Let Him Speak! Word!

wordofgodThe little voices sang out the words in our school chapel – “Yeah, the Word of the Lord  holds true, we can trust Him!”  Isn’t that a great fact? This morning ‘round 2 am, many concerns arrived in my mind driving sleep away and leaving me tossing restlessly.  People needs, church issues, decisions – large and small – tumbled around inside my head and then the Spirit spoke using the Word, reminding me that I need not stress. Using the ancient words He spoke to tell me “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” (1 Peter 5:7, NLT)  and that “from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:15, NIV)   How thankful I am for those words of life stored in my memory that available for recall, useful to the Spirit when He moves in me.

Is your mind saturated with the truth of Scripture? Do you take time each day to feed your thoughts with the text? Are you engaged in regular study, with others, of the sacred texts?

The old maxim of computing is ‘GIGO’ – Garbage In, Garbage Out.  A computer can only use the data it is fed to produce results. In a similar way, our brain uses the information we feed it to ‘compute’ our responses to life. If we believe wrong things, refuse to learn the truth, our choice will be flawed, our lives less than the whole and holy ones that God desires. But, if the truth of the Word is foundational to our thoughts, everything is different.  The Psalm says “I’ve banked your promises in the vault of my heart so I won’t sin myself bankrupt. Be blessed, God; train me in your ways of wise living. ” (Psalm 119:11-12, The Message)

A key to pleasing God is to know His ways.  The Bible teaches us those truths.  From those pages we learn that we are His creation, that our purpose is to love and serve Him, that we are hopelessly lost apart from the love of our Savior, that our true hope is not of this world, and that eternity is our destiny.  From those basics we gain the right perspective and put things right in life.  Some may say, “how can we learn anything about life in 2017 from texts that are thousands of years old?”  Because those texts are ‘God-breathed’ inspired words that have been preserved to guide us.  When God, the Holy Spirit, is working in us, He takes those written texts and making them ‘living’ words. Thus Paul wrote to pastor Timothy to remind him (and us!) that “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NLT)

Love the Word. Listen to the Spirit. Live well!

Here is a word from the Word. “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 12:2, NLT)

Lord, lead us to life with Your holy words. Amen.

___________

Standing On The Promises

Standing on the promises of Christ my King
Through eternal ages let His praises ring
Glory in the highest I will shout and sing
Standing on the promises of God

 Standing on the promises that cannot fail
When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail
By the living Word of God I shall prevail
Standing on the promises of God

 Standing on the promises I now can see
Perfect present cleansing in the blood for me
Standing in the liberty where Christ makes free
Standing on the promises of God

Russell Kelso Carter © Words: Public Domain

Make it a good week – Worship!

presenceThere are some amazing experiences of ‘church’ in my memories.  Thousands of men standing in a stadium singing anthems to God led by a great band rank high on that list. For those of you who might remember, they were the “Promise Keepers” events of the 1990’s. There a few sermons that linger in my mind, too, when it was readily apparent that the speaker was in God’s hands and the words were coming from another plane!

Worship, however, does not require a church, musicians, or a preacher.  God shows up in many places, in many ways, when we invite Him to and if we will keep an awareness of the divine.

On this Monday morning, I want to remind us to live in His Presence all of the time. David says it best –  “You have made known to me the path of life;  you will fill me with joy in your presence.”  (Psalm 16:11, NIV)

So, why don’t we enjoy the joy of the Lord more?  He is present everywhere and all of the time.  You know that answer too well, I am sure. Everything conspires to keep us from living apart of God. Headaches, car trouble, stormy weather, disagreeable people, the blare of media, temptations – the list is lengthy – all become distractions from being ‘before the Throne.‘  Every one of us would have to admit that we have gone an entire day rushing from job to job,  putting out fires,  coping with the ‘stuff’ that comes at us-  and in the process of living  – we forget God’s wonderful Presence.

It may be common but we cannot accept that way of living as the normal Christian life!  We cannot control our world, but we can and must choose our response. The Word reminds us to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NKJV)    Perhaps your first thought on reading that line is the one that came to my mind – “Sure, I could do that if I lived in a monastery, but not in my world!”     If that were true, then God would be asking the impossible from us, something He will not do.  So, what do we choose?

