Are you a religious fraud?

wordswag_1509454448582Fraud is so much a part of life.  When I access financial accounts online, there are checks and confirmations that inconvenience me but I realize they are safeguards against fraud.  Emails arrive all the time requesting that I provide my banking information for an ‘update.’  They look so real often including logos from PayPal or my bank and links that look very much like the actual ones, just a letter or two variant.  Diligence is required because IF I click the link in these ‘fishing’ emails, the crook potentially can hack into my accounts.  The frauds that work best are those that are the best copies of the authentic.

Today, many Christians are marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. A German monk named Martin Luther had a spiritual awakening, realizing that the Church had been ‘hacked’ by frauds. The Gospel was still true, but the presentation had become twisted by men with agendas of power and wealth. Corruption abounded. This man from nowhere, who had no real clout, told the truth to power, reclaiming the Scripture’s authority and declaring that the just shall live by faith.  As a young man, he was spared death and vowed to become a monk.

He was a determined man and gave himself relentlessly to the pursuit of God in the manner of his time – going without sleep, enduring bone-chilling cold without a blanket, and even whipping himself.  He said later on, “If anyone could have earned heaven by the life of a monk, it was I.”  What did Luther find in all this?  Only a growing terror of God, an obsession with eternal punishment.  As he prayed, the Spirit brought revelation. In his words –  “At last meditating day and night, by the mercy of God, I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that through which the righteous live by a gift of God, namely by faith. Here I felt as if I were entirely born again and had entered paradise itself through the gates that had been flung open.”

Luther sparked a spiritual reformation that changed the course of the Western world.  Thinking of his work, I wonder what he would say to the Christians of 2017? Would he once again challenge us to a Reformation?

Let’s personalize the heart of Luther’s call by renewing our understanding of the amazing grace of our Father.

Are you a slave of a fraudulent spirituality, a misplaced hope in human potential or in some spiritual guide?
Are you hoping to perfect yourself? Are you pretending to be someone that you are not?
Are you conflicted by realization that there is a gap between how you live and the promises of the Word?

The Scripture offers us the reality that counteracts all empty forms of religiosity.  Paul, inspired by the Spirit, tells us that “God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross. So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality. Don’t let anyone condemn you by insisting on pious self-denial or the worship of angels, saying they have had visions about these things. Their sinful minds have made them proud, and they are not connected to Christ, the head of the body.

 For he holds the whole body together with its joints and ligaments, and it grows as God nourishes it. You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world. So why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”? Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them.

These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires. Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.” (Colossians 2:13-3:2, NLT)

The title of this thought today is intentionally provocative!  Are you a religious fraud?  The question is a good one because we can be duped by hucksters, taken by teachers who use the ‘right’ language to teach a misplaced faith in Self. Far too many who speak the Name of Jesus are really trying to save themselves, vainly hoping they can “earn God’s approval.”  Some are tireless in their efforts to be ‘righteous’ –  a solid record of church attendance, always taking care to be kind, or giving themselves to humanitarian efforts.  I hear you.  “Jerry, those are good things to do.”  Of course they are, but if we do all the right things for the wrong reasons, we remain slaves to sin, alienated from God, without hope.

Jesus taught us that without a ‘new birth’ brought about by faith in Him and the inner work of the Holy Spirit, any effort on our part to become holy, is like a new paint job on a mausoleum.  Of the Pharisees He said, “You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You’re like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it’s all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you’re saints, but beneath the skin you’re total frauds.” (Matthew 23:27-28, The Message)

The absolute Truth is that “God made you alive with Christ.”  Believe it, receive Him, and His gift is an ‘imputed righteousness.‘  That’s a theological way of saying that God will give you full acceptance as His child at Jesus Christ’s expense.  Holiness comes from that inner change, but it is not pinched and critical. It is accompanied by joy, real delight in doing the will of God.   From a distance a merely good person and a Spirit-filled holy person look much the same.   Up close, there is an undeniable quality of love, of devotion, of integrity, and yes;   of  Life that refreshes,  in the one with the new heart.    Accept no substitutes for the true Gospel – the Good News of Jesus Christ who died and who lives to save us completely from our sin.

Here is a familiar passage.  Read it again, with faith.  Ponder the scandalous and wonderful truth of God’s amazing grace as you remember these words.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10, NKJV)

_________________

A mighty fortress is our God,
A bulwark never failing.
Our helper, He amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe,
Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and pow’r are great
And armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide
Our striving would be losing!
Were not the right Man on our side
The Man of God’s own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is He!
Lord Sabaoth, His name;
From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

Martin Luther

The sweetest words

loveson“I love you.” It is a phrase loaded with meaning, isn’t it? Who does not find their day brightened, their heart lightened by a genuine expression of affection and caring?  A song that was number one in the year that I was born, 1955, says that “Love is a many-splendored thing; it’s the April rose that only grows in the early spring, love is nature’s way of giving a reason to be living …“   The song celebrates romance and attraction, and with good cause. Who does not love ‘falling in love?’

