Yet another grave!

wordswag_1493376554204Yesterday I stood next to yet another grave and spoke those words ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust’ as we laid the body of my father in law in the ground. Grief has become a familiar friend. I did not sob, but I felt a kind of confusion; torn by mixed emotions. I believe Dad Catalano lives on, in the Presence of God. I am, none the less, left with loss. My grief is tinged with anger – “why must life be sad?” – too. There is an echo of Eden in all of us. We sense that life is not all it should be, don’t we?  I find that death provokes anger in many people.

We find it in the Bible! John tells us that when Lazarus died, Mary and Martha became furious. Their question “Why?”  They turned to their Friend and in a tone of accusation wondered why He did not come to save their brother. (John 11)   Jesus’ tears at the tomb were not just sorrow at the loss of his friend. John tells us that He was ‘deeply moved and troubled,’  words that indicate more than just sadness.  Jesus was angry, too!  Death was an offense, the result of sin.  Paul, too, makes no peace with death as something natural. He calls death ‘the last enemy.’   “Christ must reign until he humbles all his enemies beneath his feet. And the last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Corinthians 15:24-26, NLT)

Christians may join Dylan Thomas in ”rage against the dying of the light” but we do not join Shakespeare in despair!  The poet put these words in the mouth of Macbeth after he heard of the death of his queen. “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”  We cannot read those lines without feeling the complete despair that death brings to so many who have no reason to hope. But, in Christ, we have GREAT hope.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ changes the story of humanity.  “In Adam all die,”  the Word says, but “in Christ all will be made alive.”  (1 Corinthians 15:22)  Our bodies will perish, part of this world, but we will live.  What does this mean?  It is not just for funerals. It is not just an idea to be remembered in cemeteries.  The hope of the Resurrection creates a whole new way of living now.  Look at this verse.  “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:1-4, NIV)

My anger is real but it is tempered by my hope. I take the Scripture’s promise to heart and find peace. Here is what the Spirit teaches us.  Our RICHEST portion of “life” is secreted away with Christ, held secure by God Himself. Ponder that!  We exist for something more than getting our food for another day,  going to work on Monday morning to make more money, or finding some pleasurable moment.  Our life is even more than the experiences of the joy of family or laughter with friends as sweet as those things can be.  Our true life is a gift of God and it will only fully appear when Christ’s Kingdom is fully revealed at His coming.  Faith allows us to own that life and to taste it now, but only then will we know what God planned for us all along.

Does the hope of knowing eternal life – the amazing life with no darkness, no disappointment, none of the limits that sin has imposed on this world;  draw you into godly hope, real joy, and out of anger? The promise of that secret life kept in Heaven for us will change us.

Here is the word from the Word.  May the Spirit make it a living truth for those of us who live in a dying world. “It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being. … If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have! … Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. “ (Matthew 6:21, 23, 33, The Message)

_____________

Beulah land, I’m longing for you
And someday, on thee I’ll stand
Where my home shall be eternal
Beulah land, sweet Beulah land

 I’m kind of homesick for a country
Where I’ve never been before
No sad goodbyes will there be spoken
For time won’t matter anymore

 I’m looking now across the river
Where my faith is gonna end in sight
There’s just a few more days to labor
And then I’ll take my heavenly flight

wordswag_1493376554204 Where my home shall be eternal
Beulah land, sweet Beulah land

Playing church?

wordswag_1493206504500Remember when you were a child and you played at some role?  Dad bought me an old car to run in our farm fields when I was about 13. Gunning that little Plymouth Valiant around the dirt oval in made, I could pretend I was leading the field in a big race. As the tires spun, dirt flew, the engine raced,  I ‘saw’ challengers for first place on my bumper. My pulse raced and I was at Daytona. What fun! But, actually I was  just a kid, in an old car, doing about 35 MPH in a farm field by himself. Dale Earnhardt Jr. would laugh at my pretend races, wouldn’t he?  Real life is much more complicated than we could imagine as a child.

Let me ask a pointed question for your consideration – are you truly engaged in Christian discipleship or are you just playing church?

