Waiting, Trusting, Praying

Psalm 40 - 1-3I muse this morning while watching my wife sleep in a hospital bed.  I read a Facebook post by a friend that their unborn baby’s life here on earth closed after a short 20 weeks.  In a few hours, I will stand at a grave with a family grieving.  Yes, my soul is heavy, but even a few hours ago, while I walked outside at 3 am I looked up to see a beautiful moon-lit sky and somehow sensed His Presence as I breathed my prayers for those in need.

St. John of the Cross refers to our times of trials, when God allows us to walk in suffering and sorrows as the “dark night of the soul.”  Others speak of being spiritually “dry ” – the soul thirsty for the Lord’s love and care.  In these times we need to know that the tempter will try to make think only of ourselves, feeling that some failure in us has caused to turn away.  Should the Devil succeed a sense of false guilt piles on top of our weariness, our sadness, our pain!  There is a better way …

David says “I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.” (Psalm 40:1-2, NIV) “Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods.” (Psalm 40:4, NIV)  “For troubles without number surround me; my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see. They are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart fails within me. Be pleased, O LORD, to save me; O LORD, come quickly to help me.” (Psalm 40:12-13, NIV)
First we wait! “Waiting” is not passive resignation to our circumstances.  We ‘wait for the Lord’ with an attentive heart, with hope, and in obedience.  We know that God is at work, not on our timetable, perhaps not even to do what we think needs to be done, but to bring about His purposes. This promise is what steadies us while we wait for Him.

Then, we trust.  Trust is not a once and done kind of experience.  Trust is built over time and then requires maintenance.  When we hit a rough spot in the road, when we are feeling loss,  other ‘gods’ may appear to offer solace or even solution.  But, we ‘fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith,’ and in this choice – made today, then again tomorrow, and the day after that – we discover the blessings of the Lord.  Will you trust?   Note, the question is not can we trust, but rather will we?
And, we pray.  God does not tire of our tears.  He never wearies of hearing our pleas.  If we quit talking to Him, out of bitterness or despair, we have made a terrible choice.  The conversation, no matter how hard, even how angry, is important. “Be pleased, O Lord, to save me!”

If you are bearing the silence of God, join me in an earnest prayer for faithfulness!
This was what I asked of Him today –

that He would see my weakness and make it an opportunity to display His power,
that He would defend me against the Destroyer and keep me faithful.

Ask Him the same. He will do it, for His glory and His own Name’s sake.
Here is a word from the Word –
“Sing to the LORD, you saints of his; praise his holy name.
For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime;
weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.

When I felt secure, I said, “I will never be shaken.”
O LORD, when you favored me, you made my mountain stand firm;
but when you hid your face, I was dismayed.

To you, O LORD, I called; to the Lord I cried for mercy:
“What gain is there in my destruction, in my going down into the pit?
Will the dust praise you?
Will it proclaim your faithfulness?
Hear, O LORD, and be merciful to me; O LORD, be my help.”

You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and
clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever.”
(Psalm 30:4-12, NIV)

I’ve got a home in Gloryland that outshines the sun!

faithIn the last 10 days, death has visited the congregation I pastor 4 times!  Last night, as a long day was ending, one in which sorrow visited in several different ways,  I myself thinking about Heaven. My thoughts were not about streets of gold or sitting down for a long rest. I yearned for a place where sin cannot enter, where tears are wiped away forever, and where I will know my Abba fully.  “One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.” (Psalm 27:4, NIV)

Eternity is written into our hearts by our Creator. Solomon said, “God has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11, NLT) Dallas Willard, now with the Lord in Heaven, urged Christians to lift their vision, to ‘see’ beyond time’s horizon.  He says that a firm grasp on the promise of Paradise protects us from bitterness and depression. “I meet many faithful Christians who, in spite of their faith, are deeply disappointed in how their lives have turned out. Sometimes it is a matter of how they experience aging, which they take to mean they no longer have a future. But often, due to circumstances or wrongful decisions and actions by others, what they had hoped to accomplish in life they did not …. Much of the distress of these people comes from a failure to realize that their life lies before them..  the life that lies endlessly before us in the kingdom of God.”  (The Divine Conspiracy)

The frustration and futility that stalk us in this present realm lose much of their power when Heaven is in our heart! Right here, even now, we are eternal creatures. Yes, the bodies we live in are aging. This globe we call home is decaying, but you and I are alive forever in Christ!  Jesus looked Martha in the eye and promised “You don’t have to wait for the End. I am, right now, Resurrection and Life. The one who believes in me, even though he or she dies, will live.” (John 11:25, The Message) Eternal life begins now, not when we die. The hope of Heaven is ours today, not just when our bodies are in the grave! I am a citizen of Heaven, now by the grace of Jesus Christ.  I commune with the Lord of Glory, through the Holy Spirit’s immediate Presence. I am called to bring Heaven to earth, living in the earnest expectation of glories to come, while confronting the darkness of sin with the Light of Heaven, right now!

