Shine, Jesus, Shine

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A couple of years back I declared myself no longer in the Christmas lights club that uses those gaudy colors, but this year the lights on my tree are those bright colors!  White lights or colors – I like Christmas lights.  I throw a few on a couple of small bushes at the front of my house but I’ll never muster the energy to create one of those extravaganzas that I see along the streets in my town!

I love the symbolism of the lights. As the long darkness of winter settles over us, we protest by putting up the lights that make our homes bright. And, those lights remind me of the One who is the Light of Life. “Jesus said to the people, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t be stumbling through the darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” (John 8:12, NLT) By the way, today is the Winter solstice, the least amount of daylight, but now the light of day increases again until the earth warms and winter is gone!

Light makes life better!  When a morning dawns with brilliant sunshine, we are hopeful of a better day. A room can be made so much more inviting just by changing the way it’s lit. The harsh glare of fluorescent light may be great for a workshop, but not so much for our dining room. Jesus changes our lives by bringing Light, understanding and meaning, to us. Of the Incarnation, the Word says, “What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by. The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out.” (John 1:4-5, The Message) And… He commissions us to take up the challenge of shining His light into the world. “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16, NIV)

Light brings clarity. Now that I am a bit older, I need more light when I am reading that fine print on a label. I leave a night light on in the hallway so that I don’t trip over things in the dark. Jesus shines into our life helping us to see things as they are so that we are not deceived. “But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” (John 3:21, NIV)

Disciple, are you living in the Light, presenting yourself to Him prayerfully, expectantly?

When we open our mind the truth of His Word, when we faithfully worship Him, the Light streams into our lives and dispels the confusion that sin’s darkness causes.  I hope that the Christmas lights strung around your home, along the streets, and in the stores will cause you to rejoice.  Take a cue from the ancient preacher, Isaiah, who said –  “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you.” (Isaiah 60:1-2, NIV)

The word from the Word is a prayer for the Light to come.

“Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me;
let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell.
Then will I go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight.
I will praise you with the harp, O God, my God.” (Psalm 43, NIV)

____________

Shine, Jesus, Shine
(an older worship song that is the prayer of my heart)

Lord the light of Your love is shining
In the midst of the darkness shining
Jesus Light of the world shine upon us
Set us free by the truth You now bring us
Shine on me shine on me

Shine Jesus shine
Fill this land
With the Father’s glory\
Blaze Spirit blaze
Set our hearts on fire
Flow river flow
Flood the nations
With grace and mercy
Send forth Your word Lord
And let there be light

 Lord I come to Your awesome presence
From the shadows into Your radiance
By the blood I may enter Your brightness
Search me try me consume all my darkness
Shine on me shine on me 

As we gaze on Your kingly brightness
So our faces display Your likeness
Ever changing from glory to glory
Mirrored here may our lives tell Your story
Shine on me shine on me

Graham Kendrick © 1987 Make Way Music (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)

CCLI License # 810055

Thank you for reading along for another year!
It is a delight of my heart to come your way each weekday morning with these thoughts.

I’m taking a break and will see you again in the New Year.

 

A Blessed Christmas and Happy New Year to you.

“Immanuel” – I am not alone.

wordswag_1545308267654We all have that moment when we become acutely aware that we are a solitary creature in this world. It is a kind of ‘aloneness’ that has nothing to do with loneliness. It is more about feeling incomplete, and the roots are spiritual. Children may not consciously think of it but they cry out for a parent and cling tightly so that they will not feel it. Teens begin to know their individuality and then often become part of group that gives them a sense of ‘belonging.’  Adults join associations, become fans of a sports team, join a church, to bolster their sense of inclusion.  Our ‘selfies’ and Facebook posts are often a protest that says “I exist and I matter.”  But, deep inside, a basic sense that we are alone persists unless we find the true answer to existential anxiety.

Christmas includes a message from God to each one of us about the ultimate answer to our sense of being alone. Matthew, in his Gospel, quotes Isaiah’s prophecy about the arrival of the Messiah. “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and he will be called Immanuel (meaning, God is with us).” (Matthew 1:23, NLT)

God is near- “Immanuel, God with us!”  In Christ Jesus, we find that relationship that gives us the greatest peace, that survives all others, with One who will never leave us, betray us. We know Him in a way that survives even the final separation – death.  We do not have play the human games that people play to find acceptance with others.  He knows us and loves us. We are assured that Immanuel did not come just to be among those who are ‘together,’ or rich, or beautiful, or brave, or intelligent. Jesus Christ, is the God of the uncertain, the forgotten, the weak, those sometimes discarded by those among whom they live who are in a search for something or someone that they hope will ease their sense of walking alone.

