Who do you call at midnight?

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At a wedding on Friday evening, I had the privilege of watching a group of people gather to celebrate. They had grown up together, invested time in each other, had their disagreements and disappointments, and still after 30 years, they were friends. Even though I was the ‘outsider’ it was a warm, inviting atmosphere.

Exactly what makes people bond? Why are some people more ‘likeable’ than others? How is it that some attract a circle of friends that stays strong while others struggle to maintain even a few close relationships?  Physical attractiveness and social status can be things that make a person ‘popular’ at first, but unless there is character and depth under the surface, those people are not going to be able to sustain friendships.

So what builds and strengthens the kind of friendships that will enrich us for life? In no special order, let’s explore a few.

Commitment is a key. We want to know that if we put in time with a person, they are not going to abandon us when somebody ‘better’ comes along. Ruth, whose story is told in the book in the Bible that bears her name, went through tragedy, losing her husband. Her mother-in-law, also widowed, decided to return to Israel from Ruth land, Moab.

When the time came for their paths to diverge, Ruth asked to accompany Naomi.  Her words are an amazing declaration of commitment. “Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.” (Ruth 1:16-17, NIV)  How many people have you made that kind of commitment to?  “I’m going to be here for you, share your life ‘til one of us leaves this life!”

Christlikeness must be in evidence, too. Jesus is my Lord, my Savior, my Hope. The people that I want closest to me are those who love Him, too! “Spur one another to love and good deeds,” the Bible says. Paul invited those he knew to “Follow me as I follow Christ!”  We need friends who help us keep the right focus, who help us overcome our failures, whose very presence in our lives makes us better people, for God’s sake.

Selflessness is important! Paul urges us to learn to love each other in a way that wants the best for the other guy. “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:1-3, NIV)  Who can form a real and deep attachment to a person who is only interested in himself? It is tiresome to spend much time with a person who we know will always make they take care of themselves first. Real friends are encouraging, listening, loving, taking an interest in us – through the up’s and down’s of life. And, we do the same for them.

Be yourself! Nobody really wants to be the friend of a person who is pretending to be someone else. Have the confidence to live with yourself, to be who you are, not who you think someone wants you to be. Yes, authenticity is important in lasting friendships.

Resilience matters. Life is going to get tough, sooner or later, for us all. Death will visit our family. Things will go upside down in our job. Sickness may come. We are attracted to those who do not fold up under the pressure, who do not turn into victims.  Those who are hopeful, who choose authentic joy, who get back up when they are knocked down, inspire us and we want to learn from them. “Where does your strength come from? How can you bounce back from that experience?”

David gathered friends who stuck with him in the worst times. Those men were willing to go to battle with him, ready to live in exile alongside of him. Why? One of the things that makes David’s life so compelling is his resilience. He fell. He had hard times. But, he also had faith and stood up time and time again. These were not just words for him, they were the declaration of the way he lived in faith. ” A psalm of David. In you, O Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness. … Praise be to the Lord, for he showed his wonderful love to me when I was in a besieged city. …  Love the Lord, all his saints! The Lord preserves the faithful, but the proud he pays back in full. Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.” (Psalm 31:1,21,23-24, NIV)

And, of course, there is LOVE. In that famed chapter, Paul describes the kind of love that makes friendship what it ought to be. “Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, Doesn’t have a swelled head, Doesn’t force itself on others, Isn’t always “me first,” Doesn’t fly off the handle, Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, Doesn’t revel when others grovel, Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, Puts up with anything, Trusts God always, Always looks for the best, Never looks back, But keeps going to the end. ” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, The Message)  Not the stuff of a movie romance, is it?  Do you love?

When you are in a crisis, who can you call at midnight?  Those people are true friends. If you have not built those kinds of relationships, start now. Pray for a place to invest yourself.  Show up, be part.  Make a commitment to your family, your church, your friends. Find those who also love Christ. Serve joyfully. Refuse to play the victim, forgiving, growing, anticipating God’s future for your life. And, friendships will form that will be among your richest resources in this world.

