Define the ‘win’

 

winAre you a ‘winner?’ How do you know?

When I watch my Patriots play, I know when they win. How? The score! The team with the most points on the scoreboard wins!  When the Pats take the field, they perform with the purpose of raising that score – touchdowns are the only thing that matter. Each player knows why he is on the field, is trained for his position.  Only a win brings celebration. Brave smiles and words about ‘playing well’ are offered up postgame by losing teams, but everybody knows that winning is the real issue. In kindergarten, they hand out ribbons to everyone. It may make a small child have a happy day, but it will not be very long before he knows the difference between winning and losing.

Paul lived his Christian life with a definite purpose- to win!  “Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-26, NLT)  Before you decide to be offended that I would seem to approve of cut-throat competition, read on. There is nothing wrong with desiring to win. The issue is how one defines the ‘win.’

Some are convinced that winning in life is all about wealth. Remember hearing this? “He who does with the most toys, wins!” No doubt about it, wealth generally allows for a better quality of life and increases the amount of opportunities in life.  However, rich and poor alike, eventually come to the end of the race and leave this world on level ground.  Others are sure that winning is about arranging life in a way that assures their happiness. They work at controlling outcomes, using people and things to make life work as they believe it should. Power is the underlying issue, but once again, Presidents and pawns will eventually lose control of their situation and find themselves at the mercy of others.

Some are convinced that the win in life is in beauty and work hard against the inevitable creases and wrinkles that time etches into every face. Others are convinced that sex is god and pursue one conquest after another. Is there a more sad example of a failed life than Hugh Hefner who founded the Playboy empire?  The old fool is still trying to convince himself that those young women in his mansion care about him rather than his fame or money, but the emptiness of his lust is obvious to anyone with insight.

Paul knew that the ‘win’ was about God and people! Convinced that Heaven was just beyond the finish line here on this earth, he gave himself to loving God. Setting aside the offers of a comfortable, but unchallenged, life; looking beyond the happiness of being socially accepted found by living in a way that was shaped around the norms of his culture, he asked the Spirit to lead him along the Way.  His life did not look very successful from the outside. He was arrested, jailed, reviled by his own people, and often living in dire straits. However, he remained focused on the ultimate definition of a ‘win.’  “In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers (servants) of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind. We have been beaten, been put in prison, faced angry mobs, worked to exhaustion, endured sleepless nights, and gone without food. We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, by the Holy Spirit within us, and by our sincere love. We faithfully preach the truth. God’s power is working in us.” (2 Corinthians 6:4-7, NLT)

He measured his effectiveness, not by awards, not by wealth, not by applause – but by the transformed lives he left in his wake. When the Gospel of Christ took root in another heart, changing a sinner to a saint, changing the destiny of another lost soul; Paul knew the joy of a win!  His sense of genuine triumph echoes out of these lines to the church he founded in Corinth. “The only letter of recommendation we need is you yourselves. Your lives are a letter written in our hearts; everyone can read it and recognize our good work among you. Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you. This “letter” is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. It is carved not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts.” (2 Corinthians 3:2-3, NLT)

Jesus defines the ‘rules of the game’ in simple terms.  No, it is not easy to apply them to life; quite the opposite.  Clear and simple in declaration, they demand a radical commitment, a humble heart, and surrender to the Spirit on a daily basis.  “Want to win?” Jesus asks. Here are the rules. “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40, NLT)

As you begin this new week, define the ‘win.’  Decide to get in the game and stay in it until the end. Watch out for deadly apathy, for settling for the status quo, for choosing trinkets over treasure.  “You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally. I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me!” (1 Corinthians 9:24-26, The Message)

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Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee (Ode To Joy)

Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee,

God of glory, Lord of love.

Hearts unfold like flow’rs before Thee,

Opening to the sun above.

Melt the clouds of sin and sadness,

Drive the dark of doubt away.

Giver of immortal gladness

Fill us with the light of day!

 

Thou art giving and forgiving,

Ever blessing, ever blest.

Wellspring of the joy of living,

Ocean depth of happy rest.

Thou our Father, Christ, our Brother,

All who live in love are Thine.

Teach us how to love each other

Lift us to the joy divine.

 

Edward Hodges | Henry Van Dyke | Ludwig van Beethoven

© Words: Public Domain

Change the Whole Atmosphere

 

gratitude2How do you want this week to go for you? Do you want to be miserable, irritable? Would you prefer joy? There is a singular choice that you alone can make that will have a major impact, shaping your environment.  What is that?  Gratitude!

