The Last Unmentionable

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Mention death and watch the reactions – fear, uneasiness, discomfort, even shock. Acknowledging that death is inevitable is the last unmentionable, it seems. American Baby Boomers (yes, my generation) are living longer due to medical intervention.  The percentage of Americans over the age of 75 has quadrupled over the last century. This creates a false expectation of immortality makes the arrival of death, even to those who are far advanced in years, an intrusion, a surprise.

“Dying well” is seldom talked about, as if even the thought that life on the earth must end may hasten the day of our demise.  One researcher discovered that nearly a third of adults who have reached the age of 60 have not considered a plan for medical treatment in the event of terminal illness. An even larger percentage have not prepared a will.

Wishing to die is basically unhealthy, we know that! But, ignoring death is folly, too. The Psalmist prayed, “Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.”   Without an awareness of the march of time to an ending point of this earthly life, we will likely waste too many days and too much of our resources on things that lack real value. We will leave disputes unsettled, love unspoken, and sacrifice deferred.

There was a time when thoughtful people kept a skull as a memento mori  (Latin for “Remember death”) at their desk. Morbid? No. They were to be a reminder for the living that they should live with an awareness of their mortality so that they would arrive at that moment prepared. What a contrast to our way of life. We sanitize death and worship youth. The dying are removed (in many cases) from our homes, placed in the care of medical professionals.  We move quickly through rituals of death and grieving  to resume ‘life.

Christians live with hope in the face of death.  St. Paul insists that the Resurrection of Christ is the evidence that the grave is not the end of existence. Jesus said that He is the Resurrection and the Life for those who trust Him.  So, friend, are you ready to die?  No as in “I want to die today,” but as in “I have loved, I have forgiven, I have settled debts, I have lived to create a legacy.”

The word from the Word is lengthy, but encouraging, at least for me. (smile)  Read the inspired text with a prayer that the Spirit will set hope in your heart making it possible for you to grapple with that moment that will certainly arrive.

“Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.

Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:1-7, NIV)

What do you need to do today to prepare?

____________

Farther Along

Tempted and tried we’re oft made to wonder
Why it should be thus all the day long
While there are others living about us
Never molested tho in the wrong

Farther along we’ll know all about it
Farther along we’ll understand why
Cheer up my brother live in the sunshine
We’ll understand it all by and by

When death has come and taken our loved ones
It leaves our home so lonely and drear
Then do we wonder why others prosper
Living so wicked year after year

Faithful till death said our loving Master
A few more days to labor and wait
Toils of the road will then seem as nothing
As we sweep thru the beautiful gate

When we see Jesus coming in glory
When He comes from His home in the sky
Then we shall meet Him in that bright mansion
We’ll understand it all by and by

Jesse Randal Baxter Jr. | W. B. Stevens © 1937 Bridge Building Music, Inc. (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc.)

CCLI License # 810055

Seeing past the labels

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Robin Leach, best known for a program on TV that aired in the 1980’s, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, died last week. He entertained by giving people a look at celebrities and their wealth, his signature line being about “champagne wishes and caviar dreams.”  He made himself rich by playing to the American obsession with money.  Is that really a new thing?  Not at all.  Wealth has always attracted the attention of others – as far back as we can track history!

Money creates an illusion of ‘good’ and makes a person desirable in the eyes of most.

James asks those who love Jesus to think differently.  He says, My dear friends, don’t let public opinion influence how you live out our glorious, Christ-originated faith. If a man enters your church wearing an expensive suit, and a street person wearing rags comes in right after him, and you say to the man in the suit, “Sit here, sir; this is the best seat in the house!” and either ignore the street person or say, “Better sit here in the back row,” haven’t you segregated God’s children and proved that you are judges who can’t be trusted?

Listen, dear friends. Isn’t it clear by now that God operates quite differently? He chose the world’s down-and-out as the kingdom’s first citizens, with full rights and privileges. This kingdom is promised to anyone who loves God. And here you are abusing these same citizens! Isn’t it the high and mighty who exploit you, who use the courts to rob you blind? Aren’t they the ones who scorn the new name—“Christian”—used in your baptisms? You do well when you complete the Royal Rule of the Scriptures: “Love others as you love yourself.” (James 2:1-8, The Message)

We say we are not impressed by the label on clothes or the kind of car she drives, but too often our glance tells a differently story.  Admitting that we treat persons with wealth differently  than the poor is a tough thing. When we look at that bias in the light of day it is ugly and shallow, isn’t it?  The lie that a person of wealth is a superior person creeps up on us, resulting in favoritism and discrimination. Those first generation Christians let it happen in their churches and Pastor James told them to knock it off for Christ’s sake!

