Crushed

crushedPain brings up the most persistent questions for me; most likely for you, too. The question is age-old: “Why does a loving God let suffering happen?” No answer is perfect. For me, there is one answer that is inescapably true. C. S. Lewis wrote that “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”  When life is rich with sunshine and resources, we become self-satisfied, increasingly wrapped up in ourselves. Many develop a kind of conceit, deluded into believing that they have created their success, and all so often, so ready to accuse those in difficult circumstances of being less capable, or even lesser persons!

Levi Lusko is a young pastor from Montana, a man of many gifts and abilities. In a book he titled, Through the Eyes of a Lion, he tells the story of his daughter’s death. Lenya went to visit her Grandparents for dinner and a few hours later, her life here on earth came to an abrupt close during a severe asthma attack. Told without self-pity, the story urges us to grab onto God’s promise of eternal life and the Resurrection.  Levi does not gloss over the grief, nor does he diminish the real struggle that accompanies loss. This is no simplistic tract of triumphalism!  He offers, instead, a template for applying the Word of God to life, signposts to the path of faith that will protect us from despair.

In one chapter, he talks about the new facets to his life that emerged after Lenya’s death. I could identify with his realization that his pain had broken up hard places in his life and made him much more tender. It has happened to me, too. Once a man who resisted tears, who was too often brusque (I have a ways to go on this), I am now touched easily by pain, much more empathetic than I once was. Yes, God used pain, awful loss, to break my heart, in a good way.

But, even more important, Lenya’s dad speaks of a new ‘anointing’ that flowed into his life.  In a section sub-titled, Crushed Like An Olive, he explains. In the Bible priests and kings were ‘anointed’ in a ritual that involved having olive oil poured over their heads. Here’s a reference – “…the anointing oil that was poured over Aaron’s head, that ran down his beard and onto the border of his robe.” Psalm 133:2 (NLT) This olive oil that marked that person as God’s own, as one prepared for service, as one empowered by the Spirit was the product of a crushing.

A press applied great pressure to the olives and it produced the oil that was used for anointing.  Now it gets good. “Jesus, who is both King and Priest forever, when to Calvary, but first he went to the Garden of Gethsemane. Gethsemane means ‘olive press.’ …. Beyond the ceremonial oil, there in the Garden, Jesus knelt down and was in such agony (of spirit), under such great pressure that He sweat drops of blood. There He was crushed before He went to the cross. … You cannot get to Calvary without going through Gethsemane.”  (Lusko)

My greatest desire is to be used by God to do His work. More than money, fame, or fun times I want to know Him and make Him known. But, I cannot do that without an anointing of the Spirit. Nor, can you. The cost of that anointing is crushing! Isaiah said that the Redeemer would be “despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:3, NIV)  And, Jesus was that! But, from His crushing and anointing flows the Life for me, for you, for the world.

Do you desire to be an intimate of God, ‘anointed’ for service? Pain is part of the process! A. W. Tozer writes that “It is doubtful whether God could ever bless a person greatly until He has hurt him deeply.”  You may have to think about that for a while before you add your agreement.

If you are walking in a hard situation, if you are wrestling with pain, grief, rejection, loss, temptation – whatever is actually so common to the human experience – offer it to God for His purpose. Ask Him to make you tender, to sharpen your spiritual hearing, and to release the sweet fragrance of His anointing in your crushing.

No, I am not making it a poetic, romantic notion. It is simply the reality of spiritual endeavor.  Here is a word from the Word, Jesus’ own invitation. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”   (Matthew 16:24-26)

A slave of expectations?

easyThe world we live in puts pressure on all us to do many things. It is a complex life demanding competency of us in multiple ways – operating a car, using high tech gadgets, maintaining a home, navigating our job, tending relationships – it’s a long list! Sometimes we are exhausted by it all, aren’t we? We have a love/hate with the complexity. Very few of us want to give it up and live in an Amish kind of world, even though we know that the pace at which we live is beating us up every day.  God invites us to a different way where we learn to do what He calls us to do. In that place, we give it all, but find renewal and rest.  “Really,” you ask, “how is that possible?”

A fable fits my thoughts today.
Once upon a time, the animals decided they should do something meaningful to meet the problems of the new world. So they organized a school. They adopted an activity curriculum of running, climbing, swimming, and flying. To make it easier to administer the curriculum, all the animals took all of the subjects.  Now, the duck, she was excellent in swimming. In fact, she was better than her instructor. But she made only passing grades in flying and she flunked running altogether. She was so bad at running, her instructors made her drop swimming and stay after school to practice running. This caused her web feet to be badly worn, so that she became only average in swimming. But average was quite acceptable, so nobody worried about that – except, of course, the duck.