People will do things you do not like.  Some will be rude, others just thoughtless. Your food may arrive at the table cold. Your spouse may come home from work weary and difficult. And the list goes on  …   but, be thankful anyway! Find a reason to offer thanks.

G.K. Chesterton reminded us that we need to get in the habit of “taking things with gratitude and not taking things for granted.”  A Christian who wants to reflect the heart of Jesus to the world will learn to be grateful – to God, to others – consistently. It takes practice.  Self has a voracious appetite and will devour as much attention as we give to it. Many of us mistakenly believe that gratitude is something we ‘feel’ rather than a choice we make.  On those days when the kids are mysteriously wonderful and kind, when our spouse is especially attentive to our needs, when our coffee is served ‘just right,’ and everyone on the road is courteous, we feel thankful. (Does that ever really happen?)  If we wait to feel thankful, we will not be thankful often, if ever.  That is why the Lord directs us to choose thanks as a way of life. It is as simple as this: “Thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, The Message)

Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest and writer, reflects on his own journey writing that “In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realize that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline. The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.”

Gratitude is hard!  I know that from personal experience. I wasted too many days wishing that life were different, allowing myself to get lost in the maze of ‘if only’ and ‘could be.’  What I am learning is that every second spent wishing is a second where I am not present to what God is doing in my life right where I am.  That does not mean that I cannot work to change things, or that I cannot acknowledge pain or disappointment.  Gratitude is not escapism, nor is it denial. Gratitude finds God in the now and accepts His grace.

Let me suggest a plan for being grateful this Thanksgiving week.

  1. Begin the day with thanks to God. Do not let it be a perfunctory, “Thank you, Lord, for all You have done.” Make it personal, from the heart, authentic. Speak it.
  2. That first person you encounter in the morning – let your first words be thankful and again, make it real!
  3. When irritation stirs in you, meet it with your will and replace it with a positive thought.
  4. Take some time this week and write your own “Psalm.” (a model might be Psalm 103)

Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits—” (Psalm 103:1-2, NIV)

This is true – the more thankful I am, the better I become at it. It grows with practice.  Thankful people attract others who are grateful, who have dethroned Self and learned to accept life, not as they wish it were, but as it is.

Here is the word from the Word. Live it! “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever. Has the Lord redeemed you? Then speak out! Tell others he has redeemed you from your enemies.” (Psalm 107:1-2, NLT)  “Let them praise the Lord for his great love and for the wonderful things he has done for them. Let them exalt him publicly before the congregation and before the leaders of the nation.” (Psalm 107:31-32, NLT)

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Happy Thanksgiving!

CoffeeBreak will be ‘on break,’ until Monday, 11/30.  See you next week.

Let’s finish well

 

never-never-give-upThursdays are often the longest day of the week for me, the middle of the pastor’s week, the ‘make or break’ day for weekend preparation. This morning while I was getting focused for the day I thought of the child’s tale about staying in the race.

Remember Aesop’s fable about a race between a tortoise and a hare?  The speedy rabbit challenged the old turtle to a race. How could he lose?  With so much of an edge in speed, over his heavy-shelled, short-legged friend, he knew his victory was inevitable. Turtle accepted the challenge because he knew something, too.  Mr. Rabbit was over-confident, lacking character!  You know the story, right. The hare turned off the course to find a shade tree and catch a nap.  “I’ll just wake up and speed past my old friend and win the race,’ he thought as he snoozed.  Meanwhile, the turtle just kept pushing along, not stopping. When rabbit awakened and ran to the finish line, he found turtle waiting for him with a bit of advice – ‘slow and steady wins the race!’   It is a good Thursday morning story for me.  Sometimes we paraphrase the lesson – “You snooze, you lose.”

Paul says it this way: “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power … put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” (Ephesians 6:10,13, NIV) Stand your ground! Do everything you can! Then, take God’s strength and keep on standing!

We love those who are attractive – physically. We admire those with charisma.  We are often prone to trust those who ‘look’ like winners. Mere mortals, the majority of us, are sometimes deceived by the lie that we cannot compete in the race, that we will never win, because we do not look like a winner or because we have too much baggage.  Look around! Stars may get the attention, but the faithful plodders usually carry the heaviest part of the load in life. Finishers often compensate for what they lack in ‘star power’ with hard work, networking, and showing up every day, on time, ready to do what they are asked to do. In the end, when the star has burnt out or moved on; the steady one is still standing.

