More than meets the eye, living in hope

nextDespair looks to overtake us. Our youthful optimism gradually meets the realities of life. There is no escaping the fact of death and decay. Everything deteriorates with time. Cars rust. Gardens go to weeds. Bodies age. Systems break down. Empires rise and fall. Solomon’s sigh becomes all too familiar: “Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 1:2-3, NIV) Unless . . .

We know Jesus Christ and the ‘redemption’ He gives to those who receive Him by faith. Let’s not sell our faith short by making it into a little bit of inspiration to just get us through another day!  Christ Jesus breaks down the barrier of time, giving us unending life. He brings Light to the dark despair by showing us that He is greater than sin and Satan. He shows us that our suffering is temporary and useful to God to cause us to hunger for the as yet unseen reality of our Father’s House. In short, Christians find a whole new way to live now because of the Hope of restoration, renewal, and justice!

Paul exclaims “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.

Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has?” (Romans 8:18-24, NIV)

Living with grief I am tempted to look back, mourning for the life I once enjoyed. The rosy tint of nostalgia gives a sentimental glow to days gone by. I long to hear the laughter of my children in my house again. I ache to hold my wife in my arms, to hear her voice, to know her love.  But, looking back too long only produces sorrow and robs me of vision.  Spending too much wandering yesterday’s roads in your memory has no good end.
Forgive the failures!
Celebrate the victories!
Make a memorial to love!

Then, look ahead to the glory that will be revealed.

Paul says that the stirring of the Holy Spirit, that peace and Presence of God that we know, is but the firstfruits of what is to come.  Our best experiences of worship and the Joy of the Lord are just samplings of what God holds in reserve for us. Yes, for this time we do groan. We feel the weight of sin and all that it has brought to this Creation. But, we turn to the Lord and we find reason to hope because we know that the reign of death is limited and eternity, not a grave, is our destiny.

Feeling overwhelmed? Lost sight of tomorrow?  Here is a word from the Word.  Let it speak to your spirit, lifting you in hope today.
“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see. So be truly glad.

There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.” (1 Peter 1:3-7, NLT)

____________

Who breaks the power of sin and darkness?
Whose love is mighty and so much stronger?
The King of Glory, the King above all kings!

 Who shakes the whole earth with holy thunder?
Who leaves us breathless in awe and wonder?
The King of Glory, the King above all kings!

 This is amazing grace,
This is unfailing love,
That You would take my place,
That You would bear my cross.
You laid down Your life
That I would be set free,
Oh Jesus, I sing for all that
You’ve done for me.

 Who brings our chaos back into order?
Who makes the orphan a son and daughter?
The King of Glory, the King of Glory! 

Who rules the nations with truth and justice,
Shines like the sun in all of its brilliance?
The King of Glory, the King above all kings!

 Worthy is the Lamb who was slain!
Worthy is the King who conquered the grave!

This Is Amazing Grace
Jeremy Riddle | Josh Farro | Phil Wickham
© 2012 Phil Wickham Music (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)
Seems Like Music (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.) Bethel Music Publishing

CCLI License # 810055

What’s the harm in a look?

temptedRight there next to the highway, I spotted ‘the’ truck. “Ah, why not?” I told myself, “Just take a look.”  Up close it was even more attractive, a nice Ford F150 with all the right kinds of options. I felt the tug of temptation, but I walked away. But, spending those few moments looking at that truck planted a seed and, for the last two weeks, images of that pickup truck occasionally slip into my conscious mind, especially when sadness comes. I am old and wise enough to know that my present grief makes me vulnerable to that kind of temptation.

Temptation’s whisper is seductive, isn’t it?  Money, power, sex, food, drink, ease … or Ford trucks … temptation finds the point of our weakness and pushes in. Everybody experiences it. The Bible says that temptation will come and that we should not think of ourselves as going through some unique experience when it does. “The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience,” the Word says.  Then we are told that we can overcome -“and God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NLT)

Sheer determination is not going to win the battle for us! Jesus met the devil in the wilderness after a long fast. He was weak in body, hungry, and exhausted. He met each offer with the truth of the Scripture. He did not rant at the devil, nor did he whine about his situation. He boldly said, “It is written…” and after seeing that He was full in a way that allowed no success, we read that “the devil went away, and angels came and took care of Jesus.” (Matthew 4:11, NLT)  We meet temptation, regardless if it comes from the culture that surrounds us, the appetites of our body, or the devil himself, by being filled with the Word. We can master the temptations that come our way.  We are not on our own. God is with us and He has made a way.