The rabbit started at the top of his running class, but he developed a nervous twitch in his leg muscles because of so much make-up work in swimming. The squirrel was excellent in climbing, but she encountered constant frustration in flying class because her teacher made her start from the ground up instead of from the treetop down. She developed charley horses from overexertion, and so she only got a C in climbing and a D in running. Now the eagle was a real problem child. He was constantly being disciplined for being a nonconformist. In climbing class, he beat all the others to the top of the tree, but he insisted on using his own way to get there.  (I first heard this from Pastor Chuck Swindoll)

The Bible says it this way. “You can easily enough see how this kind of thing works by looking no further than your own body. Your body has many parts—limbs, organs, cells—but no matter how many parts you can name, you’re still one body. It’s exactly the same with Christ. By means of his one Spirit, we all said good-bye to our partial and piecemeal lives. We each used to independently call our own shots, but then we entered into a large and integrated life in which he has the final say in everything.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13)

Are you living outside of the purpose for your life that God intends?
Are you doing things for which you are not equipped, only deepening your frustration and sense of meaningless?
Or have you found contentment in Him, being no more and no less than He purposes, obedient to His calling?

Those are NOT easy questions to answer.

We are told to be and to do many things by our sense of obligation and by the people around us. Our parents pressured us into a career not because of any real love for the work but because ‘it will be secure.’  Necessity demands we hang onto a job we hate, that mortgage payment comes on the first of the month and must be paid. We keep doing things for which we have no desire somehow driven by a dutiful sense that God wants us there even though we have lost our vision and/or delight in the call! Responsibility is admirable. However, there is a time to ask God, “why did you make me?” And, seek to answer that question, the Spirit guiding, before you come to the end of life with the same kind of emptiness that fills up the lament of Solomon – “Meaningless! Meaningless!”  says the Teacher.  “Utterly meaningless!  Everything is meaningless.”  (Ecclesiastes 1:2)

One of Satan’s effective conspiracies to keep us from joy is to keep us from living on purpose!

Has God called you to a quiet life of prayer?
Then you will be miserable and ineffective if you attempt to become a director of a large ministry.
Has God gifted you with compassion, causing you to desire to serve those who are needy and the oppressed?

Then why are you trying to lead a Bible class?
Has the Spirit given you insight into the Word so that you can help others understand His will?

Then why are you focusing your time and energy on a ministry focused on raising funds for a missions outreach?

God has shaped us for service where we will ‘fit’ and where we can find deep satisfaction in serving Him obediently. One of the reasons there are so many unhappy, unfulfilled, critical, and ineffective disciples is that they are serving in places to which they are not called, for which they are not equipped, while wearing a yoke that chafes and binds them. It takes a lot of courage to admit that to ourselves and others. If we begin to extricate ourselves from some service because we have come to realize that God has not called us to it, we will be criticized by others, perhaps even judged as unfaithful.

A caution is in order here … to think deeply about. Never confuse `easy,‘ with `called.“We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” the apostles taught the early Christians. (Acts 14:22) There is a reason that Jesus invites us to put on the yoke! There is a devil who does his best to frustrate God’s purposes. When we take the ‘call’ of God, we invite the opposition of His enemy.  We are kept by Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit Who is not ‘only with you, He will be in you.’

Are you where God wants you to be, but attempting to live without relying on Him and the empowering Spirit? Living ‘on purpose’ requires that we know the calling of God and that we remain reliant on Him.

Take this word from Jesus with you today and meditate on it:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me.
Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.
I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me–watch how I do it.
Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill- fitting on you.
Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.
” Matthew 11:28-30 The Message
____________________

Jesus shall reign wherever the sun
Does its successive journeys run;
His kingdom spread from shore to shore,
‘Til moons shall wax and wane no more.

Blessings abound wherever He reigns,
The prisoner leaps to loose His chains;
The weary come home and find their rest,
And all the sons of want are blessed.

People and realms from every tongue
Dwell on His love with sweetest song;
Voices of children shall proclaim
Their early blessings on His name.

Let every creature rise and bring
Honor and praises to our King;
Angels descend with songs again,
And earth repeats a loud “Amen.”

Jesus Shall Reign
Isaac Watts – public domain

A crazy kind of fear

trust1For a couple of weeks I have not felt well, dealing with nausea and pain, constant, but in varying degrees. A visit to my physician on Thursday was inclusive but given my medical history an intestinal blockage was a real possibility. Worse than the actual physical symptoms was the fear that began to take hold in the quiet moments. “What if … “ became a constant presence in my mind. I relived the days when I walked first my Dad, then my Mom, and then Bev to the door of Heaven.