Real spiritual need exists all around us; yes, even in our homes and our own hearts. A dress-up, playing at religion kind of “Christianity” cannot address those issues with the power of the Spirit.  We need to be engaged with God, doing the daily disciplines, opening our hearts to His Spirit, learning His ways so that we can do more than offer platitudes to those who are lost, to those who are slaves to their sin, to those who are struggling to find a way to make it to tomorrow.

Jesus, just prior to His Ascension, told that little band of followers that they were not ready to go just yet. “Once when he was eating with them, he commanded them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. … But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:4,8, NLT)  He knew they needed more than a good story, more than an ability to imitate what they had seen Him do. They needed to be changed from the inside out, full of God’s Spirit. They waited expectantly, praying daily, wanting all that God had prepared for them so that they could fulfill the Great Mission of changing the world!

Do you? Do I? Are we expecting the Spirit’s to empower, ready to let Him lead us to real maturity, to equip us to go beyond playing at church and to become the people of God that confront evil with the Gospel of salvation?

We cannot work it up, sing songs loudly to make it happen, or bring in a preacher for a revival!  Spirit renewal begins with hunger, real desire for God, and rests on our faith to receive.  A man with a huge need came to Jesus one day. Look at the interaction.

“As Jesus entered the village of Capernaum, a Roman captain came up in a panic and said, “Master, my servant is sick. He can’t walk. He’s in terrible pain.” Jesus said, “I’ll come and heal him.” “Oh, no,” said the captain. “I don’t want to put you to all that trouble. Just give the order and my servant will be fine. I’m a man who takes orders and gives orders. I tell one soldier, ‘Go,’ and he goes; to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

 Taken aback, Jesus said, “I’ve yet to come across this kind of simple trust in Israel, the very people who are supposed to know all about God and how he works. This man is the vanguard of many outsiders who will soon be coming from all directions—streaming in from the east, pouring in from the west, sitting down at God’s kingdom banquet alongside Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Then those who grew up ‘in the faith’ but had no faith will find themselves out in the cold, outsiders to grace and wondering what happened.” Then Jesus turned to the captain and said, “Go. What you believed could happen has happened.” At that moment his servant became well.” (Matthew 8:5-13, The Message)

The religious people that Jesus knew were so used to the forms and the words of faith, they had lost the reality. They were playing at it. The Roman captain believed Him, trusted His power, and his faith found an answer. Let’s take a look at our forms, our songs, our prayers to see if they have become like the lines of a play to us; things we have learned to say but no longer really believe. If we find we are just pretending, how about we go back to God to wait, to ask, and pray for a renewal of faith that actually connects us with the powerful Presence of the Holy Spirit?

Here is a word from the Word. “The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.” (Luke 17:5-6, NIV) Don’t try to ‘understand’ or explain His words. Just receive them, believe them, and live them.

Lord, awaken us to the need.
Show us Your power.
Lead us to deep, mature faith that is ready to do Kingdom work.

Amen

 

Trading a tent for a house

wordswag_1493119460527There are those who love camping. They leave their houses – compete with comfortable beds, air conditioning, and bathrooms – to live in a tent where they can experience all those wonderful things like insects, sleeping bags, and campfire meals. It remains a mystery to me why that is fun though I’m sure a few of you will write to try to explain it.  I joke that my idea of camping involves a 40 feet motorhome. For all of you who will live in tents this Summer, I say, “Enjoy!”

Bob (my father in law) moved out of his tent and into his eternal home yesterday.  Sunday evening I sat alongside the bed as he lay dying. It is brutally hard to watch those final breaths, to stand so close to the harsh, cruel reality of death. As the body struggles and that spark of “life” mysteriously leaves, the face of that person we love becomes almost unrecognizable.

Yes, once again, our family is dealing with death, but we do not grieve as those who have no hope.  Our understanding, though incomplete, is informed by the inspired Word.  St. Paul uses the tent and house metaphor to explain our dying. “For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands.” (2 Corinthians 5:1, NLT)  Dad left this campground and went home, the Bible says.

My daughter texted me this morning thanking God for the hope that sustains us, wondering how those without faith endure the loss. I, too, am so grateful that I know hope that envelopes the sorrow.  The full context of Paul’s words about the Christian hope is rich with encouragement for our daily choices in life. I read this passage this morning drawing deeply on words of assurance. Share that hope as you read God’s Word to us.