God needs steady plodders in His Kingdom who are finishing the race.  What does that look like?  They work at their marriage for God’s glory. They love and teach their children for God’s glory. They develop and use their spiritual gifts, for God’s glory. They practice the disciplines of the Spirit, for God’s glory.  They show up whether they feel like it or not.

We are drawn our culture’s myth that there is a ‘secret’ that will make life work without struggle. We find it difficult to believe that sin and evil are real, opposed to everything good and godly. But, the Word tells us that are engaged in a fight to the finish.  We are called to soldier on in the struggle with the World, the Flesh, and the Devil! Conflict, by definition, is exhausting.  The Devil seeks to kill and destroy. The systems of this world that surround us are corrupt and oppose the will of God which includes living a life of love, integrity, humility, faithfulness, and sacrificial service. Our own internal desires are often at odds with the call of the Spirit to holiness. We all struggle with temptation to lust, or greed, or laziness, or pride! The Christian life is a pilgrimage, as we walk through a world that is not our home.

The good news is that we do not stand alone!  The Spirit of God is with us, right here, right now. He gives strength to the faithful who seek Him. The Bible calls on us to endure: to keep on walking in His strength even when we just want to lay down and rest. Paul reminds us: “I am willing to endure anything if it will bring salvation and eternal glory in Christ Jesus to those God has chosen. This is a trustworthy saying: If we die with him, we will also live with him. If we endure hardship, we will reign with him.” (2 Timothy 2:10-12, NLT)

Keep walking! Here is a steady, standing word of wisdom from God’s Holy Word.  “Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. … So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.” (Hebrews 10:23-24, 35-36, NLT) “If you hang in there, you will be able to say, at the very end of this earthly life: “This is the only race worth running. I’ve run hard right to the finish, believed all the way. All that’s left now is the shouting—God’s applause! Depend on it, he’s an honest judge. He’ll do right … by everyone eager for his coming.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8, The Message)

Stand your ground! Do everything you can! Then, take God’s strength and keep on standing!

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How Firm A Foundation (Foundation)

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,

Is laid for your faith in His excellent word!

What more can He say than to you He hath said,

To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

 

Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,

For I am thy God, I will still give thee aid!

I’ll strengthen thee, help thee,

And cause thee to stand

Upheld by My gracious, omnipotent hand.

 

© Words: Public Domain

Fell From the Fire

ablazeOn Friday I lit a fire in our fireplace. The flames and warmth are just right for a relaxing evening.  First, there are small pieces of kindling. On top of that are smaller pieces of wood. Once that has caught fire, burning nicely, I placed two larger pieces on top to sustain the fire.  As the pile burned and settled, one of the larger logs rolled off of the pile.  In a few moments it was just smoking, no longer aflame.

There is a powerful lesson for a Christian about keeping holy passion alive.

“Church, who needs it?” is a question that many Christians are asking, in their heart, if not out loud.  We who shape the worship services must accept some responsibility for that. If gatherings are thrown together, unfocused, without prayer, and the Word is presented in ways that are beyond understanding or disconnected from daily life, it’s only natural for a person to start to wonder – ‘why bother?’  I am not just blaming the people in the pews!

However, there is a casual attitude toward gathering for worship that grows out of a misunderstanding of what worship means and why we gather, too. Worship is not just about your experience. We gather to honor God with our time, our attention!  We present ourselves to Him, acknowledging with our attendance, that He is our God.  On a given Sunday, I see somewhere around half of the congregation present.  Some are resting after busy weeks. Some are doing ‘family’ things. Sports are a factor, too.  In each case, Christians insist that they can worship as they do what they feel is more important than coming together for formal acts of worship and instruction from the Scripture.

So, you think this is just an issue because I am a Pastor, my life dedicated to the organized Church?  In fact, those who brush off the importance of being an active part of a congregation, are ignoring what God says is  ‘critically important.’ The Bible says, “let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25, NIV)

Our spiritual experience is incomplete without Church.  We are part of Christ’s Body, each of gifted to contribute to the whole, none of us self-sufficient in our practice or understanding.  (see 1 Corinthians 12)  Nearly every aberrant or heretical practice begins when a person decides that his/her ‘private experience with God’ is more significant than the teaching of the Church and the relationships found in her.  Like the log that fell off the fire, if a Christian spends too long apart from the Fellowship, there will be an inevitable cooling of the Spirit’s fire, too.  And, on a positive note, there is the factor of multiplied effectiveness and joy that comes from shared worship and service in the Church.