How can we subdue the seductive voices?

We learn the Truth and choose to live in the Light!
Basic to overcoming is to know the truth. Temptations lose much of their luster when we take them out of the dark of our imagination and hold them up to the Light. What seems so good in our mind is not nearly so wonderful when we talk about it and the consequences that will follow if we go ahead and follow our impulse.

We live in fellowship – with God and others!
Temptation gains strength when we hide it behind our pride. “What will they think of me if I admit to such feelings?” we think. However, there is real freedom in confession. Alcoholics Anonymous gives people who are struggling with sobriety a safe place to tell their story and to accept the support of a sponsor!  Let someone who is filled with the Spirit of God, who is wise and gentle, become your confessor. Amazing power is released into our lives for good when we agree with another about the way and will of God and together invite the Spirit to bring about change.

And, do not forget that God is Your advocate, too. Bring Him your struggle. “Since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.” (Hebrews 4:14-15, NLT)

We learn that temptation is not sin!
The impulse to do wrong is different from the choice to do wrong. “I’m a terrible person, morally defective that I could even think such a thought,” is exactly what the Tempter wants you to think. False guilt is actually counterproductive to righteous living. There is no moral failure in experiencing a desire. It is when we take hold of the temptation and begin to love it that sin enters the picture. James says “each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” (James 1:14-15, NIV)

Here is a word from the Word to fill your mind today. Revel in the wonderful promise found here.
“Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin. So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” (Romans 7:24-25; 8:1, NLT)

“How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:9-11, NIV)

__________________

Jesus what a Friend for sinners
Jesus Lover of my soul
Friends may fail me foes assail me
He my Savior makes me whole

 Jesus what a Strength in weakness
Let me hide myself in Him
Tempted tried and sometimes failing
He my Strength my vict’ry wins

 Jesus I do now receive Him
More than all in Him I find
He hath granted me forgiveness
I am His and He is mine

 Hallelujah what a Savior
Hallelujah what a Friend
Saving helping keeping loving
He is with me to the end

Our Great Savior
John Wilbur Chapman | Rowland Hugh Prichard © Words: Public Domain

I’ll Let You In On The Secret

john7_37Is there a beauty, a compelling quality to your Christianity? Do you live joyfully, authentically, openly? Is there a bedrock conviction about the things of God that wraps around your experiences – good and bad – that steadies you?  That kind of Christian life can be known by all, not just an elite group of insiders! The title of this blog is purposely misleading, written only to capture your attention.  What I write of today is an open secret, known to all those who read the story of the Church.

In the book of Acts there is a remarkable change in the disciples. In the Gospels they are often at a loss for spiritual understanding.  They waver, they confront evil and are defeated by it. Just months later, they are fired up, preaching Christ, living under stress without giving up or compromise. The difference? They were filled with the Spirit!  Luke tells the story – “On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.” (Acts 2:1-4, NLT)  When people saw this behavior, they accused the disciples of being drunk!  Peter told the crowd that “what you see was predicted long ago by the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on my servants—men and women alike— and they will prophesy.” (Acts 2:16-18, NLT)

When God, the Holy Spirit, came into their hearts and minds, there was a complete transformation. So it can be with us in 2016!  Our Christian lives are not just about intellectual agreement with doctrines of faith or conformity with certain behavioral standards or practice of some religious rituals. We can be people of the Spirit, owned by the Lord, overflowing with a Life that is eternal and rich. Jesus promised that when He, the 2nd person of the Trinity, left this earth, God would remain, known to us through the 3rd Person – the Spirit. “When the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you. “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:26-27, NLT)

The Spirit-filled life is described throughout the New Testament. He is the open Secret of the Christian life, the power that enabled those people to do God’s work, to endure; yes, to thrive! And, He is ours, today.  How do we live this life? I hesitate to write of that only because some will try to make it a formula.  You can no more describe a universal formula for the Spirit-filled life than you can write one for a successful marriage.  Each relationship is unique; yet there are choices to be made, shared in common.

First – the Spirit-filled life is one of FAITH.