“We have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, “I believed in God, so I spoke.” We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you. . . . Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!

So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us.

Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit. So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 4:13-5:6, NLT)

Are you trying to hold onto things that are only a part of this present existence? Is your life built on the things you own, the health or beauty of your body, the work you do?  Then, you are destined for despair because eventually each of those ‘treasures’ will be taken away. We should enjoy the opportunity to have families, to build homes, to be part of the commerce of the world. Choosing a healthy lifestyle is a way to honor God and care for the body we have for our journey through time, but … without a fixed point of reference in eternity is all just futility. Solomon calls it ‘chasing the wind!’  Jesus taught us to ‘lay up treasure in Heaven’ our eternal home because what we invest there survives our last breath.  Mysterious? Sure is!  Truth? Yes, and words around which we should shape each day of this brief sojourn.

We are eventually going to fold up our tent to leave Campground Earth. On that day, I will be going home. What about you?  Jesus said “Don’t let this throw you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live.” (John 14:1-3, The Message)  We don’t go there because we are good enough, but because His is perfect, and His grace amazing.

Have you trusted Him to forgive your sins, to restore your relationship with the Father?Are you loving Him today, doing His will?
Then, take heart and hope.

Here is a word from the Word.  Live in the promise!
Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other. But—“When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.” (Titus 3:3-7, NLT)

Enjoy your home, Dad. I can only imagine (and even that is limited) the delight of the Presence of God, the fullness of joy into which you emerged as you left your tent behind.

_____________

I Can Only Imagine

I can only imagine
What it will be like
When I walk by Your side
I can only imagine
What my eyes will see
When Your face is before me
I can only imagine

Surrounded by Your glory
What will my heart feel
Will I dance for You Jesus
Or in awe of You be still
Will I stand in Your presence
Or to my knees will I fall
Will I sing hallelujah
Will I be able to speak at all
I can only imagine
I can only imagine

I can only imagine
When that day comes
And I find myself standing in the Son
I can only imagine
When all I will do
Is forever forever worship You
I can only imagine
I can only imagine

Surrounded by Your glory
What will my heart feel
Will I dance for You Jesus
Or in awe of You be still
Will I stand in Your presence
Or to my knees will I fall
Will I sing hallelujah
Will I be able to speak at all
I can only imagine yeah
I can only imagine

Bart Millard© 2001, 2002 Simpleville Music (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)

CCLI License # 810055

Are you bitter?

wordswag_1492774588630_resized

The frustration, the disappointment, the apparent lack of options made a person I was meeting with feel boxed in, wondering what to do next. Every choice available had such cost – come, go, stay, walk away?  I could empathize!  Dealing with a rebellious teen in my own household at times leaves me overwhelmed, too. Rejection stings. Discipline is rejected. In his eyes, I am the one who has the problem. After all, what’s wrong with playing video games all day and half the night? I can only sigh and hang on for tomorrow. My frustration spills over into complaint sometimes, too. “Where are You, Lord? Why have you given me this assignment, too?”

How wonderful to remember that my spiritual security does not from my grip on His hand, but rather by His grasp of my hand. In the Scripture, I read: “I realized that my heart was bitter, and I was all torn up inside. … Yet I still belong to You; You hold my right hand.” (Psalm 73:21, 23, NLT)

John, leader of the churches in Asia Minor, living in Ephesus, was an old man. Rome, cracking down on the Christians, sent him to exile on a little rocky island called Patmos.  How could that old preacher not feel forsaken? There he was in a cave, alone. Do you imagine that he sulked, whined, and shook his fist at God? You would be wrong. The book of the Revelation opens with this note:  “It was the Lord’s Day, and I was worshiping in the Spirit.” (1:10). As he prayed, John received those wildly wonderful pictures of God’s ultimate triumph over Evil that we read in that book! His submission God allowed him to enter into a place of supernatural renewal.