My fear provoked speculation – “What if I have cancer? How will I endure a long, slow death?  Who will care for those things that are still my responsibility?”  It might sound laughable, that I should take the long leap from a bellyache to cancer, but in the moment it was not funny, at all. The fear was a nightmare. When a CT scan at the local hospital showed that whatever is going on in my gut is not related to a blockage or a mass, I felt real relief and gained perspective, once again. (Thanks for prayers for my healing as I am still dealing with the same symptoms.)

FEAR replaces reason, magnifies problems, and hinders faith! Jesus’ disciples panicked one day.  Look at the story Mark tells. “When evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:35-41, NIV)

That account of a moment on the Sea of Galilee holds a lesson for me and perhaps for you. The danger they faced was real. The boat could have sunk. What is tragic is that at the height of the storm, instead of trusting Him, they turned to accusation. “Don’t You care if we drown?”  Is that not sad? The very One who cared for them, loved them, and led them was subjected to a question about His love. Fear stole their ability to trust Him. Jesus connects their fear to their faithlessness.  “Why are you such cowards? Don’t you have any faith at all?”

The people of ancient Israel saw God deliver them from Egypt by a series of divine interventions. But, then as they journeyed out of their slavery in Egypt, just a few days into the exodus, they saw the dust raised by Pharaoh’s chariots coming towards them. Fear seized them and they promptly forgot all the wonderful things they had seen God do. “They cried out to the Lord, and they said to Moses, “Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness? Weren’t there enough graves for us in Egypt? What have you done to us? Why did you make us leave Egypt? Didn’t we tell you this would happen while we were still in Egypt? We said, ‘Leave us alone! Let us be slaves to the Egyptians. It’s better to be a slave in Egypt than a corpse in the wilderness!’ ” (Exodus 14:10-12, NLT)

There was a real danger, but their fear destroyed their perspective and faith evaporated. Moses steadied them by reminding them that God was still in charge of their story. “Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today. The Egyptians you see today will never be seen again. The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.” (Exodus 14:13-14, NLT)

Are you in the grip of fear this Monday morning? Has a real issue morphed into a nightmare? Has prayer stuck in your throat, your faith paralyzed by fear?

Does this prayer of the Psalmist reflect the state of your heart today?
Listen to my prayer, O God. Do not ignore my cry for help!
Please listen and answer me, for I am overwhelmed by my troubles.
My enemies shout at me, making loud and wicked threats.
They bring trouble on me and angrily hunt me down.
My heart pounds in my chest. The terror of death assaults me.
Fear and trembling overwhelm me, and I can’t stop shaking.”
(Psalm 55:1-5, NLT)

Let me speak from my experience and the Word to urge you to quiet your heart in His Presence.

Here is a word from the Word. Hear it, live it, and find FAITH that will drive FEAR away. Be still, and know that I am God! I will be honored by every nation. I will be honored throughout the world.” The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us; the God of Israel is our fortress.” (Psalm 46:10-11, NLT)

Let’s honor the One who loves us by trusting Him with a radical faith that is sufficient for this day.

God, why me?

runI danced with self-pity on Wednesday afternoon. I moped around wondering “why me,” questioning the fairness of it all. In the process I lost my balance, failing to account for a thousand blessings, seeing only the pain.  Yes, the losses in my life are undeniably significant but it is also a fact that I enjoy many blessings and I own the promises of God through Christ Jesus. Fatigue plays a part in my loss of perspective. Thoughts like – “God, I can’t take it anymore” or “You are so unfair to those who love You” tend to gain traction in my mind when I am tired. Discouragement takes over when I let the important things go because of the pressure of the urgent matters!

My reading in the Word this morning reminded me how wrong it is to think that I should be exempt from suffering because I am a Christian. Peter says, “Since Jesus went through everything you’re going through and more, learn to think like him. Think of your sufferings as a weaning from that old sinful habit of always expecting to get your own way. Then you’ll be able to live out your days free to pursue what God wants instead of being tyrannized by what you want.” (1 Peter 4:1-2, The Message)  What wisdom!  Short-sightedly, we want God to treat us like indulged, spoiled children. Instead, He invites us to enter into the reality of the world, a place marred by evil, to ‘suffer’ just like His Son did when He left heaven’s perfection to be our Savior. The difficulties toughen us up, break our love of ease and Self, so we can joyfully say with Jesus, “Not my will, but Yours be done.”

Later in that same passage, Peter warns of confusing the suffering we bring on ourselves with sinful choices with the suffering that comes as a result of walking in God’s will.  In my own words, he says “If people get down on you because you are a miserable person, a thief who steals by failing to hold up your end of responsibility, or if you are sticking your nose into their business where it does not belong, don’t blame God for your troubles. But, if you are rejected because you love Jesus so much you won’t join the sinners’ party, then be joyful!”

