Saying it again!

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Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NIV)  This short verse has occupied my thoughts for several weeks, the theme of my November sermons, the challenge of my personal life. The Spirit is calling me (and you) to bring thankfulness to God to the forefront of our mind.  G.K. Chesterton wrote that we need to get in the habit of “taking things with gratitude and not taking things for granted.”

A Christian who wants to reflect the heart of Jesus to the world will learn to be grateful – to God, to others – consistently. It takes practice, discipline, and prayer! Self (ego) will devour as much attention as we give to it. If we believe that gratitude is a reaction, something we ‘feel’ rather than an intentional choice, we will only find thanks on those days when the kids are mysteriously wonderful and kind to each other, when our spouse is especially attentive to our needs, when our coffee is served ‘just right,’ and everyone on the road is courteous.  If we wait for some emotion to find us, we will not be thankful very often. It’s a simple command, but true – choose thanks as a way of life. (See the opening line today.)

Henri Nouwen discovered the importance of intentional thanks. “In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realize that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline. The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.”

If we allow our mind to wander in the maze of ‘if only’ and ‘could be’ we will not find the joy of gratitude to God for this day and the unique opportunities it presents. Every moment that I spend daydreaming about different circumstances is a moment where I am not present right where I am. That does not mean that I cannot work to change things, or that I cannot acknowledge pain or disappointment.  Gratitude is not escapism, nor is it denial. Gratitude finds God in the now and accepts His grace.

Here are a few practical suggestions for making Thanksgiving a richer day.   They are not novel, not profound, but true.

Begin the day with thanks to God.
Be thoughtful, getting beyond “Thank you, Lord, for all You have done.” Make it personal.

Make your first words to someone else be thankful.
If you start with God, this will flow more naturally.

Should irritation stir in you, (and if you’re with large family groups, it surely may) meet it with a choice to be thankful and replace it with a positive thought about that person who is getting under your skin.

You might even want to attempt to write your own “Psalm.” (Model it after Psalm 103)
Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit and
crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”
(Psalm 103:2-5, NIV)

Thankfulness is contagious. A person who is genuinely filling up life with gratitude will inspire others to be grateful.

Here is the word from the Word. Let’s live it, honoring the Lord with an attitude of gratitude!
“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!
His faithful love endures forever.
Has the Lord redeemed you? Then speak out!
Tell others he has redeemed you from your enemies.”
(Psalm 107:1-2, NLT)

“Let them praise the Lord for his great love
and for the wonderful things he has done for them.
Let them exalt him publicly before the
congregation and before the leaders of the nation.”
(Psalm 107:31-32, NLT)

_____

I pray a most rich and blessed Thanksgiving for you!
There will be a service of thanksgiving at Faith Discovery, Weds., 11/27, at 7 PM.

CoffeeBreak will be back next Monday, 12/2.

You’re invited to be a part of our Advent observance starting Sunday.
Our theme is the “Cast of Christmas,” encouragement to participate in the preparation for the Coming of the Savior and King.

Owned

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Yesterday I went to see “A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood,” a story from the life of Fred Rogers.  What a movie, an emotional roller coaster, to be sure.  Some tried to dub him, “A living saint” given his gentle demeanor, his love for people. In truth, he was a man committed to Someone else.  He was a Christian, who read Scripture everyday, kept a prayer list, and lived his faith. You may not know that he was also an ordained Presbyterian minister. The movie makes no specific mention of Christianity, though it does refer to his prayer life. Yet, it is clear that Mr. Rogers regarded himself as a servant of Christ and that his faith went far beyond mere sentimentality.

Paul in his first letter to the church in Thessalonica, mentions that he thought of those converts often, hoping that they were keeping the faith. He gets word of their commitment, writing that “Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love.”  He tells them of his joy.  “For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. … It is God’s will that you should be sanctified.” (1 Thessalonians 4:3, NIV)

Those who are “in Christ” are a people possessed. Whoa! Yes, that’s a scary thought, at first. “Don’t you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price.” (1 Corinthians 6:19) When we receive the love of Jesus by faith, when He gives us life and peace, He makes us His very own possession, not to exploit us, but rather to prepare us for a life that is rich with goodness.

