Living in Egypt or the Promised Land?

romans12-2_zpstz4cxg3zWhen I am in a group of strangers who inquire about my vocation, with a smile I tell them I sell life insurance. Few things kill a conversation more quickly than revealing that I am a pastor of a local church. There is a not so funny side to that little joke.

There are people who want the assurance of Heaven without the journey of faith.  For those who are just ‘converts,’ Jesus like an insurance policy, purchased and forgotten.  In truth we are called to be disciples, followers after Him.

Why do some go to church all the time and show no change of heart or behavior? It’s a fair one and has many possible answers. The primary one is that the Gospel of transformation can be swapped for something the late Dallas Willard called, ‘the gospel of sin management.’ (The Divine Conspiracy) The promise of God is to make a person new, the stony heart replaced with a living one. Falling far short of that goal, we are willing to settle for less. Using techniques of behavior modification, we teach people to live marginally better.  Is that how Jesus desires us to live when He says, “Come, take up your cross and follow Me.”?   The Lord has promised those who serve Him amazing, transformative power through the Spirit!

The work of the Church is not to comfort people while they remain disobedient to God.  Jesus commissioned us to ‘go and make disciples, teaching them to obey everything I command.’ That is an impossible challenge if we believe we can do it with gimmicks, programs, or oratory. Discipleship is spiritual work done by the Spirit Who works deeply in and through us.  We have developed great skill at explaining the ‘why’ of our sinful urges and learning to co-exist with the Devil; all this a tragic compromise. This is not to imply that we should discard education, understanding of leadership, or psychology. These things are tools that can help us to accomplish our task, but the true Power for deliverance lies not with us, but in His Power. When we come to the end of Self and get desperate for intimacy with Him, we are changed, inside out.

Consider the example of Moses, the man called to lead God’s people out of their bondage. He met the Lord at the burning bush and was told to go back to Egypt. He knew what he was up against and protested by pointing to his inability. “Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.” (Exodus 3:11-12, NIV)  “Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” (Exodus 4:12, NIV) Moses looks at his own weakness, God refocuses him, time and again, on His power!

We can never be content to just live more successful lives, even as we adapt to the slavery of Egypt! We are called out to the Promised Land.

In many ways it is easier to settle on becoming a better slave in Egypt than it is to start on the journey to the Promised Land.

Ponder this word from the Word, dear friend. May this truth move you beyond being content with a gospel that is like a life insurance policy and into the ongoing transformation that comes with discipleship.

” And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2, NLT)

____________________

Quiet my mind
And draw me near You.
Silence my thoughts
I just want to be with You!
Open my heart,
To hear and listen!
Not my way God,
But your Vision!

 And all my fears fall away
In Your presence,
Waiting on You;
Waiting on You.

And as you come to me,
Send your Spirit to minister
Because I am truly desperate
For the promises that you keep.

Waiting On You -Terry Keenan

Run the race.

race1

How’s your race going, friend?  If you are in one of those times when it looks like a straight level stretch as far as the eye can see, thank God, and keep going. Those are sweet times! Some of you just can’t quite get your timing right and you are stumbling along. Don’t quit!  A few of you are flat on your face on the track. You got tripped up, distracted perhaps, and you are tempted to limp off and disappear into the crowd, hanging up the race to your Father’s House. Get back on your feet!

Bianca Olthoff tells about running a hurdles race in high school. (watch at this link) At the starting gate she took note of the two girls running alongside of her.  As the race started she took a micro-moment to look away from the track glancing sideways at one of her competitors. One look and she lost her timing for the hurdles. She crashed through gate after gate, bruising her knees and bloodying her shins, ultimately falling on her face.  Obviously, she lost the race, but her coach complimented her on the fact that she finished! She told that story in the context of this passage from the Word – “Since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2, NLT)

In our Christian experience, each of us must run our own race. Hebrews tells us to “run …the race marked out.”  In the wisdom of God there is a course laid out for each of us. I can’t run your race, nor can you run mine. We are uniquely equipped and called to faithfulness. Oh yes, we can cheer each other on. We can encourage, but ultimately the course is ours, the finish line set by our Father.  Paul coaches us –  “Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-26, NLT)