He is not just asking Christians to be ‘nice.’  We may do kind things for those we see as ‘different’ all while keeping them a distance, our kindness coming from sympathy rather than true love.  James invites us to be completely different, changed from the heart by the Holy Spirit.  We need the eyes of Jesus, the ability to see others not for their color, clothes, or attractiveness; but for their heart and character.

This is not just sentimental or idealistic. Loving all, the ‘royal law’ in James’ words, is the basic trait of those who know Jesus.  (He does not address it, but there can be a similar response in the poor who let caricatures about the rich cause bias as well.  That is equally offensive to our Father because it leads to giving value to a person solely based on first impressions and external appearance.)

Paul came at the problem of discrimination this way. In our word from the Word he reminds us that entrance into God’s love is not found in noble birth, high position, or personal wealth.  “Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29, NLT)

Let pray for release from our prejudice, for a new and honest way of living.   Pray that you will choose to live God’s way! “True godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. . . . 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.” (1 Timothy 6:6-10, NLT)

_________________

How to stay on top of life

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Tuesday was not a grand day at my house.  There were the petty irritations– a broken appliance, a missed appointment. Then there was a phone call that brought the news that a person I care for had taken yet another step in the long process of destroying his life, his choice both breaking my heart and filling me with anger!  I was disappointed in myself, too, wondering why I could not be more consistently loving in these situations. You know about those kind of days, don’t you?  They are too common.

That old Curse of sin fills our lives with frustrations.

In the story that tells about sin’s coming to Creation, there is a choice of rebellion, resulting in the alienation of the created from the Creator.  Then, we read God pronouncement that because of sin, the ground “will produce thorns and thistles for you … By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:18-19, NIV) There you have the summary of human existence and it isn’t a pretty picture, is it?  Apart from God, our days are a struggle. We are often defeated. And, we die – spiritually and physically. Many just give up, deciding to relieve the tedium with some momentary pleasure, regardless of the long-term consequence.

But I do not live in Genesis 3 any longer, nor must you!

Jesus came to announce a new Way for us to see the grip of sin broken – so that we can find “a rich and satisfying life.” (John 10:10, NLT)  In the middle of the messes of this sin-sick world, those of us who are ‘in Christ’ can stay on top of it. How?  Paul, after experiencing terrible persecution for bringing the Message of Christ to a pagan city, was knocked down for a time.  But, he got up and dusted himself off, pressing on with hope.

Take encouragement from the assurance that pulses through the Spirit inspired words he penned.  “We know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:14-18, NIV)

So, what can we learn that will change the broken to whole, the meaningless to purposeful?

-Because of Christ, we are headed HOME!

Genesis says, ‘you just dirt, destined to return to dirt!’  Jesus says, “You’re an eternal creature and though you die, you will be raised to the Presence of God!”

The difficulties of life are the fertile soil in which God’s grace can grow!

When we live hopefully in Christ, when we find His strength to overcome, people see Him. (Remember yesterday’s thought about treasure in clay pots?)  When others see that we are connected to an unseen, yet very powerful Person, the message spreads and the Kingdom of God expands. We don’t just survive with gritted teeth; we thrive with a joy that rises up through our tears – not because we are clever or strong, but because the Spirit is renewing us inwardly, day by day.

