Playboys and Real Men

maleHugh Hefner died yesterday. In case you don’t know, he was the founder of the Playboy™ empire. Mostly he was lauded as a ‘progressive,’ a man who spurred along the sexual revolution in America, a leader for civil rights. My opinion is less charitable, as I see a man who lived for empty pleasure, who praised hedonism as a virtue, who appeared increasingly pathetic as he grew older, surrounding himself with beautiful women who could have been his granddaughters. He divorced sex from intimacy, encouraging a view of sexuality more in line with the dreams of an adolescent boy than a mature man.

Josh, the associate pastor at Faith Discovery Church, led the startup of a new ‘men’s ministry’ last night with the curious name, “GreatMan.” What is a great man? Is it even reasonable to aspire to being one? As a half-dozen of us sat around a table talking about life, we reflected on the challenges of ‘manhood’ in 2017. I think I can safely say that none of us is ready to endorse the kind of male image Hef represented, but it is clear that Christian men are a confused lot.

  • What does it mean to be male?
  • Can we be tough and tender? Must we become ‘warriors’ (as some suggest) in order to be fully male?
  • Must we strive to recapture some imagined domestic paradise of a half-century ago to fulfill our calling?
  • How do we best express the uniqueness of ‘male’ in a culture that increasingly insists that gender is an irrelevant construct that must be discarded, as if male and female are somehow interchangeable in life?
  • For the majority of us, a key question of our maleness is this one – how do we best love our wives? Those are not all easy questions.

Personally, I understand my role in the world as provider and protector.

When Bev chose to love me, I gave myself to her exclusively and made it my goal to provide for her. I took direction from this wisdom. “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” (1 Peter 3:7, NIV) God teaches men to work to know their wives, to grow into a profound understanding of who they are, how they are made.

Since God has called them into His Kingdom as an equal, there is no demeaning or demanding. They are not ‘the old lady’ or the ‘little woman.’ They are our partner, bringing their gifts into our relationship, so that together we can become a ‘unity’ of body, soul, and spirit; a unique ‘one’ through intimacy. The husband is given the role to encourage that process! I remember, too, that my provision for Bev was not simply the money for our household. It was my faithful attention to her, my effort to give her the affirmation we all need, and to do what I could to surround her with a sense of spiritual, emotional, and physical security.

The role of protector became even more clear in those last months of her earthly life. When a cancer diagnosis rocked her world, I understood it was my calling to step up to assure her that she would not walk alone, that she would never lack for love, that I would hold her hand until she took hold of Jesus’ hand to cross the River.

My understanding of protection did not grow out of a sense of superiority in intelligence or spirituality. It was not based in some idea of manhood based on excess amounts of testosterone. It came from the wisdom of the Word that teaches this – “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” (Ephesians 5:25-28, NIV) Jesus is the Head of the Church, but not in authoritarian manner. He protects the Church He loves by dying for her! “In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives,” is a profound high calling, demanding humility and an ongoing empowering of the Holy Spirit.

I do not mourn the death of Hugh Hefner. I mourn the fact that he is envied and emulated by so many men. I pray for the renewal of character, of virtue, of godliness as measures of manhood. The word from the Word is a light for me, and I pray, for you as well.
“Everything that goes into a life of pleasing God has been miraculously given to us by getting to know, personally and intimately, the One who invited us to God. The best invitation we ever received! We were also given absolutely terrific promises to pass on to you—your tickets to participation in the life of God after you turned your back on a world corrupted by lust.

 So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given,
complementing your basic faith with good character,
spiritual understanding, alert discipline,
passionate patience, reverent wonder,
warm friendliness, and generous love,
each dimension fitting into and developing the others.
 

With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus. Without these qualities you can’t see what’s right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books. So, friends, confirm God’s invitation to you, his choice of you. Don’t put it off; do it now. Do this, and you’ll have your life on a firm footing, the streets paved and the way wide open into the eternal kingdom of our Master and Savior, Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:3-11, The Message)

___________

Rise up O men of God
Have done with lesser things
Give heart and soul
And mind and strength
To serve the King of kings

 Rise up O men of God
His kingdom tarries long
Bring in the day of brotherhood
And end the night of wrong

 Rise up O men of God
The church for you doth wait
Her strength unequal to her task
Rise up and make her great

 Lift high the cross of Christ
Tread where His feet have trod
As brothers of the Son of Man
Rise up O men of God

Aaron Williams | William Pierson Merrill
© Words: Public Domain

Starting the week right!

lifeprayerThese lines are irreverent but captivating. Rabbi Marc Gellman says that “Prayers basically come down to four –‘Gimme.’ ‘Thanks.’ ‘Oops.’ and ‘Wow!’  Think about it.  We ask. We express our gratitude (or at least we should!), we confess our sins, and, hopefully, we find ourselves in awe of a holy God and pause to adore Him!  So many Christians know how important prayer is, but like many other things, their practice is far below their profession.  How about you, friend?  This Monday morning, let’s take a few minutes to think about praying with the aim of encouragement, not guilt.