Here is a word from the Word. Lord, inspire us to richer relationships, make us friends in the family of God. “We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.” (1 John 3:16-18, NLT)

___________

Friends

(listen to this old song at this link)

Packing up the dreams God planted
In the fertile soil of you
Can’t believe the hopes He’s granted
Means a chapter in your life is through

But we’ll keep you close as always
It won’t even seem you’ve gone
‘Cause our hearts in big and small ways
Will keep the love that keeps us strong

And friends are friends forever
If the Lord’s the Lord of them
And a friend will not say never
‘Cause the welcome will not end
Though it’s hard to let you go
In the Father’s hands we know
That a lifetime’s not too long
To live as friends

With the faith and love God’s given
Springing from the hope we know
We will pray the joy you’ll live in
Is the strength that now you show

No a lifetime’s not too long to live as friends

Deborah D. Smith | Michael W. Smith © 1982 Meadowgreen Music Company (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)  CCLI License # 810055

Are there answers for those questions?

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I had a long, interesting conversation about “truth” yesterday.  We talked about Who Jesus is, about the importance of the Scripture, about how to understand the meaning of Creation. What is truth? There is a question that requires careful thought. I do most certainly believe in absolute truth but knowing that Truth is not as easy as it may sound. Remember Pilate’s question of Jesus? When the Lord told him that He was sent into the world to “testify to the truth,” the Roman governor cynically asked Him, “What is truth?” (John 18:37)

The early days of my spiritual journey were shaped around the idea that the world was a place where there were only right answers and wrong answers, where those answers were shaped around solid black and white principles with no grey areas. As I matured I found that there was an additional category – “things we don’t talk about!”  There were complicated and difficult issues that fell into that category and, if a question was raised, you got a lecture about the importance of ‘just trusting God,’ which I later figured out was code for ‘we don’t know how to answer that and stick with our system of truth!’ I also learned that there were some things that were declared true that were simply preferences. It was all terribly confusing to a teenager trying to hang onto to his faith.

The temptation that came from all that was to discard faith, but God was there. He revealed (an important word in the discussion about Truth) Himself in the created world, through the love of wonderful Spirit-filled people, by the work of the Spirit, and in the Scripture. I learned that honesty in dealing with Truth did not require me to have an answer for all questions; that I could and should say, “I do not know,” and leave it at that. I also learned to live with mystery – with the fact that God and His Truth are just too big to fit entirely inside of my head. Some things He choose to let me comprehend, some He asks me to discover with careful study, and some remain in the ‘to be continued’ category.

God reveals Truth and, at the same time, requires us to discover it!  Sometimes it just shows up like a beautiful new day dawning and sometimes it slowly emerges from long study and reflection. But, willingness to grapple with ‘truth’ be it about physical laws of the universe or spiritual laws about pleasing God – brings great benefit to those who align themselves with it. Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32, NIV)

Jesus’ most ardent enemies were people who thought of themselves as being pursuers of truth. But their ability to know the truth was corrupted by willful disobedience and by their insistence on maintaining their accepted traditions, which led to their refusal to live in the Spirit, to drink of God’s Living Water. Jesus challenged them – “Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.” (John 7:24, NLT)

Disciple, are you pursuing the Truth?

  • Be a student of the Scripture and a person who loves God personally and intimately.
  • Invite the Holy Spirit to pull back the curtains and let you ‘see’ the wonders of God’s plans and purposes!
  • Watch out for deception that comes from living in open sin. Yes, if we persist in disobedience when we know better, we will become deaf and blind to the things of the Spirit.
  • And, do not allow yourself to be intellectually lazy or spiritually tradition bound!

Are you wrestling to know God’s way for your life in some area. Is your desire to align your life with His will, but the ‘truth’ is hard to discern.  Here is a promise that Jesus made to His disciples on the night of the Last Supper. Meditate on it and take the deep assurance offered by the Word with you into a world full of uncertainty.

“But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. … But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.” (John 16:7,13-15, NIV)

____________

 Abba, sometimes the questions weigh heavily on me.
I wonder about the how, the why, the when, the where … of Your will.
Some days Your purpose gets hidden by the pain in this world,
by the insistent voice of sin and evil, or by my own doubt.

Thank you, Jesus, for the promise that the Spirit is with me,
revealing You, showing the Way.
Help me to readily respond to what I know is true and right.
Give me courage to ask myself the hard questions,
the diligence to dig for discovery, and
the patience to wait for revelation.

 And, as the beauty of the Truth is revealed,
I will rejoice in You and the world will see You more clearly,
in me!  I praise You for loving me.
Let this Truth be the anchor for my heart.
Amen.

“Do you love me more than these?”

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What is it that you value, that helps you to feel safe and secure in this world?  We all have ‘treasure’ that we are tempted to hang onto.  When I asked our Bible study group about childhood treasures, Chris spoke about having a tattered old blanket that her mother threw away. It was worthless to most everyone except to Chris. For her it was a treasure!  Tony told us about driving past the home of a woman who died a couple of months ago. There in the front yard was an industrial sized dumpster. Things of her life were now being discarded, useless to others.

