living in a world that is marred by Darkness and Death. “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:15-17, NKJV)

___________________________

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;

Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.

Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,

Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

 

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;

I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;

Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;

Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

 

Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight;

Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight;

Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tower:

Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.

 

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,

Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:

Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,

High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

 

High King of Heaven, my victory won,

May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s Sun!

Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,

Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

— 8th Century Hymn

The best investment you can make

church-picThe young woman told me, “We joined our church today. It’s a big step.”  And, indeed, it is! This couple, and their child, are making one of the most basic choices for building a strong faith foundation for themselves that will carry over into the lives of their children.  In a conversation last week with a man, in his late 60’s, he told me that one of his regrettable choices was to abandon the local church as a teenager. He only returned in his late 30’s, after a divorce helped him to see the need of regular spiritual care. Today, he serves his local congregation joyfully as an elder.

Are you an active participant in the life of your church; serving in some way, part of a small group, really attending the Sunday services, not just sending your body to occupy a seat? Many Christians in our time are keeping a private faith but ignoring the church.  I have served in pastoral ministry for 40 years and know something about discipleship.  Christians who live the most authentic lives of faith, who are doing  best in service, are invariably part of a church.  They may attend a little fellowship in the neighborhood or a mega church in the mall. The form of their worship may include choirs and hymns or praise team with guitars. The pastor may wear a robe or be a preacher in a polo shirts. But, there is one common thread of the saints who pass the faith along – they are involved.  Congregational life, as hard as it can be, changes us.

Still, millions of Americans insist:  “Church is not for me!” Some point to scandalous behavior of clergy as the reason to leave church behind. Others point to boredom. Others are offended by some point of doctrine in their church.  And, some just don’t want the discipline that comes with commitment.  I’m a pastor and I will be transparent – some Sundays I would like to stay home, too! All the same issues that bother others creep up on me.  I hate the scandalous behavior of Christians who gossip about each other or fight over stupid ego issues. I struggle with some points of doctrine, too.  When I do not bring my whole self – body, soul, and spirit – to church, I get bored sometimes, too.  But, I go and I would even if I were not the pastor. Why?  Because the Church is not a human invention. It is God’s plan.

The attempt to practice a personal spirituality that is divorced from meaningful engagement with Christ’s Body, the Church, is in direct contradiction of the Scripture, both Old and New Testament.  God first called His people together. Israel was more than a nation.  God chose her to be His holy people; giving them a priesthood, a calendar of feasts and festivals, and commandments that directed their daily lives. Judaism could not be understood as a private experience.  God, though known personally, revealed Himself in the context of the people.  With Jesus’ coming, a new Body was born, the Church.  No longer was it a matter of being born with the right DNA. Now, about being born of the Spirit.  And, those who shared the Spirit were called into the Church where “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28, NIV)

The Spirit empowers Christians in different and complementary ways, so that God’s work will be done wholly.  But, it takes a church.  Yes, the Church has been battered by sin and failure in her two millennia of existence.  When the Spirit is ignored and human schemes embraced, along with politics and power, corruption follows. Yet, over and over again, God revitalized His Church. In the darkest eras, He preserved for Himself a holy people to tend the fire. And, He is doing that today.

Corruption, greed, apathy, and institutionalism are only  a few of the ills that sicken the Body of Christ. But, if we abandon the church for some private, personal spirituality, we turn our back on what Christ Himself loves. The Word says that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing a her by the washing with water through the word,  and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”  (Eph 5:25)  The purpose for the church is far beyond sociological. It is a place with a divine  plan to display “ the unsearchable riches of Christ,  and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.”   (Eph 3:8)

Are you ignoring God’s calling?
Are you casual about participating in His plan?

We are “those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy.”  (1 Co 1:2)

We are invited to be  “trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.”  (Isaiah 61:3)

Pray about your church involvement. Ask God where He is calling you. (Now that is a radical idea!)  Many choose a church like a consumer buying something:  is the building attractive, the preacher a good speaker, the children’s program and music good?  Church is not about you or me. It’s about God calling us into His Body. When we answer His call, there is the joy of obedience.  So, where are you going to be next Sunday morning?

