Dirty, Stinking Feet

When I am dining out, be it at the local diner or for a dinner at a good restaurant, I really  appreciate good service. Wait staff who are attentive, keeping coffee cups filled, but not hovering, who get the meal right the first time, are rewarded with a generous tip. It does not take me long to recognize whether the server is just ‘doing his job,’ or if he is fully engaged, intent on making dinner pleasant for those he is serving.

How do you serve?  Yes, it is a question for ALL of us.

dirtyfeetOn the night of His betrayal, the most stressful night of Jesus’ earthly life, He was not pre-occupied with His own needs. John tells us that ‘He knew His hour had come.‘ Despite knowing that His own death was imminent, Jesus was not focused on Himself!   We would not find it strange if we read that He asked the disciples to “Gather ’round me, guys. Give me support for this terrible time.” Indeed, later at the Garden of Gethsemane He would ask to pray with Him but, at dinner, while they bickered about their standing, about who was most important, He got up, took a towel and basin, and served them. “He now showed the disciples the full extent of his love … poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel he had around him.” (John 13:5, NLT)

Foot washing was one of the most menial jobs in an ancient household. It was a nasty, but necessary job in a day when there were no sidewalks, lots of livestock, and little in the way of modern sanitation. Sandaled feet were dirty, stinking feet and needed to be cleansed of the filth that no one wanted dragged into the house. The host never did it. It was a job for slaves. Yet, in this amazing anecdote John tells,  Jesus washed the feet of the men who walked and talked with Him because He loved them! He wasn’t shaming them for their fighting about self-importance. He wasn’t looking for their admiration. He was just doing what needed to be done.

He made it a teachable moment.  “After he had finished washing their feet, he took his robe, put it back on, and went back to his place at the table. Then he said, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You address me as ‘Teacher’ and ‘Master,’ and rightly so. That is what I am. So if I, the Master and Teacher, washed your feet, you must now wash each other’s feet. I’ve laid down a pattern for you. What I’ve done, you do.” (John 13:12-15, The Message)

There are many ways to take up the towel and the basin, disciple.

Are you living as a servant, caring for people with genuine concern that flows out of a heart of love?
We wash someone’s feet when we absorb their anger without retaliation.
We wash someone’s feet when we offer them affirmation when we are crumbling inside.
We wash feet when we forgive another’s selfishness, letting go of our rights.
We wash our spouse’s feet when we learn to who they are and enter their dreams.
We wash our children’s feet when we gently, firmly, show them how to live without exasperation.

Americans tend to think that others owe them service.  It’s part of our present culture of entitlement. Do thoughts similar to these run through your mind?

– “I’ve worked hard, who’s going to thank me?”
– “If somebody doesn’t show some appreciation ’round here, I’m going to start doing the minimum required of me.”
– “Doesn’t anybody realize how important I am?”
– “Back off, man, this is my territory.”

Take this word from the Word into your heart today. It will produce amazing transformation.
“Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave- just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28, NKJV)

Jesus leads us into a different kind of life.
Greatness in Christ’s eyes does not come from ordering others to serve your agenda.
It comes from being the servant of many, empowering others to become the persons God desires.

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Make Me A Servant

Make me a servant, humble and meek.

Lord let me lift up, those who are weak.

And may the prayer of my heart always be:

Make me a servant, make me a servant,

Make me a servant today!

Kelly Willard © 1982 CCCM Music (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc.)

CCLI License # 810055

Are you good enough for God?

goodenoughWhen I entered high school, my Dad made me a promise:  graduate at the top of your class and I’ll buy you a new car!  He never paid up on his promise. He did not have to because I did not make the condition of his promise.  My Heavenly Father has promised me a home in Heaven.  Am I good enough to own it?  I know the answer to that question. Yes!  There is a place prepared for Jerry, my name is already on the door.   How do I know that?  Because the conditions of God’s promise are fully met by another on my behalf.

Using Abraham as an example, Paul writes – “Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” (Romans 4:20-25, NIV)  God called Abraham and told him that if he would follow Him in faith, He would make him the father of the faithful.  The patriarch trusted God and received the gift of being right with God, completed justified.  That gift was ‘not for him alone, but also for us!’