Love needs to be celebrated! Yesterday some of the people in the congregation I serve left cards for me as part of “Pastor Appreciation Day.”  Most referred to ways in which I have touched their lives – teaching, care, being there in tough times – and many were signed with this line, Love!  I read each of them several times because those expressions of affection and care so meaningful to me.  My son signed off on a Facebook post to me this morning, “Love you.” I seldom close a phone call with my adult children who live far from me without saying, “I love you.”

On this Monday morning, I want to remind you that you are loved!  You may feel alone. Life may be difficult at this moment. You may be facing a workplace that seems like the lion’s den of the book Daniel. Your family may be going through a difficult season. A friend may be angry with you right now, so let me point you to an unchanging fact:  Your heavenly Father loves you!  He does not just like you, nor does He only tolerate you. He loves you, desires you, and receives your respondent love with delight.  That is the most transforming truth we can ever know.

Skeptical? How do I know this about Him?  John, inspired by the Spirit writes – “God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:8-10, NIV)   Paul, who is not exactly a man of romantic gush, never the less writes of the Love of God – “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:5-8, NIV)

 But, it is a story that Jesus told that reveals the heart of our Father best!  Luke records it in chapter 15. A man had two sons. The younger, full of rebellion, claimed his inheritance and went off to do his own thing, spending it all until he was broke, alone, and starving. As he sat among the pigs that he was hired to tend this man remembered his father’s household. The fact that his Dad’s farm help lived better than he did stuck in his mind. “I should go home,” he thought, but guilt paralyzed him. At long last, he came up with a plan to go back but not to be a son. “I’m going back to my father. I’ll say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.’ He got right up and went home to his father.”  Now, here is the part that always stirs me from the depth of my being – I am tearing with emotion even as I write these words!

Can you feel the divine love that pulses through Jesus’ words about our Father and His welcome to us when we finally ‘come home?’  “So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’ “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him.  …  for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.”  (Luke 15:20-22,24 NLT)  No, the kid did not get what he deserved; he found grace.  And, that story is true about YOU, today.

The Lord of the Universe loves you.  Ask Him to reveal that to you today.  Soak in this truth. It will made life worth living, rob death of its terrors, and make you a better person for the rest of the journey.

Here is the word from the Word, among the sweetest words ever. “And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” (Ephesians 3:18-19, NLT)

_____________________

How He Loves

(worship with this video)

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

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

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

He loves us
Oh how He loves us
Oh how He loves us
Oh how He loves

John Mark McMillan
© 2005 Integrity’s Hosanna! Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing (Integrity Music [DC Cook]))

CCLI License # 810055

The cure for the mold of the soul!

wordswag_1509103612419A century ago many homes were shut tightly from Fall to late Spring, trapping dust and dampness which, when combined, became petri dishes that fed growth of bacteria and molds that sickened the residents. Though germ theory was developed by Louis Pasteur in the middle of the 19th century, it was another 100 years before scientists began to understand the germicidal power of something abundant and healthful – Sunlight!

People who live in homes that are constructed to admit sunlight, that are ventilated to admit fresh air, and that are kept free of dust have fewer respiratory illnesses, lower rates of asthma and infectious diseases; this according to various published studies.

There are powerful spiritual parallels.  “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12, NIV)  When Jesus revealed Himself to Paul, He told him “I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ “  (Acts 26:17-18, NIV).

We are transformed from sinner to saint by the offering of Jesus on the Cross.  The challenge then is to become holy, to see the sins that are part of the old sinful nature eradicated. That happens when we cooperate with the Holy Spirit to let Him throw open the windows of our soul, to shine the Light into every part of our being.  We sometimes hide parts of ourselves keeping some habit, some difficulty, some attitude  in a dark place. Perhaps it is fear that makes us unwilling to let God deal with it.  Maybe, hard though it can be to admit to ourselves, we like that part of us too much to surrender it to the Lord.  Or, we may have become convinced that thing is ‘just part of who I am.’

When, by faith, we open up, give it up, and let the Light shine in – like the sun that kills those molds and germs that thrive in dark, dank places – the Son defeats the sin, and brings wholeness and health.  Look at this amazing declaration – “For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6, NLT)  The same God Who spoke the sun into existence, gives us Light and because of that Light the old colorless life we once knew is replaced with one resplendent with the radiance of Jesus!  That makes me want to shout, “Hallelujah!” How about you?

Today, choose the Light! Turn your face towards the Son.