Peter teaches us about the place prepared for us. “You are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you— from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.” (1 Peter 2:9-10, The Message)

In the story of Mr. Rogers we discover a man who knows he belongs to another, who chooses to work out the implications of his faith in the down to earth situations of life. It is interesting to hear him admit to having a temper, but choosing not to indulge that temper. He is transparent about his own humanity, but makes no excuse to live in ways that would cause pain to others. Isn’t that exactly what Jesus asks of all us to claim to be His disciples?

Jesus’ invitation to ‘come, follow Me,’ requires a parallel willingness to ‘take up our cross.’ We can only know all He has prepared for us if we are daily dying to Self, praying to live in the Spirit, being sanctified. That is not a terrible word though some read it that way.  When we let Him sanctify us, we are being made holy.

Holy means that we are owned, prepared to serve His purposes, wherever they are found, whenever He asks.  There is a separation from the world’s values that is both worked in us by the Spirit and worked out by us in our choices. Have you heard Him invite you to ‘come out … and be separate?’ He follows that invitation by saying ‘I will welcome you and I will be your Father.’   The price of true intimacy is be submitted to Him, willing to be owned, willing to say ‘no’ to sin and Self in order to be able to say an unqualified ‘yes’ to Him.

It is said that everything of value comes at a cost. It is true. A cheap grace, a kind of ‘Christianity’ without true discipleship, is commonly preached and practiced. The depth of discipleship, which brings beautiful character and let’s the beauty of Jesus shine through, comes at a cost. A treasure is found, beyond estimated worth.

The word from the Word is a parable of Jesus. Will you hear the call? “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a pearl merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it!” (Matthew 13:45-46, NLT)

_________

Refiner’s Fire

Purify my heart
Let me be as gold
And precious silver
Purify my heart
Let me be as gold
Pure gold

 Refiner’s fire
My heart’s one desire
Is to be holy
Set apart for You Lord
I choose to be holy
Set apart for You my Master
Ready to do Your will

 Purify my heart
Cleanse me from within
And make me holy
Purify my heart
Cleanse me from my sin
Deep within

Brian Doerksen © 1990 Mercy / Vineyard Publishing (Admin. by Vineyard Music USA)

Vineyard Songs Canada (Admin. by Vineyard Music USA)

CCLI License # 810055

Word!

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So much information bombards us it is next to impossible to sort out truth from lies, what is worthy of our trust from what we should just discard. There is a torrent of advice about how to live. We are counseled about what it means to be a man, a woman.  There are multiple advisors about parenting – strict, permissive – what is the best way?  Financial advisors will offer you many ideas about how to invest your resources. What does a healthy diet look like?  In my lifetime the accepted wisdom for all of those things, and more, have been radically rewritten.

There is one thing that is unchanging, a solid foundation for life. The Gospel, God’s Message of hope and life in Christ Jesus, is one thing not subject to revision.  Paul writes of his joy in the believers who accept that Word by faith.  “And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.” (1 Thessalonians 2:13, NIV)

Peter joins Paul in affirming the truth of the Gospel. “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” (2 Peter 1:16, NIV)

There is no better hope than the anchor of the love of God, shown us through Christ Jesus. Regardless of ethnicity, age, gender, social status – there is one message. It is that Jesus Christ came into the world to save us, to restore us to our Creator Father, and to assure us, by His own Resurrection, that we can live beyond this brief existence on this earth. This is Truth. Do you believe it, receive it, and hold to it?

Many other roads to God may be suggested, but there is but One Way. We cannot reach God with a bridge built of our own goodness. We need a Savior. We cannot reach God by study and discovery. We need Someone to reveal the truth.  When we respond to His invitation, in faith, a whole new kind of existence begins to emerge for us.  We learn to love. There is hope and joy. Peace is possible, with other people and with God Himself.

Jesus describes the settling of the Truth as being like the planting of a seed.  His parable used 4 soil types to represent the human mind and heart and our response to the Word of the Gospel. “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times.” (Mark 4:3-8, NIV)

Some hear and are just hard, the seed unable to germinate.
Others hear eagerly, perhaps in a desperate time, but fail to grow roots to sustain their faith.
Some let life get too full of other things and the Word Seed’s growth is stunted.
Some are fertile rich soil where God’s Gospel produces a rich quality of life.