Prior verses in that chapter talk about the rite of circumcision which marked the sons of Abraham. Many came to trust the rite as being the means of their being right with God.  Keeping Sabbath, eating kosher, and being circumcised turned into a way of measuring goodness.  Their focus shifted from the covenant God made to how well they kept the Law.  And, that remains a common misunderstanding among people today. So many wonder, “Am I good enough for God?  Can I hope for eternal life?”  Gripped by unrelenting guilt they compare themselves with others, hoping that they have done enough – going to church, being baptized, giving to the Church and the poor, being morally upright – to earn their place in God’s family.

Here is what God says: “If you’re a hard worker and do a good job, you deserve your pay; we don’t call your wages a gift. But if you see that the job is too big for you, that it’s something only God can do, and you trust him to do it—you could never do it for yourself no matter how hard and long you worked—well, that trusting-him-to-do-it is what gets you set right with God, by God. Sheer gift. David confirms this way of looking at it, saying that the one who trusts God to do the putting-everything-right without insisting on having a say in it is one fortunate man: Fortunate those whose crimes are carted off, whose sins are wiped clean from the slate. Fortunate the person against whom the Lord does not keep score.” (Romans 4:4-8, The Message)

I know that there are those who turn God’s amazing promise of justification into a license to live willfully, sinfully, and selfishly. But, their failure does not change the glorious declaration that God has made on our behalf. Justification is a legal term, what God says is true about my standing with Him. There is another term that is about how His declaration is to affect my life – sanctification!  Yes, God makes me right with Him and asks me to cooperate with the Holy Spirit to become sanctified, that is, to become a person who lives a holy life.  God’s promise, guaranteed by Jesus’ death and resurrection, is the foundation on which a holy life is built.  When we accept, by faith, what God says is true – we find freedom from guilt, the power of pride and shame are broken, and we gain great assurance.

Here is the word from the Word.  May the Spirit reveal the wonder to our hearts, causing us to dance with joy, to have great hope, to live holy lives.“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Romans 5:1, NKJV)  “For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him.” (Romans 10:10-12, NKJV)

_____________

And Can It Be

And can it be that I should gain,

An interest in the Savior’s blood?

Died He for me who caused His pain

For me, who Him to death pursued?

Amazing love, how can it be,

That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

 

He left His Father’s throne above,

So free, so infinite His grace.

Emptied Himself of all but love

And bled for Adam’s helpless race!

‘Tis mercy all immense and free.

For O, my God, it found out me!

 

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,

Fast bound in sin and nature’s night.

Thine eye diffused a quickening ray,

I woke the dungeon flamed with light.

My chains fell off, my heart was free,

I rose went forth and followed Thee.

 

No condemnation now I dread,

Jesus and all in Him is mine!

Alive in Him, my living Head,

And clothed in righteousness divine.

Bold I approach th’eternal throne,

And claim the crown through Christ my own!

Charles Wesley | Thomas Campbell

© Words: Public Domain

Flat on my face!

newtonquoteSo, those good intentions about letting my light shine that I wrote about yesterday, I meant them but, at day’s end, I knew I missed that mark by a mile!  Frustrated by problems and pain, I spent much of the day angry.  I know, too well, the ever present influence of the sources of sin:  the world, the flesh, and the Devil!  I wonder if the Devil read my commitment to let the Light shine and his demons conspired to keep me from that holy calling? (Smile! Nothing so grand as that happened.  My angry day was a demonstration of the power of my sinful nature.)  I find this small comfort in the Word.  Even Paul failed and said: “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? ” (Romans 7:24, KJV)

Do you find yourself torn between two worlds – one of the Spirit, one of the old sinful nature?

I refuse to hide my angry sins behind excuses or to blame others for my choices. Were there ‘reasons’ my fuse was short yesterday?  Yes, there were real challenges, but the Lord also offers grace to overcome.  As I reflect this morning, it would be comforting to pretend that my temper was ‘their’ fault, that my failure to take God’s grace is just ‘being human.  However, if I want to grow, I will confess that how I lived is sin, period.