The Almighty God of the Universe is revealed to us by Jesus as “Our Father!” Yes, we are invited to  “approach the throne of grace with confidence, and … find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16, NIV) Our prayers are anchored in His greatness, assured by His grace, and welcomed through His Son. Jesus taught us that we are given access directly to God because of Him! “Ask the Father directly, and he will grant your request because you use my name. You haven’t done this before. Ask, using my name, and you will receive, and you will have abundant joy.” (John 16:23-24, NLT)

When you pray, do you adopt a strange voice, a different vocabulary, or a formal manner of speech?  Stop it. Really, rethink your approach. As a Christian, you are having a conversation with your Abba who wants to hear from you. In no way is it impolite or disrespectful to pray in a way that reflects who you are, pairing that with confidence in His interest. I do hope your prayers are more than whining to Him about making your life easier, about keeping the weeds from growing in your yard, about erasing the consequences of short-sighted or foolish choices you made, or about giving you more money!

Prayer is best when we enter into an intimate conversation about growing deep in the life of the Spirit, overcoming sin and Satan, defeating forces of anarchy and evil!  That will include discussing your fears and failures with Him, seeking His guidance for life’s complexities, and even sitting alone in silence admitting, “Father, I have no words.” (That is a familiar prayer for me. I often simply wait, listen, and know that He is God!)  Paul teaches us to pray about everything, leaving behind the need to worry about anything!  (Phil. 4.6) Are you taking advantage of that privilege?

It is a real mistake to abuse the privilege of prayer just to beg for more comfort and more things, just to feed our selfish wants. A key to prayer is a heart that desires what our Father desires. The Holy Spirit can and will change us from the inside out, if we allow Him full access. Why is that so important?  James explains that our motives need to be aligned with God’s purposes“…the reason you don’t have what you want is that you don’t ask God for it. And even when you do ask, you don’t get it because your whole motive is wrong- you want only what will give you pleasure.” (James 4:2-3, NLT) However, we are walking with Him, wanting Him to do His will in us and through us; we begin to live in a way that is a living prayer.

Remember this.  God, as our wise and loving Father, reserves the right to answer according to plans and purposes that we are incapable of knowing this side of Eternity.

This Monday morning, start anew in prayer. No more weak, timid prayers! No more forced words, empty ‘religious phrases’ that just fill up space. Instead, go to talk to your Abba. Pray His purposes confidently.

Here are a couple of suggestions.

  • Go stand on the front steps of your house and ask the Lord to make your home and family a place that represents His kingdom well Pray for opportunities and the courage to speak up about of the immense love that the Father has for them.
  • Lift up your teen-ager every day, asking God to protect that emerging adult and to make Himself known to that child in this secular culture.
  • Surrender! Yes, let your body language pray as you raise your hands and and give yourself – without reservation – to the Lord.
  • Pray for “His kingdom to come and His will to be done” in your life, in your family, in your church.

Here’s a word from the Word. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, He gave them this model. We pray it often, word for word, which is fine, but it is actually more like a template for our own prayers. As you read it today, learn about making your conversation whole – a real conversation that includes ‘Gimme.’ ‘Thanks.’ ‘Oops.’ and ‘Wow!’

“This, then, is how you should pray:
‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.'”  (Matthew 6:9-13, NIV)

_________

Make my life a prayer to you
I wanna do what you want me to
No empty words and no white lies
No token prayers no compromise

I wanna shine the light you gave
Through your son you sent to save us
From ourselves and our despair
It comforts me to know you’re really there

 Well I wanna thank you know
For being patient with me
Oh it’s so hard to see
When my eyes are on me
I guess I’ll have to trust
And just believe what you say
Oh you’re coming again
Coming to take me away

 I wanna die and let you give
Your life to me so I might live
And share the hope you gave me
The love that set me free

 I wanna tell the world out there
You’re not some fable or fairy tale
That I’ve made up inside my head
You’re God the son and you’ve risen from the dead

 Well I wanna thank you know
For being patient with me
Oh it’s so hard to see
When my eyes are on me
I guess I’ll have to trust
And just believe what you say
Oh you’re coming again
Coming to take me away

Melody Green © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Accused! But, not convicted!

victoryThe Spiritual Realities

Do you know that there is a struggle going on for your destiny? Are you aware that that a real Enemy and his demons are bent on your destruction?  Yes, it is true!  In our age, many of us, even Christians, dismiss the Devil as a relic of medieval superstitions. Yes, we know that there are ‘natural’ causes for sickness – bacterial and viral infections, for example. We know that weather patterns develop from air currents that sweep across open oceans. And yet, we must not completely discount the idea that there are beings bent on our destruction, motivated by hatred for God and good!

