Musing a month after . . .

 

todayA month has now passed since Bev stepped over the threshold of time. “How are you?” loving friends ask me. There is no simple answer. Sorrow greets me anew each morning. Memories ambush me constantly; a smell, a sound, a little object, an email … and tears come. But, there are ‘normal’ days, too.  I am enjoying the company of friends, sleeping well, and keeping up my day to day responsibilities.

Prayer is still difficult, often nothing more than murmured Psalms or simple one-line child-like petitions on behalf of others. My heart is a stormy thing with emotions refusing to observe boundaries that make them manageable.  I find myself fussing over details, inordinately concerned with keeping things arranged. Anger is always simmering, too.  I grow quickly irritated, am more easily frustrated than usual.  Yes, I am grieving.

Some people, especially those who do not know me well, are obviously ill at ease, uncertain about what to say or how to treat me. They say nice things and sometimes offer hugs, but I know they are struggling. I just want to say, “Relax, I’m struggling, too. Half of me died a few days ago! I have no idea what normal is anymore either.”  A few try too hard and say things that I would rather not hear again.  “Well, at least she is not suffering.” True. Or, “She’s at peace.” Again, true, but I’m not!  What I really need is empathy, people to just understand and say, “I know it’s hard. I care.”

This kind of loss shines a bright light on life. There is a kind of clarity of mind and heart that is almost too much to bear.

Let me share a couple of things I know better now.

I feel the brevity of life.  I do not want to waste a day in foolish things. The idea of ‘killing time’ makes me angry now.  Solomon says, “Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator. Honor him in your youth before you grow old and say, “Life is not pleasant anymore.” … Yes, remember your Creator now while you are young, before the silver cord of life snaps and the golden bowl is broken. Don’t wait until the water jar is smashed at the spring and the pulley is broken at the well. For then the dust will return to the earth, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.” … “That’s the whole story. Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty. God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad.” (Ecclesiastes 12:1, 6-7, 13-14, NLT)

I enjoy the company of others, valuing the shared journey more.  Some joke that I have become something of a ‘social butterfly’ these days. And, it is true that I cannot endure long times of solitude, which I once treasured. I suppose there will be a balance as time passes, but I realize, even more than before, the wonderful gift of friendship. Life goes on and hearing children laugh, listening to others carry on the daily chatter, knowing that many pray for me – these things keep me on my feet. Solomon said that “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, NIV) I say, Amen!

As much as we try to forget it, death is part of the human experience.  We are so shocked when someone we love dies, as if something novel has occurred. We will all die! Instead of ignoring that fact, we need to let it frame our living days, not with dread, nor with fear, but rather as an encouragement to the best choices, to godliness.  The greatest pain for me, other than feeling loss, are the memories that bring regret, times when I think, “If I had only known about her death, I would have …”  So, LIVE today! Love God. Love others. Say the things that need to be said. Forgive, forget, choose to be wise.

A word from the Word for your thoughts today –  “The length of our days is seventy years— or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.” (Psalm 90:10, NIV) “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12, NIV) “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14, NIV)

Thank you for letting me share my thoughts with you, for encouraging with notes, for praying for me.  I am a blessed man.

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With eternity’s values in view Lord
With eternity’s values in view
May I do each day’s work for Jesus
With eternity’s values in view

Alfred B. Smith © 1941. Renewal 1969 New Spring (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc.) CCLI License # 810055

A Severe and Tender Father

fatherdisciplineTwo decades ago, when my children were teenagers, I found it necessary to correct one of them and to take away privileges for a time. In anger, that 17 year-old spat out the words at Bev and me– “Right now, you two are not my favorite people!” It’s a memorable line, one that makes us laugh today.  My response to the anger was “I’m not your friend, I’m your Dad.”

I wanted to be liked by my kids as much as anybody else, but I knew that my parental role required me to courageously risk anger to provide direction and discipline.  My desire to see them safe and protected from their teenage impulses outweighed my need to be loved and made me willing to endure angry conflict.  I worked to provide consistent, loving, firm leadership for them and I think those 4 wonderful adults appreciate it today, even if they did not understand it then.

Do you realize that your Heavenly Father loves you so much that He is willing to correct and discipline you, even at the risk of your anger and rejection?  Seems to me that many of us miss that point.  Some think of their Father as an indulgent Dad, unaware of their misdeeds, fooled by their words of professed love that are unmatched with sincere devotion Others make an equally wrong assumption, that their Father is a cruel tyrant, bent on making their lives miserable just because He can.