__________

Mixing up our rights with God’s gifts

psalm91The young man kept repeating a phrase, “I have my rights.”  He resisted authority, broke rules and the law, and was facing some stiff penalties.  He could not or would not understand that his refusal to act responsibly was creating his misery.  He is convinced that people owe him respect, support, and unrestricted freedom but he has proven, again and again, that without supervision he will fail. He is his own worst enemy, but he is blind to that fact!

Do you believe that God owes you blessings, healing, salvation, peace, joy? Do you consider these things your ‘right?’ Many Christians do! But, like that young man I met last week, they do not live where they can enjoy His blessings.  I am not saying that we can earn God’s rich blessings by being good enough!   But, we do have a responsibility to accept His rule, to obey Him, so that we can enjoy all that He has prepared for us.  He does not owe anything, but He loves to give us all things.

Read the opening line of this Psalm. “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” (Psalm 91:1, NIV)   To dwell means to live, to stay, to be at home.  The rest that we can know in the Presence of God comes when we choose to live near to Him.  “If you make the Lord your refuge, if you make the Most High your shelter, no evil will conquer you; no plague will come near your dwelling.” (Psalm 91:9-10, NLT)  We cannot demand God’s blessings.  We should not expect them if we are living sinfully, willfully, or at a distance from Him because we are chasing after lesser gods!

I know that some will read these thoughts and turn them into a religious exercise.  They will think that they can obligate God by meeting some standard, that He will have to give them answers to their prayers because they have earned enough merit points through good works. If that is how you are reading these lines, pray for understanding. God calls us to Himself because He is loving and kind. He pours the Spirit into our hearts at the impulse of His grace and mercy. We are saved from sin at His initiative! “Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:9-10, NLT)

And, with that salvation comes an invitation to a life that is responsive to the leading of the Spirit. “Since we live by the Spirit,” Paul says, “let us keep step with the Spirit!”  And when we do, we are led into the fullness of joy, finding a quality of life none can demand, but that only the obedient and the faithful can enjoy.  Jesus spoke of the reward of those who do the will of God. “ Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” (Matthew 25:23, KJV)

If you are full of frustration, devoid of joy, angry, and miserable – check your attitude. Are you demanding what you mistakenly believe are your rights as a child of God?  Come near to Him humbly. Surrender and let Him lead. Then, you will live this word from the Word. “Because he loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation.” (Psalm 91:13-16, NIV)

___________________

Near To The Heart Of God

There is a place of quiet rest,

Near to the heart of God.

A place where sin cannot molest,

Near to the heart of God.

 

There is a place of full release,

Near to the heart of God.

A place where all is joy and peace,

Near to the heart of God.

 

O Jesus, blest Redeemer,

Sent from the heart of God.

Hold us who wait before Thee,

Near to the heart of God.

Cleland Boyd McAfee | Liz Wagley

© Words: Public Domain

I am possessed by a stubborn hope!

We think life is pointed in the right direction, hope for a stretch of smooth road, then the phone rings or a letter arrives and … there is another ‘situation.’  After one of those phone calls yesterday, I remarked to my administrative assistant, “Could I get even one month without having a major challenge show up in my life?”  Almost in the same breath, I put the problem in God’s hand with faithful expectation that He knows the way and that He is working for our good.

hopeWhen, as a little boy, I would complain about something I found unpleasant my Grandma used to quote a snippet from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  She would say:
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.

Disappointment turns some into angry people. It turns others into cynics never seeing a good thing in anyone or anything!  It brings on despair in a few – a deep kind of depression turns every day to darkness.  There is a better way to deal with life’s disappointments. It’s called HOPE.