The Holy Spirit does not ‘possess’ us without our cooperation, nor will He knock down the door to take up residence. We come to God in faith and accept His promise. One of my daily prayers is “Come, Holy Spirit.”  He is, of course, God and therefore always present, but with that invitation, I make myself present to Him.

Second – the Spirit-filled life is one of SUBMISSION.

Paul speaks of ‘grieving’ the Spirit. If we do not listen to Him, responding to His direction and guidance, we will grow cold towards Him. An attitude of persistent refusal of His purposes will bring about a disconnect of our fellowship with Him.  We are taught by the Word that “Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives.” (Galatians 5:25, The Message)

Third – the Spirit-filled life is one of WORSHIP.

We orient our lives towards God, learning to think His thoughts, to make Him known in our words and actions. What happens? His Presence grows brighter in us and the attraction of Self diminishes. How we live becomes a statement of His worthiness, which is the essence of worship.  There is a great statement about the disciples who were Spirit-filled.  In Jerusalem it was said of them that ‘they had been with Jesus.’  He rubbed off on them.  Worshipful Christians will become known primarily for the Presence that lives in them.

Do make the mistake of thinking that you can somehow become worthy of being baptized in the Spirit! You can no more earn His fellowship than you can earn a place in God’s holy family. He is God’s gift, coming to those who are hungry to know God. If we ready to settle for satisfaction with food, fun, money, and sex – we are not likely to seek or know the Spirit’s fullness. But, when we have come to the end of those things, we are ready to look higher and say, “Come, Holy Spirit!”

Ready to thrive? Ready to be fully alive? Seek the Spirit’s Presence.

Here is a word from the Word. Oh, Lord, make us fully alive in the Spirit.
“So don’t you see that we don’t owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent. There’s nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life. God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go! This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance!”   The Message, Romans 8:12-17
____________

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

The Promise for the Day After

powerofgodHolidays are often followed by a genuine letdown. For weeks, we have planned the things that make the Easter weekend special- family gathering, getting some new clothing, our kid’s excitement. We sang “Christ, the Lord, Is Risen Today” proclaiming our faith. We exchanged greetings with other Christians, hopeful smiles on our faces.

Now …  it’s over. Here in New Jersey this Monday morning dawned with pouring rain and gray skies. What an apt metaphor for the emotional state of so many who are heading back to work.

Let’s change the story. There is more to know and experience the day after we celebrate Christ’s Resurrection. Luke tells us about two men walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus who were downcast, sorrowful that all the Messianic hopes wrapped around Jesus had come crashing to an end. “As they talked and discussed these things, Jesus himself suddenly came and began walking with them. But God kept them from recognizing him. He asked them, “What are you discussing so intently as you walk along?” They stopped short, sadness written across their faces. Then one of them, Cleopas, replied, “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days.” (Luke 24:15-18, NLT)  Later as they sat to eat together, Jesus took bread and gave thanks. They recognized Him in that moment “And within the hour they were on their way back to Jerusalem. There they found the eleven disciples and the others who had gathered with them, who said, “The Lord has really risen!” (Luke 24:33-34, NLT) They now had more than memories. They had a mission!

The Resurrection was never meant to be ‘an end.’  That event was the revelation of a whole new era for the world, the pivot for those who follow Him.  Luke opens the story of the Church telling us about another glorious Promise. “After his death, he presented himself alive to them in many different settings over a period of forty days. In face-to-face meetings, he talked to them about things concerning the kingdom of God. As they met and ate meals together, he told them that they were on no account to leave Jerusalem but “must wait for what the Father promised: the promise you heard from me. John baptized in water; you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit. And soon.” When they were together for the last time they asked, “Master, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now? Is this the time?”  He told them, “You don’t get to know the time. Timing is the Father’s business. What you’ll get is the Holy Spirit. And when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be able to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all over Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the world.” (Acts 1:3-8, Message)

The Holy Spirit lives in us, the gift of God Who makes us spiritually alive. But, do we acknowledge Him, seek His empowering for daily life?  We Pentecostals profess a conviction that there is an experience of the Spirit that is available to hungry saints that takes us deeper in our discipleship, that strengthens our intimacy with the Father. The record of that first generation of Jesus’ followers takes a remarkable turn when they were filled with the Spirit. Men who lacked an edge to their faith found courage to speak to crowds, to endure persecution, and ultimately many died for the Name of Jesus.  The same Spirit is promised us and on this day after, the next logical step is to invite Him to empower us for Kingdom living.

