Stinkin’ Thinkin’

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Tuesday, after a long meeting, at the end of a particularly challenging day, I blurted out bitter words about how hard life has been for the last 10 years. Garry, a friend who heard me say it, gently reminded me that it has not all been dark. And, he is right. I was only seeing part of the reality. I was hit hard by the loss of my parents and my wife. Health issues have dogged me. I have had some disappointments in other areas. But, there are wonderful gifts as well. There is the joy of knowing the hope of Jesus. There are the numerous friends that walk with me. There is a holy calling to serve God’s people in pastoral ministry that is my privilege. That night, my fatigue, the real problems that need a solution, my personal grief, and my sense of loss became a poisonous state of mind, faithless and dark, that I call stinkin’ thinkin’.

I know a basic principle that is true.
Right thinking always precedes right living.

Jesus said it simply – “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6: 43, 45-46, NIV) If we want to change our life, we must change our thoughts.

Transformation does not start with our situation and/or circumstances;   it starts inside of us.

We are prone to create a mythical kind of life in our mind where things are aligned to around what we think will give us the most happiness. “Jerry, what’s wrong with that?   Isn’t that being visionary?” Not really, it’s called dreaming! In that dream world, everyone cooperates with our agenda, we have all the money we think we need, our boss is always kind and understanding, our spouse is completely loving all of the time, every day is sunny. Now you are smiling because you see how unreal that is. But, if we invest time comparing our reality with the myth, the likely outcome is bitterness.

There is a better way. It matches faith in God’s constant love and Presence with our need and waits on Him to reveal His purposes. If we desire to live a godly life, to remain steady, we need to serve the real God, not the imaginary god of our own creation.

Who is He?

He is the Almighty; yes, the Lord of all. Start there. Humbly present yourself to Him, as you are.
He is Love. It does seem like He is loving sometimes. He can appear cruel to us, but the Word teaches us that He acts from love towards us.
He is Actively Present. Yes, He is at work in you and in the world around you, though sometimes to our eyes that is not apparent.
His purposes will win out for us, and for this world.

Does all that mean we should never have a day like I had on Tuesday, when the losses stacked up, the challenges turned into mountains? If we believe that God should magically keep us from difficulty, that He should sweep all the tough stuff out of our way, a kind of stinkin’ thinkin’ will take over and destroy our faith. If we look for Him, wait on Him, trust Him, and love Him – he will change us; giving us peace, equipping us with wisdom, leading us through the tough stuff.

Today, if you are in a rough place, go to these amazing facts about the goodness of the Lord. If you are a regular reader, you will know them for they are found in my favorite letter in the Bible, Paul’s words in Ephesians. It is a letter that overflows with truth about God, grace, and His love. Don’t go to these words looking for a ‘quick fix’ in your situation. Rather let them change your mind today.

I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:14-21, NIV)

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CoffeeBreak will be back on March 5, the good Lord willing!
I’ll be taking some time for renewal.   Thank you for reading along.

Where Joy and Peace Are Found

wordswag_1519299649187Next week, Lord-willing, I will get on an airplane to go to see my children. Why spend the money and make the effort when I can talk with them anytime on the phone? We text message often. We swap pictures on Facebook. So, that should be enough, right? Of course not. I want to be with them, to sit at their tables, to feel their hugs, to do life in their presence for a few days.  Truth is, we are relational beings, created that way by a Relational Being! Unless we are damaged in some awful way, we want to be with other people; connecting, sharing life.

It is not just people we need. Disciple, we need to experience the Presence of God! The Genesis story tells us about the separation brought by the refusal of His will.  We know that sense of alienation, that lostness from the love of the Father, too.  But, in Christ Jesus we are ‘brought near,’ our sins forgiven, a covenant love given us by grace. Even then, though, many of us think of God as existing ‘out there, somewhere.’ We let ourselves believe that we have to go to someplace to know Him,  like I have to travel to see my kids who live a 1000 miles away.  In fact, He is here now!

Over and over again the stories of the Scripture teach us that He sees, He knows, He loves – you and me. He is not like the picture painted by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, reaching down out of a far heaven. He is Present. He is as near as the air we breathe. What a transformation comes over us when, by faith, we begin to live in His Presence.