Truth is that He is wise, insightful, with unmatched authority, and full of tender mercy! The Word says, “My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline, but don’t be crushed by it either. It’s the child he loves that he disciplines; the child he embraces, he also corrects. God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children.” (Hebrews 12:5-7)

I loved my children to such an extent that I would have willingly died for anyone of them. Because of that love when I saw them hurting under discipline, I sometimes secretly wept for them, sad that they had to endure the sting of correction. My discipline was sometimes unjust, my conclusions based on faulty judgments, because I am just a man. But, my goal was not to be ‘right,’ but to be good for them! Even when they were disobedient, it was not my desire to cut them off, but to draw them close, to help them to grow.

Our Father always loves us and NEVER makes a mistake!  When we feel His rebuke, when He takes us aside for correction, we must trust Him. He is not venting, He is training us. “While we were children, our parents did what seemed best to them. But God is doing what is best for us, training us to live God’s holy best. At the time, discipline isn’t much fun. It always feels like it’s going against the grain. Later, of course, it pays off handsomely, for it’s the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God.” (Hebrews 12:10-11, The Message)

The best Christian experience grows out of a balanced view of our Father in Heaven. We need to know His severity is matched by His mercy! A profound respect for Him, proper awe of Who He is, does not make Him distant; it makes Him trustworthy.  Knowing the depth of His love, displayed best at the Cross, makes us want to love Him in return, causing us to run to Him, not away from Him.

This passage captures that balance so well.  Yes, He sees all, knows all, is never fooled by hypocrisy, or taken in by half-hearted professions of devotion. At the same time, His arms are wide open to us, even in our worst moments, because He wants to help us get it right.  Look at these lines carefully –  “The word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”  If that were the whole story, you and I would be hopeless, deserving only His rejection, wouldn’t we?  But, the very next thought reveals more of His nature.  “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:11-16, NIV)

Know your Father! Love Him! Trust Him! Do not try to become overly familiar with Him! Reverence Him! And, run to Him with child-like trust. Here is a word from the Word. Revel in the amazing truth. “See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him. Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure.” (1 John 3:1-3, NLT)

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Good, Good Father  (Chris Tomlin sings)

I’ve heard a thousand stories

Of what they think You’re like.

But I’ve heard the tender whisper

Of love in the dead of night.

You tell me that You’re pleased

And that I’m never alone.

 

I’ve seen many searching for answers

Far and wide.

But I know we’re all searching for answers

Only You provide.

Because You know just what we need

Before we say a word.

 

You’re a Good, Good Father,

It’s who You are!

It’s who You are!

It’s who You are!

And I’m loved by You,

It’s who I am!

It’s who I am!

It’s who I am!

 

You are perfect in all of Your ways,

You are perfect in all of Your ways,

You are perfect in all of Your ways to us,

 

Love so undeniable I can hardly speak,

Peace so unexplainable I can hardly think.

As You call me deeper still,

As You call me deeper still,

As You call me deeper still,

Into love, love, love.

 

Anthony Brown | Pat Barrett

© 2014 Capitol CMG Paragon (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

Common Hymnal Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

Housefires Sounds (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

Adrift and in danger?

anchorWhen a ship shuts down her engines and waits to dock or rests in harbor, she drops an anchor. Without it, she would be adrift, possibly going aground on the shore or colliding with other ships in the vicinity. The anchor is a vital piece of her equipment!  Unseen and a rather ordinary part of the ship, the anchor provides security and allows the crew to rest.

What anchors you? What keeps you from drifting dangerously when your conscious mind goes on idle, when times come in life when you are not under sail? It is a worthy question! During the last two years, as Bev and I lived with cancer and with a loss of a bright future, as near certain death approached for her, the value of our anchor points in life became ever more obvious to us. The seas of life grew stormy, the shore line of time was near, and rocks could have (and still can) wrecked us, but for the anchors that were in place which kept us from drifting dangerously. What anchored us?

Heaven and the Hope of Eternal Life were, and continue to be for me, primary anchors. Even as I write these words, tears sting my eyes. I miss her terribly and think often of her body lying in that little plot of earth just a couple of miles from my house.  I do not mean to imply that somehow having Heaven in our hearts erased every sorrow. But, we were not self-destructive. We did not turn on each other, on others, or on our Lord in our distress. Instead we rode out the storm (and I am still riding the waves!) secured by this Word:  “God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls.” (Hebrews 6:18-19, NLT)

The concept of Heaven that sustains me is little related to the ideas that float through our contemporary culture.  I am kept by the knowledge that she is held in the grip of an Almighty Father who loves her deeply, that she is fully who He created her to be, that she is beyond the reach of sin’s curse, home!  When the tempests of grief blow hard, that anchor digs deep into the Word’s promise and it holds.