All kinds of distractions have the potential to take us out of the competition.  We can obsess about money, decide to pursue security, make life about who we love, where we live, what we drive. We can ‘get religion,’ forgetting that it is Christ who saves and attempting perfection.  And, there is the reality of the Evil one who has no reservations about hurling whatever he can at us to take us out. Writing to some Christians who had started with Christ and then dropped out, Paul asks them to think.  “You were running superbly! Who cut in on you, deflecting you from the true course of obedience? This detour doesn’t come from the One who called you into the race in the first place.” (Galatians 5:7-8, The Message)

Keep  your eyes on Jesus.” It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? But, it demands focus and daily discipline of us. Like the old fable, this race is not just for the swift. It is about finishing well.
Feeling discouraged?
Find some alone time and meditate on the Hebrews passage referenced above.
Are you barely on your feet?  
Invite the Holy Spirit to reveal weights – distractions or sins – that you are carrying.
Flying along, feeling great?
Sing praises, take the grace, and stay the course.

Here is a word from the Word. These words written by Paul as he knew his life was about to end are words I have come to love.  How I pray that when our race is nearly run, each of us will have the same confidence. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8, NIV)

___________

All Your Promises

Oh Lord our Lord
How majestic is Your name
Your words are true
Your mercy does not change
All Your promises are precious
Reviving our faith
Ev’ry one of them
Will be fulfilled one day oh

 All Your promises
Are yes and amen Jesus
Your promises are true
All Your promises
Are yes and amen Lord Jesus
We’ll keep running after You

 We will run
We’ll run and not grow weary
We will rise upon the eagle’s wings
In the presence of the Lord
Our spirits will soar
Till we one day gaze upon our King oh

 All Your promises
Are yes and amen Jesus
Your promises are true
All Your promises
Are yes and amen Lord Jesus
We’ll keep running after You

Andrew Smith © 1995 Mercy / Vineyard Publishing (Admin. by Vineyard Music USA)
Vineyard Songs Canada (Admin. by Vineyard Music USA)

CCLI License # 810055

Silenced by fear?

noI looked at myself in the mirror for a long time wondering, “Are all those critics right? Are those life-long convictions just ‘old man’ stuff, worn out, tired ideas to be tossed?”  Such introspection is not an entirely a bad thing.  It keeps us honest.  I do not want to turn into a man encrusted in tradition, incapable of reflection, unwilling to grow in my understanding of the Word and world in which I live.  So the voices that insist that I must discard that conviction, rewrite that passage of Scripture, conveniently replace long-held doctrine with a new revelation that accommodates my culture get stuck inside my head and sometimes they nearly silence me.  In prayer, humbly waiting on God, I regain courage. I am not arrogant nor am I choosing to retreat into the comfortable past.  I will remain a student of the Word, seeking the voice of the Spirit, while I continue to surround myself with the people of God in His Church.

In this passage from James I find instruction for living wisely in among the turbulence of our time. “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls. But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it. If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” (James 1:19-27, NLT)

What is the eternal wisdom here?

First, I must keep on listening… to God’s Spirit, to the criticisms and commendations, to those who agree and those who dispute. In my conversations I must always ask myself if I am trying to learn or simply wanting to be right.

Second, I must moderate the impulse to grow angry. Under pressure, when motive is questioned, anger can arise. God says it will not produce anything good. So, I must let it go.

Third, I must be accountable to God and deal with my own sin!

Fourth, I must do the Word, not just talk the Word.  The strongest rebukes that Jesus spoke were to those He called ‘hypocrites’ because they did not practice what they preached. None of us is flawless in our practice of faith and never will be on this side of Heaven.  Do we hide our failures? If we do, we turn into hypocrites. If we are authentic, we will develop into the ‘beauty of holiness.’

