“You’re an idiot!”

springHuman beings have been a warring bunch since the dawn of history, fighting over territory, treasure, religion, and tribal connections. We may consider ourselves more civilized than those who took clubs to each others’ heads, but we still fight, don’t we?  Americans are divided and the issues that separate us are not imaginary.  The fact that the media and internet offers a megaphone to every voice who wants one, regardless of competence or motivation, only complicates communication. I have all but given up on watching news channels. Adults sit at tables and shout at each other endlessly, saying the same things for days. Facebook trolls post their opinions and gleefully watch their thread explode! It is easy to conclude that the only way to break through the noise is to express your point in the most offensive way to attract the most attention.

Too many words are used like grenades. If we disagree with another, instead of trying to understand the point, give context to his issues, it is so much easier to blow him away by declaring – “You’re an idiot!” If we find ourselves struggling with competing ideas, we often slip into absolutes saying, “Well, I know the TRUTH!”  Even our presidential candidates are feeding the fire hurling words at each other that are incendiary – racist, bigot, liar, crook, fool.

Christian, we need to hear the counsel of the Lord about our words. James urges us to make our words as refreshing as a fresh water spring!   “A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it! It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell. … With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women he made in his image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth! My friends, this can’t go on. A spring doesn’t gush fresh water one day and brackish the next, does it? …  You’re not going to dip into a polluted mud hole and get a cup of clear, cool water, are you?” (James 3:3-12, The Message)

How are using the gift of language, Christian?
Words can pull people together by bringing focus to mutual efforts. Ever heard a good leader use words to create a vision that moves a church, a town, a nation? It’s amazing!

Words can soothe a broken heart! “I care about you.” “We can do this.”  Is there any phrase more powerful than a sincere “I love you!”?

Words can inflame fury!  Words spat out in harsh tones of anger, designed to wound and kill, can hurt more than the cut of a knife.  Hateful words that demean another, that criticize, that unfairly judge; destroy lives.

Are your words healing or hurting?
Are your words building up or tearing down?
Are your words encouraging or discouraging?
Are your words refreshing or exhausting?

Gentleness, listening, understanding does not harm ‘the truth.’  Let’s not fall into fear that insists, “If you do not defend this, then the truth will be forgotten.”  We can hang onto convictions, know what is right and wrong, without needing to go to war with everyone that thinks differently.

So, listen to how you talk. If you discover that you are using foul, discouraging, or faithless words, pray for the Spirit to wash your heart and mind. We do not have to settle for ‘nice’ words that disguise the content of our hearts and minds with words that are purposefully bland!  Instead, fill up your mind with God’s Word – hopeful, faithful, resting on Him.  When the source of the spring is cleaned, the overflow is pure!  Yes, pray that the language you use reveals the life of the Spirit in you!

Here is a word from the Word to ponder today – “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior.” (Ephesians 4:29-31, NLT)

Lord, my prayer today is that “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)

Amen.

Church, who needs it? Let’s just be Christian.

church2How would you like to be part of a world-wide movement that can change history? How would you like to be in a group where you can be made stronger, find a ‘home,’ and be shown the way to live with real hope and purpose?  I’m in! And, you can be, too.  That place is the Church, not just a church.  I hear you, “Jerry, you’re selling something that is not real. My church is boring, a place where people argue and fight, where tradition is more important than mission.”  Sometimes that is true, but healthy churches, who are functioning as a part of His Church, are the HOPE of the World!

When I was 16 years of age, God spoke to me (He really did, but that is another story) and asked me to serve Him in His Church. It was not my dream.  Even as a teenager, much of what I had seen in the church was nothing more than a ‘religiously dressed up’ version of a local club. But, exploring the Word, I found that God called the church into existence and entrusted the future of this planet to her.  He gave her the Gospel of Christ and the gifts of the Holy Spirit so that she would go out and make a difference – now and eternally.

Paul tells us that God planned the Church to demonstrate what Christ’s Gospel could do to make a new society, not built on human accomplishments or personality, but on the Spirit’s power: “When it came to presenting the Message to people who had no background in God’s way, … God saw to it that I was equipped, but you can be sure that it had nothing to do with my natural abilities. And so here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way over my head, the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ. … to make plain what God, who created all this in the first place, has been doing in secret and behind the scenes all along. Through followers of Jesus like yourselves gathered in churches, this extraordinary plan of God is becoming known and talked about even among the angels! All this is proceeding along lines planned all along by God and then executed in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 3:8-12, The Message)  Think about that!  When the church is healthy, even the angels are impressed.