Here is a word from the Word.  Meditate on the promise and live in the joy.  “This, in essence, is the message we heard from Christ and are passing on to you: God is light, pure light; there’s not a trace of darkness in him. If we claim that we experience a shared life with him and continue to stumble around in the dark, we’re obviously lying through our teeth—we’re not living what we claim. But if we walk in the light, God himself being the light, we also experience a shared life with one another, as the sacrificed blood of Jesus, God’s Son, purges all our sin.” (1 John 1:5-7, The Message)

_________

Shine Jesus Shine

(worship along with this video)

Lord the light of Your love is shining
In the midst of the darkness shining
Jesus Light of the world shine upon us
Set us free by the truth You now bring us
Shine on me shine on me

Lord I come to Your awesome presence
From the shadows into Your radiance
By the blood I may enter Your brightness
Search me try me consume all my darkness
Shine on me shine on me

Shine Jesus shine
Fill this land
With the Father’s glory
Blaze Spirit blaze
Set our hearts on fire
Flow river flow
Flood the nations
With grace and mercy
Send forth Your word Lord
And let there be light

As we gaze on Your kingly brightness
So our faces display Your likeness
Ever changing from glory to glory
Mirrored here may our lives tell Your story
Shine on me shine on me

Graham Kendrick
© 1987 Make Way Music (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)
CCLI License # 810055

While grenades land, have dinner!

wordswag_1508931133114The movie playing on my TV was tense; a true story of four American soldiers in Afghanistan. pinned down, taking fire from every direction. Rocket propelled grenades exploded, spraying the men with shrapnel. Bullets whined passing by. Men shouted.  Then, I hit the ‘pause’ button!  All was still.  The action was suspended!  This morning I would sure like a ‘pause’ button for life, a way to make it all just stop.  How about you? Are you under pressure,  wishing for an escape? Are the grenades landing close, so to speak?

In this life we are in a daily war with Self, with sin, with Satan and there is no pause button.  The conflict is is unstoppable but there is this amazing word from David. “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”  (Psalm 23:5)  The mental image is almost absurd.  David says that God invites him to sit down to dinner right in the middle of the war!  That Scripture held my heart together this morning.  There is an invitation not to escape, but to know that God is near, here, ready to meet my basic needs.

Today, whatever the struggle, whoever is firing on you – man or Devil – you can choose to sit down to renewal with the One who knows you best and in whose hands are held every moment of every day stretching from yesterday into eternity. David knew hard times and difficult places. Some were the result of his own failures and mistakes. Some came his way because of those whose hatred for him was implacable.  Being human, David wearied in it all, and even sometimes wondered aloud if God had abandoned him. He felt alone and afraid.  But, he also knew where to turn in those moments.

He paused and waited!  And, we are instructed and strengthened by the songs he left us as he was inspired by the Holy Spirit.  “The Lord is my light and my salvation— so why should I be afraid? The Lord protects me from danger— so why should I tremble?” (Psalm 27:1, NLT) “The one thing I ask of the Lord— the thing I seek most— is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, delighting in the Lord’s perfections and meditating in his Temple.” (Psalm 27:4, NLT) “Even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord will hold me close.” (Psalm 27:10, NLT)  “Yet I am confident that I will see the Lord’s goodness while I am here in the land of the living. Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:13-14, NLT)

While life does not come with a pause button, we can make the choice to sit down to dinner with God on the battlefield.  And, we must. I must!  When the conflict rages, it is most difficult is to stop, to wait.  We want relief, answers, rest.  God invites us to His Presence, to His counsel. David did not run off to some far distant place, nor did he slip into a cave and try to sleep!  He waited – focused and expectant.

Finding renewal in the Presence of the Lord can happen in so many different ways.

We can a break for a few moments to refocus, to sing a song, to read a Bible passage of promise.
We might need to find a day in our full schedule where we only reflect, meditate, and pray.
We may be called to simply ‘stand,’ to choose to go forward in life, expectant, even as God seems hidden, as we feel forgotten.

Are you facing something that looks impossible? Does tomorrow seem to be full of  uncertainty and confusion?  Are you broken, bloodied, perhaps even full of self-doubt? Have you given it your best, been tested to the limits, and apparently came up wanting?  Let David’s Psalms give you Abba’s counsel. Come, wait on the Lord!  Do not seek soul solace in things, pleasures, or diversions. Refuse fear.

Take this word from the Word and live in it, by choice.
“Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD; …  I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.” (Psalm 130:1, 5-6, NIV)

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” (Psalm 23:5-6, NIV)

___________

O come to the Savior,
He patiently waits
To save by His power divine;
Come, anchor your soul
In the “Haven of Rest,”
And say, My Beloved is mine.”

 I’ve anchored my soul
In the “Haven of Rest,”
I’ll sail the wide seas no more;
The tempest may sweep,
O’er the wild stormy deep;
In Jesus I’m safe evermore.