Let’s not confuse the building with the Church!  Christ’s church is us, not our gathering place. That said, we need structure – people with the holy calling of teaching, shepherding, speaking, guiding, correcting, loving.  Yes, the Body of Christ can, and often does, gather in a living room, a school gymnasium, a chapel by the roadside, or a cathedral. I have worshiped with Christians in all of the above and offered my praise and worship to the Living God.

I remember feeling the Presence of God as I worshiped with people whose language I could not understand, sitting on a wooden bench in a potato warehouse that had been converted to a church in India. Our only musical instrument was a single drum!  I also have stood with thousands in huge arenas, pouring out praise, led by skilled musicians, taught by gifted communicators. They were equally rich worship experiences! It is the act of gathering; coming together in the  Name of Jesus, to adore the Father in the Spirit, that is worshipful!  Jesus assures us that “where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20, NIV)  He’s in the gathering, not the building.

Thinking about walking away from your church?  If she is not a good church, then earnestly pray for her; don’t abandon her!  God may change the church or He may change you, but the act of loving His Church with prayer and support, is a choice of obedience that the Lord will always bless.  If your church is a good, healthy Body, give thanks for the work being accomplished and pray for those who lead her to keep vision renewed and fervor fresh.  Nothing breeds complacency like ‘success’ even in church work!

This I know: there is nothing that will contribute to the stability and vitality of your faith in a greater way than your church over the course of your life.  God says so! 

Don’t be like the log that rolled off the fire!  The charred piece of wood lies cold, alone, in my fireplace. The fire went out when it got separated from the other logs.  Stay fired up! Keep your holy passion intact by staying ‘in church.’  If the Church is important to Him, it must be important to those who claim to love and serve Him!  You better believe it.

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Here’s a song from the Rend Collective. It is a prayer that I pray daily. Will you pray, too?  And, together, let’s be part of His answer.

Build Your Kingdom Here

(listen by clicking on the title)

Come set Your rule and reign

In our hearts again.

Increase in us we pray,

Unveil why we’re made.

Come set our hearts ablaze with hope,

Like wildfire in our very souls,

Holy Spirit, come invade us now.

We are Your church,

We need Your pow’r in us.

 

We seek Your kingdom first,

We hunger and we thirst,

Refuse to waste our lives,

For You’re our joy and prize.

To see the captives’ hearts released,

The hurt, the sick, the poor at peace.

We lay down our lives for heaven’s cause,

We are Your church!

We pray,  “revive this earth.”

 

Build Your kingdom here.

Let the darkness fear.

Show Your mighty hand,

Heal our streets and land.

Set Your church on fire,

Win this nation back.

Change the atmosphere,

Build Your kingdom here we pray.

 

Unleash Your kingdom’s pow’r,

Reaching the near and far.

No force of hell can stop,

Your beauty changing hearts.

You made us for much more than this,

Awake the kingdom seed in us,

Fill us with the strength and love of Christ.

We are Your church,

We are the hope on earth.

 

Rend Collective

© 2011 Thankyou Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

S.D.G. – your motive?

sdg_musicThree letters closed every composition done for the Church by composer Johann Sebastian Bach: “S. D. G.” Who can listen to his work, e.g. Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” and not be stirred, spirit lifted? The composer’s desire was not to please the listener but to honor God. He worked on his church music with that motivation, writing the letters, “J.J.” at the top of each piece, “Jesu Juva” – Jesus help!

“The idea that Bach wrote music to glorify God is widely accepted, but in our age of ‘listener pleasure’, Bach himself probably would be appalled with certain modern secular attitudes toward his music. … It never ceases to amaze me the arrogance of some musicians and critics in their claims of ‘knowing the true Bach’ without reference to his religious faith, which is responsible for the high quality, indeed the striving for a certain perfection ‘to please the Creator.’“ – (David, Hans T. and Mendel, Arthur: The Bach Reader) Those who know his work much better than I do claim that Bach’s music cannot be grasped in full without understanding his Christian faith!

What moves you?
Is your life impossible to understand without a reference point to the Almighty God?

Peter and Paul, leaders of the Church, urge us to live with a godly aim. “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31, NIV) “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:11, NIV) Paul says that even our mundane choices of food and drink should be formed around an awareness of God and what makes His Name great! Those early Christians to whom he was writing often fought about whether their diets should be kosher and whether they should eat meat that was blessed in the name of idol gods. Some dismissed the argument as silly; others viewed it as critical. Paul said that both were missing the larger issue – What brought honor to the Lord? Peter’s direction was about spiritual gifts. Speaking, serving, giving, leading – the motive is never about enhancing the reputation of the person!