  • Moses, who was leading God’s people to their Promised Land, knew they needed to be aware of God’s Presence.  While he was on Mt. Sinai, they made an idol, turned from His Presence, to seek another god!  The Lord pronounced the judgment – “Go up … But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.” (Exodus 33:3 NIV) He withdrew His Presence from them. Moses, ever the intercessor for the people he led, knew they could not survive apart from Him. His prayer is powerful: “If you don’t personally go with us, don’t make us leave this place. How will anyone know that you look favorably on me—on me and on your people—if you don’t go with us? For your presence among us sets your people and me apart from all other people on the earth.” (Exodus 33:15-16)
Do you have that same reliance on Him? Does a living friendship with the Father, the Presence of the Holy Spirit in you, working through you, set you apart as a child of God?
  • David, when he sinned terribly, cried: “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.” (Psalm 51:11, NIV) a cry repeated by those who have known the joy of walking near to the heart of God and then terror of being forsaken!
  • The most wrenching cry of Jesus from the cross was: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, NIV) as He carried the sin guilt of all humanity and was separated from His Father.
The sweetest promise Jesus makes to us is “surely I am with you always!” (Matthew 28:20) Disciples no longer need go to some holy place to find God’s Presence. The Holy Spirit is with us, living in us. A life lived near to the heart of God, with an awareness of His Presence, is where joy and peace are found.
Do you live in His Presence? We can grieve Him with persistent, willful disobedience. We can ignore Him, so taken up with the daily stuff of living that we forget the treasure of His love.  But, we need not live there. Let’s become newly aware of His Presence, thanking Him for walking with us, knowing us, loving us.

Ponder this passage, our word from the Word, and then, faithfully live in the promise of His Presence. “And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:19-22, NLT)
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(Come into His Presence as you listen at this link)
This is the air I breathe
This is the air I breathe
Your holy presence living in me
This is my daily bread
This is my daily bread
Your very word spoken to me
And I I’m desperate for You
And I I’m lost without You
This is the air I breathe
This is the air I breathe
Marie Barnett
© 1995 Mercy / Vineyard Publishing (Admin. by Vineyard Music USA)
CCLI License # 810055

Blazing fire or grey ashes?

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My living room includes a fireplace which I occasionally load with wood so that I can enjoy the flickering flame.  If I keep it going, it warms the house as well as being a nice touch to the room! Keeping the fire going demands attention; adding fuel, stirring the embers. That fireplace allows me to enjoy its benefits, but only as I attend to it.

Faith is much the same.  When first lit by the touch of the Spirit, faith burns brightly, warming us with hope.  Remember those first weeks or months after you received the gift of faith through Christ Jesus?  With the weight of sin and guilt lifted, with the promise of knowing God became personal, when the hope of eternal life was yours to own; life blazed in vibrant faith.

Have you tended faith’s flame?

Jesus teaches that tough times will come. Temptation will increase. Persecution will make life tough. Evil will take over all around us. The sad result for some Christians will be that “the overwhelming spread of evil will do them in—nothing left of their love but a mound of ashes. ” (Matthew 24:12, The Message) If we do not tend the flame of faith, it will fade to dying embers and then to ashes.

Having lived on this earth for 6 decades, I have experienced the various temptations that can lead to the cooling of faith. As a young man, it was the passions of life that distracted.  The next decade brought intense, hard work, the drive to achieve often in direct competition with the demands of Christ. That was followed by that time in life when a sense of ‘been there, done that’ settled onto faith, routine tempting me to neglect the pursuit of the Holy.  In these later years, I am tempted to throttle back, to coast on the spiritual discoveries of the past. Each season has its own tests, but the result of neglect, whatever the reason, will be the dying of the flame.

In his final letter, Paul, a man much battered by life, who kept the faith burning brightly, wrote to a younger pastor to encourage him. The words come to us. “Fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:6-7, NLT)

How do we keep the fires of faith burning brightly? There is no mystery about this.  As Paul told Timothy, God gives us spiritual power, transforms into creatures that love, and calls us to self-discipline.

  1. We must use our faith if we want it to consume us.  If we live timidly, retreating from every challenge, choosing only ‘safe’ paths, avoiding every calling that might be costly; faith will cool.
  2. We must continue to pursue the Truth. Subtle deception is a constant threat. We open our minds to the Scripture, we challenge our assumptions, and this adds fuel of Truth to our faith.
  3. We must commit ourselves to the Body of Christ, engaging in regular, corporate worship.  If a log in my fireplace tumbles off of the pile, the flame on it goes out, and a lump of charcoal is left in the morning. We need to be together, our mutual gifts feeding a passionate faith.
  4. We must deal with the sinful nature.  When the Spirit speaks, when our conscience aches, we have a choice:  silence the Voice, deaden ourselves by refusing the call; or making a turn-around, to repentance and confession. These will keep us in Spirit’s Presence, blazing with holy fire.
  5. And, finally, we must remember that Glory that draws us on. The fires of faith are fed by keeping the promises of Heaven always in sight!