We choose joy.  The person who chooses joy is not fake, nor does she live in denial of the pain that comes her way.

We choose the next step which is to pray continually.  How can a busy person do that?  Keep an attitude of submission to God and refuse to go anywhere or do anything that would offend the Spirit and break your communion with Him!    Selfishness, filthiness, greediness are a few of the things that move us away from being in a prayerful attitude.  You can call me strange if you want, but I know the voice of the Spirit that says to me, “Stop what you’re doing right now!”  Or, He says, “Refocus your mind, now!”  If I obey, His peace persists.  If I resist, the serenity of living in His Presence ebbs away.    The more a Christian chooses to live ‘before the Throne,’ the more he treasures the Presence found there.   When my sinful words or actions, grieves the Spirit so that He removes His peace from my life,  I cannot stand the loneliness that results and I find a place to renew our fellowship quickly.

We choose to be thankful!   Knowing how important this decision is to a person’s experience of the Presence of God, the Enemy of our souls, does whatever he is able to do to get us to think we are deprived.  He really works to cause us to live in envy of other’s place.   The 10th commandment forbids coveting.  The Lord that envy is a spiritual toxin. I will never live serenely, if I want what belongs to another- even if it is his spiritual experience.   Thankful acceptance of this day and the provision of God for me to meet its challenges, is a key to living ‘before the Throne.’

The Bible says that we are the ‘temples of the Holy Spirit.‘    We are ‘God’s house.’     Wouldn’t it be a shame to claim to be a living temple, yet be bereft of the Presence that makes the temple glorious?

Here are words from the Word for your meditation today.  May He keep you close as you choose to live ‘before the Throne!’
I love you, O Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge.
He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I call to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies. …

To the faithful you show yourself faithful,
to the blameless you show yourself blameless,
to the pure you show yourself pure,
but to the crooked you show yourself shrewd.
You save the humble but bring low those whose eyes are haughty.
You, O Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.” (Psalm 18:1-3, 25-28, NIV)

______________________

Before The Throne Of God Above (click here to listen)

Before the throne of God above,
I have a strong, a perfect plea,
A great High Priest whose name is Love,
Who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on His hands,
My name is written on His heart.
I know that while in heaven He stands,
No tongue can bid me thence depart,
No tongue can bid me thence depart.

When Satan tempts me to despair,
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there,
Who made an end of all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died,
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God the Just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me,
To look on Him and pardon me.

Behold Him there the Risen Lamb,
My perfect spotless righteousness,
The great unchangeable I Am,
The King of glory and of grace,
One with Himself I cannot die.
My soul is purchased by His blood,
My life is hid with Christ on high,
With Christ my Savior and my God,
With Christ my Savior and my God.

Cook, Vikki / Bancroft, Charitie Lees
© 1997 PDI Worship (Admin. by The Copyright Company)
CCLI License No. 810055

Jerry D. Scott, Pastor Faith Discovery Church

www.FaithDiscovery.com

 

Does Jesus Belong Only to the Beautiful?

sitOur society may not rigidly observe a class structure like that of England a century ago but we certainly divide along lines of ‘have’ and ‘have not.’   In any group we know if we’re ‘in’ or ‘out,’ if we fit according to the often unspoken but very clear guidelines about who belongs. I have though much about the composition of Christ’s Church recently. Who is invited in? Do ALL find a place or do we not so subtly send signals to some that they do  not fit in?

Sam Eaton wrote an article about why the young are abandoning the Church. One of his points, You Can’t Sit Here,  keeps coming back to my mind. He explains – There is this life-changing movie all humans must see, regardless of gender. The film is of course the 2004 classic Mean Girls. In the film, the most popular girl in school forgets to wear pink on a Wednesday (a cardinal sin), to which Gretchen Weiners screams, “YOU CAN’T SIT WITH US!” Today, my mom said to me, “Church has always felt exclusive and ‘cliquey,’ like high school.” With sadness in her voice she continued, “and I’ve never been good at that game so I stopped playing.” The truth is, I share her experience. As do thousands of others.

