The Good Misery of a Guilty Conscience

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After feeling the sting of guilt, becoming aware of failure, I prayed – “Father, thank you for making me miserable. You have preserved my life with your convicting Presence.” Yes, it may seem strange to thank God for a guilty conscience. However, those feelings of shame and guilt over thoughts, words, or actions that are unworthy of a follower of Christ are His way of correcting us, leading us to the place of His blessing and favor.

David, Israel’s king and poet, a man who loved God and yet made some terribly sinful choices describes the misery of guilt. “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.” (Psalm 32:3-4)

Nothing hurts like a guilty conscience.  Temptation comes and presents us with a decision – to choose to resist or to do what ‘feels good’ in the moment.  If we decide to let those cruel words batter another, if we choose to lie, if we refuse the truth – we should be thankful when the sword of the Spirit slashes our conscience.

Have you ever experienced the misery of guilt? Guilt can keep us awake all night. It can make a delicious meal tasteless. It can turn a song into sound that only aggravates us like the scraping of fingernails on a chalkboard. Remember – all guilt is not bad.

Paul wrote a hard letter of correction to the Christians of Corinth. Apparently it caused many to feel real sorrow. Note what he says – “For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10, NLT) He took no pleasure in his rebuke telling them that he sent the letter while shedding ‘many tears.’ But, he hoped for a response of change, and it happened!

There is false guilt. Our conscience can be damaged, made too sensitive by constant criticism or scarred into uselessness by constant abuse. But, if our conscience is functioning in a healthy way, responsive to the Holy Spirit of God, informed by the truth, we should thank the Lord for the bone-deep ache that comes when we cross the line from right to wrong.

That ache that David felt after his sin was called out by Nathan, the preacher, was healed. How?  He owned his failure and changed his ways.  (You can read his prayer in Psalm 51) Never underestimate the joy that can be discovered in confession! “Then I let it all out; I said, “I’ll make a clean breast of my failures to God.” Suddenly the pressure was gone— my guilt dissolved, my sin disappeared. These things add up. Every one of us needs to pray; when all hell breaks loose and the dam bursts we’ll be on high ground, untouched.” (Psalm 32:5-6, The Message) Confession liberating,  letting us experience God’s forgiveness. Often sincere confession will also win the forgiveness of another person, even those we have wronged in the most serious way.

The next step to healing is not to play the victim or offer up excuses. God looks for genuine repentance. Many people want release from guilt. Many even regret what they have done because of the negative consequences, but they feel little need to change their ways!

The ancient people of God disobeyed the Lord confessed, but then would not turn to follow Him! They only wanted relief. They had no hunger to be holy. They would not turn around to pursue God. Will you?  Joel tells us about real confession and repentance that bring the restoration of our souls. “Come, spend the night in sackcloth, you who minister before my God; … (Joel 1:13, NIV) “Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.” (Joel 2:12-13, NIV)

Are you alienated from the Lord who gives you peace? Is guilt keeping your prayer silent, robbing you of worship, making you miserable?  Thank God for the gift and then with humility of heart, tell Him what you have done and ask Him for strength to live as He desires.  He will abundantly pardon.

Here is the word from the Word.  “Where is another God like you, who pardons the guilt of the remnant, overlooking the sins of his special people? You will not stay angry with your people forever, because you delight in showing unfailing love. Once again you will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean! You will show us your faithfulness and unfailing love as you promised to our ancestors Abraham and Jacob long ago.” (Micah 7:18-20, NLT)

__________________________

Search Me O God (Cleanse Me)

Search me O God and know my heart today
Try me O Savior know my thoughts I pray
See if there be some wicked way in me
Cleanse me from every sin and set me free

 I praise You Lord for cleansing me from sin
Fulfill Thy Word and make me pure within
Fill me with fire where once I burned with shame
Grant my desire to magnify Your Name

Lord take my life and make it wholly Thine
Fill all my heart with Your great love divine
Take all my will my passion self and pride
I now surrender Lord in me abide

 Edwin Orr © Words: Public Domain

Outrage and Insult

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A friend posted a remark online reflecting his sense of outrage over an issue that Christians have debated for centuries. It is a real problem and thoughtful people who want to serve the Lord best will wrestle with it. And, honest and good people will arrive at very different conclusions. When I suggested in a follow-up post that we might do better trying to encourage dialogue than expressing our outrage, several other people joined the ‘discussion.’ My appeal for conversation was quickly buried by angry words and even more outrage.

