Whatever happens…

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Yesterday I went home a bit early from the office to get the lawn mowed before going back for a meeting.  At 3:30 it was beautiful, sun shining brightly, a light breeze stirring.  I finished up a little before 5. A few minutes later the sky darkened and down came the rain. It poured for about 10 minutes. Life is like that, isn’t it?  Life is good, friends are great, we are feeling joy. Cruising along, we are so grateful for the sunny skies and then it happens. “It” can be so many different things – sickness, job loss, accident, a broken heart. The reality of our faith or the lack thereof becomes evident in those kinds of days.

Listen to Paul’s counsel, inspired by the Spirit. He has just reminded those reading his letter that he is uncertain about whether he will live or die, that life means continuing service to Christ Jesus; that death is his homegoing to the home of his Father.

In times of that kind of change, he says that there is a priority choice to be made.  “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.” (Philippians 1:27-30, NIV)

When things go upside in life, there are a variety of responses other than living in faith, aren’t there?

Sometimes we blow up, raging in our frustration.  We lash out at anything and everyone because of our anger.
Sometimes we shrink into a defensive posture, withdrawing from life and retreating into a sullen silence.
Sometimes we become Chicken Little, so overwhelmed with fear that we run around declaring that the world is coming to an end!
Sometimes we go off the rails trying to distract ourselves; chasing pleasure, spending too much, overeating.

God asks for a different response. “Live in such a way that you are a credit to the Message of Christ.” (The Message)

When we focus on faith, pull together in “one spirit,” refusing to let fear rule us a kind of beauty emerges in us, the Light of Jesus shining through us.  Even as I write these words, I shudder to remember some of those moments when I have not made the choice of faith and turned into an angry man.  But, I also remember moments when I chose faith, when there was a beauty in my brokenness that honored the Lord I love.  How about you?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our heritage as a Christian included only sunny days without trouble? But, that is not life in this world. A final observation from Paul’s letter this morning is the last part of the passage quoted above. Note it again- “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.”   Those difficulties are not a surprise to our Father in Heaven. He knows the paths we walk and prepares gracious gifts of patience and encouragement for those moments of suffering and struggle.

Let’s pray for the depth of faith to stay steady, to keep serving Christ as He desires whatever happens!

Here is a word from the Word.
“Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers.
But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night.
They are like trees planted along the riverbank,
bearing fruit each season.
Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.

But not the wicked!
They are like worthless chaff, scattered by the wind.
They will be condemned at the time of judgment.
Sinners will have no place among the godly.

For the Lord watches over the path of the godly,
but the path of the wicked leads to destruction.” (Psalm 1:1-6, NLT)
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“Everything happens for a reason’ is not true!

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Seems to me that we are treated to the ‘crisis of the week’ by our news media. The imminent end of the world is always just around the corner. The world we live in does have real issues, but to get our attention everybody is screaming at full voice, hyping their concerns in the most apocalyptic terms. Remember when the news was full of stories about the collapse of bee colonies a decade ago?  We were warned that our food supply was threatened, that famine would follow, because of the critical importance of bees in the pollination process.  We’re still here and with plenty of food.  Was it a real issue? Yes, it was and continues to be a concern, but the end of the world was not about to happen!

Perhaps you are in a time when tomorrow is uncertain, when you cannot see a way forward. There may be voices, inward or even from people around you, that suggest the imminent end of your world. That day in March of 2014 when Bev was diagnosed with terminal cancer stands out vividly in my mind as a moment when the future went black!  When she stepped into eternity 20 months later, I could not imagine a life without her; yet here I am.  Life has continued, not as I might have wished, but it has gone on, and I can even see where the Lord has used this sorrow as a chisel to shape me for His use, an invitation to know Him more deeply.

There is a passage, written by Paul from prison, that is packed full of assurance for Christians who cannot see a way ahead. He does not ask us to give into Fate. He shows the foundation of hope, a strong faith!  Paul had preached the Gospel of Christ across the Empire for 20 years. He had not known much of what we would call success.  He met resistance, was criticized, had been thrown out of cities, and now was languishing in a prison. Yet, he is joyful and hopeful. Why?

“Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly. It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:12-21, NIV)\

He does not say that ‘everything happens for a reason,’ which is nonsense.  That line dismisses the reality of our choices and the power of evil implying that God causes all things, including those things that cause us pain and suffering.  That is simply not true.  He allows things to happen, but He not the author of evil!  Paul never suggested that God put him in prison.  But, he does have full confidence that God, in answer to prayer and as he walked in faith, was able to use his situation to bring about Kingdom results.  As he sat there, guarded by the elite soldiers of Caesar’s guard, he found an audience he could not have reached before.  He recognized that as he was faithful despite his problems, others would be encouraged to remain faithful, too.