 The Haven Of Rest
Gilmour, Henry L. / Moore, George D. © Public Domain

My diagnosis doesn’t define God.

This thoughtful article was penned by a friend addressing a critical misunderstanding about the how and why of God’s will.  He gave permission for me to re-blog. Read on .

Habakkuk 3:17  Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,  yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. 

For those of you who were in church yesterday, I am revisiting an aside point that I made in the service and that was how good reports and answered prayer do not prove the goodness of God.  I say that because IF something good happening means God is good then a negative turn of events automatically means He is not.

I talked about this yesterday in the context of telling my congregation that the doctors have confirmed that I have a “biologic recurrence” of prostate cancer.  I had a prostatectomy two years ago and thought my decisive action meant I could head off radiation and other therapies that frequently go along with the long term recovery of prostate cancer.  However I have gotten a lot of good news recently like, a clean bone scan and a positive prognosis from my oncologist.   It’s been a bit of an emotional roller coaster waiting on test results.  Of course I’m always praying that every scan comes back clean and every blood test comes back with low numbers.

Now don’t get me wrong, I still believe God heals.  I just spent the morning with a man who’s inoperable cancer disappeared two years ago after attending a healing service conducted by a Rwandan Catholic priest.   Also you can believe that when my bone scan came back clean the other day, I raised my hands and praised God for answered prayer, but I didn’t say, “my bone scan is clean, God is so good.” My medical diagnosis and prognosis doesn’t define the reality or the nature of God.

I hit the wall faith-wise a dozen years ago over this scourge of cancer after a rash of funerals I conducted for people I had physically held and prayed for; being so sure that God would prove his goodness by giving them a miraculous healing.  I went on a brutally honest multi-month journey of decision about whether I believed there was a God and if I did was he the good God that I had always believed he was.

My major discovery was that, I didn’t have enough faith to be an atheist.
1) The complexity of creation,
2) the predictability of the Biblical moral code,
3) the overwhelming evidence of the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
4) the consistent fulfillment of hundreds of Biblical Prophesies,
5) the inner voice of conscience,
6) the character of the early apostles and Christ followers,
7) the history, resilience and power of the Christian Church and
8) the persistent testimonies of changed lives,

just altogether made any other narrative of history or hope of the future seem ridiculous.

While I am still waiting on one test result, it looks like my chances of a full recovery are about 95%, but my prognosis doesn’t make God any more real or any more benevolent than he already is.  So what’s my message to you.  If you narrowly escape a potentially tragic car accident today or if your biopsy report comes back negative and you conclude that now you know God is good, you are saddling everyone whose automobile gets smashed and whose biopsy comes back positive with the reality that their God isn’t good or worse, non-existent.  How about if we just all pray for health and safety, give thanks for health and safety, but tightly embrace his good presence no matter what?

I can’t say it any better than the prophet Habakkuk after verse 17 of his beautiful song where he vows to rejoice when there are “no grapes on the vine,” when, “the olive crops fail,” when, “the fields produce no food,” when, “there’s no sheep in the pen,” and “no cattle in the stall.”  He concludes triumphantly in Habakkuk 3:18 & 19, with these words: The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.”  Oh yeah the Bible give us a P.S here, “For the director of music. On my stringed instruments.”   

So no matter how things turn out today, try to make the majesty and wonder of God the soundtrack for your life.  If you can’t do it by yourself then find some friends who will sing about the goodness of God in your presence.

Clouded eyes?

wordswag_1508757742825On Saturday, I was driving my Jeep along Route 611, just below East Stroudsburg, PA, a twisting narrow road tucked into the rocky cliffs that rise steeply from the Delaware River. I was thinking about the hazards of the roadway and the need of maintenance on it. Then, I looked up and took in the amazing view of the Delaware Water Gap. At that moment, I came upon a scenic overlook where I could park and take in the sight. Right then an ordinary trip turned into a feast of beauty! I was so captivated by the scene that a couple of miles down the road, I pulled over and got out to take a few more pictures of the Fall foliage, the river, and the cliffs of the Gap.  Same place, different vision!

So, how’s your vision, not your eyesight, though I hope that it is sharp and clear, but rather your outlook on life?
Do you see the situations of life as they are or through the clouded lens of self interest or wishful thinking?
Do you grasp the opportunities that are coming your way or is your vision so limited that you are just plodding along?
Are you connecting the reality of the Spirit with your daily walk?

There is a tiny phrase tucked into the Chronicles of the people of God. The sons of Issachar were commended as those “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do.”  (1 Chronicles 12:32, NIV) They were leaders because they had vision.  God, the Holy Spirit, offers us the gift of vision! We do not have to stumble along, confused, just trying to cope with the things of life as they come at us seeming ‘out of nowhere.’  But, Christian, we will suffer from impaired vision if we fail to worship deeply, pray often and sincerely, and give our best energies only to the stuff of this earthly life.

