When Goliath taunts

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Yesterday was one of those days when my constant prayer was like that of the man who came to Jesus desperately in need of a miracle for his son. When Jesus asked him to trust Him, he said, “I believe. Help me with my doubts!”  (Mark 9:24, The Message)  Yes, the questions outran the immediate answers and a part of me was ready to pack it in and let someone else deal with it all.

What I knew for certain is that God is undaunted and not surprised by those things that appear overwhelming to me.

So, the real question was not “how can I do this?”  Rather I asked, “What is Your will?”  For, if I am living in submission, obedience, and wisdom; I can trust Him to provide all I need to assure that His purposes prevail.

Let’s consider a familiar faith story from the Bible.  David was a teenager when his father sent him with supplies for his older brothers in the Israeli army. There, the young shepherd saw Goliath of Gath. The man was called a ‘giant,’ a champion of a hundred battles. He carried a spear that looked like a beam from a house, with a tip the size of an anvil!  His huge body was encased in a leather wrap, covered with metal scales.  He lumbered to the front line of the Philistine army looking frightful. From there he roared his challenge- “When are you all coming out to fight?” he called. “I am the Philistine champion, but you are only the servants of Saul. Choose one man to come down here and fight me! If he kills me, then we will be your slaves. But if I kill him, you will be our slaves!” (1 Samuel 17:8-9, NLT) Every day offered the same taunt.

The men of Israel cowered. After all, who could meet such a freak of nature on the field of battle and succeed?  It was an impossibility, or so it appeared to every reasonable man with military experience!

David had developed a love for the Lord that shaped every other thing in his life, even at his tender age. When Goliath roared, the shepherd boy saw it as a challenge to God Himself. Faith rose up in him.  “Who is this pagan Philistine anyway, that he is allowed to defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Samuel 17:26, NLT)

His brothers told him to “Shut up and sit down.”  The king counseled him that he just ‘could not do this’ and when he said he was determined, Saul tried to give him armor.  But, David real strength is revealed in his reply to Goliath’s mockery:  “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty.”

Moments after David’s ringing affirmation of faith, Goliath fell when a smooth stone from the teenager’s slingshot connected with his forehead.  Goliath never saw what was coming because he could not see the true power of the kid with a slingshot. God saw a mighty warrior of faith and directed that stone to the target. David saw the same giant as a thousand other men, but he saw him through eyes of faith. They saw a champion they could not defeat. David saw a mortal man throwing down a challenge to the Lord God he loved.

When temptation, loss, disappointment, confusion, or fear taunts us will we cower or conquer? Our answer largely depends on our perspective; whether it is informed by faith that flows from a daily conversation with God and truth of the Scripture or is limited by ‘conventional’ wisdom.  Pray often, “Open my eyes to see the wonderful truths in your instructions.” (Psalm 119:18, NLT)

Do you see only the probable or do you see the possible?
This is much more than just ‘positive thinking.’
The issue for those of us who are Christian is our vision –
is it formed by the natural or informed by the Spirit?
Can we see beyond this day and the challenges into eternity?

We can only see as God sees when we are willing to listen intently to the voice of the Spirit.  If we will walk with Him, faith will live in us and we will be prepared to meet the Goliath challenges with sight sharpened by faith!  Let’s be clear – that doesn’t mean we get to do whatever we want to do, nor does it mean that all the things we dream about will happen.  It does mean that we can trust Him to care for us, to provide what we need when we need it.

Here’s a word from the Word.  When I read this passage, like that father in the Gospel, I pray for increased faith to receive it as more than words. Read slowly, prayerfully. Let the amazing promise soak into your soul and mind today; then take on that giant that is terrorizing you this day!

“When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

 Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:14-21, NLT)

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Good, Good Father
(listen, learn, and worship)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CCLI License # 810055

Foolish words, empty quarrels

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Ever met that person who re-invents himself every other month?  He is convinced that this diet is the one that is going to change this health, but then next month you meet him eating junk food. She says that she’s found just the right church, but a year later she is in another.  Of particular concern to me are those who claim to be ‘in Christ’ but who do not match their profession of discipleship with a life of growing devotion, who get taken in by fads and personalities over devotion to Jesus Himself.