Our world is not generally kind to those who are deemed ‘other‘ in some way.
Ask the kid with some disability about his daily experiences at school.
Ask the girl who does not meet the beauty code!
Ask the person whose business failed or that one with chronic disease.
Ask the elderly person who cannot move or think as quickly as they once did.
There is a profound and deep pain in the realization that you are ‘that’ person, the ‘invisible’ one, too broken to love.

And, in Christ’s Church, this should NEVER be true.

Jesus was always aware of the needs of those others considered ‘broken.’  He touched lepers.  He engaged with those who were devil possessed. He let prostitutes into His company-  a scandal, right?  He looked up into a tree and saw a social outcast, a man short in stature, whose heart was aching for love, and He went to Zacchaeus’ house for dinner. As Jesus became more well-known, the rich came to Him, but He was not seduced by their money, power, or influence. He remained the champion of ALL.

His mission statement was not just for publication, He lived it.  Quoting Isaiah, He said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” (Luke 4:18-19, NLT)  His care for people went far beyond being ‘nice.’  His touch, His words, His life communicated ‘you are loved, a person of worth.’

Our call is to that radical Gospel. We are to love like He did. And, we will only if there is an ongoing experience of the Holy Spirit that makes us tender, hopeful, and forgiving. Too many Christians develop a romantic notion of ministry. They are going to feed the hungry, house the homeless, love the orphan – and they do, for about 6 months. When they find that the pit of human need is bottomless, that people seldom respond with gratefulness, that sinful human nature is ugly and mean, they quit and retreat to their safe group of like-minded individuals. When ‘service’ loses it luster and excitement fades, they quit and go home.

Jesus was able to reach prostitutes, Pharisees, ‘nones,’  urban, rural, young, old, male, female because He saw a person before He saw status or a label.  My heart aches to live like that, to see people first.

May the inspired wisdom of James guide us today.  He teaches us to care for the invisible. Let’s do it, for God’s sake. Here is a word from the Word.  My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others? For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes. If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, “You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor”—well, doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives? Listen to me, dear brothers and sisters. Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him? But you dishonor the poor! Isn’t it the rich who oppress you and drag you into court? Aren’t they the ones who slander Jesus Christ, whose noble name you bear? Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law.” (James 2:1-9, NLT)
Jesus loves us wholly! So loved, may we be loving.

____________

How He Loves

He is jealous for me loves like a hurricane
I am a tree bending beneath
The weight of His wind and mercy
When all of a sudden I am unaware of
These afflictions eclipsed by glory
I realize just how beautiful You are
And how great Your affections are for me

Oh how He loves us so
Oh how He loves us
How He loves us so

We are His portion and He is our prize
Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes
If grace is an ocean we’re all sinking
So Heaven meets earth
Like a sloppy wet (unforeseen) kiss
And my heart turns violently inside of my chest
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets
When I think about the way that

(Yeah) He loves us
Oh how He loves us
Oh how He loves us
Oh how He loves

John Mark McMillan © 2005 Integrity’s Hosanna! Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing (IMI)) CCLI License # 810055

Posers!

changedIn my digital files I have two kinds of pictures- candid ones and posed frames.  In one you see an authentic representation of the situation. The faces are not reshaped with forced smiles. You can catch angst or big laughs or irritation or frowns. In the posed ones, you can almost hear the picture taker saying, “Now everybody smile. 1, 2, 3!”  There is a place for those formal portraits, but in my family album I much prefer those candid shots that let me really feel the moment.

In his final letter to Pastor Timothy, Paul talked about people who would come into the church there in Ephesus who were posers! They would learn the language of Christianity and be able, from time to time, to strike a pose to appear to be the ‘real’ thing, but their reality was something entirely different. Paul uses this telling line about their ‘spirituality.’ “They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!” (2 Timothy 3:5, NLT)  Those pseudo-Christians were not changed by the Power of the Holy Spirit from the inside out and therefore they were, in the candid moments, still “heartless, and hateful. Their words will be cruel, and they will have no self-control or pity.They will be sneaky, reckless, and puffed up with pride. Instead of loving God, they will love pleasure.” (2 Timothy 3:3-4 CEV)

Paul invites Timothy to consider his bona fides. “You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.” (2 Timothy 3:10-12, NIV)  Paul says, in so many words, “Tim, I’m no poser! Just consider my general behavior.  I’ve been through some rough times but Jesus has held onto me as I held onto Him.”