  • The Father chose a young girl from a hill town to bring His Son into this world.
  • He was born in the animal shelter ‘out back,’ because the room ‘up front’ was full. Just maybe the kinsfolk of Joseph in Bethlehem had ‘no room’ specifically because they knew that Mary’s pregnancy was a scandal.
  • The royal family in Judah determined early on to kill Him, and Jesus’ family became fugitives for a time until Herod’s death.
  • As He began His adult ministry, Mark tells us that His own family thought He was mentally unstable and tried to bring Him home to avoid embarrassment.
  • At the end of His short life, He hung naked, pinned to a rough cross, bleeding to death, while passers-by hurled insults at Him. Pilate mocked Him – “The King of the Jews” read the sign ordered nailed above Him as He died, a cruel joke.

In all of this we are reminded that our God is not far away. He came to be one of us, with us, to know the life we live. Yes, He is Immanuel.

Immanuel is not just a Name. It’s a statement. He understands YOU.  As you face your existential questions, when you wrestle with weariness in life, when you are overcome by brokenness, if you are told you are not worthy of being ‘included,’  Immanuel says, “I’m here always!”  Know that He offers more than sympathy. In Him you are ‘included!’  “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:13-14, NIV)

Mary’s song captures the joy we can know because of the Christmas promise. Read it thoughtfully today. Note the triumph in the words, spoken prophetically, and with great hope. Particularly note that she rejoices that God knows her, ‘He took notice of me!’    

 “Oh, how I praise the Lord. How I rejoice in God my Savior! For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and now generation after generation will call me blessed. For he, the Mighty One, is holy, and he has done great things for me. His mercy goes on from generation to generation, to all who fear him. His mighty arm does tremendous things! How he scatters the proud and haughty ones! He has taken princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly. He has satisfied the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands. And how he has helped his servant Israel! He has not forgotten his promise to be merciful. For he promised our ancestors-Abraham and his children- to be merciful to them forever.” (Luke 1:46-55, NLT)

Not alone, not unknown, not destined to know isolation. Immanuel has brought you into the Father’s family, restored your relationship with the Holy One. Exult in that today.

________

Our word from the Word points us to the security that comes from knowing our Immanuel.
And now you also have heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you.
And when you believed in Christ,
He identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago.
The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us everything he promised
and that he has purchased us to be his own people.
This is just one more reason for us to praise our glorious God.” (Ephesians 1:13-14, NLT)

Immanuel, what a beautiful Name.

Panic Attack!

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It was the middle of the night and suddenly I was fully awake, my breath coming in gasps, my heart pounding. I realized that I was having a panic attack. Something had triggered my body into a full response to a perceived, but unreal, threat. A few moments later, I was back in control. I am not a coward, nor am I given to running from life’s challenges;  but I am realistic about the vulnerability of my humanity. While I refuse to allow fear to control my life, I know it is important to make choices that reduce my exposure to dangers that are part of life. Still, I do not spend a whole lot of time focusing on the potential dangers that lurk all around me.  There is simply too much living to do!

In the story of the birth of Christ the phrase, “Fear not!” is recorded on three separate occasions when persons encountered the messengers of the Lord.

  • Mary, when she was told that she would be the mother of Jesus, was not elated.  Luke tells us that at first she was “confused and disturbed,” by God’s will.   But, the angel assured her that God’s favor would rest on her and then he said, “Fear not!”
  • Joseph heard that his fiancé was pregnant and he knew it was not his child. He was torn between his desire to love her and his honor. He had decided to quietly end the engagement when the Lord showed up and told him “fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.” (Matthew 1:20, KJV)  Isn’t it amazing?   Basically, Joseph is told, “just trust Me!”   And, he did!
  • Zechariah was doing his priestly work, offering incense on the prayer altar, when he was told that he was about to become a Daddy.   The only thing was that Elizabeth, his wife, had been unable to conceive and was now by all human accounts too old to have a child!    How did Zechariah respond?   “He was troubled and fear fell on him.”  (Luke 1.12)   And what did God say?   You’ve figured it out by now, right?  Yes, you’re right – “Fear not!”

Mary did not know how it was going to work out, what God’s announcement would mean for her life, but she trusted God anyway.   Joseph did not have any explanation for a virgin’s pregnancy, but he was willing to step over his lack of understanding and do what God wanted him to do as he trusted the Sovereign Lord.   Zechariah took a while to come around, but he gained a deeper knowledge of the Person of the God he served, and came to trust Him completely.

Now the question comes to you and me – will we trust Him with all things?  Will we argue for fuller explanations, demand that He make His plans, even for tomorrow, crystal clear? Or will we hear Him say, “Fear not!” and choose to live faithfully, just for today?