Here’s a word from the Word. May it strengthen you in the faith! “So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.” But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.” (Hebrews 10:35-39, NIV)

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Oh place in my heart
A passion for Jesus
A hunger that seizes
My passion for You
My one desire
My greatest possession
My only confession
My passion for You

Brian Houston © 1999 Thankyou Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

You’re not the boss of me!

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We all deal with seasons in life when all the options are difficult, don’t we? We ask, “Am I up to this?” Or, perhaps, “Do I even want to do this?” Those kinds of situations are even harder when we get conflicting advice about the best course of action. There is one choice that Christ’s disciples always know to be the right one – doing things His way!  Whatever decisions we make, the state of the heart is critical.  We must ask ourselves – “Am I prepared to let Christ Jesus be Lord, to trust Him?”  Or, do we live like a child whose rebellious heart screams “You’re not the boss of me.”?

In Luke 7, Jesus commended a man for something that we all need to note.  “So Jesus went with them. He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.” (Luke 7:6-10, NIV)

That man revealed his faith in submission!  He understood authority so whatever was required of him by the government of Rome was what he must do.  Amazingly, He realized that was the way that the Kingdom of Heaven operated as well.  Recognizing Jesus’ authority, he gained great faith. He expected that Jesus could just speak the order and that the healing he requested for his servant would happen.

Might it be that one of the reasons we do not experience the peace of God in the middle of life’s frustrating circumstances is our unwilling to completely submit ourselves to Him?  Do we fail to live under authority? When we feel trapped by hard things, do we go to the Lord, but only with a half-committed heart or with a kind of resignation?  This centurion shows us that it is possible to embrace His Will, to find joy in saying “You lead, I’ll follow!”

It is natural to what to live life on or own terms. We like it when others do what we desire, when our children obey us, when our spouse adapts to our plans, don’t we?  True spiritual peace can only be found when we love the Lord so completely that we will give up Self.  We will not find serenity in our situations as long as we insist on having our way and demanding that God care for us at the same time.  Understand this.  Most of us are not wanting to do some terrible thing.  It’s not like we want to kill somebody or rob a bank. Self-will is much more subtle than that.  It says, “I want my way. I want things to flow in my direction. God, make me happy and satisfy my needs.”

Instead, we must say, “I am a person under authority.”  In that place of submission we can discover a supernatural peace, one only possible in complete surrender. In my Christian life, I have found that most of the time in the situations that frustrate me, the one who changes is me! The Lord usually does not step in to miraculously make it all better. Instead, He creates contentment and peace in me.

Are you ‘boxed in’ by life this morning?
Are you angry, frustrated, perhaps even ready to walk away from it all?
Do this first!
Kneel! Hold out your hands in the universal gesture of surrender, and invite Him to be Lord of your heart. Make this confession: “You are Lord, I am not.”

And, listen.

When the heart and mind is no longer in a rebellious state, when He is Lord and Master, possibilities are created that are beyond our ability to create for ourselves.

Here is a word from the Word. “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:5-7, NIV)

“Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21, KJV)

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I will offer up my life in spirit and truth,
Pouring out the oil of love, as my worship to You.
In surrender I must give my ev’ry part;
Lord, receive the sacrifice of a broken heart.

 Jesus, what can I give, What can I bring
To so faithful a friend, To so loving a King?
Savior, what can be said, What can be sung,
As a praise of Your name for the things You have done?
Oh, my words could not tell, Not even in part,
Of the debt of love that is owed by this thankful heart.

 You deserve my every breath
for You’ve paid the great cost.
Giving up Your life to death,
Even death on a cross.
You took all my shame away,
There defeated my sin,
Opened up the gates of heaven,
And have beckoned me in.

I Will Offer Up My Life — Redman, Matt © 1994 Kingsway’s Thankyou Music (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing) CCLI License No. 810055

“Ah, but why, Lord?”

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I am, by nature, somewhat skeptical. Promises do not impress me all that much. I prefer to see action. Show me the proof. Demonstrate to me why I should buy what you are selling, why I should follow your advice, why what you are telling me is compelling. Gain my confidence and I am ready to comply.