Our faith must be more than words!  We can intelligently debate the fine points about the prophetic timeline of the Second Coming;  we can be able to dissect the various ideas about the intersection of the sovereign will of God and human free will – yet, have no saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Paul urges us to become rooted in Christ and to enter into a transformative experience of His grace. “Those who have trusted in God (must) be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone. But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.” (Titus 3:8-12, NIV)

Are you just a great talker, friend?  “Do good!” the Word says.  Paul reminds us that endless debates about words and meanings, getting caught up in tertiary issues of faith are divisive and useless!

In many instances, the 21st century evangelical church has allowed herself to be diverted from the Gospel of Christ into political activities that are obscuring the eternal message about the wonderful love of Jesus Christ. That is not to say that there are not issues of social concern and justice, that we should be without convictions about the implications of the law of the land and our expression of faith.  In our time we are privileged with the power of the ballot and we ought to use our vote in line with our deep convictions about what it means to live the Christian life.

However, to focus all the energies of our faith, to use the precious resources of our church, to further some political party’s ambitions for power is a terrible diversion from our true mission which is to bring others to peace with God.  The Bible tells us that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. This is the wonderful message he has given us to tell others. We are Christ’s ambassadors, and God is using us to speak to you. We urge you, as though Christ himself were here pleading with you, “Be reconciled to God!” (2 Corinthians 5:19-20, NLT)

Questions will arise for each one of us about what certain parts of the Word mean, about ethical convictions, about how the Church should best do her work. God has blessed us with minds that need to be trained and gifts of teaching that can be used to help us develop sound doctrine. The best practice is to root that teaching in service. If we are actively worshipping, generously investing our resources and time in some area of service, if we are visiting the sick, showing hospitality, praying more than 30 second prayers – somehow many of those questions will find their answers in time, while the Kingdom of God is being established.

Let’s commit ourselves to loving Jesus and making that love visible by loving others with a committed, constant, self-forgetful love. Here is a word from the Word. So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.(Colossians 2:6-10, NIV)

Lord, bring us to profound faith expressed in our service today. Amen.

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On And On

Where can I run from Your presence
Where can I flee from You
Even if I hide on the highest mountainYou are there

Where can I run from Your presence
Where can I flee from You
Even if I lie in the lowest valley
You will find me there

Deeper than any ocean
Your love goes on and on and on and on
Higher than any mountain
Your love goes on and on and on and on

(Your love goes on and on and on and on and on)

And if I clothe myself in shadows
Would I fade away from You
No even if I fall to the deepest darkness
Love surrounds me still

No even if I fall to the deepest darkness
Your love surrounds me still

There is no ending to Your
Love that holds on won’t let go
Love that won’t leave me on my own
I am falling deeper into Your
Love that holds on won’t let go
Love that won’t leave me on my own

Your love goes on and on and on and on
Love don’t let me go
Don’t let go
Love don’t let me go|Don’t let go

There’s nowhere I can run
There’s nowhere I can hide
There’s nowhere I can go that You won’t find me Lord

Kirby Kaple | Mitch Parks | Rob Kaple

© 2015 Kaple Music (Admin. by Bethel Music Publishing)

Bethel Music Publishing

CCLI License # 810055

Sin -past tense!

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Women from the Hoving Home, of Oxford, NJ, ministered at Faith Discovery Church yesterday. The mission of that ministry is to ‘rebuild shattered lives’ through faith in Jesus Christ. Two of the young women told a little of their stories- poor choices, addiction, ruin, broken relationships, and sadness. There were not too many dry eyes in the room after they spoke and sang about the “Chain Breaker.”  Will recovery be easy for those women? Not at all. Will it be a long road to a restored life? Of course, but with lots of love and support, it happens. God declares them His daughters, their sins past tense through the grace of Jesus Christ.

On this Monday morning, let’s begin the week with hearts filled up with joy in the declaration of God about who we are. Our road might not have all the dramatic lows of which some can speak.  We have not all ended up homeless in the streets or addicted to heroin, but we are all slaves of sin and Self – separated from God, our Father, until found by His grace.

Here’s how Paul was inspired to tell it –  “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:2-7, NIV)

“He saved us …”  Did you read those words and breathe a prayer of thankfulness? The word that Paul uses there in the original text of the New Testament is a rich one. “Sozo” is not just about some spiritual transaction that is unseen, a fine point of theology. It is a description of God’s work that transforms us from the terminal illness of sin to the radiant spiritual health, that restores our wholeness of person.