In Zechariah, there is this passage which lets us get a startling glimpse into the spiritual realm where a battle for good and evil is ongoing. Then the angel showed me Jeshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord. The Accuser, Satan, was there at the angel’s right hand, making accusations against Jeshua. And the Lord said to Satan, “I, the Lord, reject your accusations, Satan. Yes, the Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebukes you. This man is like a burning stick that has been snatched from the fire.” (Zechariah 3:1-2, NLT)  It is a picture much like a court, with the high priest, Jeshua,  advocating for the people of God and alongside of him, Satan is accusing them, marking out their sins.  God speaks to Satan and rejects his accusations. He sees what Satan is pointing to, the filthy sins of the people, but says that He will provide cleansing for those sins. Later in the same passage, He tells the high priest that He will send a Deliverer for His people.

John saw visions of the great conflict of good and evil and wrote them down in the picture language of the Revelation. Like Zechariah, John sees a terrible struggle but matches it with a promise of victory. “And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.” (Revelation 12:7-11, NIV)

So what do we do with such insight? Should we cower in fear? Should we assign every difficulty to the realm of demons?

No, we will not fear, for the Lord is our Advocate and the promise is this: “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4, NIV)  Our security is found, not in our ability to be good, nor is it assured by our impeccable behavior; if that were even possible. We stand in faith, given God’s promise and hope, because of Christ who has defeated Satan at the Cross.

Nor, should we become foolish and blame the Devil for every problem.  Some of those things that oppose God are rooted in ‘the World.’  The systems of this present Age are corrupt and they often are used in the support of evil. Government and authority, for example, are God’s plan, but when persons who are evil are in places of power, people suffer. Economic systems can be abused to enrich those who are already rich, oppressing the poor.  Then, too, we know that some of the evil that we struggle against is rooted in ‘the sinful nature.’  The Curse of sin entered this creation and we are born into sin, left to ourselves we are rebels against good. Only Christ Jesus can deliver us and by the power of the Spirit restore us to godliness.

That said, we are unwise to ignore the unseen reality of the Devil. Paul counsels us to “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:11-12, NIV)  Christian, you are not a victim!  Walk in wisdom. Live in faith. Let the Spirit rule your life and you will find the Devil’s efforts futile in your destruction.

Our word from the Word comes from Jesus. After He sent out preachers to talk of God’s rule, they returned full of joy in their new-found ability to defeat evil. May His word to them encourage us in two ways – to continue to resist evil and to exult in His blessed promise of salvation. “They joyfully reported to him, “Lord, even the demons obey us when we use your name!” “Yes,” he told them, “I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning! Look, I have given you authority over all the power of the enemy, and you can walk among snakes and scorpions and crush them. Nothing will injure you. But don’t rejoice because evil spirits obey you; rejoice because your names are registered in heaven.” (Luke 10:17-20, NLT)

_________

Father, we humbly thank you for the gift of Christ,
Of His victory, and for the assurance we know in world full of evil.
Hold us close, let us hear Your voice urging us on in the fight.

Make us holy, so full of the Spirit, that evil loses its attraction and traction!
May your Kingdom come, Your will be done,
On earth as it is in Heaven.
For the glory of Christ in Whose Name we pray.

Amen.

Do I know you?

walkI know Tom Brady, QB of the NE Patriots. You’re right, I do not really know him. He is not going to call me to be his guest at the next game at Gillette Stadium, nor is he coming to have dinner at my house anytime soon.  We are not friends or even acquaintances. I only know about him, what is published, what I see when he plays football!

Do you know Jesus Christ or do you only know about Him?

The Lord of Glory can be known by us, loved, a Friend, Someone with whom we have daily fellowship. Amazing, isn’t it, that God chooses to make Himself known to us through the Spirit?  Sadly, so many who are part of Christian churches never really come to know Jesus. They are content to know about Him, while others invest the time to cultivate a friendship with Him.

Jesus says this to each of us – “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:19-20, NIV)  Pause to think about that offer. I am acquainted with hundreds of people, have conversations every day with dozens of them, but only a handful are close friends, intimately aware of who I am, what I think, of the things I enjoy. Nothing illustrates that kind of ‘knowing’ like sitting down to dinner and having 2 hours fly by as we converse. Jesus says that He wants to know us like supper companion!