Freedom is found in looking into the mirror and admitting, “It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another law at work within me that is at war with my mind. This law wins the fight and makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me.” (Romans 7:21-23, NLT)

So, do we make a truce with that disobedience?
Should we choose to stay as we are,  full of good intentions, but falling far short of them?
Is this passage I’ve quoted giving us a pass from growing into the beauty of Christ?

Some ‘sin and grin.’ They remain childish in faith and practice, slaves to the sinful nature. Christ, our Lord, calls us to grow up in Him, to live in a way that reflects the transformational power of His Spirit, Who lives in us.  How do we do that? Guilt does not work. Rigid self-regulation will not work, either. The Bible says that “These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.” (Colossians 2:22-24, NIV)  Religion’s wreckage surrounds us!  If we attempt to become godly using human techniques  we will most likely either slip into hypocrisy (out of touch with our own reality) or just give up and walk away.

The paradox is that holiness is found in authenticity. We see our sins without excuse and we own them with profound sorrow.  Don’t stop there!  We also see, in faith, beyond our sin to Christ, Who loves us even as He knows every what, why, and where of our lives.  Paul’s cry about his wretchedness is not the last word. He looks up and seeing the Cross exclaims:  “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1-4, NIV)

Guilt must not drive us simply to deeper resolve or even to self-hatred.  When we feel the sting of guilt we realize our spiritual bankruptcy and throw ourselves on His grace.  Yes, His is an amazing, undeserved, yet freely granted, gift. His grace is deeper than the pit we dig for ourselves, wider than the gap between our intention and our practice, greater than our guilt.  God’s grace really is amazing.   Today, when you fail, (yes, you will and so will I, at some point) don’t pretend, excuse, or blame.  Confess!  But, make it a full confession – of your sinfulness and of His gift of holiness.  Take what He offers freely to you though at great cost to Himself.  You will find victory over sin precisely at the intersection of your failure and His grace.

Here is God’s promise to failures:  “God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful kindness became more abundant. So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful kindness rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more kindness and forgiveness? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?” (Romans 5:20-6:2, NLT)

“And since we died with Christ, we know we will also share his new life.” (Romans 6:8, NLT)

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Marvelous grace of our loving Lord.

Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt.

Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured,

There where the blood of the Lamb was spilt.

 

Sin and despair like the sea waves cold,

Threaten the soul with infinite loss.

Grace that is greater, yes, grace untold;

Points to the refuge the mighty Cross.

 

Dark is the stain that we cannot hide,

What can avail to wash it away?

Look there is flowing a crimson tide,

Whiter than snow you may be today.

 

Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace;

Freely bestowed on all who believe.

You that are longing to see His face,

Will you this moment His grace receive?

 

Grace., grace ,God’s grace-

Grace that will pardon and cleanse within!

Grace, grace, God’s grace-

Grace that is greater than all our sin!

Grace Greater Than Our Sin

Daniel Brink Towner | Julia Harriette Johnston

© Words: Public Domain

I’m gonna let it shine!

“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…”  is a kid’s song with a lot of meaning. Really, it is!  God has put a light in each of us and our job is to let it shine brightly. Life conspires to dim that light in a hundred ways, but the gift of God is choice: your way or His way, focus on your pain or His provision.  So what will it be, today?

Jesus, when He talked about the End and the Promise of the Kingdom’s victory, warned that some who started to follow Him would not make the celebration. Their light would go out. Why? “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life.” (Luke 21:34)  The edge of faith can be lost to letting one day slip into another without purpose, to letting wine take away our good sense, or getting taken up with things that really do not matter much in the big picture. And the light goes dark!

shineSo, make a better choice today.  Say, “I’m gonna let it shine!” and take the power of the Spirit that is like soul-fuel for the fire of devotion.  Paul says “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life.” (Philippians 2:12-16, NIV)

Beautiful Christians become bright lights over time, not with one grand choice in a single day. “When God is personally present, a living Spirit, … (there is) Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.” (2 Corinthians 3:17-18, The Message)  Another translation says, we are ‘changed from glory to glory.’   Christian, there is nothing higher, nothing better than letting His Light shine out from you; in great times and terrible ones, too.