Here is that same passage from a paraphrase of Scripture. Prayerfully read this word from the Word and let it sink deep into your mind. “The One who raised up the Master Jesus will just as certainly raise us up with you, alive. Every detail works to your advantage and to God’s glory: more and more grace, more and more people, more and more praise! So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.” (2 Corinthians 4:14-18, The Message)

Kneel for a few moments and wait for the Lord. Hand off the frustrations, the sins, the fatigue to Him.  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7, NIV)

___________

Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep my faith will stand

 And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

 Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sov’reign hand will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now

 Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Saviour

 I will call upon Your name
Keep my eyes above the waves
My soul will rest in Your embrace
I am Yours and You are mine

Joel Houston | Matt Crocker | Salomon Ligthelm © 2012 Hillsong Music Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

I have to try harder

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There are days when I wonder if I am ‘good enough’ to even call myself a Christian. I get fearful and I plot to run away to some retreat. Sometimes I get short-tempered and regrettable angry words out-run my self-control.  Evenings arrive when I realize I have largely wasted the day, missing God-given opportunities while daydreaming about being someone else, somewhere else. Sometimes I don’t act like I love Jesus.

Shocked, are you?  Not if you know me.  “But, Jerry, you’re a pastor, a person who has been following Jesus for 50 years.”  I am but I am also a garden variety human being. I am not making any excuses for my lapses, nor am I in any way proud of any of those sins. Looking at myself in the mirror confirms the message of God’s grace.

Paul, the apostle of Christ whose spiritual revelation gave us more than half of our New Testament, did not boast of being a super-man. He admitted to being a lot less than perfect, to experiencing life at its lowest. At the same time, he reveled in the radiance of Christ Jesus that filled his soul.  He says  For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:6-7, NIV)

What a contrast of realities we find in that inspired Word! God does the miraculous, making a Creation moment in us, through Jesus!  At the dawn of time, He spoke to the chaos of darkness, calling light into being. When the world was captive to sin, full of evil, He spoke again and His Son entered that world to be Light that reveals the love of God. He speaks to you, to me, with the voice of the Spirit, and when we turn in faith to Him, light dawns in us, transforming us from the inside out.

That sounds so thrilling, doesn’t it? It is!  But … we’re still just clay pots!

In the ordinary places of life, in the daily things of work, He makes us different. If we determine that somehow we must make ourselves wonderful, that we must turn ourselves into perfection embodied, we create an impossible expectation, a crushing burden of religiosity that will exhaust us, demoralize us, and produce anything but the fruit of the Spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  “Try harder” produces anger, fatigue, fear, hypocrisy, and defeat!

If we ask, “Am I man enough to do this?” the only answer is “No, but He is God enough to make me who He wants me to be”

He is the treasure held in us, the radiance that shines through us. In our authentic love for Jesus we are changed, but not through self-help and rigid disciplines. Our ordinariness is enveloped by His goodness, His radiance, so that people see Someone in us that makes a clay pot into a thing of beauty.  I am not (nor are you) ‘good enough’ but He is.

Our ‘goodness,’ our ‘righteousness’ can never be earned or attained. It is received, a gift of God, that makes us more than we could ever hope to be by ourselves. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, NIV)

Let His light shine in you today.
Failure? Take His grace.
Success? Give Him praise.
Struggle? Receive His power.
Victory? Rejoice in His provision.

Here is a word from the Word. “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)  Clay pots full of the treasures of the Lord!  Now, that’s amazing.

____________

So Will I (100 Billion X)
(Be inspired!)

God of creation
There at the start before the beginning of time
With no point of ref’rence
You spoke to the dark
And fleshed out the wonder of light

And as You speak
A hundred billion galaxies are born
In the vapor of Your breath the planets form
If the stars were made to worship so will I

I can see Your heart in ev’rything You’ve made
Ev’ry burning star a signal fire of grace
If creation sings Your praises so will I

God of Your promise
You don’t speak in vain no syllable empty or void
For once You have spoken
All nature and science
Follow the sound of Your voice

And as You speak
A hundred billion creatures catch Your breath
Evolving in pursuit of what You said
If it all reveals Your nature so will I
I can see Your heart in ev’rything You say
Ev’ry painted sky a canvas of Your grace
If creation still obeys You so will I
So will I So will I

If the stars were made to worship so will I
If the mountains bow in rev’rence so will I
If the oceans roar Your greatness so will I
For if ev’rything exists to lift You high so will I\
If the wind goes where You send it so will I
If the rocks cry out in silence so will I
If the sum of all our praises still falls shy
Then we’ll sing again a hundred billion times

God of salvation
You chased down my heart
Through all of my failure and pride
On a hill You created the light of the world
Abandoned in darkness to die