Let’s be like Abraham. He heard God’s call, grasped the reality of eternal life and lived the rest of days here on earth on pilgrimage.  He took some detours from the straight and narrow path, but he never lost sight of where he was going.  “By an act of faith, Abraham said yes to God’s call to travel to an unknown place that would become his home. When he left he had no idea where he was going. By an act of faith he lived in the country promised him, lived as a stranger camping in tents. Isaac and Jacob did the same, living under the same promise.”  Here is the key to his faithfulness. “Abraham did it by keeping his eye on an unseen city with real, eternal foundations-the City designed and built by God.” (Hebrews 11:8-10, The Message)

The ‘heaven’ of our modern imagination, that fills the movies, is far from the reality of Scripture. Misty fog enveloping transparent spirits floating in a ghostly realm, spirits living at the edge of human consciousness trying to reach us, are inventions of storytellers.  Heaven is a real substantial place, created by the same Person that thought up the refraction of sunlight by water moisture which produces the beauty of a rainbow. Heaven is beauty unfathomable. Heaven is suffused with the love which we see in Christ Jesus, who left His place to seek and save those who are lost.  The most beautiful music, the deepest love, the most stirring worship, the most blissful day – are just glimpses of what will be ordinary in eternity!

So, by faith, reach out and hold onto Heaven. When life is overwhelming, when sin threatens to engulf you,  when all seems futile,  when disappointment breaks your heart – look up and thank God that He has written Heaven into your heart.  It is precisely the longing for Paradise that makes us unwilling to settle down and desire our best life now.   We are headed home!

The word from the Word is a portion of the ‘faith’ chapter. “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country-a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”   (Hebrews 11:13-16, NIV)

_________________________

Going Home

I’ve been feeling kind of restless.
I’ve been feeling out of place.
I can hear a distant singing,
A song that I can’t write,
But it echoes in what I’m always trying to say

There’s a feeling I can’t capture,
It’s always just a prayer away.
I want to know the ending,
Things hoped for but not seen
But I guess that’s the point in hoping anyway.

Going home; I’ll meet You at the table,
Going home; I’ll meet You in the air.
You are never too young to think about it.
Oh, I cannot wait to be home

I’m confined to my senses,
To really know what You are like,
You are more than I can fathom,
More than I can guess,
And more than I can see with human sight.

But, I have felt You with my spirit.
I have felt You fill this room.
This is just an invitation,
A sample of the whole,
And I cannot wait to be going home.

Face to face, how can it be?
Face to face, how can it be?
Face to face, how can it be?

Sara Groves
© 1999 Sara Groves Music (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)
CCLI License # 810055

Has anger driven us mad?

I used to consume the daily news, reading the Op-Ed page, watching stories with interest. But, the anger that feeds the news from all parties, makes it such a toxic brew that I am now choosing to watch less, much less. Anger appears to be the default mode of American life these days. People are afraid and in our emotional neighborhood, anger lives right next door to fear!  Some of the anger is manufactured, outrage produced and managed to raise money, to stir voting blocks, to attract media attention.  But, we are a nation simmering with resentments, deeply divided on many issues.  I see the anger bubble to the surface even among my Christian associates when difference of opinion escalates into attack and then to separation – way too quickly!
angermandelaCan we understand the intent behind Jesus’ words?  Are we willing to even consider that His words are wisdom for our time? “You have heard that the law of Moses says, ‘If an eye is injured, injure the eye of the person who did it. If a tooth gets knocked out, knock out the tooth of the person who did it.’ But I say, don’t resist an evil person! If you are slapped on the right cheek, turn the other, too. If you are ordered to court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too.” (Matthew 5:38-40)  My first reaction is to think:  that is a sure way to get run over, beat down, and left in the dirt!  And, so it is. But, Jesus did just that and conquered sin, death, and Hell!  He allowed hatred to hang Him on a Cross. The Devil rejoiced, His enemies celebrated.  But, the Father raised Him up and love won.

When tempted to uncover our claws and bare our fangs, will we consider that the Spirit calls us to a response diametrically opposed to hate? Yes, we are warriors in the cause of Bold Love!