So, what kind of life will you choose today?  Will you choose to dim the light with complaining and doubt, with hate and fear, letting the day pass with your focus entirely on yourself? OR, will you shine brightly, energized by the Holy Spirit, loving,  full of faith, serving Jesus?    I’m singing – “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…”   and by God’s grace – it will be a glorious day.

The word from the Word – “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine!” (Matthew 5:14-16, The Message)

__________

Shine

 

Shine! Make ’em wonder what you’ve got,

Make ’em wish that they were not,

On the outside looking bored!

Shine, let it shine before all men,

Let ’em see good works and then,

Let ’em glorify the Lord!

Peter Furler | Steve Taylor

© 1994 Ariose Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

Soylent Tunes (Admin. by Integrated Copyright Group, Inc.)

Warner Sojourner Music (Admin. by Word Music Group, Inc.)

CCLI License # 810055

Remember and live!

memorial-dayRemember those now gone, but don’t linger too long in the cemetery!  Memorial Day was once called Decoration Day. It began in the United States after the Civil War as a day to visit the cemeteries to decorate the graves of those who lost their lives in that terrible conflict. After the first World War, the day’s focus widened to include a remembrance of all those fallen in war. Visiting a memorial to soldiers lost can be a powerfully moving experience. On several occasions, I have walked the length of the Vietnam memorial on the Mall in Washington, DC and each time, I find that black slab bearing 50,000 names evokes deep emotions, real tears for those who never came home.

We must never forget those who paid the ultimate price to defend our Nation. But, we cannot live in the cemetery with them!  Their sacrifice is meaningless if we do not move on, living life in a way that honors them, cherishing freedom, insisting on the protection of liberty, and demanding that our government maintains the principles of our Constitution!

Christians understand the powerful encouragement of remembering. On the night before He went to the Cross, Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, the Communion meal that Christians have celebrated for two millennia. The cup reminds us of His shed blood which sets us right with our Father, providing complete forgiveness of our sins. The bread reminds us of His broken body, that He is our Wounded Healer. The Bible’s familiar words are:  “On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.” In the same way, he took the cup of wine after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people-an agreement confirmed with my blood. Do this to remember me as often as you drink it.” For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26, NLT)

Disciple, we don’t live in the cemetery! We remember the Cross, but we live on the other side of the Resurrection. His death brought us life! That is the amazing fact we remember at the Lord’s Table. “Walk worthy!” is the command we hear. Take the gift of the sacrifice and make it count in your day to day choices.

This Memorial Day, I hope you will remember, perhaps even walking through a cemetery where flags decorate the graves of those who died in the armed services of our great nation. Then, I pray you will leave the cemetery inspired to be a citizen who makes their sacrifice meaningful.

Make this a prayer for our nation today.

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain.

For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain.

America, America! God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea.

O beautiful for heroes proved
in liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life.
America, America, may God thy gold refine,
‘Till all success be nobleness
And ev’ry gain divine.

Katharine Lee Bates | Samuel Augustus Ward
© Words: Public Domain

At least, we can pray!

I pray, all the time, every day.  Now before you canonize me, let me clarify that.  I do not spend hours on my knees.  I do not live in the church’s sanctuary for days on end.  I cultivate a ‘God-awareness’ that allows me to breathe my prayers.  Praying is not an activity that is some part of my day, it is a way of life that shapes my day – from my meditation in the early morning, to my petitions at mid-day, to my commitment of all that I love to Him as I lay down to sleep.  Prayer is a deeply emotional part of my life – where I cry, laugh, groan, sing, and often simply keep silent!  Sometimes prayer overflows from a sense of deep need and sometimes joy just bursts into prayer.  This much I know – prayer changes me and the world in which I live; no doubt about it.

prayer-888If you want to be an agent for positive change, pray!  God gives us a privilege of bringing every situation, every need, every joy to Him in prayer.  He invites us to ask Him about anything; our fears, doubts, sicknesses, hopes, kids, marriage, church, sins, victories, losses, successes, and failures.  Are you taking Him at His Word?  “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything.”  (Phillipians 4:6 NLT)

The practice of prayer should not be difficult, yet for many Christians it is.  What is offered as a source of strength and comfort becomes a source of guilt, even shame.  Over the years many have told me, “Pastor, I know I should pray, but I don’t. What is the best way to pray?”  Jesus’ disciples felt that inadequacy, too, and asked Him to teach them to pray.  His response to that request was to remind them that prayer is not a performance. “When you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father secretly. Then your Father, who knows all secrets, will reward you. “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered only by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, because your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!” (Matthew 6:6-8, NLT)  Get alone with God. Approach Him, not as a fearful Deity, but as Father.  Avoid endlessly repetitive words. Let the Spirit align you with His will!