Let’s turn our thoughts to Pentecost!  The calendar says The Feast of Pentecost is May 15, but I earnestly pray that the Spirit will fall on us now, that we will find a mission, the people of God empowered by the Spirit of God. Christians have a unique message for a world torn apart by so many things.  We make Christ Jesus known – and through Him people find a whole new way to live.  The sins and rebellion that once gripped us are defeated by the Risen Lord. The hopelessness of death is replaced with the hopefulness of Eternal Life.  It is the Day After.  Time to seek the Spirit!

Today, ponder this word from the Word and pray for the fullness of the Spirit!

“And the believers were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 13:52, NLT)

“Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:18-20, NLT)

__________

There’s nothing worth more
that will ever come close,
No thing can compare,
You’re our living hope,
Your Presence. 

I’ve tasted and seen
of the sweetest of loves,
Where my heart becomes free
and my shame is undone,
In Your Presence Lord. 

Holy Spirit, You are welcome here.
Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere.
Your glory, God, is what our hearts long for;
To be overcome by Your Presence, Lord.
(Your Presence, Lord)
(Your Presence)
(Oh God how we love Your Presence Lord)

 Let us become more aware
of Your Presence
Let us experience the glory
of Your goodness (Lord)

Holy Spirit

Bryan Torwalt | Katie Torwalt © 2011 Capitol CMG Genesis
(Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)
Jesus Culture Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) CCLI License # 810055

Resurrection? Really necessary?

easterIt’s like a light coming on in a dark room!  There is a problem that we study. We think about it, dream about it, talk it over. Then, there the answer comes – often in a most unexpected moment. It works, problem solved.

On Sunday we celebrate that kind of moment, the Great Resolve of humanity’s question.

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ makes all the rest of life make sense. Christianity, is sometimes practiced as a set of rules to live by taught by a good Man who lived long ago. His idealism got Him killed. Game over. His nobility is inspiring, but impractical. The miracles, including His resurrection, are relegated to the status of misguided myth.  Is that what you think?

Christianity without the Resurrection just does not work.  If there is no eternal justice, why would anyone turn the other cheek to someone who is hurting him?  Forgiveness, sacrifice, service – they do not make much sense apart from the assurance of a reward in heaven. Paul knew the foolishness of Christianity without the promise! He tells us that “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” (1 Corinthians 15:17-19, NIV)

If we do not live beyond the grave, then the only rational way to live is to grab the brass ring – chasing every experience that can satisfy every desire because life is short.  If Heaven is a mirage, then we would be wise to work at making a life that presents us with the most comfort- right now. And, isn’t that exactly how most people live?

But, we know that there is a Heaven to gain because Christ did rise from the dead. Life does not end when our body ceases to function! This is the testimony about the true nature of our existence which is demonstrated by Jesus Christ. He came to restore our God-given destiny, to build a bridge back to our Creator/Father, and to point the Way across the abyss of death to our eternal home. The whole of the life He calls us to live – a life of love, a life of holiness, a life that says ‘yes’ to God and ‘no’ to Self; is completely rational when viewed with eyes that are open to the reality of Eternity. Our small sacrifices now are nothing compared to the glory of the commendation of God and the joy of His Heavenly reward!

Bev was relatively young, a bright and beautiful woman who found herself facing death two years ago.  Last Fall, as it became increasingly apparent that her journey here was drawing to a close, I held onto the Truth of the Resurrection tightly.  3 months ago, as one light faded another Light dawned. In the middle of all the sorrow, I find a serenity that comes from the Promise made secure by Christ’s own death and Resurrection.  Do not think that having a heavenly mind makes one live a grim existence.  Those who know Heaven in their heart are rich with a kind of abundance that comes from another world.

Sure, there is plenty of mystery in all of this. There are a lot of questions that find few answers on this side of Eternity. But there is one Answer that anchors us – Christ died, Christ lives- I will die, I will live!

The word from the Word speaks to our reconciliation with the Father, to our guilt that is removed, to our relationship fully restored. But, do not forget the Empty Tomb, for that is moment of our assurance of final victory.  “Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.” (1 Corinthians 15:54-58, NLT)

Celebrate the Resurrection!  I will, with tears, with hope, with renewed pursuit of His holy will.  “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.”
_________________

Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!
Sons of men and angels say: Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens and earth reply: Alleluia!