Have you fallen into that trap, too?  Social media encourages us to ‘say’ things and in ways that we likely would not say in a face to face conversation.  But, there is another issue here, too. We are an angry culture, deeply divided, and quick to dig in to defend positions- big and small. Christians should be different.

Let me point us again to God’s wisdom.  The Proverbs teach us that A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly. The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.” (Proverbs 15:1-3, NIV)  It is worth noting that final phrase is what gives us reason to be gentle people – God knows what is going on! My appeal is not that we become people without convictions or that we fail to stand up for what is right.  What we need is less emotion, less outrage, and more willingness to hear, to reflect, before we respond.

I was once one of those Christians who was quick to throw a verbal grenade, to make sweeping generalizations about others based on limited knowledge. “All those … “ was the introduction to a great deal of foolishness from my lips! That is a source of real regret.

Do I still find myself uncomfortable by the positions taken by others? I do.
When those ideas threaten a cherished value or my convictions do I grow defensive? I do.
Do I sometimes react before I think or listen?  I do.

But, I constantly remind myself that people and relationships are important.  My own life is a complex design of values and ideals that defy easy labels. Too many conversations I would love to have are shut down because I fail to meet some test in the eyes of another which, to them, means I must surely be an opinionated, bigoted, self-righteous old man who is incapable of understanding.

James was the first pastor of the church in Jerusalem, a church torn by debate over the proper way to regard the Jewish traditions from which nearly all the first generation of Christians came. As more Gentiles came to faith, the debates over circumcision, kosher diets, Sabbath-keeping, and eating food that had been prepared in temples of idols became sharply divisive!  That wise pastor taught this – “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” (James 1:19-20, NIV)

Whatever ‘side’ you are on, whatever cause you advocate, whether you are young or old, male or female, whatever your political convictions – let us commit to put Christ first and to learn from Him. He calls us to peace. We do not have to affirm every position or idea of another to practice acceptance of the person.

Here is a word from the Word. May the Lord make us truly wise.
Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding,
for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold.
She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her.
Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor.
Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who embrace her;
those who lay hold of her will be blessed.”
(Proverbs 3:13-18, NIV)

____________

Immortal Invisible God Only Wise

Immortal invisible God only wise
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes
Most blessed most glorious the Ancient of Days
Almighty victorious Thy great name we praise

 Unresting unhasting and silent as light
nor wanting nor wasting Thou rulest in might
Thy justice like mountains high soaring above
Thy clouds which are fountains of goodness and love

 Thou reignest in glory Thou dwellest in light
Thine angels adore Thee all veiling their sight
All laud we would render O help us to see
‘Tis only the splendor of light hideth Thee

© Words: Public Domain

A Quest for adventure?

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Do you love an adventure?  Several years ago,  Bev and I flew to California and helped our kids move back to the East Coast.  We drove a rental truck loaded with household stuff through the deserts of Nevada and Utah,  over the majestic Rocky Mountains of Colorado, across the flat plains of the Midwest.  We ate in little local restaurants, stopped when we wanted, and generally enjoyed the days. It was an adventure.  Last week I “traveled” back to Israel while reading the posts and pictures of another couple making the trip. 20 years ago, Bev and I stood in some of those same places, another of our unforgettable adventures.

This Monday morning are you ready to take an adventure?  Ok, I think some of you are laughing, right? “Sure, Jerry,” said with sarcasm, “because it is Monday and I’m off to work. There is no time for adventure.” Think again!  Not all adventures take us across the country or to some foreign location.

God, the Holy Spirit, has plans for you today.  Paul says “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.”  2 Corinthians 2:14

Don’t dismiss the idea. Open your heart to Him. Invite the Spirit to create moments of unexpected opportunities for spiritual adventures today. Perhaps there is a conversation waiting to happen that could help someone change course in life. Perhaps there is a moment with one of your children when you will find her heart open to you.

Our highest calling and the place of our most lasting contribution to this world is where God and we walk together, discovering His plans. Make life a quest for the holy! Instead of looking for grand moments prayerfully look for God’s guidance in the ordinary and mundane. As much as I treasure the memories of Israel and that cross country drive, the real life I enjoyed with my sweetheart was the adventure of making a life together, watching four wonderful kids grow into adulthood, sharing the calling of leading a local church, seeing God lead and provide day after day.