 Fifth, I keep pursuing God by deeply loving others and growing in devotion to Him.  One of the false choices we find presented to us is between a social gospel that reshapes our world by bringing better lives for others and the Gospel that converts the sinful and saves the lost. It is no choice at all.  Christians are to be concerned both about human well-being and sin. Our Gospel opens the door to a home in Heaven and leads us to concern for those who suffer, right now.

Christian, we can live boldly. Does this mean we must shout every conviction, condemn every sin, and wave our Bibles at the world?  I think not. It means we are people of deep faith, with well formed convictions that rest solidly on the Word, whose lives even more than our words are compelling evidence of the Truth about Jesus and His love.

Here is a word from the Word. Paul, who was writing from a prison, shows us the true courage that we can find in Christ.  Lord, bless this Word to us today.
“I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. …  Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel. (Philippians 1:27, NIV)  Amen.

____________

All The People Said Amen

You are not alone if you are lonely
When you feel afraid you’re not the only
We are all the same in need of mercy
To be forgiven and be free
It’s all you got to lean on
But thank God it’s all you need 

And all the people said amen
And all the people said amen
Give thanks to the Lord for His love never ends
And all the people said amen

 If you’re rich or poor well it don’t matter
Weak or strong you know love is what we’re after
We’re all broken but we’re all in this together
God knows we stumble and fall
And He so loved the world
He sent His son to save us all

 Blessed are the poor in spirit who are torn apart
Blessed are the persecuted and the pure in heart
Blessed are the people hungry for another start
For theirs is the kingdom the kingdom of God

 Matt Maher | Paul Moak | Trevor Morgan © 2013 Universal Music – Brentwood Benson Publishing (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc.) CCLI License # 810055

“How long do I have to put up with this?” – Jesus

 

hope5“Pastor, you just don’t know how difficult life is,” the voice on the phone told me. The caller was in a tough spot, going through many trials in life. She went on to tell me how much she envied my life, all the ‘amazing blessings’ that I enjoyed. She is right that God has given me a thousand reasons to be thankful and wrong that I am always serene, always hopeful. We all, regardless of our faith, have days when the mountain ahead gets taller, the pathway steeper.

“Did Jesus ever get discouraged?” is a question that came to mind this morning. “Did He ever want to walk away from bickering disciples, turn His eyes from people in pain?”  Both Matthew and Luke tell us a story that lets us see the human nature of our Savior.  Jesus went to prayer and He took Peter, James, and John with Him. The Spirit came down and Jesus was changed in front of those men, resplendent with the Presence of God! Even in that holy place, Peter managed to get it wrong, but that’s a part of the story for another day.

Jesus left that holy place to go back to work. As He walked down the mountain to the crowds He came on a scene of chaos. People gathered and watched the disciples try to heal a boy who was demonized and in distress. They failed spectacularly! As Jesus walked up to this mess, the boy’s father said to Him, “I asked your disciples to deliver him but they couldn’t.” Jesus said, “What a generation! No sense of God! No focus to your lives! How many times do I have to go over these things? How much longer do I have to put up with this? Bring your son here.” (Luke 9:40-41, The Message)

There is it!  Jesus got discouraged, too. There was an edge to His words. He was frustrated that the guys who would be handed the keys to the Kingdom in just a few months still didn’t ‘get it.’ Jesus, however, did not throw up His hands and walk away. He focused on the healing of the boy. The Gospel wraps it this episode like this:  ‘everyone was marveling at all that Jesus did.’

Even when he was discouraged, Jesus continued to patiently instruct, to draw His disciples deeper into understanding that He must die for the sins of the world before His Kingdom could come. Did they get it then? Sadly, no. At that critical moment, they obsessed on status, bickering about who was greatest! Jesus did not quit on them. He brought a little child to His side and taught them about humility.

Here’s the lesson the Spirit brings to me in theses stories.  Discouragement and frustration will come. We cannot surrender to it. Instead, we must let it drive us back to prayer, to discover again (and again, and again, and again) that ‘in our weakness He is strong.’ Our sense of desperation is no excuse for sin. It is a reason to hold ever more tightly to the One who is always faithful.