He fully expected God to use his life and to protect his salvation.  The phrase that we need to know and understand is the final one – “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”   Dead or alive, Paul belonged to Jesus Christ and thus expected a win.  Alive, he continues to advance the Kingdom. Dead, he goes home to the Father.  Now that is a win-win if ever there was one.

In no way do I intend my thoughts to minimize your struggle.  Life can be hard.  We live everyday with the effects of sin’s curse in evidence. But, we are never without hope, if Christ is Lord. Expect the win, and allow that it may look nothing like you think it should. Continue to rejoice in the Lord.  He is at work to take those things that others, that the Devil, means for our destruction and to shape them into a means of displaying His grace and awesome power.  Steady on, patiently, in faith.

Here is a word from the Word.  It is not a simple thing.  But, it is a word to keep us when there appears to be no tomorrow. “And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory. What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.” (Romans 8:30-34, NLT)
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Abba, increase my faith.
Turn my fears into courageous hope,
my struggles into a display of Your grace and mercy.

Whisper of Your power to save to me,
convince me that You secure my future, straight into Eternity.

 Jesus, may You shine most brightly in me when the skies are dark.
Spirit of God, lead me on, through the storm, through the uncertainties,
into the glorious Will of the Father.

 Amen

Brainless Believers

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So, is this blog about politics? No, it is about discernment.

The debate over immigration policies that has filled up the news is an important one that is buried under sentiment, driven by undeniably sad pictures and stories of real suffering by real people. Any reasonable conversation is quickly overtaken by emotional shouts from both sides of the argument, by name calling, and caricatures of reality painted for propaganda purposes. What is needed are clear minds, people who will examine, think through, and sort out the tangled webs of economic opportunity, justice, and fear. But, alas we are blinded by our emotional responses.

  • Is your Christian hope rooted in Truth, in a thoughtful examination of the Scripture that causes deep, profound, and personal change?
  • Or, are you, like so many 21st American Christians, basing your faith on the unstable foundation of emotions?

In the contemporary Christian scene that is my home, much of our worship experience is designed primarily to move our hearts. The lyrics of many of our worship songs (and I do enjoy them!) often read more like a poem to a boyfriend than a declaration of wonder at the Almighty God. Thousands drift from church to church looking for some novel experience to stir jaded emotions, to somehow ‘feel’ the love of Jesus.

Personally, we are tempted to ignore the hard issues of discipleship, preferring to read comforting passages of the Word that promise blessings and speak of God’s love over and over again. That we should be challenged to face up to Self, to kneel in silent, humble prayer, to practice disciplines, is beyond the grasp of millions.

Paul’s prayer does not ignore the role of both the heart and the mind. “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11, NIV)  We are to love Jesus, but not just for the warm fuzzies that come from that but to be drawn to a devotion that causes us to align our thoughts, words, and actions with the will of God! That demands reflection, interaction, and willingness to let the Spirit speak to things we cherish.  The result is that we discern what is best. We are no longer ruled by our emotions.  The Spirit makes our mind alive and able to accept Truth and reject deception so that our lives become beautiful whole and holy.

The role of the Pastor is often see as a kind of chaplaincy, a person who comes into the life of the Christian in time of crisis to give aid and comfort. In fact, those who lead the Church are charged with a robust task of teaching, changing minds with Truth.  For what reason?   “Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.” (Ephesians 4:14-15, NLT)  Instead of pouting, crying, and whining when our emotions are frustrated, we become mature and able to do what we are called to do, regardless of whether we feel like it or not.  What a radical idea.

Let’s begin to cherish the mind again, thanking God for the wonderful emotions that make life richly textured, but capable of knowing Him both in Spirit and Truth.  Don’t be a brainless believer.  By the way, this is not about intellect, it is about the teaching of the Spirit who gives wisdom to those who hunger for Him.