To be clear, loving does not eliminate the response of anger!  Anger can serve us well, if it is not about us;  if it is not fed by our fear.  Anger that is useful has no component of self or pride. Righteous anger moves us to care, to work for change, to stand up to wrong.

If you are angry, do not deny it, repress it, or ignore it.  Anger that is pushed below the line of our consciousness will ferment into a toxic brew and become evident, somewhere and in some way that hurts others and ourselves, even as the rage discredits our claim of discipleship.  God teaches us to re-direct the anger and to control it: “In your anger do not sin.” Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” Another translation says, “don’t sin by letting anger gain control over you.” (Ephesians 4:26, NLT)

So how do we turn the anger into something other than toxic bitterness that feeds a need for revenge?

Admit-  “I am angry.
Because so many Christians think anger is sinful, they relabel it with many other names, but anger is anger, no matter what we call it. We’re not ‘just sad,’ nor are we ‘hurt.‘  There are people who develop agendas to attack us and that makes us mad. Admit it, so you can and the Spirit can deal with it. Anger can be used as a powerful motivator for change: in ourselves and in our world.

Understand the cause of your anger.
Anger is often misdirected.  We’re disappointed about losing the promotion at work, but focus the anger on our wife.  We are frustrated by chronic illness and take it out on our children. We are angry at God, and blame the pastor!  The Holy Spirit and a wise, honest friend will let you safely talk while you work to understand the root of rage.  Don’t blame, instead be prepared to work hard at change, starting with that person who stares back at you from your mirror.

Lose the fantasies!
It is not a wonderful world where everyone is nice, where all dreams come true, and where good people live happily ever after. That’s reality.  Much of our anger is fed by expectations born of fantasy. The sooner we deal with reality, the better our lives will be. Acceptance of our limitations and of the situations in which we find ourselves provides great release from unnecessary anger. We do not have to ‘give up’ on life, surrender hope, or stop praying for change.  It IS important to pray for the Spirit of God to help us to know the difference between our fantasies about a ‘perfect’ world and His dream for our life which He will equip us to fulfill.

ENDURE!
A friend who is in Alcoholics Anonymous, reminded me of a basic truth that recovering alcoholics learn – “Send your body and your heart will follow!” In other words, sometimes we do the right things, just because they are the right things, not because we feel great passion, enthusiasm, or joy! Sometimes the very best method of dealing with anger is simply to determine to outlast your enemies and critics as you kill’em with kindness.  Jesus calls it – ‘turning the other cheek, blessing those that misuse and abuse you.’ That endurance is sustained by the realization that there is coming a day of just rewards for us all.  The Word says, “Do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord, no matter what happens. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now, so you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised. “For in just a little while, the Coming One will come and not delay. And a righteous person will live by faith.” (Hebrews 10:35-38, NLT)

The word from the Word for today –
“A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.” (Proverbs 29:11, NIV)
“An angry man stirs up dissension, and a hot-tempered one commits many sins.” (Proverbs 29:22, NIV)
My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” (James 1:19-20, NIV)

A helpless pawn of your emotions?

hopeAre you wrestling with sorrow this Monday morning? Has a sense of futility crept up and tried to throw a dark shadow over you?  Are you confused by circumstances that defy explanation?  There is a phrase buried in a Psalm to which I return in such moments.  The Word says that when rest seems beyond reach, we can make a decision to speak to ourselves!   “I call to remembrance my song in the night: I commune with mine own heart.” (Psalm 77:6, KJV)  Do you know how to speak your heart?  Our conscious mind takes charge of the tumbling swirl of thoughts that flow up from the chaos of our emotions.  We talk to Self. We become aware of what we are feeling and evaluate those feelings, bringing them into alignment with the truth. With the help of the Holy Spirit and the inspired Word we can, we must – “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5, NIV)

We are not helpless pawns in the face of our emotions.  We reshape them with the truth that resides outside of us, that wraps around our experience.  I went to sleep last night and awakened this morning with this confession –  “The LORD is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid? … “For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock. Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at his tabernacle will I sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the LORD. Hear my voice when I call, O LORD; be merciful to me and answer me.” (Psalm 27:1, 5-7, NIV)

I am living close to many who are walking through awful sorrow and great loss.  I could refuse to enter into their sadness, but then how could I effectively love them?  I could let the grief they are experiencing pull me into a depression if I allowed my thoughts to focus only on this moment’s darkness. Instead, even as I cry, my heart crushed, my mind takes hold of what remains true!