John, the apostle, also called the ‘Beloved,’ spoke often of knowing Jesus. He records Jesus’ words from the Last Supper that are personal and intimate. “If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” (John 14:15-21, NIV)

We are given a Gift that makes that connection. The Holy Spirit, the 3rd Person of the God-head, lives in us, leads us, teaches us, and we know Him, not just about Him! In his letter to the Church, John says that we have an ‘anointing’ from the Holy One.  He explains that our knowing is possible because of the work of the Spirit, that He is put on us, like oil smeared on the head of one consecrated to holy service! As a result of that anointing, we   “know the truth.” (1 John 2:20, NIV)

As with any friendship, we must cultivate our friendship with Jesus Christ. A key, He says, is obedience. We cannot claim to be intimately connected to Him and yet openly defy the Father’s will. If we love Him, He says, we will do what He says.  Beyond that obedience, there is priority. One of the joys and demands of a friendship is time.  I will prioritize my time so that I can be with those I really love. How can we claim to love Jesus if we send little time in worship or prayer?

Meditate on this word from the Word.  If you only know about Jesus, invite Him to become your God, your Savior, and your Friend. In Him, you will find a life that is beyond comprehension of those who do not love and serve Him. “I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing.” (John 15:5, The Message)  “I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love. “I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature.” (John 15:9-11, The Message)

_________

This is the hymn of my life …

What A Friend We Have In Jesus

What a friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and griefs to bear
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer
O what peace we often forfeit
O what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer

 Have we trials and temptations
Is there trouble anywhere
We should never be discouraged
Take it to the Lord in prayer
Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share
Jesus knows our every weakness
Take it to the Lord in prayer

 Are we weak and heavy laden
Cumbered with a load of care\
Precious Savior still our refuge
Take it to the Lord in prayer\
Do thy friends despise forsake thee
Take it to the Lord in prayer\
In His arms He’ll take and shield thee
Thou wilt find a solace there

Charles Crozat Converse | Joseph Medlicott Scriven

© Words: Public Domain

 

Did you not learn a thing?

thinkThe film that the Phys Ed teacher showed in the auditorium was full of mangled bodies, crushed cars, and death! It was a rite of passage for those going through Driver’s Education classes all those years ago to watch a horrific movie produced by the Ohio State Patrol about automobile accidents called Signal 30. It opened with the sounds of screeching tires, followed by a crash, and ominous music. We heard about it from previous classes, the dare thrown down as to how long some would make it before fleeing the dark auditorium; whether we would get sick from the carnage on the screen. The experience was not pleasant!  The alleged purpose was to scare all of us into safer driving habits and yet we still drove too fast, pushed the limits of our cars, and some of us died in accidents.

The power of temptation and sin is persistent, isn’t it? We tend to think that we are exempt from what others experience. We are skilled at justifying ourselves, excusing our actions, or just learning to ignore the voices that caution us. I wonder if our Heavenly Father would ask us, “Did you learn a thing?”

The ancient preacher named Haggai came to preach to God’s people about 5 centuries before the time of Christ. He was one of the ‘post-exilic’ prophets, those who came to bring God’s word after the miraculous restoration of the nation from a long captivity in Babylon!  Jerusalem was destroyed, the Temple burnt, the treasures of the land carried away by the Assyrian army.  The best and brightest of the nation became slaves in the empire. Remember Daniel? He was one of those carried off.  God, just as He had promised, moved to bring about the restoration of the nation after 70 years. Nehemiah was the leader that began the rebuilding of the city.  After a huge effort, the city’s walls were rebuilt and the priesthood was restored.

But, guess what? Within a relatively short time the same old sins of Self showed up again. Haggai had the difficult of task of challenging the people to keep the worship of the Lord first in their lives. Listen to the plea he makes by the inspiration of the Spirit. “This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Look at what’s happening to you! Now go up into the hills, bring down timber, and rebuild my house. Then I will take pleasure in it and be honored, says the Lord. You hoped for rich harvests, but they were poor. And when you brought your harvest home, I blew it away. Why? Because my house lies in ruins, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, while all of you are busy building your own fine houses.” (Haggai 1:7-9, NLT)  Instead of gratefully and faithfully serving the Lord, the people were soon taken up with ‘doing their own thing’ and missing the blessings that were to be found in devotion.

Those ancient words speak to me about my priorities, my choices, and my failure to learn from the past. How about you?

We read the Scripture, we have the promise of both an ‘abundant life’ and eternal life, and yet, too often we chase the wind, give ourselves to pursuit of the temporal, and then wonder why we feel so little peace, know so little joy, and experience so little of God’s Presence.  “This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways.” (Haggai 1:7, NIV)  Our Father is not threatening, nor does He want us to live in terror. He loves us deeply and knows that the best life can only be found in Him. “But now the Lord says: Be strong, Zerubbabel. Be strong, Jeshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people still left in the land. And now get to work, for I am with you, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. My Spirit remains among you, just as I promised when you came out of Egypt. So do not be afraid.’” (Haggai 2:4-5, NLT)   Do you see the assurance that He offers to us?  “My Spirit remains among you!”