Could he have known the comfort of the touch of the Lord if he wrapped himself in a stinking blanket of bitterness stained with his disappointment with God? I think the answer to that question is obvious. Before you jump to the conclusion that to be frustrated by life is somehow a sin or a lack of faith, let me hasten to add that I find no place in the Bible that tells us that we cannot weep. Even those of deep faith sometimes walk in the dark, unable to see what is ahead, their tomorrows hidden by the fog of frustration. Yes, sometimes our tears flow equally from sorrow and anger in those moments.

In those days when the soul-ache is deep, when words turn into heavy sighs, we still have a choice to make: we can become bitter or we can become broken. A bitter man blames God and cuts himself off from the touch of the Father’s hand. A broken man kneels in humble worship. David sings that broken hearts are open to God’s healing. “I learned God-worship when my pride was shattered. Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.” (Psalm 51:17, The Message)

Are you feeling the pressures of life today?
Does it seem that God has turned away?

Choose to wait, humbly, for Him. When tempted by bitterness, reject it. Instead, let your heart break.  I pray that the Spirit will find you with His tender, comforting touch.

Our word from the Word comes from a favorite Psalm. Note the lead words of each thought that call to reliance on the Lord.

Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.

Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil.
For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.”

(Psalm 37:3-9, NIV)|
_____________________

I Surrender All

All to Jesus I surrender
All to Him I freely give
I will ever love and trust Him
In His presence daily live

All to Jesus I surrender
Make me Savior wholly Thine
Let me feel the Holy Spirit
Truly know that Thou art mine

I surrender all
I surrender all
All to Thee my blessed Savior
I surrender all

Judson Wheeler Van DeVenter © Words: Public Domain

Watching Death Approach

deathFor two days my focus has been with Dad Catalano (my father in law) as his body is failing.  The strong hands that could take some pine boards and make a beautiful table lie folded, occasionally feebly moving in slow waves. Mostly quiet, there are moments when he mutters unintelligibly though I smiled when advised me, clearly and out of nowhere, to ‘Buy a Maytag. They last forever.’  His pastor visited yesterday and we sang, “Blessed Assurance” at Dad’s bedside. My heart broke in that moment.

Mostly, I think of eternity as I wait and watch. What drama is swirling in the spiritual realms around us? Do angels stand guard to take him home? Surely the Presence of the Spirit is near, that much I know. As Dad travels through the valley of the shadow of death we are assured that the Lord is with him.

The Psalm teaches us to sing thus. “I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live. The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came upon me; I was overcome by trouble and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the Lord: “O Lord, save me!” The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. The Lord protects the simplehearted; when I was in great need, he saved me.” (Psalm 116:1-6, NIV)  And then this line – “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” (Psalm 116:15, NIV)

Death can be a time of ultimate abandonment, when the sheer terror of it, the irresistible pull of the living into the chasm of death, causes people to turn away from the dying, to shrink into a protective shell. But not for those who walk with God. He is not put off by the ugliness of death, He cares and engages and loves even in that moment. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.”  Yes, as ugly as death looks from our side of the doorway to eternity, for our loving Father it is a treasured moment when He readies us to know Him fully, to enjoy His Presence in ways that defy our imagination. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.”

This is yet another reason to live near to the heart of God, as one of His treasured possessions. We are made His children by His grace gift, our forgiveness and reconciliation secured by the promise of Jesus who died that we might live. Sainthood is a daily way of life. Do not be misled to think it is only the hope of a few super-Christians.  You and I are called to be saints! Paul tells us that we are “loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 1:7, NIV) That means we find our purpose in loving Him, choose to obey the Spirit’s direction, and make our day to day choices guided by the Holy Spirit.  Max Lucado asks this:  “If today were your last, would you do what you’re doing? Or would you love more, give more, forgive more? Then do so! Forgive and give as if it were your last opportunity. Love like there’s no tomorrow, and if tomorrow comes, love again.”

In this, we are saints. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.”