When I am tempted to be fearful, I renew my understanding of His rule over every part of my life and my desire to live in the center of His will. Either I trust Him or I do not; there is no middle ground.  He is Lord of all, or He is not Lord at all.  There is great confidence available to us when we rest ourselves in the promise of the Lord that He will accomplish His plans for us and through us! Let’s be careful about confusing ‘fate’ and ‘faith’ by just assuming that everything is “God’s will.”

We can walk in our own will. The sinful choices of others will affect us. We have a spiritual foe “who seeks to work us woe.”  That is why our daily conversation with our Father is so important. When we are walking close to Him, we will align ourselves with His desire for us and in that place, we will live securely. Hold tightly to this promise –  “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6, NIV)  Fear not!  Take this line from the story of the birth of Jesus and make it your guide.

Here is a word from the Word, a prayer of David. “The one thing I ask of the Lord— the thing I seek most— is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, delighting in the Lord’s perfections and meditating in his Temple. For he will conceal me there when troubles come; he will hide me in his sanctuary. He will place me out of reach on a high rock. Then I will hold my head high, above my enemies who surround me. At his Tabernacle I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy, singing and praising the Lord with music.” (Psalm 27:4-6, NLT)
_________

O Come O Come Emmanuel (Veni Emmanuel)

(Lauren Daigle’s beautifully prayerful presentation of the carol moves me.)

O come O come Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear

Rejoice rejoice Emmanuel
Shall come to thee O Israel

O come Thou Dayspring come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight

O come Desire of nations bind
All peoples in one heart and mind
Bid envy strife and quarrels cease
Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace

John Mason Neale | Thomas Helmore © Words: Public Domain

A Kid At Heart

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I wonder how many of you remember Statler and Waldorf?  Probably not by name, but by image you may. Statler and Waldorf are a pair of Muppet characters, two grumpy old men, who heckle the Muppets from their perch in a box at stage left! For example, Statler, “They all good things must come to an end.” Waldorf, “So what’s that got to do with this show?”  Their constant complaints and zingers were funny to me when I watched that show with my kids. Now that my friends and I are approaching their age, the humor is often a little too close to real life. It’s all too easy for us to slip into the role of a critic of the world we live in at this time. But, critics don’t create good, do they?

Don’t you love the wonder that a child brings to this Christmas season? They delight in the bright lights, bubble over with excitement, and listen to the Story of a Baby in a manger with awe.  Jesus asks us to live with the faith and trust of a little child. One day when some children gathered around Him, the disciples tried to chase them away. He said, “These children are the kingdom’s pride and joy. Mark this: Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.” (Luke 18:16-17, The Message)  To be clear, the Lord is not recommending childishness to us. There is no charm in whining or tantrums.

A week from today we will celebrate the pivotal event of human history, the arrival of God in a tiny baby, born to a peasant Mom, given a father’s care by a local carpenter, with a mission to change the destiny of humanity! Think about the implications as explained by Paul in this passage.  “When the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” (Galatians 4:4-6, NIV)

Jesus did not come just to give a nice story to the ages. He came to set all of Creation right, to make it possible for us to be children of God, who come to Him, as our Father, not as our Judge. Lord, give us the faith of a child to receive that inheritance, to accept the place You offer to us through Your Son, Jesus.

You may object to those thoughts in the spirit of Statler and Waldorf. “Jerry, the whole world’s gone to Hell. It’s a terrible generation that is shaping the way we live now. Things have never been this bad.”   To that I’d say that you need to know your history a little better. You need not go back too far to find horrible wickedness. The 20th century was one of the bloodiest in history, if not the worst, with two World Wars, and civilian suffering on a global scale!  In saying that I am not minimizing the challenges of the day. Sensuality, greed, hatred, and rejection of the Truth of God is rampant. Religion that is form without substance has taken hold in so many lives. But … the Gospel of Christ invites us to hope for the Kingdom come!

Pray for the revelation of Jesus and His salvation to come to us anew this Christmas season. Don’t be a grump!  If you’re burdened for your family and their refusal of God’s grace, make it a matter of prayer, not a subject of endless condemnation and criticism. The word from the Word is a simple and short one today. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21, NIV)

________

Love Came Down To Bethlehem

(Matt Maher’s sweet song of Christmas)

Love came down to Bethlehem
While the world was sleeping
Love came down to make amends
For all creation’s weeping

He that sang the stars to life
He the Word became a cry

Rejoice Rejoice
Glory to God hallelujah Gloria

King of heaven’s high estate
Child in lowly manger
His the priv’lege to forsake
To welcome in the stranger

Born to heal the bonds of men
Born that we’d be born again

Rejoice rejoice
Glory to God hallelujah
Heaven and nature singing together
Glory to God hallelujah Gloria gloria

Rejoice rejoice
Glory to God hallelujah
Heaven and nature singing together
Glory to God hallelujah

Heaven and nature angels and shepherds
Wise men and beggars praise to the Savior
Forever and ever gloria Gloria gloria

Jon Guerra | Matt Maher © Be Essential Songs (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC) I Am A Pilgrim Songs (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)

CCLI License # 810055

Are you a good lover?

wordswag_1545050380031This Monday morning I thought back over my weekend, one full of interaction with people. There were a couple of shared meals, visits with those who are sick, a meeting with several other men about getting a service group started, so many greetings and exchanges at church, time with children at our Kid’s ministry on Sunday afternoon. Thrown in were a few dozen text messages and phone calls.