The Bible has many reminders that make it quite clear that our commitment to Christ is one requiring patience and toughness! Timothy, a young pastor in the early church, met with opposition growing discouraged.. Paul kicked him in the seat of the pants with this challenge –Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer.” (2 Timothy 2:3-4, NIV) In another passage, he shifts the illustration to the marathon – “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-25, NIV)

I sometimes start looking for that Staples™ “Easy” button!  Make my grief disappear, God.  Cause my sermons to write themselves. Fund the ministries without my efforts at leadership. Take all my temptations away so I do not have to practice spiritual disciplines.  The Word is abundantly clear that most of the time God does not miraculously remove the difficulties. Instead, He amazingly leads us through them and, as we trust Him, keeps us on our feet, reflecting His love and goodness into a darkened world.

With submission and surrender my whiny prayer, “God, why me?” shifted to a petition, “God, use this to shape me for Your praise.” Will you? The situations are the same, but my attitude is radically different.

Here is a word from the Word. Let it speak to you today. “So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you.” (1 Peter 4:19, NLT)  “In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation. All power to him forever! Amen.” (1 Peter 5:10-11, NLT)

________

Blessings

We pray for blessings
We pray for peace comfort for family
Protection while we sleep
We pray for healing for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand
To ease our suffering
And all the while You hear each spoken need
Yet love is way too much to give us lesser things

‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
And what if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
And what if trials of this life
Are Your mercies in disguise

We pray for wisdom
Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt Your goodness
We doubt Your love
As if ev’ry promise from Your Word is not enough
And all the while You hear each desp’rate plea
And long that we’d have faith to believe

When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not this is not our home
It’s not our home

‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
And what if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is a revealing of a greater thirst
This world can’t satisfy
And what if trials of this life
The rain the storms the hardest nights
Are Your mercies in disguise

Laura Story
© 2011 Laura Stories (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc.)
New Spring (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc.)

CCLI License # 810055

Breakthrough!

wordswag_1503573280611Borrowed from military operations, the word ‘breakthrough’ is about that moment when an obstacle is finally overcome, when a scientific advance opens a whole new field of knowledge, when a level of achievement lifts a person to another level. It was first used of that moment when an army penetrated the lines of the enemy, breaking through defenses creating the moment for final victory. Have you ever experienced a ‘breakthrough,’ a moment when you pushed through a struggle to find resolution or to discover new opportunities?

Spiritually, Christians need to know that breakthrough moments do come, but not without great opposition. When a military force concentrates on ‘breaking the line’ the enemy responds by shifting defenses to that point and the battle becomes fiercely intense. If we sense God’s leading and choose to follow Him into the mission of establishing His kingdom – be it over some part of our life where we have been defeated by sin, in our community as we seek to build a church (not a building, but a body of people), in our world as we join some ministry initiative – we should not be surprised by a response of the enemy of God. We will likely find ourselves in a major fight; as the enemy works to throw back the offensive.

My personal experience recently has borne this out. A few weeks ago, the Spirit stirred an increasing hunger in me. I intensely desire to see Christ’s Church come alive in new ways, to see God’s people made holy (not superficial piety, but deep commitment), to experience a profound kind of worship that touches people at the core of their being, not merely in their emotions. In times of prayer, my heart cries out to Him to lead us on, to make us strategic, to give us resources for the work.

Not strangely, as this desire grew in me, so did opposition. Doubts arrived uninvited. Anxiety made a bid to own my mind. Depression came knocking with its darkness. Mental confusion stalked my reading of the Word. Critics planted seeds that caused me to question my fitness for service. Should I be surprised by any of these things? Not if I understand the principles of breakthrough. The Lord of Heaven’s Armies has called for an offensive and the enemy has responded with a counter offensive.

Paul reminds us to listen carefully to the Spirit so that “so that Satan will not outsmart us. For we are familiar with his evil schemes.” (2 Corinthians 2:11, NLT) He reminds us that we cannot mount the attack on our own, but only as we are armored by the Spirit. Do you take this passage seriously, as a call to arms? “A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm.” (Ephesians 6:10-13, NLT)

And there is the promise of breakthrough – “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. May the grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.” (Romans 16:20, NLT) But, none of this can happen to lazy, self-satisfied, compromised, or pleasure-minded people. Personal breakthroughs as well as those within the Church demand that we enter battle. Paul called Timothy (and us) to understand the rigor of battle. “Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer.” (2 Timothy 2:3-4, NIV)

Are you in need of a breakthrough, a defeat of Self, Sin, and/or Satan in your life, your home, your church?

Listen for orders prayerfully.
Armor up with the Truth of the Spirit.
Prepare for action.