The Christian’s hope is much more than mere optimism. It is a core conviction that God rules, that He is actively working for our good.  I know that, but at our Bible Study fellowship last night, while reading Romans 8 to the group, the promise took hold of me powerfully.  Emotion choked me as I read those amazing words inspired by the Spirit.  “We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn, with many brothers and sisters. And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And he gave them right standing with himself, and he promised them his glory. What can we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us?” (Romans 8:28-31, NLT)  If you are wrestling with some uncertainty today, go back and read those lines out loud.  Let the Word own you, settle you, and give you peace.

Our Christianity is not just about eternal life. Yes, Heaven is on the horizon but IF we walk with the Lord with hope today, those unexpected disappointments are met with a supernatural serenity!  Peter says it like this: “In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” (1 Peter 1:3-6, NIV)

In this season, as we prepare to celebrate the Resurrection, meet the challenges, the sorrows, the disappointments – with ‘living hope!’  Because Christ emerged from His Tomb, even the grim, dark valley of death, the last enemy, is overcome. Not even the thought of our mortality can steal our hope and joy because of the inheritance of eternal life that is assured.

When disappointment comes, one of the first casualties is often faith. Don’t let that happen to you. Instead, choose to trust. The bitterness of missed expectations is sweetened when we set our ultimate hope in the Lord! Here’s a word from the Word for the disappointed. Isaiah 40:30-31 reminds us that: “Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;  but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary,  they will walk and not be faint.”

In this broken world, full of disappointment, marked by uncertainty about tomorrow, yes, with rainy days that come to all of us – we are people of hope. Ours is not a naive and silly way of thinking that will not see life as it is. It is not escapist.  We are possessed by a hope settled on the rock solid guarantee of eternal life in God and His promise to work in us today to accomplish His will. And so we pray, ever more earnestly, “May your Kingdom come, and Your will be done – on earth, as it is in Heaven.” Amen.

________

My hope is built on nothing less

Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

I dare not trust the sweetest frame

But wholly lean on Jesus’ Name!

 

On Christ, the Solid Rock, I stand;

All other ground is sinking sand!

  • Public domain

Going to Hell?

Their young son, now a student in college in Georgia, rejected the Christianity that was the core of his life as a boy, becoming a militant atheist. The parents, broken in heart, told the reporter doing the story on CNN that they were convinced their son was going to Hell. I surely hope that is not their first concern right now for him! Do not get me wrong. I accept what Jesus and the Bible teach about the existence of an eternal place of suffering devoid of the presence of God. As much as I find the doctrine difficult and even repugnant, if I believe in Heaven based on the Bible’s promise, (and I do!) then I must also accept Hell as a real place. But, I am also convinced that some kind of failure of love right here is a much more important issue than worrying about going to Hell!

judgeThe newly minted young atheist in Georgia spoke of being rejected by friends and family because of his atheism.  While I do not know ALL of the story, I hope he does not face hatred in the Name of God which will reinforce his fascination of a life without God.

I have not known many atheists but of the few I do know, I have heard them tell me that they rejected faith in God because of some kind of prior failure of the Church or Christians!  Some were poorly treated during a crisis time in life. Others were harshly judged and ostracized by Christians at the very moment they needed to be loved.  One man was abused by a priest and concluded that all of Christianity was a fraud. Then, too, some confuse the dogma of their denomination with the Word of God, rejecting some doctrine and throwing away belief in God at the same time.

Telling a person who is already struggling with doubt or reeling from disappointment that he is now “going to Hell” is surely not the best or first response. Christians, secure in the faith, held in the grasp of the loving Father, can and should be lavish in their love for those who hate their faith.  That does not mean we agree with their mistaken rejection.  It does not mean that we throw out a welcome mat for their hatred of God and Christ. But, we can love them!  Jesus does!  We remember that Christ died for us while we were still sinning against Him and we know that He died for those who hate Him still.  A deep and patient love becomes a powerful witness to the Truth of our convictions.