Do not make the mistake of thinking that this means falling into refusing to acknowledge emotions. We are Christians, not Stoics! We ride the heights of joy, know the depths of sorrow, as did Jesus Himself.  Our worship is not just an intellectual recognition of God or a recitation of a creed. We worship Him with song, with tears, with dance, with silent contemplation.  Our emotions are God’s gift to us that make us fully human.

But, we commune with our heart and we do not allow it to take charge. Only a very foolish person lets his heart lead. Reshape that inner dialogue.  Meditate on a portion of Scripture. Compare your feelings with what you know to be true and move forward with faith and hope. A friend who is walking through a terrible time of trouble in his life wrote this to me recently. He is a wise man who has taken his thoughts captive with the Spirit’s help. “I’ve got nothing. I cry, a lot. I am confused. But, I still am drawn to His love for us. That has been the pinnacle of comfort for me. The Holy Spirit has truly lifted me at my weakest point even though it doesn’t make sense logically. Emotionally, I’m torn to shreds, but God is a good God. And, I am so grateful that He has revealed Himself to me as such and has kept me.”

On this Monday morning, give yourself to God. Invite the Holy Spirit to make the beauty of Christ evident in you – in your joy and your sorrow.  Here is a word from the Word for your encouragement.

“Then I realized how bitter I had become, how pained I had been by all I had seen. I was so foolish and ignorant—
I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you.

 Yet I still belong to you; you are holding my right hand.
You will keep on guiding me with your counsel, leading me to a glorious destiny.

 Whom have I in heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth.
My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever.

 But those who desert him will perish, for you destroy those who abandon you.
But as for me, how good it is to be near God!
I have made the Sovereign Lord my shelter,
and I will tell everyone about the wonderful things you do.” (Psalm 73:21-28, NLT)

Saving 669 children from certain death

wintonNicky’s Family is a documentary (Netflix) telling the amazing story of Nicholas Winton’s efforts to save Jewish children from the Nazis in Czechoslovakia on the eve of World War 2.  Winton was a stockbroker, 29 years of age, preparing for a holiday in Switzerland, when his friend told him about a growing number of refugees.  On a whim, he decided to go to Prague.  Deeply moved by the hopeless plight of Jews there, he  single-handedly set in motion a plan to take children out of the country to safety.  Only Great Britain would open its doors, but even then the bureaucracy creaked along too slowly.  Knowing that if he waited, children would die, he created a fictitious organization, gave himself a grand title, and printed fraudulent travel documents to make it happen, refusing to surrender to the ‘impossibilities’ that he met in his effort. Before the war broke out on September 1, 1939, he had arranged for 669 children to make their way to safety.  Winton never spoke of  his work and it was only when his wife found a scrapbook in their attic in 1988, did his amazing effort come to light.  His guiding principle was – “if it’s not impossible, then it can be done.”

What opportunities has God presented to you? What ‘impossibilities’ have you encountered? Have you given up, concluding that nothing can be done? Are you willing to take another look at the situation, asking for eyes of faith to see beyond the possible?

Jesus spoke of the difficulty of bringing a self-sufficient person into God’s realm.  He used a metaphor that made His disciples sit up and question Him. “I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to get into the Kingdom of Heaven. I say it again—it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!” The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked. Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.” (Matthew 19:23-26, NLT)

Who do you know that has not yet surrendered his life to the Living Lord? Who among your friends does not yet know eternal life that is the gift of God?Before you tell me how hard it is to share Christ with them, before you tell me that they are just impossible, go back and read Jesus’ words – Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.”

Let Sir Nicholas Winton’s efforts inspire you.

Here is the word from the Word – “This is why it is said: “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:14-16, NIV)

“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:5-6, NIV)

The world is waiting. What are we going to do about it?

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Please, not him; not again!

covey-quote
Stephen Covey

When a certain man who is running for the office of President shows up on my TV, I groan – “Please go away. Not him, not again!”  His self-absorption, mindless speeches, and lack of substance turn me off, in a big way.  What causes us to dislike another person? Why do we take a position on some point and refuse to budge, no matter what the facts are?   In a conversation with another person yesterday, I discovered that he thinks that candidate is admirable, that ‘he really tells the truth.’  It’s a cause for wonder, isn’t it, that two people can look at the same person, hear the same speeches, and reach such differing conclusions?