Here is a word from the Word. Own it! “The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble.” (Proverbs 4:18-19, NIV)

__________

Abba, raise my eyes,
Enlarge my vision!
Replace groaning with laughter,
Duty with delight.

In the ordinary give me
An awareness of Your holy Presence.

May I be wise enough
To seize every opportunity
To love, to laugh, to worship;
Yes, to live to the full.

That You, Jesus, may be
Honored in my thoughts, words, and actions.

 Amen

Words that are like rain on dry soil

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Valued? Rejected?

Yesterday, mid-afternoon, my phone notified me of a message. Opening it, I read a paragraph from someone commenting about how this daily blog was useful in her efforts to share the Christian life with her neighbors. Her note touched my heart because it was affirming, encouraging. Words like that are like rain, bringing fresh life and renewed commitment.  I have my critics, too. Not too long ago, a man pointed out what he thought was wrong in the work I do and added dire predictions of failure before walking out of my life. Even the memory of that conversation is painful!

Is it natural to desire affirmation? I think so.
Watch a toddler respond to her parents smiles and claps.
Observe a child around the age of 8 trying to fit into his class, carefully noting the style of the kid that everybody ‘loves.’
You and I do on our social media, don’t we? Who posts a picture of themselves straight of bed, with hair a mess, eyes still sleepy, in old ragged pajamas?  You are smiling because you know it’s true.

We screen our image on Facebook putting up pictures of ourselves surrounded by smiling faces, when we are looking our best. Is that pride? In a way it is, but it also is just how we have learned to look for the affirmation of others.  But it is a dangerous thing to validate ourselves based on reactions, to believe ourselves a person of value only when we are getting high grades, applause, or encouraging notes via Messenger! That can take us down a road where we become actors, doing things that are not authentic, or even self-destructive in desperate pleas for love.  And you know, as I do, that there will always be someone who does what we do better, someone who appears to enjoy more friends, someone who is more popular.

In our Christian experience, our primary approval comes not from others, but from God.
Paul wrote to his critics in the church of Corinth, people he had brought to Christ who were being bamboozled by preachers who were smooth talkers with big stories. The apostle reminds those people that he is steadied by something other than their opinion of him. “Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” (2 Corinthians 3:1-3, NIV)  He sees the work that God has done and it is the only letter of reference he needs!

 Was Paul being arrogant? Not at all. Self-affirmation, born of our own pride or arrogance blinds us to the truth about ourselves and life. That is not what he is doing. He knows that he gave his best to them, knows that Christ worked through him, and the results speak for themselves about the value of his work. Further on in his letter, chapter 4, Paul states that he refuses to twist God’s Word to serve his own purposes, that he will not deceive or manipulate just to gain approval.  Then, he writes these amazing words that should steady us all as we serve God. “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7, NIV) What freedom is found in knowing that God, the Holy Spirit, lives in us – weak and ordinary as we might be – and we become displays of His glory!

In another passage he reflects on his painful memories and his present peace, one forgiven by grace, the other empowered by the Spirit. “For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” (1 Corinthians 15:9-10, NIV)

Has rejection hurt you?
Are you trying to erase the effect of a parent’s hurtful words spoken decades ago?
Are you trying to overcome that terrible pain that came when you were dismissed, belittled, or ignored?

Know this – The One who knows you best, loves you most!  There is forgiveness for your failures, there is strength for this day, and there is the promise of a reward that will come from the One who sees you all the way to your heart, who sets every action in the context of your entire life. Amazing, isn’t that?

Here is the word from the Word. Jesus says,  “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)  Who needs more affirmation than that?

________________________

How He Loves

(worship at this link)

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

(Yeah) 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 kiss
And my heart turns violently inside of my chest
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets
When I think about the way that

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

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

CCLI License # 810055

Bar Code Christianity

wordswag_1516881867933Remember the supermarket checkout before the bar code scanner? Each item was marked with a price and the checker had to punch it into the cash register. Yep, I really can remember those days. Now, the item is passed in front of the reader that ‘sees’ a little box with lines in it and instantly enters the price into the computer. The scanner cannot tell if it is pricing a can of peas or a box of Cheerios™ because it can only detect and decode a symbol inscrutable to our eyes.