How does the Lord do it?  He washes us, as clean and pure as a newborn baby, through rebirth! Jesus told an old religious leader, Nicodemus, you must be ‘born again.’  It puzzled the old man, and he wondered aloud how he could enter his mother’s womb again!  Talk about being overly literal. God miraculously enters into our lives and we emerge a new creation, reborn into the world with new possibilities.  There is the renewal of the Holy Spirit, God who lives in us, so that we no longer think as we once did, no longer hope for what we did in the past, nor are we trapped by the patterns of our past!  Oh, what a Savior.

Let’s not make conversion just about learning some dogma, joining an organization, or tinkering at the edge of life to modify our behavior.  Let’s enter fully, by faith, into this new life – restored to relationship with God and because we are His children, having the assurance that we are written into His plan for eternity;  “heirs having the hope of eternal life

Choose to walk with the Lord, making sin past tense today. Here is the word from the Word. “It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.

It’s in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of your salvation), found yourselves home free—signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit. This signet from God is the first installment on what’s coming, a reminder that we’ll get everything God has planned for us, a praising and glorious life.” (Ephesians 1:11-14, The Message)
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What A Savior
(Some Southern Gospel. Enjoy)

Once I was straying in sin’s dark valley
No hope within could I see
They searched thro’ heaven and found a Savior
To save a poor lost soul like me

 O what a Savior O hallelujah
His heart was broken on Calvary
His hands were nail-scarred
His side was riven
He gave His lifeblood for even me

 He left the Father with all His riches
With calmness sweet and serene
Came down from heaven and gave His lifeblood
To make the vilest sinner clean

 Death’s chilly waters I’ll soon be crossing
His hand will lead me safe o’er
I’ll join the chosen in that great city
And sing up there forevermore

Marvin P. Dalton © 1948. Renewed 1976 Stamps Quartet Music (Admin. by ClearBox Rights, LLC)

CCLI License # 810055

When the laugh track in life rings hollow

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Are you sad today? I am not talking about the kind of sad you feel when your burn your toast or when your favorite sports team loses. The sad that to which I refer is that deep sorrow of loss or disappointment that sets in like a persistent fog. In a conversation yesterday, a man shared the sadness he felt for his 37 year-old son who is an addict slowly killing himself by inches. His sorrow went deep! When I think about Bev, my late wife, there is a persistent sadness. It colors just about everything in my life, even after 3 years.

If we talked today, would you tell me of sorrow, too? Perhaps it is your own – or maybe it is that of those with whom you walk in this world. Frequently the response to the sorrowful is a good ole’ pat on the back and a jolly, “Cheer up!”  The Proverb reminds us just how unhelpful that can be. “Singing cheerful songs to a person whose heart is heavy is as bad as stealing someone’s jacket in cold weather or rubbing salt in a wound.” (Proverbs 25:20, NLT)

Our world is a broken place.  I hasten to acknowledge that there are many blessings, too. If you are living in a season of joy and abundance, then sing your praise and joyfully thank God. But, let’s always remember those who suffer. Compassion is a gift – both to the one who is sad and to the giver. When we willingly enter into the experience of another, sharing their sorrow, we are like Jesus.

Our Savior, sent with a message hope and healing to those who are captives of the Evil One, let Himself be moved, felt deeply, and sacrificed to make life better for the broken. “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. … Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows.” (Isaiah 53:3-4, NIV)  His work is our work. Like Him, I want to let my heart be broken by the human need that is real.

Whether it is our own sorrow or that of another, we must meet it with faith. We are reminded that God knows and cares. He is not far removed, a cruel Being without heart. When he was a refugee, pursued by a murderous king, David sang this – “My soul will boast in the LORD; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. … Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. … The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18, NIV)  It was not just poetry. He was filled with hopeful faith!

When Peter failed Jesus miserably on the night of His trial, he wept bitterly. Later, he went back to Galilee to fish, a broken man filled with regret and sorrow. God did not abandon him there. John records a beautiful scene in which the Resurrected Lord found Peter, served him breakfast on the beach, and spoke words of forgiveness and restoration.