And as You speak
A hundred billion failures disappear
Where You lost Your life so I could find it here
If You left the grave behind You so will I
I can see Your heart in ev’rything You’ve done
Ev’ry part designed in a work of art called love
If You gladly chose surrender so will I
I can see Your heart eight billion diff’rent ways
Ev’ry precious one a child You died to save
If You gave Your life to love them so will I

Like You would again a hundred billion times
But what measure could amount to Your desire
You’re the One who never leaves the one behind

Benjamin Hastings | Joel Houston | Michael Fatkin © 2017 Hillsong Music Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

For a Monday morning

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Life kicks into gear for a new week. Millions are headed back into classrooms at start of a new school year. In the middle of it all, we can feel small, insignificant.  Senator John McCain, who died on Saturday, was an important man in the estimation of many.  But, in a speech replayed after his death, he emotionally remembered the privilege of ‘playing a bit part’ in the human drama that swept around him!  If, by human standards, a man like McCain, nationally known, a 2 time US Presidential candidate and a leader in national policy debates, feels that he is relatively unimportant, what of the rest of us?

The worst kind of ‘forgotten’ however is not about our accomplishments or recognition. It is when we suffer deep disappointment in life and, as faith wavers, questions arise about the love of God. Isaiah, writing to those ancient Jews who heard his sermons of pending judgment, spoke to their questions about the faithfulness of God.  “Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.” (Isaiah 40:27-28, NIV)

When you feel forgotten, remember these things-

God is everlasting.
Our lives are bounded by beginnings and endings, birth and death, carried along in the inexorable current of time.  With the help of pills and potions we might hide the evidence of age, but sore muscles and lapses in memory are constant reminders of the relative brevity of our journey on this globe!  But, the God we trust is eternal. He is without start or stop, unrestrained by time as we experience it.  When life does not make sense to us, will we hold onto hope in the Everlasting One?

God is not tired of us or worn out by life.
General George S. Patton, rugged and fearless, reminded his soldiers of a stealthy enemy – fatigue!  “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”  What task does not look more difficult, what hard situation does not take on dimensions of impossibility when you are at the end of your strength, exhausted?  But, God does not experience that. He does not decide that the effort is not worth the outcome. He is unchanging, constant. We can be confident in this.

God’s reason is beyond our logic.
The Mind of God is infinitely greater than yours or mine! “So—who is like me? Who holds a candle to me?” says The Holy. Look at the night skies: Who do you think made all this? Who marches this army of stars out each night, counts them off, calls each by name —so magnificent! so powerful!— and never overlooks a single one? “ (Isaiah 40:25-26, The Message) And yet, the revelation is that He knows you and He knows me intimately.  Jesus’ word on this – right down the detail of the number of hairs on our head.  Will you humble yourself to worship without demanding answers?

We are not forgotten by Him. Hang onto that today. Meditate on this passage, inviting the Spirit to make it living Word for you.
Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. …
I am the Lord, your Redeemer. I am the Holy One of Israel.’   …
When the poor and needy search for water and there is none, and their tongues are parched from thirst, then I, the Lord, will answer them. I, the God of Israel, will never abandon them.
I will open up rivers for them on the high plateaus. I will give them fountains of water in the valleys. I will fill the desert with pools of water.
Rivers fed by springs will flow across the parched ground. I will plant trees in the barren desert— cedar, acacia, myrtle, olive, cypress, fir, and pine.
I am doing this so all who see this miracle will understand what it means—
that it is the Lord who has done this, the Holy One of Israel who created it.”

(Isaiah 41:10-20, NLT) __________________

Build My Life

Worthy of ev’ry song we could ever sing
Worthy of all the praise we could ever bring
Worthy of ev’ry breath we could ever breathe
We live for You

Jesus the name above ev’ry other name
Jesus the only one who could ever save
Worthy of ev’ry breath we could ever breathe
We live for You We live for You

Holy there is no one like You
There is none besides You
Open up my eyes in wonder and show me who You are
And fill me with Your heart
And lead me in Your love to those around me

I will build my life upon Your love
It is a firm foundation
I will put my trust in You alone
And I will not be shaken

Brett Younker | Karl Martin | Kirby Elizabeth Kaple | Matt Redman | Pat Barrett

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Wrapped in Glory!