He gave them the model that we call The Lord’s Prayer. “This, then, is how you should pray: ”‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’” (Matthew 6:9-13, NIV)

True prayer is so much more than a ‘shopping list’ or a recitation of our needs. When we pray, we connect with God and we are changed. If our prayers are just offered to get God to do what we want Him to do, let’s be honest here – we will soon quit ‘praying’ out of frustration.  Too many of those prayers seem to go unanswered. That’s not to say we cannot or should not ask Him for specific needs. We are invited to do that, but with a humble heart.  The better part of prayer is learning to lean on Him, to commune with Him as we sense His Presence working in us.

Make prayer your first response, not your last resort.  If you find yourself saying, “well, at least we can pray,”  you have a false paradigm in place.  You are trying to be God and only when you are completely overwhelmed will you turn to the Lord in desperation.  Change that.  Let God be God and become His child.  Then, you will say, “Let’s pray,” and delight in consciously entering into communion with the Almighty, Sovereign, Friend, Savior, Healer, and King!  Be wary of those who offer prayer formulas, who claim to know how to get God to do what they want, or who imply that they know exactly how to pray.  Prayer involves great faith and deep mystery.  God reminds us that “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.” (Isaiah 55:9, The Message)  And He invites to come and learn and lean!

Here are two words of invitation.
“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NIV)

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16, NIV)

Let us pray!

In this, I rejoice!

“I was once a sinner, but I came, pardon to receive from my Lord.”  I sang that song about a  new name written down many times in Sunday night church services. Today, even more than then, I rejoice in that declaration.  We are part of a world gripped by sin and under God’s judgment.  The condition is universal: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23, NIV) In spite of His revelation in Creation, Word, and Spirit – humans ignore Him, worship created things instead of the Creator, and insist going their own way, stumbling around in darkness.  If you will be an honest observer of yourself and your world, it’s hard to deny the reality of Evil!

butgodBut God … oh, how I love that Divine conjunction! After the awful opening of the letter to the Romans, the Son dawns in the latter half of chapter 3! But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known … This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.  …  and (all) are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.” (Romans 3:21-25, NIV)  Paul invites us to go deeper than some goosebumpy experience and into the Truth of God’s work on our behalf.  Let’s do a little theology.

First, through faith in Christ we are made righteous. We are not sinners any longer. We are saints, the image of God restored, our relationship with our Father intact; “because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (Hebrews 10:14, NIV)  Declared perfect (complete, whole) by God, I now live out the process of becoming holy in His sight.

Second, through His grace we are justified! The Judge of all the earth looked at the evidence, saw our guilt, and because of Jesus, declared us not guilty.  We need not carry shame and guilt any longer because His gavel fell and the judgment was in our favor. “Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish!” (Ephesians 2:8, The Message)

Third, Jesus redeems us!  We sold ourselves as slaves to sin and evil held us in a tight grip. In the ancient world, if you defaulted on a debt, you could be (and often were!) sold into indentured servitude.  You had to work off the debt unless a redeemer would pay on your behalf and give back your life.  Jesus gave us our freedom by buying our debt.  We are no longer slaves to sin, but sons of God!

Fourth, God was fully satisfied by the sacrifice of Christ, which is our atonement.  It’s a little corny, but it works – Atonement can be understood as “At-One-ment.”  Because of the Cross, we are fully at peace, one with our Creator, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2, NIV)

Is this all just the stuff of religion, arcane ideas that occupy the minds of pastors and theologians?  No, these are truths to live by, that change those who believe, that give us reason to rejoice in living hope.  We can get all excited about somebody’s story (and we should) but at the end, you and I will stand before God, with only one story, that of Christ and His grace.  We need to know that we are saved – justified, redeemed, at one with our Father, for the right kind of life comes from the right kind of thinking.