A fear-based “Christianity” that is long on laws and short on love misses the point.  John teaches us that ‘perfect’  (which is best read as complete or mature, not as flawless) love replaces fear with great confidence. We no longer concern ourselves with fear of Hell because we are in possession of the Promise of Heaven!  “This is real love. It is not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love has been brought to full expression through us. And God has given us his Spirit as proof that we live in him and he in us. Furthermore, we have seen with our own eyes and now testify that the Father sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. All who proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them, and they live in God. We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in him. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we are like Christ here in this world. Such love has no fear because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of judgment, and this shows that his love has not been perfected in us. We love each other as a result of his loving us first.” (1 John 4:8-19, NLT)

Hell is not my first concern for those who do not know God.  My desire is to share the love of the Lord, to hold the door open  that they might be drawn by the Spirit into His Kingdom, and find ‘life to the full’ (John 10:10) that Jesus offers.  Hell is real but neither you nor I sit on the Judgment Seat to determine who goes there!  Our privilege is to share the love of Christ.  Let’s do it:  honestly, gently, always reflecting the goodness of the Lord to the world in which we live.

And here is a word from the Word. Lord, help us to truly hear it. Amen.
“Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here’s what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts.” (James 3:13, The Message)
“Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced.” (James 3:17, The Message)
“My dear friends, if you know people who have wandered off from God’s truth, don’t write them off. Go after them. Get them back” (James 5:19, The Message)

The ‘Secret’ of Radical Obedience

Being the President of the United States is a tough job! We expect much of the man who occupies the Oval Office. The pomp that surrounds him, the motorcades, bands, Air Force One, and security detail create a picture of a man who enjoys almost godlike powers.  So we want him to create world peace, keep our economy prosperous, defeat the terrorists, and make sure that all of that Federal largesse keeps flowing to us!  We tend to let the carefully crafted image of being “The President” eclipse the reality that’s he just a politician in high office, a person who pulls on his trousers each morning one leg at time, just like us. We feel better if we think that he is bigger than life.

awesomeBecause God is Spirit, invisible to us in His Person, we tend to make Him too small! When we rob God of His majesty, our faith shrinks, too.  In our age of inquiry, we do not value mystery as much as explanation.  An unintended consequence of all our study is often to tame God.  Thinking we know more than we do, we explain away His mighty acts.

So how does He reveal Himself to us?  David sings, “The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world. God has made a home in the heavens for the sun.” (Psalm 19:1-4, NLT)  Yes, the world tells us of His greatness.  Jesus Christ shows us His wonderful heart.  He asks,  “How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?  Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.”

Honest pursuit of the knowledge of the Holy One brings His majesty into sight, His grandeur only increasing with discovery!   In that great hymn, A Mighty Fortress is Our God, a line that says, “Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same.”   Yahweh T’sebaoththe Lord of Hosts– is a name given to God often in the Old Testament.   Some modern translations say “Almighty God” but The Message comes closer to the real intent of the tithe.  In that translation we read “GOD-of-the-Angel-Armies.”    The Hebrew – “tsaba” – is a generalized word that means a force, a group, or an army. When the Scripture calls God, Yahweh T’sebaoth, the intent is to show us His power that is beyond challenge.

Let’s not trivialize God! Let’s not confuse a Christian fish on your car’s bumper, wearing a jeweled cross, or saying a ritual prayer before we drop off to sleep with the worship He desires, worship that is offering in “spirit and in truth.”   Yahweh T’sebaoth is honored by our implicit trust and complete obedience. Both of those are impossible if we make Him too small.  They are difficult sometimes because He only allows us to see a slice of time that doesn’t include a neat ending to the story of our lives!  But, we reveal our true faith and understanding of Who He Is when we see how we live in the trials that lead us into the depths of mystery.

Let me illustrate obedience.
If you think your project manager is competent, if you understand her goals, if you agree with her strategy, it’s easy to fall in line, isn’t it? If our leader inspires us we readily put ourselves wholeheartedly into the effort they are leading.