The word from the Word today invites us to the beauty of a mature faith. “Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth. Avoid worthless, foolish talk that only leads to more godless behavior.  .. God’s truth stands firm like a foundation stone with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and “All who belong to the Lord must turn away from evil.” (2 Timothy 2:15-19, NLT)

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Knowing You

All I once held dear built my life upon
All this world reveres and wars to own
All I once thought gain I have counted loss
Spent and worthless now compared to this

Knowing You Jesus knowing You
There is no greater thing
You’re my all You’re the best
You’re my joy my righteousness
And I love You Lord love You Lord

Now my heart’s desire is to know You more
To be found in You and known as Yours
To possess by faith what I could not earn
All surpassing gift of righteousness

Oh to know the pow’r of Your risen life
And to know You in Your sufferings
To become like You in Your death my Lord
So with You to live and never die

Graham Kendrick © 1993 Make Way Music (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)

CCLI License # 810055

Completely Confident!

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I am generally one of those people who likes to keep my lawn looking good.  I will admit that when it is 90 degrees in the sun, when sweat is pouring down my face, there is a severe temptation to skip pulling  out the trimmer to get all those tufts of grass around the trees and along the rock wall.  The heat and my fatigue come together to say, “It’s good enough for today.”  The next day as I look out over the lawn, what do I see? Those unfinished details, those ‘little’ things that are undone.

It’s one thing when the trimming is left undone in the lawn, but what about the unfinished business in other parts of our lives?  There are choices to be made about life that are much more serious, aren’t there? Do you ever run out of motivation, losing your enthusiasm along the way?

Did you set out to serve Christ in some ministry but found it so much more difficult than you had thought and stalled?

Are you ready to give up on dealing with that habit which you know is sin and therefore keeps you from feeling the joy of the Lord?

Do doubts about your home in Heaven hang on, your faith undeveloped and immature?

Paul writes to us by the inspiration of the Spirit to encourage us to finish. “I thank my God every time I remember you. … being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:3,6 NIV)  Do you notice where Paul focuses his confidence?  Go back, read it again.  Yes, he is confident in God’s ability, not his, not ours. Are you?

I regret to say that in my lifetime I have ‘given up’ on some people. Frustrated by their laziness or their refusal to step up to try hard, I stepped around them and moved on. God is not like this. He invests Himself in us, desires our success, and works in us to ‘carry it on to completion.’   Another familiar passage urges the right focus. “We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up.” (Hebrews 12:2-4, NLT)

God’s promise does not excuse our laziness.  In the Word we learn of the importance of endurance and perseverance in a hundred lessons! Faithfulness is something prized by the Lord in us. But, paradoxically, we are most likely to remain faithful when we are leaning hard on Jesus, taking the Spirit’s counsel, and trusting in God with unwavering faith in HIS ability to save.

This morning, are you too tired, discouraged, unmotivated – perhaps even to pray, to deal with whatever is in front of you? Tell Him that, honestly. Tell Him if you are tired, fearful, or just want to go find a sunny beach far from it all. He will meet you where you are, but He won’t leave you there alone.  Sit with Him for a few moments and let your heart be open, real, about the truth.  As you look up, you will stop comparing yourself to others. That never works anyway.  You can always find someone that you feel is doing worse than you are and comfort yourself in apathy.  Of course, you can always find many who appear to be doing so much better that you are convinced of your own worthlessness!

God sees us as we are – our true potential – and asks for our best, as He equips us through the work of His Spirit, to make the ‘most of every opportunity.’  Will you look to Jesus right now?

Here is a word from the Word. My prayer is that this will become a source of inspired hope today. “Everything that goes into a life of pleasing God has been miraculously given to us by getting to know, personally and intimately, the One who invited us to God. The best invitation we ever received! We were also given absolutely terrific promises to pass on to you—your tickets to participation in the life of God after you turned your back on a world corrupted by lust. So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given,  …

Confirm God’s invitation to you, his choice of you. Don’t put it off; do it now. Do this, and you’ll have your life on a firm footing, the streets paved and the way wide open into the eternal kingdom of our Master and Savior, Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:3-11, The Message)

______________

Abba, I humble myself before You today
confessing that I get wobbly, feel unprepared,
wonder if I can make the finish line.

Jesus, I think of Your faithfulness to me,
of your willingness to trust the Father even
when You did not want to go to the Cross, and
You FINISHED the work He sent You to do.
Help me to do the same.

Spirit of God, inspire, enthuse, and equip me.

Help me to shake off the feelings of worthlessness,
to press past the desire to quit on You.
Set the goal in front of me;
raise my eyes to see the promise of
Heaven and the Kingdom.
In Jesus’ name. Amen

God and You – unstoppable!