Love, for the Lord and others, is an anchor that is strong. When I am tempted I ask myself, “Is this choice consistent with a life of love?  Would this act or word honor the Lord you love or be loving towards those He loves?”  Before you think I am a little too quick to polish my own halo, I will hasten to add that perfection is not yet in my grasp!  But, I am anchored by love and oh so thankful for it. I have no desire to use people for my own pleasure.  My life is enriched by love that is focused outside of myself. In the days since she died, more times than I care to admit, the anchor of the two loves has tethered my restless soul, keeping me from short-sighted and regrettable actions.

What passes for ‘love’ in our culture is such an impoverished notion!  The love that keeps us from drifting into destruction is a bold one, much more than an emotion, much stronger than a sexual attraction.  It is a love that is shaped in daily choices, that makes God and others first, that seeks the highest and best. The Word speaks of being “rooted and established in love (so that you) may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19, NIV)  Anchor your life in Love.

Christ is the Anchor!  We say that He anchors us, but are we sincere, speaking from head and heart? Is He your Life?  To know Him as our anchor, there is a great cost, or should we say, investment? “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:3-4, NIV)  We must die to Self, lose our life voluntarily, letting Him envelope us with Divine Life here and now.  Then, He secures us like an anchor.  We know that when we pass from this world to the next that He will release us into a greater beauty than we could imagine presently. The only comparison remotely applicable is that of the caterpillar that disappears into a cocoon and emerges a butterfly! I am secured in Him, hopeful of the beauty to be revealed in me at His coming. Are you?

Put your faith in Him. Anchor yourself in Heaven, Love, and Christ Jesus. These choices will keep you from drifting into destruction or from colliding with others in ways that harm. Here is a word from the Word. Own it!  “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” (Hebrews 2:1, NIV)

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The Haven Of Rest 

My soul in sad exile

Was out on life’s sea;

So burdened with sin

And distressed.

‘Till I heard

A sweet voice saying,

“Make Me your choice.”

And I entered

The haven of Rest.

 

I yielded myself

To His tender embrace

And faith taking hold

Of the Word,

My fetters fell off

And I anchored my soul in

The haven of Rest

Is the Lord.

 

I’ve anchored my soul

In the haven of Rest

I’ll sail the wide seas no more!

The tempest may sweep

O’er the wild stormy deep

In Jesus, I’m safe evermore.

 

George D. Moore | Henry Lake Gilmour

© Words: Public Domain

Getting Saved Every Sunday?

maturityOne of my rich blessings are my children who are not children any longer. I enjoy them in their maturity, seeing them as productive people, loving parents, making a difference where they live. Sure, have little ones around was fun, but no thinking person wants their offspring to remain a little child forever.  My children are at that stage in life that is richest with potential having learned the lessons of their youth, now enjoying that experience, education, and discipline that allows them be the best kind of people, for the glory of God.

Have you grown up?

Physical maturity happens. We do not have to do anything but eat and sleep to go from infant to toddler, to child, to teen, to adulthood.  Emotional maturity takes a more effort. We can get stuck in a stage of life and fail to move on. Ever had to deal with a self-absorbed, superficial person who has remained stuck on emotional 16 for the last 30 years? Not a pretty sight, right?  How about spiritually? Have you put down roots into the fertile soil of God’s Truth? Have you learned to walk with the Spirit, in good times and bad? Are the evidences of the life of the Spirit abundant in your life?  (Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Gentleness, Faithfulness, and Self-Control – Galatians 5) Or, are you still getting saved every Sunday?

No, one does not literally ‘get saved’ (a colloquial term for becoming a Christian) again and again. When we respond to the Spirit’s invitation, accepting the Christ of the Cross, our new birth is sure and lasting.  Yet, so many who should be all grown up are still stumbling into church, sin defeated, full of guilt, begging God to forgive them yet again.  In essence, they keep coming to the same place, never ‘growing on’ in faith, perpetually an infant Christian in the grip of temptation, sin, and failure!

The Word of God says, “Grow up!” “So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds and placing our faith in God. You don’t need further instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And so, God willing, we will move forward to further understanding. . . . We are confident that you are meant for better things, things that come with salvation.” (Hebrews 6:1-3,9 NLT)  Mature people learn the basics right and wrong, of the cross and the resurrection, and go on to live principled lives – graceful, spiritually rich people.  The lessons of elementary school are important but learning phonics over and over again is unnecessary once a person knows how to read!