And, remember this word from the Word. It is a critical part of the truth that we cannot forget. Peter says that victory demands suffering. Oh, you did not want to hear that, did you? Nor do I! Jesus gained victory at great cost to Himself, surrendering His desire to know comfort for the path of obedience. So must we. “Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.” (1 Peter 4:1-2, NIV)

Almighty God, lead me on.
Sound the call to battle and fill me with holy courage to respond.
Help me, as a warrior of love, to be ready to die to Self,
To engage in the struggle without complaint,
And to follow You in the fight fearlessly,
Confident in Your promises that assure me that
No enemy can steal my eternal life.

Build Your kingdom in me, I  pray.
In the holy Name of Jesus Christ, the Savior.  Amen.

Get Real, Live Best!

fakeThe man tried way too hard to be funny, engaging, telling bad jokes. He made himself ridiculous, his manner so forced that, at times, he was actually offensive. I felt sad for him, wanting desperately to pull him aside and say, “Give the act a rest and just be ‘you.’”  He is a ‘wannabe.’  The dictionary define ‘wannabe’ this way: “a person who aspires to a role or position, who imitates the behavior, customs, or dress of an admired person or group.” Sometimes they are funny, sometimes pathetic, and in time a wannabe is just annoying.

Wannabes are often indistinguishable from the authentic, a first glance. The difference becomes obvious when the wannabe has to actually produce results like the real person. The wannabe, because he hasn’t put in the time learning the skills, getting the education, and developing the art, is unable to come through in the crunch.

Being a wannabe is essentially a fraudulent life. The lack of substance and/or accomplishment causes the pretender to live a lie, which erodes his integrity and steals his credibility. The wannabe knows another tragic result – he never finds out who he really is or what he is really capable of doing. Focused on trying to be somebody else, he misses the joy of being who God created him to be, joyfully filling the place in this world that God, through spiritual gifts, experiences, and opportunities, creates just for him.

Here’s the direct question – are you a ‘for real’ Christian or a ‘wannabe?‘ Have you submitted your life to Christ in full surrender, allowing for a complete transformation of heart and mind OR are you just trying to imitate the lifestyle of a Believer you admire?  God, the Spirit, does not desire that you merely copy a Christian experience that you admire.  He wants to make you a saint, inside out! The Word says, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” (2 Peter 1:3-4, NIV)   “Be transformed, by the renewing of your mind.”

The foundation that allows us to ‘get real’ with God, with ourselves, and with our world is the love of God for us. God will not love you more if you are thinner, taller, smarter, admired by others, rich, or dressed in the latest fashion.  He loves YOU.  He wants us to deal with our sin, to love Him back with obedience. What kind of obedience? Real!  Jesus told a story to a group of religious leaders who knew all the right words, who were wannabes, to illustrate that point.  A man had two sons to whom he gave a direction. The first son waffled about compliance, actually refusing the order, but then changed his mind and did as he was told. The second son answered him, “Of course, right away,” but did nothing.  It was not the words that mattered, it was obedience. Jesus then offers this amazing insight: “I tell you the truth, corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you do.” (Matthew 21:31, NLT)

 God made you a unique person with preparations to fill a place in this world that belongs exclusively to you.

Self-acceptance can be difficult. Looking in the mirror- physically and spiritually – reveals reality which isn’t always pretty. But, we are basically worthless to God and ourselves until we face the facts, get real, and let Him begin to transform us. He offers us His Spirit to work on us but not just for a ‘make-over’ on the outside. He creates real disciples, full of the Spirit, marked by a depth of character that no one can deny! This transformational process is called sanctification. That just a big word for ‘becoming like Christ’ through the school of the Spirit! There will be blunders along the way, but – if we are committed to Him and to being authentic- we can be sure that His promise – “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NKJV)- will be true!

Don’t be a ridiculous wannabe, trying too hard to copy the life or mannerism of another. Get real – with God, with yourself, and discover the amazing person He created you to be.

______________

Holy Spirit

There’s nothing worth more that will ever come close
No thing can compare You’re our living hope
Your Presence
I’ve tasted and seen of the sweetest of loves
Where my heart becomes free and my shame is undone
In Your Presence Lord

Holy Spirit You are welcome here
Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere
Your glory God is what our hearts long for
To be overcome by Your Presence Lord

Your Presence Lord
Your Presence
Oh God how we love Your Presence Lord

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

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

CCLI License # 810055

Beyond all Expectations!

dayofthelordEclipse fever took hold of America yesterday.  Networks broadcast from locations along the totality path. Millions bought special glasses to see it or turned cereal boxes into viewers. Millions more posted pictures on Facebook (this writer included). The big build-up left some underwhelmed by the actual event!  Unless you were in a narrow band a few miles wide along a path that stretched from Oregon to South Carolina, you did not get the experience of darkness in midday that most expected!