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24 hours ago I stood in the pulpit and delivered a message that was about the gifts of the Spirit, about the ways that God, the Holy Spirit, empowers you and me. I asked a question repeatedly of the congregation – “What do you want to do for God, with God, to change one thing in your world?”  I invited them to dream God-sized dreams.  At a meeting that evening, I listened to Peter, the man who will be taking the position as our Head of school, talk about his vision for that place and I heard someone dreaming aloud.

Do you dream anymore? Share your dream, especially one involving significant change, and a common response will be something like this – “Get Real!”  The world is full of people like Mr. Wonderful on “Shark Tank.” Ever watch that TV program?  Entrepreneurs bring their dreams to the panel looking for partners and funding.  Kevin O’Leary, a member of the Sharks, is frequently beyond critical, mean, making fun, predicting failure. Why does doubt, fear, and negativity come so easily to us?  Why are faith, courage, and positive attitudes so scarce?

I want to take you to the story of a man with a God-sized dream- Moses.  It was the divine time for the descendants of Abraham to return to Canaan, the Promised Land, after living in slavery in Egypt for 4 centuries.   The tiny clan that went to Egypt to avoid starvation during a famine had grown.  We are not sure but most likely their numbers exceeded a half million persons!

The Lord needed someone to lead them and he selected a man who was a former prince of Egypt, now a fugitive off  ‘on the far side of the desert’ tending Jethro’s sheep. Moses had been there for 40 years. He had put his dreams away and settled down!  God needed to get his attention and He did so with a desert shrub that appeared to be on fire but which was not actually burning up.   When Moses went over to check it out, God spoke his name.   He tells Moses that He is ready to move, that He has a plan, and then He says – “So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:10, NIV)

So now, go! Moses needed a lot of coaxing, offering excuses as to why he was not suited, why the task was too big, what was impossible. But, God told Him – “I will be with you.” It was the answer to all Moses’ objections.  Interestingly, the Lord did not say, “All the problems are solved. The path is cleared. It’s a smooth road.”  It wasn’t. Moses met opposition, disappointments, and hardships, but his anchor was the Presence of the Living God.

God is calling you, too!   He says,  “So now, go!”  to your family, to your neighbors, to the people with whom you work, to your city, to the world.  There are people to love that only you can reach. There is a something that needs to be done in a place that only you can fill.  Nobody can love your kids like you do.  So now, go.  Let yourself dream God-sized dreams;  not fantasies of escape, not silly dreams about riches or fame, but real visions of making God’s love real to others.

Stop stammering your excuses!  Paul was inspired to tell us that “Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people!” (1 Corinthians 12:7, The Message)  Decide to obey and a hundred voices will tell you why you cannot or should not do this. The enemy of God and good wants you to live an insignificant life safe on your living room couch letting day after day drift by.

I want to be all that He wants me to be, to do all He wants me to do, to risk it all for the glory of God.   I know I will not always get it right.   My history proves that too true.   I know I am not perfect (I heard that loud “Amen!”)   I know that I will fail for reasons that are sometimes my fault and sometimes beyond my comprehension.  But I also know this – God is greater than my flaws,  has promised to never leave me to fight alone, and has a rich reward in reserve for me when I finish the race obediently.   The results are in His hands.  Obedience is my responsibility!

Meditate on this passage today.  Ask the Spirit to cause it to inspire you to respond with a ready, “Yes, Lord,” when He says, “So now, go!”
” Pray diligently. Stay alert, with your eyes wide open in gratitude. Don’t forget to pray for us, that God will open doors for telling the mystery of Christ, even while I’m locked up in this jail. Pray that every time I open my mouth I’ll be able to make Christ plain as day to them. Use your heads as you live and work among outsiders. Don’t miss a trick. Make the most of every opportunity. Be gracious in your speech. The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation, not put them down, not cut them out. ” (Colossians 4:2-6, The Message)

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I Want To Know You

(a worship song and prayer at this link)

I’ve tried in vain a thousand ways
My fears to quell my hopes to raise
But what I need your word has said
Is ever only Jesus

You died you live you reign you plead
There’s love in all your words and deeds
This weary heart finds all it needs
In ever only Jesus

I want to know you Jesus my Lord
King of the Heavens king of my soul
I trade my treasure and all my rewards
Jesus to know you then know you more

Though some should curse me for your name
I have no fear I have no shame
You stand with me for all my days
My ever only Jesus

Like wave after wave on the ocean
Like all of the sand on the shore
Your beauty and glory are endless
O Jesus I must know you more

James Proctor | Jonny Robinson | Michael Farren | Rich Thompson© 2016 Farren Love And War Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing (Integrity Music [DC Cook]))

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

CCLI License # 810055

Saved to the Uttermost!