Christian friend, be mature and learn!  Here is a word from the Word. May it point us towards a life of wisdom and God’s blessings – for us, for our children, and for our children’s children.   “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you ” (Romans 12:1-2, The Message)

__________

So Will I (100 Billion X)  (Be inspired by this new song! It’s beautiful)

God of creation
There at the start before the beginning of time
With no point of ref’rence
You spoke to the dark
And fleshed out the wonder of light

And as You speak
A hundred billion galaxies are born
In the vapor of Your breath the planets form
If the stars were made to worship so will I
I can see Your heart in ev’rything You’ve made
Ev’ry burning star a signal fire of grace
If creation sings Your praises so will I

God of Your promise
You don’t speak in vain no syllable empty or void
For once You have spoken
All nature and science
Follow the sound of Your voice

And as You speak
A hundred billion creatures catch Your breath
Evolving in pursuit of what You said
If it all reveals Your nature so will I
I can see Your heart in ev’rything You say
Ev’ry painted sky a canvas of Your grace
If creation still obeys You so will I
So will I
So will I

If the stars were made to worship so will I
If the mountains bow in rev’rence so will I
If the oceans roar Your greatness so will I
For if ev’rything exists to lift You high so will I
If the wind goes where You send it so will I
If the rocks cry out in silence so will I
If the sum of all our praises still falls shy
Then we’ll sing again a hundred billion times

God of salvation
You chased down my heart
Through all of my failure and pride
On a hill You created the light of the world
Abandoned in darkness to die

And as You speak
A hundred billion failures disappear
Where You lost Your life so I could find it here
If You left the grave behind You so will I
I can see Your heart in ev’rything You’ve done
Ev’ry part designed in a work of art called love
If You gladly chose surrender so will I
I can see Your heart eight billion diff’rent ways
Ev’ry precious one a child You died to save
If You gave Your life to love them so will I

Like You would again a hundred billion times
But what measure could amount to Your desire
You’re the One who never leaves the one behind

Benjamin Hastings | Joel Houston | Michael Fatkin
© 2017 Hillsong Music Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

Sail On!

sail“You can tell a lot about a ship as you look at its wake. If it is in a straight line, you get the feeling that the boat is steadily on course and that the captain is not dozing at the wheel…. if it is smooth and flat you know something about the speed of the boat. … With people the same thing is true. As a person goes through life, he leaves behind a wake.” (Integrity, Dr. Henry Cloud, 2005)

That picture captures my imagination and I try to think about the kind of wake that I leave as I sail through life. Cloud observes that we leave a two-sided wake, relationships and tasks. We should remember that it isn’t just how we accomplish those jobs we are assigned. It is equally important to consider who we effect in the process.

Cloud suggests that we look around and evaluate.
On the task side of our lives, we should ask –
– Am I completing tasks on time and without needless diversions?
– Do I understand the task and set my course to finish it?
– Is my work well done, worthy of review?
– Am I investing passion in my daily life, or draining energy from those around me?
On the relational side we should ask –
– Do I create hope and encourage?
– Do I build barriers and discourage?
– Are people glad that I have passed by?
– Are they relieved when I leave?
– Do I leave people enriched or exploited?

Sometimes the answers to such questions are obvious. In other situations discerning how we have performed or how we have interacted is not easy seen. Why? We are not the only ones creating a wake through life. Others bring their own personalities and programs into our lives. The smooth wake that we attempt to create is broken up by theirs. As their wake flows into ours, if we are at cross-purposes, the chop that is created can stir up a real tempest!
Is God, the Holy Spirit, setting your course? When the Spirit and the Word helps us to understand His ways; we catch the wind and – sail on! We cannot adjust speed or course every time somebody makes an objection to our heading! Of critical importance is time alone with God that brings us understand of what He wants from us. Then, we sail on.
When we commit ourselves to principled living and pray for His Spirit to keep us on course, the wake left behind us will be a good one. Yes, there will be moments of wavering, times of rough water, but overall the results and relationships will be positive.
Take a look at the wake you’re leaving on life’s sea. Is it straight and true? Does it show steady speed? Don’t just look at the immediate past. Try looking back a few months, a couple of years, a decade perhaps. I hope you’re drawn straight on as you follow “Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2, KJV) I pray you do not see zigs and zags, times of irresponsibility even regret. Are there places where you went ‘dead in the water,’ giving up, pulling down the sails in fear or frustration?
Change is possible. God renews our call, forgives our sins, and gives us vision so that we can set sail. Evaluate! Celebrate the good with thanksgiving. Confess the failures with humility. Most of all, know Him today, as the Captain of your life.
Here’s a word from the Word for this day. Take this benediction and turn it into your prayerful petition today. I am … “praying for you, asking God to give you wise minds and spirits attuned to his will, and so acquire a thorough understanding of the ways in which God works. We pray that you’ll live well for the Master, making him proud of you …