“My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength— that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:14-19, The Message)

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Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,

That saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost, but now am found,

Was blind, but now I see!

Public domain

So many tears, so much grace

It was a tough day. In the morning, I put my face on the carpet and prayed, but my heart was so heavy that my prayers were mostly groans, wordless sighs. In the afternoon, I spent time with three elderly Christians; one, in her 90’s, fell at home last week. She is so fearful of not being able to return to her home. We cried together. Another, in the grip of dementia, was in her bed at the home where she lives. When I entered her room, her face brightened. “I like seeing you,” she said kindly, though I do not think she knows my name. She held my hand tightly as we prayed. The third awaits death, confined by weakness. Tears fell down her cheeks as we asked the Lord to be her peace. Another family talked about spiritual crisis in their child’s life reinforcing my deep concern for how we, Christ’s Church, are handing off the faith to the next generation.
brokenThe Psalmist cries to the Lord: “You have fed us with sorrow and made us drink tears by the bucketful.” (Psalm 80:5, NLT) “My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng. Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you.” (Psalm 42:3-6, NIV)  That’s NOT just beautiful poetry!  Those prayers are mine! With great hope I cry out, “Restore our fortunes, O LORD… Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.” (Psalm 126:4-5, NIV)

Do not confuse sorrow with despair. There is a difference! Despair is hopelessness, but deep sorrow is a fertile place where faith can grow, where God can be found. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18, NLT)  I love the Hebrew in that passage. Where we read ‘crushed’ the word means ‘turned to dust.’  Yes, sorrow grinds us down, but God makes beautiful things from the dust, as the song says.

There is so much suffering in this world which is so broken by sin. But, we know that God sent His Son Jesus to save us- from our sins and from the destiny of destruction. And, when His kingdom comes, tears will dry. When the struggle’s over, God will draw us close!  “I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:3-5, NIV) Oh, happy day!

Are you crying? Is your heart broken? The natural response is to find some diversion, some way to avoid sorrow. Instead, let yourself feel the suffering and enter into it with Christ at your side.

Don’t try to numb your soul by turning up the noise or burying yourself in pleasure. Those things offer no balm for the soul. Instead, wait on God. Sit quietly. Let tears flow. Accept the love of friend and family, even from those who offer clichés and pats on the back. Perhaps they have never hurt in the way that you do but they mean well. Pray for protection from cynicism that turns people into ugly, self-absorbed, and mean being!

Suffering can make us into beautiful people; full of grace, tender, and with an other-worldly grip on eternity. I smiled as one of the women with whom I was visiting said, “You are a much better Pastor these days. You know how we feel when we are sad.” I hope she speaks the truth.  My own spiritual journey has taken me through some dark valleys.

And remember …  “He will wipe every tear from our eyes. Gordon Jensen wrote a song with this memorable line, “God weeps along with man and takes him by the hand, tears are a language God understands.”   Are the tears ready to fall today?  Has the disappointment, the pain, the unrelenting struggle with the curse of sin nearly broken you in two?  Find a place alone with Him and let the tears fall, each a wordless prayer for renewal of hope, for healing, for forgiveness.  Then, with courage, give yourself, your situation, your life, your kids- to the Lord who reigns over all. He will give you the grace you need, for this day.  “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18, NLT)

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Great Is Thy Faithfulness

Great is Thy faithfulness,

O God, my Father.

There is no shadow

Of turning with Thee.

Thou changest not,

Thy compassions they fail not.

As Thou hast been

Thou forever wilt be!

 

Summer and winter

And springtime and harvest,

Sun, moon, and stars

In their courses above;

Join with all nature

In manifold witness,

To Thy great faithfulness,

Mercy and love!

 

Pardon for sin

And a peace that endureth;

Thy own dear presence

To cheer and to guide.

Strength for today

And bright hope for tomorrow,

Blessings all mine

With ten thousand beside!

 

Great is Thy faithfulness!

Great is Thy faithfulness!

Morning by morning,

New mercies I see.