But what about the times when you don’t know the plan, when you only have your assignment, and have not worked with the one in charge enough to really know if she’s all that competent as a leader?   It is natural then to wonder – “Is this the right thing to do? Will this really succeed?”

God is Yahweh T’sebaoth – “GOD-of-the-Angel-Armies.”    Let’s trust Him totally  even when He doesn’t reveal the whole plan to us! The General of Heaven’s Armies is also the “Alpha and Omega” (The Beginning and the End) so, when He sends us into the battle in life – be it with temptation, with sickness, with Satan or his demons- we go with full assurance, and with authority – not of our own making, but from His Name!    David, just a teenager, went to do battle with Goliath, the giant champion of the Philistine army that was holding the line against the armies of Israel.    Filled with faith and in spite of not knowing exactly how the Lord would provide the victory, the teenage shepherd strode onto the field where the contest would take place.   His courage came from knowing he was in the Lord’s army.   As he approached the skilled warrior, he said, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty (Yahweh T’sebaoth), the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.  This day the LORD will hand you over to me… and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel.”  (1 Samuel 17:45-46, NIV)   And, we know the rest of the story.    David defeated the hero in the power of the Lord and God’s Name was honored.

Who is trying to stymie God’s work in your life?
Who is trying to discourage you, cause you to doubt or fear?
Bow in humble reverence, magnify God in sincere praise.

Pray that because of your reverent obedient that ‘the whole world will know that there is a God!’

Here is the word from the Word.   “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.”  Amen  (Ephesians 1:17-19, NIV)

___________________

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

Fighting in Saul’s Armor?

One of the most liberating choices we can make is something called – acceptance. God knows who you are. He knows your situation. He equips you with spiritual gifts. And, in accepting His will on this day, you will find GREAT joy.  Learning to be the best YOU that you alone can be shows spiritual and emotional maturity. There will be those who have more money around you. Will you allow jealousy to take over? Your friend will get a promotion you thought you deserved. Will you let resentment fester like infection in a wound?

AcceptanceEvil lives in comparison and envy.  “Why isn’t my life like his?” is a question that has no good answer.  In acceptance of the will of God, we can discover our potential in our current situation. We will stop dreaming about being someplace that looks more desirable.  Literally millions of Americans pull up stakes, on average, every 5 years to start over in a new town, with a new career.  Marriages fail, often not because of dysfunction, but from discontent.  We do not put a high value of life-long commitments to our family, our work, our community. Nearly everything has become disposable.

Do not confuse acceptance with resignation. Some heave a big sign and just ‘give up’ but they continue to wish they were someone different, living in some other place. Genuine acceptance leads to excellence because it brings contentment and willingness to ‘bloom where we are planted!’

Will you accept the place God has given to you today?  The source of our joy is not our circumstance.  Our security and our peace comes from the Lord.  Pursue Him! Turn your heart to know Him.  “A single day in your courts is better than a thousand anywhere else! I would rather be a gatekeeper in the house of my God than live the good life in the homes of the wicked. For the Lord God is our light and protector. He gives us grace and glory. No good thing will the Lord withhold from those who do what is right. O Lord Almighty, happy are those who trust in you.” (Psalm 84:10-12, NLT)

There is a powerful lesson about just being ourselves in the story of David’s battle with Goliath. The young teen showed up at the battlefield with provisions for his older brothers. When he heard the Philistine hero insulting the Lord, his faith kicked into high gear.  He asked to take on the giant.  King Saul invited him to come and present his plan.  David told him  “The Lord who saved me from the claws of the lion and the bear will save me from this Philistine!” Saul finally consented. “All right, go ahead,” he said. “And may the Lord be with you!” Then Saul gave David his own armor—a bronze helmet and a coat of mail. David put it on, strapped the sword over it, and took a step or two to see what it was like, for he had never worn such things before. “I can’t go in these,” he protested. “I’m not used to them.” So he took them off again. He picked up five smooth stones from a stream and put them in his shepherd’s bag. Then, armed only with his shepherd’s staff and sling, he started across to fight Goliath.” (1 Samuel 17:37-40, NLT)  David could not fight in Saul’s armor but he could succeed when his was exactly who and want God wanted him to be.