Take this word from the Word to heart. “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. … God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:2-4, 12, NLT)

“Lord, forgive me for my self-pity and willingness to complain. Strengthen me for the work. Let me see Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth, as it is in Heaven. Amen.”

___________

Miracles

The One who made the blind to see
Is moving here in front of me
Moving here in front of me
The One who made the deaf to hear
Is silencing my ev’ry fear
Silencing my ev’ry fear

I believe in You I believe in You
You’re the God of miracles
I believe in You I believe in You
You’re the God of miracles

The One who does impossible
Is reaching out to make me whole
Reaching out to make me whole
The One who put death in its place
His life is flowing through my veins
His life is flowing through my veins

The God who was and is to come
The power of the Risen One
The God who brings the dead to life
You’re the God of miracles
You’re the God of miracles

Chris Quilala | Dustin Smith | Joshua Silverberg | Stuart Garrard
© 2015 Capitol CMG Amplifier (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)
Capitol CMG Genesis (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)
Jesus Culture Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

Me first?

meI was tired after several days that were full of sadness and conflict; not my own, but problems that people brought to their pastor.  Let me interrupt this thought to tell you that the call of God to serve His flock is a cherished privilege! But, in that moment of fatigue and some disappointment, the thought hit me hard, like a hard swung fist to the side of my head, “So, when do you get to do your thing?”

Caught off guard, I allowed self-pity to chew away at me. “Why do you have to be responsible when so many others are not? Who takes care of you?”  In a few moments I regained my emotional balance and rejected those ugly, selfish, ‘me-centered’ temptations.  Many people would not call those ideas of self-expression ugly or wrong.

“Me first!” is an American as apple pie.  From infancy we are schooled in self-expression, convinced that it is the path to happiness. The evidence of our self-love is not hard to find. For example, agencies that depend on volunteers to carry out their mission – churches, fire companies, Scouts, etc. – are in crisis as more of us no longer see the value of a life of service. Indulgence of every appetite has created a crisis of health based in obesity! Or consider that we are taught that unrestrained sexual expression is just ‘natural’ and ignore the multiple negative consequences for social stability.

The message of the Gospel of Jesus meets a culture of indulgence with a call to follow Him with an obedient heart.  His invitation to real and lasting life is nearly incomprehensible to those who are addicted to Self.  He holds open the door saying, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” (Mark 8:34-37, NLT)  Can you hear Him?

Saying “yes” to God’s will, when everything in us is screaming for “freedom,” is hard- so hard it feels like dying.  I know the struggle having knelt in prayer where I cried like a frustrated little boy before my Lord. “Jesus, I don’t want to do that. You’re asking too much. It just doesn’t make sense.”  In those moments, I know He becomes my Advocate, praying for my strength, steadying me.   Why? Because He prayed in a way that was more eloquent, but quite similar. The night before the Cross, as He knew the suffering emotional, spiritual, and physical that was ahead, He prayed “My Father, if it is possible, don’t make me suffer by having me drink from this cup.”  He did not get up from that place of tears to do what He wanted.  He surrendered!  “Do what You want, and not what I want.” (Matthew 26:39, CEV) His obedience brought us salvation and “God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11, NLT)

Life is offering us two roads, Christian. We can choose our own way – and find some measure of happiness when we satisfy the demands of Self but it has a big appetite that only grows if we feed it! There will never be enough. We can, by faith and in love, choose the way of the Cross, dying to Self, and embracing the life of Christ. That isn’t always expressed in some earthshaking manner. This way is, despite the Devil’s whispers and objections, the way to lasting joy and the embrace of the Father.

Pray for faith to accept this word from the Word and take it with you through this day.  “Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires total attention.” (Matthew 7:13-14, The Message)  “Knowing the correct password—saying ‘Master, Master,’ for instance—isn’t going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience—doing what my Father wills. I can see it now—at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.’ And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.’ ” (Matthew 7:21-23, The Message)

__________

This Is Amazing Grace

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.