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Dying once He all doth save, Alleluia!
Where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia!

Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids Him rise, Alleluia!
Christ hath opened paradise, Alleluia!

Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

Vain the stone, the watch, the seal, Hallelujah!
Christ hath burst the gates of hell, Hallelujah!
Death in vain forbids His rise, Hallelujah!
Christ hath opened paradise, Hallelujah!

Christ, the Lord, is Risen Today
Charles Wesley© Public Domain

I sold out!

 

blood-of-jesusWhat’s your price? How much would it require to get you to sell out, to compromise your integrity? Before you raise an objection, insisting you’re beyond that, that you cannot be bought, have a little humility, please!  The holy Book tells us that some godly people ‘sold out’ when pressed, that it was not just weak or foolish men that gave in. Soup, sex, and selfishness were the price of honor and integrity in the lives of some of the best and brightest men in the Bible!

  • The story of Holy Week includes the infamous compromise of Judas Iscariot. He sold himself for 30 pieces of silver. With a kiss, he betrayed the Man he had hoped would bring the Kingdom of God. Remember the tragic story of his remorse? That silver became a terrible weight until he threw it back at the feet of those who conspired with him in the death of Jesus. His guilt drove him to suicide.
  • Esau (Genesis) made the choice to trade away his place of honor as the family’s firstborn son for a bowl of lentil soup! This terse comment sums up the transaction: “Jacob gave Esau some bread and lentil stew. Esau ate and drank and went on about his business, indifferent to the fact that he had given up his birthright.” (Genesis 25:34 NLT) His remorse caused him to hate his brother so intensely that the family was divided for nearly two decades.
  • David sold himself for another man’s wife, the gorgeous Bathsheba! He invited her for dinner, found her enchanting, and got her pregnant. His scheme to hide his sin culminated in the murder of his faithful servant, Uriah. The sordid tale is found in 2 Samuel 11. This breach of integrity brought God’s judgment on David and he reaped the consequences of his sin for the rest of his life.
  • Moses broke under the stress of leadership and threw a temper tantrum that cost him dearly! After leading Israel for months and listening to their complaints, he decided that he could let himself go. One day when water was in short supply, God promised meet that need. He directed Moses to speak to a rock for a miraculous provision. Instead, he blew up. “Listen, rebels! Do we have to bring water out of this rock for you?” With that Moses raised his arm and slammed his staff against the rock—once, twice. Water poured out. Congregation and cattle drank. God said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you didn’t trust me, didn’t treat me with holy reverence in front of the People of Israel, you two aren’t going to lead this company into the land that I am giving them.” (Numbers 20:10-12, The Message)

Those stories make me shudder! Judas walked with Jesus every day for 3 years and still failed.  David was the Psalmist, the warrior hero, yet testosterone got the best of him! Moses experienced the Presence of God face to face and yet, in the critical moment, dishonored God! I tremble for the knowledge of my own sinful nature reminds me that, apart from the empowering Presence of the Spirit of God, I am equally prone to greed, sensuality, and self-will. But, I have a Redeemer who loves me and who restores me when I fall, who for His own sake, forgives my sins. I was once hopelessly held in the grip of the sinful nature, glory gone, honor lost, and death was my destiny. “But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so very much, that even while we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s special favor that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ, and we are seated with him in the heavenly realms—all because we are one with Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:4-6, NLT)

I am so glad that you and I live in the era of GRACE.  Truth be told, I have been bought, too.  Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory, stepped down to stand next to me, let His blood be spilled for me, forgave me my dishonor and sin, and restored me my honorable place in the family of God. I join the song of gratitude, praising Him: “And they sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”(Revelation 5:9-10, NIV)

The Word urges us to realize that with the privilege of redemption comes a responsibility to serve God. “God purchased you at a high price. Don’t be enslaved by the world.” (1 Corinthians 7:23, NLT) Sell out, not to sin, Self, or Satan, but to the Lord who loves you to life!

Here is a word from the Word for this Maundy Thursday.
“Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.” (Romans 6:16-19, NIV)
____________________

Jesus! What a friend for sinners!
Jesus lover of my soul!
Friends may fail me, foes assail me;
He, my Savior, makes me whole.