Here in NJ, I stood on my deck and saw the sky dim somewhat but nothing like darkness. It was, none the less, an interesting phenomenon for me to see the sun hidden by the moon.  What really intrigued me was the lengths to which so many people went to see the sun go dark for a couple of minutes. One man interviewed on CNN traveled from Ireland to Oregon- 5,000 miles- for the experience. Then, there was the man I spoke with who brushed it all off – “Yeah, so what? There is work to do.”  I wonder if he even looked up?

Christian, there is an event on God’s calendar of time that will exceed all expectations, a moment of realization of the hopes of all the ages. The Bible calls us the “blessed hope” of the Christian.  It is Christ’s return. This doctrine has been twisted inside out, abused misused, made into a coercive threat, and wrapped up in speculation. For many, it is the forgotten promise.

But, here is what we read – “We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, NIV)

Paul reasons that as surely as he knew that Jesus had died and come back from the dead, established truth for the Church, he also knew that He would return for His Church – both those dead and those alive. In an instant, all will be changed from mortal to immortal, all those who longed to see their King will be caught up into His eternal embrace.  Honestly, that passage creates as many questions as it answers, but I choose to live in the wonder, the mystery of the promise. I remind myself often that Jesus could return today.

Jesus promised to return.
Paul expected that He would.
Peter wrote of the promise and of those who even in that first century scoffed at the idea.

“Most importantly, I want to remind you that in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires. They will say, “What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again? From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created.” (2 Peter 3:3-4, NLT)  He goes on to say that God’s timing is nothing like ours. In a verse much misunderstood, he uses a metaphor to illustration the difference. “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:8-9, NIV) Don’t miss the point! It’s not about days and thousands of years. It is about God’s view of time versus ours. God, the Eternal One, feels no pressure from time and is not rushed.  But, He never forgets what He has determined.

At the end of the day, this is the lesson of the return of Christ. We are to live expectantly and hopefully, our choices shaped by a sure expectation of our Lord’s return.

Here is a word from the Word. Please do not rush through it. Savor it, think about it, store in your mind even as you pray for your heart to be changed by the Promise.
“Since everything here today might well be gone tomorrow, do you see how essential it is to live a holy life?
Daily expect the Day of God, eager for its arrival.
The galaxies will burn up and the elements melt down that day—but we’ll hardly notice. We’ll be looking the other way, ready for the promised new heavens and the promised new earth, all landscaped with righteousness. So, my dear friends, since this is what you have to look forward to, do your very best to be found living at your best, in purity and peace.”
(2 Peter 3:11-14, The Message)

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.  Amen

______________

Only King Forever

Our God and firm foundation
Our Rock the only solid ground
The nations rise and fall
Kingdoms once strong now shaken
We trust forever in Your name
The name of Jesus
We trust in the name of Jesus

You are the only King forever
Almighty God we lift You higher
You are the only King forever
Forevermore You are victorious
Unmatched in all Your wisdom
In love and justice You will reign
And ev’ry knee will bow

We bring our expectations
Our hope is anchored in Your name
The name of Jesus
Oh we trust the name of Jesus

We lift our banner high
We lift the name of Jesus
From age to age You reign
Your kingdom has no end

Chris Brown | Mack Brock | Steven Furtick | Wade Joye
© 2013 Be Essential Songs (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)
Elevation Worship Publishing (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)

CCLI License # 810055

Home safe, forever!

homeA couple of months ago I took a road trip through the Midwest to visit family. I appreciated the break from the daily responsibilities of life!  We all need those times when we ‘get away and find rest and renewal in mind and body.  But, after several days I was thinking “there’s no place like home!”  Some will say I’m just getting old (I am) but I love ‘home,’ not just my house, but my place in this world, where I enjoy friendships, familiarity, and routines of my daily work.  One of these days, I’ll go home forever.

My phone rang twice in recent days with news of someone going home. My nephew stepped over the threshold of eternity on Thursday morning. Mary went home early on Sunday morning.  In those conversations I reflected on the practical counsel from the Word that reminds us that because of Christ’s assurance of eternal life, we “do not grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.”   I sang an old Gospel song as tears flowed down my cheeks, “Safe in the arms of Jesus, safe on His gentle breast, There by His love o’ershaded, sweetly my soul shall rest.”