While I understand the need to retreat from people (and need to do it sometimes to find my sanity!),  I also know that the best experience of our Christian faith is not is found in a life without the give and take of social interaction. Jesus was a Man deeply involved with others and, as we bear His Name in this world, we must be engaged and involved, too!

In my reading from Romans this morning, I came to this passage, packed with practical directions about life with others. “Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.” (Romans 12:13-17, NIV) There is so much to take in here.

Life conspires to get us wrapped up in Me, so concerned about our place, doesn’t it? The great deception that can quickly overtake us is that we must live on the defense, ready to challenge those who we feel are threatening our well-being.  Our present American scene has divided us, somehow convincing us that we are under siege.

Even many Christians are convinced that it is time to take up their holy guns and fire ‘the Truth’ on the world that surrounds them. That life is the very opposite of what Jesus asks of us, friend.

Here are Paul’s inspired words again, this time from The Message. “Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality. Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody. Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone.” (Romans 12:13-17, The Message)

That is a description of what it means to be a great lover, in the likeness of Love personified! Tell me where you find a defensive, self-protective life recommended in those words.  Self-centeredness is just incompatible with being a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Yes, I live in the same world as you. I know those things that feel threatening in this rapidly changing world. I, too, have to resist becoming angry at those with whom I disagree.  I feel the tug of the constant propaganda that is thrown at me by every political faction in our land. But… there is Someone greater, who gave Himself away, who shows me a completely different way to live, freely, lovingly.  The truth is that “He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion. Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever.” (Philippians 2:6-9, The Message)

He is our example, the One who shows us the way. We will never live this kind of selfless life, quick to forgive, ready to engage with the ‘other,’ or the ‘different’ until we have found the amazing love of Jesus and let Him secure us, heal us, and hold us in His embrace. “We love, because He loved us first,” John teaches.  The love of which he writes is far more than some sloppy sentimental moment. It is a way of life that boldly engages with people – all kinds of people.

Christmas is the celebration of God’s love. Make it personal. Yes, my friend, the One who knows you best, loves you most!  It is true. Pray for a relational faith, a Christianity is far more than accepting a creed, belonging to a church, or a Sunday habit. Be loved and go love.

Here is a word from the Word for this Monday morning. May it be transforming truth to us. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it.” (John 3:16-17, NLT)  “If we love our Christian brothers and sisters, it proves that we have passed from death to eternal life. But a person who has no love is still dead.” (1 John 3:14, NLT)

Abba, thank for Love come to us in Your Son.
Bathe me in love; real, deep, profoundly transformative love.
Release me from the fears that divide this world in which I live.
Cause me to find joy in serving those who are least in the eyes of others.
Give me a ready smile, a willingness to look at others with Your eyes.

Let me love and so to make it clear that I know You,
Beyond my creed and my church songs.
Make this Christmas one that is different
By revealing to me anew the depth of Your love.
Let Jesus be seen in me.  Amen

_________________

Love Came Down At Christmas

Love came down at Christmas
Love all lovely love divine
Love was born at Christmas
Star and angels gave the sign

Worship we the Godhead
Love incarnate love divine
Worship we our Jesus
But wherewith for sacred sign

Love shall be our token
Love be yours and love be mine
Love to God and all men
Love for plea and gift and sign

Love for plea and gift and sign
For plea for gift for sign

Christina Georgina Rossetti | Gilbert M. Martin © Words: Public Domain

 

Joy?

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In our Advent journey to the celebration of Christmas, this third Sunday turns us to “Joy.”  Are you experiencing JOY? I often walk close to sorrow. Yesterday I sat next to the bed of a man who has lived a long life who recently found out about a tumor in his brain. We talked about the likelihood that he is now writing the last pages of the last chapter. Tears welled up in my eyes, sliding down my face.  The holiday songs on my car radio as I left that visit were jarringly discordant with my emotions!

This morning with the dawn, I gave thanks for the joy that I know in Jesus despite real personal loss.  I cannot honestly say that I feel light, or that laughter comes easily these days. And yet, there is joy that is greater than my present experience and I will hold tightly, by faith, to that.