Friend, does your claim to discipleship hold up in the candid moments?
When you are disappointed, frustrated, under pressure, short on cash, uncertain – does your faith shine brightly still?
Is Jesus Lord of all for you personally?

Talk is cheap, as we say. It is the daily walk with God that matters most.  That does not mean we must be flawless. If that were possible, we would not need the Savior or His grace.  But, we do need to find ourselves humbly before Him, each day, ‘keeping step with the Spirit’ and responsive to His call to surrender Self and embrace the way of Christ. He will gradually transform us, inside out, creating authentic faith that shows even in the candid snapshots that others see.

Don’t slip into the trap of being a poser, a pseudo-Christian. Pray to be real. Invite others, not pridefully, but because you are authentic, to follow you as you follow Christ Jesus.  Here is a word from the Word. “Fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”  The Message, Romans 12:2

God, make it true of each us. Shine bright through us. Amen.

_____________

King Of My Heart  (listen at this link)

Let the King of my heart
Be the mountain where I run
The fountain I drink from
Oh He is my song
Let the King of my heart
Be the shadow where I hide
The ransom for my life
Oh He is my song

You are good good oh
You are good good oh
You are good good oh
You are good good oh

Let the King of my heart
Be the wind inside my sails
The anchor in the waves
Oh He is my song
Let the King of my heart
Be the fire inside my veins
The echo of my days
Oh He is my song

You’re never gonna let
Never gonna let me down

When the night is holding on to me
God is holding on
When the night is holding on to me
God is holding on

John Mark McMillan | Sarah McMillan
© Meaux Jeaux Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)
Raucous Ruckus Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)
CCLI License # 810055

Jerry D. Scott, Pastor,  Faith Discovery Church

www.FaithDiscovery.com

Like a Bridge Over Troubled Water

troubles

In 1969, Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” was a song for millions. That era saw America in turmoil; social unrest, war protests, and fear in the land. The Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King had been assassinated, the Cold War threatened nuclear annihilation.  And then came this folk anthem about making one’s way through the mess:
When you’re weary, feeling small;
When tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all.
I’m on your side – When times get rough,
And friends just can’t be found;
Like a bridge over troubled water,
I will lay me down. – Paul Simon, copyright, 1969

Interestingly, here I am a half century older and the world is still a mess!  As a 14 year old kid, I needed a friend.  As an older man, I need a friend. Friends stand with us, pour concern over us, offer words that help us to see the hope of a new day.  The balladeers got it right. A friend is a bridge over troubled water! Where do we go when troubles come that no song can soothe, that are not erased by calming words of concern?  We have the Friend of friends. His Name is Jesus!  In Him there is wisdom because He holds all of ‘yesterday, today, and tomorrow’ in His plans for me. Peter, who had walked on some troubled water, invites you and me to “cast all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7, NKJV)

“Cast” is an action world in the original Greek text of the New Testament. It only appears twice and has the meaning of ‘throwing something down violently!’  Those burdens of life, those intractable problems, those fears and yes, even our failures – all the things that bring us care – we can throw them onto the shoulders of an Almighty God who is not only Lord but Friend! Peter, the impulsive disciple whose faith was expressed in fits and starts, was riding in a small boat on the lake when Jesus came walking on the water. When Jesus invited Peter to walk on water, he did!  Only then did he take note of the impossibility of his situation. When he saw the waves, he sank, saved only by his Friend’s grasp. He followed Jesus on the night of His arrest showing more courage than all except John, but then his courage collapsed and he swore, “I never knew Him.” But, his Friend found him, broken and disillusioned back home. With tender forgiveness, He reached out to Peter and sent him out to “Feed my sheep!”  When the Holy Spirit filled him, he fearlessly preached on the streets of Jerusalem and led the disciples through the first decade of Christianity.