He broke Peter’s despair and commissioned him to a life of service in God’s kingdom!  Later on, Peter wrote to us “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because He cares for you. … And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 5:10-11, NIV)

We need never deny the reality of our sorrow. But, we are not engulfed hopelessly in it, either. Let’s engage ourselves with suffering while we do the work of Jesus. All the while, we can be sustained by this wonderful promise, our word from the Word  – “. . . they stand in front of God’s throne and serve him day and night in his Temple. And he who sits on the throne will give them shelter. They will never again be hungry or thirsty; they will never be scorched by the heat of the sun. For the Lamb on the throne will be their Shepherd. He will lead them to springs of life-giving water. And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:15-17, NLT)  Oh, Happy Day!

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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 victory 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.

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

Our Great Savior- J. Wilbur Chapman © Public Doma

Creating a culture of healing

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When Bev was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in March, 2014, it broke our hearts. I researched every bit of information I could find and quickly realized that the prognosis was not good. Because of the advanced state of her cancer, I knew she would die unless there was a miracle of healing.  We prayed earnestly for that, while engaging in the best medical practices available to us.  She did recover her health for a time, but a year after her original diagnosis and treatment, the cancer recurred. Her life on this earth ended 8 months later. That experience made the debates about divine healing more than theory to me.

How do faith and prayer work together?
Why are some healed and some apparently do not recover?

My understanding of the Scripture and other experiences convinces me that part of the work that Jesus did for us in His incarnation, death, and resurrection involves healing. Christians believe that He died to restore us to our Father, to provide a final sacrifice for sins, once for all people and all time.  That sacrifice is complete on our behalf, received by faith, and we have the assurance of eternal life because of Him.  I also believe that He made healing possible through His atoning work.

Both Peter and James were inspired to tell us that healing is both for our spirit and our body. “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:23-24, NIV)  “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.” (James 5:14-15, NIV)

I have been healed by the Lord numerous times in my life and have witnessed indisputable miraculous healing in others.  But, there are also many occasions on which prayers for healing have gone unanswered, if one understands an answer as being only the recovery of physical health, which I do not believe.  Parallel to the promise of healing the Bible includes many passages about suffering, about trusting God in sickness, and allowing Him to do His work in our weakness.

We have much too limited view, in my opinion, of the healing work of the Church.  We should not just pray for symptoms, we should always seek wholeness, leading others to live in ways that honor God with the body. God can heal people as we pray over them, following James’ instructions to anoint with oil.  Our Lord will lead us to create 12 step groups to help people recover sobriety, to encourage godly discipline about diet and exercise so that chronic health issues do not develop. Christians will be encouraged to avoid addictions – a source of many illnesses.

The Church brings healing by teaching discipleship, helping people to avoid debilitating stress by developing comprehensive faith that builds strong loving families where emotional health is nurtured. As we lead people to forgiveness through Christ, finding that He loves them and thus frees them to radically love others, there is a kind of healing available to them that is truly miraculous!

Yes, I believe that Jesus’ work of salvation and healing should cause us to work at creating a culture for health and wholeness to be nurtured and fostered  by positive, Christ-honoring choices about food, money, relationships;  all of life!  Healing is more than crisis intervention by a team of elders when sickness arises. Healing is at the very heart of God. “I am the Lord, who heals you” (Ex. 15:26). The healing theme is woven throughout the story of the Bible.  I believe in the healing, restoration, reconciliation, and transformation of God’s people in spirit, soul (mind, will, emotion), and body through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The question remains about the timing and completion of healing. Bev died. Does this mean she was not healed? In one sense, the honest answer must be yes. Her life ended prematurely (by human estimation) because of disease. There is no way to avoid the fact. A monument in a cemetery is mute testimony to that. And yet … she did know a healing that is larger than this temporal life. She knew her Savior, trusted in His grace, and entered into eternal life.  It is a glorious healing, though not the one I would have preferred.

I have many friends who are Christians of solid faith, who continue to wrestle with implications of chronic illness, with bodies that are imperfectly made, who suffer. Is their sickness indicative of a lack of faith in God?  Not at all and anyone who says that is misreading the whole of the Bible.  Our experience of the Kingdom of God is incomplete this side of Heaven and until Christ returns for the Second Time. So, until then, I will pray actively for healing – body and spirit; I will trust when I cannot understand.  I will follow Him radically, and by His grace – healing will come, now or in Heaven.

Receive the word from the Word with faith and obedience. “Are you hurting? Pray. Do you feel great? Sing. Are you sick? Call the church leaders together to pray and anoint you with oil in the name of the Master. Believing-prayer will heal you, and Jesus will put you on your feet. And if you’ve sinned, you’ll be forgiven—healed inside and out. Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed. The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with.” (James 5:13-16, The Message)

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Lord, put me into the game!