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TGIF – thank God it’s Friday. Is that what you’re saying today? We all have weeks when we stumble into the weekend in a kind of emotional stupor, don’t we?  Life can turn into a maelstrom; confusion, fear, doubt, fatigue, disappointment, demands, temptation, too many demands wrapping us up, robbing our peace.

Let me remind you of something true. There is Someone who is there for you, who knows your emotional state, to Whom you can cry.  If you’re reading this blog, I am fairly certain that is not news, but we can forget it, doubt it, even reject it when it all just seems ‘too much’ to take. Meditate on this word for a moment. “Since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16, NIV)  Go back and re-read that passage one more time;  slowly!

At the beginning of His final week before the Cross, Jesus was met with palm branches and acclamation when He entered Jerusalem. Sounds good, right? But, it broke His heart because He knew that the crowds were fickle, that they would turn on Him in a matter of days. All that week He struggled with the men who were His friends knowing that He was about to entrust the Kingdom message to them, yet seeing them bicker about their status, fail to grasp what was really going on.

One of them turned on Him, betraying Him in the worst way.  In His time of great crisis, as He wrestled with the will of the Father, He asked them to pray with Him and … they fell asleep!  I cannot even imagine how isolated and alone He must have felt.  He was subjected to physical torture, psychological games by political hacks, and then sent to a horrific death.  For me the most wrenching cry from the Cross is this: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?”  It is the anguish of One torn from all that has defined Him from eternity!

That Jesus is YOUR Great High Priest this morning. Given that single week from His life, can you actually say He does not know what you’re dealing with today?  Stop trying so hard to make the hurt go away. Stop trying to work it out ‘til it makes sense.

Focus on this – “Because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.” (Hebrews 7:24-26, NIV)  The older translation has a beautiful phrase I want you to hang onto today: “He is able to save them to the uttermost that come to God by Him!”  

He is praying for you, for me, for this busted up world we live in, right now before the Father God.  Contrary to what you might be feeling at the moment, He has not lost control of your life. You maybe did, He never did. You can cry. You can scream. You can sit in angry silence.  Regardless, He is able to save to the uttermost!  Will you trust Him?

The word from the Word for this Friday is one that I hope will remind us that we cannot save ourselves, that it is not from us that salvation comes. ” Let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up.” (Hebrews 12:1-3, NLT)

“We do this … by keeping our eyes on Jesus, our Great High Priest, Who saves to the uttermost!”

_________

Jesus! what a friend for sinners!
Jesus! lover of my soul;
Friends may fail me, foes assail me,
He, my Savior, makes me whole.

Hallelujah! what a Savior!
Hallelujah! what a friend!
Saving, helping, keeping, loving,
He is with me to the end.

Jesus! what a strength in weakness!
Let me hide myself in Him;
Tempted, tried, and sometimes failing,
He, my strength, my vict’ry wins.

Jesus! what a help in sorrow!
While the billows o’er me roll,
Even when my heart is breaking,
He, my comfort, helps my soul.

Jesus! what a guide and keeper!
While the tempest still is high,
Storms about me, night o’ertakes me,
He, my pilot, hears my cry.

Jesus! I do now receive Him,
More than all in Him I find,
He hath granted me forgiveness,
I am His, and He is mine.

-Public Domain

Secret Disciples?

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Who among us, regardless of our political persuasion, has not learned to keep our opinions under wraps these days? It’s a time of strong feelings about so many choices made by our government, a time when one can lose a friend by offering support to or criticism of party or President. We are much poorer as a nation for our inability to have a real conversation, speaking as we do, in sound bites, clichés, and Facebook posts. Fear has destroyed the engaged discourse that helps us better understand the complex issues of the day for which neither side has complete answers.

Have you become a ‘secret disciple’ of Jesus, too?  It’s tempting, isn’t it? Christians are often targets for criticism, some of it well-deserved I believe. Using snippets of Scripture completely out of context to support political opinion leaves us looking silly or ignorant. Being unable or unwilling to talk about our convictions, to examine which ones are just our traditional understanding and which are foundationally rooted in the complete revelation of the Holy Word, gives us closed minds. Thus, being a conservative (not politically, but Biblically) Christian in our time often invites ridicule.  Then, too, there is the fact that the true disciple of Jesus will offend ‘the world’ just like our Lord did!  So, some choose to become a secret disciple.