A story from Luke’s Gospel caught my attention today that shows the importance of doing what Jesus says, not just talking about it.  One day Jesus wanted to teach, but the crowds were pressing him so he asked to use Simon’s boats. He got in the boat, pushed a little way out from the shore and spoke to the people.

“When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:4-8, NIV)

Simon was tired from fishing all night. He was ready to go home and take a rest, in spite of no catch. Jesus had another plan. “Simon, sail out and throw your nets again!” To the tired man it was not a small thing. If he complied, it would mean more hours of work, cleaning and drying his nets again. And, besides, there were no fish in the vicinity, as his fruitless efforts had shown. He protests but then says this
“Because YOU say so, I will!”

There are two things for us in those words for this Monday morning.

Are you in touch with Jesus, in a place where He is able to speak to you?
Our agendas can fill up our lives to the extent we become spiritually deaf. Persistent sin will grieve God’s Spirit leaving us without the benefit of His guidance. Fatigue can, and often does, cause us to push the disciplines of the spirit out of our day, and we fail to pray, to meditate, or read the Word. Simon (later called Peter) was able to hear Jesus’ directions because he was present, available, and aware. Are you in a place where God, the Spirit, can speak to you?  Nothing is more important, truly, than training your heart and mind to be responsive to the voice of the Spirit.

Are you ready to obey?
Jesus told a story about two young men whose father requested action from them. One objected and refused, but later did what he was asked. One readily agreed, but then did nothing! Which one was actually obedient?  The answer is obvious. It was not the son who merely agreed. It was the one who did the task.  God is unimpressed with our prayers if they are disconnected from life. He cares little for our ‘worship’ if, in reality, our choices reveal that we love other ‘gods.’

We need to be inclined to obedience,  because we KNOW and TRUST Him.  He does not threaten us or force us to comply with a strong arm.  He says this, “if you love me, keep my commands.”

On this Monday morning, does Jesus have a plan for your life today? Yes, He does.  Will you let Him lead?

Our word from the Word shares His promise.  Our richest life, our best, is wrapped up in Him. Before you head off to your day, take some time to meditate on these words.
“Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5, NIV)

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Trust And Obey

When we walk with the Lord
In the light of His Word
What a glory He sheds on our way
While we do His good will
He abides with us still
And with all who will trust and obey

 Trust and obey
For there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus
But to trust and obey

Daniel Brink Towner © Words: Public Domain

Jesus, Buddha, and Mohammed

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New! It is a word that we love. One of my ‘weaknesses’ is that about every 2 years I start to notice new cars …  even though my transportation is perfectly good, it’s the ‘new’ thing that captivates me. This week I replaced my 6 year old computer with a new laptop. Yep! The old one was still working, a little slow, but just fine, however, I figured I ‘needed’ a ‘new’ one.

New cars, computers, and phones are one thing, but ‘new’ truth is quite another.  Many are suggesting that our Christianity is in need of a re-working, that we might need to get the message to better fit our world if we want to keep our churches open. What about that?

New methods to present an unchanging Gospel are great. Given my season in life, even adapting to new methods, however, is proving a little more challenging.  The difficulty is in discerning what is just an adaptation and what is an attempt to re-write the Truth of God.  So many would turn Jesus into a great Teacher, the Gospel into moral maxims.  The Truth is that He was God in flesh, the Perfect Man, who died on the Cross, and Who was raised, bodily, from His grave to live forever as our Savior, King, and High Priest!   It is that Resurrection that substantiates His claim to be ‘the Way, the Truth, and the Life.’  We are not just changed by learning a doctrine, we are transformed by an encounter with a living Jesus who makes us, though dead to God, alive in the Spirit.

I am a Christian because Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, and hundreds of other people gave first-hand testimony that a dead man returned to walk with them. Some might say, “Jerry, that does not sell in our scientific age. Dead people do not rise from the grave.” Except that Jesus did, which was, is, and will be the proof of our faith. If Jesus did not come back from the grave, then His claim to be God come to Earth was bogus and we must give him a place among other spiritual teachers of history. We can then treat his words like those of any other philosopher/teacher; free to pick and choose what we like, mixing and matching them with those of the Buddha, of Mohammed, of Confucius, and our Grandpa! The troubling issue of “Truth” is gone, replaced by “preference” which allows each one of do whatever is right in our own eyes! How convenient for a society that worships autonomy and choice!