There is amazing diversity of opinion in our world.  How people choose to ‘do life’ is shaped by those opinions.  Sometimes it is a matter of little consequence.  He likes blue, I like red.  Sometimes it is a matter where deeply held convictions about what is ‘right and wrong’ are involved.   When you encounter that kind of difference, what is your first impulse – to separate, to go to battle, or to attempt to understand?  Honestly, when I have to deal with someone who frustrates every attempt at reasonable dialogue, who digs in and harps on his opinions, I am not always so patient. I feel the temptation to write off the relationship as irreconcilable and/or irreparable.

How about you?
Have you discarded a friendship over difference?

Ongoing conflict often escalates and even people with long-standing marriages go their separate ways over what the law terms, “irreconcilable differences.”  Christians, who are to be characterized by love for one another above all things, frequently go their separate ways, while singing, “they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

How does God want us to deal with the difficult people in life?

Read the wisdom of the Word – thoughtfully.  “I beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Always keep yourselves united in the Holy Spirit, and bind yourselves together with peace. We are all one body, we have the same Spirit, and we have all been called to the same glorious future.” (Ephesians 4:1-4, NLT)  Live with humility, gentleness, and patience! Those responses require the inner life of the Spirit, changing us from the inside out.   If try to just ‘put up with’ that person that makes us think “just go away,’  eventually we will pushed beyond our limits and explode.  But, if  the One who is greater that Self is controlling us, we will bear with one another, listening, learning, loving.

If that sounds easy, think again.  Living in harmony – be it in our home, our church, our family, and our neighborhood – demands spiritual transformation and an ongoing death to Self.  We pray, but  not to gain the upper hand; rather to be filled with the Spirit, gentle as Jesus.  The paradox is that what we may think to be weakness really releases a great power in us. Meekness is not weakness; it is strength under control.  This quote from Jim Elliott (a missionary who was murdered by those he was trying to reach with the Gospel) captivates me. “Lord give me firmness without hardness, steadfastness without dogmatism, and love without weakness.”

Here is the word from the Word. ” If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. ” …
“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. “ (1 Corinthians 13:1, 4-7, The Message)

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The Paradoxical Commandments

Dr. Kent M. Keith

 People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.

Love them anyway.

 If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.

Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.

Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.

Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.

Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.

Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.

Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.

Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.

Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.

Give the world the best you have anyway.

Words made cheap or faith like gold?

wordsEugene Peterson, tells the story of Charity, a 5 year old, who went to visit her grandmother. The morning after she arrived she said, “Grandmother, let’s not have any god-talk while you are here, OK? Let’s just keep it real.” Wow! Wisdom from the mouths of babes! (The Pastor, a Memoir) Peterson observes, “She was onto the fact that life leaks out of what we say… teach and pray- especially when we are using the sterile life-less language that objectifies words like God, Jesus, prayer, believe – we are left with nothing but god-talk.”

Listen to the conversations that flow around you.  Talk is cheap, devalued by inflation of words. Politicians call it ‘spin.’  The less reverent simply call it bovine excrement. (You know what I mean!) We must NEVER allow our conversation about the things of the Lord or even about God Himself to descend to that level. “God-talk” keeps real life at arm’s length. Some insulate themselves from dealing with the issues of life with endless Bible quotations and miracle stories they hear preachers tell.  Let’s talk about Jesus, in real terms, as we find His love and life in our daily journey.

Jesus is just as much Lord of our broken, doubtful, insecure, neurotic, temptation-filled days as He is of the days when we are living on the “hallelujah side” of life. He is offended when we speak dishonestly, claiming to know what is yet far beyond our grasp!  Why do we fear those words, “I don’t know” or “I’m just not sure” or even “I am afraid”?  I feel so sad, sometimes even angry, when I hear somebody who is depressed or anxious desperately trying to out-talk their circumstances with a ceaseless flow of empty speech, repeating words like a mantra:  “I just know God has a real purpose in this and I’m so excited to see how it all works out.”  The truth will allow them to weep real tears, wrestle with real doubt, and discover real comfort in the Holy Spirit.

Job knew God deeply.  The Lord Himself pointed to Job as a man who was “blameless, a man of complete integrity. He feared God and stayed away from evil.” (Job 1:1, NLT) Then, God allowed Satan to sweep everything the man held dear away!  Did Job serenely endure it all while singing a Psalm to hide his grief? No!  He wept, he grieved, he prayed… and eventually he came to the point that he cursed the day he was born. All the while his self-righteous ‘comforters’ – men who were great at god-talk that explained it all – kept telling him that it must be his fault, that he should just admit his sinfulness that brought the tragedies into his life.  But, Job never stopped praying!  His prayer, however, was not pretty, positive, and pulpit ready!  He said, “Curse that day for failing to shut my mother’s womb, for letting me be born to see all this trouble. “Why wasn’t I born dead? Why didn’t I die as I came from the womb?” (Job 3:10-11, NLT)  Can you imagine hearing your Christian friend pray that way?  Would such honesty open your heart with love or cause you to recoil in disgust?  What I admire is that he did not give up on God, that he knew Him so well that he would be completely authentic.  And, he did find comfort.