My hope of being home safe, forever, grows almost daily it seems. The Bible teaches us to keep a loose grip on this present life knowing that we are traveling through this world- not home, yet! Peter reminds us that we are, ‘aliens and strangers in the world.‘ 1 Peter 2:11;  yes, we are ‘sojourners’  those who are temporarily living away from home.  In Hebrews we read the roster of faith in chapter 11 and learn that a key to standing strong is to live with heaven in our hearts.  “Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:16, NIV)

You may ask, “How can Heaven be my ‘home’ when I have never been there?”  Good question!  If we want love Heaven then we must enter God’s Presence often, now.  In worship, in prayer, in service – we grow spiritually. More and more, with time, we come to be ‘at home’ where the Spirit is. Though we may enjoy many things in life, we find our greater rest in, our true sense of wholeness, in God’s Presence. I feel most alive, most at home, when I am with God’s people, in the Spirit, enjoying the fellowship of Jesus.  That is just a tiny sample of Heaven but it is enough to make me desire to be home safe, forever.

“Jerry, you must be depressed. Life is beautiful!”  I am not! And, yes, it is!!  Who does not love the hug of a child, being held by someone we love, taking in the grandeur of the world that God has created for us?  These are grace gifts to us while we make the pilgrimage to His home. I found many wonderful moments in my time ‘on the road’ a few weeks ago,  but I still longed for home.

Take this word from the Word to heart. It tells us about ‘life on the road’ and our anticipation of Heaven. Let it inspire you today. “We know that when these bodies of ours are taken down like tents and folded away, they will be replaced by resurrection bodies in heaven—God-made, not handmade —and we’ll never have to relocate our “tents” again. Sometimes we can hardly wait to move—and so we cry out in frustration. Compared to what’s coming, living conditions around here seem like a stopover in an unfurnished shack, and we’re tired of it! We’ve been given a glimpse of the real thing, our true home, our resurrection bodies! The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what’s ahead. He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we’ll never settle for less.” (2 Corinthians 5:1-5, The Message)

Believer, don’t try to make this world your permanent home.
Live to the full, give each day your best for the glory of God.
Announce the Kingdom of God to those with whom you live.
Keep Heaven in your heart.

Those who love Heaven most, live life best, guided on towards their Home.
________________________
Safe In The Arms Of Jesus

Safe in the Arms of Jesus
Safe on His gentle Breast
There by love o’er shaded
Sweetly my soul shall rest
Hark ’tis the voice of angels
Borne in a song to me
Over the fields of glory
Over the jasper sea

Safe in the Arms of Jesus
Safe from corroding care
Safe from the world’s temptations
Sin cannot harm me there
Free from the blight of sorrow
Free from my doubts and fears
Only a few more trials
Only a few more tears

Jesus my heart’s dear Refuge
Jesus has died for me
Firm on the Rock of Ages
Ever my trust shall be
Here let me wait with patience
Wait till the night is o’er
Wait till I see the morning
Break on the golden shore

Fanny Jane Crosby © Words: Public Domain

Are you near-sighted?

seeWhen our daughter was about 9, we took her to an optometrist. Chris was squinting a lot, which should have been a clue that she was not seeing well. Her exam showed that she needed corrective lens. When we got her glasses and walked outside, her delight in her newly expanded sight was something of an embarrassment to us, making us feel like parents who had neglected our child.  “Oh, look,” she excitedly shouted, “at all those beautiful mountains and trees.  Wow, I can see the words on that sign.” She was near-sighted and never knew how big the world out there really was because she could not see to the horizons!

Sometimes people who know about the sorrows in my life ask me how I remain hopeful. It’s not a just a strong character or lack of emotions.  Sometimes the loneliness of my life without Bev is almost crushing in spite of a wonderful cadre of friends. “Life ain’t easy,” a friend texted me a couple of days ago. And, he’s right. We all have things with which we struggle. I deal with grief; another lives with profound disappointment.  Others find themselves in a time of financial insecurity. Some wake up each day to face chronic illness and/or pain anew.  This is the nature of life on this planet marred by sin.  That’s why we need vision that is ‘corrected’ by FAITH.

In the ‘faith chapter’ we read about many who dealt with hardship and yet remained true to God. “Each one of these people of faith died not yet having in hand what was promised, but still believing. How did they do it? They saw it way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world. People who live this way make it plain that they are looking for their true home. If they were homesick for the old country, they could have gone back any time they wanted. But they were after a far better country than that—heaven country. You can see why God is so proud of them, and has a City waiting for them.”  (Heb 11:13-16, The Message)

They saw the City of God and stayed on course.

The longer I live the more I realize that all the so-called ‘answers’ are partial, offering limited solace for an aching heart. Paul says it like this: “Now we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.” (1 Corinthians 13:12, NLT)  If we insist that God explain Himself we will likely exist in a discontent state. We trust His love, His promise, and hold onto hope.

We are heading Home, dear Christian, and we are not there yet while we are alive in this present world. Thankfully, by the gift of the Spirit, we get a taste of heaven in our worship, when we experience authentic love, in the joyous experience of the exquisite beauty found in a sunrise, when we look into the face of a smiling child. But, “I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.” (Frost)

How’s your sight? Need to put on the corrective lens of faith so you can see to the horizon of eternity?