Who are YOU, friend?  Are you receiving the Gospel, acting on it, loving Christ?  In one way, we could speak of this as a ‘once and done’ moment, for we are born into the kingdom by faith, given new life at a moment of conversion. Yet, it is also true that the Gospel is received anew each day so that the life of the Spirit can flourish making us fruitful in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5: 22)

This Monday morning, the first day of Thanksgiving week, thank God for showing you His love in Christ Jesus. Receive the Word as the word of God, not as some bit of advice from a counselor.

Here is a word from the Word. “When God wanted to guarantee his promises, He gave his word, a rock-solid guarantee—God can’t break his word. And because His word cannot change, the promise is likewise unchangeable. We who have run for our very lives to God have every reason to grab the promised hope with both hands and never let go. It’s an unbreakable spiritual lifeline, reaching past all appearances right to the very presence of God.”  (Heb 6:17-19, The Message)
___

Anchor
(listen and know peace)

I have this hope
As an anchor for my soul
Through ev’ry storm
I will hold to You 

With endless love
All my fear is swept away
In ev’rything
I will trust in You

 There is hope in the promise of the cross
You gave ev’rything to save the world You love
And this hope is an anchor for my soul
Our God will stand unshakable

 Unchanging One
Who was and is to come
Your promise sure
You will not let go

 Your Name is higher
Your Name is greater
All my hope is in You
Your word unfailing
Your promise unshaken
All my hope is in You

Ben Fielding | Dean Ussher © 2012 Hillsong Music Publishing Australia (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

Do you like me?

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For whom are you dancing today? Well, perhaps you are not actually dancing, but who are you trying to please? We all have some level of need for appreciation, wanting to be liked. If we make that kind of approval our first priority, misery is guaranteed. A hundred voices will call us to a hundred pathways. Public pressure will try to squeeze us into conformity to a dozen different sets of expectations.

Paul writes this, not from vanity, but with a laser-like focus.  We speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else,” (1 Thessalonians 2:3-6, NIV)

In ancient Israel, King David wanted to bring the symbol of God’s Presence home to the city of Jerusalem. The story of his attempts has some fails and missed cues, so when the day finally came for the Ark of the Covenant to come to Jerusalem, he was overcome with joy in the Lord. As the procession entered the city, he started to dance, then spin, and then… he shed his royal robes, dancing in front of his people in just his tunic. In a sense, he was down to his royal underwear:  leaping, dancing, and shouting the praises of God.

Some people were delighted by his enthusiasm, but not all! “Michal daughter of Saul (David’s wife) watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.” (2 Samuel 6:16, NIV) When he got back to the palace, he expected to share his joy. Instead, she met him with her contempt.  “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”  Just to be clear – David was not naked. Her contempt came out of her notion that he had not kept his royal dignity intact.

It remains a truth that when you devote yourself fully to the Lord there will always be critics. Even some Christians will come to despise you. Your devotion may challenge their apathy, the fire in your heart exposing the coldness of theirs. In those situations it is much easier to turn on the true worshiper, to criticize his devotion and/or his motive, than to repent.  If you listen to them they will kill your joy, hinder your worship, and diminish your love of God.

We seek the applause of the “audience of One,” to borrow the words of Kierkegaard.  God’s approval must be enough for us. It was for David.  When his wife mocked his worship, he told her:  “It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.” (2 Samuel 6:20-22, NIV)

Critics will turn you into a puppet dancing at the end of the strings they pull. Gently, humbly, refuse their demands. Beware of arrogance or pride that devalues the fellowship of Believers. We are part of His Body and submitted to one another, and yet the deepest intimacy and our greatest sacrifice generally will be reserved for God alone. Jesus warned that we can turn prayer and worship into a performance designed to impress others. Our only reward, He said, is their admiration.

Heaven falls silent when we start to dance for the crowd!  But, there will be moments when the Spirit of God sweeps over us and we just forget ourselves, enthralled by His love. In those moments, we forget the critics. As Paul asks, Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10, NIV)

Struggling with critics? Listening to many voices, feeling pressure to conform? Here is the word from the Word. “Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3, NIV)

For God, and God alone.

_______________

Build My Life

(what or who is your foundation?)