Similarly, mature Christians should not need to keep rehearsing the old Law code. Instead, they can develop the discernment of the Spirit that leads to the emergence of a beautifully whole life.  Lamenting the immaturity of some, the Word says that “though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (Hebrews 5:12-14, NIV)

The Spirit invites us to move on into real holiness and faith. Spiritual maturity requires both the work of the Holy Spirit and our cooperation.  It is not inevitable!  Peter reminds us that  “You were cleansed from your sins when you obeyed the truth, so now you must show sincere love to each other as brothers and sisters. Love each other deeply with all your heart. For you have been born again, but not to a life that will quickly end. Your new life will last forever because it comes from the eternal, living word of God. . . . And that word is the Good News that was preached to you.”  God’s Word, the Holy Truth, the grace of Christ, the power of the Spirit changed us, made us alive to Him.  Now, we must exercise faith.  “Get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech. Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness. You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honor. And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God.” (1 Peter 1:22-2:5, NLT)

Maturity is a great thing!
I love being able to rule my emotions, glad that I can choose the best over the good. I am glad that my faith is rock-solid so that in times of testing and trial I am not ready to quit and blame God for failing me when He allows situations in my life that I cannot understand. I am blessed with eternal hope that goes deeper than how I feel at the moment.  There is wonderful freedom in being grown up – physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Does your life demonstrate a mature faith or are you getting saved every Sunday?  Think about it. Talk it over with a trusted friend, and then, grow into a full experience of salvation, for God’s sake.

Here is a word from the Word.
“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it.”
The Message James 1:2-5
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One of the best gifts – words!

wisewordsThis weekend I enjoyed conversations! Friday evening I joined others at a table of good food and talk. Politics and our stories made for a lively mix at that dinner. Saturday, friends came to stay through the snowstorm in my house. There were talks about life, kids, faith, and yes; some precious memories, too. Sprinkled into these days, I made calls about getting snow removed from our parking lots, decisions about dealing with the storm. There were some silly exchanges with kids in the house.  Sunday ended with a long phone call with my daughter, heart deep and so sweet! What a gift God gave us when He gave us words.

So, how do you use your words?

Paul teaches us that words without love are just noise, “resounding gongs and clanging cymbals.”  In another passage he writes about people whose conversation is meaningless, an overflow of insincerity, abused speech. “Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned:  from which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling; desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm.” (1 Timothy 1:6-7, KJV) There is a turn of phrase – “swerved .. turned aside to vain jangling!”  That is quite a description of the worse use of words, isn’t it?

Contrast that with the amazing beauty of healing truth, faithfully proclaimed, lovingly shared. Unable to get to church yesterday, I pulled up a faithful pastor on the Internet and listened to his message from the Word. As he unfolded portions of Hebrews 12, my heart rejoiced and my mind thanked the Lord for the Living Word of Life.

Jesus impresses us with the importance of filling ourselves with the best, the holy, the true so that the words that flow out of our inner person will be whole.  His observation is compelling. “A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you.” (Matthew 12:35-37, NLT)

A wise and godly person will use the gift of language to create understanding, to build relationships, to speak truth into confusion, to reveal vision, to sooth the broken, to unite the divided, to bring agreement that releases the power of God into the world. Jesus says it this way. “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 18:18-19, NIV)  When you think your words are unimportant, remember that passage.  Words matter.

Listen to what you are saying today.
Are you just babbling, going on and on, in love with the sound of your own voice?
Are you speaking healing and encouraging words that help others live well?
Is the love of God showing through your conversation?

Here is a word from the Word. Note how God ‘speaks’ – in the glory of what His hands have made; then note the earnest prayer of David.   It is my prayer and hopefully, yours, too.
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” (Psalm 19:1-4, NIV)

“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight,
O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14, NIV)

_______________

Let My Words Be Few

 You are God in heaven

And here am I on earth,

So I’ll let my words be few.

Jesus, I am so in love with You.

 

The simplest of all love songs

I want to bring to You,

So I’ll let my words be few.

Jesus, I am so in love with You.

 

And I’ll stand in awe of You.

Yes, I’ll stand in awe of You,

And I’ll let my words be few.

Jesus, I am so in love with You.

 

Beth Redman | Matt Redman

© 2000 Thankyou Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

You Make Beautiful Things

 

connectedDo you see your work as just a way to ‘make a living’ or do you see it as a way to show the grace of Jesus? The Bible tells us “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat.”  (2 Thessalonians 3:10)  The Lord’s general purpose for each of us is that we are productive – whatever our skills or occupation.  Laborer, homemaker, preacher, or poet – when we work with diligence, we honor Him.  And, our work can be a place of joyfulness! “Jerry are you in touch with reality? Work and joy don’t belong in the same sentence.”  Really?