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This week, in a solemn ceremony at the White House, President Donald Trump awarded the Medal of Honor to the widow of John Chapman, a U.S. Air Force technical sergeant, who was killed in 2002 in Afghanistan after a heroic stand to defend the lives of his follow soldiers.  After taking out two machine gun nests, Chapman was thought to have been killed.  A half hour later, as a helicopter was landing to pick up survivors of the fire fight, Chapman, though gravely wounded, emerged from a bunker to fight off attackers who tried to take the helicopter down. He was killed in that final stand. He saved many lives as he gave his own.  His actions and the magnificence of his courage and sacrifice were officially given ‘glory.

I am so very thankful for those moments of shining kindness and love that are sprinkled around us like a ‘thousand points of light’ to borrow a phrase from another US President.

God desires to work in us and to give us a glorious quality of life. Sound somewhat exaggerated to you?  Take a look at this from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:17-18, NIV)  Paul is alluding to the radiance that shone in Moses when he came down from his time on Mt. Sinai with the Lord. It was so noticeable that the Bible tells us Moses had to cover his face for a time to avoid making people afraid, such was his ‘glory.’

The Spirit, alive and at work in you and me, can give us a kind of radiance, too. He comes to live, not merely with us, but in us. His Presence gives us ‘it,’ a holy splendor that brightens the world in which we live. Ever met that Christian with that hard to define yet unmistakable glory?  They love deeper. They serve with quiet persistence. They change ever room they enter, not with personal charisma, but with an intangible yet very real quality that is the Lord shining through them.

There is only one way to gain this ‘glory’ and that is to spend time with Him! We must not confuse leadership skills,  physical beauty, or remarkable accomplishments with the Holy Presence of His Spirit. He may use and bless those gifts, but they are not the same as the glory the Lord. What a privilege to be full of the Spirit, our ordinary lives marked by ‘ever-increasing glory.’  Is this your prayer? Is your desire to let His shine brightly through you?

Let me leave you with this word from the Word.
As for us, we can’t help but thank God for you, … thankful that God chose you to be among the first to experience salvation—a salvation that came through the Spirit who makes you holy and through your belief in the truth. He called you to salvation when we told you the Good News; now you can share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

… Keep a strong grip on the teaching we passed on to you both in person and by letter.
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal comfort and a wonderful hope, comfort you and strengthen you
in every good thing you do and say.” (2 Thessalonians 2:13-17, NLT)

Let’s walk humbly with Him, honestly before Him, and seek to let the Light shine.

Invite the Lord to make you into a new, holy person;
full of His holy Presence,
which is full of glory and marked by exquisite joy!

__________

Oh The Glory Of His Presence

(an older song but one of beautiful worship and prayer)

O the glory of Your presence
We Your temple give You rev’rence
Come and rise from Your rest
And be blessed by our praise
As we glory in Your embrace
As Your presence now fills this place

© 1983 Birdwing Music | BMG Songs, Inc. Steve Fry CCLI License No. 810055

 

At the core of who I am

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Her tears were real flowing not from physical pain, but from the anguish of her soul.  As we talked together she spoke of failures and judgments, convinced by people in her life that she was worthless, taking up space in the world and offering nothing in return. It is her ‘reality,’ the place in which she lives. Can she learn to think differently? Can she replace the harsh words planted in her mind by others? Yes, not easily, not instantly, but it is possible.  Truth transforms!

James, in his letter to us, reminds us of the power of God’s Truth.  Read it. “He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession.” (James 1:18, NLT)  “Humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.” (James 1:21, NLT)  There is a wealth of life-changing information in those few words.

First is this – God gave us the gift of the Gospel message, not so that we would feel condemned, but to call us into a new place as His treasure.  The human experience is full of sorrows, disappointment, pain, and difficulties.  Oh yes, there are wonderful days of laughter, bright sunshine, and love and for those I am ever so thankful. But, surrounding us is a world of threats and the inescapable knowledge that our lives are defined by birth and death. What keeps us from despair or recklessly spending our brief days in an endless quest for some new sensory thrill?  The Gospel!  Christ Jesus announced the arrival of the Kingdom of God in our hearts and by His Resurrection declared to us that the grave is not our destiny.  This is the true Word!