We feed the hungry, teach new disciples, provide a place of safe harbor for those who are hurting, give to support the work of spreading the Message, gather for prayer, and offer up worship. Sadly, some local churches have forgotten that and they get together to whine about the world, build higher walls, and cry for rescue! That’s not the plan. We are warriors who do battle, lovers who know the power of love to transform, people with purpose that is greater than the cuisine we eat or the house in which we live.

There is a high level war going on around the Church all the time –
evil fighting with good, but Light overcoming darkness.
Hate rises, defeated by sacrificial love.
Ignorance and fear meets wisdom and courage.

Life comes to the soul and those who were dead though living awaken to eternal possibilities!  Those who only think of the church as a “Sunday club,” a social gathering of like-minded people, have yet to catch a glimpse of her true mission!

I love the privilege of serving Faith Discovery Church. She is not a large church, nor is she rich, but the breadth of her reach is amazing. On any given week, she is touching hundreds of people- feeding families, providing education to children in her Christian school, inviting people to experience the Presence of God in worship, training boys and girls in faith, and counseling the confused, offering Christ’s salvation to those who are confused and/or enslaved by their sins- just to mention a few things. Who does all this?  We are a network of volunteers including dozens of faithful men and women, young and old, who make it all possible.

So, I am going to get personal here.
Are you part of a local congregation? If not, why not?

Please do not tell me about the hypocrites, the failed pastors, the misplaced priorities.  All those things ARE TRAGICALLY true. Christ’s Church consists of people- just like me, like you – who are imperfect, failing, sometimes short-sighted, selfish, and sinful. Yet, the Spirit comes and equips, changes, and builds people where He is invited. When God is welcomed, personally and in our fellowship, He comes to us;  not to make our church a perfect place, but to make her a healing home. A living, Spirit-filled church,  will always be a messy place, full of people at all stages of spiritual development, from infancy to maturity.

The church is the place where God will most effectively use you in His work, the place where the gifts of the Spirit He’s invested in you are brought to mature and effective expression. “The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t.” (1 Corinthians 12:25, The Message) Christians cannot fully function as God intends without being ‘in the Body.’  Those Christians who dismiss the church as irrelevant or unnecessary ignore what the Bible teaches, and not without real consequence for themselves and others.

People criticize their church – sometimes reasonably, often unfairly. Some churches do ‘church’ better than others. But, a person who works towards the destruction of a church, does an awful thing. He is attacking what God loves! The Church, which includes local congregations, is His Bride.  The Word says that “Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness.” If Jesus gives His church such love, how can we so easily attack, criticize, dismiss, and destroy her?

Church – let’s love her. Let’s give ourselves to make her great, for Christ’s sake.  Let’s raise our level of commitment to her, allowing nothing to become more important than being part of God’s work to reach the world. Let’s pray for her success. Let’s be the place where the Light of Christ shines brightly in a very dark world.

The word from the Word says that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing a her by the washing with water through the word,  27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” (Ephesians 5:25)   And this, “Come to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by the people, but he is precious to God who chose him. And now God is building you, as living stones, into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are God’s holy priests, who offer the spiritual sacrifices that please him because of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:4-5, NLT)

__________

Build Your Kingdom Here

 Come set Your rule and reign
in our hearts again.
Increase in us, we pray.
Unveil why we’re made,
Come set our hearts ablaze with hope,
Like wildfire in our very souls.
Holy Spirit, come invade us now.
We are Your Church,
We need Your pow’r – in us!

 We seek Your kingdom first,
We hunger and we thirst,
Refuse to waste our lives,
For You’re our joy and prize.
To see the captives’ hearts released,
The hurt, the sick, the poor, at peace.
We lay down our lives for heaven’s cause,
We are Your Church,
We pray revive this earth! 

Build Your kingdom here,
Let the darkness fear!
Show Your mighty hand,
Heal our streets and land.
Set Your church on fire,
Win this nation back.
Change the atmosphere,
Build Your kingdom here, we pray! 

Unleash Your kingdom’s pow’r,
Reaching the near and far.
No force of hell can stop
Your beauty changing hearts.
You made us for much more than this,
Awake the kingdom seed in us.
Fill us with the strength and love of Christ,
We are Your Church!
We are the hope on earth!

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

CCLI License # 810055

I’ll hold open the door for you

opendoorShe was following me slowly using a cane, so I slowed down knowing that the entry could be a challenge for her. I pulled open the door for her, standing to one side; my actions were a wordless invitation, “Come on in.”  She looked at me and smiled. I nodded and followed her into the building. It was a simple moment… one of those little human interactions that enrich our lives.

When I was a young man in a critical season of life, a man saw that I had come up against an obstacle. I was unsure of how to go ahead, feeling God’s call, but stymied by circumstances created in part by my own lack of wisdom and by men in authority who were intent on blocking my way. Dave saw past my youthfulness, my inexperience, my brash self-confidence, and he invited me ‘in.’  He held open a door of ministry opportunity, offering encouragement and correction, and I walked into the vocation to which I have given my life.