What is living for the glory of God?

The New Testament word is ‘doxa’ or ‘doxazo.’ The word speaks of radiance, excellence, majesty. Our lives, at their very best, should cause others to take note of Him, to say, “What an amazing God,” not “What an amazing person.” Much of human endeavor is designed to capture attention, to impress, to garner admiration, or to secure wealth and position. Christians live differently!

Jesus expressed it as ‘seeking first the kingdom of God.’
Is that goal first in your mind and heart? As you live today, examine your motives. Go deeper, under the outward appearance, and ask yourself –
Why am I doing this?
Am I remembering to honor my God?

There is a sobering truth about motives. They make all the difference! When we stand before Christ, at the Judgment, His gaze will penetrate beneath the surface. “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable.” (Hebrews 4:12-13, NLT) Why wait to that Day and see much of what was supposedly done for Him disappear in a puff of smoke, burnt up because of unworthy self-centered motives? Pray for a humble heart, confident in His power and authentic before God and Man. Then live, Soli Deo Gloria – for the glory of God alone!
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Be Glorified

Your love has captured me!
Your grace has set me free!
Your life, the air I breathe.
Be glorified in me.

You set my feet to dancing,
You set my heart on fire.
In the presence of a thousand kings,
You are my one desire.
And I stand before You now
With trembling hands lifted high,
Be glorified.

Be glorified in me,
Be glorified in me,
Be glorified in me,
Be glorified!

Chris Tomlin | Jesse Reeves | Louie Giglio
© 1999 worshiptogether.com songs (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)
CCLI License # 810055

Make Monday Mornings Peaceful

How would you like to multiply your peace and effectiveness this week, starting now?  We are so accustomed to oversell that you probably read that line with some level of disbelief.  However, there is a decision you can make right now and an ongoing shift in attitude you can make that will change you!  The direction comes from the Perfect Man – Jesus. If we will take his guidance we will be better at what we do and become a deeper person at the same time.  It is true!  His counsel?  Here are His words: “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34, NIV) The Message says “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” (Matthew 6:34, The Message)

present“Be present where you are!”  Our phones, TV’s, and computers are dragging our attention elsewhere, all of the time.  Learning to be where we are, fully attentive to those who are with us, aware of the ‘temperature’ in the room, is not as easy as it may seem.  Deadlines loom – pulling us to think about them. Fears lurk at the edge of our mind pushing us to respond to ‘what if’ and ‘could be.’ Dozens of distractions offer us escape routes from the moment. Almost seductively, they say, “Come with me. Think about me.”  But, often, as we shift our attention, the ephemeral thought vanishes, replaced by another.  Entire days can pass without focus, without a deep conversation, without engaging with life right here, right now!

While sitting in an afternoon meeting last week, I took note that every person sitting around me had their smartphone in hand, texting and messaging, while the speaker was talking. (Guilty as charged, too!)  We call it ‘multi-tasking.’ But, the real deal is distraction.  We think we can pay full attention to what is going on in the room while we answer that message, check our email, or look at the latest Facebook update. But, we can’t!   This is just a symptom of the fractured life that many of us live and wonder why we know so little peace and contentment.

Be honest with yourself about how you conduct your life.

Are you constantly behind, playing catch up, driven by an agenda that even you admit is ‘out of control?’
Are you usually just making deadlines, showing up for appointments right at the moment or late?
Are your finances in disarray, credit card balances building, and bills past due?
Do you have a list of things that need to be done that never get done – letters that should have been written, calls that should have been made?
Is your diet full of snacks and fast food, because you never have time to sit down and enjoy a meal?

If your answer is yes to most of those questions, you have a spiritual problem!  Before you get offended or offer an excuse, read on.  The great sin of American Christians is letting life control them because they try to own too much, do too much, and be too many things to too many people.  “No,” is like a curse word for many of us.  We are concerned that others will see us as ‘lazy,’ or ‘uncommitted’ so we allow ourselves to be driven to distraction and become soul sick in the process.  And then, too, there are those who amuse themselves to death and think they are ‘busy.’   They have time to watch 15-20 hours of television on the weekend, and claim to be overwhelmed by life. Let’s get real here. If you can make time to watch TV or go to the golf course for an entire afternoon, you have a problem with priorities.

Jesus counsels us to “Be present where you are!”