 

That man, who knew trouble and the power of a Friend, uses the action language innate to his personality. “Weighed down by concern, troubled by life? Throw it on the Lord! He is ready to care for you.”

Jesus warned us that “In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties.” But, that is not the last word.  “But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.” (John 16:33, The Message)  We have a Friend who is undaunted by the things that can get us down. People will disappoint and frustrate you. Disasters will come – fire, flood, and sickness – and we will not understand why.  In such moments we have the invitation, the words of Jesus, our Friend, that are our Word for this day.  “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, NKJV)

Right now… take that heavy thing that is breaking your heart in your grasp. Got it?
Now, with a toss heavenward say, “Here it is. Thank you for helping me carry it, Lord. Amen.”
______________________
What A Friend We Have In Jesus
What a friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and griefs to bear
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer

O what peace we often forfeit
O what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer

Are we weak and heavy laden
Cumbered with a load of care
Precious Savior still our refuge
Take it to the Lord in prayer

Do thy friends despise forsake thee
Take it to the Lord in prayer
In His arms He’ll take and shield thee
Thou wilt find a solace there

Charles Crozat Converse | Joseph Medlicott Scriven

© Words: Public Domain

Why we must have hope

mystery

As the gravity of his medical condition settled on the elderly man, his eyes filled with tears. He softly murmured, “That’s a death sentence.”  It was a moment that stabbed my own heart with pain. The rest of that story is a shift in hope, a reminder of that our lives all have an ending here on earth, but … in Christ, we find eternal life.

Shaken by yet another encounter with mortality, I thought long and hard about my own way of life. Am I prepared for the inevitable? Will I grow old and bitter, or keep hope as vitality declines? Is my hope in Christ strong today, shaping my thoughts, words, and actions; laying a solid foundation for days to come? Hope is such a critical part of our lives, isn’t it?

People who are able to cope with the up’s and down’s of our existence, who can bounce back from disappointment, pick up the pieces when things get broken are those with hope. I am not talking about that goofy, out of touch choice to avoid reality, to live without responsibility. Hope is not sustained by escaping from life, dancing and singing as if tomorrow never comes. Real hope is gained from faith, where God’s promise is matched to our need. Paul was inspired to urge us to let the profound hope of the coming Kingdom change us from the inside out! “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:11-14, NIV)

Christians have a Blessed Hope!  We rest in the promise that Christ will come and bring His reign to set things right. The Mystery of His return is written through the Scripture, a time when wrong is made right, when justice comes, when those who have served find their reward.  I confess that at times life gets so full of urgent demands I lose sight of that promise. When I do, I also tend to lose hope.  The joy of serving is lost to the drudgery of duty in those days. It becomes more appealing to conclude, ‘Why even attempt to do right? What’s the use? Go with the flow.”  But, then I remember, the plan of God includes an appearing of the One I love and when He comes, there will  be the Great Reversal – the weak made strong, the oppressed made free, the power of death broken.  Those who have lived in hope will hear the commendation – “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’” (Matthew 25:23, NIV)  Ah, what a moment!  No wonder Paul calls it the ‘Blessed Hope.’

Defeat despair with God’s words. Meditate on them.  “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.” (Revelation 21:3-6, NIV)

Hope, we cannot truly live without it. On whom, in what have you set your hope?

__________

Mystery

Sweet Jesus Christ my sanity
Sweet Jesus Christ my clarity

Bread of heaven broken for me
Cup of Salvation held out to drink
Jesus mystery

Christ has died and
Christ is risen
Christ will come again

Celebrate His death and rising
Lift your eyes proclaim His coming
Celebrate His death and rising
Lift your eyes lift your eyes

Sweet Jesus Christ my sanity

Charlie Hall © 2008 sixsteps Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) worshiptogether.com songs (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

Our Deep Well of Resource

wesleymoneyrulesJohn Wesley, the famed preacher of the 18th century, was born into poverty. At that time in England those who could not pay their debts were sent to debtor’s prison.  As a young boy, Wesley saw his pastor father taken off to that prison. Imagine the impact that scene had on a child.  We might expect that as a man he would become a saver, carefully securing his future against want. And, we would be wrong.