John tells us about a good man who felt the heavy weight of fear, who had much to lose in ancient Jerusalem because he had become convinced that Jesus was Who He claimed to be. He says, “Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews.” (John 19:38, NIV)

Secret discipleship misses the mission Jesus gave to us.  Our words, our actions, are intended to shed light on a very dark world.  “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 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 5:14-16, NLT)  Perhaps if we were less concerned about for whom we were baking a cake, if we were more intentional about caring for those in need with real love, if we stopped making certain political positions the test of a ‘true’ Christian – His light shining out of us would actually cause people to thank God for us.

Real disciples of Jesus have changed the world. In the Roman empire, a brutal place full of death, Christians stood out for their love for all particularly the downtrodden.  The church was unique in the first century as a place where slave and free worshiped side by side, where women were treated as equals, where hope was available to everyone.  Those people claimed unwanted children and raised them in spite of their own poverty. They refused violence, actually ‘turning the other cheek’ like Jesus taught. Centuries later, in the time of the plagues in Europe, Christians cared for the sick when others fled, abandoning family. Their loving concern won them great admiration. Why did they do these costly things?  Because their true course was guided by eternal hope! They did not fear ‘having less’ because they took on another orphan. They did not fear death because they knew they were going Home to the Father’s house.

Is the Light of Jesus hidden in your life?  Perhaps it is obscured by a selfishness that has wrapped itself around your salvation making Jesus into a way to gain more for yourself. Listen to your prayers to see if this is true of you. Are your prayers primarily about your own circle of concern; more money, better health, blessings for your children?  This preoccupation with Self will dim the light in us and make us an unintended ‘secret disciple.’  Or, like Nicodemus, perhaps you have chosen to keep your love for Jesus under cover because you fear the rejection of friend or family.

Let the Light Shine!  The word from the Word today is challenging, not easy to digest, but compelling. “Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed? If anyone is ashamed of me and my message, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in his glory and in the glory of the Father and the holy angels.” (Luke 9:23-26, NLT)

Abba, secure us in Your love.
Set hope in us so that fear is gone.
Teach us to radically love,
to know how to speak, to think,
to act in ways that lets the Light of Your Son shine
brightly through us.

Amen

________________

We Are

Ev’ry secret ev’ry shame
Ev’ry fear ev’ry pain
Live inside the dark
But that’s not who we are
We are children of the day

 So wake up sleeper lift your head
We were meant for more than this
Fight the shadows conquer death
Make the most of the time we have left

 We are the light of the world
We are the city on a hill
We are the light of the world
And we gotta we gotta we gotta
Let the light shine

 Let the light shine
Let the light shine ooh

 We are called to spread the news
To tell the world the simple truth
Jesus came to save there’s freedom in His name
So let His love break through

 We are the light we are the light we are the light
So let your light shine brighter
We are the light we are the light we are the light
Jesus You are the light You are the light
You are the light
We will lift You high and shine shine shine

 Let the light shine let the light shine
Let the light shine let the light shine

Chuck Butler | Ed Cash | Hillary McBride | James Tealy

© 2011 Centricity Music Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

All Essential Music (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)

Wonder Down Under Music  (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)

Wondrously Made Songs (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)

CCLI License # 810055

 

The Grand Restoration

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Don’t you love to finish a project? There is a feeling of accomplishment that comes when it’s complete. Perhaps there is even some relief that the job is finally done, especially if the work was long and difficult. I admire people who buy an old house and renovate it, particularly if they are doing it themselves and living in the middle of the mess!  But, how joyful to see the finished product, a new beautiful kitchen or bathroom – and knowing that it was the work of their own hands makes it all the more appreciated.

God made a beautiful world, one full of beauty, and then evil found an entrance. Genesis tells us that through disobedience sin came. The result of sin was death, destruction of the perfect balance. Our relationship with our holy, loving God was wrecked.  He, of blinding perfection, awesome majesty, was abandoned for lesser things with tragic results. Hatred overturned love.  Want replaced plenty. Perfect harmony was lost to misunderstanding. Mere idols, gods of our own making, took the place of the One True God. Until … “when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” (Galatians 4:4-6, NIV)

God, who might have destroyed it all chose rather to enter this broken world – to come to redeem us all.  Redemption was a word understood in terms of those who were placed into slavery to pay off a debt. Those so enslaved could be ‘redeemed’ – bought back and freed.  Sin had enslaved the world but God freed us with the price of His Son.  What a wonder, what a mystery;  what love!