Jeremiah, God’s spokesman to ancient Judah, had a tough ministry.  God told him to go and proclaim His impending judgment.  Nobody wanted to hear the truth. “Death, murder, rape are going to befall you who ignore the living God,” he cried in loud voice!” His sermons rubbed sores onto the national conscience. Did he love his ministry?  You be the judge after reading this lament. “When I speak, the words burst out. “Violence and destruction!” I shout. So these messages from the Lord have made me a household joke.” (Jeremiah 20:8, NLT)  I admire his faithfulness to the truth, don’t you?

Job’s prayers and Jeremiah’s sermons are shocking. Many modern Christians might even reject them as faithless.  They are amazing indications of the intimacy these men enjoyed with God. They engaged with Him in authentic conversation, their prayers so much more than mere god-talk.  As a result they discovered His Presence in the middle of their desperation.

Faith is not the same as the happy, sappy, pious “everything is wonderful” platitudes that are common among Christian.  Faith is not saying words, it is remaining anchored in hope that rests on the Person who loves us all of the time. Real faith quietly holds onto the declaration that God is equally Lord when we are in the valley’s shadowy path or on the high bright peak of glorious triumph. Job recounted his sorrows and then declared: “Still, I know that God lives—the One who gives me back my life— and eventually he’ll take his stand on earth. And I’ll see him—even though I get skinned alive!”  (Job 19:25-26, The Message) His declaration does not mask his pain and sorrow; it is wrung from him like sweet juice squeezed from a grape!

Can people have a conversation with you without having to endure god-talk that blocks real communication?
When someone begins to share their pain are you just ready to listen and slide a shoulder under the burden to help carry it;
or are you quick to distance yourself, protecting yourself with a cliché – ‘just trust the Lord’ – as you pray a quick, insincere prayer?

Here’s word from the Word! It’s real. It’s blessed. It’s pregnant with promise. Live it “because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” (Romans 8:14-16, NIV)  “For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.” (Romans 8:24-27, NIV)

________________

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

Turkeys and Eagles!

turkeys-and-eaglesTurkeys like to hang around in flocks, scratching in the dirt for food, taking flight only for short distances. They do not soar and are not generally admired as a noble bird.  Hence, the description of a person going nowhere, doing nothing, as a ‘turkey.’  Eagles, by contrast, soar to the heights, beautiful creatures. We use the eagle motif often when describing high achievers, as in, ‘Eagle Scout.’ Are you a turkey or an eagle?

If you choose to hang out with turkeys, don’t be surprised when you end up in the roaster pan of life!
If you choose to be with eagles, they will lift you higher!

Proverbs is direct: “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.” (Proverbs 13:20, NIV) Those who have lesser natural ability who chose to associate themselves with students with brains and discipline will always exceed their expectations. They are challenged by their associates.  Sadly, I have known many born with all the ‘right stuff,’ who chose to hang with the crowd that is going nowhere. Life is easier when no one expects much of us. The good times, the laughter, and the acceptance of turkeys who were happy to welcome them to their flock brought apathy that allowed the bright promise to fade to mediocrity. I feel so sad for the guy who’s life peaked in high school, who is still telling the stories of football glory 25 years later.

Christian; who are your associates?
Where do you find inspiration and challenge?
Is it with the passionately committed, those whose desire is for the glory of God,
or is it with those who aim for minimal participation to assure getting into Heaven?

Yes, there are ‘Christians’ who choose the way of the turkey. They decide that choosing the best things of God- a holy life, a disciplined life of devotion and service, is just ‘too hard.’  Deceiving themselves they claim, “God is leading me in a different direction”  as they walk away from those who challenge them to do their ‘utmost for God’s highest.’   They join ‘turkeys’ that expect little, do nothing, and never wrestle with Truth. Turkeys love big stories of faith as long as they are about things happening on the other side of the world.  They devour easy to believe miracle tales and thrive on promises that you can ‘get all of God’ with simple formulaic prayers and emotional experiences. They usually misuse the marvelous grace of Christ, twisting it inside out and turning it into an excuse to indulge their selfish desires. It’s a life without commitment, without sacrifice or kingdom change.