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 © 2016 Martin, Karl Andrew (Admin. by Arkyard Music Services Limited) Kaple Music (Admin. by Bethel Music Publishing) Bethel Music Publishing

CCLI License # 810055

Loud and Clear

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I want one thing to be obvious about me, above anything else – that I am a disciple of Jesus Christ.  I have no desire to be like “Captain Obvious” that obnoxious character that markets for hotels.com. The gag that the commercials feature is his complete lack of awareness about how he is coming across to those around him.  Some Christians turn their faith into something like that: insensitive, sometimes just silly, often unnecessarily offensive, as they claim to be doing the work of Christ. Jesus becomes part of their political ideology, the Gospel turns into a ‘get out of Hell’ pass, and superstitious ideas replace deep intimacy with the Spirit.  Then, there are those beautiful Believers who are true saints, not because a halo hovers over their head, but whose lives demonstrate a deep faith and a godly direction.

Paul commended the Thessalonian Christians for a faith that came through loud and clear!  “And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. …  They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.” (1 Thessalonians 1:7-10, NIV)

That phrase challenges me this morning – “the Lord’s message rang out from you… your faith known everywhere.”  People in that region of Greece were talking about these believers, not because they were obnoxious, but because they had found a powerful faith that completely changed the way they lived. They no longer held onto their old idols, they loved the Lord. They had found real hope of salvation and eternal life, no longer fearing the future, or even death itself.  They were not making a lot of self-congratulatory noise; God, the Holy Spirit was using them to proclaim His Message.

As you head into life today, I encourage you to pause for a few moments to pray a different kind of prayer. Pouring out our petitions is a wonderful privilege and we should do that. There is another way to pray that involves listening, with a focused heart and mind that wants to hear from the Spirit. We almost instinctively pray “Lord, I’m speaking so listen,” but do we remember to pray as young Samuel was counseled? “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” Contemplate the works of God. Spend time with the mystery of the love of the Almighty for you. Let God love you.

Something amazing happens to Christians who are listening to God. They begin to take on the character and beauty of the Savior. Grace pours into their lives and then spills over out of their lives. The Gospel ‘rings out’ through their love, their patience, their forgiveness, their gentleness, their steadiness in joy and sorrow alike.  When people talk about this kind of Christians, it is not to mock. Instead they speak about something beautiful, a message that ‘rings out’ through them. Oh, I want that to be true of my life.

Lord, let Your beauty shine through, Your amazing love owning my heart so that it overflows to those with whom I talk and walk today.

In our word from the Word today, Peter urges us to “Live such good lives among the pagans (those who do not know God) that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:12, NIV)  How can we do that? “As we know Jesus better, his divine power gives us everything we need for living a godly life. He has called us to receive his own glory and goodness! …  So make every effort to apply the benefits of these promises to your life. Then your faith will produce a life of moral excellence. A life of moral excellence leads to knowing God better.” (2 Peter 1:3,5, NLT)

Let Him be revealed in you today.

_________

Yes I Will
(A desire to let Him shine)

I count on one thing
The same God that never fails
Will not fail me now
You won’t fail me now
In the waiting
The same God who’s never late
Is working all things out
You’re working all things out

Yes I will lift You high
In the lowest valley
Yes I will bless Your name
Yes I will sing for joy
When my heart is heavy
All my days yes I will

I choose to praise
To glorify glorify
The name of all names
That nothing can stand against

For all my days
Yes I will

Eddie Hoagland | Jonathan Smith | Mia Fieldes
© All Essential Music (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)
Be Essential Songs (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)
HBC Worship Music (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)

CCLI License # 810055

The Real Thing

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About 50 years ago, when many other colas were entering the soft drink market, Coca Cola™ advertised with this slogan, “It’s the Real Thing.” Coke’s brand manager said that the company was responding to “research which shows that young people seek the real, the original and the natural as an escape from phoniness.”  Later, when Coke was marketed in cans, the company kept the swirl design to remind consumers of the iconic Coke bottle that had defined the brand for many years.

People still respond to the real, the authentic, don’t they?  In a world full of image-making and imitation, the quality of the real thing – beverage, product, or person – is still admired.

Are you the real thing, Christian? Does your life reflect a depth of commitment to Christ that goes beyond Sunday morning songs and half-hearted prayers?