Today, when you are at work, work!
When you are home, be fully at home.
When you praying, pray with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
When it is time to sleep, turn off the phone, TV, and rest.

Jesus had just three years to accomplish a world-changing task and He was working with people who were slow to learn, dense, and uncomprehending. And yet, He was present to life. He actually saw the needs around Him, spent time alone with God, and took time to welcome children.  He was full of life and gave life to those with whom He lived.  We are to be like Him!  But, we will never pour out a quality of life on our world that heals and restores unless we are walking with Him, fully alive in His Presence.

Ponder these words. Pray over them. Spend more than a minute with them. And, ruthlessly deal with the distractions that come your way. This Monday (and all of life) will become different when we are living in the Spirit.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, NLT)

Or, like this: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message)

Amen

Lean in to touch Jesus!

hemGot a need that is crushing the life out of you? Carrying a burden that makes every step a weary one?  So did the little woman who pushed her way through the crowd to find Jesus.  Her illness left her weak physically and she was emotionally alone, too, for those around her considered her ‘unclean’ because of it.  For years she had tried one ‘cure’ after another.  Hope was just a word in the dictionary – until someone told her about Someone who had answers. She was fearful but willing to take a risk, yet again. She spotted Him. It was easy to knew Who He was, there at the center of attention. She leaned in with the thought, “If I can just touch Him, even the hem of His robe, I’ll be healed.”

Just as she did, He turned! He sensed her faith, though she was unseen. He wanted to speak with her, to complete the work so He asked, “Who touched me?” “When the woman realized that she couldn’t remain hidden, she knelt trembling before him. In front of all the people, she blurted out her story-why she touched him and how at that same moment she was healed. Jesus said, “Daughter, you took a risk trusting me, and now you’re healed and whole. Live well, live blessed!” (Luke 8:47-48, The Message)

Does something in your life weaken you, break your spirit, drag you down?
Have you nearly lost hope, resigned to your ‘fate?’

There is One who can restore you, make you whole.
Will you lean in to touch Him?
Press in to touch the Lord Jesus Christ.

How can I do that, you may be asking? I cannot walk down to the town square and find Him in a crowd.  But, He is still among us.  Make time to be in worship; not ‘church’ but worship.  That can happen on an early morning walk, in a quiet late evening time with an open Bible, as you’re driving to work with tears running down your face.  We need to push through the distractions that keep us from Him. We need to deal honestly and with the temptations that would replace Him.

Yes, use the aid of corporate worship in a place your mind associates with ‘the holy.’  Go to church. Do not excuse yourself with the excuse that you have so much to do. Go early and sit quietly as you wait on Him!
Do not abandon times of mediation in which you absorb a passage from His Word.

Make a time each day that is His time.  “Jerry, do you know the kind of life I have? Do you know that there are kids in my house?”  I hear you. So, you will have to be intentional and creative to make a time, but lean in and touch Him!

Lean in!  Here is a word from the Word.

“Have compassion on me, Lord, for I am weak. Heal me, Lord, for my body is in agony. I am sick at heart. How long, O Lord, until you restore me?” (Psalm 6:2-3, NLT)

“The Lord has heard my plea; the Lord will answer my prayer.” (Psalm 6:9, NLT)

___________

Breathe

This is the air I breathe,
This is the air I breathe,
Your holy Presence living in me.
This is my daily bread,
This is my daily bread,
Your very word spoken to me.

And I I’m desperate for You!
And I I’m lost without You!
Marie Barnett
© 1995 Mercy / Vineyard Publishing (Admin. by Vineyard Music USA)
CCLI License # 810055

But, Lord, I don’t want to be like Tupperware!

But, I want to be a beautiful jar!

Jeremiah, sent by God with sermons of correction, received a message in the strangest of places. “Up on your feet! Go to the potter’s house. When you get there, I’ll tell you what I have to say.” So I went to the potter’s house… Whenever the pot the potter was working on turned out badly, as sometimes happens when you are working with clay, the potter would simply start over and use the same clay to make another pot. Then God’s Message came to me: “Can’t I do just as this potter does, people of Israel?” God’s Decree! “Watch this potter. In the same way that this potter works his clay, I work on you, people of Israel.” (Jeremiah 18:1-6, The Message)

jars-of-clay-potters-handWe are like clay in the Lord’s hands! He makes us into a jar that is fitting for His plans. We get that part of the picture, don’t we? Stretching the metaphor, Jeremiah gave ‘life’ to the clay. We can resist the work of the Potter! We can remove ourselves from His wheel, seeking our own destiny.