You cannot live in another’s blessing, use another’s gifts, either. God has called you and equipped you. What has God given you? Where has He placed you? Paul, writing to a younger preacher named Timothy, urged him to avoid the trap of fighting with others to be ‘top dog,’ and about the lure of having more. He said, “godliness with contentment is great gain.” (1 Timothy 6:6, NIV)

Let the Lord use you – starting right where you are, just as you are.

Faithfulness today leads to tomorrow’s promotion!

____________

Down to the most minute detail!

Personal-Relationship-hopeinthehealingThe government knows me as a number, 9 digits are my identity! Myriad companies know me as an account. Multiple databases exist to store information about my purchasing patterns, my income, my political affiliations, and more.  It amuses me when I get a letter created by a computer that attempts to convince me that Global Company, Inc. knows me personally.  And it frightens me a little when I see advertisements appear in my email or on my Facebook page that really are tailored to my interests because it shows me that computers are tracking me!  But, I really do like personalized service.  It feels good to sense that someone (the doctor, a waiter, the mechanic) has taken an interest in me.

Do you know Who knows me best?  God, the Almighty One!  When I pray, I am interacting with a Person.  I believe that God is here, near, and interested in me!  The Bible, where God reveals Himself, is rich with personal language about Him: God loves, God provides, God is our Father.  Most people acknowledge the existence of God but, for many, God is not He.  It is a distant Force or a remote Figure- unknowable.  Even many who attend Christian churches recite an orthodox creed, go through accepted rituals, and live by a moral code all while having no sense that God is Personal and Present.

Jesus Christ left His place in Heaven, became fully Man, (the mystery of the Incarnation) to show us the face of God.  When the disciples were fearful, He told them: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.” (John 14:5-11, NIV)

The Man who fed hungry people, who let kids crawl all over Him, who wept at the grave of His friend is the face of God!  We must not allow ourselves to think of God as a remote Being, somewhere, out there, powerful but not here and near.  Read the Gospels seeing God as Jesus reveals Him!

What does this mean for us?

It means that we can share our lives with God, that we can know Him, relate to Him; yes, really love Him! Those without faith may mock us, or think that we being childish – rather like the little girl having a tea party with an imaginary friend but we will know Him.  When we sense His Presence and receive the Spirit of God to live in us; life will change. That sense of being alone, which is so common, is replaced with a sense of belonging, and we will find our place in the family of God.

So what’s your need today?
Is it for guidance? Is it forgiveness? Is it empowering to tackle some new task?
Is it strength to stand up to evil, to make a Kingdom difference? Is it just for Someone to care and share your joy and/or sorrows?  Come to the Savior! He is our Friend.  Find a quiet place and talk with him in prayer, making it personal. Then, wait; listen, and receive the grace that He promises to those who love Him.

Here’s the word from the Word – The Bible reminds us that “we have a great High Priest who has gone to heaven, Jesus the Son of God. Let us cling to him and never stop trusting him. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same temptations we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it.” (Hebrews 4:14-16, NLT) In a world where we often feel like a number or a function, there is One who cares for us, who loves us, who knows our greatest fears, our secret dreams, our hidden sins, our public successes, and our heart! He loves us and desires that we love Him.

He is our Personal Savior- accessible and understanding.
___________________________
What a friend I’ve found,
Closer than a brother;
I have felt Your touch,
More intimate than lovers.

What a hope I’ve found,
More faithful than a mother;
It would break my heart
To ever lose each other.

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus — Friend forever.