Jeremy Riddle | Josh Farro | Phil Wickham © 2012 Phil Wickham Music (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.) CCLI License # 810055

Hard words, sharp edges, broken friendship

bite

Navigating recent months and political events with so many friends who are people of strong and varied convictions makes life something of minefield. Even a casual comment has the potential of causing a rift that can take a long time to heal. A Facebook post that I made on Saturday, a sincere expression about my convictions about the sacredness of life, blew up into a tempest of accusations, questions. Reading my friends’ words, I felt like a soldier in no man’s land, caught in the crossfire. Having people disagree with me is not a new thing. Every pastor knows that leading a congregation involves experiencing positive and negative responses to what is said and how it is said.  But, when friends do battle over something I say, it is a reason for great sadness. This Monday morning finds me in sorrow for my friends.

Christians are called to great grace, to profound love, to enduring acceptance; not because we all agree on everything, not because we think the same way, but because we serve the same Lord.  In a letter to a bickering church, Paul cries with words that plead for peace.  He says, “I beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all.” (Ephesians 4:1-6, NLT)

We may find the convictions of another quiet unpleasant. We may even think they are wrong. Indeed, they may be wrong (or we could be) but unless there is open, persistent sin- we have no reason to cut off relationship with those with who we differ.  A mark of spiritual maturity is understanding that we, the Body of Christ, are called together by a shared Covenant, not by common race, experience, or worldview.

Let’s be honest – life is simpler when we eliminate people with opinions and/or personality traits we find disagreeable from our circle of friends.  It is great to sit around with people who like the same football team, share our politics, and understand our words without the need for explanation or clarification.  The natural inclination is to create just those kinds of groups, even in our church. But, living that way is not the great vision that God has for His family. He has included white, black, rich, poor, liberal, conservative, Democrat and Republican, Ford and Honda drivers, in His call to grace, to shared spiritual gifts; to create something wonderful, amazing, and rich in texture that could only exist because of Jesus Christ.

We are taught that because of Christ’s love we are linked in life. “For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26-28, NLT)  Taking the principle of that passage, we might write it into our time like this.   Because you are children of God, saved by Christ, you no longer are first identified as pro-life or pro-choice, as a Republican or a Democrat, as a man or woman, as a Catholic or an Evangelical. Social definitions are completely secondary to your one true calling – Christ-follower.

For some the path to unity is to mute our voices, to conceal our convictions, to unfriend those who ‘offend’ us on Facebook. No, that is not the response that honors our high calling. Instead, we patiently continue the conversation, we ask for understanding, we pray hard for a supernatural work of love in us that preserves the family of God and His Holy Church, not because it is fun or easy, but because in this amazing expression of love and unity, what becomes clear to the world around us is that we are people who have been transformed.

Here is a word from the Word. My earnest prayer and desire is that it will convict us, call us, and unite us. “It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then?” (Galatians 5:13-15, The Message)

This blog is not an appeal for you to agree with me about all issues. It is an appeal for love, for gentle acceptance, as is fitting for children of the Heavenly Father.

Our common call on Inauguration Day

prayA new President of the United States will take office at Noon today. For some, it is a grand day; for others reason to mourn. My friends are scattered along a line that extends from revulsion to admiration. There is no questioning that Donald Trump aims to change America’s government policies. Regardless of our political persuasions, there is one thing all Christians should do today and every day with regard to those who hold positions of power and influence.

The Holy Word directs us “I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4, NLT)  Before you say, “well, of course, we should that, but … “ remember that is God’s word, not Jerry’s suggestion.

Our prayers for those who are ‘in authority’ need not be accolades of blessings. We should pray for wisdom to be granted, for justice to prevail, for evil to be restrained, for insight, for compassion, for good counselors to be found. Let me ask you, just how often and depth do you pray for those who are in office?  Do you pray for local school board members to make our schools places where there a solid education can be obtained? Do you pray for our state officials to use the taxes they collect to make our lives better? Do you pray for Congress to pass laws that are just?  Will you pray for Trump and Pence to lead this nation in a way that is honorable?