I love this hope-filled passage in the Word:  “This is the message from the one who is holy and true, the one who has the key of David. What he opens, no one can close; and what he closes, no one can open: “I know all the things you do, and I have opened a door for you that no one can close. You have little strength, yet you obeyed my word and did not deny me.” (Revelation 3:7-8, NLT)  Jesus has opportunities for you, for me, today! He is holding open doors and inviting us to ‘Come on in.”  We can enter into a place of forgiveness, experiencing restoration of the relationship with our Abba.  We can enter into a place where He strengthens, a place where He feeds us. We can enter into a place of service that produces life and wholeness for others, because we are filled with the Spirit. In short, He offers to “empower” us.

Empowered people are invited to move head, provided with resources, given an open door!  Those who have privilege, who enjoy status, who hold an office best use those things not by carving out a place for themselves, but by using what they have to help others climb the ladder of success.  Empowering others is just helping by holding open the door!

Disciple, God doesn’t just point us in the right direction and hope we make it.  He empowers us. Paul, describing his efforts to empower others, says,  I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me.” (Colossians 1:29, NLT)   Did you note the interplay of empowerment and responsibility?  His willingness to work hard is coupled with Christ’s mighty power.  The apostle accomplished amazing and wonderful things over 30 years of ministry in the Roman Empire.  He changed history!   He couldn’t have done it without the Spirit’s power, but God needed his mind, his hands and feet, and his voice.

On this Monday morning, the Spirit is saying to us – “I have set before you an open door.”  If we stand there, waiting for Him to ‘just do it;’ if we hope that some great thing will be done without any blood, sweat, or tears shed on your part, we will miss the opportunity. Others will outrun and out-perform us, while we are still standing outside.  Walk in! In faith, move on. All the while, pray fervently for the wisdom of God, the empowering Presence of the Holy Spirit in you and through you.  Expect and engage.  God says that He will create results that will far exceed what you even imagined to be possible.  He “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” (Ephesians 3:20, NIV)

Need to beat a habit that hinders your holiness?  God empowers you!
Want to live as a person whose daily life honors Christ?  God empowers you!
Trying to love a miserable person?  God empowers you!
Need to forgive someone but find it so hard to get over your resentment?  God empowers you!
Called to be a parent raising Godly kids in a culture so hostile to spiritual things?  God empowers you!
A student headed into school again and wondering if you can remain faithful to Him? God empowers you!

So, here is a word from the Word. “Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.” (Colossians 3:16-17, NLT)

_________

Jesus Loves Me

I was lost I was in chains
The world had a hold of me
My heart was a stone I was covered in shame
When He came for me

 I couldn’t run couldn’t run from His presence
I couldn’t run couldn’t run from His arms 

Jesus He loves me
He loves me He is for me
Jesus how can it be
He loves me He is for me

 It was a fire deep in my soul
I’ll never be the same
I stepped out of the dark and into the light
When He called my name

 He holds the stars and He holds my heart
With healing hands that bear the scars
The rugged cross where He died for me
My only hope my ev’rything

 Jesus He loves me
He loves me oh
Jesus how can it be
He loves me He is for me

 He loves me He loves me
He loves me He is for me
My God it’s amazing oh
Jesus loves me

Ben Glover | Chris Tomlin | Reuben Morgan © 2014 9t One Songs (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) Ariose Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)
Hillsong Music Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

“It must be true. Angelina Jolie said so.”

1-john-4_1Over dinner last night the guests at my table shared their experience with a large religious group that claims to be “Christian.” That ‘church’ preaches strong family values, encourages morality and hard work, and builds tight-knit communities. But, the heart of their ‘faith’ is not Christian at all. The cross is not seen as a place of grace, Jesus is not God come to us, the Savior. Yet, this group continues to dupe many into believing that they are a renewal of apostolic Christianity.

I ask you, are you orthodox in doctrine or have you, either because of lack of knowledge or direct intention, diluted the Gospel of Jesus Christ with silly superstitions, angel stories, or bizarre worship practices?  In a lifetime of Pastoral ministry I have observed trends, fads, and bad doctrines flow through the Church. Some issues correct themselves rather quickly. Thirty years ago, there were groups predicting the date of Jesus’ return. Their error was obvious when their dates came and went without His appearing!  Other errors have more staying power, taking root and hanging on. The preachers of the ‘prosperity gospel’ remain influential. Their message that God wants everyone with enough faith to be healthy and wealthy appeals to us, so we ignore the holes in that message.