In his letter to the Believers in Thessalonica, Paul praises their authentic Christianity, which was more than words and ideas.  “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Thessalonians 1:4-6, NIV)

Note the words he uses to describe their faith:  power, conviction, joy! He twice refers to the Holy Spirit, for it is He that makes Christians, then and now, “The real thing!” We cannot do this on our own, with motivational speeches, behavior modification techniques, or determination of the will.  Oh yes, there is a pale imitation of Christianity that can be lived that way. But, the life-changing experience of the Presence of God that saves those who are lost, that turns sinners into saints, that frees addicts, that transforms hate to love – is found in the Person of the Spirit.

From the beginning, Christians were taught to seek and rely on the Holy Spirit. Jesus told that first band of followers – “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you what he promised. Remember, I have told you about this before. … when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you will receive power and will tell people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8, NLT) Paul reminds us that God will strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” (Ephesians 3:16-17, NIV)

Do not confuse the power of the Spirit with some esoteric experience offered only to an elite group. Nor must we run to a revival somewhere far away, led by a charismatic preacher, to find that power. He is the Third Person of the Trinity, God, here now.  He is received, by faith, into open hearts that hunger for the real thing!

Some will know Him noisily and with great emotion; others as the still small voice of conviction. But, all who are alive in Him will become people of power to deal with evil, people of deep conviction that do not waver in the face of temptation, and people of profound joy in the middle of the messes that life brings to us all.

Pray to be the ‘real thing.’  Reflect on this word from the Word today.  Paul says that no matter what has happened to him, the work of God continues because the Spirit makes him authentically powerful. But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?” (2 Corinthians 2:14-16, NIV)

Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Corinthians 3:4-6, NIV)

Lord, work in us and through us, for the glory of Your Name. Amen

_________

Who You Say I Am

(Worship with this song that invites to know the Real)

Who am I that the highest King
Would welcome me
I was lost but He brought me in
Oh His love for me  Oh His love for me

 Who the Son sets free
Oh is free indeed
I’m a child of God
Yes I am

 Free at last
He has ransomed me
His grace runs deep
While I was a slave to sin
Jesus died for me, Yes He died for me

 In my Father’s house
There’s a place for me
I’m a child of God
Yes I am

 I am chosen not forsaken
I am who You say I am
You are for me not against me
I am who You say I am

 (Oh) (Yes) I am who You say I am

Ben Fielding | Reuben Morgan © 2017 Hillsong Music Publishing Australia (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) CCLI License # 810055

Memorable

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Memories, what powerful things they are. I drove past an old church yesterday and a memory from an event at least a decade past surfaced about an evening concert I attended there with Bev. Details about our time together that day, about the music, the décor of the sanctuary all came flooding back.  I am fascinated by the way the brain stores those experiences and allows recall when a sight, sound, or smell triggers them. While visiting an old friend yesterday, a man in his late 90’s, we took a trip back in times to his Army service during the Second World War!  He was in the “D+7” wave of Americans to enter Europe. When the war in Europe ended, he was sent to the Philippines. It is all written into his mind, ready for recall.

What kind of memories are you creating? Specifically, in terms of your faith, what are you writing into the hearts and minds of others?

Paul, according to Acts 17, visited the city of Thessalonica with Silas, and preached for 3 Sabbaths in the local synagogue, before agitators stirred up a mob, leading to his arrest and expulsion from the city. Several converts remained and a church was born.  Paul stayed in touch and later encouraged the believers. In the opening of his letter to them he writes, “We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 1:3, NIV)  Of interest to me is Paul’s recall, not of great church suppers or wonderful worship music or even stirring sermons.

He remembers their WORK.  Their faith was not anchored to emotions, nor was it reserved for special days. Their faith worked. Does yours? Real faith, according to James, has a demonstrable quality. It isn’t just an inner conviction about some truth. Genuine faith moves us to serve, to care, to spiritual disciplines. There are memorable things accomplished by those of faith.

He remembers their LABOR. How is this different from ‘work?’ This is sustained effort, even when situations are difficult. And what does Paul point to as the motivating factor for their ongoing efforts to serve God in a city that made being a disciple a costly and difficult choice? Love! Their lives were deeply changed by the love of God that they reciprocated in their labor.

He remembers their ENDURANCE.  Paul uses a word in the first language of the Bible that means to ‘stand up under the weight.’  Their steadfastness was memorable. They did not quit when thing were not going as they thought they should. They did not walk off when their family and friends criticized their new-found relationship with Christ. They endured. Why? Because they grasped the eternal promise, the hope of life in the presence of God that was assured them through Christ Jesus.