Christmas brings us a story that creates the possibility of joy; “for all the people!” With this phrase, “I bring you good news of great joy,” the angel reassured a group of frightened men, shepherds who were seeing the strangest sight there in the field outside of Bethlehem! Shepherds were a rough lot, earthy men. They were probably illiterate, not well versed in the prophetic texts. It is not likely that they were devout, and yet God chose to make His announcement to them. That is just amazing, at least to me. Was the angelic announcement to these ‘nobodies’ outside of the town an accident? Did the angel get lost on his way to the home of the mayor of Bethlehem? No, of course not.

God’s desire was to bring all people – shepherds from the field – and wise men from the East – to worship the Savior who had come to restore them to their Creator and Father.

Luke sums up it all up. The angels sang “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.”(Luke 2:14-18, NIV) And in that worship, they found joy.

I am going to take two cues for my life from this story.

First, I am going to turn to Jesus, to seek Him, that I might worship Him and find joy.

That worship starts with a willingness to set aside the demands of the day. The shepherds could have remained with their sheep. But they chose to go to see the Baby. They became part of a strange and wonderful story of God’s entry into our world. Wherever you are today, whatever your situation – find time to look for the Savior, to thank Him, perhaps just to wait quietly before Him offering your worship.

Second, I want to be a source of joy for others.

My prayerful goal this Season is to bring people the joy of Jesus.  So many of us really do need to know God’s love as we work our way through loneliness, illness, the limitations brought on by aging, or perhaps even the weight of guilt and regret. Those who are sad in these ways are not fixed up by a present or a happy song.  The darkness needs Light. Only in God can we find a reason for real and lasting joy, a hope that is bigger than any set of circumstances in this world.

I invite you to join me in this mission! “Hey, Jerry, we’re no angels.” Right you are! But we are people of the Spirit, “Christ’s ambassadors.” We have the awesome privilege of leading others to Him, sharing with them the Hope we have found. So, let’s pray for opportunities to be bringers of joy, messengers of hope.

If you’re reading this today and you are feeling the weight of disappointment, let me point you to Jesus, who is the Healer of broken hearts. He came to be our Savior, to close the gap between the Father and ourselves. He came to give us the gift of eternal life, which we can own now, while we wait for the Second Advent of our King. Tell Him your deepest need, yes, in your own words, your own way. Ask Him to help you. His answer may not come in the way you expect, but He will come to you. He promises!

Here is a word from the Word.
“So reach out and welcome one another to God’s glory.
Jesus did it; now you do it!

Jesus, staying true to God’s purposes, reached out in a special way to the Jewish insiders
so that the old ancestral promises would come true for them. As a result, the non-Jewish outsiders have been able  to experience mercy and to show appreciation to God.

 Just think of all the Scriptures that will come true in what we do!
For instance: Then I’ll join outsiders in a hymn-sing; I’ll sing to your name!
And this one: Outsiders and insiders, rejoice together!
And again: People of all nations, celebrate God! All colors and races, give hearty praise! And Isaiah’s word: There’s the root of our ancestor Jesse, breaking through the earth and growing tree tall, Tall enough for everyone everywhere to see and take hope!

 Oh! May the God of green hope fill you up with joy,
fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives,
filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit,
will brim over with hope! ”  
(Romans 15:7-13, The Message)

________

Lord, inspire us with joy. Sing over us, like a mother comforting her child,
that we might know joyful peace this day. Amen.

The Right Attitude

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Got troubles? Feeling disappointed? Been grieving? Are you just worn out?   Everybody finds themselves in the dark from time to time. Question is, what to do about it? If I let myself wish that life were different for me I feel guilty when I think about people who are in situations far worse than I am experiencing.  But, being aware of someone else’s misery does little to change my own feelings. Then, perhaps I try to pull out the old ‘count your blessings’ card, naming “them one by one.” That’s a good thing to do and encourages thankfulness, but in the end I am still dealing with my present reality. Complaining just deepens the darkness and makes those around me irritated, so that is not a great option.

So, what should we do? Paul offers this practical counsel from the wisdom of the Spirit. “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” (Romans 12:12, NIV)

Joyful in hope!
What a wonderful thing. There is nothing in my life today that can rob me of my hope in Christ Jesus. What is that hope? Ultimately, it is focused around eternal life, the home in the Father’s house that is prepared for me, bought and paid for by Jesus, and His gift to me and to all who trust Him in faith. The hope that I find in Him is also about this day, these problems. He assures me that even when I cannot discern His plans, even when I bring suffering on myself, even when the sinful world in which I live creates hardship, there is nothing that He cannot use to shape me into that person He desires me to be and to do His will through me.

The Spirit asks me to trust and even take joy in the fact that I “know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Romans 8:28, NLT)  Are you willing to trust Him with whatever is troubling you today?