The eagle Christian finds those who are deeply engaged, thoughtful, living with excellence for God’s glory. Daniel was an eagle! His reputation for unwavering commitment was so notable his enemies chose to use it to try to get rid of him in Babylon’s lion den. His enemies “tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent. Finally these men said, “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.” (Daniel 6:4-5, NIV)

If your desire is to soar on wings like eagles, living at the peak of effectiveness for the Lord, stop dreaming about miracle solutions or short-cuts. Daily discipline, being willing to deal with truth, the choice of walking with the wise – these things open our lives to the Spirit, who changes us “into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Find a band of eagles. Let them teach you to soar higher than you thought you could. Let their commitment to authentic Christian living be a model for you. And, enter the Kingdom of God, which is the destiny God purposed for you before time began.

__________

Shine Jesus Shine

 Lord, the light of Your love is shining,

In the midst of the darkness shining.

Jesus, Light of the world, shine upon us.

Set us free by the truth You now bring us.

Shine on me, shine on me.

 

Lord, I come to Your awesome presence,

From the shadows into Your radiance.

By the blood I may enter Your brightness;

Search me, try me, consume all my darkness,

Shine on me, shine on me.

 

As we gaze on Your kingly brightness

So our faces display Your likeness;

Ever changing from glory to glory,

Mirrored here, may our lives tell Your story.

Shine on me, shine on me.

 

Shine, Jesus, shine!

Fill this land

With the Father’s glory.

Blaze, Spirit, blaze!

Set our hearts on fire.

Flow, River, flow!

Flood the nations

With grace and mercy.

Send forth Your word, Lord;

And let there be light.

Graham Kendrick

© 1987 Make Way Music (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)

CCLI License # 810055

Do you know your shepherd?

There is an array of people who provide some kind of care for us at different times.  A few weeks ago, I sought out a lawyer to draw up important documents for me: a will, a power of attorney, and a health care directive. Her expertise was much appreciated!  I have always been grateful for those who provide medical care, and even more so, now that I am older!  One of the days that I dread each year is that trip to the dentist!  My dread is overcome by the sober realization that without good dental care, I’ll lose my teeth.  You have a doctor, lawyer, dentist, and  . . . now, let me ask you, do you have a pastor?

sheep2Yesterday I was invited to a ceremony that celebrated the new calling of a man who will serve a community, in a role every bit as important as those mentioned previously.  He was  being installed (what a term, eh?) as the 35th pastor of a church that is 250 years old! In that hour, I, who have invested my entire life in pastoral work, reflected on the work that I do and those I serve. Paul tells us that God, the Spirit,  “gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” (Ephesians 4:11-12, NIV)  Pastor – the word means ‘shepherd.’  Interestingly God did not call the leader of the local church, president or chief or lord or even father.  He says that His people will be led by shepherds.

Shepherds live with their sheep, day and night. It is a calling, not a career. They provide protection from predators, tender care for the hurt and wounded until they are healed and able to rejoin the flock, and make sure of the supply of pasture and water.  Shepherds live for their sheep!  The model for a pastor is none other than the Shepherd, Jesus.  He says, “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd puts the sheep before himself, sacrifices himself if necessary. A hired man is not a real shepherd. The sheep mean nothing to him. He sees a wolf come and runs for it, leaving the sheep to be ravaged and scattered by the wolf. He’s only in it for the money. The sheep don’t matter to him.” (John 10:11-13, The Message)

The preacher at the installation service yesterday took his text from Ezekiel 34.  The Lord warns the leader shepherds of His people about abusing their sheep.  It is a sobering passage for those who serve. “You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals.” (Ezekiel 34:3-5, NIV)  Peter expands on that and tells those who lead Christ’s church this;  “Care for the flock of God entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your good example. And when the head Shepherd comes, your reward will be a never-ending share in his glory and honor.” (1 Peter 5:2-4, NLT)

Ezekiel also speaks to the sheep.  He tells them that a pastor must be accepted, allowed to lead.  When unruly sheep ignore the shepherd, the damage to the whole flock is dire. He warns a flock about becoming ‘fat,’ and self-seeking, refusing to allow those in need to find the care they need.  “Is it not enough for you to keep the best of the pastures for yourselves? Must you also trample down the rest? Is it not enough for you to take the best water for yourselves? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? All that is left for my flock to eat is what you have trampled down. All they have to drink is water that you have fouled. “Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will surely judge between the fat sheep and the scrawny sheep. For you fat sheep push and butt and crowd my sick and hungry flock until they are scattered to distant lands.” (Ezekiel 34:18-21, NLT)