The process of death is hard, ugly, ripping away that person we love. But, in Christ and His salvation we can live in great hope. This grand declaration is our word from the Word.  Hear it and live ready to be welcomed home, a saint. “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:55-58, NIV)

__________

Blessed Assurance

Blessed assurance Jesus is mine
O what a foretaste of glory divine
Heir of salvation purchase of God
Born of His Spirit washed in His blood

 Perfect submission perfect delight
Visions of rapture now burst on my sight
Angels descending bring from above
Echoes of mercy whispers of love

Perfect submission all is at rest
I in my Savior am happy and blest
Watching and waiting looking above
Filled with His goodness lost in His love

This is my story this is my song
Praising my Savior all the day long
This is my story this is my song
Praising my Savior all the day long

Fanny Jane Crosby
© Words: Public Domain

Faith out of focus

cross2.jpgImagine going to your doctor to talk about severe digestive issues and having her obsess on a hangnail she saw on your hand! Silly, isn’t it?  You would object, “Dr. my hangnail is an issue but it’s tiny compared to the main thing, being that I cannot eat without pain!”  What if you took your car to the garage to have them find out why it is so hard to start in the morning and when you returned found out that they had merely checked the pressure in the tires? “Tires? They are not the problem!” you would tell the service advisor.

In our Christian life we must guard against becoming focused on secondary issues as a reason for our existence!

Congregations do not exist to support church buildings.
Pastors are not called to be therapists or morale boosters.
Worship gatherings are not a place to be entertained.
Serving in ministry is not about finding self-fulfillment.
Sermons are not good just because they are interesting.
Prayer is not about ‘getting things from God.’

We have one core purpose as Christians and as His Church –
to know Christ and to make Him known!

Feeding the hungry is important, however we do it as an expression of the love of Christ, not simply for humanitarian reasons. We must care for orphans, defend those who are powerless, build community – but always with the desire of making Christ visible.  Preaching that does not bring people to the Cross of Christ and invite them to know the renewal of the Spirit may be helpful in creating better lives, but it misses the point.

Paul’s declaration should be one we all make daily – “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11, NIV)  You may be thinking that is rather a statement of the obvious.  It isn’t! We become sidetracked into personal agendas, taken up with pet projects, and wrapped up in our own religious mindset so easily.  Paul knew that. Just before that magnificent passage just quoted he wrote – “Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith.” (Philippians 3:8-9, NLT)

We can become ‘professional’ Christians, adept at saying the right words, doing ‘right’ kinds of things, without really knowing Jesus.

Our word from the Word is a warning from the Lord Himself.
“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.’ “These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock.” (Matthew 7:21-24, The Message)

Make Christ- His Life, His Cross, His Resurrection – the core of your life. Pray that all attitudes, plans, words, and actions will flow from a heart fully devoted to the Savior, Lord, and King.

____________

Be The Centre

Jesus be the centre
Be my source be my light
Jesus 

Jesus be the centre
Be my hope be my song
Jesus

Jesus be my vision
Be my path be my guide
Jesus

 Be the fire in my heart
Be the wind in these sails
Be the reason that I live
Jesus Jesus

Michael Frye© 1999 Vineyard Songs (UK/Eire) (Vineyard Music UK)

CCLI License # 810055

Now What?

afterThe songs were raised, the sermons preached – Easter has come and gone – now what?  It is not a bad question, really.  For some churches it’s on to the ‘next big thing,’ another program designed to stir excitement, to draw another crowd, to keep the folks coming. That is not my style! Yes, celebrating the Resurrection is a GREAT thing, a powerful reminder of what makes our Christian faith what it is, hopeful, eternal.  The real application of the truth starts today.  If we believe what we sang and heard the pastor preach – that Christ rose, that heaven awaits, that our lives are hidden with Christ in God –  we have a BIG mission yet to fulfill.

Consider that all the celebration yesterday was like the wedding is to a marriage.  A couple spends months planning the day, then a few hours enjoying the ceremony and reception, the dances and the honeymoon. Those moments, important as they may be,  are not  ‘being married.’  Marriage is the stuff of blending lives, learning to love, encouraging, sharing intimate moments, making traditions together, kids, dinners, disappointments, vacations, sickness, health, richer, poorer, better, worse – right?  A big, beautiful wedding does not necessarily lead to a loving, joyful marriage, as too many couples can attest.

We left our churches yesterday full of hope, our spirits high, now we go to live as His disciples.  Luke tells us that Jesus met two travelers on the road to Emmaus. They were discouraged, wondering how all their hopes in Jesus had been so quickly crushed by the death.  Not knowing Who they were talking to, they said, “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body.” (Luke 24:21-23)  Jesus explained the Word to them, and as He sat at dinner, they realized the Truth of the stories they had heard.