So, what is required of us?  Accept the Word!  When guests come to my home, I want them to feel welcomed, to realize that I have anticipated their arrival. I want them to feel valued because I have provided for their comfort. My aim is to be hospitable and accepting.  James says that God has planted His truth in us, but it is up to us to welcome Him, to give His word a home in us. So how do you hear the Word?  When the sermon gets close to something with which you are wrestling, do you get angry and throw up walls, or do you open your heart to the Spirit’s work?  When you read the Scripture and the Spirit speaks you of some change that He desires, do you quickly move to obedience or offer excuses about the impossibility of it all?

Accepting the Word has the rich benefit of unleashing the power of God in our lives to ‘save our souls.’  This is more than just getting us to Heaven!  Salvation is not just future, it is for ‘right here, right now.’ The full meaning is that the Word implanted and accepted restores us to full spiritual health, makes us whole where we are broken, and allows to find that ‘life to the full’ of which Jesus spoke. The Psalm says  that the Lord “saved them from their distress. He sent out his word and healed them, snatching them from the door of death. Let them praise the Lord for his great love and for the wonderful things he has done for them.” (Psalm 107:19-21, NLT)

Have you believed the true Word?
Have you invited the Word into your life?
Is the Truth shaping your decisions today?

Here is a word from the Word.  Hear it, learn from it, love it. “Therefore, we never stop thanking God that when you received his message from us, you didn’t think of our words as mere human ideas. You accepted what we said as the very word of God—which, of course, it is. And this word continues to work in you who believe.” (1 Thessalonians 2:13, NLT)

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Beautiful words, Wonderful words,
Words of life and beauty!

I am the greatest

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Winston Churchill, the man who served England through the Second World War, had nothing but scorn for the man who was Prime Minister before him, Clement Attlee. Attlee saw Germany as a force that could not be resisted and tried to buy peace by appeasing Hitler. Once when US President Truman defended Attlee, saying “But surely, Mr. Churchill, you admit that Mr. Attlee is a humble man?” Churchill’s reply is famous: “He is a humble man, but then he has much to be humble about!” Churchill was a man with great leadership skills, a speaker of amazing ability, who’s ego was so large that he was often intolerably arrogant toward others.

Pride is a sin as old as Eden, a subtle thing that creeps into our mind and convinces us that we must defend ourselves, our reputation, our honor. As we lose touch with reality, we may begin to boast, feeling ourselves better than others, even believing that we are somehow above the rules that govern ordinary mortals. There is a curious twist to pride in some that causes them to turn inward, unwilling to attempt any new or difficult task because they are too proud to risk failure!

Christians are called to humility.  Let’s not confuse humility with self-deprecation. Humble people do not think much about themselves because they are pre-occupied with God and others. They are ‘self-forgetful’ not self-hating. A humble person understands who he is, is quite capable of standing up to bullies, can take the lead as necessary without making life about himself. I love this line from Jon Bloom – “Humble people prefer windows to mirrors!”  Isn’t that great?  The full context of that line is here – “Not thinking much of themselves means that humble people prefer windows to mirrors. Desiring to see the glory of God in everything frees them from needing to see how everything else reflects on them.”

Paul, in writing to the Corinthians who had been deceived by boastful preachers who really had no substance, nothing self-interest in their message, reminds them that he is a confident, but because of God’s gifts and calling, not because of his own abilities. “Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.” (2 Corinthians 3:1-5, NIV)  “We don’t need to brag or boast,” he says, “because the proof of our message and work is seen in changed lives.”

Pride alienates us from others, makes us touchy and irritable, and makes genuine service impossible.  We all slip into it from time to time. And, in Christ, we can all escape the grasp of pride, discovering the joy of knowing that ‘our competence comes from God.’  Feeling disrespected today? Kneel and give those feelings to Him.  Had the credit for your accomplishments stolen by someone else?  Give it the Lord who knows the end from the beginning, Who never forgets.

Make your prayer to be like Jesus.  The word from the Word today points us in the right direction. “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name.” (Philippians 2:5-9, NIV)

Make me more like You, Jesus,
Make me more like You!