The current issue of syncretism (mixing religions) is a serious problem. Even “Spirit-filled” disciples are turning to strange doctrine and weird practices. Many are readily embracing the lie that ‘all roads lead to God.’ What allows people to adopt false teaching as true, to become deceived?

The sufficiency of the Scripture’s teaching for life and godliness has been diminished in favor of experience.
“What works for me” replaces “This is the Word of the Lord.”  In part this is a reflection of our highly individualistic culture.  Self-expression and personal happiness are highly valued, even to the point of rejecting the authority of God’s Word.

And, then too, there is our celebrity culture.
The fact that someone can put on a great concert or move us with their skill in portraying a character in a movie does not mean they have anything authoritative to say about politics, climate science, or religious truth. Yet, we are regularly exposed to the opinions of celebrities whose words are treated as if they grow from years of study, deep spirituality, and/or great intelligence. Are they experts? Perhaps they are in their field but on others issues, not so much.  I do admire the passion of celebrity advocates for children’s right, climate change, and social responsibility. But, I do not give their words the same weight as those who have years wrestling with those issues!

The same celebrity worship happens in the Church. An athlete who comes to faith in Christ from a life full of dysfunction is too often put on the stage while he is still a baby Believer. He is presented as a role model before the water of his baptism has dried.  And, sadly, we are too often shocked when the pressure takes it toll and we find that our ‘hero’ is just an ordinary sinner like each of us.  Christian musicians often enjoy more influence in shaping theology than pastors, despite have a Scriptural depth and understanding that is frequently slim to non-existent. The result is shallow Christians with faith built on experience alone, their focus shifted from the Awesomeness of a Holy God to subjective feelings celebrated by the song writer.

Before you fire off an angry protest to me, please know that I am not saying that all Christian musicians are shallow! There are many who take the way of the Wesley brothers in 18th century who wrote their amazing hymns of faith from the depths of the soul, shaped by lives dedicated equally to study of truth and excellence of their craft. Then, too, we cannot ignore the huge influence of media speakers whose words fill up books, who take the stage at conferences, using human interest stories to explain life to us. Frequently their message is without much Bible content or any theological anchors.

Then, too, some are ‘bored’ by steady, solid, and practical teaching of the Word. Novelty replaces truth. Fascination with demons, angels, and psychic phenomena replaces Discipleship and love for the Word of God.
In God’s Name, all kinds of silliness has been invited into the Church disguised as the “move of the Spirit.” This is nothing new, but it is a growing trend. There are terrible consequences for the health of the Church. The Word speaks of this: “The time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4, NIV)  Discipleship is not about a great Sunday worship experience alone. It is about learning and doing the will of God so that our lives are marked by wholeness of mind, soul, and body in a way that honors our Creator.

Let’s love the Truth!
Seek out leaders whose lives show integrity.
Commit yourself to a church that is more than a ‘show,’ that is Word-centered even as it is innovative, looking for ways to bring the unchanging Truth to the culture in which we live.

We need not be misled by strange doctrine, duped by false teachers, or overcome by silly superstition.  Jesus promises that we will know the Truth and the Truth will set us free.

Here is a word from the Word. May we be challenged to be people led by the Spirit and grounded in the revelation of Scripture.  This passage comes from Paul’s final word to a younger pastor. “Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have wandered away from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some. Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.” (2 Timothy 2:14-19, NIV)

________________
Hallelujah, what a Savior.

“I need no other argument,
I need no other plea,
it is enough that Jesus died,
and that He died for me.”

“My heart is leaning on the Word,
the written Word of God.
Salvation by my Savior’s name,
salvation through His blood.”

Too good to be true

bestEverything he said was ‘just right.’ His stories were impressive, too. On the surface, he looked like an amazing man; accomplished, of deep faith, a servant of the Lord. I wanted to trust him but I could detect that there was a disconnect between the image and the reality, little cracks and inconsistencies in evidence. Over time, the truth emerged when the carefully constructed image crumbled. The professions of faith and love were replaced by angry accusations against others when situations did not turn out as he wanted. The man eventually moved on to a new town where he tried to impress a whole new group of people with his ‘spirituality.’  Later on I discovered it was a pattern in Sam’s (not real name) life. He moved frequently, leaving unpaid debts, broken promises, and disappointment.

Nobody’s perfect. It is a cliché that happens to be true! We need realize that and choose to be authentic about ourselves. Sam is a man who could be a productive Christian, useful to the Kingdom of God, if only he would be real and work through the struggles of life instead of trying to create a perfection that is not his to claim! But, apparently ‘real’ is too frightening for him, so he just keeps telling his stories, living the lie.