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About 10 adults gathered around a table at the church where I serve as pastor last night.  They are people who  are on the team.  How I appreciate their efforts, their friendship. Yesterday had brought some the normal stresses that come to any organization; the challenges that demand solutions, that cannot be ignored.  Driving from one location to the other, I prayed for wisdom, for insight, for resources. The Spirit reminded me of the people who are doing life and who share my love for His Kingdom and people. Then, listening to their triumphs and trials in ministry at our meeting, I heard the Spirit say, “I am at work.”

Jesus invites you, me, to be part of His team – the Church. Without any hesitation, I will affirm that Christians who want to be effective for God, who want to enjoy the best that the Church offers, will be those who serve. The call into Christ’s Body runs head-long into our treasured independence, our belief that we must be free to “do my own thing.”  Serving is the antidote for the poison of consumerism that causes thousands to drift from church to church in search of a new experience, a message that entertains and/or comforts, a place to get ‘lost in the sauce’ so that there is little accountability. The happiest Christians I know are those who have learned to serve as part of His team.

God asks us to commit to His team, to adopt the goal of building up God’s kingdom, discovering our calling, to mature in the Spiritual gifts He gives to all, and to celebrate the success of the church.

Faith Discovery Church, where I have served for 18 years, is a place of multiple serving teams.  At Good Shepherd Christian Academy, (http://www.gscacademy.com/) our Christian school, there is a genuine team in place. The goal of creating a school where children can learn life skills while being discipled in Christ’s ways, where they can see the Lordship of Jesus modeled in everyday life, brings together a group of people who give of themselves. I am amazed at the diversity of our team there, people for whom ministry supersedes the need to be a star, to earn a big salary, or to enjoy individual recognition. Go team!  One of our newest team members told me yesterday, “I’m home here!”

Our small church has so many other teams- men who care for the grounds, women who organize a pantry to feed those in need, musicians who offer up their skills for worship, those who love and teach our children, those who wrestle with budgets and dollars, people who give, those who pray … it’s a long list … as it should be in a healthy church.

Are YOU a serving Christian?
Do you faithfully and regularly give of yourself, your resources, asking the Lord to use you in a way that demands a renewal of the Spirit day by day?

The Word says, “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25, NIV) There are key truths wrapped up in those few words.

First is this – “Consider!” The word is about taking time to think it through. Team unity and effort must be intentional.  We have to purposefully seek to build a team.

Second is “Spur one another on.” We are not in a mutual admiration society where we only say nice things that cover mediocrity! Those who are on a team give each other a ‘kick in the behind’ when necessary, not because of selfishness, but to urge the highest level of participation!  Healthy teams constantly challenge each other to higher levels of achievement.

Third is “Meet together.” We give priority to the group and to coming together to strengthen our ties to one another.

Fourth is “Encourage one another!”  We for one another what God, Holy Spirit, our ‘Advocate, Comforter‘ does for us. We affirm, support, and love to each other with the purpose of urging a maximum effort in the work of God.

And why do we do this? It is not for a trophy, not for a certificate of recognition, not to satisfy our ego. Peter says we do it to win an eternal crown of glory that fadeth not away.” The Kingdom of God, when built on His Lordship, shaped by the Gifts of the Spirit, and oiled by generous amounts of bold love, brings amazing blessings to humanity

Here’s a word from the Word. Think deeply on it today. “If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead.” (Philippians 2:1-3, The Message)
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Abba, I am grateful for the privilege of being ‘in the Body,’ Your church.
Raise my eyes, often, to appreciate those who serve alongside of me.
Free me from pride that wants to be first, to be recognized, to be coddled.
Help me to humbly, faithfully, and joyfully take the place for which
You have prepared me – by experience and Gifts of Your Spirit.

When I am tired, grant me strength to remain faithful.
When I have lost sight of the ‘why’ of service, renew my vision.
When others seem only to criticize, let me hear Your affirmation.