To some, Trump appears to be an enemy of things held dear.
Remember that Jesus taught us to pray for our enemies!
Others see him as a man who will confront challenges in our country boldly.
Pray for his wisdom!

So many angry words have been stirred up by this election. Deep emotions will pull at us when we see a man that so many regard as unfit for the office sworn into the Presidency. Let’s choose obedience to the Spirit today. Instead of adding our own opinions to the fire, let’s offer up our prayers be they tears of sorrow or shouts of joy.

Consider this Proverb and pray. ” Good leadership is a channel of water controlled by God; he directs it to whatever ends he chooses. We justify our actions by appearances; God examines our motives.” (Proverbs 21:1-2, The Message)

__________

Father, I come before You today
To confess that You are higher than any,
That Your will is supreme.

I ask that peace will come to our divided nation.
Work in my heart to seek to understand, to accept,
To demonstrate my own commitment to You by my gentleness.

We pray for our new President and his administration-
That they will humble themselves before You,
That they will be just,
That they will find wisdom greater than their own intellect,
That they will walk with You.

Teach Your church to be the advocate of all people’s dignity,
Not just to try to protect her privilege or influence.
Many issues divide even Your people, Lord;
Things that we see so differently.
Holy Spirit, work deeply in us.
Give us ears to listen, and keep our words honest in the struggle.

You have given America a place of great privilege.
For this we give you thanks even as we recognize the
responsibility that comes with that place.

Teach all of us – Democrat and Republican –
Black and white – rich and poor – man and woman –
About Your purposes and lead us to life everlasting.
All this I pray in the Name of Jesus.  Amen

Some say it is too good to be true

sightWe love to compare ourselves to others. Oh, we may not admit it but we wonder if we measure up, where we stand, don’t we? Where we went to school, how much money we make, grades we get, the place we live, the clothes we wear … there are so many ways that we try to figure out if we are ‘good enough.’  When that impulse goes to church, the result is not pretty. It is the ultimate tragedy.

In Paul’s letter to Timothy, he tells the younger pastor to confront some teachers who were trying to play on human pride, who were negating the grace of Christ with another ‘gospel.’ Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.” (1 Timothy 4:2-5, NIV)  Those teachers claimed that becoming acceptable to God meant being ‘good enough’ by keeping rules about sex and food.

That false gospel is still around.  Keeping religious rules as means of finding a place in God’s family tells us that if we do this or that, refuse to go here or there, give this much, wear this and do not wear that – it is a very long list – steals the heart of Christianity for millions.  It is an attractive lie because it allows a person to keep score, but it is a denial of the very grace of God, shown us in Christ Jesus.  I wonder if Paul wept as he wrote these inspired words to some people trying so hard to save themselves?  “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”? Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires. Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand.” (Colossians 2:21-3:1, NLT)

We are reconciled to God, our Father, by Christ Jesus, not by doing enough good things. Salvation from sin does not come through knowing more about theology, greater efforts at spiritual discipline, or practicing rigid self-denial. If we could possibly arrive at some state of holiness by ourselves, Christ would not have died for us! “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:4-5, NIV) “—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:8-10, NIV)  We accept a free gift, offered by God because He is full of love, and we are saved. That is the Gospel of Christ.

Some people misunderstand the amazing grace of God and turn it into a license to sin.  Others abuse God’s grace and refuse to grow into a beautiful kind of holy life.  But, that does not change the Truth we are made right with Him by the gift of grace.

Are you duped by preachers who give you a system of religious rules?
Have you been freed from slavery to sin only to be enslaved to a new tyranny of Religion?
Look again to Jesus. Thank Him for a gift that changes from the inside out.

Don’t insult God by reminding Him of your successes while trying to hide your sins and failure. Instead, radically trust the message of the Gospel – Christ has come, Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again!  A new life will emerge from that forgiveness, one that is beautiful with a true holiness shaped in you and me by the Holy Spirit.  Do you think that it is too good to be true?