I remembered a hero to me, a young man named Jim Elliott, who took up the call to missions work in Ecuador after graduating from college in 1952.  Three years later, he was killed by the very people he was trying to reach with the Gospel. He lived out a phrase recorded in his journal – “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose!”

Jesus’ words about our ‘treasures’ are not difficult to understand, but actually adopting them as our guiding wisdom is truly a challenge, particularly in a culture like ours.  He said, “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” (Matthew 6:19-21, NLT)  Shaping life around a house, collectibles, investments, or other material things will lead to inevitable disappointment because they will, eventually, decay, corrode, or get taken from us. What then?

Loving things will, beyond question, cause us to lead to a lesser life.

Let’s not read His words to us and run to the extremes. Jesus does not forbid the ownership of things, the use of money, or the accumulation of financial reserves. The whole of the Bible’s wisdom includes many passages that praise good management, diligent efforts in business, and savings that are there for times of need. Jesus asks us this – Do we own your stuff or does your stuff own you? Do you use what you have to live or do you love what you have gained, making your things into idol gods that give life its purpose and meaning?

The more we have, the more critical it is for us to invite the Spirit to reveal to us our attitude about our cars, homes, and bank accounts. Jesus spoke of the ‘deceitfulness of wealth!’  Subtly our trust can shift from God, our Father, to the Bank, our security!  A man once came to Jesus to inquire about becoming his disciple and finding eternal life. He was very moral, claiming to have observed the Commandments scrupulously. Jesus did not question the truthfulness of that claim, but knowing his heart, he challenged that rich young man to go and sell everything he owned. Then he said, “come, follow me.”  His response? “But when the young man heard this, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.” (Matthew 19:22, NLT) His true treasure was revealed in that last line – he would not let go of what he loved most – his wealth!

Would you answer the Spirit’s call to lead a volunteer ministry or would you tell yourself, “I have too much work to do, a living to make” and excuse yourself from serving?

If the Lord asked you to take a lesser place, would you reduce your standard of living without complaint, or would you insist on keeping your current income to maintain your store of treasure?

As you plan for life, which question is in the forefront of your thinking –

  • What does the Lord want of me? Or,
  • What will provide more financial security, pleasure, and/or independence for me?

In the same sermon, Jesus warned we cannot ‘serve two masters.’  We cannot love Mammon (stuff, money) and God, at the same time.

In a post-Resurrection conversation on a beach at the lake in Galilee, Jesus asked Peter, who had gone back to fishing; back to what he knew, back to a ‘treasure’ he could hold in his hands– a hard question. Jesus pointed to the fishing boats, the familiar life of Capernaum and asked him- “Do you love me more than these?” (John 21:15, NLT)  Peter realized that his treasure was misplaced and he left it all behind for the sake of the Gospel!

Here’s a word from the Word to ponder today. “True godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content. But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.” (1 Timothy 6:6-10, NLT)

_____________

Be Thou My Vision

(worship at this link)

Be Thou my vision
O Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me
Save that Thou art
Thou my best thought
By day or by night
Waking or sleeping
Thy presence my light

 Riches I heed not
Nor man’s empty praise
Thou mine inheritance
Now and always
Thou and Thou only
Be first in my heart
High King of heaven
My treasure Thou art

 High King of heaven
When vict’ry is won
May I reach heaven’s joys
O bright heaven’s Sun
Heart of my own heart
Whatever befall
Still be my vision
O Ruler of all

 Eleanor Henrietta Hull | Mary Elizabeth Byrne
© Words: Public Domain

But, who is going to care for me?

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My interactions with the man left me so sad for him. His selfishness burned all of his bridges with friends and family. In his anger and pain, he lashed out at others, even me, for not caring for him. His bitterness made him ever more self-consumed, which cut him off, even further, from the love he so desired.  His lonely misery caused me to remember a desolate place that I visited in Israel 20 years ago. It is a lifeless desert surrounding a “Dead Sea.”  That inland lake is about 10 times more salty than the ocean, a place where fish and plants cannot survive.  One reason for the concentration of minerals in that body of water is that there are no outflows. The Jordan River flows into it and water is lost to evaporation, leaving behind the salts and minerals.  Thus it is dead!

There is a life lesson for us. You want to be filled with life, a giver of life?