Jesus! What a strength in weakness!
Let me hide myself in Him;
Tempted tried and sometimes failing,
He, my strength my victory wins.

Jesus! I do now receive Him;
More than all in Him I find.
He hath granted me forgiveness;
I am His and He is mine.

Hallelujah what a Savior.
Hallelujah what a Friend.
Saving, helping, keeping, loving,
He is with me to the end.

Copyright  Public Domain

When All is dark, what then?

worldonfireThis day dawned with personal sorrow.  Today is Bev’s birthday, but she is no longer celebrating them, having joined the saints of all the ages in the home of our Eternal Father a few weeks ago. Obviously, much of my sadness is related to that loss. I am also feeling the pain of my broken world. The problems in the world are multiplying like rabbits!

  • Since January, ISIS has brought terrorism and death to multiple locations, bringing down an airliner over the Sinai, bombing in cities from Turkey to Kenya to France to this US of A; and just yesterday, in Belgium. Their brand of religion creates a fanaticism that defies our imagination, attracting thousands zealots ready to die for the cause.
  • Old racial tensions have rekindled in America stoked by politics of fear and division. In my entire life I have never observed the kind of hatred and anger that is simmering in this nation. It does not bode well for the future that so many are ready to choose a leader who specializes in hatred, who acts like a spoiled boy, and whose tactic of choice is to threaten those who criticize him.
  • Americans are accustomed to a lifestyle that simply cannot be sustained as our economy flattens and our population ages, growing less productive. Our health care system, our justice system, and our educational systems are collapsing before our eyes under the weight of entitlement, thoughtless policies, and unrestrained selfishness. And, there is no real leadership in sight to help us re-chart our course.
  • Our culture is a cesspool of filth, injustice, greed, and unfaithfulness. Porn merchants fill the Internet with sexual perversion, produced by men who destroy lives with no remorse. Wall Street grows richer at the expense of a growing underclass.  Political power is largely used protect the privileged, with no discernable real concern for change.  Families are devastated by failure of to keep the covenant.

Through it all, Christ’s Church is fumbling to find her voice, to find words that people can understand.  She has become more interested in maintaining social position than with speaking truth and is taken up with trivialities nobody cares about. The very Body that is entrusted with the Spirit and the Gospel, is mostly self-absorbed, talking about traditions of little consequence. The Gospel is often twisted into a recreation of the “American dream,” more about personal fulfillment and prosperity than finding delight in the love of Christ.

With a broken heart, struggling with personal sorrow, I feel the weight of the world today.  I would love to say that I face these things with great courage and optimism, but that would be a lie. Yet . . . Despite these things and more, I have hope! Why?

Because I know that God reigns; that the Empty Tomb is on the far side of the Blood-stained Cross!  Our Christian hope is found in our secure place in the Kingdom of God, a place from which we reach into the troubled world to minister God’s grace, to speak His wisdom, and to offer His salvation. We realize that even death itself cannot destroy us because it did not destroy our Lord, who died and lives again.

Walking with Jesus through Jerusalem, during what we call the Passion week, the disciples pointed out the grand buildings, admiring them as symbols of what they thought was an indestructible city. Jesus brought them to reality. His words probably frightened them. He was not wildly optimistic. He told the truth about the toll of evil! “Don’t let anyone mislead you, for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world. But all this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come. “Then you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers. And many will turn away from me and betray and hate each other. And many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people. Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 24:4-13, NLT) Jesus was telling His disciples that this world would go off the rails again and again. This is the way of evil and sin. Nothing of this world – governments, social systems, or grand buildings – can resist the inevitable advance of decay. False religions, wars, and natural disasters will be cyclic, throughout history, He warned, “but the end won’t follow immediately.”

Some Christians see the sin-sickness of their world as reason to withdraw from it, to abandon it to evil, and/or to create escapist prophetic scenarios.  But, what does Jesus ask of us? “Stand steady against the onslaught of evil! Don’t compromise and slide into spiritual apathy.” Those of us who know the Eternal God, who live in His purposes, who have accepted the promise of Resurrection Life are equipped to wage war against the evil around us – a war of love that holds out the hope of redemption and salvation to all who believe in the One who came to ‘save us from our sins.’

Difficult times provide great opportunities for the advance of the Gospel of Christ. The cost is high, the reward inestimable.