Pastor Kris Vallotton offers this provocative word about three aspects of vision.  “True Godly vision consists of foresight, insight and oversight that come from His sight. Foresight is like looking at life through a telescope. This outlook allows us to know what is ahead as it connects us to our future. Foresight is the element of vision that helps life make sense and gives us motivation …  Insight is like viewing life through a microscope. This perception gives us an understanding of why things happen in life. It also helps determine the underlying motivations of the heart. Oversight puts life into context. It is like flying over our house in a helicopter.”  – Kris Vallotton

Too often even well-meaning and devout people just keeping plugging away, letting life happen, dutifully doing what they think ‘has to be done’ day in and day out.  We need to take a pause every now and then, a day away, time to pray, a long conversation with someone who loves us enough to ask us the hard questions, to determine if we are actually ‘seeing’ things as they are, or just as they seem to be.

Last week, in the middle of a challenge in my life, I grew frustrated and angry. I fumed and fretted. Seeing only the difficulties, I felt trapped and reacted much like an animal that is backed into a corner. I snarled and snapped, complained, and acted like a child!  But, after the storm blew through, after a couple of friends patiently listened to my fulminations, and after I spent extended time prayerfully giving myself to the Lord;  my sight was restored!  The situation is still there, the solution not yet presenting itself, but there is also vision of God’s promise and provision, a perspective that is important to my walk with Christ. By the way, it’s not the first time my vision was clouded by some hard things in life, nor do I expect it will be the last.

This Monday morning I want to encourage you to seek clear vision!  Pray that the Lord will give you foresight so that you can anticipate and prepare for the day, equipped by the Spirit to accept the blessings and deal with the challenges.  Pray for insight, for the wisdom of the Spirit that does not limit what you see to what seems so obvious, but perceives the realities of relationships and the spiritual realm that surrounds us all.  And, pray for oversight, the wider lens that allows you to see eternity at the end of this present life, connected the Lord’s ultimate promise with the need of the moment.

Here are a couple of words from the Word. May the Spirit make them living truth for us as we begin a new week.“When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild. But, whoever obeys the law is joyful.” (Proverbs 29:18, NLT)

And, then these words of Jesus, given to His disciples about the opportunities for spiritual harvest in what they only saw as barren fields. “As you look around right now, wouldn’t you say that in about four months it will be time to harvest? Well, I’m telling you to open your eyes and take a good look at what’s right in front of you. These Samaritan fields are ripe. It’s harvest time! “The Harvester isn’t waiting. He’s taking his pay, gathering in this grain that’s ripe for eternal life. Now the Sower is arm in arm with the Harvester, triumphant.” (John 4:35-38, The Message)

Abba, as we make our way into this new week
clear our vision.
Stir us to take in the opportunities that come our way –
to care lovingly for others, to bring Your Presence and peace to difficult and dark places.
Keep us from plodding along, defeated and discouraged,
seeing only the stones that lie on our pathway.

Call us, gently and persistently, to see You at work,
to become people who “who understand the times and know what we should do.”
In this may we make Your praises great, Your radiance bright,
and live in the peace of Christ. Amen

Are you anchored or adrift?

wordswag_1508499722191What are your anchor points for life?  Do you just ‘make it up as you go’ or have you committed yourself to principles that are bedrock solid, that keep you anchored when life gets stormy?  Are your decisions shaped around core convictions?

A thousand ideas, many quite good will come into your mind today.  How will you sort them? By what will you evaluate them, some on reserve, some discarded, perhaps one or two moved to the top of your list?

I am convinced that most of us do not need more things on our ‘to-do’ list. We need to pare down our commitments to things shaped by our anchor points! And that obviously means we must form those anchors from a solid base of truth.

I am deeply grateful to my Dad and Mom who taught me the principles of the Bible, who made regular attendance at church, along with the reading of the Word, first-line priorities for me.  My head is packed full of Scripture – stories of the Old Testament heroes and Jesus, and teaching about the Christian life from the letters of Paul.  My adult life has been marked by a journey of understanding, processing those ‘ideas’ that I learned over the years into Truth that is the basis of my anchor points!

What anchors me?
I am a child of God through the grace of Christ.
-My life aimed at eternal reward.
-Love is the highest value- loving God, loving family, loving others.

Ah, yes, friend, I know that life is very complex and demands growth. I did not decide what was true 4 decades ago and close my mind. I remain a student and a disciple, growing in grace and understanding.

One thing I can say with complete conviction – “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him for that day.” (2 Timothy 1:12)   I am comforted, corrected, and guided by the wisdom of the Word, which the Spirit brings to my consciousness again and again.  Those words are anchor points that keep me from going adrift.