Invite the Spirit of God to flow into you and let the Presence of God spill over, flowing out of you. Refreshed, you will become one who refreshes! John shared this with us-  “Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” (John 7:37-38, NIV)

We all wonder, from time to time, who will care for me? What if I give away too much of myself?  “I must preserve myself, my place, my security,” we tell ourselves. While it is true that we need good boundaries and need to learn where it is appropriate to step away for rest and renewal, it is a deadly choice to put Self first, to take in without pouring out!  We can, quickly and easily, become wrapped up in our own agenda, obsessed with our reputation, turning into a person as dead as the Dead Sea.

Paradoxically, when we forget ourselves and give generously – of time, of resources, of forgiveness, of love, of service – we open up to being refreshed by God and the love of others.

The richest joy in life is found in the Presence of Jesus, in the awareness of the Spirit at work in us and through us. We will never find the sense of self-worth we desire in the fickle appreciation of others. Being human, we will be tempted to please others, to try to gain their approval. If that is our sole motive, we set ourselves up for disappointment. The writer of the book of Hebrews urges us to faithfulness. He reminds us that God sees deep into our hearts, discerning even our motives. Sound ominous?  Actually, that truth can comfort us, too.  He goes on to assure us that nothing done for Him goes unseen or is forgotten. “God doesn’t miss anything. He knows perfectly well all the love you’ve shown him by helping needy Christians, and that you keep at it. And now I want each of you to extend that same intensity toward a full-bodied hope, and keep at it till the finish. Don’t drag your feet. Be like those who stay the course with committed faith and then get everything promised to them.” (Hebrews 6:10-12, The Message)

Want to be refreshed, a source of Life for others? Invite the Spirit to pour into you and then, go give Him away. Love somebody who cannot love you in return. Forgive that person who has hurt you deeply, giving the debt to God who will ultimately bring justice. Serve, just for the joy of serving, regardless of reward or recognition.  Meditate on this word from the Word.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:34-40, NIV)

Abba, fill us with Your Spirit today.
As you pour the living water into our lives,
may we let You spill over to those with whom we walk in this world.
As we know grace, let us be graceful.
Loved, help us to be loving.
Forgiven, teach us to forgive.
Served by Your Son, lead us to the joy of selfless service.
And may  Your Name be made greater by the lives we live,
In Jesus’ Name. Amen

Be a happier Christian

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Ever heard of SAD?  Dr. Normal Rosenthal at Georgetown University described the ‘winter blues’ that some endure with a name – Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.  A percentage of people who live in northern climates report that their feelings of sadness and hopelessness increase as the days become shorter, when they spend more time away from the sun because of the winter weather. Many respond positively to ‘light therapy.’ The level of the chemical in our brains that help us to feel positive, serotonin, increases with exposure to sunlight for even a few minutes each day regardless of warm or cold.

On Sunday evening I walked out onto the deck at my house around 8 PM and it was still light!  As I write, it is 6 am and the light of day has arrived. From December to June the day lengthens ever so slowly, and with the light, comes life and warmth in my world. Longer days bring a boost to my emotions and increased productivity. What about you?

Let me ask you a pointed question today. Are you living in the Light?
Is your life open to the Presence of the Spirit?
Do you hide from the Lord, or throw open your heart and mind to Him each day?

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12, NIV)  Christian, you need not stumble through life day after day. You can leave the fear that comes with the dark behind. The Son has come! Matthew quoted preacher Isaiah, describing what happened when Jesus came. “The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.” (Matthew 4:16, KJV)

Do you want to be a happier Christian?  Here is the way. Walk in the Light. How?

Start your day with prayer, inviting God’s Spirit.
Fill your home with praise, with songs of worship.
Choose love instead of hate.
Forgive those who step on your toes; even those who hurt you, by giving the Lord your pain!
Confess your failures and accept His love, that covers all our sins.
Follow Jesus – today and each day.

Just as the longer days awaken the earth, in much the same way that the sunlight triggers a positive mood, the Light of Jesus will make life richer, fuller, productive.  Believe it!

Here is a word from the Word. Hear the challenge, embrace the promise.
“For you are all children of the light and of the day; we don’t belong to darkness and night. So be on your guard, not asleep like the others.
Stay alert and be clearheaded. Night is the time when people sleep and drinkers get drunk.
But let us who live in the light be clearheaded, protected by the armor of faith and love,
and wearing as our helmet the confidence of our salvation.
For God chose to save us through our Lord Jesus Christ, not to pour out his anger on us.
Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when he returns, we can live with him forever.
So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.”