Later, as they reported their experience, Jesus suddenly stood among the circle of disciples and “He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet.” (Luke 24:38-40, NIV)  Those people saw but still struggled to accept the impossible. Dead men just don’t return to walk among us.  I find their struggle comforting in a way, because my mind pushes back, too.  Faith is not always a simple, straight line experience, is it?  I wrestle with the implications, pray about the meaning, and ask for wisdom to understand. Do you?

Later on, Jesus led the disciples to a place outside of the city of Jerusalem and told them “You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:48-49, NIV) They had lots of work to do and they needed to be divinely empowered.  We still have that work to do.  There is a world that needs to see real love in action, that needs to hear words of hope that are more than emotional.  It’s our turn now.  May I suggest that the now what for us is not to hurry off to do some great thing, but that during this week after we take some time to listen, to wait, to make sure that we have let the seed of Truth take root? If those people needed to wait for 50 days in Jerusalem for the Spirit to fall, we need to wait, too; expecting, looking, hoping, and ready to take the Call.

Here is a word from the Word  – Jesus’ mission statement for us.  “Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20, The Message)   But, first wait!  “What you’ll get is the Holy Spirit. And when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be able to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all over Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the world.”  (Acts 1:8, The Message)

Lord, give us ears to hear what the Spirit saying, courage to accept the challenge, and faith to live what we sing. Amen.

_____________________

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

A Day of Darkness

wordswag_1492168178607Good Friday is a curious name for a day when we recall that the Son of God was laid in the darkness of His grave!  But, we know that the joy of Easter would not exist without this dark day. Jesus was willing to descend into darkness that was incomparably worse than any choice we make. He told His friends, “As you know, Passover begins in two days, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” (Matthew 26:2, NLT He was filled with dread and prayed, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (Matthew 26:39, NLT) Think about that.  The Perfect Man, completely submitted to the will of the Father, pleads for release from the coming dark . . .   He knew the Cross was His destiny. He knew the Resurrection was His hope. Even with that hope, it was hard to go through the pain, the alienation from His Father that came from OUR sin.

Think deeply about His sacrifice. It was not forced on Him. He willingly embraced it for me, for you, because of love. (We will stand before the Cross on this evening in our Communion worship. You’re invited to join us at Faith Discovery Church at 7 PM.) He made the choice to descend into the darkness, not for Himself, but for us. His loss was our gain. His obedience bought our salvation from sin, death, and Hell! He bridged the chasm that sin had carved between the Father and His Creation.  The Cross is ugly, but we must not rush past it to get to the Empty Tomb! The glory of the Resurrection morning only is meaningful because of Good Friday’s horror.

Are you confronted with some very difficult choice in your life, a place of darkness?
Is God calling to walk a road that opposes your desires?
Is there pain of self-denial, even death to Self?
Will you willingly descend into the dark of that situation, so that He can lead you into the Light of His purposes?

Jesus points the way for us.  Humility, Obedience, Suffering, Glory – in that order. The Word encourages us with this pattern. “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2, NIV)

Look past the pain to the Glory! Grasp the promise of abundant life – presently and eternally – and present yourself as a ‘living sacrifice.’ My prayer for you is this: “May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20-21, NIV)

_______________

Jesus Christ,
I think upon Your sacrifice,
You became nothing,
Poured out to death.
Many times I’ve wondered
At Your gift of life,
And I’m in that place once again.
I’m in that place once again.

And once again
I look upon the cross
Where You died,
I’m humbled by Your mercy
And I’m broken inside.
Once again I thank You,
Once again I pour out my life.
Thank You for the cross,
Thank You for the cross,
Thank You for the cross, my Friend.

Now You are exalted
To the highest place,
King of the heavens,
Where one day I’ll bow.
But for now,
I marvel at this saving grace,
And I’m full of praise once again.
I’m full of praise once again.