The lack of love for the Scripture is one of the trends in the Church that is of real concern for this pastor. It is common for Christians to have little idea of what the Bible says about life, about God, about our hope. Many ideas compete in their minds and the lack of anchor points leaves them subject to fear, doubt, and instability.

Paul, near the end of his life, wrote to Timothy, a younger man pastoring a church, and struggling with opposition.  The old man reminds him of the importance of anchor points!  Hold on to the pattern of wholesome teaching you learned from me—a pattern shaped by the faith and love that you have in Christ Jesus. Through the power of the Holy Spirit who lives within us, carefully guard the precious truth that has been entrusted to you.” (2 Timothy 1:13-14, NLT) But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you. 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 3:14-17, NLT)

Are you receptive to the Scripture or do you argue with God’s wisdom because ‘it just doesn’t make sense,’ your mind without anchoring convictions? God is never offended by our honest questions, but we certainly sin when we allow our questions to become a root of bitterness or an excuse for rebellion. Be like Jeremiah who exclaimed: “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty.” (Jeremiah 15:16, NIV)

Want to develop anchor points that will hold you steady?
Give yourself to diligent study.
Find a pastor who loves the Word and who will faithfully open for the congregation.
Process your faith with prayer, thought, conversation, and by putting it to work!

Here is a word from the Word. I pray it is your desire. “With my whole heart I have sought You; Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments! Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You. Blessed are You, O Lord! Teach me Your statutes. With my lips I have declared All the judgments of Your mouth. I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, As much as in all riches. I will meditate on Your precepts, And contemplate Your ways. I will delight myself in Your statutes; I will not forget Your word.” (Psalm 119:10-16, NKJV)

__________________

Anchor

I have this hope
As an anchor for my soul
Through ev’ry storm
I will hold to You\
With endless love
All my fear is swept away
In ev’rything
I will trust in You

There is hope in the promise of the cross
You gave ev’rything to save the world You love
And this hope is an anchor for my soul
Our God will stand unshakable

Unchanging One
Who was and is to come
Your promise sure
You will not let go

Your Name is higher
Your Name is greater
All my hope is in You\
Your word unfailing
Your promise unshaken
All my hope is in You

Ben Fielding | Dean Ussher
© 2012 Hillsong Music Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

Just a wise guy?

wordswag_1508411619710Circumstances of my life this week have pressed a prayer from me repeatedly – “Abba, I need wisdom!”  What am I asking for?

Wisdom can be difficult to define. Wisdom encompasses more than knowing many things and is certainly more than great intelligence. We all know some really smart people who do not have enough common sense to come in out of the rain! Yet, when we see Wisdom is obvious to us – a combination of knowledge, experience, and insight – that bring direction and purpose.  Wisdom sees beyond the moment, is able to take in a wide range of information and process it in decision-making. Wisdom understands the needs of the day and sustains discipline that leads to a better outcome tomorrow.

In the Bible’s collection of wise saying that we call Proverbs, the call to become wise is repeated often. “Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or swerve from them. Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding. Esteem her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honor you. She will set a garland of grace on your head and present you with a crown of splendor.” (Proverbs 4:5-9, NIV)
Get wisdom!  Got it, Lord. How does one become wise?

First there is the foundation we choose for our life
.
Fear of the Lord teaches wisdom; humility precedes honor.” (Proverbs 15:33, NLT)  Take God out of the picture and there is no hope for wisdom. The ‘story’ that shapes the richest life begins with the Creator, grasps the human dilemma brought on by Sin, and humbly seeks God, finding Him at the Cross of Christ, and resting hope on the Resurrection!

Second, there is the recognition of our limits.
There is a conceit common to many, especially those who have not yet encountered life’s greater sorrows, that allows them to think that they are the master and commander of their destiny, that they are self-sufficient within themselves. The Word warns us “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.” (Proverbs 3:7, NIV)
I cringe when I remember the misplaced confidence that I had in my own abilities prior to the age of 32! My life was full of accomplishments in which I took pride. I had little understanding of the advantages that my upbringing gave me. I charged full tilt into life with that unique optimism of the young. But, experience taught me the limits of my abilities and wisdom began to settle on me when I humbly sought God in the middle of failure!

Third, there is the importance of gaining information!
True wisdom is impossible without opening our minds to the vast amount of information that is available to us. A person of great intellect who chooses to remain ignorant will not develop the best wisdom. Gleaning information demands conversations with others. Those learning conversations include formal learning in a classroom, talks over a cup of coffee with those further down the road in life, reading the thoughts of others in  books, and being part of peer groups that help us sort through the mental data we are accumulating as we pass through life.

Fourth, there is the discipline of thought!