Wesley’s income grew along with fame, but the preacher kept his expenses steady and gave all the increase away. At one point his income approached what would be about $300,000 in today’s terms but he did not increase his spending.  He continued to live on a fraction of that sum, giving as much as 90% of his income away each year.

An article on the man says that in 1744 Wesley had written, “[When I die] if I leave behind me ten pounds . . . you and all mankind [may] bear witness against me, that I have lived and died a thief and a robber.” When he died in 1791, the only money mentioned in his will was the miscellaneous coins to be found in his pockets and dresser drawers.  (http://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/1987/winter/87l1027.html)

What an inspiration!  Are you a generous person?  It is not just about money! We can be generous in spirit, too.  Are you a person who refuses to take offense, who seldom speaks critically of others, who offers thanks and encouragement quickly?

Generosity is a pathway to joy, knowing not only the appreciation of those who benefit, but the approbation of God Himself. “God loves it when the giver delights in the giving. God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you’re ready for anything and everything, more than just ready to do what needs to be done. As one psalmist puts it, He throws caution to the winds, giving to the needy in reckless abandon. His right-living, right-giving ways never run out, never wear out. This most generous God who gives seed to the farmer that becomes bread for your meals is more than extravagant with you. He gives you something you can then give away, which grows into full-formed lives, robust in God, wealthy in every way, so that you can be generous in every way, producing with us great praise to God.” (2 Corinthians 9:7-11)

Deep generosity is fed by real faith that grows an “abundance mentality.” Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, borrowed a Biblical concept and coined that phrase.  When we trust God, who ‘owns the cattle on a thousand hills’  as the source of our security, we come to understand that there are always resources to share with others. From that deep well of resource we become those who live a life of generosity. Covey insists that generosity multiplies our resources rather than diminishing them. Jesus Christ said it first – “Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity.” (Luke 6:38, The Message)

Here’s a word from the Word. As you read it, Let it speak to every part of your life. “Just as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us—see that you also excel in this grace of giving. … For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:7,9, NIV)

___________

Try a little kindness

gentleThe feedback to me was spot on accurate – “You are task oriented!” I am internally wired to seek efficiency, to like results, and that sometimes shows us in ways that are not godly, and I am insensitive to the needs of others. Not so long ago, in a moment of frustration with another person I spoke words that were unkind and unfair. Were they true? Yes, but they were not “helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”  (Ephesians 4:29)  Later I felt God’s Spirit correcting me.  “Jerry, you can be both efficient and kind!”  It is not the first time I have felt His reproof in that area.

Who tests your love and kindness? That teenager in your household? A supervisor who is overly demanding? A neighbor who lets his dog run all over your yard?  If you are a Christian, your Father’s expectation is clear – “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32, NIV)  In that list of the evidence of the Spirit’s’ life found in Paul’s letter to the Galatians these two traits are included:  “patience and kindness.”  It is so easy to talk about love but actually practicing it demands the transformative work of the Holy Spirit deep inside of us.

Genuine love serves people in a way that gives them dignity and respect. Love causes us to give up our ‘rights’ even when we are misunderstood or misused. Love refuses to take note of unkind words, causes us to extend ourselves to meet the needs of another even when it is inconvenient.  How do I know that? Because, our model for love is Jesus; and that’s what Jesus did for me… and you. He left the powerful and perfect life in Heaven to become one of Nazareth’s common laborers. He worked when labor was back-breaking, without vacations or fringe benefits, or even Aleve™ to ease the muscle aches. Why? For love’s sake alone! Hebrews says He became a full participant in this world so that He could our Priestly Intercessor – One who “understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do.” (Hebrews 4:15, NLT) He embraced people who hated Him. He died ‘while we were still sinners!’