Amos, a spokesman for God in ancient Israel, saw the hypocrisy of the people.  They kept the feasts of the religious calendar. They gave their tithe to the Temple. They offered sacrifices and sang the songs of worship, but it was a façade.  The Lord, Who longed for their love, Who wanted them to know His love, grew angry with them and here was His challenge. “This is what the LORD says to the house of Israel: “Seek me and live; … You trample on the poor and force him to give you grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them; though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine…. Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the LORD God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is. … Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:4, 7, 11, 23-24, NIV)  What does the Lord say?  “Stop singing. Get real! Do what’s right!”

What joy we find when we come to know ourselves and come humbly, honestly, openly to our God. It is true that the One who knows us best, loves us most. He does not love us because we are smarter, taller, richer, or more beautiful than someone else. He does not love us because our faith is flawless or our song is sweet. He loves us because He is good. The scandal of grace, if you would call it that, is that when we get real, when we stop hiding and pretending, we find forgiveness.  More than that, we find the power to change, as we become friends of God, filled with His Spirit.

Grace is not an excuse to stay as we are; it is an invitation to enter the Presence of the Holy where we are transformed. The Word says He looks deep inside of us, reading even our motives, and invites us to bring ourselves, our broken places, our less than wonderful secrets, into the Throne Room of Heaven. And, what do we find? A loving Savior!  Pointing to those who lived behind their religion, the Spirit says, “Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience. For 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. 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)

Ask God to help you to be authentic; before Him, before the world, and with yourself – a person who has found grace and who gives grace, a sinner made whole who is a healer in a world desperately in need of restoration.  He makes the broken beautiful, the wounded whole, the sinner into a saint.

_____________

Just As I Am

 Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy Blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

 Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy Promise, I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

 Just as I am though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt.
Fightings and fears, within, without;
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

 Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind-
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need in Thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Charlotte Elliott | William Batchelder Bradbury © Words: Public Domain

“Come on in. Make Yourself at home”

 

spiritwelcoemWhen Bev and I were still raising our children we worked at making our home a place of wholeness and holiness. Does that sound overly pious to you? Before you conclude that ours was a joyless, gloomy house, let me tell you that we laughed a lot. We were not a monastery by a long shot. But, we made it our aim to welcome the Spirit in our home. We didn’t invite profanity to fill the air. We didn’t leave conflict unresolved. We practiced forgiveness. The music that filled our home was not about sex, booze, or brokenness. Instead, the songs that created the background were about loving God. It was our conscious desire to invite the Spirit.

Often people, even those who had no faith, remarked about the peace they felt when they spent time in our home. Why? They sensed His Presence!

Are you welcoming to the Holy Spirit of God or is your ‘worship’ just something you talk about?
Does God find that you have a real interest in knowing Him or that you are just looking for some favor when you kneel in prayer?
Is your heart a place where His Presence is ‘at home’ or is there a gap between the words you say about loving Him and your actions that communicate a different message?

Jesus tells us “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23, NIV) It not just our words that welcome Him, it is our attitude of obedience. In another passage, Jesus spoke of those who knew the right things to say but whose hearts were far from God!  Does that describe how He sees me, you?  Our actions can ‘grieve the Spirit of God.’ (Eph. 4:30) The choices we make each day – about the way we speak, the things we value, the entertainment we consume, the places we go – either extend hospitality to the Spirit or that makes Him feel unwelcome.  Could the Word be more clear than this? “Do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. … Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:30-32, NLT)

Again, I want to ask you does the way you live your life invite the Spirit of the Lord to ‘at home?’  Are you filled with the Spirit?

Jesus taught that it is not just the first encounter with Him, when we repent and are cleansed from our guilt and shame that matters to God. We need to become disciples who match our profession of faith with lives of devotion. Take a look at His words. They are sobering in their implications for those who try to live at a distance from the Lord.
“When a defiling evil spirit is expelled from someone, it drifts along through the desert looking for an oasis, some unsuspecting soul it can bedevil.
When it doesn’t find anyone, it says, ‘I’ll go back to my old haunt.’

On return it finds the person spotlessly clean, but vacant. It then runs out and rounds up seven other spirits more evil than itself and they all move in, whooping it up.

That person ends up far worse off than if he’d never gotten cleaned up in the first place.
“That’s what this generation is like: You may think you have cleaned out the junk from your lives and gotten ready for God, but you weren’t hospitable to my kingdom message, and now all the devils are moving back in
.” (Matthew 12:43-45, The Message)

Is it time to do some serious house cleaning, to change up some things so that the Spirit is welcomed? Make your heart hospitable to the Presence of God.

Here is a word from the Word. Will you hear it?
“Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or stand around with sinners,
or join in with mockers.