All I have needed,

Thy hand hath provided.

Great is Thy faithfulness,

Lord, unto me!

Thomas Obediah Chisholm | William Marion Runyan

© Words: 1923. Renewed 1951 Hope Publishing Company

Music: 1923. Renewed 1951 Hope Publishing Company

CCLI License # 810055

Idolatry of Perfection

authentic“Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.”- G. K. Chesterton The phrase arrested me!

Thirty years ago I spent many afternoons golfing. I was terrible at it. I stopped playing for many reasons. Among them, was knowing that I did not play well.  I was not willing to invest time and money to develop the skills that would allow me to be a respectable golfer. Spending three hours puttering around the course was quite enjoyable, but not many of my follow golfers wanted a guy along on the course who was just out hitting the ball and soaking up sunshine. I wasn’t a ‘serious’ golfer. I let the pressure of competition steal a simple pleasure from me so I quit!

I know more than a few people who love to teach children who want to quit the profession.  The constant testing, the pressure to turn wonderful little people into little computers who can spit out data on demand with a high degree of accuracy is not what they want to do. Tiny Sally is an artist for whom math is an exercise in torture. Mark’s passion is reading but he must draw! They must test well regardless of whether they learn! This is the tragedy of modern education.

A small church of a 100 or so enthusiastic Christians may be a wonderfully healthy Body, nurturing people into a relationship with God, that is deep and authentic, but … that little congregation can destroy their community by trying to become who they are not!  The leaders pressure the pastor to take on a ton of debt, to develop ministries to which they are not called and cannot adequately staff, for one reason: that is what ‘churches of excellence’ do. Instead of being the church that God ordained them to be, they feel they must be the church that some leadership blog lauds as being IT.

The idolatry of perfection creeps into everything, turning our focus onto ourselves away from the service of God. The result is that fewer of us live joyful, committed, and fulfilled lives. Instead we are perpetually desperate, anxious, and cranky!

Who does God want YOU to be?
What gifts and callings has He given to YOU?
Where are YOU in life right now and are you dealing with the realities of the PRESENT?

We don’t age with grace because baldness, thick waist lines, and wrinkles are not acceptable in the modern standard of perfection of perpetual youthfulness. It’s the way of life that youth gives way to age and God’s plan is that the deficits that come with aging are offset by the strength of wisdom! Proverbs 16:31 reminds us that “Gray hair is a mark of distinction, the award for a God-loyal life.”

We can’t let our kids be ordinary (almost a curse word to some!) because to do so is to fail to push them to their potential. So, conforming to the ways of the world, we make them crazy competitors who don’t know the joy of doing anything just ‘for the fun of it;‘ who spend the rest of their lives living on with stress and anxiety.   Why don’t we ever just say,  “Just play baseball and enjoy it, son.” Oh no, we have to ruin Little League for him, making a 9 year old kid play the game like the destiny of the universe rides on whether his team wins!

We will not rejoice in who we are because if we are always focused on what we could be… if only…   Many spouses suffer under the strain of being compared to that one that is ‘so perfect.’ Your husband cannot function if you expect him to be Jesus, Brad Pitt, and Tony Robbins all at the same time.  Your wife cannot possibly be Martha Stewart, Tyra Banks, and Mother Teresa.   Would we destroy what could be a great relationship, missing the treasure we have, because our expectations are skewed by our cultural expectations?

The joy of Christ and His love will be lost to stress and strain IF we measure and compare ourselves to others. God’s will is that we surrender to the Spirit’s call and allow Him to use us – just as we are, right where we are- for His purposes.  In Romans 14, Paul teaches us that we must never compare ourselves and our gifts to others.  Our grade of success is set by the One who knows exactly what we can do, what we are called to do, and how we are gifted to do those things.  The approval or condemnation of the crowd has little meaning for the true servant of Christ.

“Jerry,” you say, “I am shocked that you would applaud mediocrity.” If that what you’re thinking, either I have communicated poorly or you have jumped to the wrong conclusion.  It’s not mediocrity that I’m urging on us today, it is acceptance of who we are and contentment in the situations in which we find ourselves at this moment. God has a plan for each one of us, and we can’t all be the President of the United States or evangelist Billy Graham! If we attempt, in the name of excellence, to be someone that we are not called or equipped to be, we will miss out on the great joy that comes to those who are humble – that is, no more and no less than God calls them to be.