May I seek to honor Jesus only,
To be a servant, not of human approval, but of You.
In Jesus’ Name, I pray. Amen

God of the Gray

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In my pastoral work, I am frequently asked about complex issues and the questions are framed as though they can be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no.’  If a person commits suicide are they lost forever?  Can a person who is divorced remarry?  Is my sickness the result of a sin in my life?  There are things I deeply believe that are formed around my study of the Scripture and I am bold to speak them, but pastoral work has taught me that theology is set in the context of human experience.  God’s message must find a hearing among people of mixed motives, varying experiences, and differing abilities of understanding.  When it comes to the issues I mentioned as examples and so many more, one size simply does not fit all!

Simplistic thinking that pigeon-holes everyone into some pre-determined category in our mind destroys relationships.  Allowing ourselves to think that ‘all people who are (fill in the blank) are (fill in the blank)’ may make life easier for us, but that black and white thinking robs us of the subtle nuances of reality.  The Bible says that “love covers over a multitude of sins.”  (1 Peter 4:8)  We are loved by God Who offers grace-based forgiveness and constantly draws us to Himself despite our multiple detours and failures. His love should teach us to love others with great grace. But, does it?  Paul urges us to “to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all people.” (Titus 3:2, NIV)

Allowing for complexity, humbly realizing that sweeping generalizations about groups of people are simply wrong, demands thoughtfulness and a willingness to admit – to ourselves and others – “I don’t know it all and I live with questions that remains unanswered.”

I am going to put a couple of pointed questions to you for your reflection.

  • How many conversations have you had that refused to give the benefit of the doubt to another?
  • How often have you locked a person into a prison of preconceptions created by one statement, one act, one momentary failure that happened years ago?
  • Are there some difficult people you know that you have decided are ‘beyond redemption’?
  • Have you distanced yourself from someone or some group, even refusing to pray or care about them?

Those choices are refusals to boldly love and, no matter how we dress them up with excuses, they are re-packaged hatred. Love is complex and will allow for change, for growth, for development of that other person. Love is defined as a choice of action, not a passive response.  The Word says that “Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. ” (1 Corinthians 13:5-9, NLT)

Here is a story from the Gospels about some who were so right that they got life all wrong!  A woman was caught in the act of adultery and the men who dragged to her Jesus, declared “She’s bad, what should we do with her?” “Doesn’t she deserve to die?” “Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, stone her. But let those who have never sinned throw the first stones!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust. When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. Then Jesus stood up again and said to her, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” “No, Lord,” she said. And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” (John 8:4-11, NLT) In his response we are taught about grace that fills in the gaps and love that lays a foundation for change.

The appeal I make is not to lose all of our convictions, nor must we water down the Word or God’s call to holiness in order to be loving. Rather we pray to be like Jesus – a Perfect Man, yet compassionate; holy in every way, yet able to a redemptive love to those who were spectacular failures.  Think one more time about the Word I quoted a moment ago. Do not “slander anyone … avoid quarreling. Instead, be gentle and show true humility to everyone.” (Titus 3:2, NLT)

Here’s a word from the Word – one I love because it is my testimony, too. “Oh, how kind and gracious the Lord was! He filled me completely with faith and the love of Christ Jesus. This is a true saying, and everyone should believe it: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—and I was the worst of them all. But that is why God had mercy on me, so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. Glory and honor to God forever and ever. He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; he alone is God. Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:14-17, NLT)

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The Way

Through every battle
Through every heartbreak
Through every circumstance
I believe that You are my fortress
Oh You are my portion
You are my hiding place
Oh I believe You are

The Way the Truth the Life
I believe You are
The Way the Truth the Life
I believe (You are)

Through every blessing
Through every promise
Through every breath I take
I believe that You are provider
You are protector
You are the One I love
I believe You are

It’s a new horizon
And I’m set on You
And You meet me here today
With mercies that are new
All my fears and doubts\
They can all come too
Because they can’t stay long
(When I’m here with You)
(When I believe You are)

Ben Smith | Daniel Bashta | Pat Barrett
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When they write a review about you

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One of the most effective and over-used ideas used to sell us products is this – “This will change your life!” Mostly we discount such claims knowing them to be the stuff of commercials. But … what about actual product reviews? When I read a review posted by a user that extols the value, quality, and/or usefulness of a product I pay attention. While shopping for an appliance online last week I scrolled through the reviews and soon was convinced that there was one brand that I would not buy.  Multiple users told about terrible follow-up service, about breakdowns in the first few months.  If only a few had posted negative comments, I might have dismissed them as cranks, but at least half of the hundreds of reviewers did not recommend that brand.