But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night.
They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season.
Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do. (Psalm 1:1-3, NLT)

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Holy Spirit

 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

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

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

“Happiness is a warm puppy!”

warmpuppyThe creator of the cartoon, “Peanuts,” featuring the hapless Charlie Brown, observed that “happiness is a warm puppy.” Who can’t feel a certain kind of pleasure when they hold a wiggly pup? But it is a passing kind of happy, isn’t it?  Years ago, our family brought home a little bundle of white fur. The kids’ overflowed with delight as they played with Seth. Two days later, Bev was ready to return him to the store from which he came after finding the wallpaper in the bathroom ripped from the walls from the floor as high as the pup could reach!  We had one of our most memorable ‘disagreements’ that day, more than 30 years ago, when I took the side of our kids and kept Seth in the family. By the way, he was with us for 15 years and she learned to love him.

St. Paul reminds us that the evidence of God’s Spirit in us includes a deep and overflowing joy.  In Galatian, we read that the ‘fruit of the Spirit is love, JOY …”  Have you confused genuine joy with the happiness of a warm puppy? The spiritual fruit of joy is not to be confused with the sentimental pleasure, though many of us do that. We chase after things that make us forget the sadness, that put a smile on our face, and wonder why our ‘joy’ is so temporary.  For some it is a trip to the store to buy yet another thing. For others it is another vacation. Yes, I like to get another tech toy.  But, what happens to our happiness?  The puppy rips off the wallpaper. The thing we bought gets used. It rains during our vacation. The toy gets boring.

The joy of the Lord, however, endures time and trial. “As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work. We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us.” (Colossians 1:10-12, The Message)  God’s Word shows us how that joy develops and is sustained – it comes from a complete God-focus! It sees beyond the moment, to take hold of God’s promise of working out His purposes in us. It roots in the fertile soil of His plans not our agendas. It is fed by an attitude of thankfulness.

I am no fatalist. Terrible things happen to people, godly and ungodly alike. Some may disagree, but I do not think that God authors each and every one of those experiences. It is a mystery that two things that seem completely at odds are taught us by the Holy Word. We are told that we are free, able to choose good and evil.  When we choose to sin, the effects ripple out with consequences seen and unseen, that reach far beyond our immediate circle of acquaintances.  And, right alongside of freedom, we are taught that God rules, that His purposes will always prevail, His promise secure and beyond failure.  Joy grows when we understand our responsibility to pursue Him and rest in His power that makes us “sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good. ” (Romans 8:28, The Message)

Today, would you pray for the fruit of Joy to be brought to maturity in you?  Let go of your demand to be ‘happy.’ Stop chasing the high of temporary happiness. Oh, yes, when happiness finds you, laugh. When you are overwhelmed with the beauty of the dawn, hold a squirming puppy, get the great job – enjoy it,  but do not make it your source of real joy. Instead, “rejoice in the Lord!”  Make Him your hope and home.

Here are words from the Word. My prayer is that these truths will help us to live in overflowing Joy today and always.

“Trust in the Lord and do good. Then you will live safely in the land and prosper. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires.”
(Psalm 37:3-4, NLT)

“Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon. Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”
(Philippians 4:4-7, NLT)
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10,000 Reasons (Bless The Lord)

 The sun comes up, it’s a new day dawning;
It’s time to sing Your song again.
Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me,
Let me be singing when the evening comes!

 Bless the Lord, O my soul, O my soul-
Worship His holy name!
Sing like never before, O my soul,
I’ll worship Your holy name!

 You’re rich in love and You’re slow to anger,
Your name is great and Your heart is kind.
For all Your goodness, I will keep on singing,
Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find.

Jonas Myrin | Matt Redman © 2011 Atlas Mountain Songs (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) sixsteps Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) CCLI License # 810055

Laughing with God, or at Him?

Will you laughFew things equal the pleasure of just laughing out loud. When I get together with old friends and the stories start, so does the laughter. Our dumb choices, our silly kid tricks, our shared bumps and bruises are fertile soil for humor.  We all love being in on the joke, laughing with each other.  Ever been laughed at, feeling the stab of being made a fool, the joke way too close to reality for you to find any reason to laugh? Me, too! Sometimes those are moments of cruelty; sometimes they result from another’s insensitivity.

Our Lord loves to hear us laugh; delighted by the wonders of His work and the depth of His love! One of the great myths of spirituality is that it demands a long face. Yes, in our discipleship there are times of deep sorrow, moments when we feel the weight of sin – in ourselves or in the world in which we live – and we weep, broken and mourning.  Let us not forget that part of our heritage in the Lord is JOY. “You satisfy me more than the richest feast. I will praise you with songs of joy. I lie awake thinking of you, meditating on you through the night. Because you are my helper, I sing for joy in the shadow of your wings.” (Psalm 63:5-7, NLT)  On this Monday morning, I urge you to look around for joy. Let it find you in a song, touch you from the depths as you recall a moment of God’s faithfulness, surprise you from an unexpected place. Laugh with God!