Paul says “As we talk to our God and Father about you, we think of your faithful work, your loving deeds, and your continual anticipation of the return of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 1:3, NLT) That inspires me. How about you?

Let’s create some great memories as we work in faith, labor in love, and endure in hope. So many around us are waiting for life, the eternal life available through Christ Jesus. Will our words and actions point them to Him today?

Here is a word from the Word. They are Paul’s reflection on his life as he is days from dying. Lord, use these thoughts to keep us on course with You. Amen.

As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought a good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness that the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that great day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his glorious return.” (2 Timothy 4:6-8, NLT)

Be memorable today, for all the right reasons.

________

Be Enthroned
(An amazingly inspiring song of worship)

We’ve come to join the song
Sung long before our lives
To raise our voice along
Heaven and earth alike

 We’ve seen Your faithful hand
Your mercy without end
The King who bled and died
A God who sacrificed

 Be enthroned upon the praises
Of a thousand generations
You are worthy Lord of all
And unto You the slain and risen King
We lift our voice with heaven
Singing worthy Lord of all (Lord of all)

 All through this life we lead
And on to eternity
Our endless praise we cry
Jesus be glorified (Jesus be glorified)

Brian Johnson | Hunter Thompson | Jeremy Riddle | Kalley Heiligenthal

© 2015 Bethel Music Publishing

CCLI License # 810055

“Half-Christian?”

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“I guess I’m kinda half a Christian.” Her admission caught me by surprise. I had met the woman only a few moments before, as we both were traveling. We started talking about my vocation and it led to her admission of her non-involvement with her church. She went on to say, “I guess it’s time to make a confession …” and then spilled some of her story which included choices she knew were wrong. I tried to help her understand that one cannot be ‘half a Christian’ though it is possible to miss the best that Christ offers by living cross purposes with God and His will.

Are you living a ‘half Christian’ kind of life, professing faith, wanting, at some level, to be a loving, whole person; full of joy, generous, pure, and holy; yet unwilling to make Jesus your Lord as well as your Savior? Do you feel the tug of the Spirit of God, but excuse yourself from doing what He asks? Having one foot in the world and one in the realm of the Spirit creates a special kind of misery. When how we act and what we say don’t line up, it creates pain – in us and for those around us.  James tells us, a ‘double-minded man becomes unstable in all his ways!’  If we ignore the Word, refuse the Spirit, blur the lines with compromise – we lose clarity and can no longer know where pretense ends and reality begins.

The women who told me she was ‘half a Christian’ admitted that she had stopped going to worship, but quickly followed up by pointing out that she ‘just didn’t get much out of going to church anymore.’  No wonder, honestly. How could she experience the joy of being in God’s Presence when she was doing things she knew, full well, were outside of His will for her? How could she expect to know the uplift of turning her heart towards the Spirit when she would not respond to His leading about her day to day choices?

There is a way of wholeness. The Bible says, “It is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” (Romans 10:10, NIV) In other words, a person right with God has heart and mouth aligned, belief and action unified. They will not be imposters, simply acting like a Christian, nor will they delude themselves with the lie that being a Christ-follower is just a matter of knowing a few right things about theology. Do not misunderstand me and read that we can somehow ‘save ourselves’ through efforts at goodness.  Salvation is a gift of God, by faith through grace, given us freely in Christ Jesus.

However, there are choices to be made, if we want to know the fullness of that life, if we desire to become a whole person;  spiritually, emotionally, and relationally. When we believe God’s promises and act, in faith, on them, we are ‘saved!’  Salvation is not just a change of eternal destination! God wants to transform us, inside out, starting with our most basic values. That inner realignment leads to a visible change in both our words and actions. Jesus calls it being ‘born again of the Spirit.’ Paul calls it ‘renewal.“Jesus Christ,” he writes, “saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:5, NLT)

Are you, like my friend on that airplane, feeling like a ‘half Christian?’
Are you rejecting the call to discipleship, refusing the leading of the Holy Spirit?
Are you trying to keep your ‘faith’ separate from your actions?
Are you able to do theology, but keep it disconnected from how you live?