Many allow themselves to slip into drudgery!  What is that? Here’s how the dictionary defines it: dull, irksome, and fatiguing work. I take my takes responsibilities seriously and I have difficulty letting go.  But, during Bev’s long illness, in those months when she needed much care, I learned the value of another kind of work- just being present, loving, waiting on her.  Was it easy to change my focus from shepherding a congregation to being her care-giver? No. Often I felt conflicted – torn between my love for her and a sense that other ‘work’ was going undone. But, God and good friends counseled me through those long months, helping me to see that ‘work’ takes many forms, that my highest calling was to my wife in her time of greatest need.  I began to find great joy in the menial work that was part of caring for her each day. I also began to understand the flexibility allowed to me by the church as a great gift. God used that time to do His work in me, too.

Are you in a time or place where you are struggling to find joy in your ‘work’?  Do you feel that you have been sidelined? Do you wonder if what you do has any value, meaning, or purpose?

Drudgery is – first and foremost- a mindset!  If we invite the Lord to go with us to ‘work,’ wherever and whatever that might be, His Presence will be a bright and joyful part of our life.  Jesus talked of the vine and branches  in a vineyard. He was pointing to the importance of keeping connected! The principle is clear:  No connection, no life!  “Remain intimately connected with Me,” He said, “and you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!” (John 15:11, NLT)   A Christian who is long-faced, miserable, and overwhelmed with his duties, is missing the point somewhere and is failing to honor the Lord in his work.

Jesus was a joyful man. Have you painted a mental picture of Jesus using only half of the truth about Him?  Jesus was “a man acquainted with grief, a man of sorrows.” He did weep with those who were broken by disappointment, death, and disease.  But . . . He also was a man who ate dinner with those they considered low-lifes and sinners. He attracted people to Him everywhere He went.  I think we miss the humor buried in His words.

When He told the story of a camel going through the eye of a needle to illustrate the impossibility of a self-sufficient rich person coming into the Kingdom of God, I believe the hearers laughed, seeing the absurdity of the image.  When He stopped to invite Himself to Zacchaeus’ home, the little man was eager to accept and I believe, in part, it was because Jesus was good company, enjoyable and pleasant.  I’m sure He knew how to laugh and lift people who were sorrowful from their darkness. Don’t forget, His first public miracle was supplying wine for a wedding!   Somehow, for most of us, the only picture of the face of Jesus is the tear-stained one He wore on the night of Gethsemane’s agony.  Let us not forget that kids loved Him, that crowds were drawn to Him, and that He spent a lot of time with so-called ‘street people,’ – a clue that He had to be a joyful man, too.

So, how do we live in His joy?

Worship!
“You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” (Psalm 16:11, NIV)  If we live life, with our face to the ground, focusing only on the needs, the duties, the pressing responsibilities – we will be overcome with fatigue, if not outright depressed.  Worship, offering up the sacrifice of praise, lifts our face to Heaven and allows us to regain a view of God’s glorious works.  No wonder the Scripture urges us to “Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.” (Psalm 95:1-2, NIV)

Serve!
Stop, Jerry, didn’t you just say we need to step away from duty?  Yes, I did, but if we give ourselves to vanity, to endless chasing of ‘fun,’ we will lose the joy of God’s approval!  Jesus told a story about men who were entrusted with responsibility.   Two of the three were diligent and obedient in their service.  Note their commendation:  “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful . . .  Enter into the joy of your Lord.” (Matthew 25:23, NKJV)

Submit!
Accepting God’s grace for the road you will walk today is important.  Nothing that happens to you today surprises Him.   Those who are His beloved children can turn to Him and find help, strength, and resources. Sometimes He leads us through dark valleys, along ways we would not choose for ourselves. Even there, He will provide grace for the journey. In that grace, there is joy even in the trials of life.

Joy is a constant work of God’s Spirit in us, not something we drum up, create, or paste into place. If you are a Christian drudge, a joyless dutiful person slogging through each day, face to the ground, without joy, pray for grace to change your heart first, even before you seek a change of circumstances. Let the Vine pour the Life of the Spirit into your mind and heart. Let JOY grow where sorrow was sown. We bring our Lord great honor Him in simple contentment and an authentic smile.

The word from the Word says “Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him!” (Philippians 4:4, The Message) “Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized.

Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.” (Philippians 4:6-9, The Message)

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Beautiful Things

All this pain-

I wonder if I’ll ever find my way?

I wonder if my life could really change,

At all?

 

All this earth-

Could all that is lost ever be found?

Could a garden come up from this ground,

At all?

 

You make beautiful things,

You make beautiful things out of the dust!

You make beautiful things,

You make beautiful things out of us!

 

All around-

Hope is springing up from this old ground!

Out of chaos life is being found,

In You!

 

You make me new, You are making me new.

You make me new, You are making me new.

 

Lisa Gungor | Michael Gungor

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

CCLI License # 810055

Thrive or Survive?