The Spirit speaks to us with the example of Jesus. “Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human!” (Philippians 2:3-7, The Message)

I pray that I will rediscover the power of kindness and gentleness, rooted in the meekness of Christ.  In a time of such division and competition in our nation, would you join me in praying to be among God’s gentle people?  Jesus assures us that “the meek will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5)  Let’s not confuse ‘meek’ with ‘weak.’  Jesus gave Himself to the least, the broken, the dysfunctional with such gentleness that they were healed. Even the lowest outcasts found Him approachable. That same Jesus could confront the arrogance and hypocrisy of the Pharisees fearlessly.  Oh God, teach us how to live like that, gentle yet fearless.

Matthew quotes the words of Isaiah that describe the ministry of the Messiah. As we read this today, let’s pray for the same gentleness of heart.
“Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
‘till he leads justice to victory.
In his name the nations will put their hope.” (Matthew 12:18-21, NIV)

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Father, I am praising You for gently loving me,
For Your amazing patience for me when I fumble and stumble.
Give me a tender heart, break my heart with those things that break Yours.
Jesus, help me to be your hands that lift up those who are weak.

Give me words that encourage those who have lost hope.
Forgive me when I am unkind and change my heart to one that is meek and gentle.
In this may You become more visible in my life and
Let me live for Your honor and glory.  Amen

What a talker

talkMy friends in the corporate world complain about the endless, nearly pointless, meetings that eat up large chunks of the work day. I have sat through some of those myself! Don’t you just love that guy who fills the agenda with his ‘great’ ideas but who seldom follows through? In any setting, it becomes clear in a few days who works and who just talks. My admiration goes to the one who gets the job done without feeling the need to tell everybody about what he is doing, why he is doing it, and how hard he is working at it. To borrow a phrase, “Just do it!”  I grew up with a phrase that described a person who was just words. My dad called that man ‘all hat, no cattle.’  Funny phrase, isn’t it?  It referred to a person trying to look the part of the rancher, but who didn’t really own any stock.

In his final letter to his protégé, Paul warned Timothy that people would come into the Church who were big talkers, who liked to derail others with long arguments about words. “Remind everyone about these things, and command them in God’s presence to stop fighting over words. Such arguments are useless, and they can ruin those who hear them.” (2 Timothy 2:14, NLT)  “Avoid worthless, foolish talk that only leads to more godless behavior.” (2 Timothy 2:16, NLT)  I remember the long debates in college coffeehouses about whether we should serve wine or grape juice at Communion. We debated, ad nauseam, projected timelines for the Last Days.  We talked about things of which we knew next to nothing, but we sure had opinions!  To turn our Christianity into mere words about trivial matters or personal preferences is not just a waste of time, it is ruinous to faith.

We are warned in the Word about those who just want to have an argument. Should we get ourselves worked up, ready to fight to the finish? No. “Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth.” (2 Timothy 2:23-25, NLT)

So, the counsel of the Spirit comes to us. “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.” (2 Timothy 2:15, NIV)  The approval we need should come from the only One that matters. As we live this Christian life the we will not chase after making great impressions or with creating an image of success. Instead we will ask ourselves just one question – Is the God who knows it all pleased with me?  We can comfort ourselves with the truth that “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable.” (Hebrews 4:13, NLT)  And, if we are just big talkers, the truth of God’s omniscience should put us right, closing our mouths and sending us to work.

We live in a world of words. The torrent of information that washes over us makes it more difficult than ever to sort out the truth, doesn’t it? Let’s not fall into the trap of talking a better Christianity than we actually practice.  Here is the word from the Word. “For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power.” (1 Corinthians 4:20, NLT)

Lord, call us to faithful, steady, effective service for You. Amen.

____________

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly trust in Jesus’ Name

Christ alone cornerstone
Weak made strong in the Savior’s love
Through the storm He is Lord
Lord of all

 

 

Afraid? Alone? Tempted?

feetAs I closed the day in prayer, the Spirit of God whispered, “why do you allow yourself to be fearful?”  As I pondered that challenge, I realized there are several areas in my life where I had allowed fear to take root. It is not that I am cowering behind closed doors, a recluse. The fear with which I must deal is a ‘presence’ that lurks just outside of my conscious mind. It shows up in ‘what if’ questions.  It makes me defensive, keeps me on edge, and steals the joy of the Lord.  Most likely this fear is, in part,  left over from the stress of Bev’s illness and death which redefined so much of life for me, shaking the foundations of life and faith. So, I will do the spiritual and emotional work that will let faith rise.