(1 Thessalonians 5:5-11, NLT)

___________
Here I Am To Worship
(worship with this link)

Light of the world
You stepped down into darkness
Opened my eyes let me see
Beauty that made
This heart adore You
Hope of a life spent with You

 So here I am to worship
Here I am to bow down
Here I am to say that You’re my God
And You’re altogether lovely
Altogether worthy
Altogether wonderful to me

 King of all days
Oh so highly exalted
Glorious in heaven above
Humbly You came
To the earth You created
All for love’s sake became poor

And I’ll never know how much it cost
To see my sin upon that cross
And I’ll never know how much it cost
To see my sin upon that cross

 Tim Hughes © 2000 Thankyou Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

Let the Sun Shine In!

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A friend came into my office years ago and pushed back the curtains. “Bro, you gotta let the sun shine in,” he emphatically declared. I was struggling with depression and he knew that even something as ordinary as sunlight could help to change that.

Are you inviting the Light to shine in your life? Are you entering joyfully into worship, keeping your heart and mind in a place where the Spirit can touch you? Are you exercising faith, letting go of disappointment and leaning on the Lord?

It is important to remember the delight of ordinary things. Joy is not just discovered in a vacation to some far away place. A walk in the park can boost our spirits. Satisfaction of hunger does not demand a gourmet meal. A simple meal shared with friends can delight us.

  • A few years ago a young Mommy from the church I serve sent me a note about her kids, then aged 4 and 6, who were present at a recent baptism. “When G. and J. emerged from their bath, they were talking back and forth and your name was mentioned, so I asked them what they are talking about. ‘We were playing ‘Pastor Jerry dunkin’ ya in the church tub! He’s crazy!’”  Her note still makes my heart glad! The ordinary things are where the Son shines brightly!
  • Last week, I was privileged to sit at a table with four other pastors. We talked about life, joked with each other, and then got to the serious business of prayer.  As we concluded, one mused, “Isn’t God’s Presence wonderful?”  And, it is!  There was joy in those moments as we opened our hearts together.  Yes, the Son shone brightly on us in that meeting though it was of little importance in the big, wide world.

You have a decision to make this Monday morning. You can be glum or you can be glad! I’m not talking about denial, nor I am talking about escape. Joy is a gift of God to those who will receive it. The Bible says it is our choice! “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (James 1:2-3, NIV)

Here is a bit of reality counsel –  there is a God, and you are not Him! Nothing destroys joy more completely than trying to assume control of everything in life.  If I attempt to usurp the throne of God, my life becomes heavy with the weight of pressure, people, and problems! Consciously remember today and every day that God rules. He has a plan and while we do have the freedom to choose, He knows, cares, and purposes to keep us alive in Him.

Remind yourself often that nothing that is happening to you right now is a surprise to Him.   When faith grows, joy grows. God urges us, through the prophet Isaiah, to make the choice to trust, fixed on His absolute rule. “Remember this, fix it in mind, take it to heart, you rebels. Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.” (Isaiah 46:8-10, NIV)

Here’s a word from the Word. Let it draw a smile to your face as it rebirths joy in your heart.  “Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, … And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (Philippians 1:3-6, NLT)

Let the Son Shine IN!

_________________________

I Want the Joy

(celebrate with the song)

It’s time I started dancing
over all these graves!
It’s time I gave You, Oh my Lord,
the highest praise!
It’s time to lift my voice,
Oh and beg for this blessing to fall!

 I want the joy of the Lord to come down!
I want the joy of the Lord to fall now!
I want the joy of the Lord in my life.
I want the joy of the Lord to lift me,
I want the joy of the Lord to change me,
I want the joy of the Lord in my life!

I Want The Joy © 2002 River Oaks Music Company (a div. of EMI Christian Music Publishing) Rita Springer

CCLI License No. 810055

Join the Plodders

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(a blog from Kevin DeYoung- He is an American Reformed Evangelical theologian and author, currently the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church.)

It’s sexy among young people—my generation—to talk about ditching institutional religion and starting a revolution of real Christ-followers living in real community without the confines of church. Besides being unbiblical, such notions of churchless Christianity are unrealistic. It’s immaturity actually, like the newly engaged couple who think romance preserves the marriage, when the couple celebrating their golden anniversary know it’s the institution of marriage that preserves the romance. Without the God-given habit of corporate worship and the God-given mandate of corporate accountability, we will not prove faithful over the long haul.