In Jeremiah’s message there are two truths that are parallel rails in life –
God does what He wills to do, and
We are free to choose!

Those two facts seem to be contradictions by our reasoning, don’t they? The consistent truth in Scripture is that the Lord is sovereign (accountable only to Himself) and that human beings are given the gift of freedom to accept or reject Him.

In obedience we find peace and life. Of the willful clay in Jeremiah’s revelation, God said, “if they don’t cooperate and won’t listen to me, I will think again and give up on the plans I had for them. … Straighten out your lives.’ “But they’ll just say, ‘Why should we? What’s the point? We’ll live just the way we’ve always lived, doom or no doom.’ ” (Jeremiah 18:10-12, The Message)

 What kind of ‘clay’ are you, Christian?
Do you rejoice to be used of God? Will you find joy in whatever He does, be faithful to His purpose no matter where He chooses to use you? Or will you complain about how God is shaping you, resisting His efforts to mold your life?

In His will, some of us are like beautiful flower vases, displaying His glory, richly gifted. And, some of us are like Tupperware™ containers, very useful, but ordinary and unnoticed. What we do and where we serve is His choice! He gives us the freedom to accept or reject, reminding us that regardless of our station or service, we will know joy and fulfillment if we, unlike the people of ancient Judah, will say, “Yes, Lord, here I am. Use me.”

This passage asks us to learn obedience, with trust in Him. It is not easy! “But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?” (Romans 9:20-21, NIV)

Even as I read these words and write of the choice God gives us, I know first-hand the difficulty of submission to Him. Living in a time when it appears that He will take my wife, my beloved from me, I want to question Him. To what purpose would He take the one I love dearly, my partner in life and ministry, my friend and confidante? My prayer, with many tears, is that I will remain faithful, fit for the Master’s use, until that Day when understanding comes.

Perhaps, you like me, are being shaped in ways that are hard. Listen! Trust! Wait! Love! Keep faith! The word from the Word is rich in comfort for we who are clay. Lord, make this word a living Word to our hearts today. “We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.” (2 Corinthians 4:7-10, NLT)

___________

The Potter’s Hand

Beautiful Lord, wonderful Savior,
I know, for sure, all of my days are
Held in Your hand crafted into
Your perfect plan.

You gently call me into Your presence,
Guiding me by Your Holy Spirit,
Teach me, dear Lord, to live all of my life
Through Your eyes.

I’m captured by Your holy calling,
Set me apart, I know You’re drawing
Me to Yourself.
Lead me, Lord, I pray.

Take me, mold me,
Use me, fill me;
I give my life
To the Potter’s hand!
Call me, guide me,
Lead me, walk beside me;
I give my life
To the Potter’s hand!

Darlene Zschech© 1997 Wondrous Worship (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)

CCLI License # 810055

I am not waiting to be rescued!

About 10 pm last night I turned off the television after watching several earnest people offer to ‘fix’ America if they are elected to the Presidency of this great nation. There were a few interesting ideas but mostly it was a rewarming of things I have heard from politicians for most of my adult life. No single choice is going to restore economic prosperity, make our streets safer, help students with huge bills for higher education, make Social Security solvent again, or answer the riddles of illegal immigration.  Don’t stop reading just yet. This is not a political blog.

living-watersAs I prayed before going to sleep, the Spirit whispered in my heart, “Jerry, are you part of the solution?” America’s problems are not just coming from Washington, DC and they are certainly not just political. America’s greatest need is a spiritual one.  Where Self rules unchallenged, there will be problems.  Where the Spirit defeats Self and Sin, there will be life that is rich in the best things – love, joy, peace – which are better than economic prosperity!

Spiritual renewal starts with me.  Transformation begins when I humble myself before the Lord and deal with my own sins. Easy? Not at all. Does it make everything better in a day? You surely know the answer to that.  But, a person who is filled with God’s Spirit, who loves, who lives with contentment, who walks in steady faithfulness, who keeps his word, honors his covenants, and encourages his neighbor makes a difference.  This great passage says we become a fragrance spreading through the world we live in.  “Thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.” (2 Corinthians 2:14-17, NIV)

Let’s not wait to be rescued!  Let’s stop lusting for things that will only soothe our troubled hearts for a short time. Let’s ask God for wisdom and power – and become part of the answer.  Wait! Do not heave that sigh and slip into resigned apathy as you defeat yourself by thinking – “What difference can I make?”  All the talk of BIG solutions and CHANGING THE WORLD can hide the fact that you and I matter in the scheme of things. If our love for Jesus helps us to make just a few lives better it is important.  One person made a decision about 75 years ago that changed the course of my life.  When my Granddaddy heard the Gospel preached by a young woman evangelist in a tent revival in Truesdale, IA, sometime around 1940, he became a follower of Christ.  He had no idea that his choice was would be a world-changing one. But, from that one humble change came a trickle that became a stream and is now a river of influence for the Kingdom of God!  Uncounted thousands of people have heard about Jesus because my Grandpa knelt and made a decision for Him!