Wisdom emerges from a willingness to learn to think. How often do we just react to life? And, those reactions are often lacking wisdom, leaving us with nothing but regret. In our culture where life moves at great speed, when we can interact in real time via texts, emails, and Facebook posts we can easily become ping pong balls, bouncing from idea to idea.

Those who would become wise must carve out time to think. Some call it meditation, others contemplation. Christians need to understand that prayer is not just presenting requests to the Father. True prayer also includes deep thought, time of focus on the Presence of the Spirit that allows Him to sort through the mental clutter, coupled with our willingness to confront our preconceptions, prejudice, and selfishness! Our Abba invites us to “Be still, and know that I am God!” (Psalm 46:10) From that centered place, we can move into wisdom.

Fifth, there is the choice of companions!
The simple truth is that we are influenced, powerfully, by those with whom we do life. “Walk with the wise and become wise; associate with fools and get in trouble.” (Proverbs 13:20, NLT)  Who can argue with that?
Here is a word from the Word.
May our Abba draw us to greater wisdom, leading us to lives that are rich, productive, and that honor Him.

“Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom?
Here’s what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts. Mean-spirited ambition isn’t wisdom. Boasting that you are wise isn’t wisdom. Twisting the truth to make yourselves sound wise isn’t wisdom.” (James 3:13-14, The Message)
“Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.” (James 3:17-18, The Message)
_____________
We Fall Down
We fall down
We lay our crowns
At the feet of Jesus
The greatness of mercy and love
At the feet of Jesus
And we cry holy holy holy
And we cry holy holy holy
And we cry holy holy holy is the Lamb
CCLI Song # 2437367
Chris Tomlin © 1998 worshiptogether.com songs (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)
CCLI License # 810055

The collapsing house built on sand

wordswag_1508328311243A deep vein of skepticism runs through American society today. Institutions are no longer trusted after multiple scandals. Most of us do not trust our government systems, convinced that too often power is used for monied special interests. And, under it all, we have adopted a radical kind of individualism that rests on the conviction that we can make our ‘truth,’ that we can live as we believe best fits our own thoughts. Even many Christians reject a life shaped around the immutable will of God. They give lip service to loving God, but choose to ignore Him in areas where they believe the ancient ‘truth’ to be irrelevant to life. If we are a person dedicated to the morality of the revealed Word of God we are likely to be regarded with the same disdain reserved for racists!

What then to do with this statement? “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” (Proverbs 1:7, NIV) The Message paraphrase of that passage is more accessible – “Start with God—the first step in learning is bowing down to God; only fools thumb their noses at such wisdom and learning. ” (Proverbs 1:7, The Message) Do we believe that Truth about the world, about the meaning and purpose of life, about spirituality is found in the revelation of God or are we convinced that only those things which can be measured, discovered, and confirmed by scientific methods are ‘true?’

Many modern Christians are so confused about the truth that they make a mockery of the Scripture even while professing that they follow it for life. For example, a virtual tenet of faith among many conservative Christians is that capitalism and consumerism are enshrined in the Scripture. So, they pile up wealth and buy things considering this their destiny and right. In truth, the Bible is very clear about the importance of shared wealth, care for the poor, and the folly of shaping life around ‘stuff!’ Another glaring area of confusion is around sexual ethics. Christians raise a great deal of clamor over the agenda of the LGBT community, even as divorce is as accepted in the church at the same rates as it is among non-believers despite the Bible having much more to say about the sanctity of marriage than it does about homosexuality. My point is not to justify one with the other but to remind us that we lose credible witness to the truth when we select which ‘truth’ we accept.

When one looks over the holey faith practices that most of adopt, it is little wonder that a whole generation is discarding the church, rejecting Christianity as just another ‘idea’ and one that is not all that compelling. For the last half century many pastors and churches have looked for ways to accommodate the culture changes, softening the call of Christ to discipleship, remaining silent on the more controversial truths of the Scripture. As a result, the vast majority of people under 40 in our churches have no idea about the actual revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Instead they have adopted a new kind of ‘religion’ that some call “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” shaped around the idea that God exists but is distant from daily life, that He (or She) just wants us to be nice people, that we exist to find personal happiness and to feel good about ourselves, and that all ‘good’ people go to heaven.

This insipid religion cannot compel radical change, has no concept of sin, and does not see the need of a Savior, even disdaining the story of the Cross as a relic of superstition! Jesus’ words should shake us to our core. “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.” When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, for he taught with real authority—quite unlike their teachers of religious law.” (Matthew 7:24-29, NLT)

Dear Christian, it is time to dig down to foundations, to look deeply at our faith, to ask ourselves where the holes exist in our convictions! We need to pray for a new revelation of God, the rediscovery of Christ Jesus, and a fresh outpouring of the Spirit. Such a life will make us fools in the eyes of our world and cause us to be rejected, perhaps even hated, even as Jesus was. Paul sarcastically addressed the ‘worldly wise’ Christians in the church of Corinth saying “We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ!” (1 Corinthians 4:10, NIV) His words echo to us today who are confronted with the same label if we choose a live that is centered on God and His will. Are you ready to be dismissed as a ‘fool’ because you radically trust and serve Jesus Christ?