In his book, The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard observes a development in Evangelical Christianity that he labels as “barcode religion.”  There is an event in which a “decision for Christ” is made. And, at that moment, God places a kind of spiritual ‘bar code’ on the individual marking him as destined for Heaven, all sins – past, present, and future – erased by Christ’s grace.  So, you are thinking, isn’t that true?  Well it is- but it is but  half of the truth. Salvation is a gift of God, provided by His grace freely, through Christ. But, to imply that once you have the barcode that all is said and done is a fallacy. Salvation is to be followed by discipleship.

It is a travesty to believe that such a profound inner change as being reconciled to God would not be followed by an observable change in values and behaviors, yet that is too often exactly the case! We have emphasized God’s grace and forgiveness of sin and left out the accompanying transformation called ‘sanctification.’ (becoming a person who is like Christ)  As long as you got the “bar code” it’s all good;  entrance to heaven assured. No worries needed about whether or not day to day behavior bears any resemblance to the Christian life that is described in Scripture. Concerned that we would preach a ‘works religion’ we have neglected to properly teach what it means to be a disciple.

The unintended result is to devalue the Cross of Christ by making what He did there into an eternal life insurance policy. In fact, what Jesus has done for us is to make a whole new life possible by announcing the arrival of God’s rule and to commission to be people of the Kingdom of God. His command that we ‘go into all the world and preach the Gospel,’ is not just about collecting ‘decisions to believe.’  It is about leading people to Him, so that they will be reconciled to God, filled with the Spirit, and transformed day by day into glorious being of love and holiness who are destined for heaven.

I wonder if Paul’s lament about “Christians” of the church in Philippi, is too often true of those who claim to know Jesus in 2018?  “For I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth. But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior.” (Philippians 3:18-20, NLT)

The Spirit-filled Christian life begins with a grace awakening and is possible only to those who maintain an intimate connection with Christ Jesus, one He described as ‘Vine and branch,’  impossible apart from Him. The life of the disciple is one of growth, one that is empowered, one that is changed and she is a change agent in the world where she lives.

What a privilege to become a partner with God in making His rule known, in facing down oppression, in taking on prejudice,  living in a meaningful and purposeful way that is demonstrably different from those who do not yet know Jesus.  Are you living a ‘bar code’ kind of Christianity, content with the promise of grace but unconcerned with becoming His disciple?  Know that there is more, so much more, to faith.

The word from the Word challenges us to see the whole Truth.  The Word says that when Jesus is received by faith and the Spirit takes up residence in us, we “recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone. And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete. We’re free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.” (2 Corinthians 3:17-18, The Message)

Let’s engage with Him and as He lives in us, we will make His life known, changing our family and home, our place of work, yes – the world in which we live.

________________

Beautiful Things
(worship along at this link)

All this pain
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change
At all

All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found
Could a garden come up from this ground
At all

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found
In You

You make me new You are making me new
You make me new You are making me new

Lisa Gungor | Michael Gungor © 2009 worshiptogether.com songs (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

 

Hungry still?

wordswag_1516797660960Frequently I come to the end of a worship gathering, or time in personal prayer, or study of the Scripture with a sense that ‘’there is more.” I remain unsatisfied. Is this normal? Is there some failure on my part that causes me to be hungry still?  Haven’t I heard it said a thousand times that Jesus will satisfy your soul?  But, what exactly am I looking for? What actually is that satisfaction that I desire?

If my longing is to know God, then on this side of eternity, while still clothed in the limitations of this temporal body, I cannot know the Infinite, Eternal One completely. Thus, my hunger is not necessarily an indicator of my failure, but of the whispered invitation of the Spirit to lean in to know Him better, praying “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done.”

Amy Simpson, in an article published in Christianity Today (Jan/Feb. 2018), offers these provocative thoughts. “When we come to Christ expecting satisfaction, we inadvertently approach him as if he is the answer to both our natural appetites and our consumeristic desires. Rather than ask him to transform our desires, we expect him to take them away or morph himself into the solution we’re wanting. We approach him as either a product or a solution. And God is neither.