That is an awful way to live, one that makes pain and problems for you, that brings dishonor on Christ. Do not stay there for another moment. Invite the Spirit to begin a truly transformational work and become authentic – no more than you are, no less than God purposes you to be. Your life will become a thing of true beauty. Your mind will be at peace. The world around you will be influenced by your real faith! “Believe and speak!”

Here is a word from the Word that points the way to wholeness. “Say the welcoming word to God—“Jesus is my Master”—embracing, body and soul, God’s work of doing in us what he did in raising Jesus from the dead. That’s it. You’re not “doing” anything; you’re simply calling out to God, trusting him to do it for you. That’s salvation. With your whole being you embrace God setting things right, and then you say it, right out loud: “God has set everything right between him and me!” (Romans 10:9-10, The Message)

Praise God! Amen.

_____________

Take Time To Be Holy (Slane)

Take time to be holy
Speak often with God
Find rest in Him always
And feed on His Word
Make friends of God’s children
Help those who are weak
Forgetting in nothing
His blessing to seek

Take time to be holy
The world rushes on
Much time spend in secret
With Jesus alone
By looking to Jesus
Like Him thou shalt be
Thy friends in thy conduct
His likeness shall see

Take time to be holy
Let Him be thy guide
And run not before Him
Whatever betide
In joy or in sorrow
Still follow thy Lord
And looking to Jesus
Still trust in His Word
Amen

Ronn Huff | William Dunn Longstaff © Words: Public Domain

Mission

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I saw Midway last night. The film shows the many critical decisions that led to that critical sea and air battle which turned the tide of the war with Japan. The courage of the pilots who flew into storms of lead, who kept flying and fighting even as they saw so many of their colleagues perish, is set against the backdrop of their sense of mission.  They were convinced that IF they did not carry through on what they were trained to do and bring about the destruction of the Japanese fleet that the very fate of the United States was in the balance. The mission became more important than personal safety, family, or friend.

Christians are given a mission by Christ Jesus that is every bit as compelling as any mission ever carried out by a military unit, with consequences that far exceed those of any battle in any earthly war! That mission involves the eternal destiny of human beings, the defeat of evil in this world. Before leaving His disciples, Jesus gathered them and gave us this charge – “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20, NLT)  That is the mission statement of the Church.

The mission does not change. The ‘how,’ however, is ever adapting to the needs that we find in our time, with the resources given to us.  Christ is preached from pulpits and across dining room tables. We make disciples while we  drill wells, care for the sick, and build schools.

Ed Stetzer writes –The mission and responsibility of the church includes both the proclamation of the Gospel and its demonstration. From Jesus, we learn the truth is to be proclaimed with authority and lived with grace. The church must constantly evangelize, respond lovingly to human needs, as well as “seek the welfare of the city” (Jeremiah 29:7) By living out the implications of the gospel, the missional church offers a verbal defense and a living example of its power.”

While that might sound tame compared to flying a fighter plane in an air battle, it truly is not. Serious Christians who embrace the mission of Christ do so at great personal cost. Accepting the call to serve (not all will be full-time pastors or missionaries) where you live involves a hard choices, possible rejection, and daily death to self-interest. Have YOU stepped up, presenting yourself for service?  Great cost equals great reward. When Peter reminded Jesus that “We have left all we had to follow you!”   Jesus answered with this  declaration – “I tell you the truth, no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.” (Luke 18:28-30, NIV)

Is your life a living demonstration of discipleship?
Do your words and actions, your choices, your investment of time and energy, invite others to join you in pursuit of the Kingdom of God?
The questions are not without merit, my friend.  The world is constantly plunging toward death and God has given us the prescription for healing and life.

Our word from the Word today changes the metaphor, but keeps the urgency.  Jesus had led His disciples into Samaria, a region considered beyond hope. There, at a well, He met a woman who desperately needed hope and change. She found it in Him. He challenged those men who walked with Him to see their mission! “Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.” (John 4:35-38, NIV)

The world, beginning at your front door, waits for hope, for life.
Will you help them find Him?