 

splendorMy Mom and Dad, after raising three natural born children, adopted 10 more! One of those children was a sickly infant- slow to gain weight, no appetite, fussy, and prone to injury. The doctors called his condition “failure to thrive.”  Mom refused to accept that there was something wrong with him and lavished attention on him, insisting that he live and grow.  He’s 6 feet tall now and shows no deficit physically. I wonder he would have even lived without the incredible amount of love he was given in those early years?

There are Christians that appear to have a kind of spiritual “failure to thrive” condition. After coming to faith in Christ, they stop growing in grace. Their lives exhibit little love or joy. They are given to despair, or rage, or lust, or greed.  They seem not to have any desire to worship or understand matters of the Spirit.

Did you know that our Heavenly Father lavishes love on us and desires that we thrive, that we live robust, energetic lives in His care? Look at what Paul tells us. We “always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” (2 Thessalonians 2:13-17, NIV)

The Lord did not extend His salvation to us so that we could remain miserable, mean, and sorry! Those Christians who constantly moan of their trials, and who are just trying to hold on until Jesus returns or death delivers them from this world are missing the point. Our salvation begins NOW and through the Spirit we are invited to a quality of life that displays the goodness of God. Don’t confuse that high and holy calling with the shallow prosperity Gospel of this age.  Jesus did not leave His Glory to make us rich and to enable us to live without difficulties!  He came to liberate us from slavery, to give us hope, to make us loving, to fill our lives with a wealth that is more lasting than gold! Of Himself, He said: “Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. Wherever they go, they will find green pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give life in all its fullness.” (John 10:9-10, NLT)

Are you merely a survivor or are you drinking of the Spirit, feeding on the Word, and breathing the renewal of worship so you will thrive? Borrowing from Moses’ experience of the Presence of God at Mt. Sinai, this passage speaks of being filled with a beautiful, holy radiance. After 40 days with the Lord, Moses’ face had a supernatural glow that frightened the Israelites! He put a covering on his face to keep them from freaking out, but then he kept it on to conceal the fact that the glow was fading!  Paul says that Christians who are filled with the Spirit will have a kind of glory in their lives and  they will have no need of veils to hide its fading, because the Spirit keeps on shining in us! “But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:16-18, NIV)

Look up! Accept His grace for your need. Invite Him to change your sorrow into joy, to work in whatever situation you find yourself.  Take this ancient prophecy as a life statement and live it, by the power of the Lord.

 “God sent me to announce the year of his grace—
a celebration of God’s destruction of our enemies—
and to comfort all who mourn,

To care for the needs of all who mourn in Zion,
give them bouquets of roses instead of ashes,

Messages of joy instead of news of doom,
a praising heart instead of a languid spirit.

Rename them “Oaks of Righteousness”
planted by God to display his glory.”

Isaiah 61:2-3  the Message

________

Thrive 

Here in this worn and weary land

Where many a dream has died

Like a tree planted by the water

We will never run dry

 

So living water flowing through

God we thirst for more of You

Fill our hearts and flood our souls

With one desire

 

Just to know You and to make You known

We lift Your name on high

Shine like the sun make darkness run and hide

We know we were made for so much more

Than ordinary lives

It’s time for us to more than just survive

We were made to thrive

 

Into Your Word we’re digging deep

To know our Father’s heart

Into the world we’re reaching out

To show them who You are

 

Joy unspeakable

Faith unsinkable

Love unstoppable

Anything is possible

 

We were made to thrive

 

Mark Hall | Matthew West

© 2014 Atlas Holdings (Admin. by Atlas Music Publishing)

Highly Combustible Music (Admin. by Atlas Music Publishing)

House of Story Music Publishing (Admin. by Atlas Music Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

These Tears Will Be Wiped Away

 

tearsMonday I began to sort through the ‘stuff’ in her desk. The evidence of a life of love, prayer, diligence, and service lay scattered on the floor around me. There were cards sent to her that she held onto. There were notebooks full of her neat handwriting, thoughts she prepared to share with her beloved ladies. There were lesson plans and notecards for class projects from her years of teaching.  The journals that noted her prayers were profound in their simplicity. She prayed for what she loved – me, her kids, friends, church members. Seeing it all tore the hole in my soul open again. The ache has yet to subside. Carrying the treasures now worthless, to the dumpster led to silent tears. The evidence that she will not be coming home because she is Home cannot be ignored.  And I am asking the foolish question that has no answer this side of eternity – “Why, Lord, did you have to take her?”

Widening my vision from my own anguish, I do know enough theology to understand that sin and Satan visit suffering and pain on this planet. Death is ‘the last enemy’ the ultimate evidence of the ‘now and not yet’ nature of the Kingdom. We must not forget that in ways often beyond our understanding in the moment, our choices often contribute to the pain. And still, it is not all darkness. There is joy in knowing love, sweetness found in worship.