We love Jesus’ promise of abundant life (John 10:10), and we should, but we must give deeper thought to what He offers. Some of the pulpit rhetoric unintentionally sells us a half-truth, implying He is going to make us happy, solve every dilemma in our lives, if we love Him enough. I grew up singing this deceptively simple little chorus:

Christ is the answer to all my longing,
Christ is the answer to all my need,
Savior, Baptizer, the Great Physician,
O, Hallelujah, He’s all I need.

It is comforting, isn’t it? The words imply that there is a state to which I can aspire where every conflict is resolved, every temptation erased, every ‘longing’ satisfied in Him. Yes, there is a settled peace that every disciple finds in the assurance of eternal life. Yet, we hunger still, and that hunger continues to draw us back to the pursuit of the Holy. Simpson writes “Christ does far more than make our lives completely fulfilling. Repentance and redemption are more than transactional requirements for a good life. God is far greater than a quick fix, and his ultimate plan for re-creation and redemption is not a mere afterthought to a happy life. In some ways, a relationship with Christ intensifies our longings as God shapes them into visions of what he wants us to desire.”   God does not want us bored with Him. He remains Mystery, and only at the Throne will all our longings be perfected and thus, satisfied!

What of Jesus’ words that tell us “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6, NIV)? We do find reconciliation with God through the Cross and that sense we are satisfied, but if we’re authentic, we will acknowledge that there are places in our lives that remain resistant to His will, and thus we hunger still for complete righteousness. We will be ‘filled’ when the Kingdom comes in fullness!

Simpson points to Paul’s statement as evidence that even the Spirit-filled apostle, though intimate with Christ, still hungered to know Christ fully. “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain,” he wrote (Phil. 1:21). Paul knew his ministry was important, yet people who are satisfied by the life they lead don’t wish for death. In his letter to the Romans, Paul is frank about our awkward position in this life, sometimes called the “now and not yet.”

Listen to the longing in these words. “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” (Philippians 3:10-12, NIV)

Disciple, if you find yourself hungry still – don’t despair. Instead press on to know Him more.  And keep your mind and heart set on the “the glory He will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are.” (Romans 8:18-19, NLT)

Here is a word from the Word. May it encourage you to seek the face of the Father, to remain focused even when your hunger is not fully satisfied.
The creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.

Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” (Romans 8:18-25, NIV)

__________

Oh lead me
To the place where I can find You
Oh lead me
To the place where You’ll be
Lead me to the cross
Where we first met
Draw me to my knees
So we can talk
Let me feel Your breath
Let me know
You’re here with me

Martin Smith © 1994 Curious? Music UK (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

Who’s calling the shots?

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We use the phrase ‘call the shots’ about the person in charge, the one with authority. Supposedly it comes from the military, from artillery batteries. The officer who decided where and when to fire the powerful weapons was the said to be ‘calling the shots.’ That person’s authority was unquestioned. So, let me ask you, Christian, to put it the context of your life. Who is calling the shots?  Who determines what you do?  We speak of Christ Jesus as Savior and Lord, rightfully so.  However, is that just rhetoric or is it truth?

Jesus told a story about two sons who were given a directive by their father.  One said, “OK, Dad. I’m on it.” But then, he went off and did what he wanted to do. The other said, “No, that’s not for me.” Later, he reconsidered and did what the father asked of him. He then made the point that it is not words but actions that matter.

Do you sing of your devotion in church, hands raised, eyes closed as if in adoration, only to walk out the door and do your own thing? Do you know what God desires, but choose your own way, justifying your choices as ‘necessary?’ I know how that goes, too! There are too many chapters in my life where I chose what seemed to be expedient over what was right. Those of us who find ourselves afraid of the will of God because of the cost, or because of some imagined consequence, walk a road with many companions.

Abraham, the father of the faithful, in one of the more strange episodes of his life, allowed fear to ‘call the shots,’ and made a foolish choice. His wife was so beautiful that when he moved into the Negev, he became convinced that the king would kill him to take her for his harem! So, Abraham chose to lie and broke faith with his wife and his God. The mercies of the Lord were abundant and He spoke the pagan king in a dream and the story closes with Sarah restored to Abraham, but I can only imagine the damage done to that man’s credibility.