A profit motive

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“Profit” is part of our economic system. Goods are produced that consumers want to buy, sold at a price that allows the producer to profit. The competition of the market ideally drives them to balance price and quality.  If a seller cuts quality to drive down price and what they make breaks or fails, the company suffers. If they price the product too high, even if it is built to amazing specifications, they lose market share, and probably some profit.  Greed and corruption skews the system from those ideals. Those who can capture a monopoly can offer their goods at unrealistic prices because there is no competition.  Take away the incentive of a profit and what often results is poor service and/or product.

So, why am I talking about markets and profits? Paul wrote about ‘preachers’ who corrupted the Gospel to make it more marketable! Of himself, he said, “Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.” (2 Corinthians 2:17, NIV)

Contrary to much conventional wisdom, the Church is not an enterprise that is to make a profit. If the desire to be marketable replaces fidelity to mission and message, truth will be sacrificed.  Jesus’ invitation to follow Him involves sacrifice and devotion, choices we do not make easily given the cost to our comfort.  No wonder so many preachers in our time offer a diminished ‘gospel’ designed to make people feel good rather than drawing them to know the Living God.

Are you willing to think about a hard question?  Here it is.
Are you a consumer Christian?

Stephen Mattson writes that “a consumer-driven society can cause Christians to idolize perfectionism. When this happens, they expect flawless worship, sermons, pastors, staff, childcare, youth programs, mission trips, conferences, camps, vacation Bible schools, classes, and even relationships. Inevitably, when aspects of our Christian faith do cause disappointment (and they will), our constant cultural experience of being the consumer — on the receiving end of infinite commercials, advertising campaigns, and target-driven media that tells us the customer is always right — causes us to feel entitled to something better.  

So we respond by complaining, demanding change, boycotting, or even abandoning any part of Christianity’s existence that is letting us down. Before we know it we’ve left our small group, are constantly critiquing the church services, and eventually skipping out on church.” (https://sojonet/articles/be-christian-not-consumer)
Go back and read that paragraph again, please.

Thousands of churches have been born across American in the last 30 years that were created out of careful market studies, with programs and messages designed for the masses. Truth and orthodoxy is sold out in exchange for a McDonald’s™ version of “Christianity” that is cheap, easy to access, and that makes few demands of the people in the seats.

  • Want to worship at your convenience? We will offer a service to fit your schedule.
  • Don’t like songs that talk about sacrifice or commitment? We will sing about Jesus as your boyfriend in Heaven.
  • Troubled by mention of ‘sin’ or repentance? We will redefine the problem of humanity around psychological terms exclusively, assuring you of God’s understanding regardless of your choices.
  • We won’t ask you to enter into weakness to know His strength. We will tell you that God empowers you to be all that you want to be; a subtle shading of the truth that fits our ideals better.
  • Need to get your kids to football on Sunday morning? We will ignore your absence for the 10 weeks of the season pretending that sports offer the same kind of results as following Jesus.
  • Don’t want to give your money?  We will twist the message to make it appear that giving is a means of getting, as in, “Plant your seed in faith and God will make you rich in return.”

To demand that our practice of Christian faith meet our personal desire, that the pastor focus on our preferences, that the Church must be just as we want it to be or else, is to miss the point of being called into Christ’s Body. That is no excuse for a local church that offers shoddy worship services, poorly prepared sermons, and abysmal facilities.

Excellence is not the enemy.  Consumerism is!  Ministry of any kind is to flow out of a place of devotion to Him, for His glory, not to gain a larger ‘market share’ in our city.  The paradox of authentic Christianity is that it does benefit us.  When we put Jesus first, when we respond with faith to His invitation to Life, we gain immeasurable riches – love, hope, eternal life, purpose, meaning – to name just a few.  But those are peripheral to our love for Him, our devotion to Him, our service.

Before you rush off to your day, or conclude that Jerry is feeling cranky this morning, would you take some time with the Lord, asking Him to reveal where love for Self, where a desire to ‘profit,’ has overtaken pure devotion? Ponder Jesus’ invitation in this word from the Word. “Don’t think I’ve come to make life cozy. I’ve come to cut—make a sharp knife-cut between son and father, daughter and mother, bride and mother-in-law—cut through these cozy domestic arrangements and free you for God. Well-meaning family members can be your worst enemies. If you prefer father or mother over me, you don’t deserve me. If you prefer son or daughter over me, you don’t deserve me. If you don’t go all the way with me, through thick and thin, you don’t deserve me. If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me.”  (Matthew 10:34-39, Message)

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True Intimacy

With all of my heart
I hunger for You
All I want and all I seek
Is true intimacy

With all of my heart
I hunger for You
All I want and all I seek
Is true intimacy with You 

Here I stand waiting Lord
Touch me now like never before
Let me change and be transformed
True intimacy is what I’m longing for

 Intimacy is the longing
Of my heart Lord
Of this heart

Eoghan Heaslip © 1999 Song Solutions Daybreak
CCLI License # 810055

Take flight, like an eagle!