Not to be forgotten is the promise that waits for all those who know the Savior. I have returned to this passage many times in the last 21 days: “I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:3-5, NIV) When the struggle’s over, God draws us close. I like to imagine Him in fatherly fashion. Does He pull out a big handkerchief, and dry our tears like my Grandpa did when I skinned my knees all those years ago?  Well, maybe not exactly like that, but that is the mental picture that forms in my mind.

I feel sorry for people who live superficially, who love little, to avoid pain or disappointment. If you dig deep, love with abandon, and give yourself away – you become vulnerable and honestly – sometimes the result is that you hurt – terribly!  In that time, we need hope that will keep us from slipping into cynicism. Cynics are mostly ugly, mean people. With faith intact, we are lovers who hope for divine intervention – when all the tears are wiped away. Gordon Jensen’s song has this memorable line, “God weeps along with man and takes him by the hand, tears are a language God understands.”

Are the tears ready to fall today?
Has the disappointment, the pain, the unrelenting struggle with the curse of sin nearly broken you in two? Go ahead and cry. Find a place alone with Him and let the tears that fall become a wordless prayer for renewal of hope, for healing, for forgiveness.  Then, give thanks for the grace to stand and the hope that He will, like the wonderful and loving Father He is, someday wipe every tear, and even the memory of those things which make you cry, from your eyes forever.

The word from the Word is a Psalm for the sorrowful.  Read these words as His Word to you, not just as beautiful poetry.

You keep track of all my sorrows.
You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
You have recorded each one in your book.

My enemies will retreat when I call to you for help.
This I know: God is on my side!

I praise God for what he has promised;
Yes, I praise the Lord for what he has promised.

I trust in God, so why should I be afraid?

What can mere mortals do to me?

I will fulfill my vows to you, O God,
and will offer a sacrifice of thanks for your help.
For you have rescued me from death;
you have kept my feet from slipping.
So now I can walk in your presence,
O God, in your life-giving light.” (Psalm 56:8-13, NLT)

_______________

O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go

O love that wilt not let me go,

I rest my weary soul in Thee.

I give Thee back the life I owe,

That in Thine ocean depths its flow

May richer fuller be.

 

O Joy that seekest me through pain,

I cannot close my heart to Thee.

I trace the rainbow through the rain

And feel the promise is not vain

That morn shall tearless be.

 

Albert Lister Peace | George Matheson  © Words: Public Domain

One Day At A Time – Really!

 

“One day at a time,” is my fairly standard answer to the frequent inquiry, “How are you doing?”  The answer is really my survival choice!  Spending too much time remembering a life that is no longer mine only deepens sorrow. The future for all of us is unknown, but for me it is a big question mark. I am not making any plans right now.  Learning to be present in the moment is a gift of grief, I suppose.

todaySo, how about you? Are you alive today, aware of the opportunities and people around you?  Are you making the mistake of trying to relive yesterday’s glories, giving regret your attention so that you spend an inordinate amount of time attempting to erase some ugly blot that stains the record?  At the opposite pole, are you leaning so far forward, grasping at tomorrow’s resources or rewards with such eagerness that you are failing to ‘smell the roses’ along the path you are presently walking?

Lewis Smedes wrote with wisdom about living now! “My date book has become a parable …  When I get out a new one, I see page after page of blank squares, each representing a day of my life. Each square bounded by four solid lines. My job is to fill up each of the squares with all the things that I do every day. When I get one square nicely filled, at the magic moment of midnight, an invisible door opens and I am silently slurped into the next square where I do it all over again. My life – filling up the squares.”   He went on to explain that there is no door to yesterday. It is sealed! The door to tomorrow cannot be kicked open early no matter how frantically we try.

Jesus commands us to live in the moment.  In a culture that presses us to plan for every contingency, that gives us a thousand strategies for success, we must work at finding contentment in today!  Jesus never condemned prudent preparation, but He was consistent in His warnings about spending too much time in ‘yesterday’ or ‘tomorrow.’ His model prayer says, “Give us today our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11, NIV) and then promises if we “Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions … You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.” (Matthew 6:33, The Message) His conclusion is both a challenge and an invitation to peace:  “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34, NIV)

In my waking moments today, memories danced through the darkness –inviting me to guilt, regretting choices made that cannot be undone. Concerns about the future rolled into my consciousness trying to convince me that only some radical action that would turn life upside down could relieve my sorrow. Prayerfully, I refused to indulge those temptations, asking the Spirit to lead me to live fully today!  You may not be in the same situation in which I am but I know that the Enemy of your soul and your old sinful nature will both try to abuse the past and the future to keep you from enjoying the Presence of God today.