The word from the Word points us to the experience of the ‘father of the faithful’ – Abraham – reminding us that he did not receive his place because of anything he had done, but because God loved and chose him.  Be inspired to greater devotion as you read. “So how do we fit what we know of Abraham, our first father in the faith, into this new way of looking at things? If Abraham, by what he did for God, got God to approve him, he could certainly have taken credit for it. But the story we’re given is a God-story, not an Abraham-story. What we read in Scripture is, “Abraham entered into what God was doing for him, and that was the turning point. He trusted God to set him right instead of trying to be right on his own.” If you’re a hard worker and do a good job, you deserve your pay; we don’t call your wages a gift. But if you see that the job is too big for you, that it’s something only God can do, and you trust him to do it—you could never do it for yourself no matter how hard and long you worked—well, that trusting-him-to-do-it is what gets you set right with God, by God. Sheer gift.” (Romans 4:1-5, The Message)

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This Is Amazing Grace

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

(Yeah) (Oh) 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
Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
Worthy is the King who conquered the grave
Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
Worthy is the King who conquered the grave
Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
Worthy worthy worthy

Jeremy Riddle | Josh Farro | Phil Wickham © 2012 Phil Wickham Music (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)CCLI License # 810055

A New Thing or Tradition?

jeremiah-6-16Tradition. Is it valuable or should we discard it in favor of the ‘new,’ the novel? In the formation of our spiritual life should we be always on the lookout for the next revival, a fresh word from the newest ‘prophet’?  Can the experience of people who lived centuries ago guide us in our pursuit of God in 2017? The answer to both of those questions is yes! What role does tradition play in forming our understanding of life, about God?

My formative years were lived in a revivalist church where we hardly thought of the traditions of Christianity. We were excited by what God was doing in the world right now. The fervor and excitement was wonderful, but the excesses were numerous as each preacher tried to find some ‘new word.’ Many spun off into speculative even silly error.

When I speak with those who were raised in churches that were locked into tradition a common complaint is about practices that made the Gospel hard to understand, obscured by words and in forms of another era.

Without the benefit of tradition, those things learned by previous generations and passed down to us, we have to start from the beginning, making many of the same errors, rebuilding many of the same arguments. We can gain much from the collective wisdom of our fathers. Without a fresh experience of God’s Presence in our lives, our faith will die, becoming ritualistic, disconnected from the daily choices that we face.

The inspired Word tells us to “Stop at the crossroads and look around. Ask for the old, godly way, and walk in it. Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Jeremiah 6:16, NLT)  At the same time, God reminds us that “anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NLT)  We are informed by those who walked with God in the past, and the Spirit is doing a fresh, new work in us today. We both forget the wisdom of the Church and lock ourselves into the past to our peril.

The strength and weakness of our American way of life is our love of the new, our common failure to appreciate the wisdom of the past. We are enamored with youth, giving scant value to old.  Remember that famed slogan of the 1960’s that told the hip generation –  “Never trust anyone over 30.”?  Those who adopted it as their own threw away traditions and values of their parents.  America plunged headlong into the chaotic social revolution that has brought us the confusion in which we are living a half century later. What might the world look like with new respect for the wisdom of the past matched with the innovations that a new generation brings?

As Christians, we must marry what our fathers learned, gleaning from their experience, while seeking God for His revelation for our time.  Here is a word from the Word addressing both veteran Christians and those new to faith.  May God help us to find the Truth.

“I am writing to you who are mature in the faith because you know Christ, who existed from the beginning.
I am writing to you who are young in the faith because you have won your battle with the evil one.
I have written to you who are God’s children because you know the Father.
I have written to you who are mature in the faith because you know Christ, who existed from the beginning.
I have written to you who are young in the faith because you are strong.
God’s word lives in your hearts, and you have won your battle with the evil one.” (1 John 2:12-14, NLT)

________

Father, teach us to be grateful for those who have gone before us
And to look eagerly to what You would do in our time.
Make us wise and yet ready to continue to learn of new ways of faith.
Make the Way clear. Steady us.
May we leave a clear path for those who come after us.
In Jesus’ Name. Amen

Lost Love?

tradeI was ‘in love’ with Bev for four decades!  Our love changed a great deal in that time. Like any couple we were, at first, infatuated. That stage is intense, more an obsession, isn’t it? The object of admiration fills our thoughts and triggers feelings of intense pleasure. For some, that is the definition of love so they go from relationship to relationship seeking a perpetual high. Like most couples, we realized that the person we married was not the princess or prince of whom we dreamed. She was an ordinary mortal who could disappoint and delight in equal measure as was I.