The open secret of obedient devotion is not more rigid self-discipline. It is deeper trust, which rests on intimacy with our Father, which is only possible when we accept His promise of grace and the complete salvation, by faith. We cannot give ourselves wholly to a Father we see as cruel, capricious, or unloving. The big lie of the Enemy of our soul is as old as Eden – “God is not good, He withholds good things from you.” He whispered it to Eve and when she believed it, disobedience followed. Do not focus on your failure, but on His grace. Do not look at the temptation, but on His ever-present help in time of testing. Do not rehearse your desire, but rather confess the abundance that is found in Christ alone.  Ah, yes, friend, these are not easy choices, but they are possible.

I close this thought today with a lengthy passage. As you read the word from the Word, see that the truth always points to Him, that we yield and rest on His ability to save.

“Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God. But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.)

 And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God. The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you. Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” (Romans 8:5-14, NLT)

Tell Him that He calls the shots!  Then, let the peace of Christ rule your heart and mind, trusting the outcomes to Him.

_______________

Good, Good Father  (listen, learn, and worship at this link)

I’ve heard a thousand stories
Of what they think You’re like
But I’ve heard the tender whisper
Of love in the dead of night
You tell me that You’re pleased
And that I’m never alone

You’re a Good Good Father
It’s who You are
It’s who You are
It’s who You are
And I’m loved by You
It’s who I am
It’s who I am
It’s who I am

I’ve seen many searching for answers
Far and wide
But I know we’re all searching for answers
Only You provide
Because You know just what we need
Before we say a word

You are perfect in all of Your ways
You are perfect in all of Your ways
You are perfect in all of Your ways to us

Love so undeniable I can hardly speak
Peace so unexplainable I can hardly think
As You call me deeper still
As You call me deeper still
As You call me deeper still
Into love love love

You’re a Good Good Father
It’s who You are
It’s who You are
It’s who You are
And I’m loved by You
It’s who I am
It’s who I am
It’s who I am

Anthony Brown | Pat Barrett© 2014 Capitol CMG Paragon (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

Common Hymnal Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

Monday’s opportunities

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The young man told me that he felt he had a second chance at life and was resolved to make better choices. Several years ago, after a night of partying, he was in a catastrophic crash. The driver hit utility poles at high speed, flipping the car three times, and Matt was thrown into the roadway. His body was broken, his life hung by a thread. He told me that the medical bills were over a million dollars!  And now, he’s turned around, looking for ways to make his life count.

Perhaps your story is not so dramatic.  As a result, are you are content to drift from day to day, caught up in that common idea that life goes on forever? It doesn’t!  God is preparing opportunities for you, for me. Will we make the choice to step up?

The Word speaks this practical challenge to us. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Galatians 6:9-10, NIV)  What can we take away from this passage?

First, we are urged not to give up. Who has not had a moment when life just seemed too much to carry on?  “I quit!” plays in the corners of our mind.  A standing pastor joke is that most of write our resignations on Monday morning. After a day of preaching, loving, caring, sharing, praying there is a kind of weariness of soul. Sometimes when a Sunday has included disappointments, when the congregation was small, or the sermon did not ‘connect,’ we are tempted to say, “I’m finished!”  It is not just pastors, is it?  You probably have had moments when you wanted to quit your job, walk away from some commitment, call it quits on a ‘friend,’ or even abandon faith.  The Word promises us a harvest “if we do not give up.”   Before you quit, pause. Rest is required and in those pauses, we can find renewal, new perspective, a reason to try again.

Second, we are told to look for the opportunities. Are you waiting for your ‘big break?’  Are you sitting around in the mistaken belief that success will find you while you wait? Stand up, open your eyes, and do what you can do right where you are.  In my life, I have learned one secret of being productive.  I take advantage of the moment. In  between the major responsibilities, I do things that can be done in 15 minutes, in an hour. Instead of waiting for a ‘clear schedule’ I find ways to accomplish the small tasks in between the big ones. So in one day I can get one or two major things done and fit 5 or 6 lesser things in between. But, that demands a constant awareness of ‘what’s next?’

This Monday morning God may present you with an opportunity to encourage someone who is feeling broken, and it might be that your concern will help them make a decision with far-reaching consequence. The Spirit may whisper an invitation to you to listen to His voice while you drive. Will you? Or, will you turn on the radio and drown out His voice?  Your child may come looking for your loving attention, an opportunity. Will you look up from whatever you’re doing to listen and love?  The list goes on and on.  There are opportunities prepared all around us to make a difference in the world, but most are small, seeming almost inconsequential to us, but we cannot know what one simple act can do to change a life.