As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work. We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul— not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us.” (Colossians 1:9-12, The Message) Amen

Settle before you struggle!

wordswag_1505734111748Awakening this morning, I was instantly aware of the challenges and work that stretch out in ahead in this new week.  There are the mundane chores – a lawn to be tended, bills to be paid. There are the normal responsibilities – sermons to write, calls to make, study in preparation to speak. There are ‘people’ needs – broken hearts, those who have lost their way, those who are overwhelmed, grieving, or confused who want to sort it out with my help.  For a moment, I felt like turning over and hiding in my bedroom.  (No, not really!)  You, too, face a new week of work and responsibility, don’t you? This is life. Making a living, keeping life moving in the right direction, requires sustained effort against the chaos.

But . . .  settle into your strength before you tear into the day. Before I even threw back the sheets to put my feet on the floor, I turned to our Father to  commit my way and this day to Him, to invite His wisdom, and yes, to thank Him for giving me a solid place on which to stand, a rest for my soul.

I think of that ‘rest’ in this way.  Looking over the New York skyline, those buildings that stand tall, hundreds of feet above the earth, are impressive. They ‘rest’ on foundations that extend to the bedrock below the surface, on steel that goes through the subsoil to the rock!  The engineering of the foundation of every skyscraper is one of the most important parts of the project, every one unique to the site, to the depth of the bedrock, and to the ‘demands’ of the building’s weight and height!

Christian, there is a solid foundation for life, one designed by the Father on which we rest our souls, finding the stability and strength we need for life today. Paul reminded Timothy to rest on this – “God’s truth stands firm like a foundation stone with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his.” (2 Timothy 2:19)  God knows YOU, knows the stresses you are facing, knows the unique demands of your life. And, He invites you to rest yourself on Him. Jesus opens His heart to us – “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, NIV) The ‘rest’ of which He speaks is not a vacation, nor does He say He will release us from our responsibilities!  He offers us to steady us, to refresh us, to prepare us – so that we will not collapse.

This Monday morning, before you engage fully with life, and hopefully you will engage; lean into your Father. Breathe simple prayers of thanks, of petition, of praise, of worship. Quiet your mind and heart to find a steady place as your find your footing.  Sometimes getting to that place demands a level of discipline to quiet our voice and our thoughts, to focus on the Presence of Jesus. Contemplative prayer is that listening, worshipful approach to Jesus, seeing Him with open arms. It can be more difficult to just ‘wait on the Lord’ than to pour out a torrent of words, can’t it?

Take a cue from David, from a Psalm of prayer. This is a word from the Word for you this Monday. “The Lord is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1, NIV)  “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:14, NIV)
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Leaning On The Everlasting Arms

What a fellowship what a joy divine
Leaning on the everlasting arms
What a blessedness what a peace is mine
Leaning on the everlasting arms

 What have I to dread what have I to fear
Leaning on the everlasting arms\
I have blessed peace with my Lord so near
Leaning on the everlasting arms

 Leaning
Leaning
Safe and secure from all alarms
Leaning
Leaning
Leaning on the everlasting arms

Anthony Johnson Showalter | Elisha Albright Hoffman

© Words: Public Domain

 

Walking by faith isn’t easy!

faith5One of the most persistent questions that Christians ask is about the apparent ‘prosperity’ of the wicked and the suffering of the righteous. We want to believe that there is a direct line of cause and effect –  if we do good things and live in obedience to the Lord, that He will spare us pain and difficulty. We wonder, or at least I do, why He allows those who are cruel and oppressive to flourish, why He does not strike them down in judgment! Following the same impulse, we are often too quick to judge those who suffer, concluding that they must have done something to ‘deserve’ it or that their faith was flawed so that they are unable to access God’s provision or power.  Our logic says, “If you are suffering, you must have created the circumstances that are causing it.”  Sometimes that is true. However, when we dig deeper, we often cannot see an immediate ‘cause and effect.’  We find only mystery.

Habakkuk, the preacher who was a contemporary of Jeremiah, living in Jerusalem about 600 years before the time of Jesus, wrote about living by faith. He pondered the question of fairness and God’s will, wondering why Judah could ignore her God and not be punished. When the Lord showed him that the Assyrians would come and conquer Judah, he wondered why God would use a nation even more wicked than Judah to bring correction to His people. From his prayers and thoughts came a little book that shines bright for us with a message capsulated in this passage –  “the righteous will live by his faiththe Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.” (Habakkuk 2:4,20, NIV)

How often have we prayed something like this, or at least felt these thoughts rising in our minds? “How long, O Lord, must I call for help? But you do not listen! “Violence is everywhere!” I cry, but you do not come to save.” (Habakkuk 1:2, NLT)  Living in faith is not easy and it never has been!  He continues his prayer for understanding this way. “God, you’re from eternity, aren’t you? Holy God, we aren’t going to die, are we? God, you chose Babylonians for your judgment work? Rock-Solid God, you gave them the job of discipline? But you can’t be serious! You can’t condone evil! So why don’t you do something about this? Why are you silent now? This outrage! Evil men swallow up the righteous and you stand around and watch!” (Habakkuk 1:12-13, The Message)  I feel his emotions, don’t you?