What A Friend I’ve Found
Smith, Martin
Copyright: 1996 Curious? Music UK (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

lovemostThe government agency exists to provide care to the most vulnerable people, children. It exists to protect and help those who are abused or neglected. While interacting with several of their employees and agents doing their work yesterday I realized the missing component – love!  In  a conversation with a confused, lost, out of control teenager, one of the people remarked not unkindly, “Matt, you are going to have to help yourself. When we go home tonight, none of us is going to lose any sleep over you.”  I know what she was telling him, that no one can do for him what he has to do for himself;  but I also saw the implication of her statement – he is a client and she is just ‘providing services.’  She is doing her job.

“None of us is going to lose any sleep over you,” echoed repeatedly in my mind and I prayerfully asked the Lord to reveal any times or places where I attempt to carry out my work without real love. Do I just provide a ‘service,’ without really seeing the people or their needs?  Am I competent and even efficient, yet lacking love?  If so, then even my best efforts will yield no lasting results.

The Scripture says, “If I could speak in any language in heaven or on earth but didn’t love others, I would only be making meaningless noise like a loud gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I knew all the mysteries of the future and knew everything about everything, but didn’t love others, what good would I be? And if I had the gift of faith so that I could speak to a mountain and make it move, without love I would be no good to anybody. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would be of no value whatsoever.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, NLT)  Eloquence, insight, profound faith, even great sacrifice done for any reason other than love – for God and for others – is wasted effort.  Think about that.

When ministry turns into duty, when spiritual service becomes about reporting statistics, when we confuse hours of ‘community service’  with faithful exercise of spiritual gifts, the work of Christ in this world will never be done as God intends  or with the same power or passion.  A religious scholar once asked Jesus which commandment was most important.  Jesus answered that there were two commandments necessary:  “Love God wholly and love others as you love yourself!”  The man seemed to understand loving God, but he wanted to know, “who is my neighbor?”  As He often did, Jesus answered by telling a story.
“There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest (a man most respected by society) was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man (a man who understood ethics and obligations under law) showed up; he also avoided the injured man.  

“A Samaritan (a person from a group considered morally inferior) traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.’

“What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?” The Message Luke 10:30-36

Christian, let’s take every opportunity today to serve others in love. Love makes all the difference.  Perhaps you are just not ‘feeling the love!’  We all get exhausted. We all are prone to lose sight of the why behind the what occasionally.  Remember what the Word teaches us:  Love comes from being loved.  None of us can ‘force it or fake it’ for long. Authentic love flows from receiving love.  John says, “God is love, and anyone who doesn’t love others has never known him. …  Real love isn’t our love for God, but his love for us. God sent his Son to be the sacrifice by which our sins are forgiven. …  No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is truly in our hearts. …  We love because God loved us first.” (1 John 4:8, 10, 12, 19, CEV)

What’s love got to do with it?  Everything!
“Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut, Doesn’t have a swelled head, Doesn’t force itself on others, Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle, Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, 

Doesn’t revel when others grovel, Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything, Trusts God always, Always looks for the best, Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end. Love never dies.
” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8, The Message)  “But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13, The Message)

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The Love Of God

The love of God is greater far,

Than tongue or pen can ever tell.

It goes beyond the highest star

And reaches to the lowest hell.

The guilty pair, bowed down with care,

God gave His Son to win.

His erring child, He reconciled,

And pardoned from His sin.

 

O love of God, how rich and pure!

How measureless and strong!

It shall forevermore endure,

The saints and angels song.

 

Could we with ink the ocean fill

And were the skies of parchment made.

Were every stalk on earth a quill

And every man a scribe by trade;

To write the love of God above

Would drain the ocean dry!

Nor could the scroll contain the whole

Though stretched from sky to sky.

Frederick Martin Lehman | Meir Ben Isaac Nehorai

© Words: Public Domain

Do You Cry?