Here is what Paul declares about Jesus. “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:15-20, NIV)

Has the Gospel been misinterpreted, twisted, and bent by some?  We cannot ignore the fact that Jesus has been made the captive of those who use Him to control, enslave, and enrich themselves! The Church, through the ages, has made some choices that are awful, ugly, and inexcusable – often ‘in the Name of Christ.’  But, that does not invalidate the Gospel.

If you are wrestling with faith, go again to the testimony of the four Gospels, written by men who knew Him, who heard Him teach, who saw Him alive after the grave!  They show us a Man who gave us a real NEW way to live – to love God, to love others. Jesus did not hold onto power for Himself. He gave Himself away. And, yes, the majesty of His claim to be the Judge of all the earth lies in His willingness to be the Servant Savior of all. He is the Man of the Cross as well as the Lord of the Universe. None of us need fear complete trust, total submission, to One who would leave a perfect Heaven, endure scorn and rejection, who would challenge people intent on using power to oppress, and ultimately die for the very people who rejected His message. Such a Man has demonstrated so great a love that I willingly accept His judgment, willingly bow myself before His Truth – because that which He demands of me is not designed for His good, but rather to give me life! He said, “It is the Spirit who gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing. And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (John 6:63, NLT)

Don’t be duped by those who, in the name of truth, would rob you of the Truth. Yes, they may well have confused the religion, the letter of the law that kills, with the Gospel that liberates and gives life. They may even believe that they are doing us a service by freeing us from ‘silly superstitions.’

The word from the Word is Jesus’ prayer for you and me. Meditate on it today and feel the power of the Spirit and Truth!
Speaking to His Father, the night before His crucifixion, He prays for us-
“Now I am coming to you. I told them many things while I was with them in this world so they would be filled with my joy. I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.

I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. They do not belong to this world any more than I do. Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth.” (John 17:13-17, NLT)  This is the Gospel of Christ!

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What A Beautiful Name

(Worship at the link)

 You were the Word at the beginning
One with God the Lord Most High
Your hidden glory in creation
Now revealed in You our Christ

 What a beautiful Name it is
What a beautiful Name it is
The Name of Jesus Christ my King
What a beautiful Name it is

Nothing compares to this
What a beautiful Name it is
The Name of Jesus

 You didn’t want heaven without us
So Jesus You brought heaven down
My sin was great Your love was greater
What could separate us now

 What a wonderful Name it is
What a wonderful Name it is
The Name of Jesus Christ my King
What a wonderful Name it is

Nothing compares to this
What a wonderful Name it is
The Name of Jesus
What a wonderful Name it is
The Name of Jesus

 Death could not hold You
The veil tore before You
You silence the boast of sin and grave
The heavens are roaring
The praise of Your glory
For You are raised to life again

 You have no rival
You have no equal
Now and forever God You reign
Yours is the kingdom
Yours is the glory
Yours is the Name above all names

 What a powerful Name it is
What a powerful Name it is
The Name of Jesus Christ my King
What a powerful Name it is
Nothing can stand against
What a powerful Name it is

The Name of Jesus
What a powerful Name it is
The Name of Jesus
What a powerful Name it is
The Name of Jesus

Ben Fielding | Brooke Ligertwood © 2016 Hillsong Music Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

 

I’m Mad at Hell and I’m not going to take it any longer!

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In the middle of our celebration of love yesterday, while we were exchanging cards with sweethearts and cherished friends to express our affection, a grenade of sorrow landed blowing up our good feelings, leaving us shaking our heads and shedding tears. An 18 year man walked into a high school in south Florida and shot 17 to death, wounding 14 more, at last report. In the last several years this has become a story too familiar to us. Remember our shock over the shooting at Columbine High School in 1999? That day our nation was shaken at the news of two boys with rifles who took 11 lives in their high school before ending their own.  Two decades later school shooting are happening, on average, more than 50 times each year!! Something is desperately wrong with America.

I refuse to shake my head and just ‘move on’ any longer! Like that weeping ex-FBI agent on CNN last who broke down in the middle of his report, declaring “I can’t do it, I can’t do it,” I will not accept that is the new normal. This is a time to put away our rhetoric, to stop blaming the ‘other party,’ to forget about tinkering with laws that won’t restrain angry, often mentally unbalanced, people determined to kill.

This is a spiritual crisis and it is time for Christ’s church to go to her knees to seek wisdom and take to her feet to strengthen families and communities. Singing our songs on Sunday morning isn’t enough. Gathering in our safe building to hear insipid sermons that comfort us while the world is burning down, just isn’t good enough for me now. God needs people who will weep until they have heard from Heaven and who will stand up to serve. Yes, many in this godless land will mock us. This week, on a major network, a commentator blatantly said that ‘hearing Jesus speak’ is a sign of mental illness.  I’m not angry at her, I just want to let her see that she is simply wrong. How? When the overflow of supernaturally empowered service that begins to turn the tide!