Once Again – Redman, Matt
EMI Christian Music Publishing
© 1995 Kingsway’s Thankyou Music (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)

CCLI License No. 810055

Dirty Feet, Profound Love

servantThe recent incident on a United Airlines flight where a passenger resisting being ‘bumped’ from the flight was forcibly (some might say violently) removed from the airplane has been all over the news. While there are two sides to that story, the visuals that were splashed across social media and on the news are a public relations nightmare for the company.

When I heard the report, I thought to myself, “Somebody needs an education about the meaning of ‘customer service.’  Consumers in America expect to be served, though in my opinion good, polite service is less and less the norm.  When I find a place that offers me a pleasant experience with  staff that knows how to be efficient, interested in my need, and ready to provide great service,  they have gained a loyal customer.

Jesus was a Servant Leader.  The King of Glory did not bark orders, think himself too good to do certain tasks, or drive people to his agenda with power plays. Just hours away from His most excruciating moments, John tells us that He was at dinner with the men He loved. He was not pre-occupied with His own needs. He was not asking them to soothe Him, to comfort Him. Instead, He is serving!  John tells us that ‘He knew His hour had come.‘  We would expect Him to say, “Gather ’round me, guys, and pray for me. Give me support here for this is a terrible test.”  That’s not wrong, by the way.

Even leaders need support. Later that night, in the Garden of Gethsemane, He would ask to pray with Him. (They failed but that’s another thought.)  At dinner, while they bickered about their importance, He got up and took a towel and basin so He could wash their feet! John    records the memorable moment -“So he got up from the supper table, set aside his robe, and put on an apron. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the feet of the disciples, drying them with his apron.” (John 13:4-5, The Message)

Footwashing was the role of the servant in the household with least stature. It was a real dirty, but necessary, job in a day when there were no sidewalks, lots of livestock in the streets, and little in the way of modern sanitation, if you get my drift! Feet were in the ‘stuff’  that you did not want dragged into your house.  Sweaty, stained, grimy feet were the normal and so was providing water for washing the feet of your guests. It was a job for servants.

When He took the basin and knelt at the feet of those men, He was not shaming them for their fighting about self-importance. He wasn’t looking for their admiration. He was just doing what needed to be done because of love. When He finished, He turned it into a teachable moment. “After he had finished washing their feet, he took his robe, put it back on, and went back to his place at the table. Then he said, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You address me as ‘Teacher’ and ‘Master,’ and rightly so. That is what I am. So if I, the Master and Teacher, washed your feet, you must now wash each other’s feet. I’ve laid down a pattern for you. What I’ve done, you do.” (John 13:12-15, The Message)

Was Jesus telling us to have foot-washing services in our gatherings?  Some think so, but really He was urging a way of life that is given to service that overflows from a heart full of love. We wash someone’s feet when we absorb their anger without retaliation. We wash someone’s feet when we offer them affirmation when we are crumbling inside. We wash feet when we forgive another’s selfishness, letting go of our rights. There are a lot of ways to take up the towel and the basin, disciple.

In a culture that makes much of service, where we deal with unhealthy levels of entitlement (you owe me) we see evidence of preoccupation with Self in these kinds of thoughts –
– “I’ve worked hard, who’s going to thank me?”
– “If somebody doesn’t show some appreciation ’round here, I’m going to start doing the minimum required of me.”
– “Doesn’t anybody realize how important I am?”

Jesus changes that with a principle He not only taught but lived. Greatness in Christ’s eyes does not come from having many servants but from being the servant of many.

Take this word from the Word into your heart today. Mediate on it. It will produce amazing transformation. “Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave- just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28, NKJV)

“Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.”
(John 13:17, NLT)

_______________

Father, today as we walk in a world full of pride
remind us of the love of Your Son and
give us grace to take up the towel –
offering kindness, giving away our ‘rights,’
forgetting our craving to be served.

Jesus, we would walk with You,
know You, serve You – by serving others.

Holy Spirit, help us to see the Cross in all its ignominy
and all the love that put Jesus there.
Being so loved, lead us to love so that the radiance of Jesus
will shine through us.