Patient in affliction!
“Give it time, let Me work. Stay steady.”  Yes, that is the counsel of God.  If you’re ready to abandon your marriage, quit your job, write off a relationship, or even decide to leave God behind, hear the Word that counsels endurance. The principle of patience is a consistent theme of the Scripture. As humans we want solutions now. We are sometimes willing to prematurely blow up our lives because of our frustrations. God asks us to go steady ahead confident that His timeline is often very different from ours. Remember that patience is not apathy, nor is it passive. Patience is hope brought to the present that helps us make the right choice even when Self is screaming for relief or escape.

Learn the pattern of the 37th Psalm that says, “Trust, delight, commit, and be still” before the Lord!

Prayerful!
Prayer should not be confused with eloquent speeches to God, or petitions prepared with lawyerly precision in every word. Tears slipping wordlessly down your cheeks as you look to Jesus are precious prayers in His sight. Sighs that reflect the weight of the burden of the day are a kind of prayer that He can understand.  A simple “Help me, Jesus, to stand,” is sometimes the best we can do when we are frustrated and at the end of our rope.

The important thing is that we find ourselves focused on Him, listening to Him, and continuing the daily conversation.  If we stop talking to God because of some misguided idea that He will respond to our silence, we are only hurting ourselves. Make prayer an authentic expression – of your pain, about your problems, that share your joy, that adore Him for Who He is.  Just keep praying – faithfully.

Remember even Jesus wrestled with the will of His Father to the extent He asked Him for a way around the Cross, but He never stopped talking to Him!

The word from the Word is a text so beloved by me that a portion of it is tattooed onto my right arm!  OK, I could have left that part out, right?  Never the less, this passage brims with confidence in Christ and inspires us to trust Him. If you’re in a place of darkness, if you’re struggling, pray that the Spirit will make these words more than an idea, that they will come alive in you.

“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:14-21, NIV)

Hopeful. Patient. Prayerful.

_________

I Know Who Holds Tomorrow

I don’t know about tomorrow
I just live from day to day
I don’t borrow from its sunshine
For its skies may turn to gray
I don’t worry o’er the future
For I know what Jesus said
And today I’ll walk beside Him
For He knows what is ahead

 Many things about tomorrow
I don’t seem to understand
But I know who holds tomorrow
And I know who holds my hand

Ira Stanphill © 1950 New Spring (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc.) CCLI License # 810055

 

Let’s Work At It!

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Life goes to ruin so easily, doesn’t it?  The lawn and landscaping at my home do not take care of themselves!  Keeping it looking good demands constant attention. If I decided to just ‘let it go’ for a month or two, the weeds would take over!  Choose not to maintain your home, your car, your physical health and what happens?  There are soon large messes, major breakdowns, and chronic illness with which to deal. Little problems in life will turn into major issues of dysfunction without discipline and attention, hence the important concept of preventative maintenance. The proverb warns about apathy – “A little extra sleep, a little more slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest— and poverty will pounce on you like a bandit; scarcity will attack you like an armed robber.” (Proverbs 24:33-34, NLT)

Do you realize that spiritual health and vitality also demands our attention and effort? There are those who assume that since our salvation comes to us a gift of God, a result of His grace, received by faith, that there is nothing left for us to do.  This ignores the invitation Jesus gives us – “Come, follow Me!”  Every day demands that we choose our priority – will I serve myself or will I choose Christ?  And there is, for a few, the danger of ‘burn out,’ a real spiritual hazard to those who fail to understand the balance of work and rest or who throw themselves into every ministry that comes down the road, working without focus.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul says “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” (Romans 12:11, NIV)  A few months ago I met a woman who is 80 whose zeal inspires me. Along with her own family, she raised several adopted children who came to here with serious emotional needs.  After that season in her life ended, she responded to the call of the Lord to serve children in need around the world and continues to enlist people in the work of a world-wide ministry that educates, feeds, and loves children. She travels, every year, to visit a developing nation to see some of the children she is supporting financially.  All the while, she visits churches tirelessly promoting the work.  Did I say she is 80?

When Paul tells us to keep our ‘spiritual fervor,’ he uses a word that means to be ‘at the boiling point.’  Christianity is not intended to be a slow walk at the fringe of life or a few poems of inspiration read in a sleepy gathering on Sunday morning! We are to be engaged with the world in which we live, passionate about one thing above all others: serving the Lord! Are you?

Let’s not make the common assumption that we are being ‘good Christians’ as long as we show up in church once a week, while make sure that we do not lie, cheat, or steal.  Churches are full of good, moral people who are asleep in the Light, who are unconcerned about the souls of those who are lost in sin’s darkness, who are basically ignorant of their true purpose, spiritual gift, or place of service in the Kingdom. There is a kind of fulfillment to be found in engagement, in knowing the approval of God.