We need to ‘hear from Jesus!’ Pastors need to re-discover the Truth and speak it, wisely, lovingly, and with the anointing of the Spirit of God. Christians need to get over their fixation with trying to “save the culture” by electing people who say things they like to hear and get on with caring for the poor, embracing the fatherless with real care, rebuilding Sunday Schools that really teach the Scripture, and most of all – pray, pray, pray – not fearful, whiny prayers for God’s protection, but rather bold prayers that say, “Lord, send me to serve, regardless of late nights, rejection, fatigue, or inconvenience. I’m ready to die to my Self to do what You want me to do.”

A legacy like that of William Wilberforce, who spent his life combating the slave trade, enduring criticism and rejection, is what I desire. William Booth, a Methodist preacher, walked the squalid slums of London and said it had to change. He founded the Salvation Army and changed that city for God, by caring for those society had forgotten. Many pastors mocked his street preaching and some even reviled him for disturbing the ‘natural order’ of things!

I will preach Christ, Crucified, Savior, and Lord. I will not be a militant, I will be a man of love. I will not take up a political cause, I’ll take up my Bible and tell anybody who will listen that Jesus loves them, that He will save them from their sins, and I will see lives changed, so help me God.  I am mad at Hell and I am not going to take it any longer.

An ancient king of Judah knew that the kingdom was in jeopardy.  He assembled the people and led them in prayer before going out to battle. The armies of Hell stand at the gates to kill and destroy. Families are being shattered. America is at a breaking point.

So, I take an excerpt of his prayer to as the word from the Word today. “O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you. …  See how they are repaying us by coming to drive us out of the possession you gave us as an inheritance. O our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.” (2 Chronicles 20:6-12, NIV)

__________

Abba, forgive us for our impotence,
born of our love of comfort and our apathy.
Rouse Your Church!
Shut our mouths and open our hearts.
Forgive us, O Lord, for our foolish idolization of
political leaders who we imagine to be our saviors.

Make us broken, rip open our hearts.
Fill our eyes with tears, not of self-pity,
but for those enslaved by Satan,
battered by evil, and lost to Your love.

Send ME with new passion for those who need You.
Give ME hands that serve tirelessly.
Take MY comfort, disturb my sleep,
use MY resources.
Yes, Lord, send me.

For Jesus’ sake and for the Kingdom’s cause.
In His holy Name, I pray.

Amen.

 

Is God Smart Enough for you?

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After a couple of visits to the office, I came to this conclusion: “I don’t trust the competence of this physician.”  The certificates on the wall said that all the necessary study was finished for an M.D. degree but despite those credentials, he just did not seem to grasp what was going on with me. He did the same things other doctors have done in the past, but he did not offer any real help for my malady. Whether he is actually a good doctor or if I misjudged him remains unclear. Perhaps I do not even have the ability to evaluate his medical ability, but my loss of confidence is significant. I am no longer receiving care from him!

God is competent!
Perhaps even that statement offends or amuses you. “Who are you, Jerry, to judge Him?” you may be asking, and you are right. However, if I do not trust Him, if I think He is unable to care for me, I will act as if HE is incompetent. I will turn to my own resources, caring for myself. Even though the answer to this question seems obvious, let me ask you to ponder it – Is God smart enough for you?  Do you trust His Word enough to obey even the hard parts? When you are in difficult times is He the One to whom you turn first?

In an amazing song of praise that sums up the first part of the letter to the Romans, we are reminded of Who God truly is. “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” (Romans 11:33-36, NIV)

God is complete in wisdom. There is nothing He cannot or does not know. Let that sink in. He gets you. There is no problem He cannot solve, nothing that is beyond His comprehension.  Paul uses the word “unsearchable” not to mean that God is beyond our knowledge, but to remind us that we can never fully define or understand Him because of His infinite Being and Might.

In our conceit, we sometimes think that we need to explain the ‘reality’ of our situation to Him.  He does not need our advice, nor does He seek our counsel. He does – get this! –  love you, me, this world. We were created that He could enjoy us, that we could serve and worship Him, and that He could care for us and ultimately receive us into His Presence for eternity. The great human tragedy is the sinful pride that leads us to go our own way, to reject His wisdom.  God is able, competent, loving, engaged, and wise.