How, then are God’s people different, are we just left to struggle with our emotions, giving up to ‘fate’ and resigned to endure as best we can?  That is an incomplete understanding of faith.

The submission that grows out of faith is not the same as throwing in the towel and walking away from the fight!  Faith leads us to acceptance of God’s will and to hope that is anchored securely on His assurance that justice will be done.  Jesus said it simply this way – “The first will be last, the last will be first.” How will this be? He teaches that  “All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.” (Matthew 25:32-34, NLT)

My late father often reminded me of the importance of faithfulness with this homely little phrase – “Remember, son, God’s payday is not necessarily this Friday.”  Both reward and judgment are sometimes out of sight in our limited vision, but they are assured by the eternal purpose and promise of our Father!

The 3rd chapter of Habakkuk is rich with meaning and encouragement. He writes the words that reflect our earnest hope to see things made right and our determination to wait on the Lord. Take this word from the Word today to heart and pray for faith to grow strong, faith that stabilizes you, that keeps you serving, loving, and looking for the Kingdom to come.

O Lord, I have heard Your speech and was afraid;
O Lord, revive Your work in the midst of the years!
In the midst of the years make it known;
In wrath remember mercy.

A Hymn of Faith
Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail,
And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
And there be no herd in the stalls—
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.
The Lord God is my strength;
He will make my feet like deer’s feet,
And He will make me walk on my high hills.

Habakkuk 3:2; 17-19 (NKJV)

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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

Fanny Jane Crosby | Phoebe Palmer Knapp
© Words: Public Domain

 

God has a deadline

deadlineWhen we speak of a ‘deadline’ we are talking about a time limit. For example, a student must turn in his paper by a certain date, a deadline.  A news reporter has to finish writing his article by a certain time, a deadline, in order to get his work into today’s paper.  The word appears to have come into use right at the time of the Civil War.  A line was created on a battlefield and when the approaching troops crossed it, the order was to fire upon them with deadly force. Some suggest that it was also used for a line of stakes placed around prisons marking out a perimeter. If any prisoner crossed that boundary, guards were given orders to ‘shoot to kill’ hence, a ‘deadline.’

Nahum, a preacher of the Old Testament, was moved by the Spirit to lay down a ‘deadline’ for a sinful nation. Nineveh, Assyria’s capital, was a city of bloodshed, the conquering empire a particularly brutal one in a time of terrible brutality. The Assyrians overcame cities, slaughtered the noble classes, and deported much of the rest of the population. They then moved other conquered people into the area. This practice disrupted social order and destroyed the ability of their victims to organize resistance since they did not share a heritage, a language, or a religion! The empire had grown increasingly powerful, enriched by the plunder seized by their armies.

Nahum declared that God was not blind to the cruelty, to their greed, and their wickedness. “I am your enemy!” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “Your chariots will soon go up in smoke. Your young men will be killed in battle. Never again will you plunder conquered nations. The voices of your proud messengers will be heard no more.” What sorrow awaits Nineveh, the city of murder and lies! She is crammed with wealth and is never without victims.” (Nahum 2:13-3:1, NLT)

As I read those ancient words, my heart was stirred, too.  A delusion has fallen over us that God is either unseeing or that He is impotent, incapable of bringing real justice. We go about life with so little regard for His way, His will.

In Psalm 73, a godly writer talks about the prosperity of the wicked and how it often appears that they are ‘getting away with it.’  “Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth. Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance. They say, “How can God know? Does the Most High have knowledge?” This is what the wicked are like— always carefree, they increase in wealth.”

This man is tempted to join them saying, “Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence.” (Psalm 73:9-13, NIV)  But, then he humbles himself in worship and realizes, like Nahum, that God still has a deadline, though not always one we can see with our limited vision.  He reflects,  “When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny. Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors!” (Psalm 73:16-19, NIV)

Oh my fellow Christian, have you grown weary of holding onto the ways of the Lord?  Are you tempted to believe that there is no justice, no reward, no accountability – that God is unseeing of the evil of our time?  Let the words of the ancient preacher remind you that He does see and that He has drawn a deadline.  Nahum declared – “The Lord is slow to get angry, but his power is great, and he never lets the guilty go unpunished. He displays his power in the whirlwind and the storm. The billowing clouds are the dust beneath his feet.” (Nahum 1:3, NLT)

I weep for my country, seeing our injustice, our greed, our willingness to take from the poor, to use violence to accomplish our national will.
I weep for those individuals who are ignoring God, assuming that they can do as they please without consequence.