Don’t become a cynic who laughs at Him!  Sarah was an old, old woman so far beyond child-bearing years that she had given up all hope of having the child God promised to Abraham and to her.  In fact, she had (in the custom of the time) had her maid become her surrogate with Abraham, resulting in the birth of Ishmael. But, he was not the ‘promised son.’  One day visitors came by their tent. Unaware that they were supernatural beings, she listened in.  How did she respond to what she heard?  “Then one of them said, “I will return to you about this time next year, and your wife, Sarah, will have a son!” Sarah was listening to this conversation from the tent. Abraham and Sarah were both very old by this time, and Sarah was long past the age of having children. So she laughed silently to herself and said, “How could a worn-out woman like me enjoy such pleasure, especially when my master—my husband—is also so old?” Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh? Why did she say, ‘Can an old woman like me have a baby?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return about this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” (Genesis 18:10-14, NLT)  Her laughter was an expression of disbelief, something too good to even hope for anymore.

But, God was faithful to His word in spite of her.  Later, she had opportunity to laugh with God!  “She became pregnant, and she gave birth to a son for Abraham in his old age. This happened at just the time God had said it would. And Abraham named their son Isaac. Eight days after Isaac was born, Abraham circumcised him as God had commanded. Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born. And Sarah declared, “God has brought me laughter. All who hear about this will laugh with me. Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse a baby? Yet I have given Abraham a son in his old age!” (Genesis 21:1-7, NLT)

Do feel the stirring of the Spirit, the outlines of a promise taking shape in you? How will you respond?  Will you laugh at God, dismissing His inspiration as something other than what it is? Or, will you laugh with Him, celebrating His work in you, even in apparently impossible situations?

Here is a word from the Word. I hope it is your declaration for this day. “Praise be to the LORD, for he has heard my cry for mercy. The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song. The LORD is the strength of his people, a fortress of salvation for his anointed one.” (Psalm 28:6-8, NIV)

____________

JOY – (listen on YouTube)

There is beauty in my brokenness,
I’ve got true love instead of pain.
There is freedom though you’ve captured me,
I’ve got joy instead of mourning. 

You give me joy down deep in my soul,
Down deep in my soul,
Down deep in my soul!

In your presence there is freedom
In your presence there is fullness
In your presence there is joy
There is joy forevermore
Never been so free
Caught in your love for me
Never been more secure
Knowing your heart, Lord
For me.

  • Copyright, HouseFires

____________

Crazy world, hopeful none the less!

losehopeI did not live through the Great Depression of the 1930’s but the stories I read of massive unemployment, of poverty, of hunger are frightening! What hopelessness filled the land at that time. My parents were children during the Second World War and spoke of the fear that they felt and sensed in their parents. America in 2016 faces another time of crisis, but our uneasiness is less defined than in those eras.  We seem to have lost hope for the future.  “Me” and “mine” are tearing us apart from the inside out as we fracture along racial and economic divides.  Despair is like a heavy fog over our nation. Even the young, those who are most hopeful for the future have become cynical, skeptical about hoping for a better tomorrow. 

Grim pictures of savage warfare in Syria and Iraq make any hope for peace unimaginable. Corruption, while not a new thing, is so much a part of life, we make allowance for it! There is a growing group of Americans who cannot even hope for a job that will pay enough to reach a place of sufficiency. For them, government subsidies are a way of life, generation after generation. “Church” is to many a word describing a place of tradition and ideas without any connection to ‘real life.’  A recent poll showed that only about a quarter of Americans say that their church plays a key role in their life.

The cynical chant of old Solomon is often heard in various forms these days: “Meaningless. Meaningless. Everything is meaningless!”  (Ecclesiastes) Yet, hope remains!   Christ Jesus invites us to come under the reign of God, to live in the Kingdom of Heaven.  He teaches us about loving, about working against darkness, giving us a reason to exist that goes beyond scrambling for things and finding some momentary happiness. When we are people of the Spirit, knowing and doing the will of God, we find purpose that carries us in these times of despair. We discard apathy (“whatever!”) empowered by the Holy Spirit to do what others no longer even dare to imagine!