I rejoice in the privilege of being a shepherd under the care of the Great Shepherd. I feel the weight of the care of His flock and pray, with passion, to serve tenderly, lovingly, and for the good of the flock. Are you a part of the flock?  Are you under the care of both the Great Shepherd and a shepherd who loves and cares for  you?  The Spirit urges the church (the flock of God) to “be responsive to your pastoral leaders. Listen to their counsel. They are alert to the condition of your lives and work under the strict supervision of God. Contribute to the joy of their leadership, not its drudgery. Why would you want to make things harder for them?” (Hebrews 13:17, The Message)

Sheep and shepherd – let’s work to bring honor and glory to God – “God’s people (who are doing) works of service, (led well so that) the body of Christ may be built up.”

“A psalm of David.
The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams.
He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name.

Even when I walk through the dark valley of death,
I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.

You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies.
You welcome me as a guest, anointing my head with oil.
My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23, NLT)

Do you have God’s ear?

prayer2I bowed my head to pray but had no words.  What could I say that I had not already said?  There were no words to express what I felt. Ever been in that place, overwhelmed by pain or sorrow?  Look up, take heart, and enter into the deepest place with God who promises this: “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” (Romans 8:26, NIV)

That’s no excuse for lazy prayers or for sleeping through your morning time of devotion. What we find is that as we turn our heart to Him, even in the time when words fail, He remains our Counselor, keeping us aligned to His will. The Message says it this way: “God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God.”

As we pray – even wordlessly – let’s never forget the wonderful truth that we have a Meditator in the Throne Room of the Almighty!  Jesus, who knows the frail state of humanity, represents us in the Presence of God. “Jesus, our High Priest, has been given a ministry that is far superior to the old priesthood, for he is the one who mediates for us a far better covenant with God, based on better promises.” (Hebrews 8:6 NLT)  When life reduces us to quiet groans and tears, He knows what we feel.  “So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” (Hebrews 4:14-16, NLT)

Whatever your place, Jesus knows, empathizes, and leads to new life.

Grieving? He wept.

Alone? He prayed in the garden alone.

Feeling abandoned by God? He cries out the same.

Struggling to find faith to accept the trials of the day? He did, too!

Even if the only words we can find are mumbled cries for mercy, He knows the deeper need.  Moreover, He has taken away our guilt and given us confidence to come into God’s Presence.  When I pray I know He stands alongside of me. I am shabby, without beauty, but the majestic Lord of Glory puts His arm around my shoulders and says, “Father, Jerry is here with this need, this cry!”

Richard Foster speaks of ‘simple prayer.’  This most basic form of prayer is not about eloquence or persuasive arguments.  It is prayer that is filled with our inconsistencies, mixed motives, sorrow, anger, joy, dreams, hopes, longings, and daily concerns.  “Let us pray!”  Yes, simple prayers, wordless prayers, groans, and laughter formed into simple prayer.

The word from the Word is an invitation – “So, friends, we can now—without hesitation—walk right up to God, into “the Holy Place.” Jesus has cleared the way by the blood of his sacrifice, acting as our priest before God. The “curtain” into God’s presence is his body. So let’s do it—full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out. Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word.” (Hebrews 10: 19-23, The Message)

(This Sunday at Faith Discovery Church – http://www.FaithDiscovery.com – I will be starting a series of messages to explore the topic of prayer and encourage us to follow the direction – “Pray continually!” I am excited to take on this topic and know that the Spirit will be among us to make the Word alive!)

_____________

Before The Throne Of God Above

 

Before the throne of God above,

I have a strong and perfect plea,

A great High Priest whose name is Love,

Whoever lives and pleads for me.

My name is graven on His hands,

My name is written on His heart,

I know that while in heav’n He stands,

No tongue can bid me thence depart;

No tongue can bid me thence depart.

 

When Satan tempts me to despair,

And tells me of the guilt within,

Upward I look and see Him there,

Who made an end to all my sin.

Because the sinless Savior died,

My sinful soul is counted free,

For God the Just is satisfied,

To look on Him and pardon me;

To look on Him and pardon me.

 

Behold Him there the risen Lamb,

My perfect spotless righteousness,

The great unchangeable I Am,

The King of glory and of grace.

One with Himself I cannot die,

My soul is purchased with His blood,

My life is hid with Christ on high,

With Christ my Savior and my God;

With Christ my Savior and my God.

Charitie Lees Bancroft | Vikki Cook

© 1997 Sovereign Grace Worship (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing (IMI))

CCLI License # 810055