What we need are fewer revolutionaries and a few more plodding visionaries. That’s my dream for the church—a multitude of faithful, risk-taking plodders. The best churches are full of gospel-saturated people holding tenaciously to a vision of godly obedience and God’s glory, and pursuing that godliness and glory with relentless, often unnoticed, plodding consistency.

My generation in particular is prone to radicalism without follow through. We have dreams of changing the world, and the world should take notice accordingly. But we’ve not proved faithful in much of anything yet. We haven’t held a steady job or raised godly kids or done our time in VBS or, in some cases, even moved off the parental dole. We want global change and expect a few more dollars to the ONE campaign or Habitat for Humanity chapter to just about wrap things up. What the church and the world needs, we imagine, is for us to be another Bono—Christian, but more spiritual than religious and more into social justice than the church. As great as it is that Bono is using his fame for some noble purpose, I just don’t believe that the happy future of the church, or the world for that matter, rests on our ability to raise up a million more Bonos (as at least one author suggests).

With all due respect, what’s harder: to be an idolized rock star who travels around the world touting good causes and chiding governments for their lack of foreign aid, or to be a line worker at GM with four kids and a mortgage, who tithes to his church, sings in the choir every week, serves on the school board, and supports a Christian relief agency and a few missionaries from his disposable income?

Until we are content with being one of the million nameless, faceless church members and not the next globe-trotting rock star, we aren’t ready to be a part of the church. In the grand scheme of things, most of us are going to be more of an Ampliatus (Rom. 16:8) or Phlegon (v. 14) than an apostle Paul. And maybe that’s why so many Christians are getting tired of the church. We haven’t learned how to be part of the crowd. We haven’t learned to be ordinary.

Our jobs are often mundane. Our devotional times often seem like a waste. Church services are often forgettable. That’s life. We drive to the same places, go through the same routines with the kids, buy the same groceries at the store, and share a bed with the same person every night. Church is often the same too—same doctrines, same basic order of worship, same preacher, same people. But in all the smallness and sameness, God works—like the smallest seed in the garden growing to unbelievable heights, like beloved Tychicus, that faithful minister, delivering the mail and apostolic greetings (Eph. 6:21). Life is usually pretty ordinary, just like following Jesus most days.

Daily discipleship is not a new revolution each morning or an agent of global transformation every evening; it’s a long obedience in the same direction.

 It’s possible the church needs to change. Certainly in some areas it does. But it’s also possible we’ve changed—and not for the better. It’s possible we no longer find joy in so great a salvation. It’s possible that our boredom has less to do with the church, its doctrines, or its poor leadership and more to do with our unwillingness to tolerate imperfection in others and our own coldness to the same old message about Christ’s death and resurrection. It’s possible we talk a lot about authentic community but we aren’t willing to live in it.

The church is not an incidental part of God’s plan. Jesus didn’t invite people to join an anti-religion, anti-doctrine, anti-institutional bandwagon of love, harmony, and re-integration. He showed people how to live, to be sure. But He also called them to repent, called them to faith, called them out of the world, and called them into the church. The Lord “didn’t add them to the church without saving them, and he didn’t save them without adding them to the church” (John Stott).

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:7). If we truly love the church, we will bear with her in her failings, endure her struggles, believe her to be the beloved bride of Christ, and hope for her final glorification. The church is the hope of the world—not because she gets it all right, but because she is a body with Christ for her Head.

Don’t give up on the church. The New Testament knows nothing of churchless Christianity. The invisible church is for invisible Christians. The visible church is for you and me. Put away the Che Guevara t-shirts, stop the revolution, and join the rest of the plodders. Fifty years from now you’ll be glad you did.

___________

Kevin, I thank you!
Lord, make us steady, faithful, holy people in Your service. Amen

The ‘wow’ factor

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Who do you admire? Is there someone whose life inspires you with hope, that causes you to desire God more? The late Billy Graham is one of my heroes, a man who was completely given to the work of the Lord, who lived to make Christ known.  He found that sweet spot in God’s will where excellence met devotion, where accomplishment was matched with humility, where his flaws were eclipsed by God’s grace.

Only eternity will reveal what that farm boy from North Carolina did for the Kingdom of Heaven.  It was my privilege to be in small groups of pastors on two occasions where he came and shared his time with us. Unlike some important people I have met, Graham was not impressed with himself. He knew himself to be a representative of Another!

Do you aspire to excellence and achievement?

Jesus says “No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” (Matthew 5:15-16, NLT)  Pause and re-read those lines.  Christ in you, in me, will create a quality of life that others simply cannot ignore. The question is, will you allow the Spirit to do that work in you?