Are you afraid? Do you spend an inordinate amount of time living defensively, protecting yourself from threats, real and imagined?

The ancient prophet Habbakuk is a companion to those who struggle with fear. The opening words of his book reveal his struggle to keep faith: “How long, O Lord, must I call for help? But you do not listen! “Violence!” I cry, but you do not come to save.” (Habakkuk 1:2, NLT) That is one gutsy prayer, isn’t it? “Hey, God, what up with this? I thought you would answer my call and it feels like You walked away.” Habbakuk saw the growing threat of the Babylonian Empire and thought God would step in to deliver His people. Instead, God revealed that He would allow that nation to conquer Israel. The ancient Jews lived with the assumption that because they were the people of the Lord and Jerusalem was the home of the Temple of the Lord God, He would never allow their city to fall, defending them against all enemies regardless of their personal faith or practice.  Then the Lord tells the prophets that disaster is coming!

What does one do with such a vision?
How does one deal with those things that redefine our assumptions about what is true?

It’s what we struggle with when we pray to be healed and God says, “I’ll be with you but I won’t take away the illness.”  When we  pray for deliverance from temptation and God says, “No, we’ll walk together through the fiery trial,” we feel uncertainty grow. Habbakuk gives us a prayerful voice that waits and wonders at God’s often inscrutable ways. Ultimately, he comes to the place where he says, “God hang onto me. It’s the only hope I have.”

If you’re in a hard place today, brokenhearted, fearful, disappointed, confused – do not let the Enemy of God and good convince you are just weak or that you are a terrible Christian. Know that the trials of life, the testing and temptation that comes our way,  are the common experiences of those who follow Jesus. When we put one foot in eternity while we still live on earth, we invite a certain tension into our lives! We keep hoping when others give up and live small, hopeless lives. We keep working to make the world brighter and better when others settle for ‘what is.’  We press on for the reward of Eternity when others settle to live with no other purpose than to “eat, drink, and be merry!”

Habbakuk wrestled with fear and faith until he found an answer. I truly love the resolve that comes at the end of his little book. It is a glimpse of mature faith that gives away the need to control outcomes and instead radically trusts the Person of God. Let’s remember that when we are afraid, if we will reach out,  God’s grasp will tighten on our hand. We will surely be carried through the trial, if not over or around it. “O Lord, I have heard Your speech and was afraid; O Lord, revive Your work in the midst of the years! In the midst of the years make it known; In wrath remember mercy. “ (Habakkuk 3:2, NKJV) “Though the fig tree may not blossom, Nor fruit be on the vines; though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls— Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, and He will make me walk on my high hills.” (Habakkuk 3:17-19, NKJV)

Centuries later, inspired by the Holy Spirit, Paul gave us this word in the Word. May it silence the voice of fear. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-40, NIV)

Fear not! Live in faith! He is our strength and He makes us sure-footed in treacherous territory.
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Hold Me Jesus – Rich Mullins

Oh, sometimes my life
Just don’t make sense at all
When the mountains look so big
And my faith just seems so small.
And I wake up in the night
And feel the dark.
It’s so hot inside my soul
I swear there must be blisters on my heart.

So hold me Jesus,
‘Cause I’m shaking like a leaf.
You have been King of my glory,
Won’t You be my Prince of Peace?

Surrender don’t come natural to me.
I’d rather fight You for something
I don’t really want
Than to take what You give that I need.
And I’ve beat my head against so many walls
Now I’m falling down,
I’m falling on my knees.

So hold me Jesus,
‘Cause I’m shaking like a leaf.
You have been King of my glory,
Won’t You be my Prince of Peace?

And this Salvation Army band
Is playing this hymn
And Your grace rings out so deep
It makes my resistance seem so thin.

So hold me Jesus,
‘Cause I’m shaking like a leaf.
You have been King of my glory,
Won’t You be my Prince of Peace?

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