Here’s a word from the Word. “The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see.” (Hebrews 11:1) “Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people. Once you received no mercy; now you have received God’s mercy.” Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls.” (1 Peter 2:10-11, NLT)

_______________

 

You Can’t Do This!

wordswag_1502967658609We love the ‘miracle moments’ in a story, don’t we? When the hero finally defeats the villain we cheer.  Who does not appreciate a story about a person who, against all odds, gets an education, builds a family, and finds success?  When we see success, we tend to forget the hard work – the years of training, the long days invested – that are part of the foundation.

In the Bible, Samuel tells us the story of a young man, probably around the age of 16, who is sent down to the army encampment of Israel to take supplies to his brothers in the army. When David arrives, he hears a man bellowing insults against Israel and the Lord, challenging anyone from Israel to come and fight him. Goliath was a fearsome man, a ‘giant’ as Samuel tells us.  He was probably around 7 feet tall in a time when most men were closer to 5.5 feet tall, so he was gigantic by comparison. He was a beast of a man and a seasoned warrior.  David heard Goliath’s challenge and wondered why nobody was taking him on!  His brothers ridiculed him, telling him to shut his mouth and keep his naïve opinions to himself!  But, David kept on talking and soon found himself before Israel’s king, Saul. “Master,” said David, “don’t give up hope. I’m ready to go and fight this Philistine.”  (1 Samuel 17:32, The Message)

When Saul saw he was talking to a skinny kid, just off the farm, he was not impressed. “Don’t be ridiculous!” Saul replied. “There’s no way you can fight this Philistine and possibly win! You’re only a boy, and he’s been a man of war since his youth.” (1 Samuel 17:33, NLT)  What king would put the entire destiny of his nation on the shoulders of a kid who still had a downy beard? What reasonable leader would let a kid, no matter his courage, venture onto a field of battle with a man who was Special Forces trained and who had been on missions before this kid was born?  So, Saul, realistically assesses the situation and tells David, “You can’t do this!”

Now, read what David answers the king. He was not just a kid with a dream. He wasn’t just hoping for a moment of glory. “But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you.” (1 Samuel 17:34-37, NIV)

It’s such a great story, isn’t it?  David had been doing the right things for a long time, learning to be courageous, trusting God in tough moments, experiencing real life. No, he had not taken on a giant, but he had defeated some big predators who were after his sheep. Most telling of all, this man/boy has a faith that is unusually mature. “The Lord will deliver me.”  It would sound like an empty boast if he did not have a resume to back it up, wouldn’t it?

Who is telling, “you can’t do that?” Maybe you are sabotaging yourself, letting fear overwhelm you, sitting out the smaller conflicts where faith’s muscles could start to grow.  Only a fool tries to take on a giant before he has taken on a bear! The singer of Psalms took time to look up and worship while he followed the flock of sheep around. He saw the beauty of the world in which he walked and praised God, convinced that Somebody bigger than himself was in charge. He tested his faith and was ready to meet the giant.

Let’s not forget that the Goliath episode was not the ultimate victory story in David’s life. It was the moment he was introduced to the nation of Israel, starting a long journey that took about 20 years of struggle through betrayal, lies, palace intrigue, and assassination attempts before he was anointed the king as God had promised. After his spectacular success in the defeat of Goliath, David did not retire to write a book and collect royalties.  He started looking for the next assignment from the Lord, adding yet another ‘success’ to his resume.

Are you constantly building a faith story?
Are you meeting today’s challenges with solid trust in the Lord that rests on His promise and your experience of His faithfulness in the past?

Do what you can do, where you can, today!  A Goliath moment may be ahead for you and you need to be ready to answer those who say, “You can’t do this!”

Here is a word from the Word. “So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised. “For in just a little while, the Coming One will come and not delay. And my righteous ones will live by faith. But I will take no pleasure in anyone who turns away.” But we are not like those who turn away from God to their own destruction. We are the faithful ones, whose souls will be saved.” (Hebrews 10:35-39, NLT)

________________

The Stand

You stood before creation
Eternity in Your hand
You spoke the earth into motion
My soul now to stand

 You stood before my failure
And carried the cross for my shame
My sin weighed upon Your shoulders
My soul now to stand

 So what can I say
And what can I do
But offer this heart O God
Completely to You

 So I’ll walk upon salvation
Your Spirit alive in me
My life to declare Your promise
My soul now to stand 

So I’ll stand
With arms high and heart abandoned
In awe of the One who gave it all
I’ll stand
My soul Lord to You surrendered
All I am is Yours

 Joel Houston © 2005 Hillsong Music Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)
CCLI License # 810055