I pray earnestly for myself!  Lord, keep me faithful. Help me to love You so intensely that I am not tempted to walk near the deadline!

Here is a word from the Word.
“We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.” (Romans 3:22-24, NLT)

“But now you are free from the power of sin and have become slaves of God. Now you do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:22-23, NLT)

Have you received His gift of life? Are you living with your centered on ‘those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life?’ Or, are you pushing the deadline of Heaven?

Those hard words, why must I read them?

wordswag_1505302393846In the revivalist tradition of my youth, I heard many sermons on the coming wrath of God!  Fervent preachers with red faces, sweat on their brow, and a big black Bible on their right hand scared Hell out me, or at least they tried hard to do so. Many of those messages included a great deal more heat than light, aiming to move my heart, it seemed, more than to instruct my mind. Youth revivals, in my recollection, dealt much with ‘lust’ and ‘worldliness’ which was anything to do with fashion, entertainment, and ‘rock and roll.’

I cannot recall a single message about loving the poor, other than to tell me that I should be faithful to try to get them ‘saved.’ Nor can I recall any sermons that challenged me to think about real justice or my attitudes towards those of other races or religions. As a result, in my youth, God was a fearsome Being to me, not a Father who loved me and wanted me to find Him an Advocate for a rich life of purpose. Thankfully, His grace led me to discover that He was more than I had heard about and to know the joy of walking with Him.

Some people think that the ‘minor’ prophets, those preachers whose words are recorded in the short books near the end of the of the Old Testament, are just like the revivalists I heard in my youth. “Jerry, I do not read them because they are so negative.”

I invite you to take a second look. Yes, they can be difficult! Why?
First, their messages are set in a context of history that is largely unknown to most.
Second, they write about judgment and wrath a lot!  For that reason many Christians skip from Isaiah to Matthew in their Bible reading. I was drawn to those preachers recently, opening my Scripture each morning to that obscure place. And, I am discovering, anew, that their messages are spot on for me, in 2017.  Yes, it takes some work to find the treasures in the text, but they are there and the Holy Spirit speaks to me in them.

Micah preached to God’s people in a time of prosperity before the first Assyrian invasion. He warned them about the inevitability of God’s judgment, that their neglect of devotion would have consequence. And what specifically did he challenge?  Pride, oppression of the poor, bribery that corrupted justice, and ritual religion that did not engage them in true worship! Sound like things that plague the Church today to you? Sure does to me.

The people heard Micah’s sermons and told him to stop. “Don’t preach such stuff. Nothing bad will happen to us. Talk like this to the family of Jacob? Does God lose his temper? Is this the way he acts? Isn’t he on the side of good people? Doesn’t he help those who help themselves?”  (Micah 2:6-7, The Message)  He was unafraid, trusting God’s Spirit and responds to the critics – “But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression, to Israel his sin. Hear this, … who despise justice and distort all that is right.” (Micah 3:8-9, NIV)

In one telling passage, his sermon strikes this note of outrage. “Judges sell verdicts to the highest bidder, priests mass-market their teaching, prophets preach for high fees, All the while posturing and pretending dependence on God: “We’ve got God on our side. He’ll protect us from disaster.” Because of people like you, Zion will be turned back into farmland, Jerusalem end up as a pile of rubble, and instead of the Temple on the mountain, a few scraggly scrub pines.” (Micah 3:11-12, The Message)  Is this God’s view of the Church in 2017?  Sounds familiar to me. “God bless America,” preachers tell their congregations while ignoring the glaring sins of our nation – our greed, our broken ‘justice’ system, our economic inequities, our empty civil religion.

In a passage probably best known we learn that the Lord wants more than our money, more than our sacrifices to appease Him. He desires to know us, to transform our ways. The preacher captures me in these words. “What can we bring to the Lord? What kind of offerings should we give him? Should we bow before God with offerings of yearling calves? Should we offer him thousands of rams and ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Should we sacrifice our firstborn children to pay for our sins? No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:6-8, NLT)  Christ Jesus calls us to salvation and invites us to live in the power of the Spirit. Our faith is not invisible nor is it without result.  Yes, we too, must allow Him to make us holy, compassionate, and in a daily conversation with our Father.  Amen, Micah!

Finally, some cannot see the whole of his sermon, put off by the dire predictions of destruction.  But, his message was not all thunderous wrath. After calling for change of heart, Micah reminds them repeatedly of God’s grace. “Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light. I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.” (Micah 7:7-8, NIV)  “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.” (Micah 7:18, NIV) What a beautiful promise.  I will rise!

Here is a word from the Word. “You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:15-17, NLT)

Lord, bless Your Word to us, I pray. Amen.