Christian, leave the sins of your past with Christ Jesus, accepting His forgiveness.  Remember, God removes our sins from us “as far as the east is from the west.” (Psalm 103:120
Entrust your future to His providence. When we live fully aware of His Spirit today, we have full confidence that He will prepare in us and for us all that we need for tomorrow!

Don’t let conversations happen while you are already moving on to the next encounter.
Engage, don’t drift!
Pray prayers of gratitude and acceptance that allow you to make the most of today’s opportunities.

Rich, poor, young, and old – there is one thing we all have in common – today.

Here is a word from the Word. May the wisdom of the Spirit make it a way of life for us. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Galatians 6:9-10, NIV)

_____________

Day by day and with each passing moment,

Strength I find to meet my trials here;

Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,

I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.

He whose heart is kind beyond all measure,

Give unto each day what He deems best;

Lovingly, its part of pain and pleasure,

Mingling toil with peace and rest.

 

Ev’ry day the Lord Himself is near me

With a special mercy for each hour;

All my cares He fain would bear and cheer me,

He whose name is Counselor and Pow’r.

The protection of His child and treasure,

Is a charge that on Himself He laid;

“As your days, your strength shall be in measure,”

This the pledge to me He made.

 

Day By Day -Berg, Carolina Sandell / Ahnfelt, Oscar / Skoog, Andrew

© Public Domain

Changed – inside out!

 

feed-your-mindWhat you do flows out of who you are in your inner thoughts! If you want to change the way you live, transformation must start in the foundations of life.  To illustrate – I am convinced by the truth of Holy Scripture that God loves me and that basic fact shapes every other part of my life.  I take the Scripture at face value when I read of the promise of eternal life so I am able to deal with the brevity of my earthly life with peace.  My life is formed about these facts –

  • God loves me.
  • God has a purpose for me.
  • Christ Jesus died to save me and rose again to lead me to eternal life.
  • The Holy Spirit is active; now, here, in me, to empower me to live a godly life.

So, what do you believe about yourself, about God, about the purpose of your life?
Are your beliefs based on a solid foundation or are they just flimsy assumptions formed around a few anecdotes you find appealing or some stories your Grandma taught you as a toddler?  Have you tested, refined, and matured your beliefs, weaving them into your value system, connecting them to daily decisions?

Paul urges us to build communities of Christians and to strengthen each other in the faith. “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!” (Philippians 3:17-4:1, NIV)

Take it from the last statement – “That is how you should stand firm in the Lord.”  How?

Choose your models and mentors wisely!
Who are your heroes?  Why do you admire them?  Is it just charisma or a pretty face, or do they show real human depth?  One of the tragedies of our media age is the emergence of a celebrity culture that puts people of little or no actual accomplishment in the public eye. Foolishly people choose to emulate someone like the Kardashians. Life with meaning and purpose is about so much more than a pretty haircut, a designer pair of jeans, or a new car.  We know that with our head, yet far too many of us still let superficial fashions and trends shape us.  We need to choose mentors that will encourage us to develop real faith and character.

Choose your object of worship carefully!
“Many live as enemies of the Cross, their god is their stomach.”  How much of your life is formed around making yourself comfortable? Do you spend an inordinate amount of time focused on the food on your table? Are you consumed by sensuality, seeking the soothing of your appetites endlessly?  Have you made the sins that only create guilt and shame the ‘glory’ of your life?  A person becomes like his god.  And, our god is whatever/whoever gets the larger part of our time and/or resources.

Make Heaven your home!
Our citizenship is in Heaven.”  We let the policies and promises of Heaven form our daily choices.  In this world, I am a citizen of these United States.  I live by her laws. I would be a foolish man to try to conduct my business by the laws of Mexico. That’s fine for a Mexican, but I am an American.  Similarly, we cannot enjoy the life God has planned for us if we are living by the laws of earth when, because of Christ, we belong to the Kingdom of God!  What are the policies and promises of our citizenship?  Jesus states them with compelling clarity in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).  We do well to be knowledgeable of those passages.

In time the choices we make each day come together to form a legacy and a destiny. What will be yours?

If your life is shallow, without real meaning or purpose, make a change today. Humbly invite Christ to become Lord and Savior.  Put your trust and hope of reconciliation to your Father, not in your goodness, but in His offering of Himself on the Cross. You can never earn what He offers as a gift of grace.  And, then, begin the life of a disciple, changed from the inside by the Truth and the Spirit.

Here is the word from the Word.
“God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)” (Ephesians 2:4-5, NLT)
“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:10, NLT)
“And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2, NLT)

That is really transformational Truth!