________

For The Sake Of The Call

Nobody stood and applauded them
So they knew from the start
This road would not lead to fame
All they really knew for sure
Was Jesus had called by name
He said come follow me
And they came
With reckless abandon they came 

We will abandon it all
For the sake of the call
No other reason at all
But the sake of the call
Wholly devoted to live and to die
For the sake of the call

 Empty nets lying there
At the water’s edge
Told a story that few could believe
And none could explain
How some crazy fishermen
Agreed to go where Jesus led
With no thought
For what they would gain
For Jesus had called them by name
And they answered

 We will abandon it all
For the sake of the call
No other reason at all
But the sake of the call
Wholly devoted to live and to die
For the sake of the call

 Not for the sake of a creed or a cause
Not for a dream or a promise
Simply because it is Jesus who calls
And if we believe we’ll obey

 Drawn like rivers
Are drawn to the sea
There’s no turning back
For the water cannot help but flow\
Once we hear the Savior’s call
We’ll follow wherever He leads
Because of the love He has shown
Because He has called us to go

We will answer 

We will abandon it all
For the sake of the call
No other reason at all
But the sake of the call
Wholly devoted to live and to die
For the sake of the call

Steven Curtis Chapman © 1990 Universal Music – Brentwood Benson Songs (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc.)

Greg Nelson Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

Sparrow Song (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

My Only Hope

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Do you know and live the gospel of Christ? It would be interesting to know how you answer that. Is it your morality, church attendance, personal character to which you look for some assurance? Truthfully, our hope, our salvation rest on Jesus and the promise of the Father, end of story. We are saved by faith, through grace, period. But …  no but’s, friend.  Do we need to grow in that grace? The answer is an obvious yes. Will that gift of being set right with God need to work into our life, changing us from the inside out? Yes, again.  The moment, however, that we look back to ‘’the Law,” to our good works, our own commitment, that Law enslaves us anew and begins to erode the confidence that we have before God, the Father, through Christ Jesus.

Duplicity stalks us all, doesn’t it?  Every Christian who is completely honest knows that there are areas in his life are not yet as Christ desires them to be. To deny that we are capable of disobeying God’s moral law, to tell ourselves that we are somehow better than others and therefore above temptation, too good to fail, is a trap. The Bible gives this two-fold direction to us: “If another Christian is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself.” (Galatians 6:1, NLT)

Every Christian deals with temptations, some grossly offensive, others more subtle, sins of pride, ego, or self-centeredness.  In Romans 7, which is a long chapter about the impossibility of making ourselves right with God through our own efforts, Paul writes, “I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?” (Romans 7:22-24, The Message)

Overcoming temptation and living a life of integrity is not for wimps!  It requires unwavering honesty with ourselves before the Lord.  If we choose to excuse ourselves when the Spirit convicts, when we suppress the call to genuine holiness by smearing on layers of superficial morality, or when we become hyper-religious, we hinder the flow of the Spirit that brings life and victory to us. Healing begins when we look at our longings, our unmet needs, our desires and expectations through the eyes of Christ.  Purity requires openness, before God, before others, too.  Nothing breaks the power of temptation like dragging it into the light.  Purity comes when we respond to the invitation of the Spirit to come near to the Heart of God, regularly. And, that intimacy is ONLY possible if we lean on grace, by faith.

Ah, Christian, there is such beauty in grace, for all us. God’s grace will make us loving, gentle, and accepting. It will create a kind of beauty in us that lifts up Jesus, not our church, not our stellar morality. And, as He promised, “when He is lifted up, He draws all to Himself!”  Grace allows you and me to look at our struggles, inadequacies, disappointments honestly. Grace lets us understand that we are not unique in those experiences. Finding security in Christ Jesus, we then are empowered to extend acceptance to all those other imperfect people that share this world with us. It sounds so easy when I write it, but it is a quite human to turn from grace to Law, judging ourselves and others.

Are you troubled in heart, knowing the failures and sins of your own life?
Are you resolving to change only to fail anew?

Stop trying so hard to find change using all those tricks of behavior modification. Refuse the temporary sense of ‘being right’ that you can find in doing all those good things. Instead, lean on Jesus, completely.

Our word from the Word calls us to the foundation of our salvation – Christ Jesus.  As you read this, truly worship, honestly praise, and receive the gift of grace.   “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin. So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. For the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you through Christ Jesus from the power of sin that leads to death.” (Romans 7:25-8:2, NLT)

___________

Be Thou My Vision (Slane)

(worship with this great hymn)

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

Be Thou my wisdom
And Thou my true Word
I ever with Thee
And Thou with me Lord
Thou my great Father
I Thy true son
Thou in me dwelling
And I with Thee one

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

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

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