Some will rush on to the next chapter in Matthew, using Jesus’ warnings about public displays of giving, praying, and fasting as a reason to settle for mediocrity, to hide out in obscurity.  Yes, He did say “Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 6:1, NLT)  Do not mis-read those words. He is not saying that we should be hidden, unnoticed because our lives lack a distinction that comes from devotion. Our ‘good deeds’ are not to be for the purpose of gaining admiration for ourselves, they are to be a reflection of Christ and the Spirit at work in us!

 What makes the difference?

It is all about the MOTIVE.  If we are aiming at having others look at us and say, “Wow, what a good guy!” Jesus says, “Go ahead and enjoy the applause. That is your full reward.”  If we want the beauty of Jesus to shine through us, God can take our efforts and use them in ways beyond our imagining to show off His goodness to those who walk alongside of us in life.

That is why we need to match our pray for Christ’s beauty in us with David’s humble prayer – “Investigate my life, O God, find out everything about me; Cross-examine and test me, get a clear picture of what I’m about; See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong— then guide me on the road to eternal life.” (Psalm 139:23-24, The Message)

There is a beauty in holiness that is often lost to modern Christians who confuse holiness with religious rule-keeping, with petty obsessions over superficial things.  In fact, a life that is truly devoted to God (the definition of holiness) develops a beauty that comes from wholeness, from love, from joy, that captures the attention of others. Let’s pray for His beauty to be seen in us!

Jesus took the words of preacher Isaiah as the description of His mission. As you read what He announced in that synagogue in Capernaum, let the truth of His desire for you captivate your heart. He wants to heal the dysfunction of sin and make us whole. He desires to enter our sorrow and make us joyful. Why?  Well, read for yourself.

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—

to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.
(Isaiah 61:1-3, NIV)

All that so that others will take note of who He is, what He does, and say – “Oh, what a wonderful Lord.”  That, disciple, is the ‘wow’ factor that we should aim for in life – to be one in whom His splendor is fully seen.

___________

Let the beauty of Jesus
be seen in me,
All His wonderful
passion and purity;
O my Savior divine,
All my being refine,
‘Till the beauty of Jesus
be seen in me.

Albert Orsborn
copyright, Public domain

When Jesus says hard things

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Who does not enjoy the affirming thoughts of a greeting card?  When we read about being loved, about another’s appreciation, those loving expressions brighten our day and fill up our hearts. Greeting cards are intended to be like a warm emotional hug. But, are they the only kind of expression of love or care?

In my collection of treasured items, there is a letter my Dad hand-wrote to me in 1976, when I was just starting in pastoral ministry. In it, he said some hard things about choices, about the effect that my actions would have on the lives of others, about the sacrifices and joys of the calling that I was embracing as a young adult.  It is a profound expression of his love for me despite the inclusion of words that challenge me to this day!

In John’s Gospel we read “Many of his disciples said, “This is very hard to understand. How can anyone accept it? … many  turned away and deserted him.” (John 6:66, NLT)  Yes, it is true. Jesus offended many of those who were following Him by saying some HARD things to them about the place He claimed as their Bread and Life! He spoke in words about eating His flesh and drinking His blood and for some of them it was just more than they wanted to hear. If they wanted to experience the salvation He was offering, they were called to become one with Him and the way in which He spoke of that was hard, offensive, and many walked away.

Christian, Jesus still says hard things to us.  In our modern Church we smooth out the wrinkles, ignore the Mystery, and too often attempt to make the Gospel into something like a greeting card that is all about love and good feelings. But, that is not the whole of the Message. Jesus is good news. In Him we find our true Life, our real reason for existence, and our eternal Hope. We also hear Him say things like ‘take up your Cross and follow Me.’   Who likes to hear that invitation to die to Self? I want Him to affirm me, to give me the things that make my  life easy, to warm my heart with whispers of affection. Of course, that is surely a part of knowing Him.  And yet … we also hear Him say that we must love Him so intensely that all other loves will seem hatred in comparison.  He reminds us that our riches are to be eternal when He says ‘lay up treasure in Heaven.’

If we are honestly engaged with the Scripture and the Spirit, we will sometimes find ourselves offended, angered, disturbed by His words.