Meditate on this promise, a word from the Word before you move into your day.
“God can do anything, you know—
far more than you could ever imagine
or guess or request in your wildest dreams!
He does it
not by pushing us around
but by working within us,
his Spirit deeply and gently within us.” (Ephesians 3:20, The Message)

Now, go make the most of those opportunities.

___________

I Surrender

(listen to the song at this link)

The riches of this world will fade
The treasures of our God remain
Here I empty myself to owe this world nothing
And find ev’rything in You 

I surrender I surrender I surrender all to You

 Take my life a sacrifice
In You alone I’m satisfied
Here I empty myself to owe this world nothing
And find ev’rything in You
Oh oh ev’rything in You

Not my will but Yours be done
Not my strength but Yours alone
Nothing else but You O Lord
I find ev’rything in You

David Leonard | Jason Ingram | Leslie Jordan© 2016 Hyatt Street Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing (Integrity Music [DC Cook]))

Integrity’s Alleluia! Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing (Integrity Music [DC Cook]))

CCLI License # 810055

God works in mysterious ways? Right?

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There is a phrase we use when nothing else makes any sense. It is one of those that is true but usually it is more like an expression of defeat than an affirmation of faith. Sigh. “Yeah, God works in mysterious ways,” we say without much conviction. But, He does and He invites us to trust Him profoundly.

“God moves in mysterious ways” is part of a hymn written by William Cowper in the 18th century. He struggled with depression for most of his life. In the depths of his pain, he wrote poems that were set to music, many becoming loved songs of the Church. One of the best known is There is A Fountain. The hymn from which this line is taken was his last. The story of the hymn’s origin is fascinating though we cannot confirm it. “One night he decided to end his life by drowning himself. He called a cab and told the driver to take him to the Thames River. However, thick fog came down and prevented them from finding the river (another version of the story has the driver getting lost deliberately). After driving around lost for a while, the cab finally stopped and let Cowper out. To his sur­prise, he found himself on his own doorstep: God had sent the fog to keep him from killing himself.” – cyberhymnal.org

God works in mysterious ways,” is REAL comfort for suffering saints who are willing to wait, trust, and look to the Sovereign Lord.

Moses was living in the center of the will of God.  But, he ran into situations that made little sense. Exodus 5 read like a tragic comedy! Moses and Aaron arrive in Egypt with great news for the Hebrew slaves, “The LORD God has sent us to lead you out of slavery, back to the Land of Promise.” The people heard their message with great joy and they worshipped the Lord. Then, these two men went to Pharaoh to appeal for release of the Hebrews. He laughed at them and doubled the slaves’ workload, making life even more miserable! “Lazy, that’s what you are—lazy! That is why you keep saying, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the LORD.’” (Exodus 5:17, NIV) Moses and Aaron were no longer popular. Their promise was rather hollow! “The foremen said to them, “May God see what you’ve done and judge you—you’ve made us stink before Pharaoh and his servants! You’ve put a weapon in his hand that’s going to kill us!”(Exodus 5:21, The Message)  Moses was as confused as anyone. He asked the Lord, “Why did you send me? Ever since I came to Pharaoh as your spokesman, he has been even more brutal to your people. And you have done nothing to rescue them!” (Exodus 5:22-23, NLT) Yet, God was working!

From our seat in the grandstand of history we look over the story and realize that the Lord was setting the stage for a confrontation with the gods of Egypt, in which He would show His mighty hand and reveal that they were no gods at all. Egypt was a wonder of the ancient world. God would bring her to her knees before He was finished, but nobody knew that in the moment. They only saw a greater workload with less resources, a situation that appeared to grow worse by the day. But, God planned a day of deliverance when all Egypt would say, “Yahweh is the Lord!”

Cowper finished the thought that  “God moves in mysterious ways” with this conclusion – “His wonders to perform!”  The affirmation of God’s purposes is not a spiritual aspirin meant to minimize our pain nor should we feel ashamed if we wrestle with faith as we try to comprehend His ways. It is a lifeline of truth thrown to us to pull us out of the murky waves of despair. In the darkest day, we speak our faith and live it – trusting in the Word’s revelation that God rules without hindrance and that His purposes always stand.

So, we can, we must, take great comfort in His mysterious ways, praying for faith to let the picture form, so that all we see it.