Whatever faces you, wherever you find yourself today – stay close to your Father!
If your life is full, your joy overflowing, thank Him and realize that “from Him are all things.”
If you are in trials, the winds of hardships battering you, trust Him, knowing that “from Him are all things.”

Here is a word from the Word. My prayer is that you will make the Sovereign Lord your refuge.“When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.” (Psalm 73:21-28, NIV)

________

How Great Is Our God

(worship at this link)

The splendor of the King
Clothed in majesty
Let all the earth rejoice
All the earth rejoice
He wraps Himself in light
And darkness tries to hide
And trembles at His voice
And trembles at His voice

 How great is our God
Sing with me
How great is our God
And all will see how great
How great is our God

 And age to age He stands
And time is in His hands
Beginning and the End
Beginning and the End

The Godhead three in one
Father Spirit Son
The Lion and the Lamb
The Lion and the Lamb

 Name above all names
Worthy of all praise
My heart will sing
How great is our God

Chris Tomlin | Ed Cash | Jesse Reeves

© 2004 sixsteps Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

worshiptogether.com songs (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

A tamed and chained God?

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“Awesome!” Do people still use that word? I remember the morning, 41 years ago, when my firstborn son was laid in my arms after watching the stunning spectacle of birth. I trembled and wept in that moment, feeling deep joy and overwhelming responsibility for that new life. It was awesome! There was that Sunday morning when I was commissioned to serve as the pastor of a small congregation in New England where, as he presiding superintendent prayed for me, I was physically shaking, knowing that people would trust me for guidance in serving and knowing the Lord. On that day that Bev lay dying, sorrow was terribly present. I held her close and as her final breath softly brushed my cheek, I also felt an awesome Presence, the Mystery of the Eternal closer than ever to me.

Job, whose story is told in the complex book bearing his name, went through tragedy that was beyond human limits. His ‘friends’ showed up to tell him that it was all his fault, that if he would but confess his sins, life would be righted and God’s blessings restored. Job finally explodes in anger. “How I long for the months gone by, for the days when God watched over me, when his lamp shone upon my head and by his light I walked through darkness!” (Job 29:2-3, NIV)  The words do not adequately convey his sense of loss, his rage at the apparent injustice of God.

In a long discourse, Job remembers all that he has lost.  He asks God to speak up and explain Himself.   But, the Lord never does. What we read are several chapters that laud His majesty as revealed in the earth. “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.” (Job 38:2-4, NIV)   Job humbles himself and speaks that memorable phrase. “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer— twice, but I will say no more.” (Job 40:4-5, NIV) That is not a sigh of resignation! That is a declaration of faith that flowed from a new revelation of the awesomeness of God.

Will you let God fill you with a sense of awe?  Our knowledge makes us believe that we know the mysteries of the universe.  To be sure, I am so thankful for penicillin, for airplanes that can carry me to see my family, for the digital world that keeps me connected.  Yet, in all this knowledge, there is an arrogance that can creep over us,  bringing a delusion that we are in control. With that reductive attitude, we can miss the awesomeness of God, making Him small, remote, and uninteresting!  Great faith belongs to those who serve a great God.  If we imagine Him as less, if we tame Him, we chain Him.

Admitting there is mystery can be difficult for some of us. It may feel like a retreat into ignorance or superstition.  It may leave us uneasy because of the realization that we are, in fact, small and with much less control over life than we would like to feel.  But, in the mystery, there is majesty.  Let’s not make God small enough to fit into our preconceptions, to serve our every desire.  Instead, may we let Him be the God who rules with might.  Today, make your prayers less about getting something from Him and more about pure worship. Try this – read the 18th Psalm aloud as your prayer. Let the words inspire. Do not take them apart, try to reduce them to your understanding. Instead let them lift you up into a place where you tremble before Him.  (A link to that Psalm)

Here is a word from the Word.

“Then Job replied to the Lord: “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:1-6, NIV)

“Sing to the Lord, all the earth; proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples. For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy in his dwelling place.” (1 Chronicles 16:22-27, NIV)
_____

Abba, fill my mind with holy awe.
Forgive me for making You less,
For trying to explain those things that
Are mystery wrapped in majesty.

Increase my faith.