Zeal is not to be confused with just doing something for the sake of looking busy. There are zealots who are thoughtless, careless, or even just ignorant. They create nothing but chaos with frenetic and pointless activity. We are to be people led by the Spirit, equipped uniquely to do what the Lord desires us to do, and to develop those gifts so that we fulfill our calling with excellence.

Are you drifting along on the current of life?
Have you settled for a tepid faith, one that mostly avoids the call to ‘follow Jesus’ in any costly or committed way?

Prayerfully read this word from the Word. “Fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you … God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. So you must never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord. And don’t be ashamed of me, either, even though I’m in prison for Christ. With the strength God gives you, be ready to suffer with me for the proclamation of the Good News.” (2 Timothy 1:6-8, NLT)

Zeal! Make it a word that leads you to deeper commitment, for the Lord’s sake.
________

Set Me Ablaze
(a prayer for zeal!)

Set me ablaze set me ablaze
‘Til it’s all that I know
Set me ablaze set me ablaze
So  I’ll never grow cold

Breathe come and breathe
On the coals of my heart
Let Your fire start
Breathe come and breathe
On the coals of my heart
Keep me burning
Breathe come and breathe
On the coals of my heart

Let Your fire start
Breathe come and breathe
On the coals of my heart (oh)

Set me ablaze set me ablaze
With a single obsession
Set me ablaze set me ablaze
With an endless passion

Wild fire burn brighter
Deep inside my heart
Consume me rage through me
I want all You are

Bryan Torwalt | Jacob Sooter | Katie Torwalt | Mia Fieldes

© 2015 Capitol CMG Genesis (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

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Love, don’t fake it!

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Paul’s words that I read this morning said “Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it.”   Romans 12:9 (The Message)  Bam! What an ‘on point’ directive. Americans like to think that discrimination is just something that someone else does.

No one likes to think that they are prejudiced. But our history is full of tragic stories of discrimination, often with the cooperation of the law.  The awful sin of slavery blighted this nation, brought suffering on millions, and destroyed human beings. Though the Civil War officially settled the question of slavery, racial discrimination remains a real issue in our nation 150 years later! I find it tragic that our current political atmosphere is letting stereotypical images turn people into objects, so many speaking rhetoric that only feeds fear. Let’s not forget what fear did during World War 2.  Americans decided that being of Japanese descent was enough to make a person suspicious, and this land of the free, took thousands of its own citizens and locked them in internment camps.

Christians are to really love ‘from the center of who we are’ because we are loved! Discriminating against others, turning them into objects of scorn, is a sin that is incompatible with the love of Christ Jesus. Have you ever felt shut out, like you didn’t belong? Rejection is a painful experience. From the time of childhood, right through adulthood, we human beings have the awful capacity to scorn the person who is different – in color, in race, in religion, in language, even in ability. Why we do it this is complex but God’s desire is clear:  Love!

In the Gospel story of the Incarnation, we find fear, discrimination, and God’s answer! When Joseph found out that his fiancé, Mary, was pregnant he decided that he would break their engagement; quietly, without trying to publicly shame her. His heart was most likely broken by her apparent unfaithfulness, but there was another thread in the story, too.  His honor was at stake. When her pregnancy became obvious, there would be stares and whispers, those who would wonder if he had impregnated her, others who would think she had sought another lover.

In the middle of his thoughts, God sent an angelic messenger who assured him of Mary’s fidelity.  The Lord asked Joseph to overcome his fear of discrimination. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21, NLT) Stand with her, Joseph! And he did! He was an obedient man who took whatever shame and criticism that she might have borne on himself.

God loved us when we were outcasts and rejects. The Bible says, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!” He stood with us and now He desires that we love those who are rejected, identifying ourselves with them, standing with them. We are called to take up the cause of those that would be denied justice. It is what Jesus would do, and so must we. The Scripture says, “Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.” (James 1:27, The Message) God asks us to practice a costly love that sees the need of others and reaches out to meet that need.

We need to guard against a patronizing kind of assistance that reaches ‘down’ without really coming alongside of those in need. Much of the so-called care for the poor, the needy, the rejected is done from a distance without really becoming one of ‘them,’ whomever they are. Simply offering a meal or a word of concern or a check to help with rent is a nice gesture and relieves some measure of suffering, but such efforts do not change people’s lives or show them God’s salvation.

Only if we are willing to get involved in a way that makes our lives intersect with those in need, can we hope to really make a difference. This is what Jesus did in the Incarnation! “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.” (John 1:14, The Message) Christian, when it comes to those in need are you just sending a check, or are you presenting yourself? There’s a big difference. Jesus said, “I’ll stand with you.” I hope you and I will do the same for those who are suffering, rejected, alone, or trapped by sin’s consequences.

Would you ask the Lord to confront you with hidden prejudice, with those ways in which you are less than loving towards those who are different from you? I am because I want to please Him, honor Him, and obey Him when He says to me, “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good.”