In His holy Name, we pray.  Amen

 

Jerry D. Scott, Pastor- Faith Discovery Church

http://www.FaithDiscovery.com

The Villain – a dupe of the Devil

judas.jpgHe was our “Judas goat,” affectionately named for his job at the Scott Sheep Company. When I was a little boy I had to deal with that big billy goat that strutted proudly around Dad’s stockyard. He would lower his head and chase me onto the fence, mostly I think just because he could. But his main function was to lead the fattened sheep onto the rail cars that took them to the place that turned them into lamb chops! Sheep followed him up the ramp and into the stock car. He then circled back to the doorway, down the loading dock, and back to his pen, where he enjoyed a nice meal and they were carried off to die. Hence his name, “Judas goat.”

The tragic figure in the story of Holy Week is the disciple, Judas. Jesus was in Jerusalem for Passover.  His conflict with the religious leaders was escalating. In the middle of it all, Judas decided to collaborate with Jesus’ enemies and in that oh so sad story of betrayal, sold Him for 30 pieces of silver.

Luke says, “The Festival of Unleavened Bread, which begins with the Passover celebration, was drawing near. The leading priests and teachers of religious law were actively plotting Jesus’ murder. But they wanted to kill him without starting a riot, a possibility they greatly feared. Then Satan entered into Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve disciples, and he went over to the leading priests and captains of the Temple guard to discuss the best way to betray Jesus to them. They were delighted that he was ready to help them, and they promised him a reward.” (Luke 22:1-5, NLT)

The Gospels of Luke and John both tell us that Judas was used by the Devil. So how did Judas open himself to the devil’s influence?
Was he motivated by greed?
Was he jealous of John or Peter?
Did he lust for power?

We just do not  know. What we do know is that Jesus called him. He was not a double agent, planted by the Sanhedrin. But, he started to think thoughts unworthy of his calling. As keeper of the disciples’ money, did he ‘borrow’ a little for his own use?  Did he grow bitter when he started to understand that Jesus was not going to start a revolution?  Was he disappointed that he was not included in the Lord’s inner circle?  What filled his mind is lost to history, but we know that his heart turned! The Devil took advantage of his duplicity. Judas sold Jesus for a slave’s price. Like so many who have followed him, only too late did he realize that the evil one had played him. His shame and regret consumed him.

Many walk Judas’ path.  Those they sit among Jesus’ disciples, often serving, they hold back a part of themselves.  They walk among the flock of God until the day that the Deceiver steps through the door they have left open.  Their selfishness and sinfulness bring division and confusion to the flock of God. Tragically, only after the damage is done do they see the error, the sin.  My prayer for those deceived and used by Satan is not destruction like Judas. I hope for their restoration like Peter! Judas could not let go of himself to seek forgiveness and he took his life, consumed with shame. Peter, who failed too, wept bitter tears and found a place of grace, going on to lead the Church.

James warns about living without the anchor of conviction, “adrift at sea, keeping all your options open. ” (James 1:8, The Message)  His counsel? “Say a quiet yes to God and he’ll be there in no time. Quit dabbling in sin. Purify your inner life. Quit playing the field.” (James 4:8, The Message)

Proverbs offers this insight – “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity.” (Proverbs 11:3, NIV)   The person who gives himself to the Lord, without reservation and remains tender in His presence, is kept by the Spirit from the wiles of the deceiver.   When evil comes seeking an entrance, that person has no secret sin waiting to be exploited, no cracks in his heart that offer access to greater sin.

As we make our way through this Holy Week, let’s take this word from the Word:
“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”

The result?  The very opposite of Judas!  We will never betray Him.
We will exalt Him with praise!  David continues his song.

“Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you.
Save me from bloodguilt, O God, the God who saves me,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.” (Psalm 51:9-15, NIV)

______________

One Pure And Holy Passion

Give me one pure and holy passion
Give me one magnificent obsession
Jesus give me one glorious ambition for my life
To know and follow hard after You

To know and follow hard after You
To grow as Your disciple in the truth
This world is empty pale and poor
Compared to knowing You my Lord
Lead me on and I will run after You

Lead me on and I will run after You
Lead me on and I will run after You

Mark Altrogge © 1988 Dayspring Music, LLC (a div. of Word Music Group, Inc.) Sovereign Grace Praise (Admin. by Word Music Group, Inc.)

CCLI License # 810055