If you are not left wrestling with the implications of discipleship, challenged by the invitation to make Him Lord as well as Savior, I will be bold enough to suggest that you are living a superficial Christian life. There are moments in my discipleship journey when all can do is sink to my knees and borrow His prayers – “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done!”  I sometimes do not understand. I am sometimes angered by His demands of me, but I always know that what He asks flows from nothing but love – for me, for my world.

  • Christian, are you struggling to understand some part of God’s Word that you find offensive?
  • Has the Spirit convicted you about some part of your life that He wants to be more closely conformed to the ways of Jesus?
  • Have you run headlong into a conflict between what you desire and what the Lord demands?

Take this line and live it. “When you can’t trace His hand, trust His heart!”

May the choice of the faithful that is reflected in our word from the Word be ours as well.  “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:67-69, NIV)
_____________

Trust His Heart

(Worship along at this link)

All things work for our good
Though sometimes we can’t see how they could
Struggles that break our hearts in two
Sometimes blind us to the truth
Our Father knows what’s best for us
His ways are not our own
So when your pathway grows dim
And you just can’t see Him
Remember you’re never alone

God is too wise to be mistaken
God is too good to be unkind
So when you don’t understand
When you don’t see His plan
When you can’t trace His hand
Trust His heart

He sees the master plan
He holds the future in His hands
So don’t live as those who have no hope
All our hope is found in Him
We see the present clearly
But He sees the first and the last
And like a tapestry He’s weaving you and me
To someday be just like Him

He alone is faithful and true
He alone knows what is best for you
When you don’t understand
When You don’t see His plan
When you can’t trace His hand

Trust His heart

Babbie Mason | Eddie Carswell© 1989 Dayspring Music, LLC (Admin. by Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp.) Word Music, LLC (Admin. by WB Music Corp.)
CCLI License # 810055

 

Pastor Jerry Scott- FAITH DISCOVERY CHURCH- www.FaithDiscovery.com

Are you ‘at home?’

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For the last week I have explored the byways of the Portland, OR area – lofty mountains, beautiful rivers, a huge bookstore downtown, a rural church, a college campus …  and I have been ‘at home’ in the home of my children. It’s been wonderful to spend time with them and get to know where they are and experience their lives but now, I’m ready to go home!  I guess I am, by nature, a homebody because I truly appreciate being in my town, buying coffee at the same shop, and being truly HOME.

Home is much more than a house, isn’t it?  We are ‘at home’ when we are among people who love us, those with whom we ‘do life’ serving in ways that make our lives richer because we are a small part of something larger than ourselves. I believe that God has make it a part of us to desire to contribute, to experience life together.  Service, done well and from the heart, ennobles us!

The late Kingman Brewster (1918-1988), a president of Yale University and a public servant, said “There is no greater challenge than to have someone relying upon you; no greater satisfaction than to vindicate his expectation.” In other words, it challenges Self to serve, but it is immensely rewarding to do it well and in a way that makes us part of a supportive web. That is the true ‘home.’

Our culture lauds independence, making our own way in life. “I don’t need anybody else” is a way of life that is barren. The idea of ‘self-sufficiency’ is largely mythical. Those who pursue life apart from ‘home-making’ will find themselves emotionally crippled, alone, and spiritually useless! The richness of love, not the sappy stuff of romance novels, but the robust, bold love that “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:7, NIV) is the soul of the best life. So, I’m looking forward to going home, plugging back into my network, and doing what God calls me to do each day.

What about you, disciple?  Are you creating a ‘home’ where you are doing the sometimes seemingly impossible, always costly, work of weaving a strong web that ties you to others? Some will nourish you. Some will require you to feed and serve. Both are part of love.

Here is a word from the Word. As you meditate on these Spirit-words, my prayer is that they will call you to make your home among God’s people, making strong ties, finding a rich life that extends into Eternity  – our forever home. “The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:7-11, NIV)

_____________________

Wherever there is laughter ringing,
Someone smiling someone dreaming,
We can live together there,
Love will be our home.
Where there are words of kindness spoken,
Where a vow is never broken,
We can live together there,
‘Cause love will be our home.

If home is really where the heart is,
Then home must be a place we all can share.
For even with our diff’rences
Our hearts are much the same.
For where love is we come together there.

With love our hearts can be a family,
And hope can bring this family face to face,
And though we may be far apart
Our hearts can be as one,
When love brings us together in one place.
Love will love will be our home,

Love Will Be Our Home
Chapman, Steven Curtis
© 1988 Careers-BMG Music Publishing, Inc. / Sparrow Song (a div. of EMI Christian Music Publishing) / Greg Nelson Music (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)

CCLI License No. 810055