John recounts the story of the sacrifice for sin, the awful crucifixion of Christ Jesus in few words. Captured near the end of the story are Jesus’ words that should evoke a great joy in us.  As He senses the end of his life coming, He says, “It is finished!”  He is not saying, “I’m done.”  He is not declaring that He’s finished. The plan of salvation known to God before time began was complete. The grand restoration of creation was now possible, the time of slavery was done! “Jesus knew that his mission was now finished, and to fulfill Scripture he said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of sour wine was sitting there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put it on a hyssop branch, and held it up to his lips. When Jesus had tasted it, he said, “It is finished!” Then he bowed his head and released his spirit.” (John 19:28-30, NLT)

This is the Gospel, the good news of Christ. “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1-2, NIV)   The words are rich revelations of His love towards us.  Justified! Made right, all debts settled.  At peace! Our uncertainties erased by Truth’s declaration, made at the Cross, that sin could no longer enslave those who receive the Gift by faith.  Rejoice!

And, how did He choose to make this happen?  “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. … God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Romans 5:8-11, NIV)

Will you live as a restored child of God? Will you let go of lesser things to receive the gift of Jesus?

It IS finished, on our behalf.  Life and more life for us provided by our Abba’s love.

_________

No Longer Slaves
(listen and worship)

You unravel me with a melody
You surround me with a song
Of deliverance from my enemies
Till all my fears are gone

I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God
I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God

From my Mother’s womb
You have chosen me
Love has called my name
I’ve been born again into Your famil
Your blood flows through my veins

You split the sea so I could walk right through it
My fears were drowned in perfect love
You rescued me so I could stand and sing
I am a child of God

Brian Johnson | Joel Case | Jonathan David Helser © 2014 Bethel Music Publishing

CCLI License # 810055

Talking a BIG game?

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I met Diann yesterday when she came to see me as a rep for World Vision. In our conversation I learned about her life, raising many children, including 5 that she and her husband adopted. What I loved most was that she was so real about the joys and struggles of it all!   Life for her, like all of us, was not all sunshine and roses. Some of her best intended choices had unforeseen results but there was no bitterness, no cynicism. Nor was there the common Christian affliction of superficial ‘happy talk’ about the hard things. She was just real.

Bob Goff pokes holes in our pretensions in an essay in his book, Everybody Always. He suggests that we lose our Christian speak, so often used to impress or cover up our insecurity, trading it for reality. “We don’t need to go on ‘mission trips’ any longer. Jesus’ friends did not call them this. They knew love already had a name. … We don’t need to call everything we do ‘ministry,’ just call it Tuesday. … People who love don’t need all the spin, because they aren’t looking for applause or validation from others any longer.”

 

How about we just stop all the measuring, comparing, wondering so we can just be the person calls us to be?  Oh, I know, it’s hard not to wonder where we fit in the pecking order of life, isn’t it? I do it, too! Too often I allow myself to make ‘success’ (whatever that really is) into the number of people in church on Sunday morning instead of faithfully loving one or two on Tuesday.

In the pastoral journals I read, the names that appear in the headlines are of people who are ‘in charge’ of thousands, who are ‘changing the world,’  and the Devil uses that to tempt me to feel small, to ask ‘what’s wrong with me?’  Sad, isn’t it? But, it is such a common thing for all of us in different ways. Perhaps for you it’s beauty or money or your kid’s accomplishments or your house or … am I right?

Let’s get real with ourselves and God. Let’s make our prayer, “Here I am, Lord, all of me. It’s my desire to be the best ‘me’ I can be, using the opportunities You present to me today in the most excellent way so that Jesus will somehow shine through the good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly.”
Here is something I do know with certainty. You and I will encounter people today who desperately need to be loved. No they don’t need a ‘Jesus talk’ to straighten them out. They surely don’t need to hear us brag, our self-aggrandizement disguised as a ‘testimony.’ They need us to listen and care like He did. They need us to leave them with hope that life can be different. They need us to remind them that God still is there, that in spite of what they see, He’s not given up on the world. If we are just loving, the Spirit will open up opportunities for the next conversation, the one about inviting Jesus Christ to be Lord of life.
So, let’s ‘go into all the world,’ starting at the front door and love like Jesus did. (That is not romantic or sentimental.) He saw the need, moved to understand it, and died to change it! Ready to love like that?
Let this word from the Word speak deeply to you. Spend some time meditating on the wisdom of the Spirit that Paul left for us here.