Are you wrestling with things in life right now that would appear to be without purpose? Does it seem that life has overwhelmed God and His plans, leaving you just hanging onto a bit of wreckage on the sea of life trying to stay afloat?  Don’t quit!  Re-dedicate yourself to Him, with the simplest prayer, being real about your feelings. Then re-affirm your faith in the God who works in mysterious ways.

Here is a word from the Word.  I pray that the Spirit will make it a life preserver for you today.
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. …  For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. …  And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28, NIV)

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:18, 24-25, 35-37, NIV)

______________
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

 Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.

 Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

– Public Domain, William Cowper

The Kingdom Arrives Quietly

wordswag_1516278174219Do you live with an awareness of the Presence and rule of Christ Jesus in your life? Is Jesus present and active today in your life? That is the key to knowing the promise of ‘abundant life’ that is the birthright of those who know Him. John 10:10 is not just a slogan or for the spiritual elite. It is an offer for me, for you. “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10, NIV) That kind of existence – a  rich, satisfying, free, hopeful, purposeful, and meaningful life – is found when we know Jesus beyond our intellect, when the Spirit makes the message of the love of God our possession.

Luke tells a story that fills me with wonder, one that shows us how an encounter with Jesus can radically change us.  “One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so Jesus went to his home and sat down to eat. When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them.” (Luke 7:36-39, NLT)

Amazing, scandalous, isn’t it? A woman ‘who had lived a sinful life’ meets Jesus, experiences a powerful love, and forgets herself completely! She was likely a prostitute, probably because of some tragedy of the past that had reduced her to that kind of life to survive.  Wherever she went she was an outcast, except to the men who met her in the dark. She did not get invites to public events, she did not met with approving looks in town. Then she met Jesus. I wish we knew more of their interaction. What did He say to her? Had they met before? Had He looked at her unlike any other man, seeing her, not just her body? However it happened, she experienced the love of God which was the reason for Jesus’ coming to earth and that love changed everything.

I often think of the ‘Kingdom of God’ only in terms of power encounters with evil;  healing, being set free from torment of evil, overcoming some fortress of oppression. But this story shows me another kind of arrival of God’s kingdom, a stealthy revelation of love, a heart thing that changes everything about an ordinary life. Do you know that God loves you?  Has an experience of faith allowed the Good News of that love to set you free to live a whole new kind of life, one centered on knowing Him?

Pause here for a moment and pray something like this: “Spirit of God, use the Word to open my eyes to the Truth, to go beyond my mind, and into my heart with a revelation of Your love.”  Now, read on.  “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.” (Romans 5:6-11, NLT)

God is our advocate, desiring good for us. He pursues us, even while we are in rebellion. Do you believe that? Will you receive it without excuse or rationalization?  “God loves ME!”  He does not just tolerate me, dutifully care for me. He LOVES me! And, He loves you, too.  “For God loved (Jerry) so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that (Jerry) who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NLT)  Go back and read that passage substituting your name for mine.  There is no truth that the Evil One wants to hide from you more than this because, as we see the story of that sinful woman, when the Kingdom comes with the revelation of the love of God, everything is different.

I close these thoughts today with a passage is on my top ten list of Scripture passages. As you read it, know that I am praying for you – that the love of God will wreck your pretensions, tear down your self-righteousness, and set you free to live “life to the full.”

Here is a word from the Word – “My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength— that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.” (Ephesians 3:14-20, The Message)

____________

Good Good Father

I’ve heard a thousand stories
Of what they think You’re like
But I’ve heard the tender whisper
Of love in the dead of night
You tell me that You’re pleased
And that I’m never alone

 You’re a Good Good Father
It’s who You are
It’s who You are
It’s who You are
And I’m loved by You
It’s who I am
It’s who I am
It’s who I am

 I’ve seen many searching for answers
Far and wide
But I know we’re all searching for answers
Only You provide
Because You know just what we need
Before we say a word
You are perfect in all of Your ways\
You are perfect in all of Your ways
You are perfect in all of Your ways to us

 Love so undeniable I can hardly speak
Peace so unexplainable I can hardly think
As You call me deeper still
As You call me deeper still
As You call me deeper still
Into love love love

 Anthony Brown | Pat Barrett

© 2014 Capitol CMG Paragon (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

Common Hymnal Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

Housefires Sounds (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

sixsteps Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055