Here’s a word from the Word for your thoughts today. I pray that the Spirit will use it to pierce our pretensions, to guide us to true wisdom.
“Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God. So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.” (1 Corinthians 3:18-4:3, NIV)

_____________

Now walk with God
And He will be
your dearest Friend
Where’er you go
In everything you do.

And may your life
Reflect His love to ev’ryone.
Now walk with God
And He will walk with you.

 Now Walk With God
Skillings, Otis © 1969 Lillenas Publishing Company (Admin. by The Copyright Company)

CCLI License No. 810055

When you are stuck in the mud, just give up!

wordswag_1508236545289A year or two after high school, my son bought a Jeep Wrangler. The romance of “off-roading” captivated him, and so off he went into the deep woods on a trail that was suited to a small four-wheeler. He over-estimated the ability of the 4 wheel drive as he drove into a muddy hole! The Jeep was soon buried to the axles.  When Jay showed up that evening long ago, tired and muddy after his misadventure in the woods, I was aggravated with him for being foolish, but thankful he asked for help. The next day, with help from me and a friend who knew the ‘woods’ well, the Jeep was recovered after considerable effort.

The trip to retrieve the Wrangler turned into an adventure we did together, a memory we share. Today, it’s one of those family stories that always brings on laughter. It’s not hard to imagine Jay’s frustration and desperation as he gunned the engine and just dug in deeper!

There is a parable for life. We all find ourselves in a bog from time to time, don’t we?  We cruise along, becoming overly confident and then, we’re stuck! Sometimes all our struggling does nothing but make the mudhole deeper. We squirm and argue, kick and whine, but no matter what we do, the hole just gets deeper. You know what I’m talking about, it happens to all of us.

The wise know when it is time to just give up – in a faith-filled way. No, we do not just quit or resign to the circumstance, with a heavy sigh and defeat.
We stop struggling.
We admit our weakness.
We enlist good friends to come alongside of us.
And, we surrender our heart and life to the Lord asking for His wisdom,  asking for an infusion of courage, and trusting Him to reveal the resources we need to get out of the hole.

Think that’s easy?  It’s not!  There is that thing called – pride.  Millions stay stuck refusing to admit, “I’m in over my head.”  Who wants to admit he can’t get himself out of the pit? Who wants to ‘let go and let God?’  We say it and it sounds good, but the doing is much, much harder.

Shortly after the miraculous Exodus from Egypt, the people of God found themselves with no way out! The Egyptian army (the super-power of the day) was a day’s march behind them and the Red Sea was blocking the way ahead. They were a nation of former slaves, with no army and few weapons.  As their situation became desperate, they “panicked when they saw the Egyptians overtaking them. 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)  Panic! Blame! Loss of perspective!  The mud flew, so to speak, but they were still ‘stuck.’

Moses, whose faith had been deepening, calls on them to give up! “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)  Just stand still. This was not giving in to fate. This was giving up in faith!  Their admission that they could do nothing was paired with their expectation that God would do something. And He did. Only as the faithful and courageous Moses was willing to obediently do what God said, extending his staff over the sea, did the Lord open up the sea. The solution was amazing, unforeseen, and a lesson in greater faith.

Is the mud flying, the hole getting deeper?
Is your desperation growing?

Give up! Look up!
Turn to the Lord and offer yourself completely to Him. Sometimes He changes our situation, sometimes He changes us.

Here’s a word from the Word. “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” (Psalm 46:10-11, NIV)

________________

Lord I Need You

(Listen at this link as you pray)

Lord I come I confess
Bowing here I find my rest
And without You I fall apart
You’re the one that guides my heart

 Lord I need You oh I need You
Ev’ry hour I need You
My one defense my righteousness
Oh God how I need You

 Where sin runs deep Your grace is more
Where grace is found is where You are
And where You are Lord I am free
Holiness is Christ in me
Where You are Lord I am free
Holiness is Christ in me

 So teach my song to rise to You
When temptation comes my way
And when I cannot stand I’ll fall on You
Jesus You’re my hope and stay

Lord I need You oh I need You
Ev’ry hour I need You
My one defense my righteousness
Oh God how I need You
My one defense my righteousness
Oh God how I need You

Christy Nockels | Daniel Carson | Jesse Reeves | Kristian Stanfill | Matt Maher
© 2011 sixsteps Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)
Sweater Weather Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)CCLI License # 810055

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