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I am sure you have heard this old line – “Blessed is the man who expects nothing for he will never be disappointed!”   What a terrible way to live.  Do we find ourselves with missed expectations? Yes, we do, because in this busted world things inevitably go wrong.  For example, it’s supposed to be the most awesome vacation ever, plans meticulously made, and then the day comes. Our flight delays our departure an entire day. We get to our destination and that hotel that looked so great in the pictures is a not ‘all that.’ Rain hides the sun for half the time. It happens. You probably have your own story.

Far worse is the disappointment that follows the failure of a relationship, when someone whom we loved and trusted betrays us, or when we find out they are not who they claimed to be.  Many let these things turn them into bitter, mean, cynical, snarling people. Some take a different path that leads to an entirely different outcome. Look at this passage from preacher Isaiah. “Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:30-31) The Spirit’s wisdom meets us in real life with the acknowledgement that we will find seasons when we are beat and battered.  And there is a promise that follows … they can soar, rising above!

What is the key to rising above the circumstances that could drag us into misery?  As in my opening line, there are those who advise us to give up on our dreams. There is a time to adjust our expectations, a time to maturely learn to accept that many situations are out of our control. There is a lot of wisdom in learning to deal with life as it is, not as we hoped it might be.  If you grew to be 5’5” and think that being 6 feet tall is the only way to happiness, you have an expectation that requires adjustment! No matter how much I wish it were different, I have to accept that my wife is gone to Heaven. That part of my life is over.

Still, we cannot throw away every dream, resign to this present world without hope of change. We must not throw away our desire to see a better world, to build strong relationships, to experience the joy of deep and authentic love.  God’s dreams for us are sustained through disappointment IF and WHEN we set our hope in the Lord.  In another familiar translation of the Scripture the verse reads this way, “Wait on the Lord.”
As we live for God, as we learn daily submission to His will, actively seeking to know His what, how, when, and where, there is a kind of life that is anchored to a promise that is not subject to people’s whims, weather’s changes, or economic cycles. That promise is eternal life, secured by Divine Grace.  Paul, who experienced many years of disappointment, points to an unwavering hope.  He does not sugarcoat the high cost of his commitment to Christ.  “It’s the cause of all this trouble I’m in. But I have no regrets. I couldn’t be more sure of my ground—the One I’ve trusted in can take care of what he’s trusted me to do right to the end, so keep at your work, this faith and love rooted in Christ, exactly as I set it out for you.”  (2 Timothy 1:12-13, Message)  “I know Whom I have believed and that He is able to keep me!”

On this Monday morning is disappointment real, your heart broken, your spirit crushed? Jesus understands, His heart was broken, too. Take the sorrow, the ache, to Him. Share it honestly. As you pray, be open to His comfort and challenge. Here’s a word from the Word.  It’s a treasured truth for those who would soar like an eagle, rising on the currents of hope!   “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” (2 Corinthians 1:20-22, NIV)

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‘Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus

‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus
Just to take Him at His word
Just to rest upon His promise
Just to know thus saith the Lord

 Jesus Jesus how I trust Him
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er
Jesus Jesus precious Jesus
O for grace to trust Him more

 O how sweet to trust in Jesus
Just to trust His cleansing blood
Just in simple faith to plunge me
‘Neath the healing cleansing flood

 Yes ’tis sweet to trust in Jesus
Just from sin and self to cease
Just from Jesus simply taking
Life and rest and joy and peace

 I’m so glad I learned to trust Thee
Precious Jesus Savior Friend
And I know that Thou art with me
Wilt be with me to the end

 Louisa M. R. Stead | William James Kirkpatrick © Words: Public Domain

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