We say that Jesus changes our lives and knowing Him should make us a different kind of person. Is it hype or reality?

If your family or friends were writing a review of your faith, how would it read? Would readers conclude that the Gospel of Christ is what we say it is? It is a mistake to ‘sin and grin,’ to assume that Jesus’ gift of salvation will not begin to transform us.  Paul says it simply and clearly -“His grace to me was not without effect.” (1 Corinthians 15:10)

Run too far with that idea and you will most likely turn into a perfectionist, guilt-ridden about not ‘doing more’ for Jesus.  There is a part for us to play, some choices we make, that give the Spirit of God openings to accomplish His work in us, making us authentic Christians whose ‘walk’ matches our ‘talk.’  I believe strongly in the practice of spiritual disciplines – daily prayer and meditation, learning the Scripture by study and reading, confession, service, and generosity – to name a few.  When we do those things, God’s grace fills us and He does change us from the inside out.

To assume that all that will be done in us happens at the moment of faith and conversion is a mistaken idea.  Of course, I know and believe what the Bible says about Jesus’ work on our behalf. It is complete and we cannot add to salvation, a gift that comes to us through faith and by God’s grace. “Not of works so that no one can boast,” Ephesians says. However, we must work out the implications of knowing Jesus each day. We grow in grace. We grow in knowledge. There is a corresponding emergence of a new person that is being transformed into greater holiness.

If all that sounds like a grim duty, a terrible weight, I ask you to rethink it. Inviting the Spirit to be at work in us, cooperating with His forming of the character of Christ in us, allows us to experience the fullness of joy that Jesus promises to those who love Him.  Guilt is gone, replaced with assurance. Fear of the future is gone, replaced with anticipation of eternal life.  Feeling alone is replaced with a place in the Body of Christ.  Yes, Jesus’ grace is life-changing.

On this Monday morning, take a few moments to ask the Lord to work deeply in you, to capture your mind and paint a picture of the you that He desires. Tell Him you are willing to let go of those things that alienate you from His Presence, that you want to be someone in whom His love and goodness is consistently seen, for God’s glory.

Here is a word from the Word.  Read it, live it!  “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:11-14, NIV)
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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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Pure or corrupted?

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Do you use water filters? The drinking water quality at my home depends on one!  When my well pumps pushes water to my home, it flows first through that filter where impurities are removed; things that would ultimately sicken me.  It is  necessary that the filter have integrity. Even a small flaw would allow tainted water to flow to the taps in my house. It is programmed to cleanse itself periodically, so that it remains functional. Unseen, but important, that filter silently does its work all the time.

God, the Spirit, renews our minds, equipping us with filters that allow us to detect and reject false teaching, filters that help us to discard thoughts that would lead us to sin, filters that give us the ability to discern right and wrong. Are your mental and spiritual filters intact, with integrity, doing their work in your life?  Paul writes to us with this statement – “To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.” (Titus 1:15-16, NIV)

In order to best understand that passage, we need some context. Titus was dealing with Jewish teachers who were ‘corrupting’ the Gospel of Christ by mixing in their religious traditions. They were attempting to make themselves acceptable to God with scrupulous attention to their behaviors but in their hyper-legalist minds, everything became ‘sin.’  They created arbitrary rules about what foods a Christian should eat, created prohibitions about sex and marriage that were beyond what God taught, made keeping holy days a prime concern. Because their minds were ‘corrupted’ by these ideas they saw sin in everything, were incapable of seeing God’s gifts for what they were.  In their supposed pursuit of holiness they actually became divisive and argumentative, those who destroyed the unity of the Church and revealed that they did not really know God, but only a tradition about Him!

How can we know if are filters are intact, dealing with the right things?  We look no further than how we are acting.

Are we loving God deeply?
Are we loving others intensely?
Do we make Him our priority?
Are our relationships healthy, without unresolved issues, forgiveness freely offered?

Titus had to deal with people whose filters were corrupted by religious traditions. Our filters will be corrupted by the culture in which we live when we are not informed by Scripture and alive to the Spirit. One example is the emphasis on Self that taught to us from our infancy. We are told to find our own way, to protect our individualism, to find our bliss.  “And, what’s wrong with that,” you might be asking?