“In light of all this, here’s what I want you to do.
While I’m locked up here, a prisoner for the Master,
I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—
on the road God called you to travel.
I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands.
I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere.
 
And mark that you do this
with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily,
pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love,
alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.
You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction,
so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly.
You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all,
who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all.
Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness. “
(Ephesians 4:1-6, The Message)

Give Us Barabbas

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Mob mentality is a frightening thing that leads people to do and say things that would be unthinkable as an individual. In the African nation of Rwanda, in 1994, urged on by radio broadcasts and simmering anger, one group of people rose up against their neighbors and in 100 days around 800,000 people were slaughtered by machete wielding mobs!  History is full of similar stories – people whipped up by propaganda who take to the streets, destroying, killing.

We like to think ‘not me,’ don’t we?  We want to believe that we are above being influenced in that way, incited to hate by leaders who stir some visceral reaction in us.  A study of human behavior would suggest that swaying the mob is all too easy.

In John’s Gospel the conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders had come to a crisis moment. After He was betrayed by Judas and handed over to the Roman authorities, the mood of the people shifted. Those who had been swept up in adulation at His triumphal entry, now heard the accusations being leveled. They were further goaded by Pilate who kept repeating that Jesus was their king.  When he offered to release a prisoner in the Passover tradition, John says the mob “shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!”  He adds this footnote – “Now Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion.” (John 18:40, NIV)  Barabbas had committed real crimes, Jesus had only cared, loved, and taught them of God’s invitation. Yet, they choose the lesser over the Lord.

Later in the day, after Pilate had questioned Jesus again, he offered to free Him, suggesting that perhaps a flogging would suffice. But those who usually hated Roman authority, who had nothing but contempt for Caesar, were now a thoughtless mob and “they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.” (John 19:15, NIV)

Will you stand with Jesus today?  When the crowd pushes back against faith, when His call to a live of love puts you at odds with those who are cruel or hateful, will you courageously stand?

In the opening words of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives a promise in the context of resistance: “God blesses those people who are treated badly for doing right. They belong to the kingdom of heaven. God will bless you when people insult you, mistreat you, and tell all kinds of evil lies about you because of me. Be happy and excited! You will have a great reward in heaven. People did these same things to the prophets who lived long ago.” (Matthew 5:10-12, CEV)

If we are persistent in commitment, we will find ourselves going against the flow.  And, no matter how kind, how good, we are the fact is that if stand with Jesus, you are going to experience rejection.  Paul told his spiritual son this:  “All who live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12).  It is not a maybe, could be, possible outcome! It is a certainty.  Stand with Christ, stand against the world.

What kind of difficulties may come our way if we won’t go with the crowd?

Personal insults are inevitable. You will find yourself the butt of jokes. You may be looked down on, considered a fool.

Physical intimidation is surely possible.  Martyrdom is not just a thing of the past. In many places in the world, in 2018, people are imprisoned, beaten, and even killed because they bear the name of Christ.  Those of us who are privileged to live our faith under the protection of the law, should give thanks for that, and pray for those who are being persecuted for loving Jesus.

Social pressure is part of being a Christian, even in America. “Lighten up,” we hear. “You are way too serious about your religion,” our family may say.

Stand! Not angrily, not with fists raised, but with the quiet courage that Jesus demonstrated, trusting Himself to the will of the Father.  What a tragic thing to allow ourselves to be caught up in the mob, and hearing the words “Give us Barabbas” come from our mouth.

Here is a word from the Word. “If you’re abused because of Christ, count yourself fortunate. It’s the Spirit of God and his glory in you that brought you to the notice of others. If they’re on you because you broke the law or disturbed the peace, that’s a different matter. But if it’s because you’re a Christian, don’t give it a second thought. Be proud of the distinguished status reflected in that name!”  (1 Peter 4:14-16, The Message)

_______

The Stand

You stood before creation
Eternity in Your hand
You spoke the earth into motion
My soul now to stand 

You stood before my failure
And carried the cross for my shame
My sin weighed upon Your shoulders
My soul now to stand

 So what can I say
And what can I do
But offer this heart O God
Completely to You

 So I’ll walk upon salvation
Your Spirit alive in me
My life to declare Your promise
My soul now to stand

 So I’ll stand
With arms high and heart abandoned
In awe of the One who gave it all
I’ll stand
My soul Lord to You surrendered
All I am is Yours

 Joel Houston © 2005 Hillsong Music Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055