Here is a word from the Word, from the preacher Micah.  “With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:6-8, NIV)

_______________

A song of God’s love for us. Let it inspire love in you.

Rescue  (Lauren Daigle sings it beautifully!)

You are not hidden
There’s never been a moment
You were forgotten
You are not hopeless
Though you have been broken
Your innocence stolen

 I hear you whisper underneath your breath
I hear your SOS your SOS

 I will send out an army to find you
In the middle of the darkest night it’s true
I will rescue you
There is no distance
That can not be covered
Over and over
You’re not defenseless
I’ll be your shelter
I’ll be your armor

 I will never stop marching to reach you
In the middle of the hardest fight it’s true
I will rescue you

 I hear the whisper underneath your breath
I hear you whisper you have nothing left

Jason Ingram | Lauren Daigle | Paul Mabury
© 2018 CentricSongs (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

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How to find joy this Season

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Her eyes sparkled, bright with excitement as she showed off the puppy that “Santa had to drop off early before Christmas.” Her joy was infectious, filling the hearts of a dozen of us standing around.  What a contrast with another man with whom I spoke earlier that day who was all cynicism and sadness. 2018 was not a great year for him. In our conversation he expressed the desire to make a quick jump forward, straight into January.

How does this Monday morning find you?  Are you prepared to find joy or will you let the ubiquitous bad news of life weigh you down?

Before you explain your circumstances, I want to remind you that JOY is different from happiness. Happiness comes and goes like sunshine. We cannot control what happens around us, sometimes even to us.  Bad and sad things are ‘just life.’ Joy, by contrast, is an evidence of a heart that is trusting God, that is being infused with the life of the Spirit each day.  It is possible to know the joy of the Lord in the middle of some of the worst situations.

How? Let me make some practical suggestions for living with joy.

Make people your priority!
Don’t isolate when you’re sad. The comfort of your couch and a blanket, with some mind-numbing TV will be tempting when your heart aches. Get up and get out.  Talk to people, really engage with them. Give another your full attention. If you at a gathering, or at the dinner table, or sitting with a friend;  don’t hurry or just try to ‘get the program’ completed. Enjoy the opportunity to be with friends and family.  If you’re hosting a dinner or a party, don’t make it about perfect preparations of food and décor. Those things will quickly fade into oblivion, but an evening of meaningful conversation creates a lasting memory.

Remember to include worship!
Believe me, if you will set aside 20 minutes each day between now and Christmas Day, to meditate, to pray, and to read the stories of Jesus’ nativity from Matthew and Luke; the Spirit will meet you! Tell your family you will be going to church on Christmas Eve. Arrive early and sit with a listening heart, not one wondering, “when will this be over?”   “O come, let us adore Him… Christ, the Lord!”  Will you worship at the altar of consumerism with far more fervency than you worship the Lord Jesus? This imbalance in the use of our time and money reveals the identity of our true god. Keeping Christ in Christmas isn’t just about putting up a crèche on the lawn at City Hall. It’s about building an altar in our heart and honoring the One whose life is the cause for the celebration.

Give yourself away!
In Acts 20:35 (The Message) says, “I have demonstrated to you how necessary it is to work on behalf of the weak and not exploit them. You’ll not likely go wrong here if you keep remembering that our Master said, ‘You’re far happier giving than getting.’ ”  Give forgiveness. Give love. Give time. Give grace. Give away your expectations and receive what these days bring your way. Forget yourself. The paradox of joy is that it is never found in making self the center. Jesus says, “if you lose your life, you’ll find it.”  Sound like a riddle? It’s not. It is a life principle.

Recover wonder!
Instead of asking, “How could this be?”  when you read about  virgin being with Child, God becoming flesh, invite the mystery of it all to whisper to your soul a new message about the depth of God’s love. Let the sophisticates pretend to be bored by the holiday. Choose to be child-like (not childish!) in your wonder. I am not urging mere sentimentality. I am suggesting that we let go of our sophistication, our cynicism, our intense focus on now to hear God’s invitation to JOY.

You can come to New Year’s Day with a renewed heart! Sure, you may be tired in body from staying up too late, going here and there, but you will have received Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit. And, He brings life.

Here’s a word from the Word that sums up the story that we are celebrating this Advent – “The Word became human and lived here on earth among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the only Son of the Father. … We have all benefited from the rich blessings he brought to us—one gracious blessing after another.” (John 1:14, 16, NLT)

__________

Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne
(Pray this carol as you listen)

Thou didst leave Thy throne
And Thy kingly crown,
When Thou camest to earth for me;
But in Bethlehem’s home,
There was found no room
For Thy holy nativity.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee.

 Emily Elizabeth Steele Elliott | Timothy Richard Matthews Public Domain