Ask God who He is asking you to be, without comparison to some external standard of ‘excellence.’ Rejoice in the spiritual gifts and opportunities He has presented to you and be the person He wants, not the person others are demanding you become. Give up the need to be recognized, to ‘win’ the award, to earn applause – except the applause of Heaven earned as we perform for the Audience of One. In this humility and contentment we will find that life is much more pleasant for us and for all those around us. AND, I am absolutely convinced, that in the end, we will accomplish more, and what we do, because it is done for God, will be of lasting value!

Oh what joy is found in being no more, no less than the person He created us to be. The word from the Word – “I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.“   The Message Phillipians 4:11-13

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Beautiful Things (Listen at this link)

All this pain,

I wonder if I’ll ever find my way?

I wonder if my life could really change,

At all?

 

All this earth,

Could all that is lost ever be found?

Could a garden come up from this ground,

At all?

 

You make beautiful things,

You make beautiful things out of the dust.

You make beautiful things,

You make beautiful things out of us.

 

Hope is springing up from this old ground,

Out of chaos life is being found,

In You.

 

You make me new, You are making me new!

You make me new, You are making me new!

Lisa Gungor | Michael Gungor

© 2009 worshiptogether.com songs (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

A World Class Lover!

Three words, I love you, are some of the most wonderful words in the world.  Giving and receiving love makes life worth living, really! When I tell Bev (my wife of 40 years) that I love her, we both experience joy. When my adult children tell me that they love me, I find strength for the day!  When I read Jason’s (my nephew) Facebook posts about his creative ways of loving his little children, my emotions are stirred.  When I am privileged to love some hurting person in the Name of Christ Jesus, it’s a good day.  When I take the Cup and Bread in Holy Communion and remember the gracious love of God that erased my guilt, restored my life, and makes me right with Him,  love is there.lovelewis

Last week my daughter spent the week in our home with her baby boy, Gio, who is loved. Even at 5 months he is learning how to respond to others with love. He is secure in his parents’ love and affectionate care. From that he gains a great advantage in life.  Children who are not loved are more damaged than those who are malnourished! Many kinds of addictions, compulsive behaviors, defensive mechanisms, and phobias are rooted in love hunger.

When an adult is selfish, miserable, critical, mean, insecure, or unforgiving as a way of life– you can be sure that there was some kind of deficit of love experience in their past.  We find healing in love. That is why the Gospel is centered around this – “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17, NIV)  John also was inspired by the Spirit to teach us to love.  He says, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8, NIV)  Love, not piety, not religious devotion, not eloquent prayers, shows that we are God’s children.

Christians, because of their experience of an ‘out of this world’ kind of love will be world class lovers! What does that look like?  We need not wonder.  The Word tells us what mature, whole, godly love is.

“If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere.
So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.
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. ”

“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 13:3-7,13, The Message)

Reading that it is obvious that no one can love another in that way naturally or consistently. That kind of world class love is only possible when we are loved, changed from the inside out, by the Divine Lover.

Here is the word from the Word for this Monday morning.  Let God love you and go love others. It is a grand way to live. “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. (complete) 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 4:16-19, NLT)

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One Thing Remains (Your Love Never Fails)

Higher than the mountains that I face,

Stronger than the power of the grave,

Constant in the trial and the change,

One thing remains,

One thing remains.

 

Your love, Your love, Your love will never change.

 

Your love never fails,

It never gives up,

Never runs out on me.

 

On and on and on and on it goes,

It overwhelms and satisfies my soul,

And I never ever have to be afraid,

One thing remains.

One thing remains.

 

In death;  in life;  I’m confident and

Cover’d by the power of Your great love.

My debt is paid there’s nothing that

Can separate my heart from Your great love.

 

Your love!

Brian Johnson | Christa Black Gifford | Jeremy Riddle

© 2010 ChristaJoy Music Publishing (Admin. by Bethel Music Publishing)

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

Bethel Music Publishing

CCLI License # 810055