I desire to walk humbly before You
And to know Your power in me.
I pray this in the Name of Jesus. Amen

More than your Buddy in Heaven

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I have been watching the series “Victoria” which is based on the life of England’s Queen Victoria. The formality that structured those times and the upper classes is almost incomprehensible to me. I am glad that we can ‘just be ourselves.’  Expectations have changed so much even in a generation. My Dad, a pastor, wouldn’t have gone to his pulpit without a dark suit and a tie, ever! I wear blue jeans and an open collared shirt most Sundays. Dad did not share his struggles in his preaching, not so much because of pride, but because he did not think it was proper to do. Because of his careful care of that role, he is remembered by many as ‘larger than life.’ I live transparently and my congregation probably knows too much about my humanity.

Do you bring the informality of our time into your relationship with your Heavenly Father?  There are both good and bad in that. If we casual approach Him as “the Big Guy in the sky” it is a serious mistake. “Hey, God, what’s up?” probably is not the best opening to a meaningful time of prayer.  Yes, I am thankful for the conversational prayer is now the norm for many Christians. Fifty years ago, I almost never heard anyone pray in the language everyday life. People tended to pray with the language of the Bible, which was then almost exclusively read in the KJV version, with English from 1611!  Is God impressed by Shakespearean English or by prayers that are filled with Biblical quotes? Of course not! But, flippant prayers that are the equivalent of a text message, somehow miss the majesty of the Lord.  For all our informality, we need to realize that there is good reason for thoughtful, reverent engagement with Presence of our God.

If we ponder His majesty deeply, if we offer adoration, confession, and petitions that reflect more than greeting card sentiments, we will learn to trust Him more, to bend our wills to Him readily. Yes, He is our Friend, but He is not our Buddy!

There is a story that offers you and me a caution about losing our sense of awe for the Lord. The sons of Eli (1 Samuel) grew up around holy things and developed an unhealthy irreverence. When they were entrusted with service in the work of God, the Bible tells us that because they had no fear of the Lord, they took the best of the people’s sacrifices for themselves. They took advantage of those who came seeking God’s comfort. They even used the sacred trust of their office to enrich themselves at God’s expense!  “Eli’s sons were wicked men; they had no regard for the Lord. … This sin of the young men was very great in the Lord’s sight, for they were treating the Lord’s offering with contempt.” (1 Samuel 2:12,17, NIV)

We need to recover a healthy sense of ‘the fear of the Lord’ both personally and in our corporate worship. Are we too often guilty of rushing into His presence, whether privately or in our church gatherings, to sing songs with half a heart, to hear sermons with half a mind, to pray only sleepy prayers as we drift off to sleep?  We must not let our informal approach to life in 21st century American cause us to make the “Great I AM” into the Divine Buddy!

When was the last time you sat in the Presence of the Lord simply overwhelmed to the point of silence because of His awesomeness?
When was the last time that you pondered His amazing Majesty?
When did you just confess His greatness, humbled, obedient before the great “I AM”?

This is no argument for turning God into a remote, unapproachable Person. Jesus Christ loves us. He walks with us. The Holy Spirit comforts us. Yet, we need a real awe which Proverbs reminds us is the fountainhead of wisdom! “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,” (1.7) the Bible says.

Jesus held children in his arms, extended forgiveness to an adulterous woman, and fed hungry crowds. I love the picture of His humanity. But, that is not the whole of who He is. Revelation tells us about Him being “in a robe and gold breastplate, hair a blizzard of white, Eyes pouring fire-blaze, both feet furnace-fired bronze, His voice a cataract, right hand holding the Seven Stars, His mouth a sharp-biting sword, his face a perigee sun.” (Revelation 1:13-16, The Message) John, who had been the disciple beloved by Jesus, tells us that “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead.” (Revelation 1:17, NLT) Jesus touched John and told him not to be overcome with terror! But there was real awe!

Here is a word from the Word. May it help us to balance our informality with reverence.

“Great is the Lord! He is most worthy of praise!
He is to be revered above all the gods.
The gods of other nations are merely idols,
but the Lord made the heavens!
Honor and majesty surround him;
strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. …
Worship the Lord in all his holy splendor.
Let all the earth tremble before him.” (Psalm 96:4-6, 9 NLT)

____________

You are beautiful beyond description,
Too marvelous for words,
Too wonderful for comprehension,
Like nothing ever seen or heard.
Who can grasp Your infinite wisdom,
Who can fathom the depth of Your love?
You are beautiful beyond description,
Majesty enthroned above. 

And I stand, I stand in awe of You.
I stand, I stand in awe of You.
Holy God, to whom all praise is due,
I stand in awe of You. 

C 1987 People Of Destiny International