Christian, let’s not amuse ourselves to death. So many are chasing momentary pleasures to mask the pain of hopelessness. God is the strength of our life. We can be realistic about the present darkness. We can face the the challenges with honest assessment and yet not despair. Habakkuk preached to the people of God in a time of great sorrow, with a grim future; yet he was hopeful.  He sang, “Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vine; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation. The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He will make me as surefooted as a deer and bring me safely over the mountains.” (Habakkuk 3:17-19, NLT)

Then, too, let’s not play the part of fools who refuse to see that there is peril, who ignore the real problem. No matter how loudly you shout, “Praise the Lord!” it means nothing unless there is an active faith at work in you that rests solidly on the foundation of Christ- who was born, lived, died on the Cross, and rose again to assure of life beyond this life.  Hiding from daily life by burying ourselves in religious activities is no solution. What good is a ‘revival’ that produces no life, no transformation?  God’s people are called to roll up their sleeves and go to work.  They follow the Spirit’s lead into the battle, often bloodied, but not beaten.

Has the drumbeat of despair become the cadence to which you’re marching?

Stop. Look up. Listen. Offer sincere worship. Find hope!

Here’s the word from the Word. They were written by ‘The Preacher,’ Solomon, in Ecclesiastes. Near the end of a life full of glorious achievement, grand wealth, and pleasure in every way; he lost hope, becoming a terrible cynic. Then, he remembered God.
“Talk is cheap, like daydreams and other useless activities. Fear God instead.” (Ecclesiastes 5:7, NLT)
“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.” (Ecclesiastes 12:1, NLT)
“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 12:13-14, NLT)

_________

In Christ Alone

In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light my strength my song
This Cornerstone this solid Ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love what depths of peace
When fears are stilled when strivings cease
My Comforter my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand

In Christ alone who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless babe
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones He came to save
Till on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live

There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave He rose again
And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ

No guilt in life no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
Till He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand

CCLI Song # 3350395
Keith Getty | Stuart Townend
© 2001 Thankyou Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)
CCLI License # 810055

Buried under words?

know-jesusOur church is going to employ a person on the Pastoral staff. We advertised the position and received dozens of applications. Trying to discern who a person is by reading words on a page is no easy task. The standard things are there; education, past positions, awards, and accomplishments. I look for more subtle clues about the identity and personality of the person. Do they use formal language or informal? Are they fond of “Christianese” and “Church-speak”? What values creep into their statements? What authors are shaping their thoughts? But, even then, I know that the individual who put those words to paper is a much more complex person than I could ever know from two or three pages of words. There may be a gem buried under all those words!   When we select a candidate for interview, he will spend time with us, with the hope that the real person will shine through and a partnership formed for the glory of God. Some of those resumes are obviously what I would call “puff pieces.” The applicant has created an image that is almost certainly an inaccurate reflection of his abilities and gifts. My response? Set it aside. No further action required!

Let’s take a look at what Jesus says about our resume of life! “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:21-23, NIV) “It’s not just what you say,” He reminds us, “it’s how you live that matters!” There are those who claim to be “Christian” who know the creed, who show proper respect for the holy, and who even do some things that show positive results for good and yet, they are not authentic disciples of Christ. They are not ‘alive in the Spirit.’ What is the problem? They have kept their true selves hidden from Jesus.

We tend to trust too much in our professions of faith. We can fool ourselves into believing that we are right with God because we go to First Church, because we can quote the key passages of Scripture, and can pray with all the right phrases. But, what is the state of our hearts and minds? Have we hidden parts of ourselves from Him, refusing His Lordship, keeping Him from dealing with our pride, some pet sin, our stuff, our sexuality, our relationships? If we remain ‘unknown’ to Jesus, He will not know and welcome us into His eternal life!

A wholesome morality, a mature knowledge of Scripture and doctrine, and a good record of service in God’s work are not to be scoffed at. Make no mistake about that. Jesus’ point is that those things cannot replace the inner relationship, the core transformation that knowing Him brings.   In truth, when our heart and mind belongs to Him, when the Spirit is living in us, those kinds of things will develop. “Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.” (Matthew 7:19-20, NLT)

Are you pursuing Christ, seeking to know Him and to be known by Him? In our word from the Word, we read of Paul’s great desire. I pray for you that is it yours, too. He had once known a religious life, full of ‘right things,’ rigid morality, and even zeal in what he thought to be the work of God. Look what happened when he met Christ. “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. 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 3:6-14, NIV)

Open your heart. Give the Spirit of the Lord an invitation that has no boundaries. And, in knowing and being known, press on towards the goal of entering into eternal life! For the Glory of God. Amen

______________

Passion For Jesus

I’m calling out to You
There must be something more
Some deeper place to find
Some secret place to hide
Where I’ve not gone before

 Where my soul is satisfied
And my sin is put to death
And I can hear Your voice
Your purpose is my choice
As natural as a breath 

The love I knew before
When You first touched my life
I need You to restore
I want You to revive

 Oh place in my heart
A passion for Jesus
A hunger that seizes
My passion for You
My one desire
My greatest possession
My only confession
My passion for You

Brian Houston© 1999 Thankyou Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055