I cry often;  not for myself, not because I am weak, not even because my life is miserable. I am quite blessed, really!  I am not a crybaby. In the first half of my life I seldom cried, careful to maintain a distance from the sorrows of others. These days, I find tears in my eyes just about every day for the broken hearts in the flock God has entrusted to my care.  Hidden in the corners of the world where we live many are sad.  I see them more clearly now than I once did. There are the elderly that I visit who are often so lonely. I visited a nursing home yesterday where I found an old saint confused about where she was. I sat by her bed, held her hand, and we cried together as I read the Word to her. There are those whose sins have crushed them. A letter from a young man in jail crossed my desk and as I read his words of regret and remorse, I cried with him.  There are those for whom the future is frightening. A teenage boy called, his voice full of emotion as he described his life, and I felt his angst, my heart moved for him.  There are those who are in crisis. Another person spoke with me about her struggle with anxiety, of trying to find her way through a really hard time, and yes… tears welled up, again!

breakheartDo you let the pain of this broken world touch your heart?  Are you willing to empathize, willing to enter into the grief?  Yes, tears can be a cheap substitute for action.  We can choose to wear our emotions openly but never really commit to making a difference. Or, we can weep with those who weep and share their burden, prayerfully and with compassionate action.  Jesus refused to stand apart from those who suffered. He was a strong man who was not afraid of tears and sorrow.  That famous little verse in John tells us that when He saw the grief of Mary and Martha and stood with them at the tomb where their brother’s body lay that He wept!  Then, He prayed!  Life was restored!

When we see people around us with eyes that see like Jesus’ eyes, we will be moved.  Compassion is a powerful thing, compelling us to make a difference. Bob Pierce, founder of World Vision, a ministry cares for millions of suffering and poor people, wrote this prayer on the flyleaf of his Bible when we first found himself confronted with terrible poverty. “Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God.”  Out of his willingness to weep came a vision, and from that vision, emerged a mission that is changing lives.

One day Jesus and his friends were making the trip from Jerusalem to Galilee. He chose to take them through Samaria, a place generally avoided by the devout Jews of that era.  John says that at Noon, He sat down near a well and sent the men into a village to find food.  While he was there a woman whose life was broken, whose heart was bruised, showed up.  He saw her real need, shared the promise of living water with her and changed her life.  When His friends returned they were full of questions, seeing only the obvious, not the hidden need.  Jesus challenged them. “As you look around right now, wouldn’t you say that in about four months it will be time to harvest? Well, I’m telling you to open your eyes and take a good look at what’s right in front of you. These Samaritan fields are ripe. It’s harvest time! “ (John 4:35, The Message)   See the need, men, and get involved!

See the need!  Some say that ‘ignorance is bliss,’ and perhaps, in one sense, it is. If we choose to avert our eyes from need we can avoid shedding tears of compassion. But, is this God’s way?   Jesus quoted Isaiah as He revealed His Messianic mission. One line stands out and it is not about great glory, but of profound empathy. ” The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me… He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted.” (Isaiah 61:1, NIV)  We are like Him when we weep with those who weep.

Here’s the word from the Word, a promise of healing.
“Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me. I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God.” (Psalm 69:1-3, NIV)

But I pray to you, O LORD, in the time of your favor; in your great love, O God, answer me with your sure salvation.” (Psalm 69:13, NIV)

The LORD hears the needy and does not despise his captive people.” (Psalm 69:33, NIV)

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Healer Of Broken Hearts

 

Is your life full of heartaches and sadness?

Are your dreams all shattered and torn?

There is One who through mercy and suff’ring,

For you ev’ry sorrow has borne.

 

Do the threads of your life seem so tangled,

That you wish you had never been born?

There is One who is willing to help you,

He knows ev’ry sorrow you’ve borne.

 

He’s the healer of broken hearts,

He’ll mend your shattered dreams.

He’ll pick up the threads,

Of your broken life,

And weave them together again.

To your soul He’ll bring peace and joy,

A Friend in need He’ll be.

The Healer of broken hearts,

Is Jesus of Galilee.

Georgia Stiffler

© 1945. Renewed 1972 Fred Bock Music Company (Admin. by Fred Bock Music Company, Inc.)

CCLI License # 810055