Here’s a word from the Word to take to heart today. “So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.
Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon.  In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out. “ (Ephesians 6:11-18, The Message)

__________

bev2003Happy Birthday in Heaven, sweet Bev.
You now know the promise that we long for – peace and joy in the Father’s house.

How well do you ‘know’ Him?

Revelation-3-20Acquaintance, friend, confidante, partner, lover – there are so many ways to know others. One of the joys of life is forming a friendship that matures into a deep, lasting bond. But, those kinds of relationships do not ‘just happen.’ We must invest ourselves in that person, asking questions, listening, living through ups and downs, forgiving, adapting, learning. Among my richest blessings are those in my life of whom I can say- “I really ‘know’ him.”  Those people share more than recognition of name or face!

On this Tuesday of Holy Week, let me ask you to think about this question: Who is Jesus to you?  “When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”  (Matthew 21:11, NIV) The crowds of pilgrims in Jerusalem for the Passover feast saw Jesus and they recognized Him. It is likely that many remembered Zechariah’s prophecy about the Messiah’s arrival on a donkey! (9.9) Still Jerusalem’s subsequent actions reveal an ignorance of His true identity. He had fed thousands with a boy’s lunch. He preached the Kingdom come in their synagogues. He performed astonishing miracles. Yet, when asked who He was, they said, “Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth.” He was their Messiah, God’s Anointed One, sent to save them from their sins, but they could not or would not see that transforming truth.  Yes, they recognized Him, but yet did not know Him.

On Easter Sunday, people will stream into churches to recognize our Risen Lord, but will they know Him?

  • Who is Jesus to you, friend?
  • It He “my wife’s Savior” or “my parent’s Lord”?
  • Is He the “great Teacher“?
  • Or, is He your Savior, Lord, Hope, and King?

You can know Him. When we seek Him, we find Him. When we hunger for Him, He satisfies us. When we follow Him, we become “friends of God!” He says, “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.” (Revelation 3:20, NLT) One of the delights of life is discovering that Jesus is so much more than we imagine, at first. He will challenge us to examine our lives, disturb our assumptions, change us with His Presence. And, we will find, in Him, a richness of life that is simply not found in any other place.

Ponder this word from the Word today. “Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.” (Philippians 3:8-12, NKJV)

Don’t settle for a mere acquaintance with Jesus. Know Him, growing deeper in your love for Him, starting today.

_______________

All I once held dear,
Built my life upon,
All this world reveres,
And wars to own,
All I once thought gain
I have counted loss;
Spent and worthless now,
Compared to this.

Knowing You, Jesus, knowing You,
There is no greater thing.
You’re my all, You’re the best,
You’re my joy, my righteousness,
And I love You, Lord.

 Now my heart’s desire
Is to know You more,
To be found in You,
And known as Yours,
To possess by faith
What I could not earn;
All surpassing gift of righteousness.

 Oh to know the power
of Your risen life,
And to know You
in Your sufferings,
To become like You
In Your death, my Lord;
So with You to live, and never die.

 Knowing You
Kendrick, Graham © 1993 Make Way Music (Admin. by Music Services)
CCLI License No. 810055

It’s a process!

healingspringI write “CoffeeBreak” each morning sitting at my kitchen table, looking out over the hillside behind my home.  It would interesting to have a time lapse record of the changes. Right now the earth is slowing awakening from winter, each week bringing more green into the picture. Last week tiny flowers poked through the bed next to the garage.

This morning I noticed green buds on the branches of the plants near the pond. Imperceptible in the day, the change of season is sure!

Bev died 12 weeks ago and my heart is healing, slowly. This week the stone will be set at her grave, another visible marker along this pathway of grief. On Wednesday, I will remember her on what would have been her 62nd birthday. It will be a painful day. Sometimes I wish for a fast forward in time, a way to ‘rush the process,’ but I know that working through the stages of grief, letting the wound heal, is a necessary thing.

I am thankful for faith in a God who assures me of His purposes. He told His people whose land had been destroyed by invaders, the best carried off to be slaves, that He would restore them, that their experiences were not hidden from His view. “I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11, NLT)  He knows my life, too, and is leading me through a process that will result in glory for Him, if I walk it out faithfully letting the Spirit lead.