We made choices along the way to accept, to grow, to change, to adapt, but always to love in deeper ways! The foundations we laid in those years supported our relationship when sickness arrived uninvited and through those months when we understood that death was coming to take her away. It is hard to describe what emerged as we faced what we knew was the end; a love unlike any we had known before, one that was deep, sweet, even more intense than the infatuation of the early days. During those 4 decades times came when both of us wondered about the wisdom of our choice to marry.  But, we put the covenant above the question, pressed through hard times, and found grace to the end.

The Scripture frequently adopts marriage as a metaphor for our relationship with God. The Church is His Bride.  Words of love and devotion define our relationship with Christ. And, just like marriage between mortals, trials and temptations come that stress our relationship with Him. Jeremiah, inspired by the Spirit, spoke of the choice of the people of the Lord to wander from their covenant.  “This is what the Lord says: “I remember how eager you were to please me as a young bride long ago, how you loved me and followed me even through the barren wilderness.” (Jeremiah 2:2, NLT)  “Has any nation ever traded its gods for new ones, even though they are not gods at all? Yet my people have exchanged their glorious God for worthless idols! The heavens are shocked at such a thing and shrink back in horror and dismay,” says the Lord. “For my people have done two evil things: They have abandoned me— the fountain of living water. And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all!” (Jeremiah 2:11-13, NLT)

Those words about lost love stand as warning for you and for me, don’t they?
Will we trade the Glory of a living God for lesser things?
Will we, in a moment of disappointment or discouragement, give away the Living Water to look for refreshing in empty wells?

Our Christian experience, just like marriage, will not always be full of wonder and delight. For numerous reasons, seasons will come when we serve God because we choose to love Him, not necessarily because we feel like loving Him!  Seductions will dance through our lives, too, offering us distraction, promising us a new thrill.  Oh that we would seek God, wait on Him, learn of Him, and grow deeper in devotion to Him. He can be frustrating when His ways are hidden. Though He is holy and perfect, we can fail to see it when we are struggling with life. And, in those moments, we are vulnerable to wandering.

Jesus appeals to us, in these words first spoken to an ancient church in the city of Ephesus: “I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.” (Revelation 2:4-5, NIV)  It is not always difficulty that separates us from loving Him.  We find here an apathy born of familiarity and routine. These Christians had settled into a dutiful experience that they were allowing to deaden their delight!  That remains a possibility for us, too. We can remain morally upright, keep up appearances of religious devotion, while gradually moving away from the Lord, forgetting what it means to really love Him.  This disappoints our Husband Who longs for our real love, for us to keep Him as the True Love in our life.

God is not vengeful. Even if we, like those ancient Jews, wander from Him, He offers restoration.  Jeremiah, after some harsh words about spiritual infidelity, speaks for God. “Return, faithless people; I will cure you of backsliding.” “Yes, we will come to you, for you are the Lord our God. Surely the idolatrous commotion on the hills and mountains is a deception; surely in the Lord our God is the salvation of Israel.” (Jeremiah 3:22-23, NIV)

Our word from the Word was an answer commended by Jesus, when a young man asked the way to Eternal life. “He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.” “Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.”  (Luke 10:27-28, The Message)  Oh, may we see His love on the Cross, invite the fullness of the Spirit, and live in devotion that never wavers. Amen.

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Oh love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in Thee.
I give You back this life I owe
That in Your ocean depths its flow
May richer fuller be.

George Matheson- Public Domain