Jesus asks us to die to Self, to give ourselves to Him as Lord, to find our best life within the Body of Christ (the Church) where we fit into His larger plan in mutual cooperation and submission.  If the filters of our mind are corrupted by the idea that the only way to be fulfilled, to be completely happy, is to ‘do our own thing,’ we will not be able to properly sort out the right from wrong.

Hear the invitation in the word from the Word for this day. Live close to the Lord, open to the Spirit, for the renewal of your mind. Then, you will be able to know and do His will. “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2, NLT)

Lord, renew my mind.
Restore the filters.
Grant discernment and understanding.
In Jesus’ Name. Amen

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Change My Heart Oh God

Change my heart oh God
Make it ever true
Change my heart oh God
May I be like You

 You are the potter
I am the clay
Mould me and make me
This is what I pray

 Change my heart oh God
Make it ever true
Change my heart oh God
May I be like You

Eddie Espinosa © 1982 Mercy / Vineyard Publishing (Admin. by Vineyard Music USA)

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Patient, like a farmer

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I asked our little Bible study group, “Have you ever quit?”  One said she stopped trying to learn to play the guitar, sold it, and was glad about it. Another said that there was a bully at work and the hostility was too much so she quit. Now there is regret for leaving a good job!  It’s my turn. I have quit more exercise programs than I care to remember. There was a treadmill that I purchased with all good intentions but after a few months, it started to collect dust. There was a gym membership … ah, yes, you know that rest of that story.  So, have you dropped out, quit, stepped away from something?

James, inspired by the Holy Spirit, instructs us about remaining faithful to Christ Jesus.  We will read his words of encouragement in a moment.  Pastoring the church in Jerusalem, I’m sure he had seen many begin to walk with God and the give up and walk away when friends and family pressured them to stop being such a fanatic, or when they were taken up with the immediate needs of their jobs, or when suffering and hardship arrived bringing questions about the goodness of the Lord with them.  It’s a story I have witnessed too often.  The question Paul asked his friends in Galatia reflected their abandonment of the Way. “You were running superbly! Who cut in on you, deflecting you from the true course of obedience?” (Galatians 5:7, The Message)

30 years ago, I met a man who had responded to God’s call to faith as a teenager. After high school, he prepared for full-time Christian ministry and then was invited to pastor a flourishing church where he served for nearly a decade. Gradually, for reasons he never shared with me,  he became disillusioned with people and exhausted emotionally.  He turned to the wrong places for solace and eventually left not only pastoral work but renounced his faith. When I knew him, he was a man who despised Christians and was engaged in active efforts to resist any and all expressions of Christian faith. He published a couple of books about what he saw as the folly of living for Jesus! He mocked me for serving a God that did not exist, claiming I was silly as a child who believed in the Tooth Fairy. He is a dramatic example of quitting.

Most Christians do not walk away like he did. More often, they just get distracted and start to let things slip; prayer, meditation, worship, service – the spiritual disciplines gradually abandoned like my old treadmill!

James’ words that urge us on say “Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!” (James 5:7-9, NIV)  Keep on, don’t quit. Like those farmers who puts seed in the ground in the Fall with the hope of a harvest the following Summer,  we need the long view of life!

Our word from the Word is an affirmation of the purpose of God, even when His ways are inscrutable. They come from that hero of faith, Job. “When He is at work in the north, I do not see Him; when He turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of Him. But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” (Job 23:9-10, NIV)  Re-read the passage! Let it sink in.  You may not be able to see what God is doing at this moment, but He knows your life and your path.

If you are adrift spiritually, anchor yourself to the hope of Jesus.
If you are wandering from your commitment, renew your heart with real repentance.
If you have considered quitting, find a faithful friend who can help you stay steady and to ‘stand firm.’

_______

One Thing Remains (Your Love Never Fails)

(worship with this song about His love)

Higher than the mountains that I face
Stronger than the power of the grave
Constant in the trial and the change
One thing remains
One thing remains

Your love never fails
It never gives up
Never runs out on me
Your love

On and on and on and on it goes
It overwhelms and satisfies my soul
And I never ever have to be afraid
One thing remains
One thing remains

In death in life I’m confident and
Cover’d by the power of Your great love
My debt is paid there’s nothing that
Can separate my heart from Your great love

Brian Johnson | Christa Black Gifford | Jeremy Riddle © 2010 ChristaJoy Music Publishing (Admin. by Bethel Music Publishing)

Mercy / Vineyard Publishing (Admin. by Vineyard Music USA)

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