Quick fixes and instant cures are offered for everything from cancer to character flaws, from disappointment to disgust, from sin to sainthood. Don’t buy them! People are not machines that can be fixed with a turn of a wrench or the replacement of a bolt. We are complex; a mixture of motives, each with a past, wrestling with our pain, problems, and the promises of God.  God’s grace can transform us into creatures of beauty, but only as we accept it and in turn learn to give it away.  The Word urges us to “imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.” (Hebrews 6:12, NIV) “Farmers do this all the time, waiting for their valuable crops to mature, patiently letting the rain do its slow but sure work. Be patient like that. Stay steady and strong.” (James 5:7-8, The Message)

Are you waiting for your heart to heal?
Are you longing for victory over some debilitating habit?
Are you praying for a son or daughter to find their way to the Light?

This is the word from the Word for those who are in process:“We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. …   Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. … And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Hebrews 6:11, 11:1,6 NIV)

__________________

When the valley is deep,
When the mountain is steep,
When the body is weary,
When we stumble and fall.

When the choices are hard,
When we’re battered and scarred,
When we’ve spent our resources,
When we’ve given our all.

In Jesus’ name, we press on!
In Jesus’ name, we press on!

Dear Lord, with the prize-
Clear before our eyes-
We find the strength to press on.

PRESS ON- Dan Burgess
© 1983 Good Life Publications, Inc. (Admin. by Alfred Publishing Co., Inc.)

 

What Wealth Can Do

heaven (1)It’s my privilege to speak to the students at our Christian school each Thursday morning. Yesterday, I talked about ‘treasures’ with them.  The topic is tough one for those of us who live in a consumer culture, who are accustomed to a life that includes internet, cars, cell phones, abundant food, and plenty of clean water!  So, when I asked them about their treasure, I got a variety of answers including the ‘Sunday School’ answer – Jesus!  Then, we read the story of a wealthy man who came to Jesus inquiring about gaining eternal life.  The core meaning of that story eluded those students as it does many of us. They thought Jesus was condemning his wealth and demanding poverty.  But, was He?

A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’” “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus replied, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” (Luke 18:18-27, NIV)

The one thing that stood between that earnest young man and God was not the wealth with which he was privileged. It was the self-sufficiency that the wealth created!

This young man was accustomed to being in control and it showed in his first responses. When asked about his moral choices, he was able to point to a record of good. He never slept with his friend’s wife. He did not murder. That’s good, right?  And, he had done well with honesty and giving honor to his parents.  The fact that Jesus let his answer stand without challenge tells me that the young man was truthful about these things.  There was a major obstacle on the way to knowing God fully. It was not his morality, it was his need to control his own life. Jesus touched the nerve when He told that man, “Go sell everything, then come and follow me!”  That rich young man would not do it.  His wealth was his security.

Jesus made a comment worthy of our attention: How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Why? Does God hate wealth? Not at all. It is the byproduct of wealth – that illusion of control, the ability to manage and control so much of life when there is access to money, that creates a roadblock to knowing the Lord.  Wealth allows us to temporarily satisfy the soul hunger with fine things, with personal comfort, even with the admiration that so easily flows to those with greater resources. Jesus was uncompromising when He taught us that “No one can serve two masters … he will hate the one and love the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Luke 6:24)

So, Christian, where is YOUR treasure?
What makes you secure, gives your life a sense of meaning?
Is it the things you own, the position your stuff provides?  It is a tough question to answer given the amazing wealth in which we are privileged to live in here in America.  In spite of all the noise about falling wages and hardship, most of us enjoy a standard of life that is inaccessible to 90 percent of the rest of the world’s population.

The word from the Word is a familiar passage. Take a few moments to pray your way through it this morning, inviting the Holy Spirit to help you to see beyond the words, to grasp the eternal truth.

“Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.”

 “If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. … What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. ” (Matthew 6: 19-21, 25,31-33, The Message)

_______________

 Be Thou my vision
O Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me
Save that Thou art
Thou my best thought
By day or by night
Waking or sleeping
Thy presence my light

 Riches I heed not
Nor man’s empty praise
Thou mine inheritance
Now and always
Thou and Thou only
Be first in my heart
High King of heaven
My treasure Thou art

 High King of heaven
When vict’ry is won
May I reach heaven’s joys
O bright heaven’s Sun
Heart of my own heart
Whatever befall
Still be my vision
O Ruler of all 

Be Thou My Vision
Eleanor Henrietta Hull | Mary Elizabeth Byrne © Words: Public Domain