The life of the Spirit goes deep. He causes us to love, moves us to serve, gives us generous hearts, and lifts our vision to a life that is built around things far more significant than sex, food, power, and money!  Here is a word from the Word. Meditate on it and be part of God’s answer today, right where you live. “Jesus took his stand. He cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Rivers of living water will brim and spill out of the depths of anyone who believes in me this way, just as the Scripture says.” (John 7:37-38, The Message)

_______

Enough

You’re my supply, my breath of life,

Still more awesome than I know.

You’re my reward, worth living for,

Still more awesome than I know,

And…

 

All of You is more than enough for all of me;

For ev’ry thirst and ev’ry need.

You satisfy me with Your love

And all I have in You is more than enough!

 

You’re my sacrifice of greatest price,

Still more awesome than I know.

You’re my coming King ,You are ev’rything,

Still more awesome than I know.

 

More than all I want,
more than all I need.

You are more than enough for me.

More than all I know,

more than all I can say,

You are more than enough!

Chris Tomlin | Louie Giglio

© 2002 sixsteps Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

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

CCLI License # 810055

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine

shineThe digital ‘conversation’ for the last 48 hours is about a guy who thinks that a national coffee chain is terrible because the cups they are using this Christmas are just red with no “Christmas” designs on them.  One of the guys running for President picked up on the theme and declared that when he is President, “We will all say ‘Merry Christmas’ again!”  Oh, my dear Christian friends, with all the sin and suffering in the world, is the design of a coffee cup or even the fact that a company refuses to have employees say “Merry Christmas” the thing on which we should ‘take a stand?’  Terrorists are killing people. Refugees are living in squalor. Sex slaves are being traded around the world, including in these United States. Racism is making a resurgence. Corruption is creating injustice.

And, God has entrusted the Gospel of Christ to us. This Gospel has the power to transform people and cultures, but it is not about coffee cups or Christmas greetings. It is about the Cross of Christ that invites us to ‘die to Self,’ and to serve as He did; sacrificially, without any regard to His own comfort or ‘respect.’

Christians are confusing what they find comfortable within the cultural framework with what is ‘right’ in the eyes of God. Daniel Williams, writing in Christianity Today (9/2007)  wisely reminds us that – “if the cleanliness of our home is more important than housing needy children, or if we follow the dictates of our career over the covenant of our marriage.  Regarding things as more important than they are is what leads to obsessiveness, possessiveness, or oppressiveness.”   Do you see his parable? Can you grasp it?

Let’s pray humbly making this our request – “God, break my heart with those things that break Yours.”  Let us seek God for a real spiritual reawakening that starts in us, making us forget ourselves, that leads us to radically serve, to love others so intensely that Jesus radiates from our lives as we care for those who are least, as we visit the aged, as we love those who are confused, as we give our stuff to those who are in need, and quietly drink our coffee from red cups that have no reindeer printed on them as we give thanks for our privileged existence that allows us to pay $4 for a cup of coffee.

Please, dear Christian, let us spend a long time pondering, prayerfully, our response to ‘the world’ lest we make fools of ourselves (and not in the best way) by majoring on minors!  If the Devil cannot tempt us with gross sin, he will settle for making us totally ineffective in the Lord’s work by getting us sidetracked into personal crusades that reflect our prejudices and preferences.  Causes worthy of intense debate are few!  Why is it that those outside of the Church can see our obsession, but so many of us cannot?

Here is a word from the Word. With my whole heart I plead with you to read it slowly, prayerfully, asking God for insight and acceptance.

“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15, NIV)  “We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God.” (2 Corinthians 6:3-7, NIV)

The universal Rule Jesus laid down for all Believers is two-fold and yet encompasses everything we do:
“Love God whole-heartedly, and  love others intensely!” May His grace preserve us from debates about things that matter so little.  Amen.